maya tip for beginners

25 Maya tips for beginners

Maya is a very complicated program with a lot of depth – a beginner could spend forever going through each individual menu and option. Here are some tips to get up and running in Maya more quickly!

This is by no means an exhaustive list, if you have any tips leave them in the comments!

Some of these tips are based on personal experience, and some are based on watching my students, beginners themselves, as they learn to use the program.

MAYA tips for beginners:

These tips tackle stumbling blocks for beginners, but also focus on speeding up your workflow.

Working fast gets more done. But also, working faster usually means using less concentration on things like dragging down menus and finding tools, so you can focus longer, which means better results!

Maya in general:

  • Remember… Maya is case-sensitive. So ‘z’ is different from ‘Z’! This is why Maya warns you when your Caps Lock is on.
  • Move/rotate/scale gizmo has disappeared? Hit + a bunch of times! + and – change the size of your selection gizmo.
  • Model suddenly turned orange? Hit ‘b’. hitting ‘b’ turns soft selection on and off.
  • Speaking of soft selection… hold down ‘b’ and left click and drag to interactively change the influence radius of soft select.
  • Need to know an object’s poly count? Go to the Display Menu > Heads Up Display and turn on Poly Count.


  • Did your object suddenly turn green? Assign a new material! Green means the material is missing.
  • Just beveled/extruded/whatever and part of your model just disappeared? Assign a new material!
  • Use Shift + ‘i’ to Isolate a selected object. This is quicker than hiding using the menus. When you want to un-isolate, deselect everything and hit Shift + ‘i’ again.
  • Is your object flickering weirdly, as if it’s transparent, but you haven’t added transparency? Chances are you have a 32bit texture with an alpha channel plugged into your color slot. Maya ‘helpfully’ plugs in an alpha channel automatically to the transparency slot. Right click on the word ‘transparency’ in the material editor and ‘break connection’. And while you’re at it, get rid of the alpha channel on the texture if you don’t need it.
  • Speaking of transparency, when using Viewport 2.0, try setting the transparency options to ‘Depth Peeling’, I usually get better results this way.

Maya hotkeys:

ALWAYS USE HOT KEYS WHENEVER YOU CAN! It will speed up your workflow so much.

  • tap SPACE BAR to minimize a viewport, then tap it again to maximize whatever viewport your mouse is hovering over. Don’t switch camera views any other way… unless you like wasting time, I guess.
  • HOLD space bar to bring up the HOTBOX. The Hotbox has basically every menu in Maya. This means you don’t need to move your mouse all the way up to the top menu bar to use it, saving time.
  • Marking menus are a huge time saver: Hold down various combinations of Shift, CTRL, and ALT, along with the RMB to activate context sensitive menus. These menus change depending on what objects you have selected, and what component (i.e. verts edges faces) mode you are in!
  • Hit ‘g’ to repeat your last action. Actions are anything that aren’t a tool.
  • Similarly, hit ‘y’ to reactivate your last tool. Tools generally have the word ‘tool’ after their name: Split Polygon tool, Multi Cut tool, Insert Edge Loop tool, etc.
  • Use number keys to switch viewport modes: 4 = wireframe viewport, 5 = shaded viewport, 6 = textured and viewport, 7 = lit viewport. 8 = Paint Effects, don’t hit 8!
  • Use QWER to select your transform tools: Q = select, W = move, E = rotate, R = scale
  • 123 select your smooth proxy settings: With an object selected, 1 = unsmoothed, 2 = smooth proxy + original wireframe, 3 = smooth proxy only.
  • Function keys activate component modes: F8 is object mode, F9 is vert mode, F10 is edge mode,  F11 is face mode.
  • ‘v’ activates your point snap,
  • ‘c’ activates your curve snap (curve snap works on poly edges too!). To use curve snap, hold ‘c’ and MIDDLE MOUSE CLICK AND DRAG on the edge/line you want to snap to. Totally different from vertex snap. :/

MENTAL RAY helpful tips

  • Mental Ray not available in the rendering menu? Go to Windows > Settings / Preferences / Plug-in Manager, and enable Mayatomr.mll (it’s near the end).
  • Displacement maps: turn on ‘alpha is luminance’ for black and white displacement maps. Otherwise, black is read as zero displacement, instead of 50% grey
  • Displacement still looking weird? Go to Windows > Rendering Editors > Mental Ray > Approximation Editor to adjust displacement tessellation settings.
  • Similarly, any time you need an Alpha Channel for transparency or masking, try turning on ‘Alpha is Luminance’ in your texture attributes  if you are getting unpredictable behavior.

Persistence is key

Using Maya requires patience and dedication. Stick with it!

Share tips in the comments, I’ll append good ones to this post. If you need a tip on a specific subject, don’t hesitate to ask!

6 thoughts on “25 Maya tips for beginners”

  1. Hi there, thank you for sharing this info! Maya has a lot of features, what should I learn first if Im interested in low poly character creation?

    1. The stereo error is referring to a camera plugin. It shouldn’t keep your objects from showing up. Try reloading and then clicking one of the camera buttons on the left bar. That may reveal your scene.

  2. Thanks alot.. I will write the moment I run into a jam.. u have been most helpful. I started using maya 5days ago… just yesterday I almost gave up before I stumbled into ur site. God bless u

  3. Hi James! Just wanted to add that there are some cases when plug-in manager doesn’t have Mayatomr.mll. In such cases one need to download it from autodesk web site.

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