(For more resources on Blender, see here.)
One of the most important parts of any software is the interface, and with Blender, it is no different. But the Blender interface is unique, because it's all based on OpenGL graphics built in real-time that can be redesigned any way we want. Because of that, we can say that Blender has a default interface that can be customized any way we want. It's even possible to zoom all the items in menus and buttons.
Let's take a look at the interface:
(move cursor over image to enlarge)
The default interface of Blender is divided into:
- 3D View: This is the section of the interface where you visualize all your objects and manipulate them. If you are in the modeling process, this window should always be visible.
- Buttons Window: Here we will find almost all the tools and menus, with options to set up features like modifiers, materials, textures, and lights. We can change the options available in this window with several small icons that change the buttons with specific tasks like materials, shading, editing, and others. Those buttons will reflect the active panel in Blender, for example, when we choose materials (F5 key). The Buttons window will then only show options related to materials.
- Header: All windows in Blender have a header, even if it's not visible at the time we create the window. The content of the header can change, depending on the window type. For example, in the header for the 3D View, we find options related to visualization, object manipulation, and selection.
- Menus: These menus work just like in any other application, with options to save files, import, and export models. Depending on the window type selected, the contents of the menu may differ.
- Scene Selector: We can create various scenes in Blender, and this selector allows us to choose and create these scenes. Because we will be modeling and dealing with scenery, the Scene selector will be an important tool for us.
These parts make up the default interface of Blender, but we can change all aspects of the interface. There are even some modified screens, adapted to some common tasks with Blender, for us to choose. To access these modified screen sets, we must click on the selector located to the left of Scene Selector:
There are screen sets prepared to work with Animation, Model, Material, Sequence, and Scripting. Each of these sets has a different interface organization, optimized for its specific task. A nice way to switch between these sets is with a keyboard shortcut, which is Ctrl plus left arrow or right arrow. Try this shortcut, and you will switch between sets very quickly.
If you make any changes in the interface of Blender and want to overwrite the default interface, just press Ctrl + U, and your current interface will become the new default. In this way, every time Blender is started, your new interface will be shown. The same option can be reached in the File menu with the option named Save Default Settings. To restore the standard default interface, just use the option Load Factory Settings in the File menu.
Windows and menus
Blender has a lot of different windows that can do a lot of nice things. Two of the most common windows are the 3D View and the Buttons Window, but there are a lot more. With the Window type selector, we can choose among several types, such as File Browser, Text Editor, Timeline, and others. The Window type selector is always located in the left corner of each window, as shown in the following screenshot:
Let's see what the function of each window is:
- Scripts Window: This window groups some nice scripts written in Python to add some extra tools and functionalities to Blender. It works much like plugins in other 3D Packages. There are scripts to help in a lot of different tasks like modeling, animation, and importing models. Some of these scripts are very helpful to architectural modeling such as Geom Tool and Bridge Faces. For instance, we can create a city space with only a few mouse clicks using a script named Discombobulator. In most cases, the scripts will appear in the right place in the Blender menus. Use this window only if you want to browse all scripts available in your Blender Scripts folder. To run a script, just select any script from the Scripts menu.
- File Browser: With this window, we can browse the files of a specific folder. This window appears automatically when we save or open a file.
- Image Browser: Here we can view the image files in a specific folder. This window is very useful to search for image files like .jpg, .png, and others.
- Node Editor and Compositing Nodes: With this window, it's possible to build node sets and create complex materials and textures.
- Buttons Window: We already have talked about this window, but it's nice to remember that after the 3D View, this is one of the most important windows, because here we can set options for almost any tool or functionality in Blender. This is the window responsible for several tools and functions in Blender, such as lights, materials, textures, and object properties.
- Outliner: This window shows us a list of the objects in your scene, and lists the relations among them. Here we can see if an object is related to some other object in a hierarchical way. In this window, we can easily hide and select objects, which may be useful for complex scenes.
- User Preferences: As the name suggests, here we can change Blender configurations, such as file paths, themes, Auto Save, and other options.
- Text Editor: This window allows us to write and open text files to make comments and place notes. We can open and run Python scripts here also.
- Audio Window: Here we can open and compose audio files in sequences. It works much like the Video Sequence Editor, but for audio files.
- Timeline: That's the place where we create animation. This window gives us nice tools to add key frames and build animations.
