We all know that Blender can be a powerful tool for 3D content creation. But with so many features, it can sometimes be hard to take advantage of all that the software has to offer. Enter 3D Artist’s Blender experts, who reveal a range of tricks you can employ to help you get the best performance out of Blender, such as UI customisations, ways to improve your workflow and time-saving hotkeys. There are also Blender add-ons to consider, how to optimise renders, compositing tricks and scripting hacks.
If you’ve ever thought Blender was too complicated to use then now’s your chance to go under the hood. Our Blender experts – who include CG artists, concept designers, visual effects artists and industrial designers – reveal how they make the most of the tool to produce stunning imagery every day.
Freelance artist, app and indie game developer
Freelance 3D modeller
Freelance 3D artist
Daniel Vesterbæk Jensen
Visual effects artist
3D design director
Character artist, sculptor
Wing Wai Sze
01 Use random colour script to create ID Mask
Although Blender has its own ID Mask method you can’t use it in other image editing software (like Photoshop or GIMP), but you can make use of this amazing script by EugeneKiver. It creates proper ID maps for you (blendswap.com/blends/view/66370).
02 Learn your hotkeys
Left-hand keyboard efficiency is key to working fast, especially in Blender.
03 Starting up
Go to File>User Preferences>Input>and check Emulate 3 Button Mouse and Numpad. Go to System and change dpi to 65, which gives you more space, and tweak the Solid OpenGL lights to make the shadows in the viewport more prominent. Then activate plugins like F2, Node Wrangler, LoopTools and Extra Objects, and download sculpt plugins such as Bevel Curve Tools Master and Blender Sculpt Tools Master.
04 Colour balance
The colour management tab is a quick and great tool for both colour balancing and grading. Use the built-in scopes to get a better idea of the actual colour balance of the image.
Daniel Vesterbæk Jensen
05 Quick preview
Enable the Node Wrangler add-on, then on the Node Editor, press Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+left-click on any node to attach a viewer node for a quick node preview while a real-time render is enabled in the viewport.
06 Interior lighting
For interior rendering, ambient occlusion is the most important setting that you absolutely need to understand correctly in order to get better ambient illumination.
07 Default add-ons
Make use of the many add-ons included in Blender by default. You can activate them in File>User Preferences>Addons. My favourite ones are Node Wrangler by Greg Zaal, Bartek Skorupa and Sebastian Koenig; and Pie Menus by Sean Olson, Patrick Moore and Dan Eicher.
08 Layer management add-on
A great add-on for organising your scene is Layer Management. It not only gives you the option of customised layer names but it also lets you select items by layer. This is great if you have a very dense scene scatter across many layers.
Wing Wai Sze
09 output at 100 per cent
Most of us forget that the default value of Blender output is set to 90 per cent, which might degrade the quality of your output render.
10 Edit mode Boolean
This tool can be accessed via the Faces menu while in Edit Mode, or with Cmd/Ctrl+F to quickly go to the menu, and selecting Intersect (Boolean). It basically lets you use the Boolean modifier’s Difference mode in the edit; it can save lots of time without going through the modifier.
Wing Wai Sze
11 Break complex things down
Isolating individual components of the main scene into separate scene(s) will enable you to treat each piece as independent work. It is also a good idea to learn how to reuse assets by linking, kitbashing or using plugins such as AssetManager.
12 Manual matchmoving
Don’t be afraid to matchmove an object by hand. This is something I do all the time at work. An actor will be holding an object that we need to add VFX to, so I quickly model the object and line it up with the plate, not worrying about lenses, perspectives or anything.
13 set keys for matchmove
Once it’s lined up, I set keys for position, scale and rotation, then go through the shot manually animating it to match as best I can. I know some of you are cringing, but you’d be surprised at how well this works. I’ve used it on everything from a supervillain’s weapon to the entire interior of a vehicle.
14 Polys and performance
When working on a large project with extremely high-poly models, performance becomes an issue. One simple hack to improve performance is to disable Outline Selected in the N panel in the 3D view.
15 Free rendering
Use Sheep It to render. Sheep It is a free distributed render farm for Blender that means you can render anything for free.
16 Editor shortcuts
For quick access to Blender’s various editors, without the need to press the header icons, use the following keyboard shortcuts:
• Shift+F2 for Logic Editor
• Shift+F3 for Node Editor
• Shift+F4 for Python Console
• Shift+F5 for 3D View Editor
• Shift+F6 for Graph Editor
• Shift+F7 for Properties Editor
• Shift+F8 for Video Sequence Editor
• Shift+F9 for Outliner
• Shift+F10 for UV/Image Editor
• Shift+F11 for Text Editor
• Shift+F12 for Dope Sheet
17 Find add-ons
You can learn to write your own, of course, but for most modellers you’ll find a huge library of things people have written to solve specific challenges they faced. From automating rote tasks to creating cool new features, add-ons can improve basically anything.
18 Use Shift+G to select similar
This could be a huge timesaver for you as you can select regions with a similar nature (like material, perimeter, normal and so on) rather than selecting each of them individually.
19 tweak autosave intervals
You can easily set Blender’s autosave intervals and save versions (BLEND1, BLEND2 and so on) by going to File>User Preferences and clicking on the File tab. I have my own autosave interval permanently set to two minutes, and my save versions set to three.
20 Adapt the ui
I have favourite tools that I find are indispensable. I’m a hard-surface modeller, so for UI setup, I use Snap To Grid in the 3D window, and always use MatCap shaders and screen space ambient occlusion to make geometric details pop so I can see where my details are good and where more work is needed.
21 Noisy renders
Sometimes Cycles just can’t clean up noise. I like to create a patch for compositing. I choose a frame where there is noise and let it render with unlimited samples. Then I save as an EXR. On an empty layer, create a small plane, subdivide and shrinkwrap it to the object so it covers where the render noise is happening. Project the clean frame rendered, make the shader an emission set to 1.0 and render with an alpha channel.
22 Make the most of modifiers
Be more flexible, work faster and smarter by utilising modifiers. Explore each of the available modifiers to better understand how they can benefit you in your daily workflow.
23 Keep it clean
Complex meshes almost always need some cleaning at the end. Everyone should know about Blender’s clean-up tools. These can be found in Edit Mode at the bottom of the 3D View: Mesh>Clean up.
24 Go straight into sculpting
Sculpting characters regularly, I like to spend more time on sculpting and less time on setting the scene up, and creating light and materials. For a quick lighting setup, I open up a new Blender scene and I create the lighting on three layers: a layer for the main lights, a layer for the key lights and a layer for the rim lights.
25 test lights
I use a default sculpt for testing the lights. The size of the sculpt is important – you will have to use that size for the rest of your sculpts in order to tweak the lights less.
26 Node Wrangler
When working with nodes use Node Wrangler to optimise your workflow. A hotkey list can be found in Add-ons in User Preferences.
Daniel Vesterbæk Jensen
27 Use vertex group to save your selections
Sometimes you may want to use some regions of your mesh more often and you don’t want to select them every time, so you can use vertex group to save selected regions.