Do you want to learn Blender to be able to model and render your own creations in one place, and maybe even animate your own films? Or do you want to create 3D models you can use in DAZ Studio or Poser, without spending a small fortune?
Whatever your reasons for downloading Blender, if you’re a beginner you want to get up and running as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, many (most, I’m willing to bet) of us find our first experiences of Blender to be more like running through treacle. Getting good at Blender takes time. Yes, even if you are an IT professional, or have used other 3D software, or generally consider yourself a quick study.
The fact is, things are different in Blender. Experience elsewhere will help with some things, but will mean unlearning others. Being a total newbie, on the other hand, lets you start out fresh. But you’ll need to give yourself time to get to grips with totally new concepts.
Whatever your previous knowledge, it helps to have some guidance as you take your first steps with Blender. Like the software itself, this can be done for free, using online video tutorials.
Step 1: Explore the Basics
While I don’t wholeheartedly recommend getting started in Blender using only free videos (I needed something more in-depth and used this book), it can be done.
A number of the popular Blender tutors have introductory videos.
One of the best-known is Jonathan Williamson of Blender Cookie / CG Cookie, who has a 6-video Blender Basics series to walk you through the essentials: downloading, interface and navigation, modelling, animation, shading and lighting, and rendering (with the new Cycles render engine).
Other than getting the software downloaded, these are big topics. These videos provide an overview, not full training. But they are a good place to start if you want to see the big picture before you dive in.
If you are teaching yourself Blender, and don’t want a book, the interface/navigation tutorial is especially important. When you are comfortable with the different commands and menus will you be able to focus on actually getting stuff done.
As an alternative, take a look at the BlenderTutor.com‘s Blender Bootcamp. This takes a thorough look at the basics. I haven’t worked through these as sadly I didn’t know about them when they would have been the most help. My initial impressions of them are that they teach a lot in a clear manner.
Even better, it looks like you get to copy Tom as he works on a still life project. I’ll definitely go back and view these myself, to pick up on things that were skimmed over elsewhere.
Step 2: Follow Step-by-Step Projects
The best way to learn, I’ve found, is to do something start to finish. It’s all well and good seeing how an extrude works and copying it, but far more satisfying if you are extruding to achieve something.
I can highly recommend the video tutorials by LittleWebHut.com. These are mini-projects that let you get something done from start screen to finished render, without needing hours of time.
These were created for beginners, and provide a crystal clear step-by-step that doesn’t move too quickly. However, the end results are impressive and will give you a real sense of achievement.
Some are slower and more fully-explained than others. If you take them in the right order, you will find this matches your learning, as after a while you won’t need quite as much explanation on how to navigate. The coffee cup, the wine glass or the 3D text, for example, are not quite as involved as the peppers in water or the exploding planet.
(The coffee cup was the first one I tried. I liked it enough to work through them all!)
The best thing about these videos is they make it possible for you to achieve the same finished result. Nothing is left unexplained or completed behind the scenes. And the results are good enough that you will impress yourself with your new skills.
And that will make you all the more keen to continue on your Blender journey.
Step 3: Raise the Bar, Create a Character
You are no longer a raw beginner and everything is starting to feel more familiar. You no longer forget that Z is now the vertical axis, or that right-click is used to select.
Time to tackle something more ambitious. How about making a character? Your own minion, for example? Blender For Noobs will show you how in a long, detailed tutorial with a fun end result.
While this isn’t a simple project and you will need to allow plenty of time – and patience – it is clearly explained. By now you’ve already had some experience of working with materials and different ways of modelling, so there should be nothing to confuse you. Just follow along, using the pause button and of course CTRL-Z if your result doesn’t match what you see.
As a novice, I was able to complete it and was pleased with how it turned out. I bet you will be too!
Step 4: Choose Your Mentors and Follow Their Lead
Depending on your areas of interest (animation, creating organic characters, architectural projects, or ever particle physics), you can now dive into specific tutorials.
Pick your tutors carefully – those who move too quickly can leave you with failed projects and dented confidence. However, now that you’re edging towards intermediate status, you won’t want every key press explained.
While I’m not yet a member, you could consider becoming a Blender Citizen at CG Cookie. This gives you access to a full range of professional tutorials on a variety of topics. You can see a selection of them for free on the site if you are not ready to commit to paid membership.
Alternatively, Andrew Price, aka BlenderGuru, has a whole host of tutorials that cover Blender’s many capabilities and keep pace with new features and functionality.
He moves quickly and these are not beginner tutorials. On the other hand, they are some of the most professional free tuition you’ll find, and the attention to detail means a confident novice will usually be able to keep up (pausing and replaying as necessary).
Other video tutors you might want to take a look at include those by Tom Latvys of the previously mentioned BlenderTutor.com, and on YouTube you’ll find Sardi Pax, David Ward (aka the d-dub show) and Blender Arsenal.
These are by no means the only video producers worth keeping an eye on. Try a few, see who suits your style – some might go at a better pace for you, or have an accent that’s more pleasant to your ear. These things do make a difference when you are spending from half an hour upwards listening to spoken instruction.
Step 5: Design and Create Your Own Models
While this might feel like going backwards in terms of end result, there’s something satisfying about creating your own models.
Keep them simple to start with. Try props that you can then export to .obj format and import into your preferred rendering or game creation software.
Or try your hand at making clothing for DAZ Studio / Poser characters such as Victoria and Michael. If you get good at this, you can even sell them in the DAZ3D or Renderosity marketplaces.
Or you might find you like Blender so much you want to use it for rendering and animating too. Of course, the beauty of that is that it will cost you nothing and you will have all the tools you need in one package.
I still have a great deal to learn in Blender, but have enjoyed working through a number of these tutorials. I credit them and the book I bought with my improvement from nervous newbie 2 months ago. I’ve made everything from a simple mug to a human head, and am currently working on an entire kitchen scene!
If I can do it, I know you can too. So dive in, have fun, and you’ll be calling yourself a ‘Blenderhead’ in no time at all!