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How to UV a Character in Maya 2009

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Efficient UV mapping is a very important step before you can begin texturing any 3d model, and will inevitably affect every other stage of your workflow, from baking normal maps, all the way to performance, rendering, and frame rate . In this tutorial you will learn the complete workflow necessary to effectively UV map a character in Maya 2009. If can be a tedious process, but with proper planning, clever conventions, and tricky time savers, it can be a very fun and rewarding process too. Note: This tutorial is intended for symmetrical geometry only.

Republished Tutorial

Every few weeks, we revisit some of our reader's favorite posts from throughout the history of the site. This tutorial was first published in January of 2010.

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After your character model is complete, it will need to be UV'd before it can be textured. A good way to approach UVs is to block out the full geometry, and then go in and detail it piece by piece.

Step 1

Start by selecting all of your geometry and deleting any UVs that might already exist. Do this by opening the UV Texture Editor ( Window > UV Texture Editor), and deleting the UVs (Polygons > Delete UVs).

Step 2

Hide everything except for the geometry you will be UVing, and switch to face selection mode.

Step 3

Select all of the faces on the left side of your geometry, being careful of the small faces where the sides connect.

Step 4

Delete all of the left faces (don't worry, the UVs can be mirrored once they're finished).

Step 5

Within the "Hypershade" window create a new Blinn material, and name it UTILSG.

Step 6

Click the checkerboard next to "Color" to map in a texture file.

Step 7

Map in a utility image. This image is an important one to keep around, because it makes eyeballing UV placement easy. File available for download here:

Step 8

Repeat the image 5x5.

Step 9

Assign UTILSG to your geometry. It will look white because you have no UVs yet.

Step 10

Within the Polygons menu set, navigate to "Create UVs-->Automatic Mapping-->option box".

Step 11

Make sure "Fewer pieces" is selected, and hit "Project".

Step 12

BOOM! Now that you have UVs, your texture will appear.

Step 13

In the UV Texture Editor (from now on referred to as the UVTE), it's very hard to see the UVs with our texture visible.

Step 14

Click the Display image on/off button at the top of the UVTE.

Step 15

Now the UVs can be clearly seen.

Step 16

Usually a character is going to split its UVs roughly between the head, torso, arms, and legs. Automatic mapping got us to a good starting point, but let's go in and get specific. From the front view, select the faces of the arm.

Step 17

Navigate to "Create UVs-->Cylindrical Mapping".

Step 18

In the UVTE, the arm looks awful. Look in perspective view, and you can see that the cylyndrical map is projecting the arm UVs from the wrong angle.

Step 19

From the front view again, look at the channel box for an INPUT called "polyCylProj1". The cylinder projection should be rotated around the 'Z' axis.

Step 20

Change the values in 'Z' until the map looks better. Click anywhere to finish the cylinder UV mapping.

Step 21

The tip of the hand now looks wacky, so select those faces.

Step 22

Navigate to "Create UVs-->Automatic Mapping". This does a better job on the front arm faces than cylinder mapping, but it's not calculating at the right angle again.

Step 23

Switch again to the front view and use the rotate handle to fix the angle.

Step 24

This time, when finished with the automatic projection, within the UVTE select "RMB-->UV". Drag around the faces you just mapped.

Step 25

All of your geometry's UVs will now appear in a mess on top of one another, but don't worry, just move the selected UVs down out of the way.

Step 26

The arm that was just cylinder mapped is also in the way of all the other UVs. Any group of connected, mapped faces within the UVTE is called a SHELL. To select the entire cylinder mapped arm, grab any few UVs on the shell.

Step 27

"Control + RMB-->To Shell".

Step 28

Move the arm shell out of the way, and scale it down.

Step 29

From the front and side views, select your character's leg faces. You can see in the UVTE that automatic mapping has thrown them all over the place.

Step 30

Repeat "Create UVs-->Cylindrical Mapping". Depending on your leg shape, there might be no need to angle the projection.

Step 31

This is why the "UTILSG" is so handy. The squished rainbow squares can be roughly fixed by scaling the cylindrical map projection in 'Y'.

Step 32

Like before, "RMB-->UV" within the UVTE, and drag around the newly mapped leg shell. Move and scale it out of the way.

