Building Iron Man out of Lego in Blender part 8 – creating your materials
Image credits supplied by Paul Hatton
With our model now complete we’re moving onto what I really love which is making everything look nice! With cameras, materials, and lighting we’re going to turn our grey and fairly drab model of Iron Man into something with life and vitality. In this part we’ll be taking a look at materials in Blender and how we can control their look and feel. Let’s dive straight in.
Create a light
I know I said we would be talking about materials in this part of the series but before we can do that we need to pop a light into our scene. Using the Outliner select any lights that are in your scene by default or that you’ve created before and delete them. Using the add menu create a point light. Use the move tool so that it’s off to the side of your scene.
A point light will enable you to play with your materials.
Let there be light
Now if you had your Viewport Shading set to either Wireframe, Solid, or Material View then you won’t have seen your light contributing to the viewport. To see if and how it interacts with our materials we need to choose the ‘Rendered’ Viewport Shading mode. Move your light around to get a desired look and feel. Don’t spend too much time here though as it’s just to give us an idea of the materials. We’ll have a whole part of this series devoted to lighting and another part devoted to rendering.
Rendered viewport shading lets us see a quick rendering of our model.
Create a base material
Let’s start by getting a ‘clay’ material applied to all of our objects.With one of your objects selected head over to the Material panel. You’ll find the panel in the same list of panels as the Modifier Properties. Use the ‘New Material’ button to create your new material and double click on the name to rename it. Scroll down to the ‘Surface’ rollout and make the base color a light grey or light cream. As you change the color you should see it update in your viewport.
Apply the material to all objects
The way to apply this material to all your objects seems a bit convoluted to me but it’s done using a process called Linking. First of all, make sure the object that you’ve already applied the material to is selected. Then holding down Shift select all the other objects in your scene. Then hit Ctrl+L to bring up the Linking menu. Select ‘Materials’. You should now see your material applied to all of the additionally selected objects.
Use linking to apply a material to multiple objects.
Setting the base color
There are only a few materials that make up our model and all of them but one have very similar properties, except their base color. The outlier is the see-through blue pieces. We’ll look at those in a later step. For now, let’s focus on the red Lego pieces and that will enable you to create all the other colored blocks too. If we look at reference photos of Lego then we see that they have quite a clean surface and that the reflections are quite diffused. Back in the Material Properties panel create a new material and name it something memorable. Change the ‘Base Color’ to a bright red. You should see your selected object changing in the viewport.
Use the base color to set the underlying colour of an object.
You can control the reflection of your material using the Specular and the Roughness properties. I would recommend leaving the Specular level at 0.5 and just changing the roughness to affect the nature of the reflection. In reality, all objects are reflective – the only thing that changes is how much that reflection is diffused (spread out). With Specular set to 0.5 I would then play with the Roughness parameter. 0.4 seems like a good level but you can play around with what you think is best. Use Linking to apply the red material to all of the blocks that need it.
Change the Roughness parameter to adjust how much a reflection is spread out.
The cream Lego block is the other main material that we need to create. It has exactly the same properties as the red Lego block except the base colour is different. That will need setting to cream. As it’s so similar to the red material we can just copy it. With the red material present in your Material Properties Panel use the drop-down menu to ‘Copy Material’. Note that you will need to create a new material before using that drop-down menu again to then paste the copied settings into.
Duplicate materials to save time when creating materials that have similar properties.
A see-through Lego block
There are a number of ways to create a see-through material. You could for example use the ‘Glass’ preset from the drop-down menu of presets when you’re in your material. You can then adjust the index of refraction which affects the angle at which light bounces through your object. We want to create something a bit more stylized so we’re just going to use the Principled Shader, set it to a blue color, and then reduce the alpha setting until it looks nice.
Adjust the alpha setting in your material to make it see-through.
Materials that are multi-layered
We don’t have any materials in our scene like this but if you had skin or food for example then you’ll want to know how to replicate a multi-layered material in Blender. The easiest way is to adjust the ‘Subsurface’ property underneath where you find the Base Color. Set this to anything above 0 to introduce a subsurface. Underneath that property you can then set the radius of it as well as the color of the subsurface.
Use the subsurface properties to create materials for things like skin and food.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this super quick introduction to materials in Blender. There is obviously a lot more detail that we could go into such as the other settings in the shaders as well as texture painting for example, but this has been a good intro for beginners. It’ll help you find your way around the materials panel and apply materials to your scene. Next time we’ll be diving more into lighting.
Read the previous parts to this 12 part tutorial
- Building Iron Man out of Lego in Blender Part 1: interface and navigation
- Building Iron Man out of Lego in Blender Part 2: modeling basics - object creation
- Building Iron Man out of Lego in Blender Part 3: scene organization
- Building Iron Man out of Lego in Blender Part 4: modeling basics - object editing
- Building Iron Man out of Lego in Blender Part 5: Advanced modeling – modifiers
- Building Iron Man out of Lego in Blender Part 6: Advanced modeling – curves
- Building Iron Man out of Lego in Blender Part 7: finishing touches
- Building Iron Man out of Lego in Blender Part 9: Lighting
- Building Iron Man out of Lego in Blender Part 10: Setting up your cameras