- Video Sequence Editor: Here we can build and composite images and video files. It's a very nice window that can replace a video editor in some ways. We can easily create a complex animation with a lot of shots and sequence them together with this window. And, we can use the Node Editor to create complex compositions and effects.
- UV/Image Editor: With this window, we can edit and set up images and textures. There is even a paint application, with which we can edit and make adjustments in textures and maps. This is a very important window for us, because a lot of the texture work we will be using will involve the use of UV Textures that require a lot of adjustments in the UV/Image Editor.
- NLA Editor: Here we can visualize and set up non-linear animations. This window is related more to animations and key frame visualization. A non-linear animation means that we can create small blocks of motions, which can be arranged any way we like, including copying and positioning those blocks into sequences. In Blender, these blocks are named strips. Because it's a non-linear editor, we can erase and rearrange the blocks without a break in the animation. For a linear animation system, any changes at the beginning of the animation would demand a full reconstruction of the animation from the artist.
- Action Editor: This window has nice options to set up actions related to character animation.
- Ipo Curve Editor: In this window, we can create and set up animations in a more visual way with curves. It's possible to add, edit, and delete key frames. Even for animations that don't require much work with characters and object deformations, like the ones we will be creating, it still requires a lot of work in the setup of curves to create good animation.
Now we know what each of those windows do. Some of them will be very important for your visualization tasks, such as the Buttons and Scripts Window.
A great feature in Blender is the ability to split the interface and use various window types at the same moment. The way to do this is very simple. We must right-click on the borders of an existing window to access a small menu with the options to split the window. We can split a window in two ways, which are vertical division and horizontal division.
When you place the mouse cursor at the border of a window, the cursor will change into a double arrow. Just right-click and choose Split Area from the menu as shown in the next screenshot, and a division will be created:
There are two kinds of divisions that we can create, which are vertical and horizontal divisions:
- Vertical: Click on the upper or lower border of a window to create a vertical division
- Horizontal: Click on the right or left border of a window to create a horizontal division
After choosing Split Area, just place your mouse cursor where you wish the division to be created, and left-click with your mouse.
It's possible to merge two different windows too, with the same menu. There is an option named Join Areas, which will appear when we click with our right mouse button on the border of a window. After doing that, a big arrow will show which window will be destroyed and the arrow base shows the window that will take the place of the one destroyed:
When you have chosen which windows should be joined, just left-click with your mouse to confirm it. We must always join windows that share the entire border with each other. Windows that only share a part of their borders can't be joined together, and we must find another way to join those windows.
(For more resources on Blender, see here.)
Every window in Blender has a header that holds options related to the window. These headers show up as a horizontal bar that is attached to a window, and give us a few options. The headers can be placed at the upper or lower border of a window. In the default Blender interface, we can see three headers that are attached: Buttons window, 3D View, and User Preferences:
Let's see examples of what those options are for some of the Blender windows:
- Text Editor: The header for this window has options to edit and manipulate text. There are options to view the line numbers, change fonts, and edit tabulation, as shown in the following screenshot:
- Ipo Curve Editor: The header for this window shows us options like—zoom a specific area of the curve graphic, copy the curves to the clipboard, choose which type of curves to visualize, and more:
As we can see in the previous screenshot, for each window type, the header shows different and contextualized options related only to that window type.
Add or remove a header
To add or remove a header from a window, we use the same menu that creates divisions in a window. When we right-click with our mouse over the border of a window, we will have two options. If a header already exists, an option named No Header will show up, and if a header doesn't exist, another option named Add Header will appear:
We can choose the position of the header and place it at the top or bottom of a window. To do that, we must right-click on an existing header, and a small menu will appear. With this menu, we can choose the position of the header, and there is an option to remove that specific header.
A very important concept for the Blender interface is the active window. When we are dealing with an interface divided with a lot of windows and window types, if we activate a specific tool or command—in which window it will be executed? Well, the answer is—in the active window.
