Blender Tutorial: Beginner’s Guide to Blender

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By Michael Bridges for Udemy

Interested in more than just a guide? Check out a Mike’s full Blender course.

TABLE OF CONTENTS: CLICK TO JUMP TO A SPECIFIC SECTION

Introduction

Is Blender for Me?
Is Blender Only for 3D Models?
How to Use This Guide
About Blender Versions
Downloading and Installing
Understanding Blender’s Interface
Focusing on the Interface
Arranging Your Workspace

Blender Interface Shortcuts

The 3D View
Blender’s Shortcut Keys
Macs and Shortcut Keys
No 3-Button Mouse or Full Keyboard?

Basic Box Modelling

Model Design Document
How to Manipulate an Object
Blender’s Coordinate System
Global and Local
More Precision with Transforms
Constraining an Operation
Moving Around Your Model
Orthographic vs. Perspective
Edit Mode
Vertices Edges and Faces
Deleting
Snapping
Beveling
Removing Doubles
Joining Objects Together
Renaming Objects
The 3D Cursor
Adding An Object
Loop Cut and Slide
Edge Loops and Face Loops
Insetting
Extrusion
Make Edge/Face
Faces: Quads vs. Everything Else
Final Polishing

Next Steps


Introduction

Welcome to this introductory guide to Blender. I will be taking you from the setup and installation of Blender, to mastering Blender’s notoriously alien interface, to making and texturing your very first model.

Is Blender for Me?

Blender is an amazing program, but it can appear to be inaccessible the first time you try it out.  While its interface is powerful, it can be daunting as a newcomer.  With this guide you will understand how to take control of Blender’s interface and create your first models very quickly.

Blender is now at a level where it can generate wonderfully rich and realistic content… but hold your horses, as you’ll need to learn the basics first, and that is where this guide will begin.

Whether you’re a keen amateur into 3D art or working at a game studio and looking for a serious production platform, Blender deserves your attention.

Is Blender Only for 3D Models?

Not at all. Blender is a comprehensive program that allows you not only to model in 3D, but to create animated films, realistic rendering particle and soft body simulation, visual effects and 3D printing, just to name a few.  

Blender also works well with other major programs – Unity, for example – and can read blend files directly. Blender can export to multiple industry standards, thus ensuring that you can continue your work in other programs.

There already some amazing examples of what can do; this short film, Tears of Steel, is one of my favourites, and it really shows what is possible in Blender.

How to Use This Guide

This free guide is designed to help you get into Blender without any prior knowledge. If you do have experience, feel free to skim through and look for parts that will be useful to you. Note that there is a clickable table of contents at the top of the page. That will take you to the appropriate section.

I will be covering the details of 3D model creation though to texturing them and making them ready for use.

I have presumed that you are fluent with your chosen computer. If you have just switched to a new computer, or even switched platforms recently, I would recommend getting familiar with all the basics of the new computer first.

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A Multi-monitor Setup using Blender

I strongly recommend you get yourself a 3-button mouse, one with a scroll wheel.  This will make your life with any 3D package much more pleasant.

In addition to this, you may wish to consider a full-size keyboard or an extra number pad. The number pad is used for quickly snapping the view to preset viewpoints.  If you really get into blender, a second monitor can help your workflow but isn’t essential.

This is my current setup, pictured above.  Even when I take the Laptop with me, that mouse comes along too!

If you have already played with Blender before, you may have altered some settings that make your customized version of Blender different from this guide, but that’s okay.  If you have played with and altered Blender but want it back to default, you can do that quickly by Loading Factory Settings from the info header File Menu. Be warned that this will reset Blender to default, thereby losing any customizations you have previously made.

To get the most from this guide, I need you to be active. Have Blender open while you read, and follow along with the exercise. You only truly learn by doing.

You will find that I cover a lot of the interface initially, and the temptation might be to skip this and start creating your first models. I urge you not to if you are new to Blender, as there are some parts that will be alien and confusing if you skip the first section on the interface.

Enjoy yourself, keep a shortcut to this page, and see if you can get it finished in a week.

Setup and Installing Blender

About Blender Versions

To run Blender you’ll need a reasonably modern computer; read the system requirements on Blender’s site if in doubt. Let’s dive in and get Blender installed. If you’ve already done this, feel free to jump to the next section.

Blender works on OSX, Windows and Linux.  The great thing is that it is the same on all of these platforms. It has its own GUI.  This makes it highly configurable, but different from most programs you have probably used before.

I have tried Blender on a old netbook well below the minimum specification, and it ran okay but would suggest sticking to those requirements for a pleasurable experience.


Using an Older Version

We will be using Blender 2.75, so if you’re running an older version, this would a great time to upgrade first – it’s completely free. If you don’t want to upgrade, then there will likely be some difference between this guide and what you’re going to see on screen.


 

Downloading and Installing

Installing Blender is as straightforward as installing any other piece of software. There is no registration required, so get it from this download page. Blender will run on Windows, OSX and Linux machines. Make sure you pick the appropriate version.

You can also find it and install it using the Steam platform if you already have a Steam account.


Running Multiple Versions of Blender

Unless you have very specific requirement with Blender, you are unlikely to require running multiple versions of it. Old Blender files should open up without issue.


 

Follow these steps to get Blender installed.

  1. Download the Blender installer from the Blender download page.
    -The installer is between 80MB-122MB, so it shouldn’t take too long.
  2. Run the installer like you would for any other piece of software.
  3. Well done – the Blender installation is complete.
    -You may want to set up an appropriate shortcut on your desktop/taskbar or dock.

Understanding Blender’s Interface

When you first start Blender 2.75, you will see the splash screen dialog below. On the splash screen you have access to the last 5 files you’ve been working on. This only appears when the program runs for the first time, and will not been seen again unless you close Blender.

