Welcome to the month of February! I'll start this month off by talking about important hotkeys that I use when working in Maya. I recommend using hotkeys because I believe in spending more time with your work and less time in the menus. I originally wanted to include a few of the most frequently used hotkeys but let's face it, Maya isn't Microsoft Paint. It is huge! I didn't even get to go into the hotkeys for Artisan, the Graph Editor, or even the all-important Outliner! These are core components of Maya and I should cover using them in the future.
Make These Basic Hotkeys Part of Your DNA
To the left of your backspace key, you have your - and your + keys that adjust the size of your current manipulator. Adjust your manipulators when geometry gets in your way. Parent things using p and unparent them using shift+p. Duplicate objects using ctrl+d. Press h to hide selected objects and press shift+h to show selected objects. The 4 key displays your objects in wireframe while 5 displays them in shaded mode. Press ctrl+g for creating a group of objects or deselect everything to create an empty group. Empty groups are super useful but that's a topic all on its own.
One of my favorite things in Maya is the ability to toggle UI elements and going into fullscreen mode by pressing ctrl+space. Toggle back by using the hotkey again. The a key frames all objects while the f key frames selection. If you hold shift while using these keys, it will do this operation in all your current views.
The q key is your selection tool. This is an important tool because it doesn't let you do any harm. It only allows you to select things. I find myself using q often when I simply want one of the w, e, or r manipulators to disappear.
Temporarily hide everything around the currently selected object by pressing shift+i. To get everything back, deselect the object and press shift+i again.
Make Animation Hassle Free By Learning These Hotkeys
The alt+v combination plays and stops your animation while alt+shift+v rewinds it. The , key goes to previous keyframe while the . goes to the next keyframe. If you hold alt while using hotkeys, you will step one frame at a time. Use k+LMB to use an awesome the time dragger tool. Press alt+b to cycle your background color in the viewport. Keyframe your translates by pressing shift+w, key your rotation by pressing shift+e, and finally, key your scale by pressing shift+r.
[This would be a good time to take a break and try out some shortcuts if you are new to Maya.]
Another Hidden Marking Menu
When I first fire up the program, I usually get a blank grid. If I were to start modeling, I would need some geometry on my grid so the first thing I would do is hold shift+RMB gesture down in the viewport. This will create a polyCube for me. If you want to go back to that (context sensitive) menu, you'll have to deselect the cube (and everything else you have selected) and drag your RMB to see what else is there. This is the rapid fire way to create geometry. There are a few more hidden menus, but I'll save these for future posts.
Try These Hotkeys Out While Editing Objects
I like using F8 to go into component mode, but you can get even more specific by using F9 to dive into vertex mode, F10 for edge mode, and F11 for face mode. You can also use < and > to shrink or grow a selection of a component.
Switching menu sets can get clumsy so I use my hotbox for all menu sets. Press space to access this baby. It's the quickest way. Other ways to get to your menu sets are to use the F2-F5 keys to switch the sets or use the h+LMB marking menu. Give it a shot and see which one you like.
Snapping can come in handy especially when snapping with MMB. Using MMB instead of LMB allows you to click and drag anywhere on the viewport instead of being forced to use the manipulator. Snap to grids by holding x, snap to curves by holding c, and snap to points by holding v.
A Final Word
I should have known this tip was going to be lengthy--I even cut a bunch of stuff out. Either way, please communicate what you would like for me to explain if something doesn't work out for you or if something isn't clear. I know these hotkeys are in the numbers, but I encourage you to try them out. It is worth the effort to memorize these because your workflow will improve dramatically if you cut out all the menu searches down to a single key combo.