Only one window can be the active one, and what makes a specific window the active one, is the mouse cursor location. When the mouse cursor is over a window, it automatically becomes the active window. We can even notice a small change in the color of the window, to a brighter gray:
To show that, let's do a small test that will show how the active window concept works. For that, we will use the Home key on the keyboard. When we press this key, a command adjusts the zoom to fit the visualization to all visible objects. Well, just place the mouse cursor over the Buttons window and press Home, and you will see that nothing happens. It's because all the menus and buttons there are already zoomed to fit the whole window. But, if you place your mouse cursor over the 3D View, and press Home, you will see that the visualization for that window will be adjusted, and we will see all the objects placed in the 3D View. Note that for this example to work, we must use the default Blender interface.
Every time your 3D View is too crowded or you change the zoom significantly, and lose your objects, just press Home, and the visualization will be adjusted. This is valid even for menus and the organization of the interface.
We already know the Blender interface and how it works. Now it's time to start working with the keyboard shortcuts. One of the most interesting aspects of Blender is that it's built to give artists different ways to increase the efficiency of their production time. The way to do that is to focus on keyboard shortcuts, and Blender does that a lot. This may be difficult to new users, but for more experienced users, it's a real productivity gain.
There are shortcuts for almost every tool or command in Blender. With practice and continuous work, we will become more and more familiar with the shortcuts. So don't worry if you get yourself writing down a few of them at the beginning, just focus on the modeling and 3D work and soon you will naturally remember the more frequently used shortcuts.
When we start to work in a 3D environment, to know how to navigate and adjust the view to fit your needs is very important. At this point having a 3-button mouse is very important, because a lot of the navigation process is done either with the middle mouse button, or the mouse wheel.
Let's start with the orthographic views, which are the Top, Front, Right, Left, Bottom, and Back View. All these views can be activated with the numeric keyboard. To use these shortcuts, we must make the 3D View the active window by placing your mouse cursor over the window. Then just press these keys to activate the views:
|8||Rotate view up|
|CTRL + 7||Bottom view|
|6||Rotate view right|
|5||Swap orthographic and perspective views|
|4||Rotate view left|
|Ctrl + 3||Left view|
|2||Rotate view down|
|Ctrl + 1||Back view|
|Home||Fit the zoom to all objects|
As we can see, there are more options besides the orthographic views, such as options to rotate the view. The orthographic views are those where the projection of the lines from the views are all orthogonal to the projection plane. In this case, the projection plane is parallel with the grid from the Blender 3D View. A few of the orthographic views include top view, right view, left view, and bottom view.
Those are the options to manipulate the view with the keyboard, but we can use the mouse to get even more control over the visualization. Here is a list with some combinations of mouse buttons and keys, to control visualization:
|Wheel + Ctrl||Zoom in / Zoom out|
|Wheel + Shift||Pan view|
|Wheel||3D orbit view|
|Scroll Wheel Forward||Zoom in|
|Scroll Wheel Backwards||Zoom out|
All these options are very important to manipulate and visualize your scenes, and only with a bit of practice will it be possible to be familiar with all the commands.
Wheel or Middle Mouse Button?
Remember that when we say wheel, it could be the middle mouse button too, if your mouse doesn't have a wheel. But with a Middle mouse button only, you won't be able to use the scrolling options. To use the Zoom and Pan options, you will have to use the Ctrl or Shift keys to manipulate the view. For laptop users with only a trackpad and two buttons available, there is an option in the User Preferences window of Blender named Emulate 3-button Mouse, that emulates the middle mouse button with the Alt + left mouse button.
The process of selecting objects is very important to manipulate and transform objects in any 3D package. To select objects in Blender, we have options to use the mouse and to select objects by name. If we want to select a single object, just click with the right mouse button over this object, and it will be selected. To add another object to the selection, just press Shift and click with the right mouse button over another object.
In Blender, the mouse buttons work in a different way. In most 3D applications, the left mouse button selects one object. But with Blender, the right mouse button selects objects. If you find it confusing, it can be changed in the User Preferences.
The A Key is a very important tool when we are selecting objects, because it can unselect all objects that are selected and remove objects from selection. If there isn't any object selected, when we press the A key, all objects are selected. This is valid even when we are dealing with the selection of vertices, edges, and faces from objects.
To select multiple objects, we have the Box Select tool that works with the B Key. When we press the B key with the 3D View as the active window, we are able to draw a selection box around a group of objects. After pressing the B Key, just press your left mouse button and drag around the objects that you want to select. When all the objects are inside the selection, just release the mouse button and all objects inside the box will be selected:
If you want to remove the objects from the selection, just press the A Key, and all selected objects will be removed from the selection.
