In this article we give you a beginners’ guide to building objects in 3D with Blender – the free cross-platform 3D graphics and video software. We cover orienting yourself in the interface plus simple modelling.
Obviously, there is a lot more to Blender, but this simple 101 type introduction will enable you to get a grasp of the basics, and you will be able to at the very least build a simple object in this bafflingly complex software.
If you have no 3D graphics experience, then opening Blender can be daunting. There is a cube, a camera and a light. That’s it. Around this elementary view is a LOT of controls and numbers, looking less like a graphics program and more like the flight deck of an Airbus.
The process of building simple objects is actually quite easy, but what you are supposed to do is not obvious just by looking at the interface.
The first thing you need to do is figure out what the mouse does. Unlike most other apps, in Blender you select with the right mouse button. You move by clicking and holding with the right mouse button. If you click the left mouse button, your move is usually completed. If you click the right mouse button, your move will be undone.
Congratulations. You just mastered the most difficult thing to understand in this tutorial.
Making a Shape
The grey window with the grid in it is your movie studio. You model, animate and render in this window.
Select the cube with the right mouse button. Press the Delete key. You will be prompted to delete the object and should click OK.
You only need a camera if you are going to render a picture. We are only going to model, so get rid of the camera, too. Select the camera the same way. Press the Delete key. Once again, you will be prompted to delete the camera, and you should click OK. (See a theme developing? Every time you delete, you will be asked to confirm.)
Select the light and delete it. Incidentally, confirming delete usually only requires that you press the return key.
Now that you have a clean area to work in, you can start modelling. While you can just make a bunch of shapes and bolt them together, it’s much better if you can make the basic shape of the object you are modelling from one mesh. It renders better and looks better that way.
Let’s make a really basic organic shape. Press “Shift + A” to open the floating menu. Select “Mesh -> UV Sphere.”
To zoom in and out of the view, use the scroll wheel in the center of your mouse. To rotate the view around, press down on the scroll wheel (which usually functions as a third mouse button) and move the mouse. To get different views of the object, press the numbers on the numeric keypad (or choose the view menu from the bottom of the screen which also shows you the keys to press).
Select the sphere you made with the right mouse button. Click the Modifiers tab on the right hand panel, click “Add Modifier” and “Add Subdivision Surface modifier.”
Crank the subdivisions up to 6 for view and render. If memory becomes an issue, you can always view 3 and render 6, and that way you will see a fast low-res version of the effect on screen, but it will render much smoothly.
Subdivision will smooth out the mesh and use subsurfaces rather than the polygons of the sphere, making for a smooth organic model.
Click the Tab key, entering edit mode for the currently selected object.
You can choose what the mouse selects in the mesh by clicking one of these buttons below the grid window; the first one is vertices, the second is edges and the third is faces. Click the third one.
Now you can select a face or group of faces (by holding the Shift key) with the right mouse button.
Now as you move the faces, the subdivision surface will move, guided by the faces. This means the forms will be smooth and organic and not faceted like the original polygons. It’s like digital plasticine.
To move faces accurately, view the object from the side and not a perspective view. Moving the mesh in edit mode now helps you to deform the subsurface into a shape.
Moving the polygons around by pulling the axis arrows makes them move in a straight line.
Pull and push the faces around until you have made the desired shape. Play with it a bit to get used to how the mesh moves around, and look at it from all angles to see how it’s shaping up. Drag out spikes (and don’t forget you can push them in, too) all over the mesh for a really crazy organic shape.
When you’re done playing, you should save your work so you can come back to it. To save the object go to “File -> Save” and choose a location for the .blend file.
General Modelling Advice
This was a very simple tutorial to get you used to the processes in making a shape. We’ll go into more detail about how you can make specific shapes in future articles. But what general tips can we give you while you play and try to make shapes you want to make?
It’s easy for the mesh to get away from you, so by all means plan out what you are making beforehand. Although it’s fun to play and just make freeform shapes, you learn a lot more about the process of building from making a specific object.
Think about what you are making, draw it and measure it, and figure out what the basic forms are and work from there. What has to be actual geometry and what could you do with surface textures?
In forthcoming articles we’ll be looking at advanced modelling techniques, lighting, and applying textures to the geometry to add another layer of reality to your models.
If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments below.