Yes, You Too Can Draw! – Ch 13a — Cheat At Perspective With Blender 3D

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This lesson is a continuation of Chapter 13. If you haven’t read Chapter 13, then I highly recommend that you do so. The previous chapter briefly covers how cheat at perspective using 3D software. This chapter will show you how to cheat at perspective with Blender 3D.

This is in all honesty a more advanced lesson. If you’re afraid of learning new software, I will allow you to skip just this one time. As much as I like Blender, it does come off as one of those scary programs with more buttons and features than you could ever possibly use. When I first tried my hand at Bender 3D years ago, I was completely overwhelmed and had zero clue as where to start. It wasn’t as intuitive as most of the programs that I had used. Also when it came to 3D software, my only experiences were my failed attempts at playing with Lightwave.

 Why Blender 3D?

Blender 3D at start up

I choose to use Blender 3D because once you learn how to use it, you’ll find it to be an extremely flexible 3D program. (Plus it’s free!)  Blender is open-source and is constantly being developed by an ever-growing community. You can use it on a Mac, Windows, or Linux computer. It has the capacity to import and export models to every major 3D format. Bender has two very capable rendering engines in Cycles for photorealistism and Freestyle for line art.

You can download Blender 3D for free from Blender’s official website. On Blender’s website, you’ll find all sorts of resources for all skill levels. (At the time of writing, I used Blender version 2.76b. Blender doesn’t radically change much between versions, so this basic tutorial should work with future versions of the software.)

Blender does require using a 3-button mouse. If you don’t currently own one, go buy a 3-button mouse. I own an Apple Magic Mouse, but I also own a cheap little IBM 3-button mouse with a scroll wheel. As much as I love my Apple mouse, the IBM is simply easier to use in Blender.

It would also help if you had a keyboard with a number pad or some type of alternative, such as Mobile Mouse Pro or an external numeric keypad. If you have no clue what I’m talking about. It looks a lot like the buttons on your standard calculator. It’s not a requirement. But it’s great when you want to quickly change views in Blender. My MacBook is currently missing this feature. If it weren’t for my iPhone and Mobile Mouse Pro, it’d feel like I was missing a limb whenever using Blender.

 

Roughing it Out

A quick sketch of a bar out of my sketch book

This bar took maybe a minute’s worth of time to sketch. I’ve studied perspective long enough to where I can visualize my horizon line and vanishing points. It’s far from perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. I could had gone into more detail, but I didn’t have to. It’s just a rough sketch.

Construction Time

Creating My Base

Now we’ll open up Blender 3D. By default, Blender will create a new window with a cube, a camera (which is used to establish the view for the render), and a light. I’ll select the cube using the Right Mouse Button. Press the Tab key to switch to Edit Mode. (Edit Mode allows us to directly edit any mesh object. In Edit Mode, you can manipulate vertices/points, edges, and faces.)

I’ll press the Z button to switch from solid to wire frame view. The reason for this is when solid shading is enabled (when the surfaces of the mesh are visible), only vertices that are viewable or facing the user can be selected.

Different views of Blender's default cube.

While viewing the cube’s front side via Number Pad 5 button, with all vertices selected (if they’re not all selected, press A.), I’ll press S to scale and X to scale the mesh via the X-axis. I’ll make the cube long enough to where it’s roughly the length of a bar. When scaling, I’ll move the mouse in a leftward motion to enlarge. Left Mouse Button is pressed to confirm what I’ve done. I’ll use the Right Mouse Button to cancel the operation and to return the vertices back to their original scale.

scaling a cube along the X-axis in Blender.

I’ll deselect all of my vertices by pressing A. Then I’ll press B, and select just the top vertices by click-dragging with the Left Mouse Button. I’ll move my selected vertices up in the direction of the Z-axis to increase the height of my mesh via G to grab or move and Z to constrict the movement along the Z-axis.

I can stretch my object up the Z-axis using the grab function.

