8 Tips for Mastering a New 3D Application in the Shortest Amount of Time

Learning a new piece of software can be a challenging task, even if you're an experienced artist there is going to be a learning curve when switching to a new application whether it's for a new job or simply to broaden your expertise. You have probably heard time and time again that the software doesn't animate or create the amazing 3D models you see in movies and games, the artist does. And this is true, however, 3D applications are extremely complex programs, and no two applications are exactly the same. You may have years and years of modeling experience in say, Maya, and suddenly your new job requires you to model in 3ds Max. This can seem like a daunting task, but really it doesn't have to be. As long as you approach learning a new piece of software in a logical manner you'll be up to speed in no time at all. We've had the privilege to pick the brain of our in-house 3D modeling instructor Justin Marshall who is a true ninja of his art form. He has recently been faced with the task of learning the 3D application Blender so we can bring you high quality in-depth Blender courses. Justin has mastered numerous different 3D applications and Blender is the newest software he's added under his belt. Seeing as Justin is probably the best person you can talk to when learning a new software we met up with him to get some amazing tips for learning a new 3D application, so you can hit the ground running when we release our first Blender training courses.

Look at the Documentation

Log onto the software's site and search for the documentation or help page.

One of the areas Justin stressed is starting small, don’t jump straight in and try to create the things you were cranking out in your previous 3D application. This typically results in a lot of frustration. Sure, you have the knowledge and skill to create amazing 3D models, but navigating and finding the right tools was probably second nature to you in your previous 3D app. Now the layout is completely different, tools are called different things, etc.

Start small, find the documentation for Blender, or whatever 3D application you’re learning, and scour through it. If you’re a 3D modeler look at all the documentation for 3D modeling, get familiar with the terms and the tools. There is really no need to even open up the 3D application at this point, you just want to learn about the software. This will make it a lot easier when you finally do open it up for the first time.

Find Resources

The next step is to find as many resources as you can. This means searching for forums over the software, and finding a community. This is another area Justin finds extremely important because when you do start working in the software you’ll have a place where you can ask questions or find answers to questions you may have. For example, you may run into a problem where you find a tool is not behaving how you expect it to, having a place you can go to see if other people are having this same problem and how to fix it is extremely helpful.

Go into Preferences

Find the preferences of the 3D application as well as the different keyboard shortcuts.

Find the preferences for the 3D application as well as the different keyboard shortcuts.

Once you feel comfortable with understanding the documentation and finding some helpful resources the next step is to go into the preferences of the 3D application. Since Justin likes to work with hotkeys he wanted to learn the hotkeys for Blender so he can work more comfortably. For example, he knows that the “W” key turns on the move tool, and the “E” key turns on the scale tool in Maya so it was important that he found out what hotkeys accomplished the same task in Blender.

Getting familiar with the hotkeys for the new 3D application will allow you to work much faster. As you may already know, working in a 3D program where one hotkey does something very specific and in another 3D application it does something completely different can be frustrating. That’s why you want to know what hotkey does what, and you should make a list of the hotkeys you use the most in your previous software and find out what hotkeys accomplish the same thing in the new 3D software.

Learn Navigation

Learn the keyboard combinations for zooming, rotating, panning, etc.

Learn the keyboard combinations for zooming, rotating, panning, etc.

Navigation is one of the most important things you need to master when learning a new software. Navigation comes with practice but it’s good to move around the 3D space and get comfortable with how to accomplish the same things you would in your previous 3D application, like panning, zooming, etc.

While Justin likes to stick with the native navigation controls of a 3D application as he’s creating training he does suggest that if you just can’t seem to master the navigation, or simply don’t like it, a lot of 3D applications allow you to change it in the preferences of the software to resemble the navigation in a program like 3ds Max or Maya.

Get Familiar with the Terminology

Terminology is the most basic thing you can know, but it’s also one of the most important things when learning new software. Often different 3D applications will call the same tool a completely different thing. Sure, both of the tools do the same thing, but you could easily miss it if you’re unaware of the terminology for the new 3D program.

A great example of this is the “Extract” command in Maya is actually called “Selection” in Blender, and the Separate command in Maya is called “By Loose Parts” in Blender. If you’re unaware of the terminology you could be left searching through Blender for hours trying to find the Separate command.

Make a List

Along with knowing the terminology, Justin finds that making a list of what you do most in the previous app will help you come up with a game plan on the first things you need to learn.

For example, if you’re a 3D modeler coming from Maya you probably use tools like Extrude, Bevel, Insert Edge Loop, Bridge, etc. So make a list of these commands and find them in the new 3D software. Figure out where they’re located and if they’re called something different. For instance, the Merge tool in Maya is called Remove Doubles in Blender.

Learn How the Tools Are Applied

Another very important aspect of learning the terminology and finding the tools you use most is actually learning how these tools are applied. For example, does the extrude tool work the same way it does in an application like Maya? And does it only work on faces or polygons? Or does it work for edges as well? Figuring out these questions will allow you to work much more comfortably.

Be Patient

Even if you’re a skilled modeler in a different 3D application, learning a new program is still a long process. Just remember to be patient, and don’t give yourself a project right away, first learn about the tools and the different terminology of the application. Take it slow and don’t rush into anything until you know the application well enough to work comfortably.

If you’re ready to start learning a new 3D application, or if you want to be prepared for our Blender training make sure you use these vital steps Justin has laid out for you so you can get up to speed much quicker! And be on the look out for our brand new Blender content when it arrives!