Blender is a free, open source 3D modelling program that has been in continual development for the past several years. Though not as commonly used in the community as 3D Studio Max and Caligari trueSpace, Blender does have a solid support base on the net and has been used successfully to create many models in FS2, including many of the HTL upgrades of Volition models.
With PCS2 (POF_Constructor_Suite_2) and the Collada supporting version (Collada_Importer#How_to_Get_Collada_Support), Blender has become a one-stop tool for creating FS2 models. (Ignoring whatever 2D application you use for creating textures!) For information about how to set up your model for conversion via DAE, see: Blender_to_POF_Conversions
Blender is available for most common operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux, FreeBSD and even Pocket PC. Even though Blender is free, it is arguably as powerful as many commercial 3D software tools, given certain restrictions.
Okay, what I'll do here is write up an overall guide on how things work with Blender. I won't handle all the ins and outs of getting a model textured and into FS just yet - that's a much bigger job. Just stick with learning to build ship meshes for now.
Right when you start up Blender, you'll see your start screen with the 3D window being the big main one and another window with a control panel along the bottom. This can be completely customised to suit whatever viewing needs you have. For example, I have a dual screen setup, and I use my left monitor as ONLY a 3D window and my right-hand screen with my control panel down the bottom and usually the UV mapping window above that.
The active window is whichever one the cursor is hovering over - so you can't for example rotate the 3d view unless your cursor is over that window.
You can scale these windows however you want and can merge or split them by hovering your mouse over the border between them and middle-clicking. You can change what each windows function is by clicking the square drop-down icon in the top/bottom left of each window.
Have a quick play with that to see how it works.
You can use the mouse, numpad, or a combination of both. The arrow keys on the numpad (8, 4, 6 and 2) will snap rotate the view in that direction in set increments. The numbers 7, 1 and 3 will snap the view to top, front and side respectively, and if you want to view from the other side (ie, from the bottom, back or other side), hold CTRL while pressing the number. (e.g., to view from the bottom, you'd hold CTRL and press 7)
The mouse pretty much just uses the middle mouse button and scroll to control the view. To rotate, just middle-click somewhere in the 3D window and drag it around. Holding SHIFT before middle-click will pan the view, and CTRL will zoom (though it's easier to use the scroll wheel here).
The final two things to note about views are that Blender can display your model from a perspective viewpoint or an orthogonal one. Numpad 5 toggles this setting, and the "." key will centre and zoom the view on whatever it is you've got selected (works with whole objects, verts, and just about anything else)
Onto the editing part - Blender has a couple of different 3D window modes to it. Object Mode is the default one - and it will allow you to select your various objects in the scene. To edit something in Edit Mode, you'll first need to have it selected (pink) in Object Mode.
You can find the rest of the modes by clicking the 'Object Mode' drop-down box which is towards the middle of the 3D window's control bar (not the control panel). Of these, Edit Mode is the only one you should worry about at this stage, and you should also note that to quickly get in and out of Edit Mode, just press TAB.
Ok, Edit Mode mainly works on whatever you've selected. Normally, this will be vertices because the wire-frame mesh editing is one of blenders strongest points, but it can quite easily be faces or edges too. To change what type of thing you want to select, you'll find the verts, edges and face select modes towards the right of the 3D windows control bar.
Let's just use verts for now, and we'll only fiddle with the default cube in the scene to demonstrate some of the other functions.
You can select verts/edges/faces in a number of ways, but the most common ones are to 1) press B and click+drag a box around it, 2) hold SHIFT and right-click next to all the bits you want (they'll turn yellow when selected), or if you want to select a number of verts that are attached by edges to each other, 3) right click one vert, hold ctrl and tap the numpad + key, and this will add any verts to the scene that are directly connected to the ones you've already got selected.
Another handy thing is the A key. It will toggle whether all or no verts are selected. If you've got none selected, it will select all of them. If you've got some selected, it will deselect them.
Ok, once you've made your selection (just select the 4 verts that make up one side of the cube for now), you can do just about anything with it. The main things you'll need to know about here though are the Grab, Rotate, Scale and Extrude functions. (each one is activated by tapping the associated first letter of the words.)
So tap G to grab our selection, and begin moving it around with your mouse. Something to keep in mind here is that when doing it like this, Blender will ONLY edit things according to the plane at which the selection is viewed. In other words and in this case, your camera will affect the 'plane' along which your selected object can be moved. E.g, if you press G while in top view, you'll only be able to move the object along the 'ground' plane.
On to what you can do while you've got your object grabbed - there's a lot. To cancel the move, you can right-click at any time and it will snap back to it's original position.
- To snap it between pre-set grid increments, hold CTRL.
- To perform tiny free movements, hold SHIFT.
- To perform tiny snap movements, hold SHIFT and CTRL.
- >>(most importantly)>>To constrain it so it will only move along any one axis, just tap the axis letter (once for the global axis, twice for local, thrice to de-constrain it).
- To move around one pixel at a time, tap the arrow keys.
You can do a couple of other things too, but you won't need them for now.
Now most of the above controls work when in Scale (S) and Rotate (R) too, so it gives you whatever degree of control over your selection that you want.
Extrude (E) is a bit different. It will basically duplicate your selection, but attach it by edges to the original ones. You should note though that this is context sensitive. What this means is that if you only have one vert selected and press E, it will extrude only that vert, no questions asked. However, if Blender detects an edge between two verts, or a face between 3 or 4, it will pop up a little menu when you press E. This will allow you to extrude the piece in exactly the way you wanted - i.e., as a face, edges, or individual verts. Have a play with this on the cube to see what it does.
Extrude basically allows you to grow your ships out of whatever you start with, so it's a very important one.
If you ever get confused, need to find a shortcut or something, press the space bar when over the 3D window. It will pop up a menu that is able to access most of blenders editing functions (the remaining lot are in the 'Weird' W menu), and it will list the shortcuts for each one too.
Also through this menu you can access the Add menu where you can add more primitive shapes at your Blender cursor's location. (The Blender cursor is that black crosshair with the red and white striped circle through it. You place it by left-clicking somewhere, and centre it by pressing SHIFT+C) Keep in mind that any objects you create through this menu will be aligned with your view plane again, so it can sometimes get ugly.
And finally, to delete your selection, press X, and it will give you an option for exactly what it is about your selection you want deleted.
- Official Blender site containing current version downloads.
- A useful wiki-based guide detailing the commands and controls for Blender
- Video tutorials for getting started.
- 555 different Blender tutorials from all over the net
- Water roughly explains UV mapping in Blender
- FSF's tutorial on all the ins and outs of getting a model textured and into FS