Now For A Counter-Top

Next up, I’ll create a counter top for my bar.

I’m pretty sure you’ve noticed a funny-looking cross-hair that moves around whenever you accidentally click the Left Mouse Button. That is known as the 3D Cursor. It has many purposes in Blender. One of them is to help us position where a new mesh will be created.

While still in the front view, I’ll move the 3D Cursor to the top of my base object using the Left Mouse Button.

I place my 3D Cursor at the top of my object.

But I also need to center it along the Y and X axises. Otherwise, there’s no telling where it’ll float off to. I’ll accomplish this by switching to the Top View via the Number Pad 7 button. When in this view, I’ll center the 3D Cursor with the Left Mouse Button.

Center the 3d cursor along the Y & X-axis

Before I create a new object, I’ll need to switch back to Object Mode by pressing the Tab button. While in Object Mode, I’ll create a new plane (which will be flat and only have 4 vertices) by pressing Shift + A keys to bring up the Add menu. In this contextual menu, you’ll hover over Mesh and select Plane. This will create a brand new plane centered where my 3D Cursor is located.

menu to add a new plane via keystroke Shift+A

I’ll switch over into Edit Mode, pressing the Tab key. I’ll stretch my plane across the base by pressing S and X keys to scale it only across the X-axis, Then I’ll scale my plane across the Y-Axis using S and Y keys. I want my counter top to extend a little more towards the customer than the bar tender. I’ll move my plane slightly down the Y-axis by pressing the key to move and Y to restrict the movement to the Y-axis.

I’ll create some thickness in my countertop by extruding my plane. Extrusion is the creation of new faces and vertices by selecting all of the vertices and dragging them outward to create new vertices and faces.

In this case, I’ll change to a Front View by pressing Number Pad 5 button. With all of my plane’s vertices selected (If yours aren’t, press the A key.) I’ll press both the E and Z keys to extrude up the Z-axis. Now my plane has some form and looks more like a counter top.

I'll adjust the new plane in top view to fit over he main object. Then I'll give the plane mass by extruding it up the Y-axis

Just A Little Detail

Now I plan to add some molding to the bottom of my base object. Back in Object Mode (Tab key), I’ll position my 3D Cursor with the Left Mouse Button at the bottom-center of my base object. Then I’ll switch to Top View, pressing Number Pad 7. In this view, I’ll center my 3D Cursor. I’ll add a new plane by pressing Shift + A keys to bring up the Add menu. In the Add menu, I’ll select Mesh >> Plane. Blender will then drop in a new plane for me to manipulate.

In Edit Mode (press the Tab key) I’ll stretch out my new plane to be just slightly bigger than the base object. Stretching it across the X-axis, I’ll press S to scale and X to restrict the scale fusion to the X-axis. Stretching the new plane across the Y-axis by pressing S and then the Y key.

In Top View, I’ll add a new plane where I centered my 3D Cursor. I’ll scale the new plane in both the X and Y axises. It’ll be just slightly larger than my base mesh.

I’ll give my molding some height by extruding the new plane upwards along the Z-axisExtrusion is basically the creation of new faces and vertices based on selected faces and vertices. In this case, I will used the selected vertices from my plane to create new vertices and faces that will give my object three-dimensional form. This form will make the mesh object look like molding on my base object.

I'll use the extrude function to turn my new plane into molding.

Now I’m going to add some pillar-like shapes to my bar. This time I’ll use a cube mesh to achieve this. In Object Mode (press Tab key), I’ll drop in a new cube by pressing Shiftkeys and selecting Mesh >> Cube in the contextual menu. In both Front View (Number Pad 1and Top View (Number Pad 7), I’ll position the cube at one of the corners of the base. I scaled it across the Y-axis(S and Y keys) in the Top View  (Number Pad 7). In Front View (Number Pad 1), I scaled the cube up the Z-axis (pressing S and Z keys) and scaled it down a bit across the X-axis (pressing S and X keys).

I create a column by stretching a new cube out along both the Z and X axises.

