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 Post subject: Tutorial 1: Your First Prop in Blender
 Post Posted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 11:23 pm 
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This is a tutorial intended to teach beginners how to make a smart prop using Blender. This first portion will work for basically any program on export, since it's just the Blender portion; later we'll get to the parts involving Poser and the GIMP.

This thread will be locked to avoid clutter. A second thread will be started for questions or comments on the tutorial. Be prepared for radical tense shifts and a lot of detail.

Part I

Here is Blender's default interface with the cube that loads automatically. I like to add a UV window when I'm working on an item. Right-click the line between the big 3d window at the top and the buttons window at the bottom and choose "split area." Left-click to solidify the line you create.

Now left click on the small button at the top of the resulting new window and choose "UV/Image Editor." Now you have a UV window in addition to the main window and the buttons window. This will be important later.

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Notice that scrolling your mouse wheel zooms in and out, and holding down the mouse wheel while moving the mouse changes your angle of view. You can zoom the buttons in and out by hovering your cursor over the buttons window and pressing + or -.

Blender's native scale is much larger than Poser's. We can work at this scale and shrink our item later, or we can start things small. It's up to you. In this case I'm going to import a Michael 4 to work with, because I'm making a smart prop and I'll want to fit it to him as I go.

To do that, of course, you must first export Michael 4 from DAZ or Poser. Use these settings in order to have the resulting obj as a base for when we get to conforming clothes:

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Because I normally work with the DAZ Gen 4 unimesh figures, I have exported versions of all of them ready to go. It's good to set these up for yourself ahead of time. Make sure the figure is posed at zero (the toes should point DOWN, not straight forward as they normally do when the figure is loaded).

And here's Michael 4 in Blender. You can see the vert groups on the lower left in the buttons window and the materials groups just to the right of that. You won't see him until you delete the default cube, because it is much larger than he is.

The numpad numbers let you view him orthographically. 1, 3 and seven are the front, side and top views; holding shift and pressing these will give the bottom, the other side and back views.

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For our first smartprop ever, let's create a ring for Michael. There are lots of rings out there on the market, but this will be a good starter item as you're learning. There are different techniques preferred by different people for modeling in Blender. I'm going to start you on strip modeling with extrusion, because it is a technique you can apply to many clothing, jewelry and other organically shaped projects.

So let's start with a single plane. Go to Add--Mesh--Plane. The plane of course is too large at first, so scale it down and move it over by Michael's right hand. G key lets you grab the plane and move it. G plus x, y or z lets you move it on just one axis. R lets you rotate it, similarly with or without axes. S is your scale key. When you choose any of these keys, drag your mouse around to move, scale or rotate until the item is where you want it, then left-click to make the changes real. Holding down shift or ctrl changes the increments by which the mesh moves. Experiment with this until you are comfortable with it and you have the plane shrunk down to smaller than Michael's ring finger.

At the moment, this single plane represents a single four-sided polygon as well, a quad. We want all our polygons to be quads if we possibly can, because in most programs that gives us a smaller poly count and a better response from smoothing when the program renders. With Poser/DAZ items, you can occasionally get away with triangles, especially in place of a very poorly-shaped quad, but don't do it unless you have to. Very important in Blender, especially if we graduate to higher-poly items, is the fact that using triangles prevents us from using Blender's edge-loop, face-loop, and other selection processes that are almost vital for serious modeling.

Here's the scaled plane next to Michael's finger. As you've probably gathered by now, the red, blue and green arrows represent different axes of movement.

Image

This picture also shows you how to change from object to edit mode. The faster way to do this is to select the plane by right-clicking on it and press the tab key. It should go from a solid gray shape to a slightly glowing shape with four little yellow points. Now we're in edit mode. The four points represent the shape's four vertices.

Now look at the bar between the 3d and buttons windows. There are several buttons here, including the dropdown that is used to switch between modes. Over to the right you will see an empty donut-like shape (the proportional edit dropdown), a magnet (for snapping, which we'll get to momentarily), and then four buttons resembling three dots, a line, a triangle and a cube. If you click the cube you will see that whether you can see partly through your plane changes. You can click this on and off when you need to see backfacing vertices, or you can just use z key in edit mode to toggle a wireframe on or off. For now, click the single line. Your four little verts disappeared, but you can click on the four edges of the plane. You are now in edge select mode instead of vertex select mode. If you choose face select, the triangle, you will only be able to select entire polygons. All of these have their uses. You can also turn more than one of them on by holding shift and clicking it. At the moment, let's use edge select as in the picture.

