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'Learning Maya 7 | Foundation': Polygonal Orb — Part 2

VFXWorld presents the second excerpt from Learning Maya 7 | Foundation from Alias|Learning Tool. This excerpt continues a close-up look at how to animate a polygonal orb.

All images from Learning Maya 7 | Foundation by Marc-André Guindon and Cathy McGinnis. Reprinted with permission.

All images from Learning Maya 7 | Foundation by Marc-André Guindon and Cathy McGinnis. Reprinted with permission.

This is an excerpt in a series from Learning Maya 7 | Foundation by Marc-André Guindon and Cathy McGinnis from Alias|Learning Tool.

The edges of the extrusion on the frame of the orb look very hard at the moment. Hard edges mean that you can clearly see a crisp line between two polygon faces. By doing a bevel on those edges, you will reinforce the metal aspect of the geometry.

  • 1. Select contiguous edges
  • With the body selected, press F10 to go in Component mode to display the polygon edges.

  • LMB+click any of the hard edges to select it.

  • In the Modeling menu set, select Edit Polygons > Selection > Select Contiguous Edges.

Doing this will select all contiguous edges, which are essentially adjacent or bordering edges.

To speed up the selection of hard edges, Shift-select one edge per hard extruded edge.

Execute Edit Polygons > Selection > Select Contiguous Edges to select the contiguous edges all at once.

  • 2. Bevel the edges
  • With the edges from the previous step still selected, select Edit Polygons > Bevel.
Example of soft (left) and hard edges.
Select a hard edge (above left). Contiguous edges selected (above right).

The selected hard edges now have a nice bevel with history attached.

  • Adjust the bevels by highlighting the polyBevel history node in the Channel Box, as follows:Offset to 0.2;Segments to 2.

These settings will narrow the bevels and smooth them nicely.

Tip: You could delete all the history for the entire scene by selecting Edit > Delete All by Type > History. Be careful: sometimes you want to keep certain history nodes, such as binding or deformers.

3. Delete historyOnce a piece of geometry is final and no longer needs all of its construction history, you can dispose of the history input nodes with a single command.

  • Press F8 to go back in Object mode.

  • With the geometry selected, select Edit > Delete by Type > History.

Notice that all the input nodes are gone from the Channel Box.

Top and Bottom Caps

You will now create the top and bottom caps of the orb by revolving a profile curve around the Y-axis. To do so, you will first draw a profile curve, and then revolve it specifying polygonal quads as the output of the operation. You will then be able to modify the newly created polygonal surface to complete the caps.


First curve point snapped on Y-axis (left) and the completed curve.

First curve point snapped on Y-axis (left) and the completed curve.

  • 1. Draw the profile curve
  • Select Create > EP Curve Tool.

  • Frame the orb in the front view.

  • Hold down x to open Snap to Grid and LMB+click to draw the first curve point centered on the Y-axis.

  • Release x, then draw the remaining curve points as follows:

  • Hit Enter to complete the curve.

2. Revolve

  • With the curve selected, choose Surfaces > Revolve > box.gif.

  • Set the revolve options as follows:

    Output Geometry to Polygons;Type to Quads.

Click the Revolve button to execute the action.

Rename the surface to topCap.

The top cap.
The orb with a top and bottom cap (above) and face to select on the top cap.

Tip: Since the revolvedSurface still has history attached, you can continue to tweak the profile curve's components to change the shape of the geometry.

  • 3. Duplicate the geometry
  • With the cap selected, press Ctrl+d to duplicate it.

  • In the Channel Box, set Scale Y to -1.

This will mirror the geometry on the Y-axis, thus creating the bottom cap.

  • Rename the surface bottomCap.

Adding Details

At this point, you might be thinking that this will be a very simplistic looking orb. You will now add details that will greatly improve the look of the orb.

  • 1. Tweaking the top cap
  • Select the top cap.

  • Press F11 to display its faces

  • Select the following two faces

  • Extrude the faces and push them down.
  • 2. Making a groove
  • Press F10 to enable the edges selection mask.

  • Using Select Contiguous Edges, select the center ring of edges on the topCap

  • Select Edit Polygons > Bevel, and change the Segments attribute to 2 in the polyBevel history node.

  • Use Select Contiguous Edges once again to select the ring of edges between the new bevel.

  • Move the edges down as follows:

Note: Notice how the topCap shading seems to change as you move the edges to create the groove. This is due to the normals orientation change.


Difference between soft (right) and hard groove.

Difference between soft (right) and hard groove.

  • 3. Change edge normals by hand
  • Select the three rings of edges used for the groove.

  • Select Edit Polygons > Normals > Soften/Harden > box.gif.

The Soften/Harden window pops up.

  • Click on the All Hard button to change the Angle to 0.

  • Click the Soft/Hard button to apply and close the window.
  • 4. Finishing the details Using what you have learned up to this point in this lesson, add the remaining details on the orb. Starting from a polygonal cube, make a small display area, and then make a camera lens from a polygonal cylinder and sphere.

Find out more about building an orb and other topics in Learning Maya 7 | Foundation by Marc-André Guindon and Cathy McGinnis: Alias|Learning Tools, 2005. 642 pages with illustrations and DVD. ISBN: 1-894893-74-3 ($69.95). Check back to VFXWorld frequently to read new excerpts.

Primary author Marc-André Guindon is the founder of Realities Studio, a Montreal-based production facility. An advanced user of both Maya and Alias MotionBuilder, Marc-André and Realities have partnered with Alias on several projects, including The Art of Maya, Learning Maya 6 | MEL Fundamentals and the series Learning Maya 7. He had developed plug-ins and tools for films and games, including the Outlaw Game series. He served as td on XXX2: State of the Union, Scooby-Doo 2 and Dawn of the Dead.

Contributing author Cathy McGinnis is an Alias certified instructor teaching at the Media Design School in Auckland, New Zealand. Cathy was previously a technical product specialist for Alias, specializing in rendering in both Maya and mental ray for Maya. She has been a contributor to several Alias publications, including Learning Maya | Rendering and Learning Maya | Foundation.