Next I’ll pull a little trick. I need multiple pillar-shapes for my bar, and I need them to be the exact same size. I’ll go back into Object Mode (press Tab key). Keeping my pillar-shape selected, I’ll move my cursor to the set of panels located on the right-side of my Blender interface. On this side is my Properties panel. Within that panel is a small button with a wrench for an icon. Clicking that icon will bring up the Modifiers. Within that panel, theres a drop down menu titled Add Modifier. I’ll click on that and select Array under the Generate column. Selecting Array provides me with a new set of options. I’ll set the Fit Type to Fixed Count. Count is set to 5 because I need a total of 5 pillars. Relative Offset is checked. Directly under Relative Offset I will set the X offset to 4.8. These settings give me the results I need.

I used the Array modifier to create duplicates of my original column

An Alternative…

If using the Modifiers panel seems overwhelming, there’s a much simpler alternative. While in Object Mode, select the pillar-object and press the keys ShiftD. This keystroke duplicates the object. When you move your cursor, you’ll see a version with a white wire frame following it. At this point, Blender needs to know where you want to place the duplicate. Press the key to constrain the movement to the X-axis. Click your Left Mouse Button when you have your pillar-object in the right spot. You can do this for each pillar-object.

Fixing The Countertop

Now at this point, I need to expand the length of my countertop. I can do so by selecting the countertop with the Right Mouse Button, and enter into Edit Mode after pressing the Tab key. I select all of the vertices by pressing the A key. Then I scale the countertop along the X-axis by using the S key to scale and X key to constrict it to the X-axis.

Now We Need Places To Sit

All I need now are some stools for people to sit on. Each stool starts from the bottom of each pillar. I’m obviously not an expert on furniture, so the terminology will likely be incorrect.

The Trim

I’ll start with the trim. This simply requires a flatten cylinder. In Front View (Number Pad 1 key), press keys ShiftA to bring up the Add menu, and select Mesh >> Cylinder to drop in a new Cylinder mesh. I’ll scale it down uniformly with the key and position it after pressing the G key.

I’ll switch over to Left View (Ctrl Number Pad 3 keys), and I’ll fix its position to where it’s overlapping the pillar (G key). Then I’ll scale the cylinder down the Y-axis (S key, then key).

you can create the trim for the stools by creating a cylindar and squashing it along the y-axis using the scale function.

The Stem/Leg

This is the thing that extends out from the pillar to the seat. For my purposes, I’ll call it a stem. In the same manner as the trim, we’ll create a new cylinder and scale it in Front View (Number Pad 1 key). Before I drop in another cylinder, I will want to make use of the 3D Cursor to properly position it. First I’ll need my trim selected. (You’ll need to be in Object Mode for this. If not, press the Tab key.)

 I haven’t found the keystroke to achieve this, but for the majority of operations within Blender, you can bring up a contextual menu by pressing the Spacebar. Within this contextual menu, there is a search field. Much like doing a search in Google, you can type in a keyword and Blender will show you a list of operations that you can use. In this case, I’ll type in the word cursor. One of the list of options that will come up is Snap Selection to Cursor. This will snap the 3D Cursor smack-dab on to the mesh object’s center or Origin, which is represented by the little orange dot outlined in black. So when I add my new cylinder, it’ll be placed right at that point. Pretty cool, huh?

Within Front View (use Number Pad 1 key), I’ll press the key combination ShiftA and add a new cylinder by selecting  Mesh >> Cylinder. Then I’ll shrink my new cylinder uniformly (S key) so that it visually looks smaller than the round trim.

Create a new cylinder in front view

Now that I have added a new cylinder and shrunk it down to just the right size, I’ll need to extend the length. To do this, I’ll switch over into the Left View, using the combination of Control Number Pad 3 keys, With the new cylinder selected, I’ll jump into Edit Mode (press the Tab key). By default, all of the cylinder’s vertices will be select. I only want to select the vertices that extend outside of the pillar. I’ll press the A key to deselect all of the vertices. I’ll press the B button, and drag across the vertices that I need to be selected while holding down the Left Mouse Button. To extend those vertices further out to the necessary length, I’ll press the G key to grab.

