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Blender Basics: making models & mesh editing

Make a simple chain in Blender

In the first part of this Blender basics tutorial the interface and layout was discussed and how the application is essentially composed of three different areas. In part two the core mouse and keyboard controls were discussed which allow the navigate the interface as you work. In this third part both the previous section will be put to use in the making of a simple chair. Along the way additional features, actions, control keys and other context sensitive information will be mentioned as the model takes shape.

With that said, the best way to learn Blender is to just get stuck in and dirty, so that's what we'll do.

Starting a new scene ^

There's no need to add any new objects to the scene for this project, it will all be made using the cube 'primitive' shape available in the default scene. In case you can't see the object just create a 'new' file by clicking "File >> New" from the Header area menu - Blender will prompt you to "Erase All", click that to confirm, and a brand new default scene will load with cube centre stage with a light and camera objects to the sides of that.

Switching to "Perspective" mode ^

First things first. Before beginning we need to switch to 'Perspective Mode' so the mesh can be seen correctly as it's being made; from the "View" menu under the 3D Work Zone area click "View >> Perspective" - note the keyboard shortcut key "NumPad 5", pressing that toggles (switches) between 'perspective' and 'flat' mode ("Orthographic").

Design note: if you loose track of the object on screen press "C" to "re-centre" the scene which should bring the view camera back to looking at the object centre screen.

Remember at all times that you can use the various key and mouse combinations mentioned previously to control your movement around the work zone, using those, manoeuvre the view around so you're looking at the mesh from the side similar to that shown below (MMB drag the screen), and zoom into it (MMB scroll).

Switching to perspective mode - NumPad "5"

Switching to 'Perspective Mode' (NumPad 5) so the model can be seen properly as its made - this helps you see the shape of the object in correct perspective

'Edit' mode and editing the mesh object ^

Most of the work done to the mesh itself is done in "Edit Mode". This gives access to a number of tools and actions that allow the mesh to be cut, shaped and manipulated to create the desired general structure of an object. To get in to edit mode we first need to make sure to the mesh object is selected (if there were more than one mesh in a scene Blender will toggle edit mode based on the last object selected). So in the Work Zone area Right-Mouse-Click (RMB) the box object and then press the "TAB" key (on the left hand side of your keyboard, above "Caps Lock").

Design note: if the object is already selected nothing will appear to have happened. Try RMB selecting the other objects to see what should happen when selecting an object; the objects outline changes to a light pinkish colour. You can also toggle selecting/deselecting all objects by pressing keyboard "A"

Entering EDIT MODE in Blender 3D

Select the object with "RMB" and press "TAB" to enter edit mode - don't forget to MMB scroll to zoom in so you can see the mesh more clearly. Notice also that entering EDIT mode has changed the Tool Bar buttons; a different set of tools are now available when in this mode to assist editing the mesh

'Loop Cuts' and dividing the mesh ^

Now that we're in Edit mode, an essential tool for most modeling jobs is something called a "Loop Cut". It has a number of different functions in terms of how it edits a mesh, but the basic one is to simply cut a 'ring' or 'loop' around the mesh in a particular direction.

Design note: A 'loop' is basically a cross-section of an object. Or if you think about it as someone taking a black marker pen and drawing a line around your midriff, that would be a single 'loop' which 'cuts' around your body following your contours, dips and general shape. A 'Loop Cut' on a mesh is essentially the same.

With the object in Edit mode ("TAB") move the mouse cursor near the mesh and press Ctrl+R, a pink line will appear and wrap around the model - this is a guide telling you where the cut will be made.

Design note: If you move the mouse over the mesh the pink line will change position relative to the edge nearest the mouse, each time it does this it's telling you the cut would be made along that orientation/edge.

Crtl+R to create a loop cut

After pressing "Ctrl+R", the pink line that appears indicates the direction the loop will be cut along the mesh

To 'set' the cut in a particular direction LMB click. The line will turn yellow indicating to you that the cut is going to be made in the direction of the new line. Hold the "Ctrl" key down as you move the mouse, the loop cut line indicator will now 'snap' to regular intervals as it moves - it's snapped to the grid - making it easier to add cuts at regular measured intervals in the mesh.

So with Ctrl held go ahead and move the indicator to the centre of the object - if you look at the bottom left of the 3D work zone you'll notice some numbers to aid in doing this, when it reads "0.000" click LMB. This will then 'set' the cut in place and we can move on. If you haven't already, go ahead and add two cuts similar to those shown in the image below, both are down the respective centre-line of each particular direction. The chair is basically made from a series of these cuts.

Design note: Ctrl+Z is Blenders "undo" feature, use that if you make the cut in the wrong place. You can also 'sub-divide' and edge to create a cut by selecting it (RMB+Shift to multi-select) via the two pink dots at either end and clicking the button titled "Subdivide" in the "Mesh Tools" panel in the tool bar area below.

