How to Incorporate 3D Design if you Don’t own 3D Software

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Have you ever seen a picture on a web design and thought, if I was a talented photographer I could take my designs to the next level.  Maybe you’ve seen a picture on a website and thought, I wonder how they created that scene.  You may have even used Photoshop mock-ups that allowed you to change certain aspects of the picture.  Unfortunately, they’re still pretty constricted.

You’re probably aware of computer-generated (CG) images, and sure you’d like to learn how to make your own, but where would you possibly start.  Sure YouTube has an endless list of videos, but that’s the problem.  It’s endless!  

You’re a web designer after all, not an aspiring CG artist, but wouldn’t it be great to have that skill.  The ability to generate a one of a kind graphic customized to your needs in every way would give you the edge you’ve been looking for.

Being able to create CG images is like having a complete photography studio at your fingertips.  You can have models and actors of all kinds.  You can use props and have the lighting of your choice at any time of day.  

The potential is truly infinite.  I bet you’re wondering how you can pull this off given everything you’ve read thus far.  The truth is that learning how to use every part of a CG software is challenging but it’s not necessary.

Imagine walking into a million dollar photography studio, and upon entering the photographer hands you the camera and says “all the lighting and camera options are already prepared.  You just need to point and shoot”.  Could you take some good shots given that circumstance?  I bet you could.

That’s what we’re going to do here.  I’m going to give you a CG file that has lots of things already in it.  If you like you can just change coloring and add text, which will take you less than a few minutes.  You can also move objects around creating your own scene, or you can download more objects changing the scene even more.

After you finish reading you’ll know how to use a CG file made with Blender 3D (a 3D program).  You’ll be able to use that file to create pictures of your own.  

 

Blender

Blender is a very powerful completely free 3D software.  And when I say free I really mean free.  It doesn’t have a trial period that runs out, it’s not only free for students, or free to use some features but not others.  

It’s completely free.  If you wanted to pay for it, your only option would be to donate or buy a T-shirt.

 

What is CG

CG, as you read earlier, stands for computer generated.  Some people call it CGI where the I stands for images.  On a very basic level, a CG software like Blender allows you to mimic the entire world inside of your computer.  That covers everything from how light behaves, how a ball would bounce, and how water might flow.

Take a look at this demo reel to see what’s possible with the Blender software we’re going to use.

In most cases CG software like Blender allows you to model an object, which means create a digital version of the object made of polygons.  It then allows you to define the material that object is made of.

After your object is modeled and the materials are defined, similar to real photography,  you can take a picture (render) and the software will calculate how the light should behave resulting in a picture that impresses all your friends and family.

I grossly simplified that of course, but you don’t really need to understand everything at this point.

 

Getting Started

Let’s start by downloading Blender.  One good thing about using Blender is that it doesn’t matter what operating system you’re using.  Mac, Windows, and Linux can all run Blender in pretty much the same way. Go to

Download

to download the program.

At the time of this article, the most recent version of Blender is 2.78c but don’t worry if you’re reading this in the far off future. Everything I say here will more than likely still be accurate.  I have the urge to make a Back to the Future joke here but I’ll spare you. I can just picture the blank stares from those of you who are not old enough to know what I’m talking about.

I’m mentioning the version of Blender because the picture you see at the top of the download screen (below)  coincides with a particular version of blender, so don’t worry if that picture is different.

From here I recommend using the installer.  Choose the location that is closest to you and fits your operating system (64bit vs 32bit).

 

The Blender Interface

Now that you’ve got blender open let’s get familiar with the interface.  The video below is by a YouTuber named Andrew Price and he’s a great resource for good tutorials, but, I’m trying to get you savvy in the shortest amount of time possible, so the video link below is cued up to start right when he teaches the information you need to know now.  You also don’t need to watch past the 11 min mark or so.  That’s only about 7 min total.

In the video you just watched, Andrew recommended that you change your select button to be the left mouse button.  I strongly recommend that you do this.

Here is a link straight to that section of the video.

https://youtu.be/JYj6e-72RDs?t=9m40s

 

Moving objects

Now that you know how to navigate the interface, let’s talk about how to manipulate your scene by moving objects.

First, let’s download the file.  Here’s a link

http://bit.ly/officecubicleFile

Now open it by double clicking the icon in whatever location you downloaded it to.

This is the scene you’re going to get as your virtual studio.  I chose it because in most circumstances people can relate to either having to work at a desk cubicle, or not wanting to work at one.

