Marking Menus in Maya. Part 2: The Defaults

Tutorial / 07 January 2018

In Part 1 we covered the basics of how marking menus work. In this part we'll cover how they integrate in Maya's UI and UX. There are some interesting things here so even if you've used them before, I would recommend giving this a good read as it might help you better understand the philosophy behind marking menus.

Here’s a quick run though of their main characteristics:

Marking Menus are cursor-centered.

Marking Menus allow access to more commands with less shortcuts.

Marking Menus are muscle-memory based.

This will come in handy when we move to Part 3 and customize them. The default marking menus I will be referencing all revolve around polygon modeling but as you will see, they also apply to other areas of Maya.

To make it easier to list shortcuts, they will be marked in bold italic text I will use the following notation for buttons.

SHIFT - the shift key

CTRL - the control key

ALT - the alt key

LMB - left mouse button

MMB - middle mouse button

RMB - right mouse button

(N), (S), (SE), etc - the direction of the command where applicable.

All marking menus are visible for as long as the mouse button in the combo is pressed. It is therefore implied that the mouse button has to be held pressed for the marking menu to be visible.

Shortcut consistency across the interface.

We'll start off with a bit of a tangent about the mouse buttons in Maya.

By default, LMB is a selection button, MMB is an action button and RMB is a marking menu button. All the default marking menus use the RMB but as you will see in Part 3, that doesn't have to be the case for all custom marking menus. This default mouse behavior carries across the entire interface which means that for example text selection is done with LMB but drag and dropping is done with MMB. This might look a bit heavy-handed for first time users but it's just the result of keeping things consistent. As a side note, the LMB can be used as an action button but when clicking on (i.e. selecting) a control, such as one of the axis of the move manipulator tool. This does not contradict the philosophy, it's merely a shortcut.

Still, even some more advanced users have trouble understanding why the separation between these two.

 Here's an example of using the manipulator tool to move an object that is just off-screen, so the user cannot click and drag on the manipulator itself. But you can select an axis then reposition the camera and then click and drag MMB to move the object along the selected axis.

The lesson here is that Maya's UI/UX quirks are a result of careful design and years of evolution. As you will see going forward, this design process and the amount of thought put into the UI/UX will become more evident.

Default Marking Menus are contextual.

That’s how they're referred to in the help: contextual marking menus.

I will demonstrate the most basic and universal marking menus which are almost all you need to remember if you plan on do 3d modeling in Maya. I am not exaggerating this one bit.

Let's start with the most basic marking menu:

  • RMB

That’s easy! Just click and hold the RMB. Doing this on elements of the interface will pop up a regular context menu but holding RMB in the viewport will create this marking menu:

It doesn't look like much since there's nothing under the mouse cursor. It is worth mentioning that there are two very useful commands here: Select All and Complete Tool which are very helpful. So, every time the user needs to select all objects in a scene, this can be accomplished with a simple RMB flick in the S direction with the mouse over an empty space in the 3d scene. Same thing about completing a tool such as Multi-Cut.

The contextual part kicks in when the user holds RMB over an object, in which case the component marking menu pops up.  This menu differs based on the selection or the type of object the mouse cursor is over. Here are two examples, for meshes and NURBS surfaces respectively:

Marking Menus are ergonomic.

Of course, you could use the F8 to F12 keys to switch between object mode and each component mode. But there’s a catch, doing so means you have to lift either the left or the right hand from their regular resting places: the left of the keyboard and the mouse, respectively.  This decreases speed and increases fatigue.

Maya’s default interaction system is very ergonomic, the most important keyboard shortcuts are all concentrated on the left side of the keyboard, so the user won’t have to move the left hand too much to reach them. Similarly, marking menus allow the user to bring menus to the cursor, minimizing the movement of the right hand.

Next up, working with selections: selecting loops, rings, converting selections, all can be done from this marking menu:


This one is pretty much self-explanatory as far as content goes, yet it’s very important to note the position of each type of component conversion, like the positions in the component marking menu (RMB): (W) is for vertices, (N) for edges, (E) for UVs, (S) for faces.

As mentioned in Part 1, marking menus are muscle memory based, so having similar commands in similar directions of different marking menus makes learning them easier.

Next up, accessing tools and commands, they can be accessed from this marking menu:


This marking menu pulls out all the tricks to accommodate almost all tools and commands related to polygonal modeling.

First off, this menu is different depending on the object the mouse is over or it’s component selection mode.

If there’s nothing under the mouse cursor, the menu contains commands and tools to create geometry from scratch: primitives, the Create Polygon Tool, etc. See the image above.

For polygon meshes in object selection mode, it contains:

And for component mode, here are the default menus for each component:

You can also observe the same consistency in direction, for example the Extrude command is always in the (S) direction for vertices, edges and faces.


This one is a bit more obscure but it’s a universal marking menu that houses the settings for the current tool. For example, if you’re using the Move Tool or Multi-Cut or Extrude you can access its settings without having to go searching for buttons or open new windows.

The reason I mention these four marking menus is that you don’t need a cheat sheet to remember them, all you need is the RMB and the good old modifier keys CTRL and SHIFT.

The analogy I use is working in Maya is like playing the violin while working in a program like 3d Max is like playing the piano or the drums if you get angry at the keyboard.

As a recap, here’s an easy table of these marking menus and what they do:

In Part 3 we’ll discuss creating custom marking menus from scratch as well as modifying the default marking menus.

Maya Quick Tip: Press and Release Hotkeys

Tutorial / 04 January 2018

One of Maya's cool features is the ability to assign different commands for pressing and releasing a key or key combo.

