How to Learn Maya Quickly

I see all those raised eyebrows. I realize I probably should have named this article “How to Learn Maya Quicker” because the reality is there is no way on God’s green earth anyone would be able to learn the world’s most powerful and complex 3D modeling program quickly.

So, with that disclaimer I hope I have enough audience left to explain how to make the journey from novice to master with as little headache as possible. Maya comes with a steep learning curve, but one that can be smoothed out by a bit of up-front knowledge and a focused plan of attack.

These tips should help you gain an initial foodhold in the program and make your life just a little bit easier as you attempt to tame the all powerful Maya.

Lean on Your Shelf

Maya has a lot of tools. Like, a lot. So, you’ll want to get familiar with the ones you’re going to use the most and add them to a custom shelf to make accessing them quick and easy. Shelfs work a lot like custom toolbars and toolsets that allow you to use frequently used commands without fumbling through menus.

Time is money when it comes to modeling in Maya, so setting up your shelfs is essential in maximizing your efficiency.

Using Marking Menus

If you’ve ever toyed around in Maya chances are you’ve run into Marking Menus even if you don’t realize it. By right-clicking on an object you’re given options to select verticies, edges, and faces. These are marking menus.

You can also gain access to a wide variety of modeling tools from these marking menus that go beyond simple selection. By holding down Shift+RMB when right-clicking, you’re given the option to choose between several of the most popularly used modeling tools such as Edge Loop, Merge Vertex, Mirroring, Booleans, etc. Combine these menus with custom shelves to start gaining some real speed with your modeling technique.

Lattices

Because the Lattice tools are under the animation toolset, they are often overlooked by beginners who are trying their best to grasp the basics. However, learning lattices early can provide a powerful backbone of knowledge for fundamental modeling.

If you’re working with a series of high-resolution meshes in your model, making drastic changes to it can be tedious and possibly destroy your model. Use the lattice command to control those changes in a natural way that handles many points, edges, and vertices at once.

Don’t Try Too Much Too Soon

If you’re thinking about trying your hand at Maya, chances are you are on the go-getter end of the ambition train. This is great. You’ll need enthusiasm if you want to learn this beast of a program. However, I’d caution you not to try too much too quickly. You’ll inevitably run into a digital wall where the program won’t do what you want, leading to frustration and eventually your computer monitor lying in a scrap on the sidewalk outside your apartment window.

Go slow. Engage in a series of basic tutorials and practice those fundamentals until you’ve mastered them before moving on. You won’t be working for Pixar next week, so understanding the learning curve is the first step in getting better.

Easy up on the Subdivisions

A common mistake made by novice Maya modelers is to go subdivision crazy before really having a handle on how they work. This can result in models that are janky, lumpy, and unnatural.

As a rule, don’t add unnecessary resolution until you’re content with the silhouettes and polygons you’ve already created. If your foundation isn’t solid, the ensuing work will crumble under its own weight. Keep things as simple as possible until you’ve gained the experience necessary to up resolution instinctively.

Use Image Planes

For any creator, developing a design through sketch, thumbnail and refinement before translating it into the digital world is imperative to the process. Use Maya the same way. Sketch out your ideas in two dimensions then scan them into Maya as image planes. This gives your model body and construction before you draw a single polygon.

Designing as you go can result in some great work, but beginners should be a bit more studious when learning the ins and outs of the program before going rogue and trying to design and learn the program a the same time. Take your time, iron out your ideas, then challenge yourself to recreate them in Maya. That kind of direction will make learning the program a much more structured endeavor.