Building Iron Man out of Lego in Blender - Part 1: interface and navigation
All image credits supplied by Paul Hatton
Well here we are at the start of a series of posts that will help you learn the basics of Blender while having some fun creating a cute little Lego figure of Iron Man. Sure you can learn Blender by reading through the manuals but how much more fun and engaging it’ll be to create something meaningful along the way.
On the journey we’ll cover interface and navigation, modeling tools, scene organization, modifiers, bezier curves, arrays, bevels, and so much more! Some steps in each part will cover much needed tools and features whereas other steps will be devoted to creating the actual Iron Man Lego figure. By the end you should have all the necessary tools to create the Lego Iron Man figure yourself. Hopefully you’re sitting comfortable as we launch right into the first part of finding our way around the Blender interface.
Having installed Blender and opened it right up you’ll see its default interface. If you’ve ever worked with 3D software then it’ll be pretty familiar but if you’re totally new to this world then there will be some familiar parts and then some unfamiliar parts. Over the years Blender’s interface, in my opinion, has become more user-friendly. First off, as with most pieces of software, you have your top menu. This is where you will access tools related to the file and some related to the interface. Some programs have all the functionality contained within these menus but Blender doesn’t so you won’t spend much time there. You have your file options such as new, save, and export. You also have access to some of the render tools for creating videos and images.
The top menu gives you access to a collection of Blender’s tools
The workspace is the area where the cube is. It is the area that you will work upon your scene. Using ‘viewpoints’ such as perspective, front, or left, you’ll be able to see your model and make changes to it. The workspace contains a grid which is handy for seeing orientation and scale.
The workspace allows you to work on your model
Left-hand side menu
On the left hand side of the interface you’ll find a series of selection and transform tools. Selecting your objects can be done using a box, circle, or lasso tool. The transformation tools such as move, rotate, and scale allow you to make adjustments to your model. Simply hit these buttons and you’ll see the gizmo on the selected object change.
The key selection and transformation tools are on the left-hand side
This is at the top-right of the interface and gives you a hierarchical outline of what is contained in your scene. Each item is named and can be adjusted by double clicking on it. There are visually appealing icons to tell you what each object type is and the eye icon on the right-hand side lets you adjust the visibility of objects in your scene. There is a handy ‘display filter’ search tool that is super helpful if your scene gets too big to manage easily.
The outliner is a hierarchical description of your scene
Underneath the ‘Outliner’ you’ll find the ‘Properties’ panel. This gives you access to all the properties of the object that you currently have selected in your scene. The panel is split up into a variety of different sections which can be accessed using the icons on the left-hand side of the panel. If you select different objects through the ‘Outliner’ for example, you’ll see the properties panel changing accordingly.
Use the property panel to make property changes to your objects
Navigating between views
The workspace is viewed through different viewpoints. These could be standard views such as front, back, left, and right, or customized cameras that let you see your model from a specific angle. You can navigate between these views using the ‘View’ menu.
Use different viewpoints to look at your scene
When using these viewpoints you can toggle between perspective and orthographic models. The perspective view, which is on by default, makes objects that are further away smaller than those that are closer. Alternatively, the orthographic view makes all objects the same scale. It’s important to note that nothing of the actual scene is changed by toggling between these states, it’s purely the way you’re looking at the scene that is changing.
Toggle between perspective and orthographic views to see your scene differently
Navigating around your workspace will form a lot of your time when you’re developing a scene. The key navigation options are orbit, pan, and zoom. Orbit is where you Rotate the view around the point of interest. Click and drag MMB on the viewport’s area. Blender gives you an Orbit gizmo which is located in the top right of the workspace. According to Blender this ‘can be used to rotate around 3D Viewport. Hovering over the gizmo and dragging with LMB will orbit the view. Clicking any of the axis labels will Align to that view. Clicking the same axis again switches to the opposite side of that same axis.’
Pan is where you move the view up, down, left, and right. To pan the view, hold down Shift and drag MMB in the 3D View.
Zoom is where you move the camera forwards and backwards. You can zoom in and out by holding down Ctrl and dragging MMB.
I work on a Macbook and the built-in trackpad makes rolling, panning, and zooming super quick and easy.
Navigate around your scene quickly with Blender’s tools and shortcuts
When looking at your model you’ll want to toggle between the options of shading that Blender offers. The options are ‘Wireframe’, ‘Solid’, ‘Material preview’ or ‘Rendered’. These can be toggled using the icons in the top-right corner of the workspace. Wireframe allows you to see through your model which is often helpful during editing. The other options are all solid and simply adjust what that solid view looks like.
Use viewport shading to change what your model looks like in the viewport
The final thing we’ll cover in this brief introduction to the interface and the navigation tools is the units of the file. Navigate over to the ‘Properties’ panel and select the ‘Scene Properties’ icon on the left-hand side of the panel. Then open up the ‘Units’ rollout. I’ve always worked using real world units, such as metric. It helps me keep things to scale and in proportion. However you want to work, this is where you can set your scene units.
Use real world units to keep things to scale and in proportion
Where do we go from here?
Now that we’ve got a good overview of the Blender interface and navigation tools we are now well placed to actually start creating some objects. I appreciate that you will want to have cracked on with actually creating something sooner but it’s so important to make sure you’re familiar with how the Blender interface works before trying anything clever. If you dive straight in you’ll quickly get frustrated wondering where everything is. In the next part we’ll start creating our Lego Iron Man character looking at how to create some basic objects and how to manipulate them.