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The splash dialog the first time you run Blender.

Clicking away from that will reveal the default blend file. A “.blend” file is the file type that Blender uses.

image18

The default blend file that appears whenever you start a new file.

This looks quite cluttered – don’t panic. Let’s break it all down into its parts.

image09

Blender’s default workspace layout.

I have highlighted 5 windows or frames. Each offers a different set of controls for Blender.

The largest area is called the 3D View, and this is where you will be spending a lot of your time.

We want this to be a better work space for what we are going to do.

The highlighted area at the top is the info window header. This replaces the normal file menu found on most other programs. This is where you would find your usual controls, like opening and saving.

Further along the info header, there is the word “default” indicating that is the current work space we are using and, importantly, are about to edit.  So before we change any of the layout, we need to create a new layout.

image56

Part of the info header.

Clicking the + will change the layout to “Default.001”. You can then click on this and rename it whatever you like.  In this case, I am going to name mine “BlenderGuide”. Please do this now.

It is important here to realize that this change only exists in this blend file. If we want the layout we are about to create to appear every time we open Blender, we will have to save this to the startup file.

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This is done by going to File>Save Startup File (CTRL+U)

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The 17 Different Window Types in Blender

As you can see from the screenshot, there are 17 different windows types to choose from. These can be arranged in any way you like on the screen. You will find yourself having more than one 3D View open at some point.

Even though you may not understand what any of these do yet, let’s get comfortable with the interface and how to organize it.

During the creation stage of any project, you will be mainly using the Info, 3D View, Properties and Outliner.

The interface at its simplest can just be one of these windows open, without its header active. This is Pro-Mode, and you’ll be there in no time.

Focusing on the Interface

There’s a concept called eating the frog. The idea is that if you have something unpleasant to do, do it first. Blender has a lot of bells and whistles, and the temptation is to dive in and start making pretty things. Unfortunately, the thing that makes this possible, the interface, holds people back as it very different from most other programs.

image46

Image from Flickr, created by Brian Gratwicke.

I have seen many people open up Blender, click about for a few minutes and give up from frustration.  We’re going to focus on mastering the interface before we even get into modeling. By the end of this section, you are not going to be thinking about it any more. It will start to become transparent, just like it should be.

Arranging Your Workspace

We’ll start with the visual layout.  Mastering this will give you great power and freedom when using Blender.

Remember, when you are moving about windows, you are altering the layout that is currently selected. For now I recommend creating a new layout whenever you start a new project so if you get lost, you can always reset it back to the default layout.  Later on, you’ll be able to create your desired layout in seconds.

All windows consist of a Header and the Main Window… and now for the confusing part: headers can be at the top or bottom of a window. Confused? Don’t worry, as most people are initially. You’ll notice the 3D View has the Header at the bottom.  Additionally, headers can be removed from view by hiding them.  This leaves a + symbol on the top right of the window that will reveal the header again.


Note: The Info window is typically is shown just as a header and nothing else.


 

Placing your cursor between windows will cause a double-headed arrow to appear, which, when clicked, allows you adjust their relative size. You will get the same when you place the cursor on the edge of a header. This allows you to hide the header.

You can also right-click on this border between windows to split and join an area.  The top right and bottom left of every window will have a corner stripe that, when clicked, allows you to split or join windows. This is called the splitter widget. The + you see here is part of the 3D view window for showing the properties for the 3D View.

image04

The Splitter Widget and Show Properties

If you left-click and drag on this, most people expect to to resize the window, but it doesn’t. When you split a window, it will duplicate the window that the splitter widget is part of.

To join windows, there is a caveat. They must align perfectly in height and width with the one you are wanting to merge with..

Right-clicking on the header will give you the option to send it to the top/bottom of the active window, collapse the menus or maximise the area.  This a great way to focus on a particular window.  If you have the Info header running, then you’ll have a “Back to Previous” button.

Blender Interface Shortcuts

Here is a short list of Blender interface Shortcut Controls.  They will affect the window that you cursor is hovering over, so make sure to move the cursor to the appropriate window first.

Some of these shortcuts do conflict with OSX controls, so you will have to either turn them off in OSX or not use them.

Window Control Shortcut Description
CTRL-LEFTARROW Go to the previous screen.
CTRL-RIGHTARROW Go to the next screen
CTRL-UPARROW or CTRL-DOWNARROW Maximize the window or return to the previous window display size
SHIFT-SPACE Toggle between maximized and normal window size – same as using previous shortcut
SHIFT-F4 Change the window to a Data View
SHIFT-F5 Change the window to a 3D Window.
SHIFT-F6 Change the window to an IPO Window
SHIFT-F7 Change the window to a Buttons Window
SHIFT-F8 Change the window to a Sequence Window
SHIFT-F9 Change the window to an Outliner Window
SHIFT-F10 Change the window to an Image Window
SHIFT-F11 Change the window to a Text Window
SHIFT-F12 Change the window to an Action Window

If you try the drop-down on the Info Header, you will see that there are other presets already made.  Do be sure to create an initial layout before you play around, so you can always get back to a starting point.

Try to get to the following layout using the splitter widgets.

image26

A 4 Way View In Blender


Working with Multiple Monitors

Blender works fine with multiple monitors. You need to select Window on the Info header and duplicate your current window.

Once this has been done, you can move this new window to one of your other monitors and manipulate it to your heart’s desire.

image69

Duplicating the window you have open to use multiple monitors.


 

The 3D View

You will spend a lot of your time in this view since it’s where all the action happens.  Let’s deal with the most confusing thing for anyone who opens up blender for the first time:  left and right mouse buttons.  

On nearly all platforms and programs, you would use the left mouse button to select and the right mouse button to bring up a context menu. By default, Blender does not act this way.

