5 Techniques to Speed up Your Modeling in Maya

There are multiple ways to get anything done in Maya, and as a beginner it's virtually impossible to learn every single tool right out of the gate.

It's easy to fall into a routine, thinking you're doing something efficiently, and then seeing someone else do the same task way better. I remember early in my own process of learning Maya—nobody showed me the lattice tool, so it was quite awhile before I realized it even existed.

When I finally happened to see someone use a lattice, it completely changed the way I approached certain modeling tasks.

Here are five tools that I use extensively in my Maya modeling workflow that can help speed up your process tremendously when used properly:

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As I hinted previously, Maya's lattice tool is amazingly powerful, and is often overlooked by novices to the software. Lattices let you make efficient wholesale changes to the overall shape of a high resolution mesh without having to push and pull hundreds of edges and vertices.

Although lattices are a powerful modeling solution, beginners often miss them completely, because the tool is actually located with the animation tools instead of on the polygon shelf.

If you're not familiar with lattice modeling, play around with it for awhile. You might be surprised how quickly you can achieve certain shapes. One caveat—the lattice tool can occasionally be buggy; I always create a new save point before using the tool, and delete history after finishing with it.

We have a brief tutorial on lattices here.

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Soft Selection

New to organic modeling in Maya? Tired of moving every single vertex individually?

Like lattices, the soft select function lets you modify the shape of your mesh more efficiently by giving every vertex, edge, or face selection a controllable falloff radius.

This means that when soft is selection turned on, you can select a single vertex, and when you translate it in space the surrounding vertices will also be effected (although to a lesser extent as they get further away from the selected vert.)

Here's a short clip on YouTube that demonstrates soft selection a bit more thoroughly.

Soft selection is fantastic for organic character modeling because it allows for smoother transitions when you're trying to nail subtle shapes like cheek bones, muscles, facial features, etc.

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Duplicate Special

Ever been frustrated trying to model something with regularly spaced elements? Like a fence, or a circular array of columns? The duplicate special command allows you to create multiple duplicates (or instanced copies) and apply translation, rotation, or scaling to each one.

For example, imagine that you need a circular formation of Greek columns for an architectural model you're working on. With the first column’s pivot set to the origin, you could use duplicate special to create (in a single step) 35 duplicates, each one automatically rotated ten degrees around the origin.

We have a brief demonstration of duplicate special in action in this article, but make sure to play around with it yourself. This is one of those things that will really come in handy when you need it (and believe me, you eventually will).

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The Relax Brush

Beginners to organic modeling have a tendency to end up with “lumpy” models when they turn smoothing on. Although Maya doesn't (yet) have a true sculpting tool-set, there are actually a few basic sculpting brushes, the most useful being the relax tool.

The relax brush attempts to normalize the surface of an object by averaging the spacing between vertices, but doesn't destroy the silhouette of your model. If your organic models have a lumpy, uneven appearance, try giving it a once over with the relax brush.

The relax tool can be accessed as follows:

  • Select a polygonal object (must be in object mode).
  • Hold down the right mouse button until a menu appears, and choose Paint -> Sculpt.
  • Under the Sculpt Parameters tab, choose the relax brush. You can change the brush size (radius) and strength (opacity) under the brush tab.
  • Brush over the surface of your model to normalize the mesh. It helps to have a Wacom graphics tablet, but it isn't something that's strictly necessary.
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Selection Sets

Have you ever had the following experience?

You go through the tedious process of selecting a complex array of faces, perform a few mesh operations, and then move on to the next task. All is well until ten minutes later, when you realize you need to make a slight adjustment to your work. Your selection set is long gone, so you do it all again.

But it could have been avoided. Maya actually lets you save selection sets so that you can quickly and painlessly activate them later on.

If you're working on a model where you find yourself selecting the same groups of faces, edges, or vertices over and over, or if you've just built a time-consuming selection set and suspect you might need it later on, save it just in case—it's incredibly easy.

To do so, select the the faces, edges, or verts, that you need, and simply go to Create -> Quick Select Sets. Give it a name and click OK (or "add to shelf" if you want to access it from a shelf icon).

To access a quick selection set later on, simply go to Edit -> Quick Select Sets, and choose your set from the list.

There you have it!

Hopefully you were able to pick up a few tricks you haven't seen before. We recommend you try each and every one of these for yourself, so that you're aware of them when you need them. The key to an efficient work-flow is knowing how to pick the right tool!