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A request I’ve gotten from quite a few new users is to have some indicator axes in the Scene View showing you what is up and what is down. There is a reason why they are not there, and it ties into the core of my Job here at UT: GUI design. I’ve wanted to comment a bit on this.


Unity has a very minimalist GUI; this stems from the basic premice that GUI you don’t interact with is an actual loss to your productivity – every GUI element that you do not use is one you look at many hundred times a day when working with Unity, and hence something you need to discard from using many hundred times a day. After a while you get pretty good at ignoring a piece of user interface, but when it adds up, you end up with a cluttered mess. Take a look at many 3D apps to see just how bad this can get.


On to what I actually wanted to talk about – the world space indicator arrows, and why they are not there.


At its heart, Unity is not a modelling app – it is an app where you bring together pieces of art from other apps. This means that usually telling which way is up is not a problem:


Global Conflicts Palestine

Geez, I wonder which way is up?


While this can be quite hard to see in a 3D-modelling app (where you might be constructing your mesh by connecting raw verts), by the time you put things into Unity, this is not so big a deal. 


What about when you’re just starting out? In this case, I can see we have an issue – I cannot tell how I’m looking at a box. However, adding an RGB axis thingy to show the directions to every scene view seemed to be way overkill; it would add on-screen clutter for the people who have huge, complex scenes to manage – in order to solve a slight confusion when you’re starting out a new scene. I thought we could use more subtlety;


In real life, we don’t have the problem of telling up from down. Apart from the fact that we can usually assume that our feet should be pointing downwards, there are other cues – mainly a horizon line and lighting.


Light tends to come from above. How about adding a soft top-down light to Unity’s default light setup? This could be a hint of a global up we might just pick up without thinking about it?


I’m also considering always having a very simple skybox in the sceneview – basically something that would tint the upper half of the background a bit lighter than the lower one.  




There is, however, another solution; Sometimes, other people just make some excellent work: In one of the later Maya versions, they added the ability to click the indicator arrows to orient your viewport to a direction:


MAYA scene view


They even animated the viewport turning to make sure you didn’t get confused while changing views. I noticed that even experienced Maya users picked up this concept immediately – and apparently didn’t mind the animations. Now, those axis arrows are no longer mere decoration, they are actually used to perform a function we do very often – and giving them this functionality means we can remove the (seldomly used and much more cumbersome to use) direction drop-down. 


This is one of the things I plan to be playing with when I do my huge Scene View cleanup.

5 replies on “Clean vs. Cluttered GUI”

Tanner, there is that functionality in 3dsmax, a seperate undo just for camera movements. I agree, all 3D software should incorporate it somehow! Perhaps some sort of elastic camera that you can move briefly and it will return to the previous view on release :)

I am still very new to Unity and maybe the feature is there I just haven’t found it yet.

Not directly related to the axis indicator but another feature that I constantly wish for in every 3D program I use is an Undo Camera Move/Rotate keyboard shortcut. I usually want to use this feature when I accidentally rotate or orbit a viewport that was orthographic top or side view. But if the GUI Cube allows you to orient the camera by clicking like you say then I guess I might not need to use the Undo Camera Move/Rotate as often.

I recently was looking for “where is world up” in my Unity scene view and missed an indicator. I only needed it for that moment, so temporarily displaying that information might be a choice. Don’t know whats the best to trigger that (for a short while): button, key-combo ….

You ideas are nice, but will it work for every scenario? Displaying (shortly) an slim axis on request is simple … if you see what i mean.

I think this was made even more clear and easy to use in Maya 2008. The cones were removed from the axes, and instead, there is just a box with sides labeled in text. I suppose that this stops you from being able to get a quick look at any side of the cube which is not visible, so the method in your photo has its merits as well. However, while the little cones sticking out of the box provide instant access to six views, their hit area is less than that of a full cube side, reducing usability. Adding an over state to the cones helps, but I still prefer the cube alone.

For me, it is often just as quick to orbit the camera enough to see the side of the GUI cube that I want, and then click on the cube to get a perfectly axis-aligned view, as it is to choose such a view via any other method. It is certainly quicker than using a drop-down box, and more intuitive, as with a labeled box that rotates with your scene, the ambiguity associated with “which is left vs. right / back vs. front” is either severely diminished or destroyed. Also, it is probably much less likely that you will be using an axis-aligned view in Unity, vs. a modeling/animation package.

Either of these options will provide a reference to world space and a replacement for the drop-down menu. If there is a desire to keep the icon out of the Scene View, which is reasonable, then you could possibly use the tool as an eighth option in drop-down menu.

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