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Now it's time to extrude our face around to form our ring. We could use a cylinder primitive for this, but the fit would be less exact than what we're going to do - I never use a cylinder for clothing unless I just can't help it!

Select one edge and press the e key. Drag your mouse to move the extruded edge. Now we need this new edge to cling tightly to M4's finger so that it fits properly. Move the camera so that you're looking as close to straight down at the edge as possible. Now go to the edit buttons and find the retopo button as in this picture.

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Press it with your edge or face selected, then press retopo all. The edge will snap down to the surface below it, in this case M4's finger. You have to turn the retopo button back off, or you won't be able to move the face away from the finger. You will want to do this because it will clip when flattened as tightly as it can. You will need to use alt+s (scale along normals) or g plus x, y or z to move the new face and edge a little away from M4's finger in order to eliminate clipping.

Extrusion tends to interfere with normals, so from time to time you will want to use mesh--normals--recalculate outside to fix this. It's best to do this a lot early on because it will not work as well once we've subdivided our mesh later.

Repeat this process around M4's finger. Notice that you can't use retopo on some parts because the face will snap to another part of the M4 mesh depending on your view. In this case you'll have to just eyeball it. Always look at something from several angles when you do that, to make sure it's not close on the x axis but very far away on Z (for example).

Eventually you'll hopefully have something like you see in the next picture.

Image

Now we're ready to close up our figure. There are a few ways to do this. One is to select the two edges and press F key to make a new face. I'm going to show you another way that will be very useful when you get to working with longer edges as well.

Select one edge and extrude again. Drag the extruded edge to where it's close to the other one. Now go to your bar under the 3d window and click on the little magnet. Another dialogue appears. These are your snapping tools. You can snap to an edge, face or vertex; I use vert mode most often, but see what works best for you. Now go to the "mesh" button and choose "automerge editing."

Now grab your edge again. Hold down the ctrl key and drag it around. It will snap to the nearest vertices. Keep moving it around until it has snapped to the edge of the other open face, where you want it. This takes a little practice to get a feel for it. Once you've done that, let go. The edges will automerge together, completing the figure.

You can toggle the snap tools on and off using shift plus tab key. Toggling them off is sometimes needed because you can't use ctrl or shift to scale or move in solid increments with them on.
Now we've completed our simple ring. Let's look at it in Object mode.

Image

It's somewhat ugly because smoothing is turned off, so we see each solid face. Down in the buttons window you'll find two buttons under the materials dialogue that say "Set smooth" and "Set solid." Click "set smooth" to smooth out your ring's faces. Now it should look like this. This also better approximates how Poser or DAZ Studio will "read" the object's faces.

Image

Now let's switch back to edit mode and add some more shape to our ring. That means we'll need more edge loops. You can select a single edge using alt+right click. This only works on continuous edges, which you won't have if your mesh has very many triangles. Now press ctrl+r. A pink ring appears beside the edge you selected. If you left click, a new edge appears beside it, increasing the numbers of faces and vertices, and you can move this new edge around freely until you left click again.

I'm going to add two more edge loops, close to the outer edges. The reason for this will become apparent momentarily.

Image

Now switch to face select mode again. There are several ways you can proceed at this point. I'm going to select every other face of the middle row by shift-right-clicking. If the number of faces doesn't turn out right for that, I can select a crosswise edge with alt+right click and use ctrl+r to increase the number of edges again (This will take some rearrangement so that the faces are about the same size when I finish).

Image

Pressing E key gives me the option to extrude these faces. I will choose the "region" option and use alt+s to scale them outward along their normals. Some scaling on separate axes will probably be needed as well in order to get the new faces to be the same distance from the ring.

Image

These are a bit too large at the top for the studs I want them to become, so I'll scale down each one using s key after selecting the face.

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Now I've got a roughly studded surface. Switching to object mode, it becomes apparent that the studs aren't easily distinguished from the surrounding surface owing to the smoothing. I'm going to assign the studs a different material and separate them from the rest of the mesh.


This means I'll need to select the studs again. Using a selection box or circle will make this easier. Press b to get a circle or b,b to get a box. Click and drag to create your selection. Then look down at the materials dialogue, which currently says "0 Mat 0". Click on "New." Now it says "1 Mat 1" and "Material."

If there's only one material, Blender will assume that all faces of the object belong to that material, so we need to create another one. Click on Select and Invert to select the other faces and press the "New" and "Assign" keys in the materials dialogue. Blender will automatically name the new material something like "material.001."

