It was only in 1995 when the first full-length 3D animation film graced theaters around the world. When viewers met Buzz Lightyear and Woody in Toy Story, it changed the history of animation forever. 3D animation used to be something reserved for high-powered computers and animation experts. But today, with the help of programs like Blender, animation is possible for anyone with a laptop.

How to Animate in Blender

If you already enjoy creating hand-sketched characters or other types of 2D art, diving into 3D is a great way to add a beneficial skill to your repertoire. Today, 3D art is used in everything from the Goo-Goo Buggy you drive in Mario Kart to the hyper-realistic landscapes seen in car commercials. Plus, if you hope to one day turn your passion for drawing into a full-blown career, learning 3D art is an impressive resume boost. 

Choose Your Shiny New Object

Blender’s viewport is empty with only the green x-axis and red y-axis visible. The menu “Add” is open and the cursor is clicking on the “Volume” option.
Still from Skillshare Class Your First Day in Blender 3D by SouthernShotty3D
Add the object of your choice by clicking on the “Add” menu option.

Whether you’re looking to learn more about Blender 2D animation or 3D, the first step is adding something to work with. In 3D, you do this by adding an object to your project. When you select “Add” from the menu bar, you’ll find a few different options. If you’re just getting started with Blender, the “Mesh” function will bring your illustrations to life with ease.

Once you hover over the Mesh option, you’ll have choices like “cube” and “sphere.” Go ahead and experiment with your options as you get your first taste of 3D animation. 

Navigate the Viewport

When animating in Blender, the first thing you’ll see is the viewport. It’s the name for the gray screen where you added your 3D object. Start out your exploration of Blender by getting familiar with the viewport. 

As you fully dive into animating, it’s best to invest in a 3-button mouse. This will greatly facilitate your navigation around the viewport. Click on the mouse’s middle button to rotate around your object, hold shift and click the middle button to pan from side to side, and use the mouse’s wheel to rotate around your object. 

 No worries if you’re just curious about 3D art and want to see how Blender works. There’s a gizmo in the top right corner that will allow you to navigate without a mouse.

A cube is visible within Blender’s viewport. The menu “View” is open and the cursor is clicking on the “Left Viewpoint” option.
Still from Skillshare Class Your First Day in Blender 3D by SouthernShotty3D
Observe your object from a different angle by clicking on the “View” tab and selecting “Viewpoint.” You can also move around you object with the red, green, and blue gizmo in the top right corner.

You can also adjust the angle you’re viewing your object with the “View” option in the left corner. Take a few minutes and click around your options. A lot of the tools are used for more advanced animation projects, but now is the perfect time to get the lay of the land. Don’t be afraid to experiment or make mistakes—that’s where all of the learning happens! 

Create Your Own 3D Characters!

Bring Your Illustration to Life With Blender 3D

Take Advantage of Your Tools

One of the reasons users enjoy working within Blender is because it comes with a lot of incredible tools. When you were exploring Blender animation essentials, you probably came across the tool bar on the left side of your screen. If not, click the “T” button on your keyboard and it will slide out onto the side of your viewport. 

These tools help you duplicate, move and delete elements from your artwork. If you already have an object in your viewfinder, you can test out a few of the tools now. You’ll be surprised at what you can discover with a little journey through the toolbar. 

One of the tools you’ll use the most when animating on Blender is “Move.” This tool will help you move your animation through both time and space. When you click on the “Move” button, which looks like four opposite facing arrows, three arrows will appear on your object.

Click the green arrow to put your object in the position to move along the x-axis. The red arrow represents the y-axis, and the blue arrow creates the z-axis. Within “Move” you’ll also be able to rotate and scale your object. Try turning your object around and then making it bigger. For right now, don’t worry about the final product, just relish in your new skill.   

Exploring Object Mode vs. Edit Mode

You’ve already got a movin’ and groovin’ 3D object on your hands, which means it’s almost time to move past the basics. Since you’ve been learning how to animate in Blender, you’ve been working with the “ObjectMode.” This functionality lets you move your objects around and set other object-related settings. 

