Welcome to the wonderful world of 3D graphics! This section of this book will help you jump-start your knowledge with some terminology and the basics of working in 3D. We'll keep this brief and try to get through the boring stuff as quickly as possible so you can get right into creating amazing 3D projects in Blender 2.8!
First, we will take a look at the fundamentals of a 3D scene. We will learn how the 3D coordinate system uses three dimensional axes, as well as how 3D objects are manipulated with transformations. We will answer some basic questions, such as: what are objects? What are polygons? What is topology? What are materials and textures? What is the difference between Perspective and Orthographic views? The answers to these questions are key to working with any 3D software.
After we've provided you with some general 3D knowledge, we will learn about the specifics of Blender. We will cover how to install the software, as well as how to download the source files for this book. We will take a look at Blender 2.8's user interface. Then, we will learn about the basic 3D navigation controls, which include Rotate, Zoom, and Pan. We will also learn how to use Blender's hotkeys effectively. At the end of this chapter, we will provide an overview of the projects in this book.
We will cover the following topics in this chapter:
- Overview of the 3D workflow
- Blender 2.8's user interface
- Basic 3D navigation controls
- A brief introduction to the projects in this book
If this is your first time working with 3D software, you'll find the explanations in this section very helpful. However, if you are already familiar with 3D terminology and the composition of a 3D scene, then you may want to skip ahead to the next section of this chapter.
Some of the vocabulary terms you're about to learn might sound overwhelming at first, but don't worry – you don't have to be good at math just because we use words such as "geometry" to describe our 3D models. Luckily for us, the software does all of the complex math for us, and we get to sit back and create art without having to worry about it – hooray!
All 3D software uses the Cartesian coordinates system, which is made up of three-dimensional axes: the X-Axis (red), the Y-Axis (green), and the Z-Axis (blue). The exact unit size of this coordinate system is arbitrary and varies from one software package to another, but many packages set one unit on the grid to be equal to 1 meter in the real world:
With these three axes, we can define where an object is in a 3D space using transforms. There are three types of transforms:
- Location: (sometimes called translation) This determines the position of an object.
- Rotation: This determines the orientation of an object.
- Scale: This determines the size of an object.
Now that we understand the coordinate system, let's look at the 3D objects that will appear in the scene.
An object is something that appears in a 3D scene. All objects have transforms that define their location, rotation, and scale in a 3D space. You will find several types of objects in a 3D scene:
- Mesh: A mesh is the most common type of object in 3D; nearly everything we make is a mesh. Meshes are 3D objects that are made up of components (sometimes referred to as the geometry of the mesh). These components are used to form geometric polygons. Polygons are the multi-sided shapes that form the visible surface of a model. Creating 3D models with this approach is called polygonal modeling.
- Empty: An empty is an object that doesn't have any components attached to it. Some software packages call these null objects or locators. These are useful in advanced workflows for defining and keeping track of an exact spot in a 3D space. Since an empty has transforms, it will be present in the 3D scene just like all other objects, but because it has no components, it will not be visible in the final result.
- Light: A light is a type of object that casts light onto the scene. Just like in the real world, you can't see without a light source. If a 3D scene had no light source, you would just see black. Most 3D software includes a light source in the scene by default so that you can see what you're doing. Often, these default lights are a type of environmental light or ambient light source that illuminates the scene without necessarily coming from a particular point in the scene.
- Camera: A camera is a tool that's used to create the final image from our 3D scene. We can use a 3D camera the same way we would use a camera in real life: position it, aim it at the subject, and take a picture. The picture we take with a 3D camera is called a render. Rendering creates a high-quality image of the scene. High-quality renders take much longer to process than the normal Viewport preview of the scene, so we don't usually render until we are finished creating the scene.
Now that we know what an object is, let's take a closer look at the most important type of object: a mesh. We need to understand how the components of a mesh come together to create a 3D model.
There are three basic components that we use in polygonal modeling:
- Vertices: The most basic piece of geometry is a vertex (the plural form is vertices). A vertex is a single point in 3D space. It has no size nor orientation; it only has a location within the mesh object. You can't do much with vertices alone, which is why we need edges.
- Edges: These are straight lines that are drawn between vertices, similar to a connect-the-dots puzzle. The edges that connect two points are always perfectly straight in polygonal modeling.