And if we press the B key twice in Edit mode, it will turn on the Brush Select. The mouse cursor will turn into a circle that we can use to "paint" the selection. Just press the left mouse button and drag the cursor to select anything that touches the circle. If you press the right mouse button and drag the cursor over any selected object, it will remove this object from the selection.
We can control the size of the circle with the + and - keys of the numeric keypad. Scrolling the mouse wheel, if you have one, will change the size of the circle as well.
This type of selection doesn't work in the Object mode. We will talk more about work modes later in this article.
Selecting by name
When we start to work with more complex scenes, the number of objects in your screen will increase dramatically. Simple tasks, such as selecting one specific object, will become more complex, because we will have to find this object on the screen first. That's why sometimes it is a good practice to rename objects, so it will be easier to find them by name later.
To select objects by name in Blender, we use a window named Outliner. This window will show a list of objects, and there we can choose the objects that will be selected by name.
The Outliner window can be displayed in two ways, the Oops Schematic and the Outliner itself. To change between them, use the View menu in the Outliner window header:
To select an object, the process is simple; just left-click on the object name. If you want to select more than one object, just hold the Shift key while you click.
Besides the ability to select objects by name, we also have a few extra controls in the Outliner. On the right, we find three small icons that allow us to control a few properties of the objects:
- Eye: With the Eye icon, we control the visibility of the object. If the eye is open, the object is visible, and if it's closed, the object is hidden. Right-click on it, to open and close the eye.
- Cursor: If this cursor is turned off, we won't be able to select the object in the 3D View. To turn the cursor on and off, right-click on it.
- Landscape: With this control, we can determine if the object will show up when you render the scene.
We can rename any object in Blender to make the selection process easier, and your scenes more organized. Before anything else, it is important to remember that every object in Blender must have a unique name. If we try to rename two objects with the same name, Blender will automatically add a suffix to the name. This suffix will be a number, which places an order of creation.
If we have an object named "Box", and we try to give the name "Box" to another object, it will be automatically renamed to "Box.001". An important point to remember is that all names in Blender are case sensitive, which makes an object named "Box" different from another one named "box".
To rename an object we must use a panel named Editing. This can be accessed with the shortcut F9 or just clicking on the small icon, pointed to in the next image:
Before renaming an object, we must first select this object. Then, click on the text box to rename it. When we select one object, we can see the object name in the lower left corner of the 3D View. Try to give names to objects that better identify the function of the object, like "left wall" or "window glass". It will be a great help when we need to select objects in complex scenes.
We can use the Outliner to rename objects also. Hold down the Ctrl key and right-click on the name of an object to rename it.
Renaming with the transform properties
There is another way of renaming objects with a small menu named Transform Properties. Just press the N key in the 3D View and select any object. In the OB text field, we will find the actual object name, and by clicking there, we can change the name of the object.
When you are just get started with Blender, you will notice a small icon in the 3D View window that looks like a target. This is the 3D Cursor, which is an important component in Blender because it determines the place where objects are created. To place this cursor at another point of the 3D View, just click with your left mouse button anywhere in the screen:
Another function of the 3D Cursor is to become the center for object transformations. When we need to rotate an object, using a specific point as the center of the rotation, we can use the 3D Cursor as the center.
To work with the 3D Cursor and selected objects, we can use a Snap option to place the cursor in specific places. If we press Shift + S, the menu with the Snap options will appear. There are a few options in the menu:
- Selection | Grid: This option aligns the selected objects with the grid lines.
- Selection | Cursor: With this option, we can align a selected object with the 3D Cursor. This way, the selected object will be moved, so it's center point is placed at the center of the cursor.
- Selection | Center: With this option, we can move the selected objects to the geometric center of the selection.
- Cursor | Selection: Here we will move the 3D Cursor to the center of the selected object.
- Cursor | Grid: This option aligns the 3D Cursor with the grid lines.
- Cursor | Active: Align the 3D Cursor with the active object.
With these options, it becomes easier for us to place the 3D cursor and the selected objects in specific places. We will use this option a lot when we deal with modeling for architecture, because it's a great tool for precision modeling. Every time we need to place the 3D cursor at a specific place, remember to use the Cursor Snap.
(For more resources on Blender, see here.)
