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Introduction to Maya: Polygons, NURBs and Sub-Ds

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Date Added: 10th July 2013
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There are three main types of surfaces that you will come across in Maya. We take a look at what makes them differ from each other.


This week we'll spend some valuable time looking at the three different surface types that you will come across on a regular basis: polygons, NURBs and Sub-Ds.

Polygons: You will probably find that out of the three, you will predominantly use polygons. So what is so good about them? Well firstly, the tool set available to edit polygons is far wider than what is out there for the remaining two. The tool set makes it a breeze to model anything from an organic monkey to a hard-surfaced Chinook helicopter. The downside can be that if the resolution of your mesh is too low or if you have poor topology, then you may get artefacts such as pinching at render time, or deformation issues when rigging.

NURBs (Non Uniform Rational B-splines): These, on the other hand, are fantastic for creating smooth, curved surfaces, such as a car bonnet. They are mathematical in their creation and their tessellation at render time creates super smooth results. The major downside for me is that the toolkit is limited and if you are trying to model, say, a humanoid character, you will need to use many, many NURBs patches, as you will not be able to get the desired results from a single surface.

Sub-Ds: These can be considered a combination of polygons and NURBs: you get to use the polgyon modeling toolkit whilst also having a surface that will render very smoothly. A further advantage is getting to add localized detail easily by subdividing specific areas. Because getting the hang of polygons and NURBs will enable you to use Sub-Ds, they're not included in the following steps. Your choice of what to use is going to come down to what is best for what job and also what your preference as a user is. Try them all to see what suits you.


Step 1: Creating Polygons

You can find the default polygon objects by going Create > Polygon Primitive and picking from the selection - I'm going for the humble cube. But, before you create a primitive, scroll down to the bottom of the dropdown menu and uncheck Interactive Creation. This allows you to draw the polygon object anywhere in the viewport.I heap scorn upon this, however, as I like my primitives to be created in the center of the world space.

You can also create your poly object by holding the Shift + RMB. This will bring up a marking menu and dropping the cursor over your chosen object will drop it into the viewport. Another method is to simply type "polyCube" into the command line.

Creating a polyCube using the main menu, a marking menu and the command line

Step 2: Editing Objects

Currently, we can only edit the shape as a whole with the Move, Rotate and Scale tool. If we want to edit a certain vertex or a selection of edges or faces, we will need to go into sub-component mode.

Place your cursor over the cube and hold down the RMB. You should see the words Vertex, Edges, Face and Object, as well as a few others on the marking menu. You can also hit F9, F10 and F11, with F8 taking you back to object mode.

Select any of these and you will be able to start pushing and pulling the points around. This allows us to edit the current level of detail that we have. Now if you want to add extra detail, keep on reading.

Editing the geometry on a sub-component level allows you to make localised changes as opposed to global changes

continued on next page >

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Tawarwaith on Wed, 14 September 2016 4:09pm
you have a lovely accent and a very good teaching skills, thank you!
Enyew on Thu, 27 March 2014 11:50pm
this is cool.
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