- Faces: The visible part of a polygon. Faces are created by filling in the space between three or more edges.
The following diagram shows the vertices, edges, and faces of a 3D model:
Polygons can have any number of sides; three sides make up a triangle (tri), while four sides make up a quadrilateral (quad). There are lots of fancy names for specific polygons with more than four sides, such as pentagon, hexagon, and so on, but in the world of 3D modeling, any polygon with more than four sides is simply referred to as an n-gon. The following image shows some of the basic polygons you'll come across:
The way in which these components are connected is referred to as topology, a subject that we will cover in depth later in this book. There are many best practices and rules for creating a mesh with good topology. The most basic rule of topology is that quadrilaterals are the best type of polygon, triangles should be used sparingly, and n-gons should be avoided altogether. Models that don't follow the rules of good topology usually have problems in the final result. Topology is a very large and advanced subject, so we won't go into any more detail about it in this chapter.
We can add color to our 3D models with a mixture of materials and textures. Materials are used to determine how light behaves when it interacts with the surface of the object. Does it look like glass? Metal? Skin? Textures are 2D images that are wrapped onto a 3D model, sort of like a candy wrapper. To make our textures line up with the model, we have to unwrap the model first. Unwrapping gives us a 2D representation of the model called a UV map (or UVs). An example of this can be seen in the following image:
Once we have UVs, we can paint a texture that will be wrapped back onto the model, as shown here:
They are called UVs because all of the pieces have a U coordinate and a V coordinate, which are used to determine their positions in 2D space (very similar to graphing data on a 2D graph). Since we already used X, Y, and Z for our three-dimensional axes, our two-dimensional axes are labeled U and V. We will cover UVs, materials, and textures in detail in later chapters.
3D scenes can be displayed in Perspective mode or in Orthographic mode. In Perspective mode, objects are drawn with a vanishing point. As objects get farther away from us, they look smaller, which is the way things look in real life. In Orthographic mode, however, objects stay the same size no matter how far away they are from us. In this mode, everything looks flat and close together. This can be useful for making blueprints or architectural renders, but usually, we keep the view in Perspective mode because it looks more natural:
So there it is – your first introduction to 3D! We've covered a lot of new ideas in a short time, but they will all become second nature to you once you've spent a little time working on 3D projects. Next, we'll take a look at Blender's user interface.
You can download the latest version of Blender at http://blender.org/download. At the time of writing, the latest version is Blender 2.83. Blender is available on Windows, macOS, and Linux. It is a very similar experience on all three operating systems.
Before we learn about the current version of the user interface, it's useful to know a little bit about Blender's history. There is over a decade's worth of tutorials and resources available online. The software may look a bit different in those old resources, but if you can get past the old interface, the information is just as helpful as it always was, so let's take a look.
Blender's user interface (UI) was very polarizing in the past. Older versions of Blender required the user to memorize dozens of hotkeys before it was possible to accomplish even basic tasks, which meant that many users found this hard to use. However, those were the days of Blender 2.49, and when Blender was updated to version 2.50, the UI got its first major facelift, which added many new features, more buttons, and a cleaner user experience.
Each release of Blender increments the version number by +0.01, which means 2.80 is 30 versions newer than 2.50 – that's a lot of versions! Many of these versions simply added small new features and bug fixes, but version 2.80 is just as big of an overhaul from version 2.79 as 2.50 was from version 2.49.
The original Blender included most of the basic requirements for a 3D modeling suite: 3D modeling, rigging, animating, and its internal "Blender Render" rendering engine. The earliest versions of the software were infamous for missing features such as undo and warning the user that data might be lost if they exited the program without saving first.
Its bright white UI with horizontal buttons, excessive use of tabs, and odd coloration was criticized by many users, but nevertheless, it was responsible for some amazing Open Movie projects such as "Elephant's Dream" and "Big Buck Bunny":
When Blender 2.50 rolled around, the UI was changed radically in response to user feedback. The Open Movie "Sintel" was created alongside the development of this new version to make sure that it included all of the features required for animation production. The 2.5 series of releases continued to introduce amazing features such as Cycles, the ray tracing rendering engine; the bMesh modeling system, which overhauled all of the modeling tools and allowed users to use n-gons; the new dynamic topology sculpting tools; and much more.