To edit and manipulate objects in Blender, we must understand how to work with the modes. These modes determine what we want to do with an object. To manipulate and transform an object, we have the Object Mode, and to edit and model, we have the Edit Mode. To select these modes, we use a combo box located in the header of the 3D View:
We have more modes, such as the Sculpt Mode and Pose Mode, that activate sculpt modeling tools and character animation, respectively. The most common modes we will be using are the Object and Edit modes. They are so important that we have a Keyboard shortcut to switch between them. If we press Tab, the active mode will be switched between Object and Edit.
See when each mode should be used:
- Object Mode: This mode is used to manipulate and transform one or multiple objects. If you need to scale or move an object, use this mode. When we select an object in Object Mode, we won't be able to change it's shape, by altering it's vertices, edges, or faces.
- Edit Mode: With the Edit Mode, we will be able to select and edit the vertices, edges, and faces of an object. This way we can easily deform and model an object. Use this mode only if you need to deform and model.
Now that we know how to manipulate our interface and deal with basic aspects of Blender, let's learn how to create objects. To create anything in Blender, we use a menu named Toolbox. This menu appears when we press the Space bar on the keyboard or the Shift + A shortcut:
This menu has a lot of options, and one of them is the Add option. There we can find all the object types that can be created in Blender. To get started, let's see the most basic type of object, which is Mesh.
When we choose the Mesh type of object, options like Cube, Circle, Cylinder, and other basic shapes are available for us to choose. These are all shapes that can be deformed and divided into subforms to create more complex shapes.
To create an object, just place the 3D Cursor where you want the new object, and press the Space bar. Choose which kind of object you want, and it will be created. After creating an object, it is important to note the following:
- After creating an object, Blender will keep the same work mode.
- All objects are created in alignment with the base grid. This means that new objects will be added aligned with the orthographic x, y, and z axis.
Another point to remember is that any objects created in Edit mode, will be added to the edited object. For instance, suppose we start to edit a UV Sphere, and while in Edit mode, press the Space bar, and add a Cube. Now, we will have an object made by a Cube and a UV Sphere. To avoid that, always add new objects in Object mode.
This is very important because a lot of new users get this wrong and create all objects in Edit Mode. If you do that, your objects will be created as a single block. And it will demand some time later to split it, so it's a good practice to always switch back to object mode, unless you want it to be all together.
If you forget about it and create an object in perspective view, just use the Clear rotation command, and it will remove any degree of rotation applied to an object. Just press Alt + R to access this option.
Creating objects with no alignment to the view
There is a way to make all created objects aligned with the x, y, and z axis and not the view. Open the User Preferences window, and go to the Edit Methods tab, and turn off the Aligned to View button.
If for any reason, you have to erase an object, just select the object and press either the X or Delete keys. In Edit mode, we can select and erase vertices, edges, and faces.
Creating copies of objects in Blender is very easy; just select the object that will be copied, and press the shortcut Shift + D. This is the simplest way of creating a copy for an object.
There are three basic transformations that we can apply to an object—Translate, Rotate, and Scale. To apply these transformations to objects, we can use both keyboard shortcuts and a transformation widget. The transformation widget is a simple icon that is displayed in the center of all objects:
There are four kinds of widgets for each transformation type. We can switch between them with the controls located in the header of the 3D View. The symbols represent each transformation type:
- Finger: Turn the widget off and on
- Triangle: Turn on the translation widget
- Circle: Turn on the rotation widget
- Square: Turn on the scale widget
Each of these widgets has individual controls for the individual axes. These controls are separated by color; red for X, green for Y, and blue for Z transformations. Then, if we want to rotate an object just in the Y axis, we will use the green arc that represents this transformation in the rotation widget. The same concept is applied to the other transformations. For a scale in the Z axis, we just grab the blue square in the scale widget and drag it.
There is a shortcut to turn on and off the widget, and select different types of transformations. We can use the Ctrl + Space bar to access a menu that will let us enable and disable the widget, and choose what type of transformation we want to use in the object. In the menu, we will find a widget named Combo that shows all the transformation options at the same time.
