Welcome to Part 2 of Essential Modeling Skills in Blender. If you missed Part 1 then you can read and watch it here.
Learning how to model gives you the freedom to shape and reshape your scene the way you see fit. I can’t think of any other skill that is so foundationally imperative than learning the basics of how to model as a 3d artist.
In part one I took you through the bare essentials of starting to modify objects in Blender, but in part two I’m delving deeper into the most important commands I believe you need to know as a 3d artist inside Blender. These commands are the life blood of my daily routine inside the software and so I believe they will grow on you as they have me. Each tool you learn to adapt into your workflow gives you more options. With more options comes more freedom and the ability to speed up and achieve complicated tasks more easily.
Perhaps this is a good time to let you know that there is no way I can possibly cover all of the essentials of modeling in Blender in just two videos or articles. But if I was to list off every single command that was possible we would be here for weeks sorting through what each command does and how they are alike and different and it would just be a mess. So I’ve edited down the list to what I think will be beneficial to learn first. It should be fairly easy to make the jump from what I teach you here into some of the more advanced commands once you understand how these commands work and what your options are.
Learning How to Duplicate Objects in Object Mode
Creating copies of objects through duplication is the easiest way to start adding variation to your scene. There are two different ways to duplicate objects inside Blender: standard duplication and linked duplication. And they are very different so let’s dig into how they work and when you might want to use one over the other.
Standard duplication is exactly what you’re probably thinking. It’s basically copying a selected object and placing it somewhere else in the scene. When you use standard duplication an exact copy is made of the selected object and then the two objects are completely separate in every way. What you do to the original object will not effect the duplicate object. It’s like copying and pasting in a word processor.
So you’ll find yourself duplicating objects a lot to save yourself time. You can duplicate objects in edit mode using the keyboard shortcut (shift + d) and the same command is used to duplicate parts of a mesh (ie: vertices, edges, or faces) in edit mode. In fact I would say that I use the duplicate command far more in edit mode than in object mode. It’s a great shortcut to have in your repertoire.
Linked Duplication of Objects
Now linked duplication behaves a little differently. When you want to replicate the look of a single object in multiple places around the scene you can use linked duplication. This will allow you to reserve a lot of the memory that is typically needed for unique meshes when working and rendering because Blender only has to keep track of the locational data of the duplicate objects. The actual mesh data is still tied to the original mesh. So whatever changes you make to the original mesh will also effect all of the linked duplicates as well.
Depending on what your needs are in a scene this may be exactly the type of operation you’re looking for. A great example of when you might want to use linked duplication is creating a repeating element in a building. Suppose you wanted to build a column that looked identical to several other columns around the base of the building. Linked duplication would allow you to model it just once and use it in several areas. Then if you wanted to continue to tweak the original mesh then the other linked duplicates will update automatically. Pretty cool, huh?
Combining and Separating Objects
It’s pretty important to know how to organize things inside Blender while you work. Two commands you should familiarize yourself with early on are the combine and separate commands. These two commands allow you to join multiple objects together into a single object and split pieces of an object off into a separate object. In other words you can easily combine and separate geometry to group all your meshes into objects that make more sense when compared to things in the physical world.
To explain this better think of a complex object like a digital camera. It’s not just a single solid piece. It’s made up of many tiny buttons, knobs, body parts and attachments. But keeping all those individual meshes as separate objects would be a nightmare to manage inside Object Mode. So in circumstances where it makes sense you can combine the smaller objects into a larger one. So the camera body might have several pieces that snap together. In order to make them look accurate you need to have separate pieces with seams. But if you aren’t ever going to move the camera body around in your scene as separate pieces you can just select all your body parts and combine them. That way when you move, rotate, or scale the camera body everything is manipulated as a single, larger object.
Combining Multiple Objects in Object Mode
To combine multiple objects in Object Mode just hold shift and select at least two objects. It’s important to note that the active object is the object where all the other objects will be combined into. So typically this is the last thing you select. You’ll know which one is the active object because it will be a brighter orange outline than the rest of the selected objects in your 3d viewport. To combine the selected objects use the keyboard shortcut (ctrl + j).
Separating Meshes or Mesh Elements Into Multiple Objects Inside Edit Mode
To separate parts of a mesh into separate objects you must be in Edit Mode. Just shift select all the parts of the geometry you want to separate, just as described above, and then use the keyboard shortcut (p key) to access the separate menu. You’ll have a few options for how you want to separate your mesh, but typically you’ll want to separate based on your selection.
