Precise Scaling & Object Manipulation Tools for Maya

Once you know how to place an object in your scene and modify some of its basic attributes, you can explore some of the ways we can change its position in space. There are three basic forms of object manipulation in any 3D application — translate (or move), scale, and rotate.

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Object Manipulation Tools

Tool Selection in Maya

Obviously, these are all operations that sound relatively self-explanatory, but let's take a look at some of the technical considerations.

There are two different ways to bring up the translate, scale, and rotate tools:

  • First, they can be accessed from the toolbox panel (pictured above) on the left side of your viewport.
  • The second (preferred method) is to use keyboard hotkeys. During the modeling process, you'll be switching between tools constantly, so it's a good idea to learn the commands as quickly as possible.

With an object selected, use the following hotkeys to access Maya's translate, rotate, and scale tools:

Translate - w
Rotate - e
Scale - r

To exit any tool, hit q to return to selection mode.

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Translate (Move)

Translating objects in Maya

Select the object you created and strike the w key to bring up the translation tool.

When you access the tool, a control handle will appear at your object's central pivot point, with three arrows aimed along the X, Y, and Z axes.

To move your object away from the origin, click any one of the arrows and drag the object along that axis. Clicking anywhere on the arrow or shaft will constrain movement to the axis it represents, so if you only want to move your object vertically, simply click anywhere on the vertical arrow and your object will be constrained to vertical movement.

If you'd like to translate the object without constraining motion to a single axis, clicking in the yellow square at the center of the tool to allow free translation. When moving an object on multiple axes, it's often beneficial to switch into one of your orthographic cameras (by clicking spacebar, in case you'd forgotten) for more control.

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Maya's Scale Tool

The scale tool functions almost exactly like the translate tool.

To scale along any axis, simply click and drag the (red, blue, or green) box that corresponds to the axis you'd like to manipulate.

To scale the object globally (simultaneously on all axes), click and drag the box located at the center of the tool. Simple as that!

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Maya's Rotate Tool

As you can see, the rotation tool appears and operates slightly different from the translate and scale tools.

Like translate and scale, you can constrain rotation to a single axis by clicking and dragging any of the three inner rings (red, green, blue) visible on the tool.

You can freely rotate the object along multiple axes, by simply clicking and dragging in the gaps between rings, however, you're afforded a lot more control by rotating an object one axis at a time.

Finally, by clicking and dragging on the outer ring (yellow), you can rotate an object perpendicular to the camera.

With rotation, there are times when a bit more control is necessary — on the next page we'll look at how we can use the channel box for precise object manipulation.

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Using the Channel Box for Precision

Using Maya's Channel Box

In addition to the manipulator tools we've just introduced, you can also translate, scale, and rotate your models using precise numeric values in the channel box.

The channel box is located in the upper right section of the interface and functions exactly like the Inputs tab that we introduced in lesson 1.3.

There are quite a few instances where numeric values can be useful:

  • Scale in Maya is based on real-world units (centimeters by default), and many of Maya's lights behave more realistically when objects are modeled using approximate real-world scale. This means if you're modeling a table that's supposed to be four feet tall, it should be scaled to approximately 162 cm.
  • The channel box can also be useful if you need to space objects evenly, set fractional scales (double, half, etc.), align objects along an axis, or set exact angles for rotation (45 degrees, 90, 180, 360, etc.).

Like in the inputs tab, values can be keyed manually or by using the click + middle mouse drag gesture we introduced previously.

Finally, the channel box can be used to rename any object in your scene, including models, cameras, lights, or curves. It's a very good idea to get in the practice of naming your objects for better organization.

The next step to learning Maya is understanding selection and duplication.

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