Maya & Arnold – 1 Setup

Arnold will be automatically installed with Maya 2017, by default version MtoA 1.3.0 (Maya to Arnold), but it’s still possible to manually install newer versions of MtoA. The most recent versions can be downloaded here. To activate it in Maya go to > Windows > Settings/Preferences > Plugin Manager and tick both mtoa.mll boxes, refresh, close.


Let’s create a project folder which conveniently bundles textures etc. associated with the Maya scene in one place. Go to > File > Project Window. Click “New”, type in a name in “Current Project” and change the Location. As soon as you hit “Accept” Maya automatically creates a set of folders there.


Now go to > File > Save Scene As … and save the file to the “scenes” directory. A prefix with the date or a consecutive number makes it easier to navigate between iterations of your work later.


The advantage of the Project folder is, that files associated with the Maya scene are stored in one place. To share projects with different computers you just copy the complete project folder containing texture maps etc. to the new place. If you want to switch the project folder in Maya simply choose > File > Set Project, navigate to the project folder you want to work with and hit “Set”.

Let’s start with a ground and > Create > Polygon Primitives > Plane or use the Polygon Shelf.


Arnold calculates the light decay in real world measures therefore it’s recommended to work with somehow realistic measures in your scene. The default size of the Plane is 1×1, Maya’s default units are centimeters, so we need to increase its size. In the next step we will add a terrain structure to the plane and to make the details visible we need to add more subdivisions to the plane. Be careful here, if you crank up the subdivision too high Maya will slow down or freeze.


One easy technique to create a terrain is to use the sculpt tool. An alternative texture based method will be explained below. Tostart sculpting switch to the Sculpting tab and select the Lift Tool.


Adjust the brush size with B + drag or middle mouse button (MMB)-drag left/right. The brush strength can be changed with M + drag or MMB-drag up/down and pull out some hills. In case your groundplane is cut off in the viewport select the camera in > Windows > Outliner and increase the Far Clip Plane value.


Instead of – or in addition to sculpting you can also use the Texture deformer to add roughness to the ground. With a subdivided plane selected go to > Deform > Texture. In the Attribute Editor increase the Strength to 10. Click on the Texture checkerboard icon and in the Create Render Node popup choose a Maya > 2D Texture > Noise node. Fractal, Simplex Noise and Mountain works also or you can choose the file node and link a height map (download here).


I was after a kind of extraterrestrial landscape and ended up with these noise settings.


You can deform surfaces also with displacement shaders during rendertime with the disadvantage that the distance between displaced surface and other objects cannot be seen in the viewport. It is more memory efficient and useful for rendering surfaces like water.

Continue with Maya & Arnold Part 2 – Skydome Lighting and Background