Operators for Creating New Geometry
When working on your meshes a lot of what you’ll be doing is making changes in edit mode by adding geometry to what’s already there. So it’s important to learn some basic techniques for creating new geometry that you can attach to the existing geometry.
Making Edges or Faces
The first thing you should learn is how to make edges or faces based on your selections. This will allow you to fix problems such as filling holes that have been opened up from deleting parts of your model. Modeling is a constant process of refinement and sometimes things don’t always go as planned. So learning how to fix things will help you feel more confident as you work.
To make an edge in edit mode simply select two vertices that don’t already have an edge between them and use the shortcut (f key) to create an edge between them. This same shortcut can be used to create a face by selecting at least three vertices. Three vertices will form a triangle and four vertices will form a quad. This is as simple as connecting the dots.
Filling Holes in Your Mesh
To fill a hole that has several individual edges in a mesh select the loop of edges that form the complete perimeter of the hole and then use the same keyboard shortcut (f key) to fill the hole. If the hole is larger than four edges then the result will be a face that is referred to as an n-gon. The ‘n’ here refers to any number of sides in the polygon formed that is greater than four.
Note: It’s important to mention here that while n-gons aren’t inherently bad you shouldn’t get into a habit of sticking them all over your models because they can create other problems you’ll have to solve in your models down the line depending on what you need the model for. Two situations where this is a big deal is when you use a modifier to automatically add smoothness to your mesh (a subdivision surface modifier), or if you are going to need to rig and animate the mesh for a project later on. Meshes that are full of n-gons don’t typically deform very well for animation. So stick to quads as a general rule and you’ll be off to a great start!
Extruding Regions and Individual Faces
It’s not very efficient to go around adding new geometry to your model one vertex, edge, or face at a time. So learning how to extrude is the next step on your journey to becoming a master modeler. Extrusion is the process of selecting an element (or several) of a mesh and creating a duplicate of the selection while still keeping everything connected to the model. Think of it like grabbing a chunk of a ball of clay and stretching it out to create a new form still connected to the original one. In a way extrusion is a lot like that. Except inside Blender you have a lot more options for how to extrude parts of your models. You can extrude a single element or several all at the same time. You can also tell Blender how to extrude your selection.
To extrude a vertex, edge, or face just select it and then use the keyboard shortcut (e key) to start the extrude operation. There are two parts to the extrude operation that take place. The first is the actual extrusion which happens immediately when you use the keyboard shortcut. Blender will take your selection and duplicate it while keeping it connected to the surrounding geometry. The second part of the extrude operation is actually the move operator. As soon as you extrude something in Blender, by default, Blender starts moving it around so you won’t leave it sitting on top of the original geometry. This is a smart way to avoid a situation where you have a lot of duplicate mesh elements sitting on top of each other which can cause issues in your models. To finish out the extrude / move operation just move your new extrusion to a location in the 3d viewport with your mouse and then left click to end the operation.
Extruding a region allows you to select a group of elements, such as a grid of faces, and extrude them as a single element. The alternative is selecting a bunch of adjacent elements and having them each extrude out simultaneously as individual elements. Sometimes you might want to do this, but most times you won’t. So Blender smartly tries to anticipate your needs based on the number of elements you have selected in the 3d viewport. After an extrusion has taken place you can still tweak the way Blender has extruded your mesh by looking at the operator settings in the bottom of the tool palette (t key), or you can hit the (F6 key) to bring up the same menu in your 3d viewport as a floating menu.
Operators for Subdividing Current Geometry
You don’t have to restrict your modeling workflow to simply adding and deleting mesh elements. There are several operators that allow you to modify existing geometry to recreate your meshes as you see fit. These are a bit more advanced than the other operators covered so far so it may take a little bit more practice to get comfortable using them at first.
Subdividing a Selection
To subdivide a selection you need to access the Specials Menu. The keyboard shortcut for the specials menu is the (w key). You can think of this menu as home base for all the commands who don’t quite fit nicely into another category. You’ll find a lot of miscellaneous commands here that are extremely useful to you as you start learning how to model. I find it keeps me from having to constantly go back over to the tools palette and dig through several tabs worth of menus.
Once you’re inside the Specials Menu just select the subdivide option and it will immediately subdivide the current selection in half. An edge will be split down the middle with another vertex and a face will be cut in half length wise and height wise giving you four faces to every one face you had previously.
Using the Knife Tool for Manual Subdivision
The knife tool allows you to make manual subdivisions by cutting them into different parts of your mesh. To activate the knife tool use the keyboard shortcut (k key). This will begin a knife operation. At any point you can cancel the knife operation by right clicking or hitting the (esc key).