While in the 3D view, the right mouse button selects and the left mouse button applies.  This can be changed permanently in the user preferences, or when starting Blender there is an option to set the controls similar to 3DSMAX or MAYA, two other 3D modeling packages.

image47

Different InteractionOpt

This guide presumes you leave Blender in its default state. Although the temptation is there to switch it to a more familiar left-click-to-select mode, it is worth the time to relearn what the clicks do. It will likely take you a couple of hours to adjust to using the right button to select and the left to apply – I still occasionally forget!

Blender’s Shortcut Keys

Blender is extremely shortcut-heavy. Be prepared to practice them and get some of them wrong several times (another frog, if you will, with Blender). You can do almost everything with the mouse and menu options, although some tasks would take considerably longer this way; mastering the shortcuts will cut model creation time down considerably.

Learning the shortcuts will save you vast amounts of time now and even more later on.  For the moment, though, we will learn the shortcuts as we go and, more importantly, in context.

Most shortcuts have a menu option so you can always find the shortcut and the operation should you forget it, and with so many, you’re likely to forget one or two on your journey. There is a handy list at the back of this guide of all the shortcuts in Blender which you can use as reference.

If there is a shortcut key for a particular operation, I will list it like this: Shortcut Key(s) unless they are tabled.

I will often include the menu option too, unless it is convoluted to get to and breaks the modeling flow too much.

Macs and Shortcut Keys

Are you using a Mac? Well, you might find that some of the shortcuts that Blender uses are used by OSX, the Mac’s operating system, such as CTRL+UpArrow. This is a useful shortcut that maximizes the selected window. However, this also launches Mission Control on the Mac.

Another issue you might encounter on a Mac, and indeed on some Windows machines now, is that the F-Keys are often tasked with other system operations, volume, brightness, etc. So, you might have to hold down an addition Function or Fn key to use them.

No 3-Button Mouse or Full Keyboard?

Okay, so you might not have the budget or space to allow you these extras.  That’s fine, but you will have to adapt and make some settings changes.

Under File>User Preferences.Input Tab you will find two check boxes useful:
Emulate 3 Button mouse, and Emulate NumPad.

image32

Blender User Preferences for Toggling Emulation of 3 Button mouse and NumberPad

When switching on Emulate 3 Button Mouse, you can then use a track pad for zooming by using its scroll feature and holding down CTRL, while holding SHIFT will allow panning.

Emulate Numpad changes 1-0 across the top of the keyboard, so they represent F1-F10.  This, however, removes their original function of switching layers, but you can still switch these using the option on the 3D View Header.


These Are Options

There will be many times I suggest trying something, but if it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine – switch it back off again.  I often have to toggle Emulate Numpad when I’m not at my desk, but I’m still stubborn and will take my mouse with me.


Basic Box Modeling

In this section you will make your first 3D model using Blender. I believe the best way to learn is just in time, and in context. That means we will focus on one clear outcome, then learn what we need exactly when we need it, and in the context of the problem we are trying to solve.

Box modeling is the foundation of most modelling in Blender.  In fact, more detailed models are often a case of taking what you have learned in this section and applying it for a few more hours.

Model Design Document

I’m a great fan of “just doing it”, but a certain amount of planning is crucial to being successful. 3D modelling, while incredibly satisfying, can be equally as frustrating if you do something early on and not realize the impact it makes further down the line.

You can prevent some issues from occurring with a little careful planning and thought and by asking the right questions.

Here are three things to consider when do your initial plan:

ConceptWhat’s the model/scene being used for?
Is it first concept, a place-holding asset, or a final high poly-realistic model?"
Do I have to make it from scratch?
Do I have an existing starting model (a template)?
RulesDo you have a polygon limit?
Is there a specific style trying to be achieved?
Does the model need animating?
Is there a deadline? There should be one even if you are working by yourself.
RequirementsDo you need any reference material?
Are other assets, such as textures, required?

These are just a few questions, but by  taking the time to think these things though, possibly with a few sketches or real models using plasticine, you’ll be surprised how much it helps keep you on track later. This is especially important when working with other people, so that you’re literally all on the same page.


Keeping it Lean

It’s a common mistake to delve into detail, never taking your model right through to the final point, only to find out that something needs changing further down the modeling process. It is highly important you adopt a lean approach to your modeling. If you are working in a team environment, it is often critical that you get a model down the line so someone else can use it.


How to Manipulate an Object

For our first model, we are going to keep things straightforward by copying a child’s toy. The great thing is that these are representations of real-world object but are often nowhere near accurate, and that makes them a great way of starting to model.

When you open up Blender, you will have a cube in front of you. Let’s use that as the basis for our first model.

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Blender’s Main Interface.

Number/ Interface Shortcut Key Description
1The Selected object. You will see that in the 3D View, the cube has an orange outline.
2 SHIFT-F9The Outliner currently has 3 objects in it. A mesh object has this symbol:image62; the orange highlight indicates that it is also the selected object."
3 TABToggle between Object Mode and Edit Mode. The 3D View is currently in Object Mode.
4 TThe area on the left of the 3D window is called the toolshelf. This is a powerful area where we will find a lot of the basic operations we are going to be using.

While we’re in Object mode, we can edit the cube in a basic manner called transforms. You will see blue, green and red arrows on the cube. This is the 3D Manipulator Widget. By clicking and holding with the left mouse button on any of the arrows, it will allow us to translate (move) the object in the direction of the arrow clicked. On the 3D View header, there are these options:

image20

Menu Option Shortcut Key Description
image20image28    3DWidget / Toolshelf G Enable Translate Mode. Using the Toolshelf or shortcut option will enable a freeform translate.
image72image03   3DWidget / Toolshelf R Enable Rotation Mode. Using the Toolshelf or shortcut option will enable a freeform rotate.
image53image05   3DWidget / Toolshelf S Enable Resize (Scale) Mode. Using the Toolshelf or shortcut option will enable a freeform resize.