We'll lengthen the new cylinder by selecting one side and using the Grab function.

I want to create an “elbow” for my stem. In my drawing, this will simply serve as a rounded corner. To achieve this, I’ll insert a UV Sphere. I’ll switch back into Object Mode. I’ll use the key combination of Shift + A, and select Mesh >> UV Sphere.

Then I’ll move the sphere, along the Y-axis (use G and Y keys) to the end of my cylinder. (I did this in Object Mode because I want to keep the sphere’s Origin centered within the UV Sphere. Not keeping the Origin centered will cause problems later on.) Lastly, I’ll scale it down uniformly (S key) until it’s slightly bigger than the cylinder.

create a new uv sphere on the end of the sphere

The next part of the stem that I will need to create is the part that extends from the elbow to the seat. I’ll first move my 3D Cursor to the center of the UV Sphere by tapping the Spacebar, typing in the word cursor, and selecting Snap Selection to Cursor.

I’ll insert a new cylinder by I’ll pressing the key combination Shift + A and add a new cylinder by selecting  Mesh >> Cylinder. Then I’ll shrink (using the S key) the new cylinder down to where its width is slightly smaller than the UV Sphere. I’ll move the whole cylinder up the Z-axis just a bit using the G key.

I’ll switch over into Edit Mode (pressing the Tab key) and deselect all of the cylinder’s vertices by pressing the B key and dragging across, selecting just the top vertices using the Left Mouse Button. I can now pull those top vertices (using the G key) and drag them up the Z-axis (Z key).

We'll add a second cylinder to our stool and stretch it up the Z-axis using the grab function

A Place To Sit

I’m almost done with the stool! Next up is the seat. I want to keep the seat centered with the cylinder that I created earlier. I’ll move my 3D Cursor to the cylinder’s origin by tapping the Spacebar, typing in the word cursor, and selecting Snap Selection to Cursor.

I’ll add a new cylinder by using the key combination Shift + A and selecting  Mesh >> Cylinder. I’ll shrink the new cylinder down just a bit using the S key. I’ll move the new cylinder up until it’s origin touches the top of the previous cylinder. Then I’ll switch into Edit Mode, using the Tab key. In Edit Mode, I will scale (S key) the cylinder down the Z-axis until it looks more like a rounded seat.

We'll create a seat via a new cylinder

A Place For Your Feet

The last part of the stool that I’ll create is place for the feet to rest. I’ll keep it simple by creating a half cylinder. Back in Object Mode (Tab key), and I’ll create a Circle by using the keystroke ShiftA and selecting Mesh >> Circle. Since I can’t really see my new circle, due to the fact that’s it’s currently face-up, I’ll switch to a Top View using the Number Pad 7 key.

At this point, I want to cut the new circle in half. In Edit Mode (Tab key) I’ll start by deselecting all of the circle’s vertices using the A key. I’ll select only half of the circle’s vertices, but not the pair of vertices that were directly in the middle of it. I can select them by pressing the button and dragging across the vertices that I won’t need using the Left Mouse Button. To delete any selected vertices, I’ll press the X key. Doing so will bring up a contextual menu that will basically ask me what about what I selected that needs to be deleted. I’ll select Dissolve Vertices to delete the selected vertices. To create a new edge between the middle two vertices, I will need to select those two end vertices and press the key.

I’ll reselect the vertices that are left over by pressing the A key. Then I’ll scale it down (S key) and move it just a bit (G key). I’ll position the half-circle just enough to where the back edge rests on the cylinder that extends from the elbow to the seat. In Front View (Number Pad 1), I’ll give my foot rest some mass by extruding the half-circle up in the Z-axis (E key and the Z key).

4 steps to creating a step.

