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Using Mayas Pick Walk Functionality
Using Mayas Pick Walk Functionality
andrewchapman, added 2006-11-27 10:03:03 UTC 18,758 views  Rating:
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Tutorial: Using Maya's 'Pick Walk' Functionality

It sometimes surprises people that Maya uses the left/right keys to change the current selection instead of stepping back and forth in time. With the default key mappings 1, the up/down/left/right arrow keys are used to change the selection within the hierarchy of nodes, relative to those already selected. For example, pressing the up arrow will change the selection to an object's parent. Or, if you pick an object in the 3D viewports you will have picked the object's transform node. Press the down arrow to select the shape node.

Why is this useful? Read on.

Navigating a Familiar Hierarchy

When you're using Maya in production, you're often dealing with the same hierarchy of nodes over and over again. You might be animating a character over a dozen scenes, but it is always the same character or at least very similar character rigs. In any complex setup you're going to have to change your selection back and forth between a bunch of different nodes, and so most people have the outliner window open to be able to move around the hierarchy.

That works fine, but if you know the steps to get between what you have selected and what you want selected, it can be much quicker to just press these shortcut keys to change the selection. That way you don't have to open or find the outliner window, or open up the various levels of hierarchy within the outliner to get to the spot you're after 2.

For example, say you're setting keyframes on an index finger control, and you need to go across to the middle finger. With most rigs you can just press the left and right keys to move between the finger controls, as they're at the same level in the hierarchy, or if you're directly animating the bone joints, pressing up and down will move up and down the joint chain. Might not seem like much of a shortcut, but when you get familiar with the hierarchy, and you're setting keyframes all day long it can be a big time saver.

It is always good to be familiar with the hierarchy of nodes in your scene, and keeping your scene clean and well organised will make that easier.

Manipulating Multiple Objects Together

A lot of people know about these shortcut keys, but don't realise that they work perfectly well when you've got multiple things selected. This can be a huge time saver when you need to manipulate a bunch of different objects in the same way. For example, say you've got a scene with 100 different models in it, and you need to set an attribute on them all, which exists on some node a few steps down in the hierarchy of each one.

One way to do it is to go through the outliner, and in each model drill down to find the node in turn.

But a much neater way, using the pick walk function, is to first select all the models at their root node, then open up one of their hierarchies in the outliner (just pressing the little '+' icons, don't click on any node names) until you see the node you need. Then, using the arrow keys walk the selection down through the hierarchy. If all the nodes you had selected have the same hierarchy, then they will all pick walk through the same path together. Then you'll have all the right nodes selected and you can change the attribute on them all at once by using the channel box or attribute spreadsheet (NOTE: changing the value in the attribute editor with multiple objects selected does NOT change it for them all).

By the way, if you're dealing with those kind of scenes, you might find the Multitude Manager script handy. It is a neat way of finding and modifying nodes based on their attributes, and doing things like assigning slightly random variations to their values.

Component Pick Walking

Pick walk also works for component selection (CVs or vertices), but in this case the selection changes relative to their position on screen rather than in the hierarchy.

For example, make a polygon plane with say 6x6 divisions, change the camera so you're looking down on it, pick a vertex, then press the arrow keys you can move the selection around. This works with multiple components selected too, which makes certain modelling tweaks a lot easier.


1. Unless they REALLY bother you, I'd recommend not messing with the default hotkeys. It is fine if you're always working by yourself, but when you're working as part of a team it can be a real pain when people have their keys setup differently. It means you can't easily show people how to do things, and it makes it a lot harder for you to be productive if you haven't had time to set up your own hotkeys. It's fine to add your own additional key mappings, just try not to clash with any of the existing ones.

2. To quickly expand the outliner press 'f' (with the mouse focus on the outliner). This works like 'f' over a 3D viewport, in that it will frame the current selection, expanding the hierarchy if necessary