Getting Started With Blender For Virtual Worlds

Blender For Virtual Worlds

A Free Tutorial by Remona Stormborn
Edited by Labyrinth Stormborn
© Remona Stormborn 2014, 2015, 2016, all rights reserved

Visit Gaia Foundation on Atlantis in the Great Canadian Grid for inworld support information.


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Customizing Blender

Set Blender up to work the way you work with custom layouts, themes, file management, and backup strategies. Link your favorite 2D graphics program to Blender and tell Blender to use your graphics card.

Preferences
     Interface Tab
     Editing Tab
     Input Tab
          Input Devices
          Keyboard Shortcuts
          Cheatsheets
          Custom Keyboard Shortcuts
     Add-ons Tab
          Downloading Add-ons
     Themes Tab
     File Tab
          2D Graphics Program
          Backing Up Files
     System Tab
     Saving Preferences
Project: Get Ready to Model
Questions?

Preferences

Blender is highly customizable.

You’ll learn how to emulate the numberpad and three button mouse if you don’t have them.

How to change the UI font size if you have trouble reading the menus and labels.

You’ll tell Blender where to find and save your files by default and how to back up your files so you can recover if projects are lost or damaged in any way.

You’ll learn how to change processing power to your graphics card if it’s possible for your system.

With these settings Blender will be ready for modeling, which you’ll start learning in the next chapter.

To open the User Preference window, go to the Info editor (main menu bar) and navigate to File > User Preferences in the menu, or press Control-Alt-U.

The User Preferences will open in a separate window.

Alternatively, you can select the User Preferences editor with the Editor Selection widget in any Frame.


Interface Tab

Preferences - Interface
This is where you can change the settings that control Blender’s user interface. You can change things like the size of your cursor, mini axis, and other 3D View tools.

I recommend not changing anything in this tab until you become more familiar with Blender.


Editing Tab

This is where you can change settings for editing tools & options.

Preferences - Editing - Steps

Under Undo,Steps (red) is the number of actions you’ve taken that are saved in History (Control-Alt-Z) for the Undo (Control-Z) and Redo (Control-Shift-Z) operations.

Blender sets the default number of steps saved to 32 steps. Since every small action like the selection of a single vertice is saved, I’ve found myself undoing well over 100 steps.

I recommend that you set the maximum to the full 256 steps if your computer system’s memory is capable of handling that.

If your computer has limited memory resources you may want to keep Steps set to a lower value but, I don’t recommend anything less than 64 steps.

Other than that setting, you should leave this tab as it is unless you know what you are doing.


Input Tab

In the left hand column of the Input tab you’ll find settings for your input devices.

Blender Input Presets

If you already know how to use either 3DSMax or Maya you have the option to change the presets and the keyboard shortcuts to match either program in the Presets at the top (red) of the left hand column.

Changing to either of these settings will change Blender’s input methods and shortcut keys to closely match those of the application you choose.

Note: there’s a new option to change to Virtual Worlds. I tried the setting out and found that it doesn’t change in any way that is helpful.

I recommend not changing this setting. It’s preferable to learn Blender’s default commands and shortcut keys so that tutorials, including this tutorial, are not difficult to follow and translate.

But, if you do find it’s too difficult to get used to changing from virtual world building methods to Blender’s, you can try out this setting. If you do, it will be your responsibility to adapt the changes to the methods in tutorials including this one.

Blender Emulation 3Button Mouse and NumPad


Input Devices

If you don’t have a 3 button mouse or number pad on your keyboard you can emulate either or both.

To emulate a 3 button mouse, go to the Input tab in the User Preferences (control-alt-u) and tick Emulate 3 Button Mouse (red). You can now use Alt-left click instead of the middle mouse button.

To emulate a number pad tick Emulate Numpad (blue). Use the keyboard numbers instead of the number pad shortcut keys.

Trackball users have another option in the Input tab. In the Orbit Style setting (yellow) change the setting from Turntable to Trackball.