RMB clicking to 'set' and 'fix' the loop cut around the mesh

Making a loop cut by RMB clicking to 'set' where the cut should be made, then once again to 'fix' the cut in place resulting in a new loop around the mesh

Adding more loop cuts to the mesh ^

What needs to be done next is a couple more cuts added to the mesh so we can then 'extrude' various shapes out of it, namely the back and legs, to make the 'chair' shape. So add some more loop cuts as described above; as you make each cut, remember to hold the Ctrl key down so the tool snaps to the grid as it moves. Also keep an eye on the numbers bottom left of the work zone - in this example the distance (which is what the numbers measure) was "0.6000", so set each cut when that number is reached (don't worry if you don't get it right first time). You should end up with something similar to the image below. This is the basic template from which the chair will be made.

RMB clicking to 'set' and 'fix' the loop cut around the mesh

Making a loop cut by RMB clicking to 'set' where the cut should be made, then once again to 'fix' the cut in place resulting in a new loop around the mesh

Change 'select' type and back-face culling ^

At this point we're going to switch to a different 'selection' mode, there are three types available - "Vertex", "Edge" and "Face"; we're currently in "vertex" but need to be in "Face" select mode. Press "Ctrl+TAB" to open the "Select Mode" pop-up and select "Faces" from the menu by LMB clicking on it. Watch what happens to the way the mesh object is drawn in the view port when you do this, the pink dots (vertexes) disappear to be replaced by black spots approximate centre of each surface, those are "Faces" (or more correctly "quadratic polygons" - "poly", "tris" or "quads" for short).

Design note: Make sure the mouse cursor is over the 3D work area when you press Ctrl+TAB

Once you switched mode, you should be looking at something similar to the image below.

RMB clicking to 'set' and 'fix' the loop cut around the mesh

Making a loop cut by RMB clicking to 'set' where the cut should be made, then once again to 'fix' the cut in place resulting in a new loop around the mesh

At the moment we can see the back of the mesh, we need to turn that off so selecting and working from this point on is easier to do, else we run the risk of constantly selecting faces we don't want or need. To the right of the menu area under the work zone are a couple of button groups, look at the group of four buttons that have 'dots', a 'line', a 'triangle' and a 'box'; click the button with the 'box' on it and watch what happens to the mesh object, the back faces should disappear - we've enabled something called "back face culling" (or "occlusion" as Blender calls it). The mesh should look similar to the image below. We can now carry on.

Occlude background geometry button in Blender

1) Shows the "Occlude Background Geometry" button. Activate this so we can select faces without worrying about grabbing the wrong ones

Selecting faces and extruding ^

Generally speaking all object and item selection is done with the RIGHT mouse button in Blender, holding the "Shift" key to select more that one object at a time when required. What we'll do next is select a number of faces and then extrude those to create the back of the chair.

Manoeuvre the mesh so you're looking at, or can clearly see, the top of it (if you're not already). Hold down SHIFT and then RMB click a row of faces along one side of the mesh, similar to what's shown below.

Shift+RMB to select multiple faces on the mesh

Shift+RMB used to select a number of faces along one side of the mesh

Once you've done that, using the MMB again, manoeuvre to give yourself room above the mesh, we're about to extrude those faces upwards so need room to do so. Release the "Shift" key and then press "E" to initiate the "Extrude" function on the selected faces (as shown below). The faces will 'jump' out of the mesh as soon as "E" is pressed (because they're 'active' objects); for now RMB click to 'release' them (they'll drop back down to their point of origin). The reason for doing this is to get used to the idea that you don't necessarily need to be using the default angle at which faces are automatically extruded; in this instance they would have gone in the direction we need but we want to do this process with a bit more control over what we're doing.

Design note: faces are extruded along a 'face normal', i.e. the direction in which the polygon is orientated and facing.

Extruding the selected faces using "E" extrude tool

Using "E" to initiate the "Extrude" tool and create a new set of faces

At all times you should generally be able to see a 'gizmo' - the object with the red, green and blue directional arrowheads similar to the image shown below; note the extra black dots that will have appeared around the edge of the selected face. Rotate (MMB) and zoom out (MMB scroll) to give yourself some room, then LMB click the Blue handle of the gizmo. Before moving it press the Ctrl key so movement snaps to the grid and then pull it upwards two or three 'steps' (snap points - the selected objects will 'jump' to the nearest snap point based on the direction of movement). Release the gizmo to 'set' the height and new position of the faces, creating the back of the chair.

Showing the extruded faces and the gizmo tool

Showing the extruded faces and the red, green and blue handled 'gizmo' tool

Pulling on the Blue handle with Ctrl to create the chair back

Using the Blue gizmo handle, hold down the Ctrl key and pull up two or three steps to create the back of the chair from the previously extruded faces

The back of the chair created from pulling up the blue handles of the gizmo

On releasing the gizmo you should have the back of the chair created as a result of moving the previously extruded faces, using Ctrl as you move objects helps to keep size and distance snapped to regular intervals

Border Select - selecting a group or number of faces in one go ^

We next need to create the bottom of the chair. To do this we'll make use of "Border Select" to select a number of faces in one go. Rotate and move the scene so you can see the underside of the mesh, similar to the image shown below.

