Easily make custom engaging pictures for lessons and presentations

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Using technology in the classroom is something you undoubtedly hear about all the time.  It’s a huge burden to constantly be in charge of learning the new flavor of the month classroom tool, to have it only fall out of favor in 6 months.  To make matters even worse, there is no guarantee that your students are going to embrace whatever new tool you decide to use.  After all, if it doesn’t make your job easier or doesn’t noticeably help your students, what’s the point.   

What if you had a way to make your lessons so engaging, your students were entranced. What if that was possible without spending hours learning new tools or trying to think up new ways to present material.

I’m talking about using something we at EduCraft Ideas are calling enhanced graphics. I’m sure you’ve seen movies like Toy Story and Frozen. Have you ever wondered how they are made? Have you ever thought about using that same technology to draw your students into your lessons?

In this article, I’m going to introduce you to computer-generated (CG) images and show you a shortcut to using them for your lessons.

I know what you’re thinking.

“This is going to cost me in some way, either time or money.”

The programs are free, and it doesn’t have to cost you much time. You will need a desktop computer though. The program I’m going to show you is not available on mobile, and it wouldn’t really be practical to use without a mouse.

What’s that? I hear one more lingering doubt in your mind.

Your thinking…

“I’m not good with this type of thing.  New programs give me indigestion.”

To that, I would say give it a chance. Using the enhanced graphics sounds daunting, but that’s just because I couldn’t come up with a better name. We could also call them Fluffy Teddy Bear programs, however, when you want to impress your other teachers or maybe even the principle call them Enhanced Graphics.

Let’s start with CG. If you’ve seen a movie lately and it hasn’t been an icky love story (Sorry, I’m keeping it real. They’re icky to me.) Then you’ve noticed that anything is possible in the movies today. If you can dream it you can make it. This doesn’t just apply to movies like Frozen but also live action movies as well.

Pictures made with Blender
Some photorealistic Pictures mad with the program we’re going to use.

Movies are to a point now where most of the time we can’t tell if what we’re seeing is CG or a photo of something real. This is called photorealistic.

This is the reason why movie producers have the choice of using real actors on location with makeup and costume, or using CG where the actors appearance, some of the characters, and all the animals, are added in later.

Check out these two YouTube videos of the Jungle book. It may surprise you to find out the entire movie was shot in Down Town LA with only one real actor.

There is a drawback. While creating a CG scene doesn’t require flying to distant locations or exotic costumes, it does require the time to create the CG models and then have the computer calculate what they would look like if they really existed.

I bet you’re wondering what this has to do with what I promised to teach you. It turns out that the same type of programs used to make the movie Frozen is freely available to you.

In fact, people of all ages have had lots of fun making their own movies both completely CG and live action with special effects.

The movie short below was made with Blender, which is what we’re going to use.

The capability of CG programs is limitless if you know how to use them. You’re probably still worried about how you’re going to use such a sophisticated software tool, and you’d be right to worry.

The truth is you don’t have to learn the software. Sure if you want to create a whole new scene from nothing than your going to need some know-how, but if you already have the scene and are just making some easy changes then you’ve bypassed the whole learning curve.

At the bottom of this paragraph is a graphics file made with a program called Blender3D. For the rest of this blog, I’m going to show you how to use that blender file to create a picture like this one, but with your text instead of mine.

picturesAs a program, Blender is quite sophisticated. Blender can be used for creating 3d characters, machines, and environments. Blender can also be used to do video editing, it can even be used to animate the models you make. Lastly, it’s also a capable video game making platform, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Our goal with this post is to show you how you can take a pre-made file and modify it to give you the result you’re looking for.

Today we’re going to focus on how to get the text on the desk to read whatever you’d like.

Let’s start by downloading Blender 3D. Go to the Blender Home Page and download the latest version of Blender. At the time of this blog, the latest version is 2.77a. Don’t freak out if yours is different when you download Blender

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Blender Download Page

It’s possible you’ll want the 32bit version but if you’re using a laptop or desktop you purchased in the last couple of years, it’s likely 64bit. If you’re running Windows 10 and you want to find out whether you have a 64 bit or 32 bit this Windows 10 (Windows 8, Windows 7 ) youtube video should help.

Click the like that is the closest to your location. Great! Now you have the software. Installing it will be even easier than downloading it. Once you’ve downloaded it, go to where your browser puts its downloaded files.

