Blender is a free and open source 3D content creation software used by artists, designers, and engineers worldwide. Blender is available for Windows, MacOS and Linux in both 32 and 64-bit versions.
This 3D creation software is a free alternative to popular premium software like 3ds Max. With it, you can start building simple models and even create movies. NASA, one of the most popular users of Blender, uses it to create models of several probers and other spatial objects. For instance, NASA’s Curiosity model was created with Blender. You can find additional models made by NASA in their 3D models’ gallery.
You can also find official movies created with Blender on Blender Animation Studio’s YouTube channel. Have a look one of the latest works made by the Blender Institute with this awesome 3D tool.
In order to follow this tutorial, you will need the latest release of Blender.
Blender has many use cases and it can be easy for a beginner to get lost in the enormous amount of tools available. I will attempt to approach this from a practical perspective. I won’t be going over the tools in any panel in a sequence. Instead, I will focus on teaching useful tools from a modeling perspective first.
Shortcuts are, according to me, the most important things to remember while working with Blender. While there are buttons present in the UI for a lot of things, shortcuts do a great job at getting things done without pushing a lot of buttons.
For keyboards without a numeric keypad:
If you do not have a separate numeric keypad section on your keyboard, then go to File>User Preferences and click on the Input tab. Click on Emulate Numpad. Click Save User Settings. Close the User Preferences window.
You can now use the keys containing numbers to do the same function as the corresponding key on the Numpad would. Eg. Numpad 1 corresponds to 1(i.e. the key containing the exclamation mark on standard QWERTY keyboards).
For mice with only one or two buttons:
In the same User Preferences window, enable Emulate 3 button mouse. You can now use Alt + left mouse button for simulating a middle mouse button and Command/Apple key + left mouse button for simulating the right mouse button.
Ensure that you click Save User Settings in the User Preferences window after changing settings if you want the changes to persist. If you don’t do this you will have to repeat the same step(s) every time you start Blender.
The default projection is perspective. You can press ‘5’ on your numeric keypad to switch from projection to orthographic.
Different keys on the numeric keypad correspond to different views:
|9||Switch to opposite of current view|
|4 and 5||Orbit left and right|
|8 and 2||Orbit up and down|
|Ctr1 + 1||Back view|
|Ctr1 + 3||Left view|
|Ctr1 + 7||Bottom view|
Middle mouse button drag: Orbit in any axis (Very useful).
Right mouse button drag: Move object (if the object is selected). To ensure that the change is applied, left click after dragging to the desired location.
Basic transformation keys
|G/S/R + X/Y/Z||Constrain to an axis|
You will need them a lot; so it is better to memorize them.
Edit Mode allows us to modify the mesh’s constituents. Edit Mode is object-specific; so you need to select an object to go into the Edit Mode for that object.
Constituents of a mesh
Vertices are the most basic unit in a mesh.
Two connected vertices form an edge.
A face comprises of 3 or more vertices which are filled.
Selecting the constituents
Ensure that the cube is selected (it will be outlined if it is). Switch to Edit Mode by pressing the Tab key on your keyboard. Note that you can press Tab again to go back to Object Mode. Alternatively, select the mode as shown below.
You can switch between vertex select, face select or edge select by pressing Ctrl + Tab and selecting the desired mode while being in Edit Mode.
Alternatively, click on the buttons designated for the same task.
Polygons are nothing but faces but they are very important in the context of mesh size and quality. When people talk about polygon count or poly-count they refer to the number of faces. An optimal model will be able to describe detail using the fewest number of polygons. Polygons are computationally expensive. That’s the reason why games do not use models with a high poly count as games need to be rendered in real time.
Models with a high polygon count are used where detail is of primary concern. Think of modern films containing CG objects and environments. These films are rendered offline and hence don’t need to compromise on mesh quality a lot. There are other ways of adding detail to a model using textures (specifically, maps).
Editing an object
Before we proceed, here are some more edit-mode specific commands:
B: Border Select
C: Circle Select
Z: Limit Selection to Visible
An important aspect of editing is to know whether the correct vertex has been selected or not. For that, you might have to take a look at the model from multiple views in three dimensions, unlike a 2D graphic.
