Building a Simple Boat

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It’s time to get out your hammers, saws, and tape measures, and start building something.

In this article, by Gordon Fisher, the author of Blender 3D Basics Beginner’s Guide Second Edition, you’re going to put your knowledge of building objects to practical use, as well as your knowledge of using the 3D View to build a boat. It’s a simple but good-looking and water-tight craft that has three seats, as shown in the next screenshot.

You will learn about the following topics:

  • Using box modeling to convert a cube into a boat
  • Employing box modeling’s power methods, extrusion, and subdividing edges
  • Joining objects together into a single object
  • Adding materials to an object
  • Using a texture for greater detail

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

Turning a cube into a boat with box modeling

You are going to turn the default Blender cube into an attractive boat, similar to the one shown in the following screenshot. First, you should know a little bit about boats. The front is called the bow, and is pronounced the same as bowing to the Queen. The rear is called the stern or the aft. The main body of the boat is the hull, and the top of the hull is the gunwale, pronounced gunnel.

You will be using a technique called box modeling to make the boat. Box modeling is a very standard method of modeling. As you might expect from the name, you start out with a box and sculpt it like a piece of clay to make whatever you want. There are three methods that you will use in most of the instances for box modeling: extrusion, subdividing edges, and moving, or translating vertices, edges, and faces.

Using extrusion, the most powerful tool for box modeling

Extrusion is similar to turning dough into noodles, by pushing them through a die.  Blender pushed out the edge and connected it to the old edge with a face. While extruding a face, the face gets pushed out and gets connected to the old edges by new faces.

Time for action – extruding to make the inside of the hull

The first step here is to create an inside for the hull. You will extrude the face without moving it, and shrink it a bit. This will create the basis for the gunwale:

  1. Create a new file and zoom into the default cube.
  2. Select Wireframe from the Viewport Shading menu on the header.
  3. Press the Tab key to go to Edit Mode.
  4. Choose Face Selection mode from the header. It is the orange parallelogram.
  5. Select the top face with the RMB.
  6. Press the E key to extrude the face, then immediately press Enter.
  7. Move the mouse away from the cube. Press the S key to scale the face with the mouse. While you are scaling it, press Shift + Ctrl, and scale it to 0.9. Watch the scaling readout in the 3D View header.

  8. Press the NumPad 1 key to change to the Front view and press the 5 key on the NumPad to change to the Ortho view. Move the cursor to a place a little above the top of the cube.
  9. Press E, and Blender will create a new face and let you now move it up or down. Move it down. When you are close to the bottom, press the Ctrl + Shift buttons, and move it down until the readout on the 3D View header is 1.9. Click the LMB to release the face. It will look like the following screenshot:

What just happened?

You just created a simple hull for your boat. It’s going to look better, but at least you got the thickness of the hull established. Pressing the E key extrudes the face, making a new face and sides that connect the new face with the edges used by the old face. You pressed Enter immediately after the E key the first time, so that the new face wouldn’t get moved. Then, you scaled it down a little to establish the thickness of the hull. Next, you extruded the face again. As you watched the readout, did you notice that it said D: -1.900 (1.900) normal? When you extrude a face, Blender is automatically set up to move the face along its normal, so that you can move it in or out, and keep it parallel with the original location.

For your reference, the 4909_05_making the hull1.blend file, which has been included in the download pack, has the first extrusion. The 4909_05_making the hull2.blend file has the extrusion moved down. The 4909_05_making the hull3.blend file has the bottom and sides evened out.

Using normals in 3D modeling

What is a normal? The normal is an unseen ray that is perpendicular to a face. This is illustrated in the following image by the red line:

Blender has many uses for the normal:

  • It lets Blender extrude a face and keep the extruded face in the same orientation as the face it was extruded from
  • This also keeps the sides straight and tells Blender in which direction a face is pointing
  • Blender can also use the normal to calculate how much light a particular face receives from a given lamp, and in which direction lights are pointed

    Modeling tip

    If you create a 3D model and it seems perfect except that there is this unexplained hole where a face should have been, you may have a normal that faces backwards. To help you, Blender can display the normals for you.

