Death to Usability -- or: Learn Blender in 20 Minutes Nonetheless
I took notes while getting the hang of one of the 3D Mesh Editors I checked out. Blender runs on Windows, Linux and MacOS, has a huge selection of professional features (incl. animation, scripting, UV skins, and skeleton kinematics), supports a dozen common formats (incl. .obj, .x, .md2, .lwo), and it is free. The catch? Blender's non-existent user interface makes you wish you could use vi instead. :-(( Be warned, there may be some sarcasm ahead.
|Buttons||LMB = left mouse button,|
MMB = middle mouse button,
RMB = right mouse button.
|Gestures||D&D = drag and drop,|
P&P = pick and plonk,
H&H = hover and hesitate.
Too complicated? Then Blender is not for you. :-|
Getting Aquainted With Blender
Start Blender and look around. You see a sample object, a cube. From there, it took me two weekends and several tutorials to at least reveal the basic functionality of this (apart from its UI, excellent) tool. Since I fear I will forget half of it until next week, I will jot down the top 10 eye-opening revelations that convinced me that this app is actually usable. In its own sort of way.
Remember to hover (H&H) the mouse over icons for tooltips to make some sense of them. Note that a grayed-out button does not mean it is disabled in 50% of the cases. The developer just thought it looked cool. Also note that some of the toggle buttons are menus, some of the drop-downs are toggle buttons, and some of the menus are buttons. Don't ask. Expect the unexpected and enjoy the ride.
I'm not lost, I'm Locationally Challenged
1. Everything Happens Inside Areas
Areas: The Blender window is split up into three (!) vertical areas. You can identify areas by their vertical "menubars"; these menubars are called headers, and yes, there are three of them, one for each area.
When H&H'ing the mouse over the borders at the top rim of each of the three areas, the pointer changes to a grabbing hand: D&D up and down to resize the areas. (The top area does not condescent to be visible unless you resize it; you can keep it collapsed to save space and nerves.)
If you want to split areas horizontally, RMB-click the top rim of the area and choose "split area" from the context menu, then click inside the area (!) for the split to actually happen. After the split, each split area will have a header with menus of its own. Go to the same menu to join two areas and remove the extra header.
2. Make Things Happen Through Headers and Context-Menus
Headers contain a wild mix of buttons and menus and button-menu-hybrids to do stuff with. Note they can appear at the top or bottom of their areas. RMB-click inside an area for a context-menu to change the header's position. Note that changing the menus' position cleverly inverts the order of menu items too; just in case you were trying to outwit the application with your muscle memory or so.
Troubleshooting Headers 1: If you don't see some of the header menus you read about in a tutorial, try clicking one of the triangles to uncollapse it. Click any of the triangles, one of them will be the right one.
Troubleshooting Headers 2: If you feel an area is missing a header, RMB-click the area's top rim for a context-menu that says "add header"!
3. Choose the Right Windows From the Window Type Menu
At the left end of each header, there is the (identical) Window Type menu that lets you choose which of a dozen window types should be displayed in the respective area. The most important windows for beginners are
- "3D view" (preview of your work either as wireframe, shaded, or textured),
- "Button Window" (containing, depending on context, either whitespace, or twelve dozen buttons, revealing 12 dozen object properties each, such as materials, textures, etc), and
- "Outliner" (a list of all objects and their names, and a must-see "Oops Schematic". Also note invisible but functional scrollbar on the left.)
- The Window Type menu is also where you will or will not find the user preference window.
I avoid describing the Window Type menu's icon since it looks different depending on its toggled state -- but it should always be the first one on the left, the one where the tool tip says something about "Window types".
Each of the windows can be displayed in any of your areas as you see fit. For instance, if you want, you can have it display several preference windows simultaneously, then play with the global settings in each area, and place bets whose areas's settings will eventually be applied. (Let's just say I tried, and it does not sync immediately.)
Troubleshooting Buttons: Depending on which window is displayed in which area, the headers are different. Also be aware some headers' buttons/menus/displays may not fit into the visible area if the area is too small. This means, if you don't find a button described in a tutorial, it is either covered by something else, or its font size is too small to read, or it's in any one of the other 12 windows. Good luck, soldier.
Viewing the 3D World: Rotating, Panning, Zooming
Let's pretend you figured out how to open the 3D view in an area, and want to view 3D content (such as the cube sample object).
4. Use the Middle Mouse Button, Luke!
- Rotate: Keep the MMB pressed and drag.
- Pan: Keep Shift+MMB pressed and drag.
- Zoom: Keep Alt+MMB pressed and drag. Alternative: scroll wheel
Tip: If you don't have a MMB -- well, get one.
5. Views — Numeric Key Pad is Your Friend
Preconfigured views: Either select them from the View menu, or use the Numeric Pad. Each number is preset with a standard view like "top", "side" or "front" etc. Just hit the keys to get a feeling for it. There's a system behind it, I just don't recall what is was.
Tip: If you don't have a numeric pad -- well, get one.
6. I See Textured People!
3D Preview Now look for the "Viewport shading" menu. I'd love to tell you what it looks like or where it is, but alas it's different depending on what you toggled it to be. It's either a ball, or a cube, with --on average-- four prongs sticking out on opposite sides. Use it to view the 3D content either as wireframe, shaded or textured. If you don't find it, press the "Z" key a couple of times. If you don't want the wireframe preview to be perspective, choose View > Orthographic from the header menu.