You can even shift-click the 3D manipulator one to enable more than one at a time.

image44All three options on the 3D Manipulator selected

Try all the options out to see their effect. If you change the widget’s options, you will notice that it changes depending on which option you have selected. Neither the shortcut keys nor the tool shelf options change the widget’s appearance.

Blender’s Coordinate System

Blender uses a right-hand coordinate system with the Z axis pointing upwards. This is common with the coordinate systems used by most common 3D CAD packages.  You may have used 3D packages that use Y as “up”.

A coordinate system defines where anything exists in our virtual 3D space.

While beyond the scope of this guide, you can read more about coordinate systems here.

Blender color-codes the Coordinates as follows: X is Red, Y is Green and Z is Blue. Coordinates, if they are written down, are always written in the form of (X,Y,Z).

Global and Local

image14You will notice a drop-down currently saying Global. You can switch this between 5 different options.  We will have a closer look at Global vs. Local.

Understanding this now will save you headaches in the future.  These options don’t just apply to the 3D Widget but throughout Blender.

Initially any created object will align with the Global axis, so there will be no difference compared to Local. You can see the effect this switch has once you have rotated your object. Local simply “remembers” which way is up.

Imagine standing up, and I asked you to tap the top of your body; you would tap your head.  Now lay down and tap the top of your body; you would tap your head again. However, if I were to ask which way is up, you would point towards the sky – that is the Global up.

image65   image21

Global vs. Local coordinates 

image51    image61

Resizing using the Global Z vs Local Z coordinates

More Precision with Transforms

There are a number of ways of taking control of the operation you are performing.

The first place to check out is the operator panel [F6]; this will appear where your cursor is. It is also a separate part of the tool shelf that only appears while you are performing or have just performed an operation. If you do ANYTHING else, it will change to that new operation.

image15   image54

The Operator Panel for resizing, On the left in the Toolshelf, and on the right is how it appears when pressing F6.

You may have hidden the operator panel on the toolshelf. There is a little + at the bottom which will make it appear again.

image11

Show Operator Panel in Toolshelf.

Constraining an Operation

Another way of controlling and constraining an operation is solely with keyboard commands. Taking the example above, you could select the Cube and press S to resize, followed by Z, and this would constrain the resizing to the global Z axis. Press Z again and this switches the constraint to the Local Z axis.


A common mistake that happens is that you will mis-hit the first operator keys.  So in the above case, do not press S before the constraints; if you press Z, you will be switching your 3D view to wireframe mode.



Finally, you can control the constraint even more by typing numbers straight away.

Using the Resize example key combination of: S, Z, Z, 2 would resize the selected object in its local Z axis, by a factor of 2.

You will see that what is happening in the lower right is the same position the 3D View header used to be.

image52

Scaling along the Local Z axis.

Another awesome feature is the ability to exclude an axis when performing an operation. Using the above example, but this time excluding the Z axis, allows us to resize only on the XY axis. To exclude you use SHIFT-Z. For example: S, SHIFT-Z, SHIFT-Z, 2 would resize the selected object in its local XY axis, by a factor of 2.

image58

Scaling along the Local XY axis.

Our First 3D model: A Toy Train

For our first model, we are going to create a toy train, learning new skills in context as we go in order to create our model.


There are lots of ways we can accomplish this task. You may figure out other ways to accomplish the same task. Throughout this modeling exercise I will be introducing lots of techniques for modeling. It may seem odd that I am using a certain technique when another might have done the job equally well, but I want to expose you to as many concepts as possible, which you can then apply to your other models.


image33

A child’s toy train, the basis of our first model.

Moving Around Your Model

It is important that you be able to fluently navigate your way around your model. There are 3 main ways of moving around your model:  Zooming, Orbiting and Panning. They’re nice and straightforward when using a scroll wheel mouse, and are the same in most 3D packages.

Zooming is done by scrolling the wheel up and down. Feel free to try it now.

Orbiting is done by holding down the middle mouse button and moving the mouse. By default, you will orbit around 0,0,0.

Panning is achieved in a similar way to orbiting, but you need to hold down SHIFT while pressing the middle mouse button.

More view controls can be found in the view mean on the 3D View header.

Using the Number pad gives you quick access to many of these. Instead of filling up this section with a table of shortcuts relating to the view, I will point you towards the menu options itself because it has most of the shortcut keys labeled.

Remember, when using any shortcuts, you need to ensure that your cursor is over the window you wish to apply it to. No clicking is necessary.

The most useful ones I use are:

Shortcut Key What it Does
NumPad 5 Toggles Orthographic Projection / Perspective.
NumPad 1Align view to the Front, looking down the positive global Y Axis.
CTRL-NumPad 1 aligns the view to the Back.
NumPad 3Align view to the Right, looking down the negative global X Axis.
CTRL-NumPad 3 aligns the view to the Left.
NumPad 7Align view to the Top, looking down the negative global Z Axis.
CTRL-NumPad 1 aligns the view to the Bottom.
Home Shows you everything in your scene.
ALT Home Centres the view around the 3D Cursor.
NumPad .Align the view to the selected, whether it’s a vertex or an entire model.
T Toggles the Tool Shelf on and off.
N Toggles the 3D View Properties on and off.

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Blender’s View options.

Orthographic vs. Perspective

You will find working in perspective mode the most natural. However, when you need to be accurate with placement and scale, you will need to switch to orthographic. This can be done through the 3D Header>View>View Persp/Ortho or by pressing NumPad 5.

Edit Mode

Toggle in the 3D View by pressing TAB or by selecting Edit Mode

image23

Toggling Edit mode in Blender

Once you have toggled Edit mode, now you can alter the fundamentals of your object – initially the vertices, edges and faces that make up your model, i.e., its construction. Later on, you can control material and texture properties too.