Image

Now press y and click the word "split" when it pops up. This will separate the faces you selected into a different submesh. Now in object mode the edge of the studs are nice and clear.

Now click on the shiny gray circle to go to the surfaces section of the edit buttons. You should see a little dialogue box that says "Link to Object," with the name of the currently selected material in it. I've changed "Material.001" to "Metal" in order to reflect my plans for the material. If you click on the tiny arrow button to the left of this dialogue you can choose "Material," the other material in the object, and change it to "Studs." All of the M4 obj's materials will probably appear here on the list, too, so make sure you select the one named "Material" to change.

Image

Now let's give the ring some depth using extrusion. Switch to edit mode, click on vertex select on the little bar under the 3d window (it looks like four tiny dots, remember), and select the two outer edges of the ring using alt+right click again.

Now press E and S. Scroll your mouse wheel to scale the new extruded edges down into M4's finger. Now our ring looks somewhat more solid. Here's a view in object mode.

This view also shows the two dialogues where you can give the new object a name (the name the obj will have when imported into Poser or DAZ Studio). I'll change it to "ring."

Image

Now all that's left is to UV map our ring. This is why we created the UV window at the beginning of the tutorial.

Since we've separated the ring into studs and the main metal band, it makes sense to separate the UV that way, too. If we just press U and choose "unwrap," we get this sort of map.

Image

If you select just the ring material or just the studs material, you can see where those parts of the UV are. You can also select individual faces in the 3d window to see where they fall in the UV window. You can even press the button indicated in pic 17 to make it so that faces selected in the UV window are also selected in the 3d window and vice versa. This is very useful, but we won't want it on all the time, because ctrl+l doesn't work with it turned on. If you turn it off, select one vertex of your object, and press ctrl+l, you will select all faces of that submesh. This is very useful for a number of different things.

Now, this is an okay UV map if we were only going to put procedural shaders on our prop, but we might want to put actual textures on it at some point. At the moment, the metal band is mapped as a flat circle, which will cause those parts of it on the "outside" of the ring's UV to be distorted when a texture is applied (unless the texture is made specifically to compensate for this).

This is where seams come in.

Alt+right click to select a line of verts crosswise on the bottom of the ring. You may need to click a couple of times, because the edge will be next to the split edge of a stud.

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Press ctrl+e and choose "mark seam."

Now press U and Unwrap again.

And now the UV map looks different. The orange line marks the location of the new seam. I've enlarged the UV window a bit by hovering over, clicking and dragging its two edges.

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Now you see the studs all together, and the ring laid out as one long piece. The program has cut the UV map along the new seam we created. This is not only useful but vital when we get to mapping rounded organic shapes (as in most clothing) in future tutorials.

Now notice that you can use many of the same commands in the UV window as the 3d window. You can still select edges by using alt+right click. But especially useful in the UV window are the weld and pin commands. After you select one edge of the main ring piece, press w, 2. This will yank those verts into a perfectly straight line.

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Of course, now it doesn't match up with the rest of the main ring piece. If you press the P key, that will pin these vertices in place. Click on the "UVs" button and click on "Live Unwrap Transform." Select one vertex and move it slightly. (I usually turn "proportional editing" off as well, but that's up to you. It has its uses at certain times.) The other verts fall into place. Here I've used this same technique to straighten other edges of this piece. I've also enlarged and moved the studs around so that their edges don't overlap.

Image

Because they're fairly small, I'm not going to bother straightening all their edges of the studs. The important thing for me is that they are separated enough that they can be discreetly selected once I've exported the template.

Now our ring mesh has materials and a UV map, and it's ready for export. Since this is a smartprop rather than a conforming clothing piece, we don't need to rig it with vertex groups (that will be in a future tutorial).

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Select the ring and choose File--export--Wavefront(obj).

These are the settings that work best for export of a non-rigged obj. If we were adding groups for rigging, we would turn on the "Polygroups" button as well. You don't want the "materials" button on because it will export a .mtl file with the .obj; the material groupings we created will be exported regardless.

Image


Now this prop is ready for setup in Poser or DAZ Studio, which will be covered in the next post. I'll be using Poser 6. While I do have both programs, I haven't yet figured out how to set up a smartprop in DAZ Studio (I assume there's some way it can be done, albeit it will probably require some sort of added script or plugin).

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All items in my PA store were made using Blender and the GIMP. Check out these free programs today!


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