 

Moving Objects

Let’s say that you want to move an object around in the scene.  Let’s select the coffee cup.  Select the object by left clicking,  then hit the “g” key for grab.

The object will have an orange outline when you select it.

When you hit “g” for grab, the object will now have a white outline.  Doing this alone is not the best way to move an object though.  

You can move an object along an axis by hitting “x”, “y”, or “z” after you hit “g”.  You know you’ve done this because a line showing what direction the object can be move will be visible.

Go ahead and try to move the coffee cup in our model to the right.

Do this by hitting “g” and then “y”.  A green line will appear after you hit “y”, allowing you to move the coffee cup with the mouse.

If things ever get crazy while you’re moving an object, you can always hit “Esc” to go back to where you were just before you hit “g”.  You can also undo with “Ctrl + z” on windows.

One other way you can move an object is to do so on a plane.  This is a good way to move something that appears to be on a surface.  In our scene, most of the objects are on some sort of plane.  The stapler, pen, and books are all on the desk.  The calendar poster and paper are all on cubicle walls.

To move something on a plane select it first (“left mouse button”) then hit “g” for grab.  Now to make sure it moves on a plane hit “shift” and the axis you DO NOT want to change.  In our coffee cup example that’s the Z axis (up and down movement).

Try again to move the coffee cup back to where it was by selecting it, and then hitting “g” followed by “shift + z”.  Now you should be able to move the cup around on the desk without it lifting above or below the surface.

 

Rotating Objects

Now, what if you wanted to rotate an object.  The concept is exactly the same except this time you’ll hit “r” for rotate and then the axis you’d like to rotate about.  If we wanted to rotate the stapler for example, we would first select it (left mouse button) then hit “g” and then “z” to move it about the Z axis.

Play around with the scene using the “g”  and “r” keys.  If you try to move something like the computer monitor by selecting the base you’ll notice that the screen doesn’t move with the base.  To move both together hold “shift” and left click both items to move them at once.

Removing Objects

There’s a chance you won’t want to use certain objects that are already in the scene.  There is a really easy way to control if an object is visible or not.

Before I tell you how to do that, let me make a distinction.  If you’ve got blender open and you’re looking through the 3D viewport, that’s different from the final render(picture) you’ll get when you’re all done.  The final render comes from a picture you take with a virtual camera from within Blender.

This means that if you’d like to hide objects you can hide them from yourself in the 3D viewport and/or you can hide them from the camera when you render an image(take a picture).

To hide it from yourself in the 3D viewport select the object and hit “h” for hide.

This is what our scene looked like before.

Now We’re going to hide the cup that is circled above by selecting it (left mouse button) and then hitting the “h” key.

This is what it looks like now.  The cup is gone.  This trick won’t go over well at parties, but it will help you declutter an area so you can organize it.

If you took a low-quality render (quick picture) of the scene now it would look like this.  I’ll cover how to render a little later.

Notice that the Cup is still there.

Note:  To undo what you’ve hidden hit “Ctrl + h” at the same time.

In order to make it invisible to the camera.  You need to find the object in the Outliner which is located on the top right panel of the window.

From there, scroll down until you get the object you’re looking for.  In our case your looking for the object named “coffeecup”.  You can find out the name of another object by selecting the object and then looking at the object name.  Make sure the object panel icon is selected first.

In the Outliner, you’ll see a camera icon to the right of the word coffee.  Click the camera icon so that it goes dim, and now it won’t be visible to the camera when you take a picture.

You’ll notice in this render that the coffee cup is gone.  You can make it reappear by clicking the same icon you used to make it disappear.

Changes to color

Now that we’ve covered how to move things around, let’s talk about how to change the color of an object so that it will match whatever theme you may want.

First, there is something you should understand before we talk about changing colors.  When we talk about how an object looks we’re typically talking about its material.  Just like objects in the real world can be made of different materials, objects in Blender can appear to be made of different materials as well.

An object’s appearance can fall into two categories, materials and textures.  You can think of materials as defining how light interacts with the object by tweaking different options within Blender.  Textures are image files that help define how an object appears.  

You probably noticed that these definitions are not mutually exclusive.  Don’t worry too much about that, we’re not going to dive too deep into this here.  I just want you to be able to change certain key things in a scene.

This is an example of a texture used in our scene.  You can see, that despite this being a simple image,  it’s quite complex, with lots of different patterns and colors.

