Fire up your computer, and let’s get going. This section will introduce you to getting around the Maya user interface (UI). 

The overall goal of this chapter is to expose you to Maya UI basics as well as important scene creation and editing tools. You’ll find more details on the interface in Chapter 3, “The Autodesk Maya 2016 Interface.” 

Keyboard and Symbol Conventions Used in This Book

The following terms are used throughout this book:

  1. Click and LMB+Click These actions refer to a mouse click with the primary (left) mouse button.
  2. RMB+Click This refers to a mouse click with the right mouse button.
  3. MMB+Click This refers to a mouse click with the middle mouse button.
  4. Shift+Click This indicates you should hold down the Shift key as you click with the primary (left) mouse button.
  5. Shift+Select This indicates you should hold down the Shift key as you select the next object for multiple selections.
  6. The ❏ Symbol This, next to a menu command, indicates you should click the box (❏) next to the menu command to open the options for that command.


Let’s get to the basics of how Maya is laid out (see Figure 2-1). Running across the top of the screen, right under the application title bar, are the UI elements: the main menu bar, the Status line, and the Shelf. On Mac OS X, note that the main menu bar runs across the top of the screen, above the application title bar.

Figure 2-1 shows the major parts of the UI. In the middle of the interface is the workspace, which is host to your panels (or Scene windows) and their menu options (known as views or viewports in some other 3D packages). This is where most of your focus will be.

Click inside the large Perspective view panel (named persp) with the mouse to activate the panel, highlighting its border slightly. Press the spacebar to display a four-panel layout, which gives you top, front, and side views, as well as the perspective view. Press the spacebar in any of the panels to display a large view of that panel.

Figure 2-1: The initial Maya screen

To the right of the panels is the Attribute Editor/Channel Box/Modeling Toolkit. This is where most of the information (attributes) about a selected object is displayed and edited. Also, this is where you access the Modeling Toolkit suite of polygon tools. Simply click any of the tabs to access these functions. Furthermore, pressing Ctrl+A toggles between the Attribute Editor and the Channel Box.

In short, the Attribute Editor gives you access to all of an object’s attributes, whereas the Channel Box is a quicker display of the most commonly animated attributes of the selected object. 


Maya is case sensitive (meaning it distinguishes between lowercase and uppercase letters). The conventions of this book are to always print an uppercase letter to denote which key you must press. So, when I ask you to press the E key, for example, you should simply press the E key on your keyboard (thereby entering a lowercase e). When an uppercase letter is called for, the book tells you to press Shift+E, thereby entering the uppercase letter E into Maya. Also, make sure your Caps Lock key is turned off.


Maya requires the use of a three-button mouse, even on a Mac. The clickable scroll wheel found on most mice can be used as the third button by pressing down to click with the wheel. 

Shortcuts to Navigating 

Here’s a rundown of how to navigate Maya. Keep in mind that the Option key is used on a Mac in place of the Alt key on a PC.

  1. Alt+MMB+Click Tracking moves left, right, up, or down in two dimensions; hold down the Alt key, press and hold the MMB, and drag the mouse.
  2. Alt+RMB+Click This dollies into or out of a view, essentially zooming the view in and out. Hold down the Alt key, press and hold the RMB, and drag the mouse.
  3. Scroll Wheel The scroll wheel acts as a middle mouse button when pressed and can also dolly into or out of a view just like the Alt+RMB+click combination when scrolling the wheel.
  4. Alt+Click This rotates or orbits the camera around in a Perspective window. To orbit, hold down the Alt key and the LMB. You can’t tumble your view in an orthographic panel.
  5. Alt+Ctrl+Click and Drag Dollies your view into the screen area specified in your mouse drag. Hold down the Alt and Ctrl keys while using the LMB to outline a window in the panel to execute this bounding box dolly. This action is commonly referred to as a window zoom in other applications.
  6. The ViewCube The ViewCube is a navigational aid that is not visible by default when you launch Maya 2016. The ViewCube, when enabled, lets you easily change your current panel view. To enable the ViewCube in a viewport, select Renderer from the panel’s menu bar (not the main menu bar) and select either Legacy Default Viewport or Legacy High Quality Viewport, and the ViewCube will appear in the upper-right corner of the panel.
  7. By clicking an area of the ViewCube (shown here), you can switch to other views inside that panel. Clicking one of the conical axis markers gives you an orthogonal view from that direction. Clicking the center square gives you the perspective view. You can toggle the ViewCube on or off in the UI by choosing Display ⇒ Heads Up Display ⇒ ViewCube. 
  8. Mac Keys The Option key on a Mac serves the same function as the Alt key on a PC. Although a few Ctrl key combinations in Windows are accessed via the Command key on a Mac, Mac users can use the Mac’s Ctrl key for their key combinations just like PC users do.

