Maya Image Plane Tutorial


When beginning a project in Maya graphics software, you often need to use reference images, which provide proper proportions and allow the 3D artist to reach an equilibrium with the vision of the concept designer. The placement of image planes is a vital step in reaching your goals as a collaborative artist.


  • References for your model can come through photographs or artists' drawings, called orthographic projections. In order to reach the most accurate representation of your reference, you should have at least a front, a side and a three-quarter view of your subject. They should be free of illustrative flair, and have no perspective if possible.


  • Photo reference should be shot with a long lens, but do not zoom in on your model. That helps eliminate perspective, which might warp your image for modeling. Lighting should be informative; you want to see the details of the form. For example, if you're modeling a human subject, indicators such as a shadow under the ribcage or the curve of light around a muscle help determine the correlation between images and inform your modeling decisions.


  • Orthographic projections are an artist's simple rendering of the subject matter: isolating the subject from extraneous information (such as stylistic rendering and shadows) that do little to inform the artist of how the shape relates to the lines on the page. If you are drawing your own orthographic projections, they should be in a neutral view. Leonardo Da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" drawing is a good example. This will make the process of animation and rigging much easier, and will allow you to work on the finer details without the model getting in your way.

Preparing Your Image

  • Open your images in a program that provides rulers, such as Adobe Photoshop. Choose features that are not prone to movement, such as the outer edge of the eye and the belly button, to line up your images. Don't rush this part of the process. The more accurately you line up your images, the easier it is to match the reference as you model.

Place Your Image

  • Within Maya, find the image plane window's menu. Select "View," then click on "Image Plane," and on "Import Image." Find your image on the hard drive and press "Open"; the image should appear in your view box.

Adjust Your Image

  • Open your "Attribute Editor" in Maya and adjust your image so that the center of your front view stands at the center of the grid. The grid will be obscured at first by the image plane. Check the origin Axis HUD at the bottom left of your view box to determine what direction to push your image plane across to place it behind the grid. This should result in a negative "Center Z" value if you're using the default front view. Repeat this process for the side and any other reference images you might have, such as top (usually for quadrupeds or products/props).


  • If you notice gross mismatches on an image you spent significant time lining up, the "Width" and "Height" settings might be to blame. To check, open up your "Image Plane," then click on "View," then "Image Plane," then "Image Plane Attributes," and "Image Plane" again. This automatically brings up your attribute editor for the image plane. Scroll down to the "Placement Extras" subsection, and take note of your "Width" and "Height" values to ensure that they are exactly the same for each image plane you place.

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