Blender tutorial: Non-destructive modelling
Build sophisticated characters and scenes in Blender by learning how to work non-destructively in a component-based workflow
This tutorial was written by the amazing Juri Unt and appeared in issue 101 of 3D Artist
Step 01 – Methodology
A component-based modelling workflow mimics real life, where complex objects are assembled from nested sub-objects. In Blender these objects are systematically instanced using different ways of data linking. Complex forms are derived procedurally from simple meshes by making use of Blender’s powerful modifiers. This nearly fully non-destructive and non-linear workflow results in extreme efficiency and the ability to develop complexity without any major time penalties.
Step 02 – Create basic objects
After the design has been prototyped either with a 2D concept or through a 3D sculpt, a light polygonal topology needs to be created. By relating to objects as they are in real life, each component (such as chest plate or shoulder pad) should have a unique mesh. Modifiers such as Solidify, Bevel and Mirror should be added early on in the process. This enables you to explore design with very light and easy-to-edit meshes while the modifiers give you a preview of more complex final forms.
Step 03 – Crease and Bevel
When working with (open)subD, it is a good idea to use Edge Creasing to create sharp edges without unnecessary extra edge loops. Blender also offers procedural edge bevelling through use of Bevel Modifier (Weight mode). This creates actual edge loops to give nice and sharp bevelled corners with many parameters to control the look. Advantageously it does not require heavy subdividing to see the result.
Step 04 – Make the most of modifiers
The Edge Split modifier can be used in combination with Solidify and Bevel to create panel-like structures. The Screw modifier serves as a perfect base for creating round surfaces from 2D polygonal edges. The Skin modifier can be used to create lattice-like structures from nothing more than edges, while the Displace modifier with asymmetrically stretched UVs makes excellent wrinkles for cloth.
Step 05 – Arrays and Booleans
The Array modifier can be used for 1D arrays, 2D (grids) and also circular arrays. In combination with the Lattice modifier they can be put into any shape needed. The latest version of Blender comes with a very fast BMesh Boolean Modifier. What makes it exceptionally powerful is that Booleans can be stacked on any modifiers used before and after them as well as on the Boolean meshes themselves.
Step 06 – Work with components
As the complexity of the scene grows, so does the frustration of managing all the objects. Blender’s Scenes feature can be utilised to isolate any component into an empty scene. That way it can be treated as an independent artwork in most comfortable editing settings (zero transformations, no clutter, fast rendering). The data between scenes is systematically shared through DupliGroups or Data linking. This enables comfortable work with the component while being able to see live updates in all scenes and objects related to it.