When you toggle Edit mode, the Toolshelf and 3D Window header change slightly.

You will also see the whole cube highlighted, meaning that all the vertices, edges and faces have been selected.

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Switching into Edit Mode

Vertices, Edges and Faces

These are the building blocks of any 3D model.

VertexA point in space with X,Y, Z coordinates. When you have more than one vertex, they are called vertices. This is like the dots in a dot-to-dot drawing. Vertices can be orphaned, floating in 3D Space by themselves, but this would is undesired and doesn’t serve a purpose. image19
EdgesA line connecting 2 vertices together is called an edge. It’s just like joining those dot-to-dots together. Like vertices, edges can exist too without meaning; until a face is formed, they are considered loose geometry. image41
FacesWhen you join more than 2 edges together in a closed loop, you can create a face. This simplest face is a triangle. image36


In edit mode we can now manipulate these three.  You toggle the mesh selection mode in the 3D Header or using
CTRL-TAB in the 3D View. With the header option you can toggle multiple mesh selection methods at once by holding down shift when clicking them.It is really important to remember that vertices, edges and faces can occupy the same point in space. This can cause confusion, typically in more complex models.

After selecting the appropriate selection type, in Blender the RIGHT mouse button is used to select it on the mesh itself.  Try this now with all three selection types.

Select and deselect multiple by holding down SHIFT while selecting them.

image22

The mesh selection mode toggle, currently on edge selection.

Once you have selected the Vertex/Vertices, Edge(s) or Face(s) you wish to do something with, you can then use operations like resize, translate and rotate, to name a few.

When manipulating a face, you are changing the edges and ultimately the vertices that define that face. You can see this clearly in the 3D viewport as follows:

Vertices Selected What it Looks Like

1 Vertex.

You can see the edges that this vertex is connected to, as they are partially highlighted too. The 3D manipulator widget has been turned off for clarity.
image35

2 Connected Vertices (an Edge).

In addition to the vertices being highlighted, the edge is now fully highlighted too.
image43

4 Connected Vertices (4 Edges, 1 Face).
 
As each vertex was added to the initial selection, the edges became fully highlighted. Once all of the bounding edges are selected, the face becomes highlighted too. You could also switch to face selection and click once.
image00

Let’s start building the train. We’ll start with the engine at the front.  We are going to go for a low poly style to keep our mesh simple and manageable in the first steps.


I will explain when I have done things in a certain way, usually because through experimentation I have found out that a particular method that should work ends up messy or convoluted. I will be using this practiced knowledge during these exercises to avoid “dragging you through the mud”.


The Engine has the following components – that is, objects that we will model separately.

  1. Magnetic connection (X2)
  2. Wheels (X4)
  3. Body
  4. Chimney

I want to create the slight curve on the engine using a Bevel. I have already discovered through experimentation that I will either have to create the body in 2 parts and join them later or make it in a specific order; otherwise, the bevel alters the mesh in an undesirable manner.

You will come across multiple instances where the order in which you do somthing is critical to the modeling process. You will learn what works and what doesn’t quickly, but there will be the odd one that just means you’ll have to start again.

The Body’s Creation:

Task Method
Start new Blender file. Open up Blender, or File>New
Switch into Object Mode if not already in it. Press TAB, or switch on 3D Header.
Move entire Cube 1 Unit in the Z Direction to lift it through the “stage” Blender starts with. I’m a fan of utilizing shortcut keys and ingraining them now.
G – Move (Translate)
Z – Constrains to Z Axis
1 – Gives a Value to the movement
Press Enter to confirm.
Select the Front face of the cube. To find out the Front, press NumPad 1.
Then switch to Face Selection and select the front face.
You may want to orbit around slightly to see how that looks.
You should have something that looks like this at this stage. image08
Next, we are going to move the face. From the arrow’s direction on the 3D widget, we know the value will be negative.
Move the face in the Y axis by -1
Ensuring that only face is selected, Press
G – Move
Y – Locked to the Y Axis
-1 – Gives a Value to the movement
Press Enter to confirm.

If we Bevel the top now, we’ll avoid having to create a separate object. However, I want to teach you a few techniques, so we’ll take a slightly longer route. Remember, there is always more than one way to create a mesh, and this mesh’s purpose is for teaching.

Hop over into object mode and duplicate our mesh.TAB will switch you back to Object Mode.
With the “cube” Object selected, select Object on the header and you’ll see there are 2 types of duplicate. Select Duplicate Objects or SHIFT-D.
Place the Duplicated Object.This will have duplicated the cube object, and if you move the mouse around, you can move the new object around. Press ESC, which will place the duplicate in the same place as the original.
If you look over at the Outliner, you should see the following. We will name these objects in a bit, once we have joined them together as one. image27
Rotate one of the objects 90 degrees constrained around the X axis. (If, for some reason, you moved a different face earlier, then you can either restart the exercise or rotate it around the appropriate axis – probably Y.) With one of the mesh objects selected:
R – To Rotate the object.
X – To Constrain rotation around the X Axis.
90 – Representing the number of degrees the object is to be rotated by.
Move the objects apart.
Using the 3D Widget, move the rotated object to the rear of the model, and above it. It should look similar to this:

This will aid with snapping in a moment, as it gives Blender a context for what to snap to.
image10

Deleting

From time to time, you will want to remove an object from a scene or parts of meshes.  In Object Mode, you can delete by selecting the object(s) and either: Tool Shelf>Tools>Delete, 3D Header>Object>Delete or X followed by a confirmation box.

In Edit mode, it’s very similar, but the delete dialogue has further delete options.

image30

The Tool Shelf Delete Options

Snapping

Snapping is an incredibly powerful tool. However, it can be a little confusing, as it sometimes isn’t apparent what is happening or what to do and it seems to have a mind of its own.