MMB rotate the scene so you can see the bottom side of the mesh

MMB rotate the scene so you can clearly see the base of the chair

As we've still got the faces selected that were used to create the back of the chair we've first got to de-select those. Press "A" on your keyboard - this toggles "Select/Deselect All", pressing "A" will either select all faces or objects (depending what 'mode' you're in) or deselect all faces or objects (again depending on what mode you're in) - this clears the selected faces and allows the use of border select without 'interference' from other faces.

There are two types of border select available when activating the tool, an 'area' or a 'brush'; press the "B" key once to select the 'area' and then again to select the 'brush' - the cursor will chance from an extended 'cross-hair' to a 'circle' - we want the 'brush' (circle) for this next step.

Design note: RMB deactivates the tool.

With the 'brush' Border Select tool active, either LMB click the faces within the bounds of the brush or 'paint' the faces you need to select by LMB click holding as you move the mouse over the faces (no need to use the Shift key doing this). Use MMB to deselect any faces selected by accident. RMB to deactivate the tool once done and leave the faces selected; you should end up with something similar to the image below.

Press "B" twice to active the Border Select 'brush' tool and 'paint' surfaces to select them

Press "B" twice to activate "Border Select" 'brush' tool and 'paint' over the surfaces to be selected as part of the group

These selected faces need to be moved upwards now to create the 'seat' of the chair. So rotate the scene so you're looking down at the mesh as you were before selecting the bottom faces.

Re-orientate the mesh with selected faces under the mesh

Re-orientate the mesh with the now selected faces back under the mesh

It's likely that doing this next bit will result in the following because the 'grid snap' steps are too big.

Pulling faces too far up or using too 'course' a snap grid

Pulling the faces of the mesh upwards using Ctrl results in the faces 'collapsing' into each other

So, after clicking on the Blue arrowhead and before pulling it upwards, press keys Ctrl+Shift and then move the mouse up; you should notice that the movement still snaps to the grid but the steps taken are smaller (watch the numbers left-hand side of the work zones menu area again, this time release when it says "1.6000" or similar) - the Ctrl+Shift+LMB drag combination allow finer control of movement whilst still snapping to the grid; you should end up with something similar to the following. That's the seat of the chair done.

Design note: This may need to be done twice depending on the amount of space you allowed yourself, the smaller grid snaps tend to use move mouse movement space to complete.

Using Ctrl+Shift+LMB to move faces through smaller amounts but still snapped to the grid

Using Ctrl+Shift+LMB drag give much finer control over the movement of faces and object when they've moved that isn't had using Ctrl+LMB on its own

Extruding individual faces ^

Final step is to extrude the legs of the chair using the 'extrude' function again. This time we need to select specific faces. Rotate the object so you're looking at the base of the mesh again and press "A" to deselect all faces previously selected. Once done use RMB+Shift to select the four corner faces so you end up with the following.

Design note: RMB+Shift also deselects individual faces if they're already selected.

Selecting the corner faces of the base to form legs from

Corner faces of the base selected from which the legs will be extruded

Rotate the scene back round so you're looking at the chair from the top again and zoom back to give yourself room, for this extrude we'll use a slightly different approach. Go ahead and press "E" to extrude the faces, but this time leave the action 'active' (don't RMB to disengage) and press the "Z" key once - the line that appears when you first extrude the faces is pink in colour, when you press "Z" it'll turn pale blue indicating that you've now locked the axis along which the faces will travel, in this instance 'up-down' ("Z" axis).

Extruding faces along default face normal

When extruding faces it defaults to follow a direction based on the orientation of the face; if the face isn't at right-angles this could mean it being skewed

Extruding faces along z-axis

Press key "Z" to 'lock' the direction along which faces will move

Then, remembering to press "Ctrl" to snap movements, pull the faces downwards two 'steps' (snap points - watch the numbers bottom left of the work zone again for "2.0000"). This should leave you with something similar to the image below. Congratulations, that's the chairs basic mesh structured completed.

The final stage of the initial mesh edit

With the legs extruded we have a chair. Congratulations!

Toggle "Object" mode ^

Once you've extruded the legs that completes the basic structural construction of the chairs shape, so toggle back in "Object" mode by pressing the "TAB" key again, this should leave you with something similar to the image below in the work area.

Finished mesh in object mode

Press "TAB" to view the chair in object mode, we don't need to edit the mesh any further at this point. Next is UVW mapping and materials

The chair now needs to have a material and texture applied as well as be UVW unwrapped. This will be covered in the next section. Note however, there are other things that can be done to the mesh to 'optimise' it for use, those details will be covered in another section.

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