It quickly became a formidable modeling suite and gained popularity as the software grew all the way through to version 2.79:
Finally, the 2.8 series came around. This highly anticipated release was in development for over 3 years and overhauled many of the underlying systems that were starting to show their age. The result was a stable, fast, customizable, and user-friendly experience that provided all the modern features you would expect in a modeling suite:
This is an excellent time to learn Blender! The Blender 2.8 series of releases comes with massive improvements to the software, among other things. The user interface has received several updates that will make it more user-friendly than ever before! There has especially been a focus on making it more accessible to new users (that's you!).
So, there's your brief history lesson on Blender's UI. Now, let's break the UI down into its different sections and learn how to use it!
When you first launch Blender, you will see the Splash Screen. This screen will show you what version of Blender you are using. It will display a piece of artwork made with Blender, and it will let you open project files that you've recently been working with:
If this is your first time launching Blender 2.8, it will also ask you to choose which mouse button you would like to select objects with: left or right.
In previous versions of Blender, the default was to select objects in the Viewport with the right mouse button. Many users found this strange, so in 2.8, the new default is to use a left-click to select objects (you can change this at any time through the user preferences menu).
Believe it or not, right-click is more ergonomic in this context; your hand won't get as tired if you use right-click to select. It sounds weird, but you should give it a try! From this point on in this book, selecting objects will simply be referred to as "click to select" so that you can follow along with either a left-click select or right-click select.
When you're finished with the Splash Screen, click anywhere outside of it to dismiss it.
Blender's UI is highly customizable. By default, it is broken up into six distinct areas, as highlighted and numbered in the following image:
The four largest areas in the center of the UI are called editors. Each editor presents us with a specific way of visualizing our 3D project. There are many types of editors, but these four are open in the default workspace:
- 3D Viewport: The 3D Viewport is where we will be spending most of our time. It is our window onto the 3D scene. Nearly all of our 3D modeling is done here.
- Outliner: The Outliner lists all of the objects in the project and helps us organize our scene.
- Properties: The Properties panel contains the render settings and lets us add advanced modifiers, constraints, particles, physics, and materials to our 3D models.
- Timeline: The Timeline is useful when we start animating. It keeps track of playback options and keyframes.
Blender 2.8 includes two new major pieces of the UI: the Top Bar and the Status Bar. Most of the data that can be seen in these areas isn't new to Blender 2.8; it has just been reorganized into these two bars so that it is always visible:
- Top Bar: The Top Bar is found at the very top of the user interface. The Blender logo can be seen at the top left. Clicking on it will give us the option to reopen the Splash Screen. The Top Bar includes the typical menu options that you'll find in most software, such as File, Edit, and so on. The most exciting feature on the Top Bar is the new Workspace presets, such as Layout, Modeling, Sculpting, and more. These tabs will allow us to quickly rearrange the UI for different workflows.
- Status Bar: The Status Bar can be found at the very bottom of the user interface. It includes helpful hotkey reminders, tool options, a polygon count, and other useful information about the current file. Check here often for reminders of how tools work.
We've broken down the latest version of the UI into its main sections, which means we're ready to take a look at basic navigation in the software.
The first thing you'll need to learn in any 3D software is how to navigate the 3D Viewport.
In Blender, the X-Axis is used for width, the Y-Axis is used for depth, and the Z-Axis is used for height. All 3D applications use the same colors for these axes; red for X, green for Y, and blue for Z.
The 3D Viewport is where you will be spending the majority of your time in any 3D software, and Blender is no exception. We will need a three-button mouse to be able to navigate the 3D Viewport properly (pressing the scroll wheel down acts as a middle mouse button). The Middle Mouse Button (MMB) is used for three fundamental navigation controls:
- Rotate (sometimes referred to as Orbit): Click and hold MMB and drag the mouse to rotate the view.
- Zoom (sometimes called Dolly): Scroll with the scroll wheel to zoom in and out. If you want more precision, you can hold down the Control key (abbreviated to Ctrl) and then click and hold MMB and drag to zoom in and out.
- Pan (sometimes referred to as Slide or Move): Hold down the Shift key and then click and hold MMB and drag to pan the view.
If you ever forget these controls, you can always look at the Status Bar at the bottom of the screen. There, you will see reminders of these hotkeys. Alternatively, in Blender 2.8, there is a new navigation gizmo at the top-right corner of the 3D Viewport. This gizmo is particularly useful if you're using Blender with a drawing tablet or any other device with a stylus instead of a mouse:
Navigating in 3D space can take some getting used to, but it is essential that you practice these controls. Every 3D project will require you to be constantly using a combination of rotate, zoom, and pan.
