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You will spend countless hours working with Maya adjusting your cameras to show you what you need to see. Because viewing is such an important part of using Maya, performance gains made here will reap substantial and ongoing benefits. Let's take a brief look at how you can more effectively manipulate your views.

See the Big Picture

First, when you look at your scene, you want to see it as well as possible and not waste time trying to bring the information you need into view.

The first step in this direction is to maximize the camera's window, making the displayed view as large as is practical. I almost always (more than 99% of the time) look at single-model panel views rather than the four-view default layout. To make this easy, I've set up top-row hotkeys (F5 through F8) that bring up the particular view I'm interested in (Top, Front, Right, and Perspective, respectively). Switching among cameras takes but a single keystroke rather than popping in and out of the four-view mode and moving my mouse into the desired view.

Be aware of your camera's position, whether in orthographic or perspective views. Setting clipping planes, for instance, depends on knowing where your camera is.

Set Some Boundaries

Because clipping planes are defined in camera space, before you set them. Single views are also faster graphically. You first need to know where the camera is located. To do this, use the Select Camera command (which I've hotkeyed, of course) from the window's View menu. If it's a standard orthographic view, check the translation for the axis normal to the view (for example, the X translate for a side view). I like to keep the clipping plane math simple, so I usually set it to the default value of 100 or some other nice round number.

Setting the clipping plane values normally involves either using the Frame command or going into the Attribute Editor and explicitly setting the near and far clipping plane distances. However, by adding these clipping planes to the list of keyable attributes, the job can be easily done in the Channel Box. You can manually make them keyable by using the Channel Control window, or you can prepare a MEL script that turns on their keyable attribute for example:

setAttr -k on "topShape.nearClipPlane";
setAttr -k on "topShape.farClipPlane";

When the camera clipping planes are in the Channel Box, adjusting them is simply a matter of selecting the camera and entering the values for the near and/or far planes (see Figure 4.8).

Figure 4.8. Clipping planes as keyable attributes.

This is especially convenient for culling geometry that you don't want to inadvertently operate on. Because the camera's at a rounded-off value, it's easy to calculate the near and far values to obtain a desired slice of a model in that camera.

Stay Centered

When the camera is pointed in the right general direction, it's important to keep it aimed where you want it and to maintain a spatial sense of the entire scene.

When modeling, my initial approach to viewing the model in a perspective camera is to do the following:

  • Set my field of view to something like a “normal” camera lens (say, 45° or so)

  • Adjust my distance to the model so that it just fits within the view

  • Select the geometry of interest

  • Perform a Look at Selection (not a Frame) operation

When that's done, I adjust my view primarily with Tumble, Track, Zoom, and Look At commands. In particular, I zoom in for a moment, do some modeling operations, and then use the Previous View hotkey to return to my “orbital” position. Only occasionally do I need to dolly in or out, which is good—the clipping plane relationships stay intact and my reference position (on the outside, looking in) has a known sense of scale and proportion.

When incremental adjustments eventually get me disoriented, I return to the previous procedure and set up again. Orthographic views are handled similarly, but without the field of view and tumbling issues.

If you're especially ambitious, you can use the camera command to define the camera's home default; then a simple selection of Default Home takes you back to a customized home position. We'll leave the details of this, though, as an exercise for the motivated reader.

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