For those of you with or interested in a using a graphics tablet, check out these resources:

CG Cookie’s article:

Tablet vs Mouse, Kent Trammell, June 9, 2016

BlenderArtists Articles:

Thread: Wacom and Blender, Forum, Started Nov 9, 2014
Thread: Which tablet is best for Blender, Forum, Started Jul 10, 2013
Thread: Tablets and Blender, Forum, Started Apr 2, 2007

An excellent YouTube Tutorial on using tablets, type of tablets and their features, and setting up a graphics tablet in Blender by Grant Abbitt: Using a graphics tablet in blender


Keyboard Shortcuts

Blender Shortcuts in Menus

Blender uses shortcut keys which, over time, you’ll learn to use effectively.

You don’t need to memorize them all. The important ones you’ll learn quick enough. Others you find useful you’ll learn as you need them.

With practice you’ll soon find you use them without thinking.

You don’t have to use Shortcut Keys. You can use the menus and your mouse. However, using the shortcut keys is faster and easier.

In addition to the searchable list in the Input tab of the User Preferences editor, you will also find the shortcut keys at the end of each item in Blender’s menus (red).
 

 

TIP:  The active shortcut keys are different depending on where your cursor is located. It is important your cursor is in the frame or panel you want the action to take place in.

Some commands use a sequence of shortcut keys to give detailed instructions to Blender.

For example: the sequence of the shortcut keys a, s, x, 2 would be a quick way to select everything (a) and scale it (s) on the X axis (x) to two times it’s original size (2).

Without the shortcut keys, that sequence of commands would have taken quite a bit more work to accomplish than just hitting a few keys on your keyboard.

BlenderForNoobs on YouTube has a video overview on Blender’s shortcut keys. You’ll find the video a good overview of how the shortcut keys will come into play when you begin modeling. Don’t worry about memorizing any of the shortcuts in the video, we’ll cover those as you need them.

Blender for Noobs: How to start mastering keyboard shortcuts on YouTube:


Cheatsheets

There are quite a few cheatsheets available online forBlender’s shortcut keys.

Any cheatsheets for versions of Blender before v2.59 are obsolete so be sure to grab a current one.

Here’s a few you might find useful:

WikiBooks Blender 3D Cheatsheet

Tufts University PDF Cheatsheet

Blender For Dummies Cheatsheet

And, because you did set up a note taking system as I suggested (right?), you can always refer to your notes to quickly look up Shortcut Keys.


Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

For menu items you use frequently that don’t have shortcut keys, you can give the command a custom shortcut key by going to the User Preferences (control-alt-u) and, in the Input tab right clicking the item in the menu and choosing Add Shortcut.

Blender Search Shortcut Keys

Look for shortcut keys with the Search box (red) by name, shortcut key, or key combo.

Add new shortcut keys by clicking the Add New button (yellow) at the end of each category of shortcuts.

WARNING:  Be careful to make sure a key combo that you want to use is not already in use before you assign it to a command because Blender will not warn you that a keyboard shortcut is already in use.


Add-ons Tab

Blender Add-ons Preferences

You can find, install, activate and deactivate add-ons in the Add-ons tab.

Add-ons in Blender are scripts that extend it’s functionality in any number of ways. They are created by Blender users all over the world. Some are better written than others.

Their functions range from simple additional features to complex operations and tools.

Blender comes preinstalled with a few dozen add-ons. Not all are activated.

To activate a preinstalled add-on (or one that you downloaded and added), locate it in the list on the right hand side of the Add-ons tab (yellow) and tick the box at the top right of the add-on’s panel (green).

To deactivate any add-ons, untick the box.

To locate a specific add-on use the Search box at the top left of the Add-ons tab.

Use the Supported Level buttons (red) to filter your search by Official (Blender’s officially supported), Community (Blender community supported), and/or Testing (add-ons still in the testing phase-beta) support levels.

Below that is the Categories filters (blue) with which you can narrow down your search.

Note that User in the Categories filters will show the add-ons you have installed.

In the list of add-ons in the right hand column (yellow) click the triangle to the left of an add-on’s name to open it’s panel (green).

Inside each panel you’ll find a button to take you to online documentation for the add-on as well as information on the add-on’s status and any warnings.

When done, be sure to press the Save User Settings button in the lower left of the window (pink) if you want your changes to persist to future sessions. If you don’t, the changes will only be effective in the current work session.


Downloading Add-ons

Because Blender is an open source program you’ll find lots of great add-ons available free, and occasionally, for a nominal charge.