It can be turned on and off on the 3D Header; the symbol looks like a magnet. SHIFT-TAB will toggle it on and off.

The next drop-down allows you to toggle what you are snapping to. CTRL-SHIFT-TAB is the shortcut for this menu.

The interesting thing about these shortcuts is that once you have started performing an operation, the 3D Header changes and makes these options unavailable during the operation. Shortcuts, however, work.

image45

The Snapping options on the 3D Header

Moving back to our Train’s Engine:

Turn on snapping and align our 2 objects to form an L shape.
You will want to make sure snapping to Vertex is selected.
SHIFT-TAB – turns on Snapping
CTRL SHIFT TAB – switch snapping element to Vertex
G – Move cursor over the lower corner of the other object; a small orange circle will confirm that it has snapped. LEFT Click to apply the move operation.

image71  Snapping one object to a Vertex of another.

Beveling

Beveling gives us the ability to round off corners in a controlled manner.

It is an Edit mode operation, and applies to edges.  If you select a face, it will apply to all of the edges that make up that face.

The operation can be found in Edit Mode under the Mesh Menu>Faces/Edges, or the shortcut CTRL-B.

Once started, you can increase the bevel segments by using the scroll wheel or in the operator panel.

Take care when adding a bevel, as the operation does allow you to push geometry trough itself, creating a mess of your mesh.

Lets add the bevel now and adjust it to suit our model.

Switch to Edit Mode, and Select the two edges of the front of our engine that need to be beveled.
Bevel them all the way in to the center of the engine (a Value of 1).
Set the number of Segments at 2 to keep the Low Poly Feel.
TAB – Edit Mode
CTRL-TAB – Switch to Edge Select
Holding Shift – Select the Two edges
CTRL-B – to start the Bevel
Mouse Wheel – Changing segments to 2
Press Enter – to Confirm
Check Settings immediately in the operator panel. Adjust as necessary.
Your should end up with something looking similar the the picture on the right.

We need to adjust some of the edges to change the shape, but more importantly, we need to remove doubles. Since those two edges we initially selected now exist on top of one another in the center, this needs fixing; otherwise, it has the potential to cause issues later on.
image16

Removing Doubles

Removing doubles is a relatively straightforward operation, which will save you a headache later in your modeling.  Doubles happen, like above when you ended up with geometry overlapping in precisely the same location.

The two objects in our scene at the moment share 2 Vertices in exactly the same position, but they are discrete objects, so that is okay. Later, when we join these two objects together, we shall need to remove doubles once more.

Removing doubles is a mesh operation, and so it only available in Edit Mode. It can be found under the Mesh menu in the 3D Header>Vertices>Remove Doubles. It can be found in the tool shelf too. It only applies to the parts of a mesh.

The most straightforward way of making sure you do remove doubles is to select everything first. You can do this in the Select menu on the 3D Header>(De)Select or with the A key. If you have something selected, it will also deselect everything on first press; the second will select all your mesh.

Adjust the Edges created by the bevel to flatten out the curve.
 This can be done in a number of ways.
Select the top two new edges.Below is what we are aiming for:
 S – To resize
 X – Constraining to the X Axis
 Move the edges towards the middle one.
 LEFT click to apply the operation.

Move them upwards slightly – Grab the manipulator widget, or  G, Z and move the mouse. LEFT click to apply the operation.
 Select the outer two edges and move them upwards, either with the manipulator widget or G, Z and apply.

image74A shallower curve after altering the bevel.

Joining Objects Together

Now that we have finished with the two objects, we can merge them together. This is an Object Mode operation, and can be found on the 3D Header>Object>Join, or CTRL-J.

You will need to hold SHIFT as you select multiple objects. You can select them either in the 3D View or in the Outliner. The order of selection does have an impact; the last object to be selected will have a lighter highlight than the others. When joined, the name of the new mesh will be the same as the last selected object.

Join our 2 Parts of the engine together, and remove any doubles that might have been created. TAB  – Switch into Object Mode
Select both mesh objects.
CTRL-J – Both objects are now joined (confirm in the outliner)

Renaming Objects

Renaming objects in a scene as simple as ours may seem a little over the top. But it is an important habit to get into, as scenes grow in complexity; a badly named object will cost you in time.

You can rename directly in the outliner by double-clicking on the name itself, or right-clicking it and selecting rename. You can also rename an object in the 3D Properties.  While in the 3D view, press N to reveal the properties. Under Item, you can rename the object.

image17

Renaming an object in the Outliner

image02

Renaming in the properties pane

The 3D Cursor

The 3D Cursor is the crosshair thing that you moved around when you first opened up Blender.  LEFT clicking moves the 3D Cursor. If you click on a piece of geometry, it will sit on the surface of the geometry straight away.

The 3D Cursor determines the origin of a new object. You can see the X,Y,Z coordinates of the 3D Cursor in the properties panel (N) of the 3D View.

SHIFT-C will set the 3D Cursor back to (0,0,0) and view everything in your scene. SHIFT-S will give you the option to snap the cursor to center (0,0,0).

The 3D Cursor can be used for many other functions, including a pivot point, for aligning geometry, moving the origin of an object, and more.

Adding an Object

Adding an object to our scene can be done through the Toolshelf’s create tab, The 3D Header>Add, or SHIFT-A.

If you are already editing a mesh and you add another mesh to it, it becomes part of that mesh. Adding a mesh object in Object Mode will create a new object.

Let’s add a chimney to our train.