 

Duplicating Stools

I really wish there was a straightforward way of grouping objects in Blender 3D. Thus far I have as of yet to find a way other than creating the object within a separate blend file and linking to it to your main blender file. So what I plan to do next is to manually duplicate three stools.

While in the Front View (Number Pad 1 key), select all of the parts of the stool by holding down the Shift key and selecting everything with the Right Mouse Button while holding down the Shift key. Use the keystroke ShiftD to duplicate the parts. I’ll press the key to constraint my duplicate to the X-axis while positioning it. I’ll repeat the process for each stool.

Duplicate objects by use the keystroke Shift D.

One More Thing…

I need a floor. An easy way of achieving this is by creating a plane. I’ll first move my 3D Cursor right underneath the bar, making it centered. I’ll add a new plane mesh with the keystroke ShiftA, and selecting Mesh >> Plane. I’ll switch over to the Top View and enlarge it via the S key.

To create a floor, add a plane and enlarge it using the scale function.

Render Me A Bar

This is where it gets tricky. Blender doesn’t have an idiot-proof rendering engine. This means, you will have to position the camera, layout the lighting, and mess with a bunch of other details so the final render looks just right. Just to make things more complicated, you have three different render engines to play with.

To save yourself some headaches, I will focus solely on two things, the Camera and Lighting. I consider these two the most important things to focus on when setting up a render. In Blender 3D, the lights and camera objects function much like their real-life counter parts. If you have any experience taking photographs, setting up a render will be much like taking a photo. Aim and focus the camera, and make sure the lighting is just right. Sometimes you don’t even need to worry over lighting because the camera will even handle that for you. Either the flash will try to eliminate your scene, or the software inside your camera will process your new image, bringing out the details.

How I laid out my lights and camera.

The Camera in Blender

The camera in Blender functions much like any other camera in real life. In Blender, it is also a manipulable object. This means that you can move and rotated it. You can have as many cameras as you wish.

The basic function of the camera in Blender is to frame your scene. What you view though the camera (use the Number Pad 0 key) will be what Blender will render. Anything outside of this frame/view will be ignored when you generate your final render. That’s why it’s so important to at least learn the basics of using the camera in Blender.

A view directly from the camera.

Aim And Shoot

There are two aspects of the camera that most everyone gets, its position and the zoom. In Blender we can move the camera anywhere within the scene. We can also rotate it in any direction. This is great for more dramatic shots. In my mind, there are two different ways to manipulate a camera, as an object and while viewing “through the lens” in Camera View (Number Pad 0 key).

The camera object

In my opinion, the easiest way to move the camera around is by switching to the Top View (Number Pad 7) and use the Grab function. When you get that right, you can switch to a Side or Front View and just as easily raise or lower the camera.

When rotating the camera, I recommend constricting your rotations to a specific axis, otherwise you’ll feel as if you’ll have no control over it. A lot of time, you won’t need to rotate it all that much. When rotating your camera, make use of the different views. For example, if you wish to rotate your camera from side-to side, use the Top View. If you need to rotate your camera up and down, use a side view. Also be familiar which type of rotation utilizes which axis.

In Blender, you can use Camera View to view directly through the “camera lens” (Number Pad 0). In this view, you can both rotate (R key) and move/pan (G key) your camera around.

 

Focus Damn It!

When you bring up the settings for the Camera object, there’s a lot of stuff to mess with. A lot! I only want you to tinker with one setting and one setting only. It’s located within the Lens section, underneath the Perspective button. It’s labeled Focal Length. What does it do? The Focal Length behaves much like the zoom lens on your camera. The larger the number, the more the camera zooms in. The camera object will actual elongate as you increase your Focal Length.

Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Well why can’t I just move the camera closer?” That’s a valid question. One that I’m not sure if I can answer satisfactorily. The camera is designed to function much like its real-life counter part. I liken the Focal Length as a way to tweak your camera. Physically moving it is usually a bit extreme. I handle that when positioning my camera object. When playing with the Focal Length setting, I’m simply making a small adjustment. I’m okay with the camera position but I only need to zoom in or out just a little bit.