Step 33

From the side view, select all of the foot faces, but don't worry about selecting leg faces too.

Step 34

We want to separately map the foot, but we don't want to mess up the leg shell we just mapped. Within the UVTE, control-drag over the leg faces. Now just the foot faces have been selected. The UVTE is a very useful tool for selecting groups of faces, and can almost be used like a quick select set.

Step 35

"Create UVs--> Automatic Mapping". Check the top view of the map projection. Because the foot is turned off axis, the mapping is crooked.

Step 36

Use the rotate handles to turn the projection and map the foot straight.

Step 37

"RMB-->UV" within the UVTE, drag over the new foot shells, and move them out of the way.

Step 38

The main chunks of the character have been mapped out. Now let's clean up the torso. Usually Automatic Mapping leaves you with an obvious main piece as a starting point. Within the UVTE, "RMB-->Edge" and select some edges on that big torso piece.

Step 39

It's a good idea to zoom out when you select edges to sew together. Here, some of the arm was selected too.

Step 40

Deselect unwanted arm edges. Notice that the arm edges on the torso shell are then deselected.

Step 41

Select just the front torso edges that connect to the chest shell.

Step 42

Hit the MOVE AND SEW button at the top of the UVTE. Shells are usually moved by "size", so the smaller shell should pop over to the larger shell

Step 43

Now, another shell is in the way. Use the technique described above to grab the full in-the-way shell and move it out of the way.

Step 44

Select some of the chest edges.

Step 45

Again hit MOVE AND SEW. If you MOVE AND SEW something but change your mind, you can undo actions within the UVTE. Just be aware that the window can be fickle.

Step 46

Select some of the belly edges.

Step 47

MOVE AND SEW these shells together. Notice how crooked this new shell came over.

Step 48

Undo any crooked moves like this. Trust me, it will make your life easier.

Step 49

Instead, select this shell and move it to where it should connect.

Step 50

Select the connecting edges of the two shells. When sewing shells together, it doesn't matter if you select extra edges that are already sewn. Just make sure you don't have any unsewn edges selected.

Step 51

This time, hit the SEW button at the top of the UVTE.

Step 52

This will keep everything in line instead off popping one piece crookedly to the other.

Step 53

Select the last big torso shell, and rotate/ move the piece next to the main torso shell.

Step 54

Select connecting edges and hit the SEW button. Again, this prevents the shell from crookedly connecting. A note on seams: Always think about where you wouldn't mind having UV seams. For example, if you were UVing a character with built in clothing, you could hide seams within natural clothing seams, like down both sides under the armpits. But since this character is a bunny, I'm putting one seam at his back.

Step 55

Now to fit the tail in the torso UV shell. I prefer to have as few shells as possible (and thus as few seams as possible), though the tail isn't going to look pretty. This is the "lesser of two evils" approach.

Step 56

MOVE AND SEW all the tail edges to each other, being careful not to sew it to the main torso shell yet.

Step 57

Now select the main torso tail edges.

Step 58

Hit the MOVE AND SEW button. Good enough for now.

Step 59

Select the main torso shell. Move it so that the front-center edges are mostly aligned with a UVTE grid line.

Step 60

Select the entire center line of UVs, and grid-snap them. It's very important to think about the full character, and not just the half character. Snapping centerline UVs makes mirroring easier at the end.

Step 61

Now to introduce my most favorite UVing tool: UNFOLD. Select several interior UVs within the torso shell.

Step 62

Within the UVTE, navigate to "Polygons-->Unfold-->option box".

Step 63

It's very important to have "Pin UVs-->Pin unselected UVs". checked.

Step 64

Hit Apply and Close. Watch the UTILSG suddenly look much prettier as the UVs shift.

Step 65

Repeat as needed using "Polygons-->Unfold". To repeat your last action, hit 'G'. It's very easy to UNFOLD a bunch of small areas this way. Try not to use UNFOLD on edge UVs, so that the general shape remains correct. You can Undo if your UNFOLD doesn't look the way you hoped.

Step 66

Note how the UTILSG curves too far up on the character's front neckpiece.

Step 67

Tweak those front UVs one at a time. Use the UTILSG to approximate where they should be.

Step 68

After tweaking front edge UVs, UNFOLD inner UVs.