Let’s go ahead and edit the cube. Go to the front view. Ensure that the cube is selected. Switch to Edit Mode by pressing the Tab key on your keyboard.
Now, let’s move some vertices.
- Ensure that you are in orthographic mode. Go to the front view.
- Go to Edit Mode by pressing Tab.
- Select a single vertex and move. You can do this by right-clicking and drag on one vertex. Alternatively, you can right-click on the vertex once so that it gets selected and then start dragging.
- Orbit around the object to see how it looks now. Notice that only one vertex moved.
- Go back to the front view.
- Enable Limit Selection to Visible by pressing X.
- The vertex should go back to its original position.
- Now press B for Border Select.
- Drag your mouse so that the box covers one corner of the cube.
- Now, move the vertices around by pressing G and moving your mouse around. Left-click when you are done. Have a look at your model now.
If you are in Edit Mode, you can delete the vertices, edges, and faces of a mesh by selecting them and pressing X on your keyboard. If you are in Object Mode, pressing X will delete the selected object. You can also press the Delete key on your keyboard to delete an object. Let’s just delete our cube for now. Go back to Object Mode and press X to delete our cube. Goodbye cube (or whatever it became post editing)!
Creating a new 3D object
Now that our cube is gone, our scene feels a little empty; time to add another 3D object. You can add a new 3D mesh in both the Object Mode as well as the Edit Mode, although there will be limited options in Edit Mode. If you create a new mesh in Edit Mode, the newly added mesh becomes a component of the object even though the two meshes inside the object are not connected. For this tutorial, we will create a new 3D object.
- Ensure that you are in Object Mode. Press Shift + A to bring up the Add menu
- Select Mesh > Monkey. Suzanne (the monkey) will appear.
- Note that the mesh will spawn wherever the 3D cursor is placed at. Have a look at the .gif file to see this.
In the .gif file, the camera started focusing on Suzanne. This is because I pressed the .(period) key on the keyboard numpad which is the shortcut for View Selected. You can also access this via View>Align View>View Selected.
If you are using a keyboard that does not have a numeric keypad, the shortcut key will not work. In this case, we will have to bind the shortcut to some other key. To do this, go to User Preferences > Input > 3D View > 3D View (Global), and then scroll down to the desired key. Ensure that it is the correct key binding as there could be multiple entries with the same name. Change the key binding to something else. By default, in Blender, the semicolon (;) key is not assigned to anything else. So we will assign the 3D View shortcut to that key.
In case you want to change another key binding but don’t know if it conflicts with an existing key (if any), you can use the search bar at the top of the same window. Change the dropdown to Key-Binding as shown in the image and type the desired key in the search box.
Well, Suzanne looks a bit…blocky. Let’s change that.
The default mesh shading is Flat. Select the model in Object mode and switch to Smooth shading in the Tool Shelf.
Here is how Suzanne looks after before and after changing the shading.
Well, even though Suzanne looks smoother, the mesh does not have enough definition to make use of the smoothness. We need to add more edge loops in there at the right places smoothing out edges to make better use of smooth shading. This is where the subdivision surface modifier comes in.
Ensure that Suzanne is selected in Object Mode. Go to the Modifiers tab and add a Subdivision Surface modifier.
If you click on Apply and go to Edit Mode, you will be able to see the increased detail on the mesh.
Once applied, the modifier cannot be adjusted. You do not need to apply the modifier before rendering. In other words, you can keep the modifiers as they are without applying.
The subdivision surface algorithm used is the Catmull-Clark algorithm. You can adjust the levels by adjusting the number in the View and Render fields. Ensure that the numbers are the same to make sure that the rendered model looks the same as in the viewport. More levels mean higher subdivisions and smoothing but cause mesh density to increase.
Well, that’s the end of the first part in this series. I hope you learned quite a few important things. While this Blender tutorial covered only modeling, further tutorials will cover other aspects of 3D art like texturing, rendering, etc. Be sure to come back for more on Blender tutorials!
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