Getting into Blender, day 1
Purely on a whim, yesterday I decided to get back into making 3D stuff for fun. Up till now, I’ve made a few spaceship models for a mod (XTC mod for X3: Terran Conflict). They weren’t bad. They were also made in 3dsMax, which his a crazily expensive program for something that’s an extremely amateurish hobby for me. The student edition is not bad by any means, but if I’d ever plan to use those models in any meaningful way… I’d be screwed, to put it short.
Thus, enter blender. Fully open-source, allegedly a complete alternative to Autodesk’s products.
How bad could it be, right?
Cue fast forward for about a day.
The model itself: Well. I have the mesh ready.. ish. Kinda. Basically. Because recreating stuff 1:1 is boring and it really was an airplane, not a spaceship, I did some extra stuff, which made it into a full-fledged airplane design. Also it is something that’s extremely basic and.. Well, frankly, you can tell that I’m back at square 1 with blender – having to readjust myself to the interface is really restricting what I can do at the moment.
Additionally, this relies on a very basic frame upon which a subsurface smoother has been applied (in 3dsMax, the closest modifier to this was TurboSmooth). These are okay for the purposes of making an image, or an animation, but they are horrible for making in-game models. The polygoncount essentially skyrockets whenever you use these modifiers, and in the end, if you are trying to cut a turbosmoothed/subsurfaced model back into sane levels of face-count, you will end up with an inefficient, basic, angular mess of a mesh that will look like an icecream stuck too long to a rowdy feline. So while this tut is good for learning the ropes of blender, I honestly don’t expect to use the subsurface modifier to any real extent.
The Blender modelling interface:
Okay, the interface is quite a bit of a mess. First off, the controls.. who came up with them? By default, you select everything with RIGHT mouse button. Left is used mainly to place a … something (item 3 in the img below. [By below, I mean above]). Seriously, that something does not do anything of any value that I can see.. scrolling, navigating, editing, scaling, moving is all done in reference to the selected object(s), not that.. blob. I think it is meant to be some kind of 3D reference point, but… Well, you are placing it via clicking on a 2D plane – when I tried to find some use for it by trying to place it next to where I want, well, it didn’t work out at all. Seems like it chose completely random depths unrelated to anything I had selected/looking at.
Since then, I’ve flipped the keys around, but it still annoys me to no end – the right mouse button is essentially useless at the moment. In 3dsMax, the rmb would open a context-suited menu (adjusted for the selected object/node) wherein all transformation things you might need were located. Blender.. kinda has this, and kinda doesn’t have it. What was, in 3dsMax, a single right-click menu, in Blender is split into two things – a side panel (1) and a menu that’s brought up by a keypress (2). Note that there are options that appear only in one of those two.. they are not duplicates, they supplement each other. Which also means that I have to flick between using them both as-needed, I can’t get all the stuff I want from a single place. Moreover, that pop-up menu is not context-sensitive.. to bring up, say, vertex transform menu, you have to hit Ctrl+V. Ctrl+E for edges, Ctrl+F for faces. Why can’t it just check what I have selected? How likely is it that, having a vertex selected, I will want to bring up face transform menu? Not bloody likely at all!
That orange dot at (4) is meant to be the object’s centre. …. Not sure why I need to see it whilst editing the mesh. Not sure how to get rid of it, either.
Here, you can see that Blender admittedly does have a very customizable interface. So I could get it set up to something a bit more sane… Also moved the viewport camera controls onto my mouse (1, 2), so now I don’t have to use the kb to pan, rotate, and zoom into selections. So that is nice. During the first hour, before I’d set that up, I was going mad with the incredibly clumsy means of adjusting where you’re looking at stuff from. It is still not perfect – rotating the view in Ortographic insta-dumps the viewport into perspective mode. Gah.
Anyway. Still no clue what possible utility the (3) thing has. So I just put it somewhere out of the way and try to ignore how it completely takes up the mouse button, which could be used for useful stuff.
Speaking of having to configure Blender to not be stupid, by the way.. See those three icons at (4)? They flick between “Working with Edges”, “Working with Faces”, “Working with Vertices”. Whilst you are modelling, you will flick between all those constantly. I mean, expect to flick every few seconds. 3DsMax has the flicking-functionality bound to 1-2-3 by default, which makes sense. Blender? LOLNOPE. By default, Blender has NO Keys assigned at all to that flicking. What the hell the UI designers were thinking, I honestly don’t know. This is a VITAL interface functionality, you HAVE to be able to flick between these three modes all the time, rapidly, and Blender expects you to constantly use your mouse on those icons. Now, of course, I’ve bound the hotkeys to those icons to preserve my sanity, but.. I just feel this illustrates just how bafflingly stupid some of Blender’s default workflow decisions are.
Let’s talk about the transformation gizmo (5). It’s… not great. You can move/adjust stuff along a particular axis, or along all three. There’s no way – without using sidepanel menus or some hotkeys I’ve no idea about – to restrict motion to two dimensions. Moreover, that damn gizmo is huge and obstructs object selection. Keep in mind, all actions on it are done via dragging – but I can’t click through it to select something behind it. Why? What’s the reason for that gizmo blocking regular mouse-clicks?
Blender relies, mostly, on control via hotkeys. The Graphical UI elements are obstructions, afterthoughts. The problem is.. like most Open-sourced products I’ve used, the controls are a bit of a mess logistically. For example, there’s three vital operations you can do while editing a mesh.. Extruding something, bevelling something, and copying something. So how messed up could this be? Well, Extruding is bound to ‘e’. Just e, nothing else. Bevelling likewise is just ‘b’ HAHAHAHA WRONG, Bevelling is Ctrl+b or shift+b. Copying would be ctrl+c/ctrl+v? Nope. Don’t forget, ctrl+v opens the vertex transformation menu. Which means that any kind of pasting is NOT on ctrl+v. No, to copy something, you “duplicate” it with… Shift+d. To recap, for three operations of the same function, at the same level, the hotkeys are [button], [ctrl+button], and [shift+button]. All the while menus are also opened with [ctrl+button]. Sometimes [button] adjusts some UI parameter (frex, ‘o’ changes the selection brush parameters). There’s just no consistency whatsoever in the control assignments, you are supposed to learn them all by use, without any clear divisions (e.g. All menus are shift+button, all parameter changes are ctrl+button, all transformation modifications are just button presses)… Again.. it’s an utter mess. Another example – you select stuff with your mouse, right? Right. How do you deselect stuff? ‘a’ button on keyboard. How do you select multiple things? Can you drag your mouse like you would on a windows desktop, making a nice selection-box? NOPE. You have to hold shift and click on the items, OR you have to hit ‘b’ to enter “selection box” mode, and THEN you can drag to select stuff. BUT WAIT, selecting stuff with the selection box does NOT deselect stuff outside that box. So hope you remembered to hit ‘a’ before hitting ‘b’ to clear the selections! You would think that clicking on empty space would deselect stuff… Nope. You would think that selecting a group would deselect the rest. Nope. Okay, you would think that selecting by clicking would, likewise, not deselect anything either.. Nope. Click-selecting is the ONLY selection method that does de-select everything else. … Sigh. See what I mean? No goddamn consistency.
After a day with Blender.. well, I am starting to get used to it. Slowly. But I completely understand the complaints people have about it’s UI.. at least for the pure purpose of modelling, I’ve had way better experience with 3dsMax. I wouldn’t say that that feeling alone justifies the pricetag of it, but.. Well, Blender does feel like a free product in the way it controls.
Oh well. Next step: learning how to render in blender, and more! Maybe I’ll even find some upsides to this program besides the price!