There’s a lot more to this, but you only need to understand this distinction to move forward.  I’m going to show you how to change materials that do not have textures.  This is because changing textures is a bit more involved, and I want to just introduce you to the software.  Not bury you in it.

If we take a look at our rendered picture again.

You’ll notice that the cubicle panels, carpet, and chair are all textures.  The books, stapler, pens, phone, and drawers are pure materials without textures.

Let’s change the color of the stapler as an example.  First, select the stapler by left clicking it.  You’ll now see that familiar orange outline.

Make sure the materials tab is selected on the Properties panel as shown in the picture above.  The materials associated with the object will show two things (“Redsheen” and “metal_dull”).  These are the two materials of the stapler.  The part called metal dull is the metal looking material and the Redsheen is the portion that makes it look like red plastic.

Each material is already assigned to the correct portion of the object, so you only need to change the color that part of the stapler is assigned to.

To change the color, make sure “Redsheen” is selected, and left click on the color bar (see picture above)  in the materials panel.

You can use this color wheel to select which color you would like.  If you’re trying to match something exactly and you know the Hex code, you can click the “Hex” button located next to the “HSV” button and enter it directly.

Let’s change the color to blue.  Left click and drag the white dot until it’s in the blue area.  You’ll notice that the preview panel below the properties panel will change as well as the stapler in the 3D viewport.

You’ll also notice that the color of the metal part of the stapler did not change.  This setup is the same for all objects in the scene.  Some objects like the desk drawers will only have one color and some like the pen will have three.

You can also change how shiny the object is by changing the roughness.  This is controlled using a slider just below the color bar you clicked on.

Even the cubicle panels, with their textures, are set up in this way.  I would avoid making changes to the texture part unless you do some more tutorials, or you’d like them to be a solid color.

 

Text in different places

In the picture above you can see how I’ve added text of different kinds and colors to the environment.

Remember you know how to hide, move, and rotate objects in Blender so that applies to text objects too.

To make any changes to text you will need to switch from Blender’s Object mode to its Edit mode.  Object mode is what allows you to select different objects in a scene and move them around.  Edit mode allows you to make changes to a particular object.

We’re not going to delve too deep into edit mode now, but if you’re interested in making your own objects then edit mode is where you’d do it.

To make changes to the text object you must first select it, then on the 3D viewport menu bar (at the bottom of the 3D viewport) select Edit mode in the drop down menu (see picture above).  You can also toggle between Edit mode and Object mode by hitting the “Tab” button.

If you’re having a hard time viewing the Text object you selected from a good angle, select it first.  Then hit “.” on the number pad.  This will center that object. After that, you can hit “Tab” to get into Edit mode.

If you’re close enough to the object you should see a cursor.

If you don’t see the cursor you may be viewing it from too far away. Zoom in a bit and it should appear.  If you still don’t see it, start typing and that will tell you where the cursor is.

 

Text Options

There are lots of different things you can change about how text is displayed.  First to get to the text options be sure the text is selected.  You can be in either Edit mode or Object mode.  Next, click the text tab (Looks like an “F”) to see the text options.

Here I recommend that you just play around with the different options.  To undo anything that you’ve done you can click “Ctrl” + “z”.

 

Font

If you would like to use a different font than the default you’ll have to load it yourself.  The good news is that if you’re using a Mac or a PC you can access the fonts you already have on your computer.

A quick google search revealed that my fonts are located on my PC here:

C:\Windows\Fonts\

You can do a quick google search and figure out where you font files are.

I know it’s a hassle to have to load fonts when you’re used to having lots of choices preloaded, but this method at least makes it straightforward to change your font to whatever you would like.

There are lots of places on the internet where you can download the font of your choice for free.

To load a new font click the folder icon shown in the picture and navigate to the location of the .ttf file (that’s the file format for fonts).

 

Alignment

You can also change how the text is aligned under the Paragraph section of the text options.  

3D Text

The next thing that needs some explanation is how to turn your text 3D.  You may be thinking, “Hey Bill I thought you said we were working in 3D.  Isn’t everything 3D.”  First, don’t call me Bill, I hate that.  

But seriously to answer your question, the environment is 3d but the default text doesn’t have thickness.  There like sheets of super thin paper.  

If you look back at that picture with text in all the different places at the beginning of this section, you’ll see that the purple text on the bottom right corner has a thickness to it.

You can do this by looking at the Geometry section of the text options.  There are four options: Offset, Extrude, Depth, and Resolution.  To give the text some depth you can change the Extrude value.  You can do that by holding down the left mouse button and dragging or typing a value directly.