If you’re using Google Chrome as your browser and don’t know where the file is,

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Find file

Click the right triangle at the bottom of your browser window, and select show in folder. The file name will probably end in “.msi”.

After you have downloaded the file, double-click it and go through the normal steps of installation (clicking next and accepting the License Agreement).

Great! You’ve just acquired a tool that will allow you to impress your fellow teachers, students, and administrators forever. Now let’s figure out how to use a small portion of it.

Now all you need is the enhanced file. You can find it here.

Once you’ve downloaded the file navigate to it using your file browser.

Find file in folder
Find file in folder

Your folder will have different contents than those shown above but the main file should be the same. The classroom_withBears_Enhanced.blend file should have that orange icon next to it. If it doesn’t you probably skipped the downloading Blender part.

Double click the classroom_withBears_Enhanced.blend file.

Startup screen
Startup screen

The window you open should look like the picture above.

Ok, don’t freak out. You don’t need to know about all the buttons and numbers on the side panel. They’re for another day.

You should think of virtual modeling as having your own private movie set, where you’re the director and producer. Just like a movie set the scene is shot through a camera.

The rectangle that has the top of the desk in it represents looking through your camera. Everything inside the rectangle is what your camera will shoot. Everything outside of it will not be in the final shot.

Let’s change the message on the desk to say something different. One weird thing about Blender is that you select things using the right mouse button instead of the left. With that in mind, we want to select the text. You’ll know it’s selected when there is an orange outline around it, like in the picture above.

When I created this file, I saved it with the text selected so you may not need to do this step. Now that the text is selected, hit the Tab key.

Get the text so you can edit it.
Get the text so you can edit it.

There should now be a cursor at the end of the text as is shown in the picture above.  Hit the backspace until all of the text is deleted.

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Delete the existing text

You can still see the little blue cursor.  It’s hiding just above the cups handle. Now you can type anything you like.  Since this picture is a teacher’s desk, let’s write something teacher related.

How about:

“Don’t forget about Parent Teacher Conferences this Month!”

You could send this picture with an email, put it on your website, and/or use it for FaceBook and Twitter.

You can begin to type when you see the blue cursor.  Blender won’t text wrap for you, so you’ll need to hit return when you want to go to the next line.

Be sure to hit enter where you want new lines.
Be sure to hit enter where you want new lines.

If you don’t hit return you’ll end up with something like the above.  This is easily fixed.  Just use the back arrow to put returns wherever you would like.

After you type your text.
After you type your text.

That’s pretty much all you have to do.  Now let’s shoot the picture.  The correct word for this is render.

You can shoot/render the shot from here.

Make sure the little camera button above the word WindowScene is pressed. You’ll know it’s pressed because the area around the camera icon will be blue. Now click the button that says Render.

Depending on your computer this part may take a while. If it’s taking a long time, you may be able to do other work on your computer while you wait, but if your computer is slow this might be a good time to take a break and do something else.

Rendering complicated scenes like those done for Frozen the movie could take a single computer upwards of 30hrs. I know, wow. Don’t worry, for us it should be between 3 and 5min.

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Now all you need to do is save the picture so you can use it in the future.  Go to the bottom left side of the window and click image.  You can then select save as image.


Here is where you can save your render (picture).  The easiest way to do this is to make note of where Blender already wants to save your image (top center blue circle) or use one of the pre-loaded locations on the left side-bar. On my computer I could use desktop because that’s what’s listed.  The default file format is PNG, but if you’d like something different, you can go to the bottom of the left sidebar and select the format that best suits you.  JPG might be slightly more versatile than PNG if you’re not sure.  when your done you can click Save as Image (right most blue circle).saveImage2

I’m guessing it took you more than 5 min to read and go through this tutorial, but from now on you can use this graphic to say whatever you want.

This tutorial was designed to introduce you to enhanced graphics and CG. Future enhanced graphics files will be much easier for you to use because you made through this tutorial.

Also, remember that everything you saw with writing in the picture at the beginning of the post is editable. If you’d like a short tutorial on how to change any aspect, the camera angle, the picture dimensions or even the scene itself, leave me a comment and I’ll gladly do one.

I hope you get to use this file many times. Don’t forget to Join My newsletter on the right sidebar so you’ll know about new enhanced graphics, tutorials, and free EduPics.

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