View Full Version : Putting myself though a Blender

10-06-2008, 02:47 PM
Its time I did it.

Its time I actually took a real good look at the application Blender which is the Open Source full on, packs a mighty punch, 3D rendering package.

I have been using my 3D laser scanner and it dumps out zillions of points and poly's and its all geared up for light-wave 3D which is an excellent package but my copy is old and there is one major drawback which I assume they have fixed and that is it has a 65K polygon limit. Its also single threaded and lacking many if not all that important features. I like the sound of particle effects, volumetric lighting and radiosity... mmmmm

So I know a bit about 3D apps but nothing at all about Blender so I have started to play with it. Several people have asked about it - including me - on these boards and so I thought that I would share my learning experience so that others can get a leg up on it and also maybe if anyone else would like to follow and path-beat the way with me then you might pick up some extra points that I miss and can add to the blog. So lets get this straight - this is no tutorial !!!

So lets start and try to get it up, render something of the right size and save out a render. After that I would like to be able to model some basic shapes and then texture them up. After that we will see where we go.

So here is the base page:

and the download is here...

I looked for a 64bit version but I could not find any so I DL'ed the x86 version and it installed easily. I set the local files directory to the install directory but in all else I just chose defaults.

When its run you are given a screen with a cube on it and a camera and a light all set up. Even this I think is an improvement over the last time I tried it as I could not figure out the UI.

Looking at the blender wiki...
... help and intro it talks about the UI being a bit different from most apps. This is true and the main reason why I gave up last time. Interestingly it says that you should use it with one hand on the mouse and one hand on the keyboard. They call this ohomohok !

That was interesting because Del and I were discussing how my ViewingDale uses this approach and he gave up on the UI for the same reason that I gave up on Blender. I know that I can use my app real fast and this is what blender is saying is why they do it this way too. So I really need to do this now just to prove a point to myself !

The next thing they go on about is the mouse. They insist on a 3 button mouse and bizarrely its the middle button that allows you to move around. I.e. No move no App. No 3 button mouse no App. This is a bit annoying as I use a trackball which does have the third button but its not so comfortable as the other two. Anyway - be warned - you NEED it to run.

Ok we install and run it up and you get two windows on the task bar, one is a DOS type on windows machines and the other is the main app. You leave the DOS window alone or minimize it. If you shut it then the main app shuts down.

Now we have our cube on the screen. First thing I tried was the middle mouse button which does do what it says but the backdrop is set to Ortho (parallel background lines) view not perspective so you can get pretty confused about depth right off the bat. Whether its the norm I don't know but I set it to perspective view using the menu. The number keypad controls the view so 7,1,3 does top bottom and side and 0 is camera view. I like this a lot. On LW you look at all four at once but you quarter the view space. Having a quick way to get around the object is very very handy.

So we have our camera view and if you hit render on F12 then it renders it. Its smallish but seems alright. Hit F10 and get the scene properties and there is the render size and format. So 4000x3000 for me with PNG. Great. F12 again....

So wheres the save render option ? Took me a while to figure this out but the render window is supposed to stay open so now we have three on the task bar. Press F3 and you get the option of where to save and what filename. Its obviously not a standard windows UI here so there are some foibles which I would guess those Linux guys would not see. Save the file and there it is and I can look at it in PSP. Great so job done.

When I shut it down and reopened it was back to small render and JPEG again so I changed back again and this time saved the scene using the menu at the top of the main window. That seemed to work when I opened the app and loaded the scene in again.

So far so good. More to come I expect in the next few days.

10-06-2008, 03:21 PM
Brave lad. Thanks for going through this - I had a shot at it for a while and managed to get a few basic animations going but it was heavy going. I'll be very interested to see what you make of it. Repped for bravery!

10-06-2008, 04:07 PM

I tried Blender once, and gave up, sticking with POVRay (which, I'll admit is NOT easier to use, but I already know the script format from years ago...)

Looking forward to the on-the-go-tut! Consider recording 5 minute screen casts detailing your progress....

