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Blender Basics: interface and appearance

Make a simple chain in Blender

Low poly models and/or content for games and interactive media made with Blender 3D tend to use the same core skills, tools and actions - from modeling to materials, UVW unwrapping to animation. Rather than repeat this same information in other tutorials and different contexts, for example exporting to UDK, creating Open 3D content, making maps and levels for idtech, making iPhone games, producing content for Unity etc., the following pages will take you through the process of using Blender to make a simple chair model, describing the process, tools and actions when they're called into use. In this way you'll learn about the tool itself and the context into which is commonly used.

Note however, that the following is not necessarily going to present an exhaustive list of features or functions available to Blender 3D users, but rather instructional information most often used to make low poly 3D artwork for games and 3D media.

Blender 3D's interface & appearance ^

Blender 3D may appear a rather daunting application when opened for the first time, buttons and things seem to be everywhere. But, everything has a purpose and is placed where it is for a reason, it appears confusing simply because it's something new, something not likely to have been looked at before. However, Blender does use the same fundamental principles available to other 3D applications to do what it does, the only major difference is where those functions are in relation to its layout.

On first starting Blender a splash screen graphic will appear for a brief time before revealing the application shown in the image below. By default it contains a 'cube', a 'light' and a 'camera' object set within a 'grid' environment. As can be seen below the application is split into three distinct areas, each serving a different function within the environment which can be swapped, changed, moved and manipulated depending on the function being carried out; although there are many these available to Blender users, the next section will briefly describe the most commonly used of those when making low poly objects.

Blender basics, what Blender looks like when first open

Blender's appearance when started showing a number of different areas that facilitate different actions and activities

Blender's Layout, what do the different areas do ^

As mentioned above, Blender works using the same principles as other 3D applications, they're just organised in a different way. By default the screen is broken into distinct sections, all of which serve a specific purpose as you work. The image below shows the three main 'zones' of Blenders interface;

  • Header - red tinted area.

  • Work Zone - green tinted area.

  • Toolbar - blue tinted area.

Blender 3D, its layout and common features and tools Header - overall scene/project information and game engine access Work Zone/Area - where most of the work producing content is carried out Tool Bar - the tools, buttons and actions that can be used to carry out certain functions

Blender 3D, its layout and common features and tools

The Header area ^

Provides more 'global' information about the entire scene being worked on. So it'll display information about how many polygons are on screen, what 'desktop mode' you're in (there are several different 'types' to allow easy switching between different types of work - modeling, animation, material, etc.), as well as providing access to Blenders Game Engine via the menus.

Blender 3D 'header' area

Blender 3D's 'Header' area where general scene information is provided

1) Header - Vertex/Face/Edge count. This displays the number polygons (both 'quads' and triangles), vertices and edges a mesh contains. The values change depending on whether you're in edit mode (so they only show details related to the mode itself, or the number of elements selected whilst in this mode), or object mode (in which case values changes to reflect the entire scene.

The Work Zone ^

Is where most of your actual work will be done, certainly with regards to a model or mesh, so construction, editing, applying materials and UVW maps all go on in this screen.

Blender 3D work zone/area

Blender 3D's work area/zone where most of the work carried out when making a mesh or model (currently showing the default 'cube, light and camera' set-up

2) Work Zone - View Display Type. This button allows you to change the view you're looking at to any one of a number of different 'types' depending on what function or activity you want to focus on. Shown above is the '3D view", but there are also separate screens for 'UVW unwrapping', 'animation', 'video sequencer', 'audio sequencer' and so on.

4) Work Zone - 'Mode' type. Drop down list that allows you to change between different types of core activities - 'Edit Mode', 'Object mode', 'Vertex Paint' and so on, each of which changes the Tool Bar area depending on the task at hand.

5) Work Zone - Draw Type. This allows you to change the way objects are displayed in the Work Zone; if a model is textured for instance changing to "Textured" will show the texture as applied to the model in the view port; changing to "Solid" will display the model in flat colours (usually those assigned to materials) if applied to the mesh.

6) Work Zone - Rotation/Scaling Point. This sets the point of origin around which scaling and/or rotating a mesh will happen, useful if increasing the size of an object relative to a point on the grid rather than the objects centre of mass.

7) Work Zone - Layer buttons. Each one of these buttons activates/de-activates a 'layer' onto which objects can be placed. Working in a similar way to 'layers' present in image editing software, clicking on any one or combination ("Shift+LMB") of these will cause objects to be displayed in the work zone relative to that layer, showing objects in those selected or hiding objects from view in layers left unselected.

The Tool Bar ^

Is where all the tools to do what you need are displayed and commonly accessed. Note here that the tools change depending on what you're doing - this is called a "context sensitive menu system"- so working on a mesh displays the 'edit' tools; working on a UVW map will display the appropriate tools for that function.

Blender 3D tool bar/buttons

Blender 3D's 'tool bar' or 'buttons window' where all the tools and function to create content appear. Changes depending on function required

3) Tool Bar - Button Type/Mode. As mentioned above, the tool bar changes depending on what function is being carried out on a mesh at any given time, these 'quick access' buttons give access to separate function without necessarily changing the 'mode' the object is in when they are activated - a mesh can be in edit mode for example, and still have the user access materials by clicking the appropriate button.

8) Tool Bar - Buttons Panels. Parameter panels associated with the various functions that can be carried out within each mode. In other words, the panels number and information change depending on the action being carried out.

Next we'll take a look at controlling movement around Blender 3D, how various mouse and keyboard combinations allow movement, the manipulation of objects and rotation around the view ports.

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