Step 69

Grab tail UVs and UNFOLD. UTILSG won't look very pretty, but the torso is all one shell the way I prefer.

Step 70

Use UTILSG to approximate where single UVs should sit.

Step 71

The neck and shoulder area will be partially covered by the head, so it can look a little ugly. Select edges at the top of the torso shell to see what piece fits there.

Step 72

Move other shells out of the way, and move the two connecting shells near each other.

Step 73

Select just the front connecting edges and hit SEW.

Step 74

Now grab that upper chunk of UVs, and rotate and move it so that it basically lines up with the main torso shell.

Step 75

Hit SEW. The UVs will look all over the place, but several UNFOLDs and singular UV tweaks will fix it nicely.

Step 76

Take a moment to "Edit-->Delete by Type-->History".

Step 77

Repeat steps 71-75, until the entire shoulder and neck part of the torso has been sewn to the main torso shell.

Step 78

You can continue as long as you have time, checking the UTILSG to help you straighten and position UVs and using UNFOLD on groups of UVs.

Step 79

Go back and tweak the arm shell. An ok place for a seam is along the back elbow area. It's easier to find the edge on your geometry in the perspective view, instead of in the UVTE.

Step 80

Once you have identified the seam edges, hit the CUT button at the top of the UVTE. Be careful selecting edges you are about to cut. Unlike when you are selecting edges to sew, you shouldn't have any random extra edges selected.

Step 81

Though it doesn't look like anything happened, those edges are no longer sewn together. Now, select the edges on the opposite side, and hit the MOVE AND SEW button.

Step 82

Grab the front paw shell, and rotate/ scale/ move it where it should connect.

Step 83

SEW the shells together, and tweak and UNFOLD until the UTILSG looks good.

Step 84

To finish the foot, MOVE AND SEW all those small internal pieces first.

Step 85

Move shells out of the way of the main shell, which should be the top of the foot. Then MOVE AND SEW the side edges of the foot.

Step 86

Move the main foot shell to where it should connect to the leg.

Step 87

Rotate the side UVs of the foot shell out of the way of the leg shell.

Step 88

Select the foot and leg edges, and hit SEW. UNFOLD ugly UVs.

Step 89

CUT the edges where flaps of faces are part of the bottom foot shell. This way, seams are hidden better on the bottom of the foot.

Step 90

MOVE AND SEW them to the main foot and leg shell.

Step 91

CUT the heel in half, and MOVE AND SEW the pieces to the foot/leg shell. Move and UNFOLD UVs to make the UTILSG look pretty.

Step 92

That ugly seam on the bunny's leg needs to go.

Step 93

CUT along the inner thigh edge to hide the seam reasonably.

Step 94

Select opposite edges and MOVE AND SEW.

Step 95

Select the upper leg edges, and MOVE AND SEW them to the torso shell.

Step 96

Tweak UVs, move the center line seam out, and UNFOLD. Repeat until the UVs are not overlapping and the UTILSG looks pretty good.

Step 97

Remember to move and scale all the shells so they fit within half of the 0 to 1 UV space. Grid snap all the center UVs where your shells should connect, to be prepared for when the geometry is mirrored. Delete history.

Step 98

Now to UV your character's head. Hide everything except for the head geometry. Switch to face selection mode.

Step 99

Select all of the faces on the left side of your geometry, being careful of small faces where the sides connect.

Step 100

Delete all of the left faces.

Step 101

Assign UTILSG to your geometry.

Step 102

With your geometry selected, go to "Create UVs-->Automatic Mapping" to get a UV starting point.

Step 103

From the FRONT view, select all of the ear faces.

Step 104

Select "Create UVs--> Automatic Mapping". From the front, rotate the projection to account for the ear angle.

Step 105

Within the UVTE, "RMB-->UV" and drag to select the newly mapped ear UVs. Move them out of the way.

Step 106

Because automatic mapping did a pretty wacky job, from the side view select all of the front faces.

Step 107

Navigate to "Create UVs--> Planar Mapping-->option box".

Step 108

Make sure "Project from" is on the correct axis (in this case Z) and hit "Project".

Step 109

While looking at the UTILSG, scale the projection so that the rainbow squares look pretty good.

Step 110

"RMB-->UV" and select your new face shell. Move it out of the way and scale it down.