-Rob A>

10-06-2008, 06:08 PM
Thanks both of you and I agree that its notable as not being easy to use but I know it is a powerful program so the rewards would be great. The screen casts are a good idea. Often I am just messing with it randomly and getting some eureka moments which are distilled. You wouldn't want a screen cast of all the faff tho. The scripts run on Python tho so ill be looking for some help in that dept later on. I am a Perl nut and know that Ruby and Python are popular and probably more powerful but its another effort to learn another language isn't it.

What I am going to try next is to make some objects, maybe see if there are some boolean ops, hopefully some extrude, lathe, stretch etc. See if maybe I can make a snowman.

10-06-2008, 06:38 PM
The dice tutorial is pretty good for getting the hang of subdividing sides, colouring different areas and bevelling. I think that was the most useful beginner tute on the wiki. The one on modelling an eye is a bit of a waste of time if I remember correctly as it was a royal pain to get the texturing right.

Steel General
10-06-2008, 07:08 PM
@Redrobes - You are a braver man than I. :)

I tried Carrara years ago, and like a lot of things I simply ran out of patience with it.

10-06-2008, 08:07 PM
I've tried just about every 3D app out there that has one of those free 30 day trials 'cuz I've always wanted to create virtual worlds. Blender, IMO was neither easier nor harder than the others...it just takes getting used to like everything else. I would like to get back to it so I am really looking forward to how you progress. Good luck and kudos for bravery.

10-06-2008, 09:36 PM
Cheers guys. Well, for a while I made some objects and started on my snowman. Got a body and head + top hat and then went into the materials and texture editor and got real stuck there for ages. I mean, could they make this UI any harder ? But there are some shortcuts when only once you accidentally come across them make life incredibly easier.

Firstly, I found that LMB on the main window once gave me a context menu but for the life of me I could not get it back and wondered what I did ? Well if you hold the LMB down and keep it down for about a second then it appears and allows you to place down new objects on the screen like spheres and cubes etc.

Another handy thing to know is that whilst they whitter about the one hand on keyboard.... the key stroke to move an object is Ctrl + Alt + G and to rotate is Ctrl + Alt + R etc. ONE HAND ???? Are you kidding ? Only if your Vulcan I think. Well, it turns out that it has gestures built in. So if you select an object by RMB over it you can use LMB near to it and drag a line away from the object and after a short while it picks up the object and drags with it. Also, if you make a mouse LMB arc around an object then it picks up and starts rotating it. No more Mr CTRL + ALT + Key. Dont know as yet what the one for scaling is so I have to resort to Ctrl + Alt + S for a mo.

So adding, scaling, moving and rotating objects is not so bad. Making half a snowman was not all that difficult if you dont mind it looking a bit naff. The spheres come in all blocky. To smooth them out there is an object editing mode on F9 where there is the options to make the object smooth or hard. This fixes up the normals.

I tried the light-wave import and that worked well too. So no prob. It also has a wavefront text file .OBJ import which will be excellent for my scanner.

Right - now materials. These hurt bad. It took me ages to get to grips with even the basics of what it was asking for. I think I have some semblance of it now. Normally in 3D apps you create a material and then apply it to an object. This is no different except that the bit to create a link for a meterial to the object which is the first thing you need to do is in the middle of the UI. Thats under the Link to Object on the materials editor F5.

Then you can set the base col (diffuse to old timers like me) and also the specular color. There is also a mirror color for reflective stuff. Whats obviously missing as far as I can see is that there ought to be an ambient and a luminosity colors in there too. Not exactly sure whats going on there. I think the base color can be applied to the ambient so you can have specular ambient color I think ???? I dont quite get that at this stage.

Then you can set the shader. Theres a good selection. Given I had Lambert diffuse and Phong specular only, having a pull down for each is sheer luxury. Would be good to have a custom option tho. Maybe that will be later. So I kept with lambert and phong for a while as they are nice n easy stuff. Nothings gonna go spectacularly odd with them.