Camera and Rendering: If your really want to see hard-core textures (if you have any) and effects, you need to importune the renderer.
Of course the camera does not point where you want it to. What to do? Press the zero key on the numeric pad to look through the camera's eyes. Then press the "G" key and move the mouse to position the camera. You may also want to press the R key or choose Object > Transform > Rotate from the header menu (if rotation does something unexpected, identify the "Pivot" toggle button and switch to e.g. "active object"). If your are satisfied with the view, select Render > Current Frame from the header menu.
Tip: Cool live preview: In the 3D view, use the transparent Preview pane and move it over the wireframe to get a rendered preview of that portion.
Now let's pretend you really want to work with this thing. Have a look into the View menu for reference.
7. Creating and Selecting Stuff
Creating: Position the 3D cursor by LMB-clicking in two views. Then press space, and select a shape from a menu.
Undo: Press ctrl-Z.
Selecting objects: Make sure the mode menu says Object Mode.
- Select objects by clicking the RMB in the 3D View, or LMB in the Outliner.
- Press the "A" key to (un)select all objects (this includes cameras and lights).
- Press the "B" key, and then drag the LMB to select a rectangular region. If the selection comes out all crooked, you're stuck in some circular select tool. If you cannot handle it, press B again until it goes away.
- Press Ctrl-LMB and drag for lasso-select.
- Add/substract selection: You can (de)select individual objects in the 3D View by clicking Shift+RMB.
- Medium-pink outlines means "selected", except when it doesn't.
Selecting vertices: For more fine-grained selection, go to Edit Mode.
- Edit mode only affects what you have previously selected in object mode!
- Three new toggle buttons will appear out of no-where, for Vertex ("four dots" icon), Edge ("lines" icon) and Face ("triangle" icon) selection modes. Choose a mode, and RMB-click a vertex, an edge, or a face (polygon) to get a feeling for what it does.
- If your preview is shaded or textured, it can happen that you cannot see the vertex you want to click. In this case toggle the fourth button ("cube" icon) in this row to make the selected object temporarily transparent.
8. Moving on Up! Or Back. Or to the Side.
Moving: First, select what you want to move (in edit or object mode).
- Then either use the 3D arrows to move your selection in the 3D View. The arrows only work when you click the arrowheads. Don't click the circle, or terrible things will happen. As in any 3D application, you have to move each object in at least two different views (dimensions) to position them right.
- Or: Select the object and press the "G" key, and then determine the axis you want to move in by pressing the "X", "Y" or "Z" key, then type a number how many units you want to move. Very cool feature!
Rotating: Select the object, and choose Object > Transform > Rotate from the menu. Move the mouse to rotate.
Mirroring: Select the object, and choose Object > Mirror and then the axis to mirror against.
9. Size Does Matter
Scaling: Select the object, and choose Object > Transform > Scale from the menu. Move the mouse to scale.
Tip: Use the E key for "extrusion". Select an object face (polygon) and press E to attach a new set of polygons to it. If you want the objects to be attached anyway, this way is quicker than creating an independent new object and it saves a couple vertices.
10. Textures and Materials
Adding materials to objects: Every object needs a material.
- RMB-Click to select the object you want to modify (it can be only one at a time) either in the Outliner or in the 3D view. In the outliner, make sure to select the object entry (check whether you're still in Object Mode), do not click the indented entries, that will switch you to Edit mode.
- Then go to the button window and first click the "Shading" button (grey ball icon), and then the "Material" button (red ball icon) in the header.
- "Links and Pipeline" pane appears. (If there are many panes, you have to search for it. Collapse some and look at the titles.) Click the Material dropdown menu and select an existing material. Continue below with textures...
- If there is none you like, create a material: Select "Add New" from the dropdown and give it a name.
- Indentify the "Material" pane in the buttons window. In it, click the grey box to the left of "col" to select at least the base color. (Note there are many more advanced settings here and in the "Shaders" and "Mirror transp" pane.)
- Look at the new material in the "Preview" pane (click one of the icons to see the material preview in different contexts).
Adding Textures to Materials: You don't need a texture, but it often looks better.
- Make sure the object is still selected. In the Buttons Window, click the Shading ("grey ball" icon) and the Texture button ("leopard square" icon).
- In the texture pane, select a texture from the dropdown and you're done!
- If you want to create a new one, select Add Texture from the dropdown, give it a name, and select the texture type. I'll choose image now, have a look at the others later, they are pretty useful.
- An "Image" pane will appear in the buttons window. Choose load image and select any image from your harddrive.
- Look at the Texture Preview. It will probably look like heck, but you can improve it later.
Troubleshooting Materials and Textures:
- If you cannot select a material, make sure you are in Object mode, not in Edit mode, and make sure you have the Shading and Material icons (grey and then red ball) selected in the button window header.
- If you cannot select a texture, make sure you are in Object mode, not in Edit mode, and make sure you have the Shading and Texture icons (grey ball and then leopard square) selected in the button window header.
- A material's color is only visible, if there is no texture, or the texture is transparent.
That's it! Render and have a look at the whole scene.
General Warning to Save your Work: Hitting Apple+S or ctrl+S does not save the Blender file. And neither would I trust the application to remind you to save unsaved changes when quitting. Remember to press ctrl-W for saving!
Well, those are the 10 topics you have to know to have remote hopes of ever being able to create a 3D object in Blender that is more advanced than a cube. It's just what I quickly jotted down and therefor incomplete, but now you're ready to go through a couple of Blender tutorials.