Making the move, “from commercial 3d software to blender” part 4 (Tools)

Hello there!
First I’d like to say thank you to those giving me feedback on this blog series, through comments, forums, Twitter and the Blender IRC channel! It’s been very positive and that makes writing these posts a lot easier. The main reason I’m doing this is to get more users out there to understand that Blender can be a viable alternative to their current commercial software, and at the same time I tend to learn things much better myself when I try to teach / demonstrate the workings of something. Well, on to the real content…

This time around I’m going to cover the general tools and workflow in Blender compared to software like Maya and Modo.
As you all know I’ve just started using Blender a couple of weeks ago myself, so I’ve had to do some serious experimentation and reading to get comfortable enough with the different tools to present it to the public! But now I finally feel that I’m ready to embark on a real project in Blender, even though it will take more time than usual, because I’m not fluent with the hotkeys and tools just yet.

What I’ll do in this post today, is to present some tools and their hotkeys that I’ve found myself using a lot and describe their usage and sometimes compare them to similar tools in Maya and Modo.

Many new users complain that Blender is so hard to learn because of all the hotkeys involved. For those that’s just starting out in the world of 3D this is totally understandable, but for users coming from a different software it should not be a problem learning the most important hotkeys needed for let’s say modeling. It all boils down to laziness if this is an argument for not learning Blender! Besides in the recent versions, Blender has gotten more comfortable in sense of the user interface, and most things CAN be done using menus and buttons. The way I feel about it is that no matter what software I use I’ll want to learn the hotkeys. It speeds up things considerably, and it’s no different learning the Blender hotkeys than learning the Maya or Modo hotkeys, it’s the same thing.

When deciding to cover Blenders toolset I had to make some decisions on how to organize the material of this post so it makes sense and follows a pattern of some kind. It is a lot to cover, and I landed on a different approach than what I planned in the first place. Instead of creating one gigantic post, I’ll spread it over multiple posts, each containing bite-sized chunks of information. I think that makes more sense, as I’m new to the program myself, and I want to feel that I know what I’m talking about.

Blender has so many uses and tools for doing everything from the “usual” modeling / texturing / rendering to advanced animation, physics simulations, video editing / compositing, game creation, basic sculpting, and the list probably goes on. Covering all of this would be a serious undertaking and I’m not gonna do that! I’ve not even started to scratch the surface of all this functionality myself, so I’ll limit this introduction to the modeling tools for the time being, touching a little bit of texturing and rendering a long the way.

Let’s start with the basics of the modeling tools, looking at how they compare to the similar tools in Maya.
When I first started to use the tools in Blender I thought “What? Is this it? These tools are crap!”, but after reading up on them in the Blender Manual and experimenting a bit, I started to see that they are at least as powerful as the tools in Maya, if not more so. Even after the short time I’ve been exposed to Blender I feel that I’m gonna like these tools better than the tools in both Maya and Modo! Seriously! You just have to understand how they work! Off course I can’t just say that and not give any examples to prove my case, so I’ll give some examples along the way pointing out what I like and why I think they sometimes are superior. Understand me right, I’m not saying that everything is better in Blender, but some tools have options that I miss in other software.

And what is the idea behind this 3D Cursor thing!?  Well, it can work as an insertion point, a pivot for transformation and as a snapping target.
It’s nice to be able to specify the object’s position before creation!
This can be a little annoying when you’re not used to it, but a nice feature all together.

For each section, I’m gonna start with a list of the tools and their hotkeys that I’ve found myself using a lot while modeling (well some of them only sporadically), and then go on to describing them in practice with some pictures and screencasts.

I’LL USE CAPITAL LETTERS IN ALL SHORTCUTS FOR READABILITY, WHEN SHIFT IS NEEDED IT WILL BE INCLUDED IN THE HOTKEY!

S = Scale
Alt + S = Scale along Normals (called “Shrink/Fatten” in the menu)
R = Rotate
G = Grab/Move

If you want to reset the Move / Rotation / Scale values to zero, which basically does the same as the “Center Selected All” in Modo or the F12 hotkey in Lightwave (The Clear Grab):

Alt + S = Clear Scale
Alt + G = Clear Grab (Object to Center)
Alt + R = Clear Rotations

This must be done in “Object Mode”.

