Introduction to Poly Modeling in Maya: From the Beginning

amaliasdesign maya 3D modeling tutorial polygon basics

I know I have a lot of projects sort of all starting at once, but I’m backtracking now to the Maya Modeling tutorials and I’m going to try and teach this in a way that will be much more helpful for a wider range of people. It’s tough right now because I don’t feel like I know my audience (as far as 3D artists go…) so If you’re a 3D artist and you want to learn something about maya, just let me know via comment. It would also be great if you want to post links to your work, so I can see if any of you are really advanced, or just starting out. Anyway, I’ll work on that so that I don’t waste anyone’s time with things you know, or skip over things you don’t know.

I started a tutorial a while ago “Maya Modeling Part 1: Building a Reference Wireframe” since then, I have realized that I should probably start from the beginning.

How to Begin Learning about 3D Modeling

When I first was taught how to model in Maya I had a hard time understanding what the goal of modeling was. As long as it looks like what I want it to, is it good? How detailed did the model need to be? What is good and bad to do when modeling?

I should also say that I was taught to model for production like animated short/feature films & projects where you’re not very concerned with low poly models. If you don’t know what I mean, check out this siggraph article on differences in modeling techniques for movies vs. games.

In college, when given the first modeling assignment and to help guide us along the way they gave us photos of what the model was supposed to look like when finished. Along with photos for parts of the process. It was clear what the starting point A would look like, and very clear what finished product C should look like. However, modeling is an odd thing to try and wrap your head around for many people. At first it may not feel intuitive or clear as to what checklist to follow to see if you’re on the right path. Once you dig in and start doing it you realize there are a million ways to get a similar looking end product. Few ways are good, many are bad.

The first rule to live by when modeling is this:

Rule #1)  Quads Only!!

What is a quad? It is a face made up of 4-sides. With a total of 4 edges & 4 vertices. Here is a poly plane to illustrate how quads are the faces that combine to create objects. If a face appears to be a quad, but has an extra (5th) vertex, this is considered an N-gon, even if it shaped exactly the same as a square.


  maya modeling what is a quad

So quads are good, but what were the other posibilities that are bad? Well they are called tris & N-gons. As you can probably guess, it is called a “tri” because it is a face with 3 edges. An N-gon is a face with more than 4 sides.

maya 3D modeling basics good Quad Bad

My understanding is that quads are used for their benefits in rigging/deformations, texturing and for rendering reasons. When rendering, quads are processed the same as 2 tris. You can see that when you move the vertices of the N-gon, the computer sort of takes a guess at how to shape the space inbetween.

ngon maya 3D poly modeling basics

So the point is, do whatever you need to do to make your faces quads. The closer the quads look to squares, the better you’re model will be. The closer each quad is to being the same size as the other quads, this will also give you good results.

  • Quads Only! (No 3 sided, or 5+ sided faces)
  • Quads of uniform (square-like) shape
  • Keep the quads similar in size when you can

In the Next Post…
For now, this is the only rule you’ll have to think much about. On the next page of this tutorial I am going to show explain three different ways that you can choose to start off a model.

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