The texture bit threw me for a bit. I thought texture meant what they call material. What texture is for them is some image mapping. You can use built in procedural or image based mapping and whilst I had sphere, plane, cube, blender also has some extra ones which I am gasping for like U/V.

I got stuck for a while but when I read up a bit there is a hidden F6 required to take you to the texture editor. From there you can select the type of texture to use like cloud effect that we all love on this site. All sorts of marble, wood grain etc. Havent loaded an image yet tho.

Finally played about with the mirror and refractive index effects. They were pretty straight forward but you must remember to use F10 for the scene editor and switch on mirror and refractive effects in the renderer or else they just dont come out. Thats similar to LW so I was not caught out there.

Whooping it all up together I made this and it rendered it with 4 threads for 4 cores in a short amount of time. My old LW is just treacle compared to this and I like the mirror and refraction better in this too. There were always bugs in the version of LW I had.

So its kickin ass right now. Got loads more to discover. Its still a bit painful but not as bad as I first imagined. Parts of the UI still suck tho.

10-07-2008, 09:13 AM
Great job. I am waiting for some nice top down minis to be rendered... heh...

10-07-2008, 11:06 AM
Looking good so far. How long did it take you to model that quiff? :)

10-07-2008, 06:56 PM
Top down minis with quiffs huh ? That might take a while...

Dont know if you missed this post while you were away Torstan but if you think my 3D modeling skillz are right leet then I had better fess up.

I have been in close combat with it again tonight and I am beginning to see that there is a principle at work with blender. In general software there is some pretty standard UI principles and one of them is "There is more than one way to do it" thing. What I think is missing from that short sentence should read "There is more than one equally easy way to do it". Thats something I think completely lost of the UI dev of blender.

The UI is at the same time both brilliant and really really sucky. There are things so bad with it that you want to stop right now and put it in the bin and other times you think wow thats actually really clever.

If you look at the #1 top post pic 2 that is the cube in normal camera view. Look at render pic 4. Notice that the light is from a different direction. Now in LW the preview makes a half hearted attempt to get that about right and leaves it for the renderer to get it exact. So you move a light around and the screen does not update with good shading. Bad.

Also something must have possessed the chap who thought that having all the items like buttons on would be good gray and all the off buttons are light. Its like waiting at the curb for the walk sign to go out and then its safe. Or being in an elevator with all the floors lit up except the one your on. You cast your eye over these buttons and you have to double check your thoughts EVERY time just to make sure its really on or off.

Heres another. If you make an object show its points then they start highlighted if the object was highlighted. If you then use a selection then nothing happens. Its as though you didnt select them. Its not obvious that they are already selected. In LW they deselect / toggle. When you save a file you double click on the file to overwrite and nothing happens. When you hit the save button then still nothing happens. The save dialog does not go away, no wait cursor, so confirmation. Only when you click it again does it save it because its changed the focus with that last click but no screen update to tell you thats what happened and no press the button AND change focus at the same time like in normal windows.

Another dialog crazy thing is by default all the dialogs are in a bar on the bottom. Each sub panel has a close arrow which shrinks them in the X direction so that only a thin character width bar is present. But then instead of writing the name of the dialog vertically down the bar you just get the first character which is no use to anybody. Really dumb.

And yet, the dialog docking on the panels is superb. You can drag a dialog over the top of another and it automatically makes it into a property sheet with two pages. Also you can dock these dialog panels anywhere and it really looks as though they should be in a vertical drop so when closed the thin bar is now horizontal with the name across it. Great ! So why boot the app in the default mode which is where its so bad ?

You can hide these dialog panels but to bring them back is neigh on impossible without google. The one thing you can say is that everybody and their dog has seen these issues so theres plenty of blogs with the exact issue you have to get the answer. You have to put your cursor just over the scroll window slider and right click to get a menu to put them back up again. Why not have that menu for clicking anywhere inside a blank dialog space then ?