This feature is used by all marking menus: pressing the key will generate the menu, releasing it will destroy it.

We can take advantage of this feature and create some cool scripts. For example we can create a selection filter using the inbuilt polySelectConstraint command. This is usually available through the interface in the top menus under Select->Select Constraints... Unfortunately the design of the window that houses the commands is a bit confusing as it changes based on current selection. In needs a lot of clicks even for a simple operation such as selecting hard edges.

I've found myself using the hard edge filter a lot. I've also used Select Constraints to select planar or near-planar faces so I decided to just go ahead and create a hotkey that would activate these filters based on current component selection. Really, why should contextual behavior be limited to marking menus?

Create a new hotkey and after setting you desired shortcut for it, make sure it's set to "On Press" by clicking the small triangle at the right of the text box:

Use the following code for the shortcut:

//While hotkey is pressed, check selection mode:
//If edge mode -> filter by hard edge
if (`selectType -q -pe` == 1){
polySelectConstraint -m 1 -t 0x8000 -sm 1;
//If face mode -> filter by face angle. Adjust -at attribute as desired.
else if (`selectType -q -pf` == 1){
polySelectConstraint -ap 1 -at 5;

Similarly, create a new hotkey, use the same key but set it to "On Release". For the command, use this code:

//When hotkey is released, check selection mode:
//If edge mode -> revert edge constraing mode
if (`selectType -q -pe` == 1){
polySelectConstraint -sm 0;
//If face mode -> revert face constraing mode
else if (`selectType -q -pf` == 1){
polySelectConstraint -ap 0;

PS: I found that using resetting all constraints is buggy sometimes so for the release part it's more reliable to revert each constraint as needed.

Marking Menus in Maya. Part 1: The Basics

Tutorial / 04 January 2018

If you know Maya, you've probably used marking menus before. If not, you've probably heard Maya users mentioning them every time they want to prove you Maya's superiority (Maya Master Race FTW). Other programs might have something similar, but Maya still has the edge due to usability and customization options. This is a three-part series that will take you through the marking menu system in Maya.

Part 1 (this one) will cover the basics. If you're either a Maya beginner trying to make sense of them or you don't use Maya but want to know what the fuss is about, this is for you!

Part 2 will cover the default marking menus and how to use them properly. If you want to master the marking menus and never use the regular interface again, this is the article to read.

Part 3 will cover creating marking menus from scratch or editing the default marking menus using some features that are not properly documented in Maya's help. I will share my mel files with everyone, so you can edit your own marking menus.

Disclaimer: All through-out these articles I will be referencing Maya 2018 marking menus. Most will apply to previous versions as well but expect bigger differences the older your preferred Maya version is. In the future I will write an article about Maya versions and why it’s probably better stay up-to-date.

Marking Menus are cursor-centered.

Marking menus are radial menus that exist in the interface only for the duration of hotkey combination being pressed. This hotkey combination usually consists of a keyboard key and a mouse button pressed. They're always created where the mouse cursor is so they effectively bring the interface to the mouse cursor, the focus point of every 3d modeling app. They're very similar to mouse gestures first introduced in the Opera browser a few years back.

In the old school windows-style graphics UI, the user has to remember button positions in the interface and navigate them like a librarian searching for a book. Marking menus transforms this by bringing all the buttons to your fingertips, look at it like some sort of visual Google for the UI.

Marking Menus allow access to more commands with less shortcuts.

The only apparent downside for beginners is the steep learning curve due to their unusual interaction model. They look pretty daunting at first with all of those buttons crammed in that unusual radial pattern. From my experience with Maya both as an artist and as a teacher, I can promise that the steep learning curve pays off very fast, as marking menus takes out the hassle of remembering a lot of keyboard shortcuts. We're talking fractions of seconds here but in time they add up to a lot. Being able to quickly access commands means you can do more in less time, make more mistakes and learn faster!

Marking Menus are muscle-memory based.

Each marking menu allows the user to access 8 commands by flicking the mouse in their direction. These are marked by their geographical direction: N for north, NE for north-east and so on. There is no need to click these areas, releasing the mouse button will automatically activate the button in that direction. (See (1) in the image above)

There are also option boxes for some commands as well as an extension in the south direction which allows access to several commands which all have to be precisely activated. (2) and (3) respectively in the image above.

Beyond they cold hard efficiency, marking menus evolve with the artist. A beginner can take their time, activate a marking menu and visually choose the button they want to press. Once muscle memory starts building up, the marking menu items can be activated and with only a flick in the right direction, making them blistering fast, so fast that they’re barely visible on the screen. This makes working with Maya's interface like playing a musical instrument where hitting all the right notes becomes second nature after a while without having to concentrate on the movements or visually aiming for each string/drum/key.

These would be the basics, next up we'll go through how marking menus are integrated into the Maya UI/UX. Click here for Part 2.

Free 3d models (Sketchfab, CC Attribution)

General / 28 December 2017

To kick things off what I hope will be a periodically updated 3d graphics related blog, I've decided to share some of my Sketchfab models under the CC Attribution license. Basically, you're free to use them in your own projects, commercial or not as long as you credit me for it. I would appreciate if you use this link if you do:

A Futuristic Truck concept I built more than 10 years ago while learning Maya's Subdivision surface workflow. 

An Antelope chair I made for my sister's Interior Design projects. Here you'll find a very used version of it with some quick Substance Painter textures.

Next up some low poly rims and tires I made for an Asseto Corsa mod a couple of years ago. I don't think it ever got released so here are two Nessen forged rims and two slightly used tires.

Last but not least, a rim of my own design, JDM style.

PS: If you need variations of these, let me know and I can make it happen!