I edited a mesh in Blender–and you can too

Last night, on In World Review, a major topic of discussion was how horrendously difficult Blender is to use. You can’t just install it and start playing around.

I tried, and it almost killed me. No obvious mouse gestures work. The menus don’t make sense. In fact, there are three different “View” menus on the home screen!

For example, one of the things we all would have liked to be able to do was to take an existing mesh and just tweak it a little bit. How hard can that be? I finally had to throw in the towel at 4 a.m. last night — I couldn’t even get as far as getting the mesh into Blender in a recognizable way.

But I’m not a quitter.

Today, I tried again, and again, and again, working through multiple tutorials, Googling around for the commands — did you know that keys have different effects based on where your mouse is hovering on the screen? — until I finally was able to take a public mesh, bring it in-world, edit it, export it, and successfully bring it into OpenSim and apply a texture to it.

Here’s what I did, and I hope this will save some people the two days I spent figuring it out!

1. Download and configure Blender

If you just download Blender, install it, and run it, expecting it to just work — ha ha ha ha! No. It won’t work. Because it’s designed by crazy people for professional designers who don’t want amateurs like us to be able to edit mesh — otherwise, they’d be out of work.  Like all those people who used to retouch photos for a living.

Eventually, as more regular people starting wanting to do stuff in 3D, we’ll get more user-friendly tools.

Until then, here’s a quick summary of what you need to do the first time you use Blender:

  • Download and install latest version of Blender. It’s free!
  • Click on the “File” menu on top left, select “User Preferences” and click on the “Left” button under “Select With.”
  • Now click on everything you see in the middle of the screen — the box, the light source, the weird do-hickey — and hit the “Delete” key. It’s just junk.
  • Click on the “View button” at the bottom left of screen, and select “View Perp/Ortho.” This will change the “User Persp” label at the top left of the screen to “User Ortho.”
  • Click on the “Blender Render” button at the top of the screen, in the center, and pick “Cycles Render” from the drop-down menu.
  • Finally, go back to the “File” menu, and click on “Save Startup File.”
User Preferences dialog window in Blender.

User Preferences dialog window in Blender.

If you want to know what all that did, you can read Aine Caoimhe excellent and detailed explanation here. Or you can take my word for it that, until I did all that, Blender was completely unusable, and after I did it, things started to work!

2. Import your first mesh

For a starting mesh, I wanted something simple that I could play with, and that was licensed CC0, in case I created something that I could sell and get rich off of. A girl can dream!

So I went to Fred Beckhusen’s– a.k.a. Ferd Frederix — amazing Outworldz site and downloaded a CC0-licensed wood fence, because I heard that landscaping supplies were the big sellers on the Kitely Market. I unzipped the download, and saw that one of the files had a .DAE extention — that’s the Collada format that OpenSim users.

Then I clicked on File>Import>Collada (Default) (.dae), navigated through Blender’s really horrible file selector, found the file, and clicked on “Import COLLADA” at the top right.

Mesh in Blender -- first upload

There was my fence — so tiny and puny.

3. Look at your mesh and move it around

Building in Blender is almost, but not quite exactly, unlike the building controls in OpenSim. There are some overlaps, just enough to give you hope that you can actually do something — but then the differences are major, and will destroy your soul if you’re not careful to take regular breaks to swear and kick things.

Here are the main camera controls I finally figured out how to use:

  • The mouse wheel zooms in and out.
  • Click on the middle mouse button and move the mouse to swing the camera around. In my case, that meant clicking on the mouse wheel itself. I didn’t know it could do that!
  • To move the camera sideways or up and down, hold the Shift key while clicking the middle button and moving the mouse.
  • Or hold down the Shift key and use the scroll wheel to move the camera up and down, and the Ctrl key and the scroll wheel to move the camera right and left.
  • Finally – and this really helped me a lot — the “View” menu at the bottom left has a “Front” option under “Cameras.” Clicking on it will automatically put the camera right in front of the object. Handy!

The fence itself is made of four separate pieces — the three horizontal beams and the vertical post. I click directly on a piece to select it, then used the arrows to drag it around — a lot like in OpenSim.

You can read more about different movement and camera controls on Aine Caoimhe’s follow-up tutorial.