The other way of applying transformations to objects is with keyboard shortcuts. We can use these shortcuts to quickly transform any object. These are the shortcuts:
Besides these shortcuts, we can constrain the transformation to an axis with the use of more shortcuts. After pressing one of the shortcuts above, we can press X, Y, or Z keys to constrain the transformation to one of their respective axes. For example, if we press R key and then press Z, the selected object will rotate only in the Z axis.
The co-ordinates used to make that transformation are the global coordinates, but we can use the local coordinates of an object. To do that, we must press the key corresponding to the axis two times. Then, if we select an object and press the G key, and press X key two times, the transformation of the object will take place in the object's local coordinates.
Global coordinates are related to the scene coordinates, and they don't change. And, the Local coordinates are related to the object, so they change with the object. We could compare the Global coordinates with the cardinal points, and the Local coordinates with the front, back, left, and right sides of one object. No matter where you are, the cardinal points will be always at the same position. And, the sides of an object will be relative to its orientation.
Dealing with the camera in Blender is very important, because we can only render the camera view. Even with multiple cameras in a scene, we must always have an active camera that will be used in the rendering process. The camera is a small pyramidal object that is placed in the default scene:
To view what the camera is visualizing, just press 0 on the numeric keyboard and you will see the camera view:
When we are in the camera view, select the camera by right-clicking on the camera frame, and press the transformation shortcuts to move or rotate the camera and change the view. In this way, we can adjust the framing and find a better fit for an object or scene.
Another way of adjusting the camera is to split the 3D View into two windows. Then, switch one of the windows' view to be a camera view. In the other view, using the widgets to move the camera or the objects, find a good frame for the objects.
If we have more than one camera, it will be necessary to set one of them as the active camera. To do that, we must select the camera and press Ctrl + 0. The 0 must be pressed from the numeric keyboard. In Blender, every object can be turned into a camera. Just select the object and press Ctrl + 0, and it will become a camera. To make an object not be a camera anymore, just select this object and press Alt + 0; this way, it won't be a camera anymore.
Now that we know the basic aspects of Blender, it's possible to learn how to render scenes and make some small adjustments. All the setup for the render can be accessed in the Scene Panel, which is located in the Buttons Window. To access this panel with a shortcut, press F10:
In this panel, there are two menus that hold the main options to set up the render. The first menu is named Render, and has options to set the scale of the generated image. We can choose scales between 100% and 25% of the original size. The other menu is named Format, and there we can find options to set the resolution of the render and a file format in which to save our renders.
We can set up a render resolution of 640x480, and choose PNG as the file format in which to save the image. If the scale is set to 100%, our image will have the full resolution, but if we want to run a test render at just 50% of the resolution, then we must change the settings in the Render menu.
Changing the scale for the rendered image is a great way of producing small renders, just to test our settings for lights and materials. We will be using this feature a lot for exercises.
When everything is ready, just press F12 or push the Render button in the Render menu. This way a render window will appear. After the render is finished, just press F3 to save the file.
Make sure that you have at least one light
If we don't have any light sources in Blender, the render won't show anything but a black screen. It's different from other applications that have a default light. So, if you press F12 and all you see is a black screen, it's probably because a light source is missing.
Before starting a render, we can preview how it's going to look in the 3D View. There is a tool named Render Preview that can be accessed with the shortcut Shift + P. When we do that, a small window will show up in the 3D View:
We can change the size for the preview; just click on the border of the preview window and drag your mouse. That's another great way of doing a preview for your settings, to make sure everything will be fine when we need to make a bigger rendering.
In this article, we had a glance at Blender and how to start using it. Even for a quick start, we saw a lot of new and interesting concepts about how to work with Blender. We just learned how to:
- Use the interface
- Set up the interface
- Select Objects
- Work with modes
- Transform objects
- Create objects
- Copy objects
- Work with the camera
- Rendering basics
Even though this has been a quick start, to know and understand how Blender works is very important before we will start using more complex and advanced stuff related to modeling for architecture in Blender.
- Blender 3D 2.49 Architecture, Buildings, and Scenery [Book]
- Blender 3D 2.49: Working with Textures [Article]
- Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines [Book]
- Make Spacecraft Fly and Shoot with Special Effects using Blender 3D 2.49 [Article]
- Blender 2.49 Scripting [Book]
- Blender 2.49 Scripting: Shape Keys, IPOs, and Poses [Article]
- Advanced Effects using Blender Particle System [Article]
- Character Head Modeling in Blender [Article]