Maya is heavily node-based, which can be confusing – both for beginners and advanced artists alike. In this article, we’ll cover how Maya uses nodes in the most simple sense. We also recommend that you watch the video below to get a more in-depth understanding of nodes in Maya.

Nodes in Maya

To visualize the nodes in Maya, you can go to WindowsNode Editor. Dock it to the bottom of the UI for an easy-to-use experience. You can also visualize nodes using the Hypershade.

When you make a new primitive, a few nodes will be created:

Poly Create Node – Creates the original primitive, deciding the segments, height, width, length – etc. Deleted when you delete history.
Shape Node – All models will have a Shape Node. It tells the viewport and render engine how to render the object.
Transform Node – All models have a Transform Node as well. It decides where in space the object is – using translation, rotation and scale.

When you model in Maya, all modeling operations (extrude, bevel, cut, etc) will be added as nodes and connected to your Shape Node. In the case below, we added a simple bevel to an edge. In the Node Editor you can see how the polyBevel1 node has been created. You can go back to this node at any time and adjust the bevel settings.

Unlike some other 3D software, Maya doesn’t use a modeling stack. What you’re seeing in the Channel Box as construction history is in fact nodes – not a layered stack.

While this is nice and procedural, it also causes an ungodly mess if you’re not careful. After only a few extrusions, the Node Editor looks like spaghetti and it’s not useable in any way. Every single dot to the rigth is an extrusion node. If you’ve worked on a model for hours or days, you’d have tens of thousands of nodes, making Maya completely unusable.

Construction History

This brings us to construction history in Maya! The Inputs under the Channel Box is a collection of nodes going Into the Shape Node (hence the wording ‘Inputs’). If you compare the nodes in the Node Graph to the Construction History under the Channel Box, you’ll see that they match exactly.

After you’ve deleted the construction history, the Node Editor and Channel Box will again look nice and clean. Be aware that deleting history, merges all nodes into the shape node, which can destroy your work entirely if you’re using deformers. If you’re using deformers and want to delete only the modeling history, go to Edit – Delete by Type – Non Deformer History.

I recommend setting this to a hotkey and using this instead of the default Delete History hotkey (Shift + Alt + D). Better safe than sorry.

Nodes in the Outliner

Since Maya is node-based, you can easily get an overview of all the nodes in the scene in the Outliner. Go to Display and uncheck ‘DAG Objects Only‘. This will display every single node in the scene.

The Outliner before and after ‘DAG Objects Only’. You normally want to work with the Outliner in the clean state, but if you need an overview of your nodes, it’s extremely handy to have the view on the right.

When you look at the simple version of the Outliner, you get the mistaken view that your scene is clean, when in fact it can have tons of junk. It’s really common to have scenes with a lot of unused file nodes, materials and such. If you work on bigger projects where you have to import and reference files between scenes, this extra complexity can cause scene instability and unexpected behavior. If you’re deliberate about keeping your scenes clean, you’ll have a much more enjoyable Maya experience.

All the file nodes below are junk and shouldn’t be in the scene.

Cleaning Your Maya Scenes

Now that we know how nodes work on a basic level and how to display them, here’s a very handy tip on how to keep your Maya scenes clean.

Open up the Hypershade. This gives you an overview of all nodes in the scene, categorised into tabs like Material, Textures, Utilities, etc. Most of the materials below are junk and aren’t used in the scene at all.

Go to Edit – Delete Unused Nodes to clean up your scene. This will delete all nodes not connected to anything else. Delete Unused Nodes deletes ALL unused nodes – not only materials.

The Hypershade after the cleanup – much nicer.

More Maya Training

If you’re interested in learning more about Maya, we highly recommend our Introduction to Maya series. It covers everything you need to know in order to get started with Maya, including much more on nodes. Introduction to Maya goes through understanding the interface, modeling, shading, using Arnold, using Xgen – and much more. We also have a lot of Maya training on our YouTube Channel.

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Henning Sanden

About the author: I'm the Co-Founder of FlippedNormals. I used to work as a character modeller and texture artist in VFX, having worked on films like Alien Covenant, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Batman V Superman - and more.