Modeling with Precision in Maya 2019

Júlio Rodrigues ·

People coming from other applications might wonder how to achieve specific measures using Maya. At first glance, it seems that Maya doesn’t support that kind of precision given it’s an entertainment-oriented DCC. For some tasks, the ability to be precise gives a peace of mind and uniformity that a job might very well require.

Although it’s very much possible and supported, since what we’re creating with Maya is not going to be produced in a factory line or something like that, it’s important to internalize that sometimes it’s not only acceptable but desireble to have imperfect modeling since it adds to the realism and general interest of our artwork.


I’m no Maya expert by any means, this article is part of a public notebook that I hope can be useful for you to read as it was for me to write.

Tools* that can be used to model precisely in Maya:

There a lot of ways to achieve the same result in Maya, some are more convenient than others in some scenarios, that’s why I’ve listed 10 strategies on how to model with precision. They are not all alternatives to one another.

*Tools: those are not tools in the Maya sense of the word but tools in a more general sense, meaning they are facilitators used to achieve precise modeling in Maya.

1. Snap to the grid

Grid snapping is a practical and shortcut driven workflow, just hold X, see the widget turn to a circle and move your edges, faces, or vertices, always snapping to the underlying grid. It’s worth noting that although not visible, snapping to the grid also happens in the Y-axis.

If the default grid is not suitable to the measures you want to make, you can change how many lines does a line of it take, the number of subdivisions and its global size. To change these settings simply right-click on the grid icon of the viewport top menu and choose Grid Options. Of course, you can always change this grid settings while modeling a single object/scene, this might come handy, not all things we model are that uniform to be conformed to a single grid.

Grid icon used to hide/show the grid and also change its settings using a right click

A number of modeling tasks can be achieved snapping to the grid, let’s see how to use it to position edge loops.

Precisely moving edge loops closer to borders using grid snapping.

More than just snapping using the left mouse button that requires a drag & drop motion, by using the middle mouse button it’s possible to move something using a single click by targeting the destination. This motion works not only for grid snapping but also for all other types of snappings in Maya.

The middle mouse button enables faster workflows

2. Modeling Toolkit Transform Tool Settings

Another staple of the Maya modeling toolset, the Modeling Toolkit has a section right in the bottom of it that can be used to manipulate components using numeric values. This can be used with the Move, Rotate and Scale tools. Just select the component you’d like to manipulate and you’ll see the values that it currently has. Simply type in the new values and press enter.

The frame of reference can be the object, the world, the parent or the distance from the origin, among others. Lots of options in terms of reference (pivot) point. In general, for simple models, you’d end up using mostly world and object as references.

We create a trapezoid where its edges are exactly positioned at -0.8 and 0.8 on the X

3. Input box of the Status Line

Yet another form of entering numeric values is by using the input box of the Status Line. It’s located at the right end of it (right in the top of the screen).

The great thing about this option is that you’re also capable of doing relative operations, not just absolute ones like in the modeling toolkit. For example, you can subtract 1 unit from all the selected edges X position. Since this box is always visible it can be a reliable way to do it.

4. Edit vertices CVs in the Channel Box

The Channel Box can also be used to manipulate vertices in an exact manner, but it works differently. Instead of manipulating the coordinates of the vertices in a regular space (world, object) you’re entering a control vertice — difference that’s added to the vertice original position on the context of polygon modeling. Meaning that when you’ve just created an object or added a few loops all the vertices will have CVs equal to 0 in all dimensions.

To edit vertices this way click on CVs (click to show) of the Channel Box.

Since you’re adding a difference, it’s equivalent to using the input box of the status line in the relative mode. You can do a subtraction as well as an addition, of course. The channel box also supports multiplication and divisions using a special notation. Just add an = before the arithmetic operator (+, -, /, *). es positions. Multi-selection is also supported.

Multiplying a series of CVs Y values by 3

This odd notation is an inheritance from programming languages notation, the "equal math operator" assignment is known as an augmented assignment, it does a computation and stores the value on the variable, the exact same thing we’re doing here.

5. Editing components directly in the Component Editor

The Component Editor has been present in Maya for a very long time. It’s the most direct way to change data that I know of. Open the Component Editor at [Windows > General Editors > Component Editor], select the components you want to change (could be edges or faces too) and the corresponding vertices will be editable.

Changing multiple vertices data at the same time is supported, just select the rows you want to change and type the value in the last row, all rows will be updated accordingly.

6. Measure Distance Tool

To confirm that you’re indeed with the right measures you can deploy rulers in your scene that will measure and display the distance between points.

Create a distance measure using the Distance Tool at [Create > Measure Tools > Distance Tool].

Measuring the height of this sliced pyramid

7. Add supporting geometry to later delete the unnecessary ones

In Maya it’s not always easy to create geometry in precise places without also adding a bunch of unwanted geometry, a lot of times it’s the easiest and fastest way to do it, just delete the unnecessary geometry after that.

One such case is using Edge Ring and Split set to multi and later deleting the edges in between.

Creating edge loops close to the borders

8. Use primitives as references

There’s no easy way to conform a model to a specific perfect shape using a command. This can be achieved using a primitive as a reference.

Creating a circular shape out of a trapezoid

9. Snap using percentages doing a bit of math

I’m listing this one since it’s very practical and a common choice that perhaps you still haven’t seen it

Let’s say you need to have an edge .2cm away from the border, you can use the Multi-Cut Tool options to snap to 10%, knowing that your edge is 1 cm long, you just need to snap to the second position. The Snap Step of the Multi-cut tool can be changed in its tool settings by double-clicking the tool icon.

10. Mirror (or duplicate with transform) geometry to guarantee that both sides are equal

Finally, when you don’t need to know the exact distances each edge/vertice need to have but instead just want to have pieces of the model to be the same you can use this strategy.

A very common operation in Maya: a sequence of duplicates with transform; mesh combination and vertices merging.

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  • Maya
  • Precision Modeling
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