Re-learn Blender!

A few years ago I wrote a guide to learning Blender. But recently they greatly changed the whole UI, so I’ve redone it.

In general I don’t like UI revamps: they break the program and muscle memory for existing users, and this is a big one– things that you used to know are hidden in new places, and it was never very easy to find things in Blender’s overgrown garden anyway. But now that I’ve gone over everything, I actually like the new UI.

  • Now you select things by left-clicking, like every other program in the world, not by right-clicking.
  • Similarly, you can select points by click-and-drag, as in 2-D graphics programs, and click outside your object to deselect.
  • They’ve added a toolbar allowing easy mouse manipulation, as an alternative to the R/G/S keys.
  • They’ve added a widget that allows one-click access to top/front/side views. There are still keypad alternatives.
  • They’ve added a mode that makes UV mapping far easier. (They just open two views for you, which you could have done before, but getting into and out of UV editing is now just one keystroke.)

It’s still not an easy program to use, but all these things are in the right direction. (Some things, like getting the program to display your textures, are non-intuitive… but they kind of were before, and the new methods avoid a few side details I no longer have to explain, like cameras.)

Now, why would you want to use Blender? Well, it’s free, and very powerful, and if you want to make 3-D models for anything, it’s a great choice. I explained some other choices in the Planet Construction Kit, Hammer and Second Life, but those are way outdated.

I put modeling in the PCK for the same reason I have a chapter on drawing things: because visual creation is a huge part of conworlding, and helps bring a world alive. There’s a reason movies, TV shows, and video games engage people so deeply. (I still want to create an Almean walking simulator, not necessarily a game.)

I’d also add: if you avoid visual creation because you can’t draw, then maybe 3-D modeling is the answer. Like,. suppose you want a city scene within your world, or a view of the dwarven ruins, or even a picture of a single room or building. That’s a tall order for drawing, because it requires not just imagination but a mastery of perspective, and good intuition in choosing viewing angle, lighting, etc. Plus, any of those scenes will require drawing dozens of things that you probably don’t know how to draw well.

But with a 3-D modeling program, you can create a scene out of smaller elements, then choose the camera angle that shows it off best. It really is simpler to (say) create a colonnade in Blender than to draw one that looks convincing. And though texturing 3-D objects is difficult, you could always use Blender to do the perspective for you, then finish the drawing in a paint program.

The problem is that 3-D modeling programs have a pretty frightening learning curve. Which is why I made my tutorial! So go try it out. And tell me if you want more, or a guide to creating a game in Unity. (Or Blender, which I hear is now possible…)


I haven’t done a Minecraft report in awhile. I’m still playing in this world, though I’m eagerly awaiting 1.19. I’m pretty happy with this castle:

You may notice some blocks that look like lodestones, on the facade of the castle. They’re not lodestones; they’re map art. That’s great for posters and such, but it’s also very nice for decorative blocks. I tried the same idea before, but this came out much better.

The castle on the right isn’t entirely original– it’s inspired by the astonishing BDoubleO. The palace on the left is my design, based on a Renaissance palazzo. I’m not that happy with it, but I do like the contrast. In between the two buildings is a drop into an enormous cave. Here’s another view:

I mostly made this in creative mode. It’s nothing that couldn’t be done in survival, but it’s not like I have any Minecraft friends to impress, and it’s far easier to build very large structures in creative. Not only do you avoid the grind, but you can redo things. E.g. I built the palazzo in sandstone and granite, and decided that it looked terrible. It still takes plenty of time to make something nice… e.g. the map art alone took about three evenings.


This pretty much made my day:

You can see a better view of the picture here.

What is all this? Well, Hermitcraft is a shared Minecraft server whose members all post videos and/or stream on Twitch. They do amazing builds, but they also make games together and interact with the instincts of natural comedians. As the kids say, it’s incredibly wholesome.

When each Hermitcraft season ends, you can download the world map, which I did yesterday. It’s fun to fly around and see things in detail. And of course you can do whatever you want with the map, including adding items. So the joke here is that I added a tiny, ugly shack to Keralis’s beautiful city. And the meta-joke is that it’s not a noob shack made of dirt blocks; I took some time with it to make it really ramshackle. Making your builds far more detailed and interesting than they need to be is something I learned from the Hermitcrafters.

My Minecraft library

My book news is that I’ve been working on the index, and an alert reader’s long list of typos. Then I have to clean up the Sumerian grammar. So naturally I’ve been relaxing with Minecraft.

I feel like I’m getting to be a good builder. Here’s my latest building:

I’m really happy with the detailing. I’ve learned a lot from (though I’m miles short of) Keralis and Bdubs from the Hermitcraft server.