Three examples of focal length.

Lighting in Blender

Lights, referred to as Lamps in Blender, appear as objects in Blender. Blender has various types of lamps, which include Point, Sun, Spot, Hemi, and Area. Each type of lamp has its own purpose and features. Feel free to play with them. You’ll find some of the effects and shadows that you can create pretty interesting.

My goal is not to create an interesting work of art in Blender itself. All I need is a clean render, showing everything in my rough so I can later convert it into a pencil drawing. I don’t need any shadows or fancy effects that will mar any necessary detail. I’m sure there’s an easier way of accomplishing this, but this is how I got it done.

I went with using two Hemi lamps, both of them to the right of the bar. I placed one behind the bar, striking it at an angle. The other hemi lamp was placed in front, striking the front of my bar at an angle. I went with Hemi lamps mainly due to the lack of shadows that are casted. All of the viewable sides of my bar are clean and visible.

My layout of the lights, top view. My placement of lights from the left view

Here are the settings that I used for each lamp:

Rear Hemi Lamp

  • Energy: 1
  • Negative: Unchecked
  • The Layer Only: Unchecked
  • Spectacular: Checked
  • Diffused: Checked

Front Hemi Lamp

  • Energy: 0.760
  • Negative: Unchecked
  • The Layer Only: Unchecked
  • Spectacular: Checked
  • Diffused: Checked

I reduced the amount of Energy (which is the amount of light the lamp gives off) of the front hemi lamp because the brighter it get, the more the details get blown out.

 

 

Easy Rendering

The Render settings have even more buttons and widgets for you to mess with. For the purposes of this tutorial, I will only focus on two of things, Resolution and the Render button.

Resolution, within the Dimensions panel, is pretty straight forward. What size do you want it to be? This is where you tell Blender, in pixels, the size of your image. The dpi (dots per inch)  is 72 dpi, the same as any web image. You can’t do much about resolution in Blender, so if you need a higher resolution image, increase your dimensions. The Percentage Scale serves the purpose of saving you processing power and render time when you’re not quite committed to your final render. When you are ready, bump it up to 100% to render at full-size.

All the Render button (F15 key) does is render your scene. You’ll ether see it happen in either a new window or within your 3D View Port. This is the portion of the interface where you do your modeling. Once your scene has been rendered, you can save it by pressing the F3 key. (This maybe more difficult on a Mac since the F keys are usually assigned to some system-wide function.) You can also click into the Image menu and select Save As Image.

The final render in Blender 3D.

 

Draw It

This is possibly the easiest part of this tutorial. Basically I’ll use the render as the basis for my drawing. But this step has a few options:

  • You can print a copy of your render and either draw directly from it or do a transfer using either tracing paper.
  • Open your image in either an image editing program or a drawing program. You can either trace over it using another layer or create another window and draw directly from it.

For this tutorial, I chose the latter option using Corel Painter. I opened up my render file and created another layer to trace over it with. I had to bump up the number of pixels in my render due to the fact that the details turned out to be so small.

Final drawing based on render with shadows from Blender 3D

Want To Learn More…

Now that you’ve gotten a small taste of Blender 3D. If you want to learn more, there are plenty of options. A great place to start is the official BlenderWiki. It contains the user manual and a few good tutorials to push you further along in your education. Pablo Vaquez has a good little DVD, Venum’s Lab 2, that will provide you with a deep-dive of Blender’s many features while learning how to create his many characters. I own Venum’s Lab 1, so I can vouch for his work. Another great resource is John M. Blain’s book The Complete Guide to Blender Graphics, Second Edition: Computer Modeling and Animation. His book will quickly get newbies up to speed with Blender.

No matter what you choose to draw, you’ll have another tool in your arsenal with Blender 3D. Once you get relatively good with Blender, it’ll help you with issues involving perspective and camera angles. That’s only the start!