But the fun really gets started when you enter “EditMode” to sculpt or change the shape of an object. You can easily switch between these two modes with the TAB button. Go ahead and tap on that TAB key and check out how your screen changes.

You’ll notice some new options within the menu bar as well as the tool bar. These tools will be key when creating your first 3D animation in Blender. Many of the tools are used in more advanced processes, but focus on the basics as you learn to work with Blender for the first time.  

Making Your Object as Unique as You

If you’ve never worked with 3D software before, there might be a few vocabulary words you’ll want to add to your repertoire. The first, you’ve already had some interaction with and it’s the “Mesh.” 

A sphere floats in the middle of the screen made up of hundreds of smaller polygons.
Still from Skillshare Class Your First Day in Blender 3D by SouthernShotty3D
Each little point you see is one of your object’s vertices. The lines that connect them are the edges and the faces make up the space in between each edge.

The 3D Mesh is the structural makeup of your object. It’s made of vertices, edges and faces. Vertices are points where two edges meet. If you can picture one of the Egyptian pyramids in your head, its vertices are its points. Edges are the lines that connect each vertex. And finally, the faces are the space between the connected vertices and edges, or the flat parts of the pyramid. 

Once you’re in the EditMode, you can delete, scale, and move all of the edges, vertices, and faces to change the shape of your object. Try right clicking on one of the faces on your object and delete the face. You’ll notice that there’s now a hole in your object because there’s no longer anything between your edges and vertices.

You’ve already been doing a great job of exploring Blender, but this is where the true creativity comes in. See what type of shapes you can make by deleting, scaling, and moving the parts of your 3D object. Try something simple like moving one of your edges and then see how funky your shape can get by changing multiple different parts at once. 

Once you’re happy with the shape of your object, you can give it a right click and select “Shade Smooth.” This will remove all the vertices, edges, and faces and create one smooth shape. This mode doesn’t require as much energy from your computer, so it’ll keep things from slowing down too much.  

Paint the Town

You’ve probably noticed that all of your work up to this point has been gray. This will be the basic color of all shapes, but there’s a way to change the color and the texture of your object. Just head to the materials panel, which is on the right side of your viewport. Here is where you can add and remove materials as well as adjust their settings. 

Try painting your object a bright, Mediterranean-inspired turquoise or a deep burgundy. See how roughness affects the reflectiveness of your object and how metallic changes its shine.

Bust a Move

If building your 3D object is a beast of its own, making it move is how you tell its story. Within Blender you can create an entire lifetime of content by making your object move and rotate all on its own. All of this can be done with keyframes. A keyframe is a time marker that stores the position of your object. 

To add a keyframe to your object, hover over your object and click “I.” You can set keyframes by location, rotation, scaling, and more. There’s a lot more to learn when it comes to creating moving animations, but practice makes perfect. Start by making two simple keyframes with slightly different locations so that they move along the x-axis.

Talking 2D

While Blender is a 3D software, it is possible to make a 2D animation. If you have a few 2D drawings you can already see coming to life, choose one that could make for great inspiration for your first 2D animation. Maybe you have a little pencil sketch of your dog and you can try making their tail wag.

The first step to making your happy dog—or anything else you can conjure up—is to open a new 2D animation file. Do this by clicking “File,” then “New,” and finally “2D animation.”  

Sketching and Moving Your Object

Next up, you’ll get to know the Grease Pencil. This is the tool you’ll use to make your 2D strokes. If you have experience with other drawing software, a lot of the drawing and erasing tools will work in the same way here in Blender. 

Finally to get your drawing moving, you’ll add keyframes just as you did in the 3D mode. Choose its path, add the keyframes and soon enough your new animated object will be moving through space and time. 

Animation Master in the Making

The original Toy Story—from Andy’s two story home to the infamous claw machine scene— –took 800,000 machine hours to produce. If you can imagine, the team needed a little bit of patience to complete the project. And that’s the main ingredient you’ll need when creating within Blender. 

With lots of advanced options it takes time to get a handle of Blender, but focus on getting there one step at a time. Try playing around with Blender for fifteen minutes a few times each week and before you know it you’ll be playing your own small part in the incredible history of animation

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Written By

Calli Zarpas

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