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Display Layers

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This tutorial is a 2 part series on display layers and render layers in Maya.


Download example.mb. This file includes 3 animated cubes with textures and lighting. Press 6 to be able to view the textures in the viewport.

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Display layers allow you to better organize your Maya scene. A display layer can have 1 to an infinity amount of objects in it. What makes it different from a render layer is the render layer only affects the outcome of the rendering. Display layers don't affect the rendering, except the visibility.

Creating New Layers

Step one - Go to display elements>channel box/layers editor.

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Step two - Set the channel box to layers mode and check display layer.

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Step three - Go to layers>create empty layer.

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Step four - We want to rename this layer to greencube. To do this, right click on the layer and go to layer1...

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Rename the layer and click save.

Assigning Models To Layers

There are two ways of doing this; they all create the same result (the object on the layer).

1. Go to layers>membership. This opens the relationship editor.

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Select the layer on the left side, and select the object on the right side (in our case, this is green_cube).

2. Select your model (green_cube) and, on the layer, right click "add selected objects". Using this method you can select muliple objects at a time and add them to the layer.

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Editing Layers

Now we're going to change our greencube layer. Select the layer (click on the name); now go to layers>attributes. This opens the attributes editor.

Note: To unselect the layer, press the ctrl key then click on the layer.

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Let's explain these attributes.

Display Type - 3 options: Normal - nothing changes.Template - the object is not selectable in the viewport (you can still select it in the outliner) and you can only see the wireframe. Reference - doesn't look any different, but can't be selected in the viewport.

Level Of Detail - Full is the default, but you can also select bounding box. Bounding box creates a cube around your model. This is not just because our model's a cube.

Shading - When unchecked, the model will be a wireframe.

Texturing - When unchecked, the texture will not be able to be displayed in the viewport.

Playback - Play the animation of the cubes stacking themselves. Now, when you uncheck playback, the green cube won't move when you play the animation. But when you click stop, it will go to its position on that frame.

Visible - When unchecked, the model will be invisible in the viewport and when rendered.

Color - No, this isn't the color of the model. This is the color of the model's wireframe. You change the color by sliding the slider through preset colors. So if we set ours to green, when we go to wireframe view (press 4 on your keyboard) you an see that the wireframe is green.

Number - This is the layers display order number. If we create another layer after this, it would be 2.

If you don't want to go to the attributes editor to change the layers attributes, you can change some of them in the layers editor.

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Click on the V to toggle visibility, click on the blank space beside it to template, reference, and back to normal.

Also, you can double click on the layer and use the edit layer window to change some of the attributes.

Organizing Our Scene

Create four more layers.

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Rename them redcube, yellowcube, floor, and lights.

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Now add the red_cube to the redcube layer, yellow_cube to the yellowcube layer, floor_plane to the floor layer, and select all the lights and add them to the lights layer. It doesn't matter what method you use to add them to the layers.

Set the redcube layers color to red, yellowcubes color to yellow, and greencubes color to green.

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The reason we did that is it's easier to identify them when in wireframe mode.

Reference the lights and the floor layers. You won't need to select them. Basically any time you add something to a layer and you don't want that object(s) to be selectable, just reference it.


Now we're done setting up our layers. This varies from project to project, but I hope this helps you get a concept of it.

Good luck.

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