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Maya Camera Image Plane Basics

Image Planes are a powerful workflow tool in Maya.  Image Planes allow you to assign a still image, series of images or movie file to a Maya camera view.  They are an integral part of modeling, camera matching and animation workflows.

As a part of your animation workflow, Image Planes allow you to see and compare the reference that you are animating your characters to.

To add an Image Plane to your Maya camera, go to your viewport’s "View" menu. Here you’ll scroll down to the "Image Plane" menu item:

From there you’ll find options to "Import Image" , "Import Movie" and to load an existing Image Plane’s Attributes.  Select either Import Image or Import Movie in the camera view of your choice to bring up a File Browser Window in which you select the file for use.

Once loaded, you should see your Image Plane loaded into your camera view:

After loading, your Image Plane will be associated with your camera, and it’s tab will typically live next to your camera’s in the Attribute Editor.

A few critical areas within the Image Plane’s attributes are the Display toggle, which will allow the Image Plane to show up in ALL views or just the associated camera’s view.

Here we see an Image Plane associated with a shot camera, but visible in our Top orthographic camera view:

The Display Mode selection allows you to control how, if at all, the Image Plane will display.  Note that the default, RGBA, means that the Image Plane will show up in your renders, which is not always the desired result!  For purposes of rendering out our CG elements to be composited later, we want to turn the Display Mode setting to None.  Note that this can also be done conveniently in the camera view window by using the small Image Plane toggle button in the upper left area:

Image Plane Toggle set to ON (RGBA) -

Image Plane Toggle set to OFF (None) -


Note that if there is no Image Plane associated with that camera, you will be prompted to choose an image to use.

Additional Image Plane controls include Type, which tells Maya whether you’re using Image Files, a Movie file or Texture files.  For most purposes, an Image File or Movie file is what you want.   

Use Image Sequence will allow you to load a sequence of frames which will load according to your Maya frame range.  Be sure your image sequences are named correctly, ideally something like image_name.####.jpg or similar (#### indicating four frame padding, so image number 132 would be image_name.0132.jpg.

Note that for most purposes, lower resolution (half HD) jpg images are ideal for use as Image Planes.  Higher resolution images will take longer to load and slow Maya down.  Use the lowest quality image that will work for your needs.

Other important areas in our Image Plane attributes are the Placement and Placement Extras.  Theses provide control for how our Image Plane is aligned with our camera in the two dimensional plane perpendicular to the camera view.  Typically setting the Fit to Fill and clicking Fit to Film Gate are the best options when working with a Maya camera that is matching a live action camera image with known film back dimensions.

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