First we have the basic move, rotate and scale tools. In other applications there wouldn’t be much to say about these tools as they are self-explanatory but in Blender they have some nifty options worth explaining. These tools have some options that are common for them all:

Hold Ctrl while transforming to use step values, and shift to use partial (more exact) values.
You can constrain the movement,rotation and scale commands by pressing X, Y or Z, or
lock it to a plane by hitting Shift + X, Y or Z to ex. move only in X, Y space, hit Shift + Z
You can have Blender constrain to the dominant axis under your mouse using the MMB while transforming the object, but this is not always intuitive imho.
Finally, you can use numeric input with the transform tools! Very nice.
ex. to move the selected object or components 5 units in x, press:
G (grab) + X (constrain) + 5 (units) then LMB or Enter to confirm.
This works with both positive and negative numbers off course.
Another way to apply numeric transformation is by using the properties region (N to show/hide)

In Maya you have off course the basic operations of move, scale and rotate, but no way of using the keyboard to enter numeric values directly into the tool, you have to use the input boxes. Also, it is not as easy to constrain transformations to a given axis. You have to use the manipulator and select the axis you want to deactivate with your mouse, then you have to activate it after. All over, I’d say that the differences in these tools are small in practice, but more controllable using Blender. Less mouse clicks are always a good thing 😉 The ability in Blender to constrain, then numerically enter the transformation in units with the keyboard is really helpful and not as easy to do in Maya. Also, the “Continuous Grab” option in Blender, that makes the cursor continue to affect the values when you move out of the viewport, by jumping it through and through is really a lifesaver. But that probably made no sense what so ever to people not using Blender, so I’ll demonstrate it with a little screencast:

Now isn’t that something! 😉

Blender sports some really cool proportional editing tools, that operates kinda like the falloff in Modo and the Soft Select in Maya, but includes options that extends the functionality of some of these tools, like the ability to randomly transform components, making it easy to create landscapes and mountains, rocks and other things that has random form qualities. The way you can use these are as follows:

O (letter o) = Enable proportional falloff
Shift + O = Toggle different falloff modes
Mouse wheel = Adjust radius of influence
Alt + O = Toggle Connected option

Here is a small video, showing how the Proportional Edit Tool works:

To do any kind of serious modeling you need to be able to control the pivot point of your object, and to control how to make the tools operate from the correct “action center”. Modo is exceptional when it comes to doing these things, Maya is not as good and I’d place Blender in between, above Maya when it comes to ease of use and functionality. To control the Pivot you can:

, = Change Pivot to Bounding Box (default)
Alt + , = Change Pivot to 3D Cursor (Added this myself, couldn’t find it anywhere!)
Ctrl + , = Change Pivot to Median Point
Alt + . = Change Pivot to Active Element
Ctrl + . = Change Pivot to Individual Origins
Shift + Ctrl + Alt + C = Set Center of object

To control the axis of operations you use the Alt + Space hotkey to select between:

Global, Local, Normal, Gimbal or View

Before I leave the basic transformation tools I’d like to say something about the “feel” of these tools.
The manipulators are not blocking the selection ability! This is VERY nice compared to Maya, where the manipulator always gets in the way of selecting mesh components.
When it comes to selecting components, the automatic selection of faces when selecting the verts that makes up the faces without the need to convert selection to faces as you do in Maya is also very nice.

Where to go next? I guess you could go in all sorts of directions, but I’ll use a list of hotkeys that I’ve found myself using pretty often, explaining some of the tools where the functionality differs from how other applications mentioned operates.

If you’re just starting out in Blender, I urge you to fire it up, and try to use these hotkeys to get a feel for how they work!

Ctrl + LMB = Extend / Create point (Can be used as a simple extrude!)
This is a universal command that adds a new point, edge or face to meshes and creates a new
point on curves / F-Curves, beziers and the likes.