Here’s the inside:

Really nice Minecraft building is a matter of adding completely unnecessary details. Dig the bookcases and the lamps and village bell hung from chains. (It’s also a matter of using blocks for their looks rather than what they’re supposed to be. E.g. that white balcony up above is made of snow.)

I’m trying to make my huge builds actually useful, and this is a trading hall for my Librarians. You can see a couple of them moved in, and now I actually have about eight of them. The pros often lock their villagers into a tiny space, but mine have the run of their magnificent building.

Getting them here was a chore. When I’d moved #2, he got lost. I looked all around and under the building, wondering if he’d been killed by a monster. Finally I found him: he’d gone up my ladder to the roof, where he just stood around humming, unable to find his way back. I rescued him with a boat.

If perchance you want to do this sort of thing, my other bit of advice is to try out builds in Creative. It’s a lot easier to work out block choices and architectural details there, rather than trying to decide in Survival, where changing your mind (e.g. using orange rather than brown terracotta) means wasting resources.

More drawings

I finished my drawing tablet— 29 drawings in all. (I threw out one page; an idea I had didn’t work.) Here’s the best of the second half of the tablet. The last one is NSFW.


I think this turned out well. (That’s Natalie Merchant, of course.) Well, except that I couldn’t get a deeper black with my pencil.


WordPress used to insert a link to a large-scale version of the picture, but it no longer does. So here’s a close-up which gives a better idea of how these look on the paper.


I thought I should draw a horse. This is the first time I’ve drawn a non-cartoon horse. It turns out that, with a good model, almost anything is drawable. Who knew?


This is Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. Curious thing: if you do a Google image search for “woman sitting”, almost every result is at least somewhat sexualized, as if the photographer kept saying “Be more feminine!” Finally I searched for “tired woman sitting” and got the reference pose I wanted.


I like the shading on this one. Drawing the back is a good study for shading, because there’s muscles and bones and stuff, but not much that you can indicate just with lines.

One point perspective

You may have seen this on the Twitters. Manga artist Ikku Masa pointed out that this still from Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro has two vanishing points where you would expect one:


I thought it’d be interesting to “correct” the perspective.  This is more or less what the image would look like in one-point perspective:


(Yes, I had to take the sliding doors off. Just take it as necessary to show what the entire room looks like.)

Now, why did the background artist “cheat” the perspective? I think the best way to understand this is to concentrate on the blue lines. Moving the vanishing point left, to the center of the back wall, means the lines have to spread out more. That in turn means that the left wall gets a lot bigger. The right wall is bigger too, though not by as much.

The middle frame ends up smaller, including on top, so we see more of the partial wall at the top.  (And because this frame is narrower, including the doors would block most of the far part of the room.)

The overall effect is to make the room look smaller. You don’t feel like you’re looking into an expansive room; it’s more like standing in a tunnel.

What would you actually see in the room?  Well, not quite either view. For one thing, you have two eyes, which see slightly different views. For another,  the moment you turn your head, you’re not getting a one-point perspective at all, but a two-point perspective. Once you look at the left wall, you see it as facing you, not slanting toward the distance.

On the other hand, you wouldn’t see the Ghibli view either. The artist’s choice emphasizes the walls facing us and the floor leading to it. Plus it creates a maximally wide space for the characters to move in.

(One more thought: the tatami mats on the floor, in the original, don’t lead to either vanishing point— or to a single point at all.)

Anyway, it’s a really interesting example of an artist straying from camera realism and getting a nicer result by doing so.

Drawing practice

For about a month I’ve been trying to draw a picture every night, to try to maintain and improve my skills. Here’s some of my favorites so far.

They’re based on photos, but done by eye (no tracing). The originals are in pencil on 11″x14″ art paper.


That’s where I grew up, though I don’t remember it like that— my Dad later tore off the porch and made a little brick porch instead.


Faye Wong, from Chunking Express.


Just to show that I can draw things that aren’t Chinese girls. Oh, and one more Chinese girl:


So, what I’ve learned so far: I can draw if I have reference. Also, despite all the neat toys in Photoshop, maybe I do better on paper. (Compare my last drawing post.) I am trying some drawings without reference as well.

The drawing pad isn’t done yet, so more later…

Abend gets an update

In the course of expanding the Almeopedia article on the Esčambra and writing a new one on the Mažtan-Kal, I decided that the portrait of Abend needed redoing. Here’s a comparison.


The old pic dates back at least to 2006, and I’ve never been completely happy with it, for a few reasons.