Its almost like this program was designed to keep noobs out. Once you know its fine but you cant know without asking. Oh and dont try the help that gives you an index of A-Z of what the keys do. I know what the key does because I can press it. What I need is a specific function and want to know what key does it. Its like having a one way foreign language dictionary. Its no good telling me what the foreign word is if you need to look it up in the index to get to it.

I could go on...

So what can I say that I have learned today ? Well you can use the Alt key and LMB to move the view so I think that cuts down on using the middle mouse so much. The gesture for scale is a kind of S shape so that is good too. No more Mr Spock neck pinches required any more.

If you press B then you get the start of a selection box which is pretty useful. You can also use ctrl + LMB to trace out a bounding lasso too. Also pretty useful.

I have been playing with the layers too. Luckily these are just like LW and I thought that these were one of the best bits of that app so I am well pleased here. You get a number of boxes which represent layers and you can select any box and it goes gray to show that its active (Real Dumb that) but you can shift and select as many of these boxes as you like and they become the active layers. You can move an object from one layer to another by highlighting it and pressing M for move and you get a neat little set of boxes come up - just pick one. Good.

In edit mode you can create new vertices by just using ctrl and LMB and it puts them down - it seems to know whether you are dragging out a lasso by the timing. You can select two points and press F to make an edge and three points to make a face.

You can add two objects in like a cube and a sphere and select both and press W and get the boolean menu and once finished it seems to work just fine. Though the new boolean object is separate from the original objects and the original objects are still there so to see an intersection for example, you need to get rid of the original objects or move them to a new layer. I tried it once tho and it crashed the app and it just bailed out and died leaving no trace. When I restarted it has an option to recover last session but it didnt give me the point where I was at. Very scary ! I didn't like that at all. My LW does not crash if you dont push it to its limits. A small cube and sphere should not crash the app. We will see how bad this actually is. I bet they didnt check for a div by zero and didn't catch the exception though it never told me anything.

So to round up. The UI still sucks but theres more than one way to do things except that everyone who must use this darn thing must be using the way that does not appear to be the default way your expected to do it as a nooby. Only then does it make itself humble to your requests. You get the inkling that if you use it the way the pro's and the developers use it then it could be alright. Nothing is going to make me think that dark gray is on tho. Does this app have UI skins ?

10-07-2008, 08:02 PM
I have found a few more good things about the UI.

If you have a totally bizarre and unnatural urge to drag down the main menu at the top of the page, then quite extraordinarily there are more buttons and stuff above it hidden from the user. One of these is themes and it comes with the default and one more. It appears as though the default is fixed but the other one can be changed and I presume saved. Well, for each type of window you can change stuff and there is a button style. I cant figure out how to change the color of a button so that when pushed in its lighter but I can get it rendered so that when pushed it it has a 3D pushed in look to it which helps me immensely.

If you select the "Specify Theme for..." panel and put in "UI and buttons" and then hit the minimal style then you get this.

I have also found that this main menu is actually the Preferences window type in case you lose it like I did. Thats not obvious and its also half way down the list of window types...

There is another that appears to be essential and that is the Outliner. Its basically the scene graph and lists all of your objects, lights and camers etc. The beauty is tho that you can click on any of these and it selects it right away. So now if you name your objects then its easy to find. This should have been on the default start window structure IMO. Selecting stuff is a bit of a pain. Attaching objects together has been a bit of a PITA so far so this ought to help immensely. Obviously the... "Theres only one proper way to do it." way here.

Mine now looks like this...

10-08-2008, 02:10 AM
There's a really good set of tutorials for Blender in the Dojo (http://www.scifi-meshes.com/forums/dojo/) at scifi-meshes. Look, especially at the, "Blender for the Faint Hearted" threads, starting here (http://www.scifi-meshes.com/forums/dojo/41445-blender-faint-hearted-01-introduction.html).

I learned to be the Blender-god I am now using those... Well, okay, I suck, but these tuts rock!

