Now I like Blender

How a friend helped me get past the weirdness of Blender

TL; DR Friends make learning Blender a lot more fun.

I’ve been working in VR for over a year now and one of the skills I’m still trying to build is 3D Modeling. When I first started learning 3D last summer the first thing I tried was Blender. I gave it a couple of days. I tried to follow some tutorials and blog posts. I ended up giving up in frustration. Blender was just too confusing! The interface was weird and the controls were insane. I couldn’t understand why anyone would design a program like this.

A Twitter friend saw my frustration and suggested Maya LT. Maya is a powerful and expensive 3D modeling package, but they have a special version called Maya LT that is suited for game asset creation. When I tried Maya I felt much more at home. The controls were easier to understand, and moving around 3D space felt more like Unreal and Unity. I did struggle with learning this though. One thing I really didn’t like about Maya was their overuse of icons. Almost the entire UI is icons, all of which look more or less the same to me. I’m sure I could get used to it over time, but when trying to learn something new I found this to be a liability.

I used Maya LT for a few months, along with Google Blocks and Verto Studio. Over time the project I was working on changed and I found myself moving away from 3D modeling for a while. I build a few small projects using ProBuilder and assets from the Unity Asset Store. Somewhere along the way I canceled my Maya LT subscription.

In March and April I built a VR Bowling game in Unity. I learned a ton from this project across a number of areas but I felt bad about my lack of 3D skills. I used ProBuilder to gray-box the app and ended up filling it with assets that I purchased. When I finished that phase of work I decided it was time to brush up on 3D modeling.

This time I decided to take another look at Blender. Why? Why go back to something so frustrating? What changed?

This time I had a friend. I met someone at a co-working space that uses Blender and he started showing me a little bit about what it could do. He helped me understand some of the weird UI and input features by giving me example of how and why to use them. Basically, he showed me just enough to get me excited about Blender, then my own obsessive tendencies kicked in. In the next seven days I read two books and completed 30 hours of video tutorials. I made around 100 blend files to test ideas and learn various concepts. I even uploaded a few things to Sketchfab.

I wrote this post because I wanted to point out just how much of an impact it was to have someone that knows a tool or platform. Working alone most of the time, it’s easy for me to spend a ton of time and effort on a new tool or project and end up failing. When I tried Blender alone I was frustrated and confused. When I had a little bit of help I was able to overcome the confusion and start to make progress.

I have a long way to go before I become a good 3D artist, but I feel like I’m on the right path now.

Some resources that have helped me learn Blender.

  • Blender: The Ultimate Guide Volume 1 This is part one of five books on Blender. This book taught me a ton about Blender features, controls, input, and navigation.

  • 3D Modeling for Beginners This book was the most helpful of anything I’ve tried so far. This is a short book but it is packed full of really useful information about 3D Modeling concepts. The examples are done using Blender but you could follow along with any 3D Modeling package.

  • Learn 3D Modelling – The Complete Blender Creator Course This is a massive Udemy course on Blender. As of writing this post I have yet to complete it. I worked through the first four sections in great detail and then started skipping around a bit.

  • Blender Guru makes awesome videos and tutorials on Blender.

  • Jayanam also makes Blender tutorials, as well as many other platforms. He does some great time-lapse video that involve building complete scenes. He also does some short videos that focus on a core feature or concept.