As long as we're talking about the essentials, let's give a quick mention to how to use Blender's hotkeys effectively. You will need to learn several important keyboard shortcuts, or hotkeys. The hotkeys in Blender only work correctly if your mouse cursor is hovering over the appropriate window when you press them.
Most of the hotkeys covered in this book are for the 3D Viewport, which means you need to make sure that your mouse is hovering over the 3D Viewport when you press a hotkey. Otherwise, the hotkeys won't do what you expect them to do.
So, now you know the basic navigation controls in Blender. You will need to know these controls before you can follow along with the projects in this book. Speaking of which, up next, we'll have a quick look at the projects in this book!
This book offers a wide variety of projects, so there's something for everyone: you'll start by adding horns to a Viking helmet. Then, you'll kick it up a notch by building a time machine. After that, you'll try your hand at architecture by modeling and rendering a modern kitchen in the EEVEE physically-based rendering (PBR) engine. Next, you'll explore 2D character design techniques with Blender's brand-new Grease Pencil tool. You'll practice 2D animation by creating a free-form surreal transformation animation, learn advanced Grease Pencil animation techniques by creating a fun 2D animated short, and finally jump back into the world of fantasy by creating a baby dragon. It is recommended that you go through these chapters in order, but you can try skipping ahead to some of the later projects if they sound more interesting to you. Here are the projects, in order:
- Viking Helmet: In this project, you'll dive right into Blender 2.8 and get a feel for the 3D workflow. You'll start with a scene of Viking-themed items, including a helmet that's been partially created. You'll add a nose guard, rivets, and horns to the helmet, and then place the helmet on the head of a training dummy to make a completed scene.
- Time Machine: Starting from scratch this time, you'll build a time machine. You'll learn about modeling tools, creating new objects, the modifier stack, and fixing shading issues in a 3D mesh.
- Modern Kitchen: With this project, you'll learn how to assemble a scene from premade parts to create custom materials and lighting to turn a boring grey scene into a fully rendered gorgeous final shot in the new EEVEE rendering engine.
- Illustrating an Alien Hero with Grease Pencil: You will design a character with the powerful new Grease Pencil tool and learn how to draw 2D images inside of a 3D scene.
- 2D Surreal Transformation Animation: This will be your first introduction to animation, you don't have to have fantastic drawing skills for this one. You'll learn about frames and materials in Blender's Grease Pencil tool.
- Animating a Stylish Short: Taking your 2D skills to the next level, you'll learn how to animate a short film from start to finish.
- Baby Dragon: This is one of the biggest projects in this book, but don't let that scare you – you'll start off with one of the most artistic and fun parts of the 3D process: sculpting! By the end you'll have a finished character that can be used for animations and video games.
Now that we know what projects will be covered in this book, let's have a look at how to get the starter files for the projects.
This book comes with project files that you can use to follow along with each chapter. Please check the Download the example code files section of this book's Preface to learn how to access the project files.
There are a variety of file formats in these source files. Blender projects are labeled with the .blend suffix. The .blend files store data such as objects, materials, collections, scripts, and more. Basically, your whole project is stored inside of this single file. One exception, however, is image files. It is possible to store images inside of .blend files, but image files take up a lot of space on your computer, so this would make each project file huge.
By default, Blender saves projects with a relative file path, which means as long as you don't move the .blend file or the linked texture files out of their appropriate folders, Blender will know where the files are and everything will work properly when you open a project.
In this chapter, you learned how 3D software works and in particular, Blender. You learned the basics of the three-axis coordinate system, as well as how transforms are used to place objects in a 3D scene. You also got a glimpse of Blender's UI and looked at the list of projects that will be covered in this book.
These concepts will be the foundation of your 3D knowledge. There are so many possibilities that there's something for everyone! You can model, create materials, paint textures, sculpt, render, and much more! To learn more about Blender's features, have a look at the features page on the Blender website at: blender.org/features.
Now, you're ready for your first 3D project! In the next chapter, you'll be provided with a small scene full of Viking themed objects. You'll get to position objects in the scene and make some edits and additions to a Viking helmet. See you there!