10-08-2008, 07:38 PM
Thanks su-liam, I looked over some of their work and its well good. Seems to be a star trek in old style theme running through a lot of them. I havent looked at the specific blender tuts in there yet tho. I think when I get the hang of it ill look at more wordy tuts to see if there are better ways to do things. I like to discover stuff even if thats a bit painful to start with.

Tonight is (console) games night so I havent been at it hammer and tongues but I did have a play earlier.

I discovered 'Sculpt' mode. Wow is all I can say. How much I would have killed to have this in LW. Its nothing extra fancy but what it allows you to do is have a sphere on the screen for example and it has been subdivided up quite a bit so there are a lot of polygons in it. Then in sculpt mode it moves the surface of the sphere using brushes like 3D paint. So you can draw a line and it raises that line up on the mesh. Also you have smooth which is exceptionally nice to work with. Theres about 8 brushes in total - cant remember them all but between them they seemed to do everything that you might want with them.

Now heres the thing. Its not that hard to do what they are doing with this but its done soooo well. The UI here is just succulent. You press S for smooth, D for draw, etc. If you press F then it resizes the brush with a nifty UI circle thinger. If you press shift F then it changes the brush power. I.e. lots of soften to hardly any change.

With the easy mouse move to pan around the object, quick buttons to change brush and style and very nifty cursor pick up on the brush its like dipping your pen in ink and drawing out lines of 3D magic. It is so amazingly easy to create organic bumpy shapes with it. So I now have a snowman body !

I am definitely warming to this app now. There's definitely room for improvement but theres a lot that is particularly nice about it too.

I'll try to finish off Mr Nooby the snowman and get some basic textures on it and then we shall see how we can use this for mapping.

10-09-2008, 09:02 AM
I just finished off my snowman. Got most of the basics of the app down now so will look at mapping stuff on it soon.

I made Mr Nooby with a few spheres boolean unified together then sculpted. The top hat was two cylinders unified in the same way then sculpted about a bit. The nose is a cone and the coal are more isospheres.

I textured the snow with white but with a normal map cloud effect texture. Same sort of thing with the carrot nose too.

So if you want to ask me any questions about using to this sort of level I can do it. They might not be the best answers or ways to do it tho.

Steel General
10-09-2008, 11:03 AM
Nice job for a first time with a new piece of software.

Though it looks like Mr. Nooby may have spent some time in the sun :D

I dub the 'Newly Repped' *bonk*

10-09-2008, 01:43 PM
Colour me impressed! Good work.

10-09-2008, 01:46 PM
You'll find that, "Blender for the Faint Hearted," starts with some really basic UI instructions: moving around, setting the cursor, remapping the mouse buttons, etc. It looks like you figured a lot of that out on your own, but there is a lot of depth and breadth to that UI. I still refer back to that tut fairly often.

Good work there.

10-09-2008, 05:36 PM
Thanks guys and especially Su-liam (repped). I looked over those tuts and they do indeed progress through the most important bits in the order you need them. The one thing about the materials that was really killing my google fu was the ME: bit as google sorta ignores that search term for being too common. No other tut mentions it and whats going on.

So what the tut was saying was the strategy of the UI is to make a giant data file which is your scene with everything in it. Within that scene are data blocks of various types and some are objects and others are textures and others are materials and these data blocks are linked to each other. The UI has these shown by the two alpha code like OB for object and MA for material but ME is apparently a material entity which is a kind of virtual material container to shovel in multiple materials so that you can assign an object with one of these and get a whole load of color goodness applied to your object all at once. For the programmers amongst us its just another layer of dereferencing for sheer convenience.

It also told me about the 'F' buttons all over the place. This means 'Force' or basically - depart from the default. So now a lot more makes sense too. When in that sculpt mode you can change the brush size and strength by 'forcing' a new value overriding the default.

Another thing that was mentioned was that many of the power users of the site holding this tut use either trackballs or wacom pens ! So the app is geared up for these input devices. I have to say that I like my trackball and its certainly easy to move the object with it if only that my middle button is not so convenient - the ball bit of it is great tho.

