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Creating a Lava Lamp in Maya 2009

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Date Added: 10th November 2009
Software used:
In the next steps, pPlug will be smoothed. First, the pPlug mesh needs to be adjusted slightly so that when it is smoothed, the right hand end of pPlug remains flat.

RMB click on pPlug and select Face from the pop-up menu. Select the four faces on the end of pPlug. LMB click on the first face, and then hold down the shift key and LMB click select the other three faces.

Check that no extra faces have been accidentally selected and then go to Edit Mesh > Extrude. Make sure that Keep Faces Together is checked on.

In the Attribute Editor for the Extrude, set the Local Translate Z value to 0.02, as shown below (Fig.34).

Fig. 34

Extruding a surface by a tiny amount like this, will keep it flat when the whole object is smoothed.

RMB click on pPlug and select Object Mode to finish editing faces. Go to Mesh > Smooth > Options (the little box next to the word Smooth) and in the pop-up window, set the Divisions levels value to 2. LMB click the Smooth button and pPlug will now have been smoothed.

pPlug probably looks a little too small at this point. So use the Scale Tool to make it bigger and then RMB click pPlug and select Assign Existing Material from the pop-up menu. Select the material cordLambert to apply to pPlug.

Lastly, any authentic lava lamp would have some prongs on the end of the power plug (in this case, Australian compatible ones). Go to Create > Polygon Primitives > Cube. LMB click and drag in the perspective viewport to create a cube. Then go to the Attribute Editor and click on the polyCube3 tab (or to the tab that matches the new cube in). Set the values as follows:

  • Width value to 1.0
  • Height value to 0.25
  • Depth value to 2.0

Open the Channel Box and set the Rotate Z value to 50.

To be really picky, the edges of this prong should be slightly bevelled, but this is a fairly minor detail, particularly if the lamp actually gets plugged into a wall before rendering.

Change the name of pCube1 to be "pProng1". Go to Edit > Duplicate and then in the Channel Box, set the Rotate Z value of pProng2 to -50.

Finally, using the Translate Tool, move pProng2 to the opposite side of pPlug (Fig.35).

Fig. 35

Save the file!

Setting Up a Camera

Go to Create > Cameras > Camera. A new camera called "camera1" will appear at the origin of the 3D world. Actually, it will start off positioned inside the lava lamp.

Use the Translate and Rotate Tools to position the camera. It is also helpful to go to the Panels viewport menu and choose the Look Through Selected option. Using this method, moving around in the viewport interactively re-positions the camera.

From the Panels menu in the viewport, choose Perspective > camera1. This sets up the selected viewport to be the camera1 viewport.

Open the View menu in the viewport. Select Camera Settings > Resolution Gate. Turning on this option shows the portion of the viewport that is actually renderable. The resolution itself can only be changed in the Render Options window. The default is 640 x 480, which will do for now.

Open the Attribute Editor for camera1. Scroll down in the Attribute Editor panel to Environment and click on the Background color swatch. Change the color to something non-black.

The image below shows the current camera set up. Note the menu options along the top of the viewport (Fig.36).

Fig. 36

Once the camera position is decided, it is a good idea to lock it into place, so that it cannot accidentally be moved - which is really annoying! The camera position can be unlocked later on if necessary.

With camera1 selected, open the Channel Box. LMB click on Translate X, and drag down the list so that every channel, down to the Visibility option, is highlighted blue.  

RMB click with the Channels selected. A pop-up menu will appear. Choose Lock Selected. The locked channel values will now have a dark grey background, as shown below (Fig.37).

Fig. 37

Setting Up Lights

Go to Create > Lights > Spot Light. There are several different types of lights. Area lights produce the most realistic shadows.

A new light will be created called "spotLight1". Rename spotLight1 to "keyLight". The key light is the main source of illumination in a scene.

Go to Create > Lights > Point Light. Rename this new light "fillLight". Position keyLight and fillLight in the same way as for a camera. Use the images below as a guide. The Top and Perspective viewports are showing the same lighting set up (Fig.38 & Fig.39).

Fig. 38

Fig. 39

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Jorge on Thu, 11 May 2017 5:05pm
Can anyone send me a copy for this project?
Nicole on Thu, 30 October 2014 2:34am
This tutorial is awesome . Most of the other tutorials are a bit hard to follow because they are fast paced or the artist speaks in a manner that is even hard for an educated person to understand , (unless you are a computer or math wizard ). Thank you so very much .
Sofia on Mon, 18 November 2013 1:36am
Great tutorial! I followed it and learned a lot, thank you!
Writer650 on Wed, 07 March 2012 9:43pm
Very nice tutorial with some very terrific material settings.
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