Time for action – displaying normals

Displaying the normal does not affect the model, but sometimes it can help you in your modeling to see which way your faces are pointing:

  1. Press Ctrl + MMB and use the mouse to zoom out so that you can see the whole cube.
  2. In the 3D View, press N to get the Properties Panel.
  3. Scroll down in the Properties Panel until you get to the Mesh Display subpanel.
  4. Go down to where it says Normals.
  5. There are two buttons like the edge select and face select buttons in the 3D View header. Click on the button with a cube and an orange rhomboid, as outlined in the next screenshot, the Face Select button, to choose selecting the normals of the faces.
  6. Beside the Face Select button, there is a place where you can adjust the displayed size of the normal, as shown in the following screenshot. The displayed normals are the blue lines. Set Normals Size to 0.8. In the following image, I used the cube as it was just before you made the last extrusion so that it displays the normals a little better.

  7. Press the MMB, use the mouse to rotate your view of the cube, and look at the normals.
  8. Click on the Face Select button in the Mesh Display subpanel again to turn off the normals display.

What just happened?

To see the normals, you opened up the Properties Panel and instructed Blender to display them. They are displayed as little blue lines, and you can create them in whatever size that works best for you. Normals, themselves, have no length, just a direction. So, changing this setting does not affect the model. It’s there for your use when you need to analyze the problems with the appearance of your model. Once you saw them, you turned them off.

For your reference, the 4909_05_displaying normals.blend file has been included in the download pack. It has the cube with the first extrusion, and the normal display turned on.

Planning what you are going to make

It always helps to have an idea in mind of what you want to build. You don’t have to get out caliper micrometers and measure every last little detail of something you want to model, but you should at least have some pictures as reference, or an idea of the actual dimensions of the object that you are trying to model. There are many ways to get these dimensions, and we are going to use several of these as we build our boats.

Choosing which units to model in

I went on the Internet and found the dimensions of a small jon boat for fishing. You are not going to copy it exactly, but knowing what size it should be will make the proportions that you choose more convincing. As it happened, it was an American boat, and the size was given in feet and inches.

Blender supports three kinds of units for measuring distance: Blender units, Metric units, and Imperial units. Blender units are not tied to any specific measurement in the real world as Metric and Imperial units are. To change the units of measurement, go to the Properties window, to the right of the 3D View window, as shown in the following image, and choose the Scene button. It shows a light, a sphere, and a cylinder. In the following image, it’s highlighted in blue. In the second subpanel, the Units subpanel lets you select which units you prefer. However, rather than choosing between Metric or Imperial, I decided to leave the default settings as they were.

As the measurements that I found were Imperial measurements, I decided to interpret the Imperial measurements as Blender measurements, equating 1 foot to 1 Blender unit, and each inch as 0.083 Blender units. If I have an Imperial measurement that is expressed in inches, I just divide it by 12 to get the correct number in Blender units.

The boat I found on the Internet is 9 feet and 10 inches long, 56 inches wide at the top, 44 inches wide at the bottom, and 18 inches high. I converted them to decimal Blender units or 9.830 long, 4.666 wide at the top, 3.666 wide at the bottom, and 1.500 high.

Time for action – making reference objects

One of the simplest ways to see what size your boat should be is to have boxes of the proper size to use as guides. So now, you will make some of these boxes:

  1. In the 3D View window, press the Tab key to get into Object Mode. Press A to deselect the boat.
  2. Press the NumPad 3 key to get the side view. Make sure you are in Ortho view. Press the 5 key on the NumPad if needed.
  3. Press Shift + A and choose Mesh and then Cube from the menu. You will use this as a reference block for the size of the boat.
  4. In the 3D View window Properties Panel, in the Transform subpanel, at the top, click on the Dimensions button, and change the dimensions for the reference block to 4.666 in the X direction, 9.83 in the Y direction, and 1.5 in the Z direction. You can use the Tab key to go from X to Y to Z, and press Enter when you are done.
  5. Move the mouse over the 3D View window, and press Shift + D to duplicate the block. Then press Enter.
  6. Press the NumPad 1 key to get the front view.
  7. Press G and then Z to move this block down, so its top is in the lower half of the first one.
  8. Press S, then X, then the number 0.79, and then Enter. This will scale it to 79 percent along the X axis. Look at the readout. It will show you what is happening. This will represent the width of the boat at the bottom of the hull.
  9. Press the MMB and rotate the view to see what it looks like.

What just happened?

To make accurate models, it helps to have references. For this boat that you are building, you don’t need to copy another boat exactly, and the basic dimensions are enough. You got out of Edit Mode, and deselected the boat so that you could work on something else, without affecting the boat. Then, you made a cube, and scaled it to the dimensions of the boat, at the top of the hull, to use as a reference block. You then copied the reference block, and scaled the copy down in X for the width of the boat at the bottom of the hull as shown in the following image:

Reference objects, like reference blocks and reference spheres, are handy tools. They are easy to make and have a lot of uses. For your reference, the 4909_05_making reference objects.blend file has been included in the download pack. It has the cube and the two reference blocks.