As is typical of open source programs, the add-ons are created by individuals whose skills vary widely. Some are very powerful, useful tools. Some, not so much.

I’ll recommend some good add-ons you will find useful as you need them.

What not to do is to go downloading a bunch of add-ons before you are sure what they do or how to use them. (*rolls eyes wildly knowing full well you are gonna ignore me*)

When you do add an add-on, read the documentation. Not all add-ons install in the same way and some are harder to figure out how to use than others.

With that said, I refer you to these add-on sources.

Addon Resources:

Blender Resources
Blender’s Addon Catalog
Blender Addon List
Blender Nation Addons

Natalia Mitiuriev aka Ms Magic Animations on YouTube, Blender Tutorial: How to Install Addons has a very good video tutorial on installing add-ons in Blender:

But, hey, seriously, for now, keep it simple?


Themes Tab

If you find anything difficult to see or have problems with the coloring used anywhere in Blender, you can change it in the Themes tab. You can change the color and style of Blender by changing the theme or change individual elements of your current theme.

Blender Preferences Themes

In addition the the default theme, you can choose from ten additional themes in the Presets drop down menu at the top left of the Themes tab.

There are free themes that you can find online as well.

I’ll be working in the default theme and so as not to confuse you.

Blender Themes tab Buttons

To install a new theme or reset your theme and theme settings back to Blender’s defaults press either the Reset to Default Theme or Install Theme button near the lower left corner of the User Preference window.

3D Viewport Background Color

If you’d like the 3D Viewport background to be lighter or darker, change it in the Themes tab. In the right hand column look for 3D View (blue – 1) and select it.

Now, look near the bottom of the middle column for the Theme Background Color and make sure Use Gradient (yellow – 2) is not ticked.

To the right of that, click on the Gradient High/Off color box (red – 3).

In the Color Selector pop-up move the shade bar until you get a shade you like. I’d suggest not using full white or full black as there are elements that will be difficult to see. You can, however, use nearly full black or white just so that it’s enough contrast to see white or black elements in the 3D viewport.

Blender Text Size

If you find Blender’s user interface text to large or small you can change it in the Themes tab. Look for Text Style button in the left hand column and select it to change text size. You’ll then see text settings for panels and widgets (red).


File Tab

Use these settings to tell Blender where your files and graphics application are located, how to display files, how to save backups, and control your recent file history.

Blender File Preferences

On the left side of the Preferences File tab you can set the location where Blender can find or save various types of files (red). Click the folder icon at the end of each line to browse to the file paths you prefer.

Fonts: This should be where your fonts are located. For windows the location is usually C:\Windows\Fonts\ .

Textures: This should be where you’d like Blender to start looking when you browse for textures.

Sounds: If you have a preferred location for storing sound files, this is where you’d like Blender to start looking when you browse for sound files.

Scripts: It’s a smart idea to create a folder for installing add-ons, themes, scripts, and other Blender tools. This keeps you from loosing your custom downloaded add-ons if you uninstall Blender for a clean reinstall or need to move them to another computer or other situation. If you do, point to the location in the Scripts section of this tab.

Scripts is where Blender will find additional add-ons, downloaded themes, or other add-ons you want Blender to load on start-up. Blender will continue to look in it’s default storage areas, this just adds another file location to Blender’s default locations.


2D Graphics Program

Blender File Preferences

Image Editor: Also in the File tab, the Image Editor setting links Blender to an external 2D graphics program like Photoshop, Paint Shop, or Gimp.

To link to your favorite program, locate the Image Editor line in the File tab (blue) and click the file folder icon.

Blender Link 2D Graphics

Graphics Program: Navigate to your 2D graphic program’s executable file (red), select it and click the Accept button (blue).


Backing Up Files

Blender File Preferences

You can tick boxes to Hide Recent Locations and/or Hide System Bookmarks in the file browser (yellow). If you don’t use either of these choices when browsing to files it’s a little less clutter if you hide them.

If you prefer to view your files as thumbnails in the file browser, you’ll find below those two options, an option to Show Thumbnails in the far right column of the File tab (yellow). You can always turn thumbnails off or on when in a browsing window. This just sets the default behavior.

Blender File Preferences

Blender saves a list of your most recently opened files. You can set how many files to remember in history. Click the arrowhead at either end of Recent Files (green) to change the number.