In Maya, you press and hold the Alt key on a PC (or the Option key on a Mac) along with the appropriate mouse button to move in the view panel.

  • The left mouse button (LMB) acts as the primary selection button and allows you to orbit around objects when used with the Alt key.
  • The right mouse button (RMB) activates numerous shortcut menus and lets you zoom when used with the Alt key.
  • The middle mouse button (MMB) used with the Alt key lets you move within the Maya interface panels, and the mouse’s wheel can be used to zoom in and out as well.


Selecting objects in a view panel is as easy as clicking them. As you select an object, its attributes appear in the Attribute Editor or Channel Box on the right. To select multiple objects, simply hold the Shift key as you click objects to add to your current selection. If you press Ctrl+LMB (press the Ctrl key and click) on an active object, you’ll deselect it. To clear all of your current selections, click anywhere in the empty areas of the view panel.

Remember, when you press Shift+click to select, Maya adds to the current selection. When you press Ctrl+click, Maya deselects the object you clicked. 


When you select an object and enable one of the transformation tools (tools that allow you to move, rotate, or scale an object), you’ll see a manipulator appear at or around the selected object. Figure 2-2shows the three distinct and most common manipulators for all objects in Maya (Move, Rotate, and Scale) as well as the Universal Manipulator. You use these manipulators to adjust attributes of the objects visually and in real time.

Figure 2-2: The Maya manipulators

To activate a transform tool, select an object and then click one of the transform tool icons in the Tool Box, shown in Figure 2-3.

Figure 2-3: The transform tools in the Tool Box

Press 4 for Wireframe mode; press 5 for Shaded mode.

  1. Try This Let’s put some of this into action.
  1. Press 4 for wireframe mode. Choose Create ⇒ Polygon Primitives ⇒ Sphere. Drag in a view panel anywhere on its grid to create a wireframe sphere and then size it to your liking. If this does not happen and instead a sphere appears in your window, a default setting has previously been changed, which is okay. In this case, turn on Interactive Creation if it was previously turned off. Click Create ⇒ Polygon Primitives and make sure the check box next to Interactive Creation at the bottom is checked.

    In one of the view panels, press the 5 key on your keyboard, and the display of the sphere will become solid gray. This is called Shaded mode. Press the 4 key to return to Wireframe mode. You should also see an in-view message at the top of your view stating “shaded display is now on. Press 4 to display objects in wireframe mode.”

You can turn off in-view messages by toggling off the In-View Messages check box under Display ⇒ Heads Up Display.

  1. With the sphere selected, select the Move tool () from the Tool Box. The first manipulator shown earlier in Figure 2-2 should appear in the middle of the sphere. The three arrows represent the three axes of possible movement for the object. Red is for the X-axis, green is for the Y-axis, and blue is for the Z-axis. Cyan is for free movement in both axes of the active panel view. Clicking any one of the three arrows lets you move the object only on that particular axis. The square in the middle of the manipulator lets you move the object freely around the plane of the view panel, regardless of the axis. The three squares represent planar movement in two of the three axes at a time, for example moving on the XY plane or the YZ plane.
  2. Next, select the Rotate tool () from the Tool Box, and you’ll see the second manipulator from Figure 2-2. The three colored circles represent the three axes of rotation for the object—red for X, green for Y, and blue for Z. Select a circle to rotate the object on that axis. The yellow circle surrounding the three axis circles lets you freely rotate the object on all three axes. 
  3. Try selecting the Scale tool () to see the third manipulator from Figure 2-2. By selecting one of the axis handles and dragging the mouse, you can scale the object in a nonuniform manner in that axis. The middle cyan box scales the object uniformly on all three axes.
  4. Try selecting the Universal Manipulator, which is not shown in the Tool Box but is found by choosing Modify ⇒ Transformation Tools ⇒ Universal Manipulator. Its icon () appears under the Tool Box after you select it from the menu. This tool acts in place of all three manipulators you just tried. Grabbing the familiar arrows translates the sphere. Selecting any of the curved arrows in the middle of the edges of the manipulator box lets you rotate the sphere in that axis. Finally, selecting and dragging the cyan boxes in the corners of the manipulator box lets you scale the sphere. If you hold down the Ctrl key as you drag, you can scale the sphere in just one axis.

Go ahead and click around the interface some more. Create more primitive objects and tool around a bit. Move around the view panels and see how it feels. Give the tires a good kick. 

Enough chatting—let’s jump into the solar system exercise.