Move the 3D cursor to the appropriate place on the model.
Add a cylinder to our model as a new object.
Use the operator panel to lower the number of vertices the cylinder has; 8 should do.
Lower the Radius of the Cylinder to ~0.25.
Set the depth to 1 and move it so it just penetrates the engine’s body.
Name the Mesh Object created “Chimney”.
LEFT click on the top of the engine roughly ⅓ from the front.
Using properties, adjust the X coordinate of the 3D cursor to 0.
TAB – Object Mode
SHIFT-A – Select Mesh>Cylinder
Adjust parameters in Operator panel accordingly.
G – Move the Chimney.
Z – Locked movement to Z Axis.
Rename the Cylinder to Chimney in the Outliner.

image01

Loop Cut and Slide

If you have edge loops sorted, loop cut and slide enables you to add extra geometry to your model quickly and efficiently. It does require an edge loop for reference. You will have to be in Edit mode and either select Loop Cut and Slide from the Tool Shelf or CTRL-R. This is one of the few operations that doesn’t need anything selected.

Once the cut appears, pink by default, you can increase the number of cuts with the scroll wheel or in the the operator panel in a bit.

You can then “slide” the cuts up and down before applying them. Once happy with their position, you can LEFT click to apply the cut(s). Refinement of the operation is available in the operator panel.

Select the Chimney and Enter Edit Mode

Place 2 Loop Cuts
CTRL-R – Enables Loop Cut
Scroll the mouse wheel, so 2 cuts are placed.
LEFT click – Applies the number of cuts.
LEFT click – Applies the cuts’ position.

image06Loop cuts applied to the Chimney

Edge Loops and Face Loops

Edge loops are the cornerstone of successful modeling and excellent mesh topology. They allow you to adjust your model quickly and efficiently. Ensuring your mesh is primarily made up of quads (faces made of 4 edges) will mean you will have edge loops automatically.

You can Select edge loops by being in Edit Mode and having edge select mode enabled. While selecting an edge, hold down ALT, if the edge is part of an edge loop.

Usually Face Loops go hand in hand with Edge Loops. Even on organic modeling, your face loops will typically run north-south and east-west. While in face select mode, hold down ALT while selecting a face; you will select a face loop. If you have two possible Face Loops, the path is determined by the proximity of your click to the edge of the N-S / E-W loop.

Select the top FaceLoop and resize it on the XY plane by 2.Edit Mode
CTRL-TAB – Face
ALT-Select – Top face loop selected
S, SHIFT-Z, 2 – Scaled on the XY plane by a factor of 2

image42The Train’s Chimney Taking Shape

Inset Faces

Insetting allows you to create more detail in your model.  It applies in Edit Mode and only to Faces. It can be found In the Tool Shelf as “Inset Faces”, on the 3D Header>Mesh>Faces>Inset Faces or the I key.

Select the top of the Chimney and inset to create the geometry for the rim.

Feel free to inset by eye; a value of 0.25 works well too.
Edit Mode

Face Select

Select top Face

I, 0.25, Enter

image55The geometry for the rim made.

Extrusion

Extrusion is like extending existing geometry. It is an Edit Mode Operation that can be found in the tool shelf and the 3D Header>Mesh>Extrude and is activated with the E key.

When you extrude a vertex, it automatically creates a new vertex and edge between them.  The vertex is created on a plane that is at 90° from the view. Extruding an edge will create 2 new vertices, 3 new edges and a face. Finally, extrusion of a face extends the face outwards or inwards with connecting edges and faces to the existing geometry.

Extrude the hole in the middle of the chimney into itself.
You might already have the Face selected, so go ahead and extrude the face. 
Edit Mode

Face Select

Select the face in the middle of the top of the chimney.

E, Z, move face in and LEFT click to apply.

image40

Our chimney finished off.

Make Edge/Face

When creating your mesh, you will often want to link two points together. Using Make Edge/Face enables you to do this quickly. It is used in Edit Mode and is found under the 3D Header>Mesh>Edges/Faces>Make Edge/Face or the F Key.

When 2 Vertices are selected, this will create an edge, 3 vertices will make a triangular face, etc.

When 2 edges are selected, F will fill in with a face. If the edges share a vertex, then a triangular face will be produced; if not, then a Quad will be made.

Let’s make our wheels.

Switch to Orthographic Projection.
We will create the front wheel first.
Set the 3D cursor roughly to the position of a wheel, and then adjust in the properties.
Place a Circle (8-sided), rotating it into the right orientation, and Make a Face.
Make a wheel with extrusion and insetting, etc.

image48
NumPad 5 – Orthographic
NumPad 3 – View from side (right)
Object Mode
SHIFT-A – Add a Circle
Adjust Operator Panel: 8 Vertices, 1 Radius,Location (1, -1, -0.75) Rotation of (0, 90, 0).
F – Make a face with the circular edge.
** The following is how I produced my wheel – feel free to experiment.**
E, X, 0.1, Enter;
I, 0.4, Enter;
G, X, 0.1,Enter;
E,
X, 0.1, Enter;

I, 0.1, Enter;
E, X, -0.1, Enter.
Create Another Object for the Hub.

image57
Place 3D Cursor in center of wheel.
Adjust 3D Cursor position to (1.2, -1, -0.75)
Object Mode
SHIFT-A – Add a Circle
Adjust Operator Panel: 8 Vertices, 0.5 Radius,Location (1.2, -1, -0.75) Rotation of (0, 90, 0).
F – Make a face with the circular edge.
E, X, 0.3, Enter;
CTRL-B, 0.3, Enter;
Bevel Operator Panel:
Amount: 0.3; Segments: 2;

Subdivision Surface Modifier

A powerful mesh modifier that remains non-destructive unless applied. This modifier can be enabled in both Object and Edit Mode.

It will split our geometry, making it a lot smoother. Modifiers are found in the Properties Window – not to be confused with the 3D View properties. It’s under a little spanner or wrench icon.