F = Fill/Make Edge/Face (Can fill three or four vertices with a face, join two vertices with
an edge)

Alt + Q = Toggle Transform Tool (custom)*
Alt + m = Merge
Shift + V = Slide Vertex
Ctrl + R = Create Edge Loop (PgUp/PgDown or scroll to change number of cuts)
E = Extrude (Alt + E to get option for individual)
Ctrl + N = Unify Normals (NB! In edit mode)
Alt + S = Shrink/Fatten (Scale along Normals)
Shift + Alt + F = Make Sphere (turn the selection into a circular form)
Alt + Space = Choose Transform Axis Orientation (Action Center)
K = Knife (Z to cut through non-visible, Press Ctrl to cut through the middle of an edge)
Shift-K = cuts only the selection and cuts through all faces (not just front faces)
Duplicate / Copy = Shift + D
P = Separate (Extract selection to separate mesh)
Y = Split (Cut the selection from mesh / disconnect)
Shift + Ctrl + Alt + C = Center Geometry to Origin
Ctrl + E = Slide Edge (Edge tools/options)
J = Vertex Connect
Ctrl + F = Face Functions / Face Tools
Ctrl + V = Vertex Tools
I = Extrude Inner / Inset face
Ctrl + B = bevel
Ctrl + E = Bridge edges (Edge tools/options)
X = Delete (Menu with different options) Also: Dissolve

Tool for subdividing and many other things are found under the W hotkey “Specials” menu.
Also you can find special tools relating to edges with the Ctrl + E hotkey, Faces with Ctrl + F, and vertices with Ctrl + V.

Well, that’s it for this post! Hope you enjoyed it and hopefully you picked up something useful while reading it…

I have to mention one more thing about the Blender community:

The community is awesome!

I missed the ability to toggle between the actual manipulator handles (Move/Rotate/Scale) with a hotkey.

So, I posted it to the developer forum, and an hour or so later, I had a Python script that did just that! Now that is not something you’ll get when contacting Autodesk! (And I doubt that the Maya forums would give me this kind of service either…)

Truly amazing…

Well…

As I said earlier, I’ll continue to post my experiences with moving to Blender over the next few posts to this blog, so please subscribe if you find this interesting! You can also follow my Twitter at: @furiousape that gets pinged every time I post to this page.

Until next time:

Happy Blending! 😉

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About part 4 of “from commercial 3d software to blender”

When deciding to cover Blender’s toolset I had to make some decisions as to how to organize the material so it makes sense and follows a pattern of some kind. It is a lot to cover, so I guess it will be a long post! Hopefully the readers that’s really interested in switching to Blender will appreciate it though…

Blender has so many uses and tools for doing everything from the “usual” modeling / texturing / rendering to advanced animation, physics simulations, video editing / compositing, game creation, basic sculpting, and the list probably goes on. Covering all of this would be a serious undertaking and I’m not gonna do that! I’ve not even started to scratch the surface of all this functionality myself, so I’ll limit the first introduction to the modeling tools for the time being, touching a little bit of texturing and rendering a long the way.

I’ve made a draft for this post and I’ll keep working on it! Just so you don’t think it’s abandoned if it should take a couple of days…

Until Next Time:

Happy Blending! 🙂

making the move, “from commercial 3d software to blender” part 3

Today I’ll go over my impressions of the User Interface (UI) of Blender.

The User Interface is what gives you the first impression of any software, and Blender has an interface that looks pretty sleek and modern. It uses a Cross platform OpenGL GUI library that looks the same on all supported platforms, which is a good thing!

The interface has three “rules”, saying that it should be:

  • Non Overlapping: The UI permits you to view all relevant options and tools at a glance without pushing or dragging windows around.
  • Non Blocking: Tools and interface options do not block the user from any other parts of Blender. Blender doesn’t pop up requesters that require the user to fill in data before things execute.
  • Non Modal: User input should remain as consistent and predictable as possible without changing commonly used methods (mouse, keyboard) on the fly.

So what does this mean in practice?

Well, Blender is and looks a bit different than anything else out there and therefore takes some getting used to, as with anything else in Blender.
But personally I’ve come to like it very much, because it allows for unhindered configurability. If you like to work in a full 3d view, without any distractions (this is the way I prefer to model), you can just hit Ctrl + UpArrow to toggle a full window/regular view (you need to have your mouse cursor over the window/pane to maximize).
This is a very nice feature when working with the Node Editor, to give you space to see your whole node system, or any other panel you like to isolate.

