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Maya LT/Maya: Geometry Modeling Basics Exercise - Beginner Tutorial Series 7/13

Category: Maya LT/Maya
September 11, 2016

The following tutorial is directly from Module 1 of 3 in "3D Game Environment Modeling Foundation" series. I've released this first Module completely free. It is focused on teaching you how to get started with interface overview in Maya LT/Maya specifically for game environment artist.

  • First Module is focused on interface overview for game environment modeling (start here).
  • Second Module is focused on game environment modeling techniques.
  • Third Module is focused on UV mapping, UV unwrapping and UVing.

The full series is designed for game environment artist to learn Maya LT or Maya specifically for modeling and UVing game environment art.

The entire "3D Game Environment Modeling Foundation" tutorial series contains 9 hours, 53 videos and all 3 modules.

Following free 1st module features 13 video tutorials. You can start from the beginning here and watch all videos sequentially.

As you slowly become proficient in new software (3d modeling application, a game engine or level editor) you have to put the acquired knowledge gained so far into context of an exercise to better assimilate what you've learned.

Following exercise provides a framework to practice in.

It is important that you begin to master navigating viewports, becoming familiar with Maya LT/Maya interface for environment modeling and creating, moving, rotating, scaling, manipulating simple Polygon Primitives.

I can't stress enough how important it is to go through this exercises and maybe go through it a few times.

Repetition is key.

Exercise Overview

We are going to use simple geometric Primitive Polygon shapes and model the essence of an environment from a photo.

Here is the photo reference:

Here is our goal in Maya LT/Maya:

Once you've gone through this exercise once using the photo reference above, you can find a new photo of an environment to practice on.

You want to break the photo reference down into simple, primitive, geometric shapes such as cube, cylinder, sphere etc:

You will then use these basic shapes inside Maya LT to block in the scene with only Polygon Primitives.

This photo reference is very simple and it only contains modified cubes:

Start and Save New Scene

Inside newly created project, start a new scene. File > New Scene:

Then right away, save this scene, File > Save Scene:

Name this anything you want. I named mine "PrimitivePolyExercise":

Human Scale Reference

To make sure you model everything to correct scale and proportion in Maya LT/Maya you need to establish two things:

  • 1. Scale values for basic architecture that is specific to the game engine you are working in
  • 2. Human reference scale in the scene that matches the player character in-game

Scale values will vary depending on the game engine used. These include specific height, width and depth for walls, doors, stairs and windows so everything you model will match from Maya LT/Maya to game engine upon export.

There are too many game engines to cover for correct architecture and player scale values. You'll have to look up these values for the engine you are using. For Unreal Engine 4, see this and this in-depth tutorial.

So, what are the architecture and player scale values are we going to use for this exercise?

We are going to establish our own. They are:

  • Player Height: 6
  • Player Width: 2
  • Player Depth: 2
  • Average Wall/Column Height: 12
  • Average Wall Depth: 1

We will create a human reference scale that resembles the height, width and depth of a possible character and model everything to it.

Let's create a cube that will be used as human reference scale:

Use Channel Box Inputs to set scale values:

  • Width: 2
  • Height: 6
  • Depth: 2

Modify the pivot point to bottom corner and snap the cube to the grid:

This is our human reference scale. Everything we now build has to be proportional to this scale.

Walls and Columns

There are two ways to do this exercise, the correct way and a quick way.

Quick way is to use Move, Scale and Rotate tools to shape the walls and pillars without paying attention to grid and object snaps:

This will create a lot of problems. Your objects will not snap to the grid, there are no modular components that can be reused and there is a lot of overlapping geometry. Note the mis-alignment of geometry on the grid:

Correct way is to create a cube, use Input Channel Box with specific values to reshape the size and to make sure that this object is snapped to the grid and can be aligned to other geometry in the scene:

Let's create our first initial wall. Create a cube and using Inputs in Channel Box set the following dimensions:

  • Width: 1
  • Height: 12
  • Depth: 12

Modify pivot point to snap to a bottom corner and snap the wall to the grid:

Take a look at the player scale reference and the wall to see if they are in proportion:

We are only going to create this wall piece once and duplicate it for the rest of the environment.

Now onto the column. Create a cube and using Inputs in Channel Box set the following dimensions:

  • Width: 3
  • Height: 12
  • Depth: 3

Modify pivot point to snap to a bottom corner:

Position the column to align next to the wall. Hold X key to snap the column to grid and other objects:

Go to vertices Component Mode for this column and select top 2 front vertices and move them forward to create a slight angle in geometry. We won't snap these vertices to the grid:

We now have a wall and a column. We will duplicate both of them around our scene but before we do that we need a floor piece.

For the floor, create a cube:

The thickness of the floor will be set at 1 by default.

