Sword – Making a Low Poly Sword Model

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The following tutorial is a continuation of the Blender Basics series, a series of tutorials on making simple objects to learn Blender 3D. Previously a simple chair was used by way of introducing Blender 3D as a modeling tool. In this exercise we’ll be making another favourite, a simple low poly sword model. Along the way we’ll learn about broader concepts and ideas behind the production process from using background images to baking textures and more.

If you are new to Blender it’s highly recommended that you read the first Blender Basics tutorial to familiarise yourself with the application before moving on to this next tutorial. Also be sure to have downloaded the tutorial source file and/or have a texture image available for use.

Working With Concepts

When we first start out on what could potentially be a life-long journey into 3D, we’re generally quite happy to make things up, ideas are pulled from our imaginations and off we go making them. This is essentially how we made the chair in the previous tutorial, all we needed was a cube and a little bit of grey-matter.

Doing this has its limitations however, because as we develop our skills and build more complex objects, at some point we find it necessary to make use of external reference materials, images, other models or maquettes and so on, anything in fact that provides us a point of reference, inspiration or the required information needed to make content with reasonable degrees of representational fidelity.

It’s not just for the artist sake either as this kind of information becomes increasingly important when working with or for other people; it’s essential that everyone is looking at or using the same reference material before ideas are fleshed out and given their three-dimensional form, a role commonly occupied by "concept art", which in its broadest sense, is simply a way to formalise what something is supposed to look like once it’s built before it’s built. With this in mind we’ll be taking that next step up, working from a simple sword idea drawn out in a quick doodle sketch ‘concept’ (see below).

Design note: ‘concepts’ do not necessarily need to be overly complex, detailed or particularly morphologically correct; their purpose is to communicate general ideas that can be ‘translated’ into 3D form; the original sketch used in this tutorial for example is a simple pencil doodle digitally photographed and outlined for clarity in a photo-editing application (see source file download).

The original doodle sketch from which the sword is based

Concept sketch to be used throughout the tutorial, originally just a simple doodle of the sword but photographed imported into a photo-editing app and saved to a format Blender can use [see "origin-sword-doodle-sketch.jpg"]

Default Scene Cube

As with other projects we’ll start by opening Blender and making use of the default scene and the cube primitive it contains to build the sword. However, the first thing we need to do before starting the build is to load the ‘concept’ image we’ll be using throughout this tutorial into Blender.

Making a sword in Blender using the default scene cube

Using Blenders default scene cube [see *.blend "0"]

View Properties & Background Images

As mentioned above the sword model is based on a reference sketch. Typically this would be used as a simple point of reference, a way of making sure the resulting object was as close an approximation as possible to the general appearance of the idea presented in the sketch. In this particular instance however, we can take advantage of the flat ‘side’ orientation of the drawing by loading it directly into Blender using "Background Images" properties; in doing this the image effectively becomes a blueprint of sorts as the outlines, markings and other prominent patterns become useful in guiding the build process.

To load the image into the background, press "N" to open the "View Properties" tool panel (make sure the mouse cursor is over the 3D view before doing this). Scroll down to the "Background Images"[1] sub-section and click the checkbox, a button titled "Add Image" will appear[2], click this to show a number of additional options. From here click the white arrow to the left of "Not Set"[3] and then on the "Open" button[4] to ‘open’ the "File Browser".

Opening the View Properties panel to add a background image to the scene in Blender

Background Image settings in the "‘view’ Properties" toolshelf. 1) activating "Background Images" by ‘checking’ (ticking) the checkbox, this activates the options and allows us to edit the settings

Click the "Add Image" button to add a background image to the scene

Activating "Background Images". 1) Background Image activated. 2) Click the "Add Image" button to expand related options [see *.blend "0a1"]

Blender Background Image not set so nothing will appear in the view

Adding an image to the Background image properties. 1) Background Image activated. 2) Click the "Add Image" button to expand related options. 3) No image options are "Not Set" (active) yet [see *.blend "0a2"]

Clicking the "Open" button to load a background iamge in Blender

Loading in an image to use as a scene background. 1) Background Image activated. 2) Click the "Add Image" button to expand related options. 3) No image options are "Not Set" (active) yet. 4) opens a new image, via the "File Browser", to load into the tool options [see *.blend "0a3"]

With the file browser open one of two things needs to be done to load in the background image, either, 1) assuming the available source files are being used, select an image from the folder that’s now open. Or 2) find an image to use by browsing through the folders and files of your hard-drive.