There’s quite a few features to the knife tool, but it’s very easy to start using it. Start by left clicking anywhere on your mesh to start a cut and then continue left clicking where you want to continue making cuts on your mesh. Each click will effectively add a new vertex at that location and connect that vertex to the previous cut with an edge. You can choose to finalize a cut by hitting the (enter key). If you want to make multiple cuts with a single knife operation then you can end a cut and start another one somewhere else on the mesh by using the keyboard shortcut (e key). Then just move to another part of your mesh and continue by left clicking to start another cut.
You’ll find that the knife tool works best if you try to make your cuts on an actual edge instead of in the middle of a face. The edges work as guides to help the knife tool understand how you’re trying to subdivide the mesh. You can also cut through multiple edges across a mesh by clicking once to start your cut on one side of the mesh and left clicking again on the other side. It isn’t necessary to left click on every single edge the knife cuts through. It will do it for you automatically.
The Power of Vertex Connect
The vertex connect operator is a handy little tool to keep in mind while you’re working. It basically allows you to select two vertices, even if they have several faces or edges between them, and it finds the shortest path to connect them with a new path of edges. This is very useful if you have a situation where you’ve filled in some geometry and you’re trying to correct a lot of n-gons. It basically does the same thing as the knife tool, but I find that it’s a little faster if you just need some simple cuts across a mesh.
Just select two vertices and use the keyboard shortcut (j key) to automatically connect them with an edge or line of edges.
The Loop Cut and Slide Operator
This operator is useful when you need to add in some more geometry to help support existing corners and is very useful when using the subdivision surface modifier. A loop cut adds a continuous loop of vertices and edges that cut through a ring of faces on an object. The loop starts and ends at the same place and wraps entirely around the mesh. Or it will cut in as far as it can until it finds a face it can’t cut through because it breaks the loop. This will make more sense as you start to try out the loop cut operator.
To create a loop cut start by using the keyboard shortcut (ctrl + r). This will put you into loop cutting mode. To preview where you want to insert a loop simply hover over an edge and a magenta guide will appear on top of your mesh that shows you how the cut will be applied to the mesh. Now left click to create the loop cut and you’ll notice that now you can move your mouse around and it will automatically slide the new loop between the faces where it has been inserted on the mesh. You can right click at this point and it will place the loop in the exact center of the faces or you can move the loop to the desired location and left click to accept the new location.
Beveling Sharp Corners
Beveling is a very useful command for quickly rounding off sharp corners on your mesh. It will effectively duplicate a single edge into multiple edges and then curve them around as if you took some sand paper and sanded down the corner of your geometry.
To create a bevel start by selecting a single, or group, of edges and use the keyboard shortcut (ctrl + b). By default the bevel command will divide your edge(s) into two edges or groups of edges. You can change the distance of the edges by moving your mouse around after using the (ctrl + b) shortcut. If you want to change the number of divisions you can scroll up and down using your middle mouse wheel or by changing the division count in the object properties at the bottom of the tool palette or by bringing up the object properties floating window using the (F6 key) command after the operation is complete. Once you’re happy with the number of divisions and the distance simply left click to complete the operation. As always you can right click to cancel or use (ctrl or cmd + z) to undo.
One thing to keep in mind with bevel is that if you end up beveling a single edge or any set of edges that isn’t a complete loop you will end up with some n-gons in your mesh. So just be aware that you may have to go back and fix some issues using the commands we’ve covered in parts one and two.
Where to Go From Here
The best advice I can give you is to open up Blender and try things out! So much of what makes things hard starting off is just working up the will power to believe in yourself enough to try something that looks difficult. Sure you’re going to hit a point where you don’t understand something. But it’s ok. All you need to do is take a step back and examine what’s going on. And don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for some help. The Blender Community is a very friendly place full of lots of people who have been exactly where you’re at now. And you can always reach out to me for more answers and maybe even contact me about some tutoring sessions. It’s a great way to pick up some skills fast by learning directly from someone who is there to answer your questions. I love helping beginners get their feet wet in Blender.
When you’ve mastered these tools you’ll be on your way to being unstoppable. All that you need to do is keep learning. Stay curious and stay hungry for answers. Go digging around in Blender’s menus that I talked about in parts one and two. So much can be discovered just by exploring what’s right in front of you.
Practice hard, practice often, and you will see results really quickly as you start working on your own projects. Remember you don’t have to build something epic in the beginning. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to recreate.
What do you think? Leave me a comment below and let’s start a discussion!