Modify the pivot point to the top corner of the floor cube and snap this cube to the gird:

Instead of using Channel Box to resize, let's do this organically by modifying vertices or edges. In top view, switch to vertices or edges Component Mode and grab 2 vertices/edges:

As you move these vertices/edges, hold X so they snap to the grid. Resize the floor piece while looking at the reference and the human reference scale to what seems the correct size:

Make sure the ground is below the grid and the player reference scale is on top of it:

We now have a wall, column and ground which are all snapped to the grid:

Duplicating Objects

Let's duplicate wall and column.

There are two ways to duplicate objects: Duplicate and Duplicate Special.

Duplicate will copy the object normally without any special options or transformations:

  • Ctrl + D = duplicate (Edit > Duplicate)

Duplicate Special commands will let you copy the selected objects with transformations applied to each copy.

Select the object you want to duplicate, press Shift+D then move the duplicated object:

Now with the duplicated object still selected, press Shift+D again. It will duplicate again but now remembering the previous transformation values. Continue to press Shift+D and it will continue to duplicate it along the same exact pattern. This is very useful for creating repeatable patterns of architecture:

Once you deselect the duplicated copy, Shift+D (Duplicate Special) will no longer work for that object.

Duplicate Special will remember translate, rotate and scale. So if you duplicate using Shift+D and then modify distance, rotation and scale of the object and press Shift+D again, it will remember and duplicate with these values.

  • Shift + D = duplicate with transform (Edit > Duplicate with Transform)

For individual objects use Ctrl+D for repeated pattern use Shift+D.

Now, duplicate the walls and columns making sure they are aligned to the grid and next to each other. Duplicate them on one side of the floor:

Now we want to do the same thing for the other side. Select all the walls and press Ctrl+D to duplicate. Move them while snapping to the other side of the hallway, while snapping these objects to the grid:

Select the column; duplicate it using Ctrl+D:

In the channel box, rotate the column 180 degrees. The axis you use to rotate will depend on the scene orientation. So your rotating axis may differ:

Reason for column rotation is to keep the angle of the object facing the hallway.

Move and snap the column to the opposite side of the hallway next to new set of walls:

Duplicate the column along using Shift+D:

Pillar Support

We now need to add pillar support near the ceiling:

Create a cube and set the Width, Depth and Height to:

  • Width: 3
  • Height: 3
  • Depth: 3

These values match the column, with exception of the height:

Modify the pivot point and place it in the top corner of the object:

Snap the pillar to the top of the column and so it overlaps the column like so:

Switch to vertices Component Mode and move the four vertices on one side to the other side, snapping to the grid:

We have a small problem with the pillar overlapping the column:

We need to fix this. We want to scale the pillar so it is fits inside the column.

If we do this now then it will scale from the pivot point like so:

This way could work, if we manually move the pillar over but we want exact precision for future duplication. So we need to temporarily modify the pivot point. Select the pillar and go to Modify > Center Pivot:

Scale the column on one axis, in my case this is z-axis. Notice how the pillar is now being scaled evenly on both sides:

The pillar is now no longer overlapping and it is in the exact middle of the column.

Modify the pivot again, but this time place it on the grid near the pillar vertices. It will not be in the corner of the pillar model due to our scaling of the pillar. But the pillar will now be on the grid due to our pivot point:

Duplicate the pillar across the ceiling using Shift+D to Duplicate Special:


For the ceiling, take the floor, duplicate it and move it up:

Remember to hold X when moving to align and snap to the grid.

Top Wall Detail

We need to add top wall detail seen here:

In real modeling scenario, you would insert an extra edge and extrude the top face like so:

Since we haven't covered modeling functions yet (Module 2 will focus on Modeling Techniques) we'll duplicate the wall and use that as the wall detail.

Duplicate the wall:

Switch to Component Mode to vertices or Edges and move the bottom edges up:

Position the wall detail on upper part of the wall:

Switch to faces Component Mode and move the front face of the wall detail to make it extend beyond a bit, so it is not overlapping:

Duplicate the top wall detail across one side using Shift+D:

Then duplicate one of the top wall details:

Rotate it 180 degrees and snap it to the grid. Position it on the opposite side of the wall:

Duplicate it using Shift+D for the other side of the hallway:

Final Block In

Here is our final exercise block-in:

Following exercise is very important to practice and become familiar with all everything you learned up to this point.

I would recommend going through it 2-3 more times using different reference images. Focus on breaking down the architecture into simple geometric shapes and capturing the essence of the environment using nothing else but what you've learned so far.

If you think this Geometry Modeling Exercise is too easy, then you should see this beginner modeling tutorial series for game environment artist.


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My name is AlexG. I am self-taught level designer, game environment artist and the creator of World of Level Design.com. I've learned everything I know from personal experimentation and decades of being around various online communities of fellow environment artist and level designers. On World of Level Design you will find tutorials to make you become the best level designer and game environment artist.

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