Blender File Preferences

Blender has a couple ways in which it backs up your work.

Blender saves one previous session of your current file by default. You can increase this number to allow Blender to keep even more previous work sessions of your files. It can sometimes be handy if you really mess things up or are experimenting with a project.

To change the number of backup sessions Blender saves click the arrowhead at either end of Saved Versions (green) to change the number.

The backed up sessions will be saved as FILENAME.blend1, FILENAME.blend2, and so on, depending on how many versions you set it to. The saved work sessions will be saved in the same location where you save the original file.

Blender File Preferences

By default Blender auto saves your files in your system’s temporary files as you work. To change how frequently your work is saved click the arrowhead at either end of Timer in the Auto Save section of the File tab (aqua). The number indicates how many minutes between saves.

Untick the box to disable automatically saving your work (aqua).

Blender Recover

To open auto saved versions of your project go to the Info Editor (main menu bar) > File > and select Recover Auto Save.

To open your most recent project go to the Info Editor (main menu bar) > File > and select Recover Last Session. If you have a project open it will open the most recent project before the current project.

Blender Splash Screen Recent

You can also open recent files from the splash screen when you open a new instance of Blender (red).


System Tab

Preferences - System - Compute Device

This is where you make changes to more technical system and graphics settings. Generally, unless you have a graphics problem, I’d leave this section alone.

One thing you should change is, if you have a nVidia graphics card, is to tell Blender to use it instead of your computer’s CPU (red). In most cases this will speed things up.

Under Compute Device select CUDA (red) and your graphics device should appear in the drop down menu on the next line. Check that the correct device is selected.

If you have an AMD graphics card or just want to know a little more about this setting using Blender 2.73, BlenderTek on YouTube has a great video demonstrating how to set up an AMD to work with Blender.

Also: Marclen Chin has the same using Blender 2.69 in 2 videos going a little slower that are easier to understand: Part 1, Part 2

We won’t be doing full renders but, later on we will be doing some limited rendering to create ambient occlusion (normal daylight shading) textures or AO Maps so this may be useful for you depending on your computer system.

You don’t have to worry about this now if you’d rather not because you can always come back to this section if you find that your system can’t handle rendering in a timely manner when we use it in later chapters.


Saving Preferences

Save User Settings Button

When you are done making changes in preferences, be sure to click the Save User Settings button at the bottom of the Preferences window to save your changes permanently. Otherwise, they’ll only affect the current work session.

If you make any changes that you want to be in effect for the current session only, close the window without clicking the Save User Settings button.

It might be a wise move to backup your preference settings after making important changes. Blender saves user settings to a file named “userpref.blend”.

If you want to make a copy of your preferences or locate other Blender files go to Blender Manual: Configuring Directories to find out where Blender stores it’s documents in your operating system’s file management system.

Load Factory Settings

Anytime you do want to go back to the default startup settings, which includes changes in the preferences, startup screen choice, custom screen layouts, and any changes you make to the startup file, go to File > Load Factory Settings in the Info editor (main menu bar).


Project: Get Ready to Model

For this project I want you to be ready to start learning modeling.

Go through your User Preferences and make the changes that you need and save those changes (see this chapter).

If you have not done so yet, create your own custom modeling layout and save it (see the previous chapter).

Make sure your cursor is still in the center of the grid with Shift-S > Cursor to Center. More about that in the 3D View chapter.

Save Custom Layout 3

Save all your changes as the new default startup window so that every time you open a new instance of Blender your preferences and custom layout will be in effect.

Do this by clicking File in the Info editor (main menu bar) and select Save Startup File or press the shortcut keys Control-U.

Save Custom Layout 4

In the pop-up verify that this is what you want to do by selecting Save Startup File (red).

That’s it! You’re ready to start modeling!


Questions?

Post your questions in the comment section below & I’ll answer it as soon as possible. Please be specific so I can understand what it is you’re asking.

You can also visit Gaia Foundation on Atlantis in the Great Canadian Grid for inworld support information.


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Remona Stormborn

Co-Owner of Gaia Foundation in the Great Canadian Grid. Owner of the Builders Resource Center, Rose City Design, & IDEA! in the Great Canadian Grid & InWorldz.

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