Design note: browse by selecting a system drive on the left hand side, "C:", "F:" etc., then through their contents, selecting items on the right – note that Blender uses the same mechanisms and metaphors to navigate through folders and select files as is done in Windows Explorer or other operating system dependent ‘file browser’.

Once the image to be used is found, LMB to select (to use the source sketch select "origin-sword-doodle-sketch.jpg"). Before loading it into the scene however, make sure "Relative Path" is active bottom-left then click the "Open" button top-right.

Image browse to load asset into Blender as a scene background

Selecting the image from the file browser that will be used as the background – your view of the Files Browser contents may vary depending on how you’re working through the tutorial

The image will then load and a number of additional options will appear – namely "Transparency:"[5], "Size:"[6] and "X:" & "Y:"[7], tools which allow the image to be tweaked relative to how it appears on screen, it’s ‘transparency’ as a background, its ‘size’ relative to the screen and its left/right, up/down ‘position’. We don’t need to use these so leave everything as-is.

Various options activated after loading in an image for use as a scene background in Blender

With the image loaded a number of additional options appear that allow the images to be ‘tweaked’ relative to its display in a scene. 1) "Background Images" option selected. 2) "Add Image" button. 3) Image options expanded. 4) Datablock name (ID reference). 5) background image transparency. 6) scale relative to the scene. 7) "X/Y" offset [see *.blend "0a4"]

Viewing Background Images

With the background image loaded it will be available in any one of Blenders "Orthogonal" views, the main ones being "Front", "Right" and "Top". These orientations lack perspective projection so objects look ‘flat’ regardless as to their position and rotation relative to the scene, however as background images are only visible in these views they must be used and in fact are quite helpful, as we’ll go on to see.

Right now the scene will still be in"User Persp" ("User Perspective", 3D) mode so we’ll need to toggle between that (‘perspective‘) and ‘orthogonal‘ views by pressing "numPad5" or selecting "View » View Persp/Ortho" from the header menu. This ‘flattens’ the scene (remove true perspective) but leaves it looking slightly wonky, so press "numPad1" to ‘correct’ the orientation so we’re looking at the window and its contents from the "Front" – this should leave the scene set so that both the background image and the cube are seen centre-stage and face-on – if not use "MMB+Scroll" to zoom and/or "Shift+MMB+drag" to reposition the window, making sure to have pressed "numPad1" and/or "numPad5" to switch perspective/orthogonal as described above. If this is done correctly you should be look directly at the box with only a single face visible as shown below, N.B. you shouldn’t be moving the box itself, just the scene.

Design note: Each of the orthogonal views has a corresponding menu option or shortcut key: Front – "numPad1"/"View » Front", Side – "numPad3"/"View » Right" and Top – "numPad7"/"View » Top". Although the view is set to ‘front’ we’re actually looking at what will eventually be the ‘side’ of the sword, the reason for this is that it’s generally easier to grasp directional orientation when using ‘front’ as a starting point irrespective as to what the model is and its orientation to the scene.

The background image displayed in Orthogonal front view in Blender

With the background image in place, ‘Zoom’ and/or position the scene so everything can be seen clearly before starting [see *.blend "0b"]

Wireframe Viewport Shading

Because we’re using a background image it’s best to switch "Viewport Shading" from "Solid" (default) to "Wireframe", this makes the mesh transparent so the sword sketch is visible at all times ‘through’ the object and as we work. As we need to be in Edit mode anyway press "Tab" to switch (or select "Edit Mode" from the "Mode" pull-down), then "Z" to switch from "Solid" to ‘Wireframe‘ mode as shown below (or select "Wireframe" from the viewport shading pull-down).

Design note: Switching to wireframe has the added advantage of facilitating being able to drill-down through the mesh when making various types of selection – selecting a front facing element for example also selects anything directly underneath or within a tools selection zone because it’s not being ‘occluded’ from view or selection by the scenes shading mode. Also note that when in wireframe mode "Limit Selection to Visible" (see below) is not applicable as it has no effect on occluding what’s seen on screen (because the mesh is transparent) so it cannot be dis/enabled, on/of.

Entering Edit mode to begin shaping the default Blender cube

"Tab" key and entering "Edit" mode to begin shaping the sword mesh. Note that using "Limit Selection to Visible" only works in ‘solid’ views where the reverse side can’t normally be seen, if the mesh is see-through and transparent objects are not occluded from view anyway [see *.blend "1"]

Toggle Viewport Shading and 'wireframe' view in Blender

Using "Z" to switch from "Solid" to "Wireframe" viewport shading, so the concept sketch can be seen in the background through mesh object as the sword model is being made [see *.blend "1a"]

Next we’ll make a start on editing the sword mesh and blocking out its basic structure.

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