Learning any new 3D application is going to be a challenge, no matter how experienced of a 3D artist you are, there are different layouts, workflows and tools to get accustomed to. However, there is a workflow you can take when learning a new 3D application that will get you back up to speed faster, you can learn more about this workflow in 8 Tips for Mastering a New 3D Application in the Shortest Amount of Time.
While that article has some invaluable nuggets of information from our Lead Modeling instructor Justin Marshall, it is rather general and can be applied to really any new 3D application you're learning, whether it's for a job or simply to mix things up.
So to help you in this learning process even further we also were able to get some vital information from Justin on what you need to know when learning Blender specifically, and find out some of the differences he ran into when mastering this 3D application.
Seeing as our Blender training is just around the corner, what better way is there to get you guys up to speed than to give you a heads up on some of the differences between Blender and other 3D applications you may be familiar with like Maya or 3ds Max. As well as some of the things that make it unique so you can hit the ground running with our first Blender release.
Free is Always Good
You're likely already aware that Blender is a completely free 3D application - if you're not then where have you been! This is one reason why a lot of people use Blender, because 3D applications can be pretty pricey, and if you're a new user, a hobbyist or simply on a budget then Blender is a great choice. And who doesn't like free stuff?
A common misconception is that if it's free then it must not be very good! Although, this may be true for some things. For example, if someone were to walk up to you and say, "I have a free car you can have! Just please, get it off my drive way!" Chances are you may be getting a pile of junk. However, this really isn't the case when it comes to Blender.
Maybe one of the weirdest things you'll need to know is how selecting works in Blender. In Maya, 3ds Max and just about every other program you select objects, vertices, edges and faces (or polygons) with the Left Mouse Button. However, in Blender it throws you through a loop by having the selection done by pressing the Right Mouse Button.
While this is just a small thing, it can take some getting use to, especially since just about every application whether it's 2D or 3D is done with the LMB. Now, the Left Mouse Button has a purpose in Blender, it actually places this small crosshair wherever you click in the viewport. This crosshair basically determines where any new object you create will be placed as well as the pivot point for scaling, rotating and snapping. It's also important to note that once an object is selected you use the Left Mouse Button to move it along the selected axis.
Something else that may be a little strange at first is getting use to the rotation, movement and scale of an object you have selected. For example, in a program like 3ds Max or Maya the transform gizmo pops up on the model and you can either rotate, scale or move from those arrows.
However, in Blender you actually don't have to click anywhere near the gizmo, as long as you have the correct transform option selected, and Right Click anywhere in the viewport you'll have free movement over the object. This can cause some unintended transformations once you first get into Blender, but after some practice you'll get use to how the selection and movement works in the viewport.
In your previous application you're probably familiar with the Extrude command, and for the most part it works the same way in Blender. You can extrude edges, faces or vertices. Although, extruding single vertices works much different in Blender. When you extrude a vertex in Blender it actually creates one new vertex and edge.
If you were to extrude an edge in Maya or 3ds Max it would actually need to have at least three new faces created in order to extrude that vertex out.
Another important thing to note is that by default you can't extrude along a curve in Blender. In a program like Maya you may have drawn out a curve, and extruded a circle along that curve to create a cord or wire. Well, the extrude tool in Blender by default doesn't have this ability.
However, you can get the same function by use of an Addons. Since Blender is an open-source program, many people have created their own tools, and through the User Preferences window you can search for Addons from the Blender foundation or other users and install them.
You'll quickly find that these Add-ons are extremely helpful when you find that you don't have access to the same type of tool you did in a program like Maya or 3ds Max, or that the tool doesn't have the complete functionality that you'd like. Well, you'll find that many other people have wished for the same thing, and created it for Blender through an Addon.
Whether you're the type of artists who loves shortcuts or likes to take the long route, you have either option in Blender. Because just about every single important tool in the program has a keyboard shortcut associated with it. Of course, if you've worked in a program like Maya previously you still have the option to create your own custom shortcuts for some of your most used tools, but in Blender you'll find that the shortcuts are already there.
For example, the shortcut for the Bridge tool is F, and the Insert Edge Loop tool can be activated by pressing Ctrl+R, or the Merge Vertex Tool can be initiated by pressing Alt+M. These are really just a few examples of the shortcuts for some of the tools you'll be using. So it's a good idea to really dive into the shortcut list for Blender because there are really so many shortcuts that can greatly speed up your workflow.
Menus and Tools
When it comes to the menus and tools, you'll find a lot of the same ones you've used in Maya or 3ds Max. If you're coming from Maya you'll find the interface to be pretty similar. The timeline at the bottom, the equivalent to the channel box on the right, and the transform tools on the left.
One thing that can be a little strange when first opening Blender is that the menus and toolbars are meant to be shifted around and customized. Whereas with something like Maya the menus are for the most part floating menus. For example, if you open the render settings a detached window will pop up. However, these same menus in Blender, when opened simply add onto your UI. At first this can seem pretty cluttered, but you'll be able to shift things around to your liking, and having everything in one place allows for quick and easy access.
If you're learning Blender and have experience in Maya you may notice that Maya definitely loves its icons for all its tools. Blender on the other hand, isn't quite as flashy, going for a much more text based approach for their tools. On the outside it may not seem as pleasing to the eye, but if you're a beginner learning Blender it can be much easier to spot the tool you need.
For example, in Maya you're probably familiar with the scale icon (The cube with the four arrows pointing outward). Well in Blender's transform toolbar this is simply Scale, and the rotate tool is...Rotate, pretty simple right? This makes it much easier for new users to find the exact tool they need.
A really amazing feature in Blender that you should become accustomed to is the Skin Modifier. If you've ever used ZBrush before you're probably familiar with ZSpheres, which basically allows you to quickly drop in the basic shape of a character or object by placing spheres and create an editable mesh out of it. There are a lot of 3D artists out there that love this method because it's extremely fast and you're able to get a base mesh done quickly.
Well Blender has a very similar feature called the Skin Modifier and is edge based. You can basically draw out the shape of your character using edges and use the Skin Modifier to create a very quick base mesh. Not only that but the resulting mesh's topology is clean and allows for more detailed sculpting.
Whether you're learning Blender because you want to expand your knowledge, or switching from a 3D application like Maya or 3ds Max you'll definitely be pleasantly surprised by what this free 3D application has to offer. Be sure to take these notes into consideration when first firing up Blender, and don't forget to check out 8 Tips for Mastering a New 3D Application in the Shortest Amount of Time to speed up the entire learning process.