Catmull-Clark is the standard setting and was chosen for its aesthetics. However, it does shrink your object ever so slightly when it is active, so you might have to increase the size of your underlying mesh.

image24

Location of the Subdivision Surface Modifier

image12

The Subdivision Surface Modifier controls

Apply a Subdivision Surface Modifier to the Wheel and Hub. Set the subdivision to 2.

Resize the wheel to compensate for the shrinkage caused by the modifier. 

image39
Object Mode
Select Wheel
Click on modifiers tab
Add Modifier>Subdivision Surface
Set View subdivisions to 2
Repeat this for the Hub.

Smooth and Flat Shading

Depending on the type of model you are working on, you can change the shading type used for a mesh object.  By default, everything you create is flat-shaded.  By enabling smooth shading, it will give your mesh a much smoother appearance. This will look odd on models that are too low poly, however.

In Object Mode, when an object is selected, you can enable smooth shading in the Tool Shelf>Tools>Shading:Smooth / Flat.

The wheel and hub with
smooth shading applied to them.

image49The wheel and hub with
flat shading applied to them.

image39

Parenting

Parenting is similar to grouping in how it is used when objects are not just a collection but intrinsically linked to one another – like our wheel and hub. In Object Mode you can parent objects in a couple of ways. The order of selection does matter, with the last object selected becoming the parent of all the previously selected items. 3D Header>Object>Parent:Object, CTRL-P, Parent to Object.

You can also drag and drop a child onto its parent in the outliner; you must click and drag the object type icon.

Parent the Hub to the WheelSelect the Wheel Hub the Wheel
CTRL-P, Setting Parent to Object
image13Hierarchy showing the Wheel Hub Parented to the Wheel

Duplicate Linked

This is similar to duplicate objects, except the objects remain linked to one another. This means anything you do in Edit Mode to these linked objects immediately is done to every other linked object. This is a great advantage to have if you are working in a model or scene with repeating objects. An important thing to note is that while edits in Edit Mode change everything, anything you do in Object Mode only affects the selected object(s).

This does allow you to have a base object that is scaled and orientatated differently.

It is found in Object mode under the 3D Header>Object>Duplicate Linked or ALT-D.

Duplicate Link another 3 Wheels and place them around the model.
If your model is a different scale or wheels are in a difference place, feel free to move them by different amounts or manually.
Either select both mesh objects or, in the Outliner, CTRL click the mesh icon of the parent (wheel) and the children will be selected too.
ALT-D – Creates a Linked Duplicate.
ESC – Places the duplicate right on top of the original.
G, Y, 3, Enter – Places the wheel.
Next Rear WheelALT-D – Creates a Linked Duplicate.
ESC – Places the duplicate right on top of the original.
R, Z, 180, Enter – Rotates the wheel 180°.
G, X, -2, Enter – Moves wheel to other side.
Other Front WheelALT-D – Creates a Linked Duplicate.
ESC – Places the duplicate right on top of the original.
G, Y, -3, Enter – Places the final wheel.

Controlling Subdivision Surface

There are a couple of ways of controlling the subdivision surface modifier. Adding in edge loops helps define where edges actually are, making sure your model isn’t super smooth where it shouldn’t be.



Add the same subdivision surface modifier to the chimney.

It will no longer look right. It is too curvy and lacks the definition it requires
image67


Adding a few Loop Cuts (CTRL-R) into the mesh helps define where you want sharper edges. The closer you place an Loop Cut to an existing Edge Loop, the more defined the edge will be.
 image60

Carry on doing this throughout the model, and you will get a polished final model – something like this:

image29

Faces: Quads vs. Everything Else

When building a model, you should aim for a face type called a Quads all the time, with few exceptions. This is referring to the way your mesh is constructed, and is often referred to as the “mesh topology”.

There are numerous reasons to aim for this, including:

  • The ability to deform the mesh in a predictable manner.
  • Creation of loops of edges and faces around your model.
  • You’re able to subdivide your mesh evenly.
  • Easier to see the flow or geometry around your model.

 

Face TypeDescription
TrianglesA face constructed of 3 Vertices and 3 Edges.
Triangle terminates edge loops.
Cannot be subdivided evenly.
image38
QuadA face constructed of 4 Vertices and 4 Edges.image34
NGonA face constructed more than 4 Vertices and 4 Edges.
To be avoided.
image25

Knowing this now will save you headaches in the future. Be aware of two points:

Quads will be converted back to triangles when processed later on – for instance, when rendering or exporting the final mesh for game assets.

There is a risk of creating a non-planar quad. This happens when one or more of the vertices making a face is not on the same plane as the others. This produces horrible renders and a bad mesh, as you have lost control of your mesh.

A Quad on top of the cube that is planar

image31

Its render result

image59

The same quad with an exaggerated vertex moved to make it non-planar

image50

The unintended resulting rendering artifact

image68

There is a simple fix to help prevent this: be lean.

If you have the screen space, or even another monitor, I would ensure that you have a 3D Window open showing you a simple render of the model you are working on, so you would spot this immediately.

Otherwise, you could switch to Rendered mode in the viewport shading options periodically to check your model.

image75

Rendered mode in the viewport shading

Once spotted, you’ll have to correct this issue. If your model has numerous instances of non-planar geometry, you will have to make a decision as to  whether it makes a difference to the end result. If it does, you are going to have to manually correct the faces.

You do this by scaling the face(s) along their local Z axis by 0 (S, Z, Z 0). This may be a daunting task if you have many of them.

Final Polishing

Try adding extra features to your model, playing with the material settings, and adding extra carriages or even a track.

Start using the skills you have developed in your own models.

Next Steps

Thank you for taking the time to read this guide. Share it with others you know are interested in getting into 3D modeling. Remember to practice the skills you have learned and apply them to your own models.

Please continue you Blender education by searching for YouTube videos, and consider enrolling in our rapidly expanding Udemy Video course at https://www.udemy.com/blendertutorial/.