Like in Modo, the windows can be split into as many smaller windows as you like, each containing different content, or duplicating an existing one if that is what you want. I love this ability to create new window presets, and they can also be saved and restored in later sessions.

Some pictures are in place to demonstrate this:

Blender Interface 1

You can click and drag any divider to split the windows horizontally or vertically
Blender Interface 2

This way you can construct your own working presets, like this one I’ve made for texturing:

Blender Interface 3

So, as you can see, the interface is very customizable.

I don’t know what else to say about the window arrangement, but it is very easy to get exactly what you want for any given job.

No 3D application would be complete without a Quad View, and Blender supports this as well. Just hit Ctrl+Alt+Q (for quad, i guess).

Blender Interface 4

You can switch the 3D view to show wireframe, textured, shaded, as bounding boxes and with Cycles renderer enabled, you can also view the object As Rendered! Very nice indeed.

After working in Blender for a couple of days, the viewport/window shortcuts I find myself using most for navigation (in random order) is:

Ctrl + Alt + 0 (zero) = Align Active Camera to view
This way it is easy to set up a general view for render in the 3D viewport.

Shift + C = Center Cursor and view all
To get an overview of my scene

. = Zoom to selected
Would not survive without this

Ctrl + UpArrow = Maximize window under cursor
Very nice feature to get into the details

Numpad / = Isolate selected in view (local/global view)
Very practical for getting an undisturbed focus to a single object in the viewport

z = toggle solid/wireframe view

Home = Zoom to All
Get a view over your whole scene

1 – 10 = Select layer (shift to add more than one)

1-9 (num pad) = jump to different views (top,right,back etc) 5 to toggle persp/ortho

And off course the regular Rotate, Zoom and Pan is self explanatory.

Last time I covered the Selection tools briefly, and next up, I’ll cover some of the basic tools that I find myself using all the time and how I think they work compared to how other software implements similar solutions.

This has been a brief overview of the Viewport and navigational features of Blender.

I really like the way it is implemented, and I don’t miss anything from Maya or Modo when it comes to windows and navigation, though it does take some time to adjust to it! Within a few days it starts to feel more and more natural anyway…

Until Next Time:

Happy Blending 😉

Making the move, “From Commercial 3D Software to Blender” Part 1

So. I have used software like Maya, Lightwave and Modo for some time now. The reason I could do this is because I have gotten educational licenses for the software. Well, I actually have a commercial license for Modo but anyway…
If I want the latest editions of these packages, I would have to upgrade my educational licenses to commercial, and that is anything but cheap!
My economy these days suck big time, so I soon came to the conclusion that this would be impossible.
So what are my options? Blender!
I have tried Blender many times before, each time there is a new version I download it and goof around in the the viewport, but every time I have been put off by the non-standard way of doing things compared to my other software.

The thing is that Blender IS a bit different from everything else, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
It just takes some getting used to. I have never before actually tried to LEARN Blender, but this time I have seriously committed myself into learning this software.
I will not lie, it has not been all easy, and I still am in the very early stages of “Mastering Blender”, but for each day I learn something new, and discover the cool things that is different, but good.
So, my goal with this series of posts will be to share my experiences with moving from commercial software packages like Maya, Lightwave and Modo to Blender.
I’ll compare features and methods of doing things along the way as I discover this myself.

There are many good reasons for using Blender. These are my reasons:

  • Cost (this one is obvious)
  • In the latest version Blender has gotten bMesh and bSurfaces
  • The integration of Bullet Physics (Same as in Lightwave, Modo, Maya 2013)
  • A very active and vibrant user community
  • Always get the latest innovations for Free (as in beer)
  • Deep support for scripting with Python via the API
  • A new rendering engine with a superb node based shader system (Cycles)
  • Great modeler (once you get used to it)
  • Some of the best UV tools available both commercially and free

So this is a pretty impressive list if you ask me.

I’ll continue sharing my experiences with this project, hopefully some of you will see that there is actually an alternative to Autodesk!

I don’t say that Blender is the best tool for everything, but neither is any of the commercial packages. All has its flaws.
But if you ever thought of switching to Blender, now is a good time to do so! New tools and features makes Blender a serious competitor in the market of professional tools for creating Digital Art.

Happy Blending!