Sizing the boat to the reference blocks

Now that the reference blocks have been made, you can use them to guide you when making the boat.

Time for action – making the boat the proper length

Now that you’ve made the reference blocks the right size, it’s time to make the boat the same dimensions as the blocks:

  1. Change to the side view by pressing the NumPad 3 key. Press Ctrl + MMB and the mouse to zoom in, until the reference blocks fill almost all of the 3D View. Press Shift + MMB and the mouse to re-center the reference blocks.
  2. Select the boat with the RMB. Press the Tab key to go into Edit Mode, and then choose the Vertex Select mode button from the 3D View header.
  3. Press A to deselect all vertices. Then, select the boat’s vertices on the right-hand side of the 3D View. Press B to use the border select, or press C to use the circle select mode, or press Ctrl + LMB for the lasso select.
  4. When the vertices are selected, press G and then Y, and move the vertices to the right with the mouse until they are lined up with the right-hand side of the reference blocks. Press the LMB to drop the vertices in place.
  5. Press A to deselect all the vertices, select the boat’s vertices on the left-hand side of the 3D View, and move them to the left until they are lined up with the left-hand side of the reference blocks, as shown in the following image:

What just happened?

You made sure that the screen was properly set up for working by getting into the side view in the Ortho mode. Next, you selected the boat, got into Edit Mode, and got ready to move the vertices. Then, you made the boat the proper length, by moving the vertices so that they lined up with the reference blocks.

For your reference, the 4909_05_proper length.blend file has been included in the download pack. It has the bow and stern properly sized.

Time for action – making the boat the proper width and height

Making the boat the right length was pretty easy. Setting the width and height requires a few more steps, but the method is very similar:

  1. Press the NumPad 1 key to change to the front view. Use Ctrl + MMB to zoom into the reference blocks. Use Shift + MMB to re-center the boat so that you can see all of it.
  2. Press A to deselect all the vertices, and using any method select all of the vertices on the left of the 3D View.
  3. Press G and then X to move the left-side vertices in X, until they line up with the wider reference block, as shown in the following image. Press the LMB to release the vertices.

  4. Press A to deselect all the vertices. Select only the right-hand vertices with a method different from the one you used to select the left-hand vertices. Then, press G and then X to move them in X, until they line up with the right side of the wider reference block. Press the LMB when they are in place.
  5. Deselect all the vertices. Select only the top vertices, and press G and then Z to move them in the Z direction, until they line up with the top of the wider reference block.
  6. Deselect all the vertices. Now, select only the bottom vertices, and press G and then Z to move them in the Z direction, until they line up with the bottom of the wider reference block, as shown in the following image:

  7. Deselect all the vertices. Next, select only the bottom vertices on the left. Press G and then X to move them in X, until they line up with the narrower reference block. Then, press the LMB.
  8. Finally, deselect all the vertices, and select only the bottom vertices on the right. Press G and then X to move them in the X axis, until they line up with the narrower reference block, as shown in the following image. Press the LMB to release them:

  9. Press the NumPad 3 key to switch to the Side view again. Use Ctrl + MMB to zoom out if you need to. Press A to deselect all the vertices. Select only the bottom vertices on the right, as in the following illustration. You are going to make this the stern end of the boat. Press G and then Y to move them left in the Y axis just a little bit, so that the stern is not completely straight up and down. Press the LMB to release them.
  10. Now, select only the bottom vertices on the left, as highlighted in the following illustration. Make this the bow end of the boat. Move them right in the Y axis just a little bit. Go a bit further than the stern, so that the angle is similar to the right side, as shown here, maybe about 1.3 or 1.4. It’s your call.

What just happened?

You used the reference blocks to guide yourself in moving the vertices into the shape of a boat. You adjusted the width and the height, and angled the hull. Finally, you angled the stern and the bow. It floats, but it’s still a bit boxy.

For your reference, the 4909_05_proper width and height1.blend file has been included in the download pack. It has both sides aligned with the wider reference block. The 4909_05_proper width and height2.blend file has the bottom vertices aligned to the narrower reference block. The 4909_05_proper width and height3.blend file has the bow and stern finished.


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