If you’d like to round the edges you can change the depth.  Go ahead and play around with these options to get a feel for what they do.

 

Camera

Learning how to move the camera is better watched than explained.  One good thing to know first is that you can see what the camera is looking at by hitting “0” on the numpad.  You can get out of that view by just rotating the view around using the middle mouse button.

Here is a video that is already cued up to the section you’ll need.  You don’t need to understand setting the active camera, which is the last topic in the video, so there are only about 3 or so minutes you need to watch.

https://youtu.be/w7qGL3LIvcc?t=18m39s

You also have the option of moving the camera like any other objects by selecting it first and using “g” to grab it or “r” to rotate it.

Rendering

You’ve made it to the most important part of the article.  Let’s talk about how to take pictures.  There are lots of things you can do with the camera like changing the depth of field, setting a specific focal length, and animating its movement, but I promised you a point and shoot solution.

Let’s start with a couple of settings you’re going to want to tweak.  The first thing is the resolution.

 

Resolution

On the right side in the properties panel make sure the camera icon is selected.  This section shows all of the different options for the camera but we only care about 2.  The Resolution which has a yellow square around it in the picture above shows the currently selected resolution.  Make sure that the percentage under the X and Y values is set to 100%.  Things are confusing if it’s less than that.

Right now the resolution is set to 1920×1080.  This might work for you or it might be too big.  It also might not be the right aspect ratio for what you’re trying to do.  You can set the resolution to be whatever you want.  Whether you using the graphic for a web page banner or FaceBook picture you can pick the perfect size for your needs.

 

Sampling

Earlier I mentioned that blender does all the calculations for how light is supposed to behave in your environment to figure out how the picture is supposed to look (otherwise known as rendering).  

The number of samples is directly related to the number of calculations performed by blender in attaining your render.  The more samples you set the more calculations that must be performed.  This is important because increasing the calculations increases the render time.

Now you’re thinking: “So who cares about the stupid calculations”.  Unfortunately, the quality of your image is correlated with the number of samples/calculations.

If I render our scene with only 10 samples, this is what I get.  If you look closely at it, you can see it’s quite grainy/noisy.  It only took 56 sec to render though.

Now let’s do a render with 100 samples.  You can see that there is less noise in this render, however, the render time increased dramatically to over 6 min.

If you only want a quick idea of what your render is going to look like you can use a small number of samples.  When you’re ready for the final version you can set the samples higher.

For this particular scene, I didn’t see any change in quality past about 400 samples so there’s no need to increase the number of samples past that.

There are some other ways you can shortcut to get an idea of how your render will look, but this method uses the same steps you’ll use for generating your final picture.

 

Taking the final Shot

Taking the picture is the easiest part of the process.  Similar to when you were changing the camera options, you want to have the camera icon highlighted in the properties panel.

Now all you need to do is click the render button and wait!  On PCs, the Blender icon at the bottom of your status tray will show how far along Blender is with your render.  I’m sure Mac’s have something similar.

You’ll also know it’s complete because the area above where the picture is being created will show something like the picture below with different numbers.

While it’s in the process of rendering, it will have a lot more information.

When it’s all done the rendered image will be displayed in the main section of the blender window.  This is actually different from the 3D viewport and is called the UV/image editor.  You can tell by the circled icon in the picture below.

Go to the image menu option and select “Save As Image” to save the newly rendered picture.  From there the window will change again and you can save it to any location you like.

To get back to the 3D viewport you can either hit “Esc” or select it directly by clicking on the circled icon in the picture above and picking “3D View” from the drop-down menu.

 

Time for you to be Awesome

If you read all that and still seem a bit lost, take a look at these three tutorials.  You saw part of the first one already but go ahead and watch it again and follow along with the model you got from me.

https://youtu.be/JYj6e-72RDs

https://youtu.be/s05DiCEDVGE

https://youtu.be/qqeNA_4O0Qg

Now that you can move and hide objects, as well as move the camera there are an infinite number of shots you can take.  I can’t wait to see how you use this.  

Feel free to leave questions in the comments below.  I’d love to hear how this went, and what I can do to make it better.





Comments

  1. Murat says:

    Hi,
    Can you share the project document to follow easly?
    Thanks

    1. William Harrison says:

      Hi there. The file is in the blog post but I put it below as well.

      http://bit.ly/officecubicleFile

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