Also interesting to see the references to LW in there too. There are some obvious similarities between the two apps. I think blender is without doubt more powerful but one of the great plusses of LW is it feels like its doing what you expect all the time whereas this one needs to be bottle fed on sweetened warm milk. It can do it but its a bit belligerent to make it do it until you know just how to coax it. LW has been good to me but I have to move on from my copy.

I think I know enough now to try something a bit more challenging. How about a space scene - planets and ships etc ? Should be good to try some wacky texturing and sphere mapping - CWBBP texture for instance.

BTW su-liam, do you have anything that you have rendered as some gratuitous 3D space porn for me to ogle at ?

10-09-2008, 07:58 PM
One of the things in su-liams tut pages was that the chappie reckoned that blender must have been dev'ed by a left hander because the selection is done on the right hand mouse button. He suggested the option of reversing the buttons for select. Now my opinion is that id like to stay with most of the defaults of blender so that I follow everyone elses tutorial and dont have a big set up when moving to another machine.

But I have to say swapping the mouse buttons over is essential. Playing with individual virtices when you have to click click click to get three for a triangle is a nightmare with RMB. So I think I will do as advised and change.

To do this, drag down the main menu bar with the hidden system controls on them and find the View and Controls and the Select with Left Mouse Button option.

Playing with the points, edges and faces bit I found that I had non-manifold faces in my Oct Challenge LW space ship. Non manifold means that an edge has either 1 or 3 or more faces on it. Normally you want exactly 2 so that its a close surface. I had polygons nearly touching but actually there were two points there close together but not quite in the same position. So the edges butted with a microscopic hole there. That's an issue caused from the LW slice process and me not fixing it up properly.

So if you want to merge those points together you can select them 2 at a time and merge them with Alt M. But thats a slow process. I wanted to do that for all points. So google fu again... It seems that many people have asked this and there is a way of doing it. On the Mesh Tools panel there is a selector for the amount of distance for the merge. I dont know if that is in proper units but it seems more like as a multiplier of the current selection bounds. So 0.001 is big if the model is big and you select all. BTW selecting all is just 'A' but this is also used to un-select all if you have a few points on too.

LW did all modeling in real world units but I have never seen any real world units in this app at all so far. It is *incredibly* easier to model in real world scale so that if you have a chest with a padlock and rivets around it, you might be able to reuse an old padlock or rivets without having to scale them.

Even on Mr Nooby my snow texture had to be hacked a bit because he was so much smaller than the ground he was stood on. In LW you would set the texture size to say 10cm and it would be applied at that scale to all objects owning that surface material type. I hope to discover that this is true here too but its another feature well hidden from first timers if it is.

10-10-2008, 08:06 PM
I have been having a blast now. I dont know every key stroke for sure. That will probably take months or years to know everything there is to know about this large and powerful app but I think I have enough of the gist of it now to be able to do most of what I was doing in LW. Its taken about 4-5 evenings of quite hard ice chipping to break it out of the mystery and I have some background experience of these sorts of apps so gauge it by that yardstick.

I hope that I have shed at least some light on what to do with it and that might make the uphill transition a bit easier.

Heres my render from fixing up my mesh and getting some ground texture in like I did in my Oct Challenge. Ill add this pic to that thread and I might now re-render that challenge entry based on these new tools at my disposal.

I'll answer any questions as best I can but I think my blog is done. I havent learned much more - I did a bit with material indexes on the ship which was pretty much as expected. Just more of the same tonight and getting more comfortable and familiar with it.

Steel General
10-10-2008, 11:05 PM
Cool beans! :D

04-14-2011, 07:23 AM
Bit of a thread ressurection here but I know I (and many others here) have bitched on about how bad the UI is in Blender for an app that is obviously so powerful and clever under the bonnet. Well, today is a new release with new UI.


So if anyone has any time to try or experiment with it and report on how this is different from previous UI then I'm all ears. I kinda really want to like Blender but just cant.