Maya Tutorial Series Modeling a Greek Column

Doric columns rising above the East entrance to Soldier Field

 Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

For our first project-based tutorial, we'll use the techniques from lessons 1 and 2 to model a Greek column, and then in the next few chapters, we'll use the model to start introducing the texturing, lighting and rendering processes in Maya.

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Maya Tutorial Series - Modeling a Greek Column in Maya

Greek column progress.

Now we realize this might not sound like the most exciting tutorial in the world, but it'll work very well as a “first project” for beginner modelers since cylindrical objects are generally very easy to model, unwrap, and texture.

Additionally, even though a column isn't much to look at on its own, it's always nice to have a library of architectural assets that you can re-use in later projects. Who knows, maybe someday down the road you'll be making a model of the Parthenon and it'll come in handy.

Launch Maya and create a new project, and we'll see you in the next step.

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Reference is Incredibly Important!

Column Reference
Images Courtesy Wikipedia.

It's absolutely critical to find good reference images, whether you're modeling real-world objects or cartoon/fantasy style assets.

For a simple project like a column, finding reference can be as easy as digging up a small handful of pictures on Google images. For something complex, like a character model, we usually stick a folder on our desktop and spend (at least) an hour or two downloading as many related images as possible. When working on a large project, the reference file will usually end up containing at least 50 – 100 images to help guide the visual development process.

You can never have too much reference.

For this project, we'll be modeling a Doric column similar to the ones pictured above. We chose the Doric style simply because the more ornate Ionic and Corinthian column types would be beyond the scope of a beginner tutorial.

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Blocking out the Column's Shaft

Blocking out the Column
Blocking out the column's shaft.

The blocking phase of a model is possibly the most important step in the entire process.

If you don't get the overall shape right, no amount of fine detail will make your model look good.

In the case of a column, it's probably not necessary to set up image planes like we would if we were modeling a character. We still want to follow our reference as closely as possible, however, with columns you do have quite a bit of leeway in terms of height and thickness. The most important things to consider at this stage are the taper of the shaft and the size of the base and cap in relation to the column's overall height.

Drop a cylinder with 40 subdivisions into your scene. This may seem like an unnecessary amount of resolution, but it'll make sense later on.

Go ahead and delete the faces on each end-cap of the cylinder. We don't need them since they'll eventually be hidden anyway.

Select the cylinder, and scale it in the Y direction until you have a height you're happy with. Doric columns typically have a height of 4 to 8 times their diameter, with 7 being average. Choose a Y Scale value somewhere around 7.

Finally, move the column in the positive Y direction until it sits roughly even with the grid as we've done in the image above.

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Tapering the Column's Shaft

Adding entasis (taper) to the column's shaft.
Adding entasis (taper) to the column's shaft.

Columns of the Doric order have a slight taper called entasis, which starts approximately a third of the way up the shaft.

Go into the side view and use the edit mesh > insert edge loop tool to place a new edge a third of the way up the column's height.

Hit q to exit the edge loop tool, and go into vertex selection mode (by hovering over the column, holding down the right mouse button and selecting vertex).

Select the upper ring of vertices and scale them inward to give the column a slight (but noticeable) taper. With the column still selected, you can press 3 on the keyboard to switch into Maya's smooth mesh preview to see the column with smoothing turned on.

Press 1 to go back into polygon mode.

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Modeling the Upper Cap

Modeling the column's cap.
Modeling the column's cap with edge extrusions.

Modeling the column's upper cap is a two-part process. First, we'll use a series of edge extrusions to create the cylindrical flare shape, then we'll bring in a separate polygon cube to cap it off. If you're unsure how to use the extrude tool, refer back to this lesson.

Go into edge selection mode (hover over the model, hold down RMB, select Edge), and double-click on one of the upper edges to select the entire edge ring.

Go to Edit Mesh > Extrude, or click the extrude icon on the polygon shelf.

Translate the new edge ring in the positive Y direction, and then scale the ring outward to begin creating the cap. The example consists of seven extrusions, each one building upward and outward to create the shapes shown in the image above.

We went for a relatively simple cap, similar to the columns seen at the Parthenon, however, if you're not too worried about historical accuracy, feel free to customize the cap to your own liking by varying the design.

Try to make your extrusions as accurate as possible, but remember that you can always modify the shape later on by moving edges or vertices. Be careful to never extrude twice in a row, without moving the first extrusion out of the way.

When you're happy with the shape, save your scene if you haven't already done so.

The last thing we need to do is bring a cube into the scene to cap off the column.

Simply create a new 1 x 1 x 1 polygon cube, go into the side panel, move it into place, and then scale it until you've got something that resembles the example above. For an architectural model like this, it's perfectly fine for the two objects to overlap.

Zoom out and take a look at your column! The classical Doric column sat directly on the construction floor, however, if you'd like to go for more of a neo-classical look, use the techniques outlined here to create a base/pedestal.

In the next lesson, we'll continue to refine the column by adding support edges and details.