  • I didn’t know how to draw hair. I still don’t, really, but I’ve watched a few videos and learned that hair (long hair, especially) can be divided into curls which each have their own shading.
  • I used to rely on an animator’s trick, using colored outlines; but here at least it looks too washed-out.
  • The eyes are pretty bad.  And the line of his chin goes seriously awry… it looks like his jaw gets confused with a bit of shading.

I redrew it yesterday, in the same pose, but I wasn’t satisfied— he looked way too young, like a member of a boy band. So I redid it today, and I’m reasonably happy with it. (Yes, he looks more melancholy.  He has a lot to think about.  More on that later.)

I might as well admit that Abend’s face is based on a French actor, Dominique Paturel. That’s mostly because he once played Figaro, who influenced Abend’s character, but it’s also appropriate that he’s played D’Artagnan and Baron Münchhausen, and been the voice actor for Leslie Nielsen. (He’s also the regular French voice actor for Michael Caine.)

He would be the perfect choice to play Abend, but only if we could get him from the ’60s or ’70s. It’s a little weird to see pictures of him as an older actor— I’m not sure I’d cast him as Abend today.


Blender for conworlders

In the Planet Construction Kit, I introduced some 3-D modeling programs, but that section is pretty outdated. What I recommend now (if you can’t afford a pro package) is Blender, which is free and full of features.  But like every other 3-D program, it’s complex and baffling and you can’t really figure it out just by messing with it.  So, I wrote a tutorial that gives the basics of Blender.


It isn’t a full manual… that’d be a book in itself… but you can get pretty far with it.  If people like it, I could add more (I only barely cover UV maps and creating humanoids).

Happy modeling!

Overwatch behind the scenes

The Overwatch World Cup Viewer is great for reviewing World Cup matches.  It’s also great for no-clipping around the world, seeing how the maps are put together and getting views you’re not supposed to be able to see.


For instance, above you can see the entire Nepal map.  All three stages are loaded at the same time, but you can’t see one stage from the next.

And here’s an unusual view of Ilios showing all three stages.  You can see this statue from Ruins; it’s interesting that it actually has a face (and belly button), which you can’t see when playing.

ow ilios 2

If you compare Blizzard World to the map of it, you can see that not everything is actually modeled. There are supposed to be a Spawning Pools Water Park and a Caldeum Market to the right, a Blackrock Mountain to the east, and a pirate ship in the water; none of these exist. But the rest of the park is pretty much all modeled, though only just enough to look OK from a distance:

ow bworld.jpg

The house marked with an asterisk isn’t even on the ground.  Also note the shadowy figures in the foreground… apparently this part of the park is still open, and has visitors. You can see them moving around as you play the map.

There are even cars and riders on the monorail– though they’re rendered as minimally as possible:

ow bworld 2

Here’s an unusual view of Hollywood. I’m really surprised that so much of the city is rendered, even if there’s also a lot of model re-use. You can see the theater where you spawn– the green roof in the middle background– so all of this is off to the left when you exit spawn, so most of it can’t be seen, even as Pharah. It’s interesting that they have enough of a polygon budget that they can model all this– including the backsides of buildings that you absolutely can’t see from the playable area. (And all those pipes and air conditioning ducts and curved roofs are really 3-d modeled.)


(I’m surprised because in Hammer, the level editor for the Valve games, anything you can’t see is scrupulously removed.  If you put a cube in the distance, only 2 or 3 sides will actually exist in the level. Evidently we now have polygons to burn!)

Here’s the theater itself– the green area is the lobby of the theater where you spawn. Behind it, a little disappointingly, there’s just some random tiny buildings; they didn’t block out the actual theater.


I wondered if the Rialto map has all the extra bits required for the Archives event (where you are the Blackwatch team sent to deal with the Talon guy).  Nope.  They obviously re-used a lot of the map, but not the extra parts (like the restaurant).

Finally, here’s something you’ve probably seen, but only while plummeting to your death. It’s the Omnic shantytown located under the King’s Row power plant.

ow kingsrow

This view is looking up toward the power plant. Again, this is suprising in the level of detail. You can see the track for the cart; the bright yellow circular thing just visible above the track is the dynamo (or whatever it is) above the final point.

Hmm, found some figures on the web. Alyx from Half-Life 2 has about 8000 polygons, which was a lot for 2004. (The Combine soldiers have only half that.) By contrast the Overwatch characters have 30,000, not including their weapons. That’s… a lot of polygons. So a few buildings with 100 to 200 polys are nothing to worry about.

(One trick which the game engine probably uses is to load low-poly versions of things that are in the distance. Still, the point is, the polygon budget is mostly thrown at the characters.)