Maya Lesson: Introducing Maya's Modeling Tools

By now you should know how to create a polygon primitive and begin modifying its shape by pushing and pulling edges, faces, and vertices.

That's a step in the right direction, but it's really only part of the battle — it's virtually impossible to create a highly complex model from a basic primitive without making wholesale alterations to the mesh.

To truly begin making finished 3D pieces, we need to learn how to modify the topology of our model by adding faces and edges where we need more detail or control.

There are literally dozens of different tools on Maya's modeling shelf, but many of them are only useful in specific situations. In practice, you'll probably spend ninety percent of your time using the same five or six commands.

Instead of introducing every single tool Maya has to offer and having you forget how to use half of them, in the next few lessons we'll take a look at some of the most commonly used techniques in Maya's polygon workflow.

Insert Edge Loop Tool

Maya's Insert Edge Loop Tool

Justin Slick

The insert edge loop tool is probably the single most important item in your modeling tool-set. It allows you to add additional resolution to your mesh by placing an uninterrupted subdivision (edge loop) in any location you specify.

Clear your scene and drop a new cube into the workspace.

With the cube in object mode, go up to Edit Mesh and select the Insert Edge Loop Tool.

Select any edge on your mesh, and a new subdivision will be placed perpendicular to the edge you clicked.

You can add additional subdivisions anywhere on your model by clicking and dragging on any edge — Maya will not "drop" the new edge loop until you release the left mouse button.

The insert edge loop command remains active until the user presses q to exit the tool.

Insert Edge Loop — Advanced Options

Edge Loop Tool Options

Justin Slick

Insert Edge Loop has an additional set of options that alter the way the tool performs.

As always, to access the options box, go to Edit Mesh > Insert Edge Loop Tool and choose the options box on the right side of the menu.

By default, Relative Distance from Edge is selected, which allows the user to Click + Drag an edge loop to a specific location on the mesh.

You can insert up to ten evenly spaced edges at a time by choosing the Multiple edge loops option and setting the Number of edge loops parameter to the desired value.

You'd think the Equal Distance From Edge setting would place an edge in the middle of the face you're trying to divide, but it doesn't. This setting actually has more to do with the profile shape of the edge loop when using the tool on more sophisticated pieces of geometry. Autodesk has a good illustration of the concept.

If you'd like to evenly divide a face, simply select the Multiple edge loops setting, and set the Number of edge loops parameter to 1.

Beveling Edges

Bevel Tool in Maya

Justin Slick

Maya's Bevel tool essentially allows you to decrease the sharpness of an edge by dividing and expanding it into a new polygonal face.

For a better illustration of this concept, take a look at the image above.

To achieve this result, start by creating a simple 1 x 1 x 1 cube primitive.

Go into edge mode and Shift + select the cube's four upper edges. Call the bevel command by going to Edit Mesh > Bevel, and the result should resemble the cube pictured at right.

Edges on default primitive objects are infinitely sharp, which is an impossibility in nature. Adding a slight bevel to hard edges is one way of adding realism to a model.

In the next section, we'll discuss some of the Bevel tool's additional settings.

Bevel Tool Continued

Modifying a Bevel

Justin Slick

Even after an edge has been beveled, Maya allows you to modify the shape, using the Inputs tab in the Channel Box.

Create an object and bevel a few edges — Maya will automatically open the bevel parameters as shown in the image above. If the object gets deselected and you need to revisit the bevel settings, simply select the object and click the polyBevel1 node in the Inputs tab.

Every time you create a new bevel, Maya automatically creates an additional polyBevel(#) node. This ongoing list of tool-related nodes is called construction history. Many of Maya's modeling tools create similar history nodes in the Inputs tab, which allows any action to be modified or tweaked.

Now is also a good time to mention the undo function, which is simply Ctrl + z (as is the case in most pieces of software).

The most pertinent settings in the polyBevel node are Offset and Segments:

  • The Offset parameter controls the width of the bevel and accepts a value from 0 to 1.
  • The Segments option affects the smoothness of the bevel. Increasing the number of segments creates more faces, emphasizing the bevel's apparent roundness. In the second example above, we've increased the bevel's number of segments to 6 to give it a rounded look.
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