So here is Liah, finally rendered. Her being a witch/mage though, I wanted to give her a staff. My design for her staff would have been difficult to model in Maya alone though. So I decided to sculpt it using Mudbox.
Mudbox doesn’t do a very good job at subdividing a cylinder because of the caps. So I started off witha cube…
…and fired of Mesh => Smooth so it will become somewhat a cylinder. This was exported as an obj file.
After I imported the obj file into Mudbox, I hit Shift+D 3 or 4 times to subdivide it. Using the Sculpt, Grab, and Pinch tools, the head of the staff was sculpted with the Mirror Z turned on. This was exported as an obj file by selecting the object (by using the select tool in the third tab at the bottom) and using File => Export selection.
I imported this back into Maya and deleted redundant edge loops so I can pull the poly count down. I modeled the rest of the staff using a cylinder, a helix, and a sphere and using the lattice tool to deform the stick.
After I unwrapped the UVs of the staff in Maya, I was back sculpting details of the staff head in Mudbox to make the normal map. (Keyboard shortcuts: b+left-mouse-drag for brush size, m+left-mouse-drag for magnitude.)
Once I was happy with the detailed sculpting, I went to Maps => Extract Texture Maps => New Operation… . In the Extract Texture Map pop up box, I selected Normal Map. In the options window that appears, I just changed the Image Size and Normal Map Outputs at the bottom and hit Extract.
Now back in Maya, I clicked on the Bump Mapping button in the Attributes window of the staff.
I changed the Use As to Tangent Space Normals.
Then I hit the Bump Value button and browsed for the normal map that Mudbox extracted.
And now with Mental Ray, the normal maps affect the model in the render.