Step 111

Select cheek edges to see which shell connects to them. Then, select the cheek shell and move it down.

Step 112

Select cheek edges and hit the SEW button. Remember, connecting them with MOVE AND SEW would have made crooked shells, and thus more work.

Step 113

Just like the cheek shell, if the forehead edges were connected with MOVE AND SEW, the UVs would be crooked.

Step 114

Instead, move the forehead shell down and hit SEW.

Step 115

UNFOLD and tweak UVs. Be careful NOT to UNFOLD open eye socket UVs, or the far edge.

Step 116

Move the back of head shell in place, and SEW the edges. UNFOLD the upper UVs.

Step 117

Select the top edge UVs, and scale them in 'Y' to flatten them. This works because the actual geometry edge is roughly a straight line.

Step 118

Select several UVs beneath that flattened edge, without selecting the eye socket or far edge UVs. Hit UNFOLD.

Step 119

Tweak the far right edge UVs, and UNFOLD until the UTILSG looks better.

Step 120

Take a moment to "Edit-->Delete by Type-->History".

Step 121

Move the neck shell to where it connects under the jaw.

Step 122

Grab the side UVs, and rotate/ move/ scale them roughly along the neck.

Step 123

Select connecting edges and SEW them together.

Step 124

Move the last neck shell roughly in place, and SEW it in.

Step 125

Select several lower neck UVs and UNFOLD them.

Step 126

Select the bottom neck edge UVs, and scale them in 'Y' to flatten them. Then move the UVs down so that they don't overlap.

Step 127

Select internal neck UVs and UNFOLD them.

Step 128

Move the back edge UVs down, and keep using UNFOLD so that UTILSG looks better.

Step 129

Notice that your UNFOLDS have started to mess up the lower lip area. To fix this, you first have to separate the "inside mouth" UVs. Using perspective view, find the last internal edge of your lips.

Step 130

In perspective view, "control + RMB-->To Edge Loop" to select the entire inside edge loop. In the UVTE, hit CUT.

Step 131

Select the inside mouth shell and move it out of the way.

Step 132

Select several lower chin/neck UVs, and UNFOLD.

Step 133

Move the center edge UVs so they line up better, and repeat UNFOLD until UTILSG looks good.

Step 134

Zoom in to the mouth area in the UVTE, and select the lip edge UVs that are overlapping.

Step 135

Move them until they no longer overlap, and tweak the surrounding UVs. Keep in mind it's a bad idea to UNFOLD these lip edge UVs.

Step 136

Now finish up the ear shell. Determine which side you want to be the main ear shell, and select edges on it.

Step 137

MOVE AND SEW the edges to the main ear shell.

Step 138

UNFOLD rows and chunks of UVs on the main ear shell.

Step 139

Move the ear shells near face. Think about where you wouldn't mind a seam.

Step 140

Tweak UVs, then select the bottom edges of main ear shell and hit SEW.

Step 141

Select groups of UVs and tweak and UNFOLD, watching the UTILSG.

Step 142

Select the ear edge between two ear shells and SEW.

Step 143

UNFOLD chunks of ear UVs, and tweak the head shell UVs, checking UTILSG.

Step 144

MOVE AND SEW eye socket edges in to their own shell, leaving a seam in the tear duct. Repeat with the inside mouth shell, and remember that the mouth shell needs to mirror nicely. It's so much easier to texture in Photoshop with thoughtful UVs. It takes no effort to splat some dark inside-mouth texture on a separated inside-mouth shell, rather than trying to texture the inside of the mouth when it's still SEWN to the main head shell.

Step 145

Move all the UV shells into 0 to 1 space. Grid snap all of the center UVs.

Step 146

When you are completely satisfied with your UVs, mirror geometry however you prefer.

Step 147

Switch to the front view, and select the far left UVs, being careful not to select the very center line of UVs.

Step 148

From the UVTE, "control + RMB-->To Shell".

Step 149

Scale UVs negative until they are perfectly flipped.

Step 150

Move the left side UVs to other half of the 0 to 1 space.

Step 151

Select center edges and hit SEW.

Step 152

From the UVTE, you can navigate to "Polygons-->UV Snapshot..." to export your UVs to Photoshop for texturing.

Step 153

You did it! Now go forth and texture!

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