I decided to add a new horizontal stick to the fence, by duplicating the top one. I clicked on the top one. Then I clicked on the “Duplicate” button on the left, under the “Edit” menu. But you can click Shift-D instead — if you forget the shortcut, you can mouse over the “Duplicate” button and it tells you.

I moved the other sticks up and down a bit to space them out nicely.

I copied the top stick and moved it down.

I copied the top stick and moved it down.

4. Edit the mesh

Next, I decided to actually edit one of the sticks to put a little bit more of a bend in it.

To do this, you need to select the stick you’ll be working on by clicking on it. Then switch into “Edit Mode.”

You can do this by clicking on the “Object Mode” button at the bottom of the screen and picking “Edit Mode” from the pop-up menu. That’s what I was doing at first, but you have to go back to “Object Mode” in order to move your camera around, and switching back and forth gets annoying if you have to pull up the menu each time. Fortunately, there’s another short-cut — the Tab key switches you from one mode to other.

Would I have known how to do this by playing around with Blender on my own? No! It makes no sense! Arrgh! It took hours to figure this out! I had to keep Googling it and looking at documentation that was totally useless! Okay, now that’s off my chest…

Here’s the main things I learned from playing around with the mesh on this and another object:

  • Everything is made out of triangles. The points on the triangles are called “vertices.” While in “Edit Mode,” click on one of these vertices and use the arrows to move it around.
  • To select more than one vertex, Shift-click.
  • To delete vertices, hit the “Delete” key. You can delete several at once if several are selected.
  • To combine two vertices, you’ll need the “Merge” button — it’s in the left-side tool bar. There’s a lot of stuff in there — on my screen, I actually had to scroll down to get to the “Merge” button, which is in the “Remove:” section under “Mesh Tools.” If you can’t find it, it’s also in the “Mesh” menu at the bottom of the screen, just to the left of the “Edit Mode” button. Click on Mesh>Vertices>Merge. You need to have two vertices already selected to use this, and you will need to decide whether you want to pull the second vertice towards the first one, pull the first one towards the second one, or meet in the middle. Merge>At First, Merge>At Last, or Merge>At Center.
I clicked on a cross beam to select it, zoomed in with the scroll wheel, hit Tab to go into "Edit Mode," and selected two vertices.

I clicked on a cross beam to select it, zoomed in with the scroll wheel, hit Tab to go into “Edit Mode,” and selected two vertices. The “Merge” button is there on the left.

I didn’t actually merge any vertices on this particular object — I just moved a section up a little bit on one of the horizontal beams. I had to swing my camera around to the back, to get the vertices I couldn’t see from the front.

There’s also a bunch of commands to subdivide and deform vertices, but that seemed like an advanced step. Maybe for a future day.

5. Get it from Blender to OpenSim

Now to get my new, four-beam fence into my world.

The main command is File>Export>Collada (default) (.dae).

The first time I did this though, I only had one of the beams selected — and I wound importing a single stick into OpenSim! Ooops! It took a few tries, but I finally go it. In “Object Mode,” there’s a “Select” menu at the bottom left. Clicking Select>Select All by Type>Mesh selected everything.

Then in File>Export>Collada (default) (.dae), there are a whole bunch of options. Following more of Aine Caoimhe’s advice, I checked the following:

  • Apply Modifiers (View)
  • Selection Only
  • Only Selected UV Map
  • Include UV Textures
  • Copy
  • Triangulate
  • Sort by Object Name
  • And – why not? — Export for OpenSim

In other words, I checked everything except “Deform bones only.”

Then I found the folder where I wanted to save it, typed it a new file name, and clicked on “Export COLLADA” at the top right.

Now, over to OpenSim!

To import the mesh, go to Build>Upload>Mesh Model then choose the file. Type in a new name for the object — for some reason, it doesn’t just use the file name.

Click on “Calculate weights & fee” at bottom left of the Upload Model dialog window, then click on “Upload.” The mesh is now in your inventory.

Rez it on the ground, and stretch it out and position it the way you would any object in OpenSim.

Rezzed and textured!

Rezzed and textured!

Now, when I first rezzed it, it didn’t look particularly special — it was just white. That’s when I remembered the texture files that were in the zipped download. One texture file was for the horizontal beams, one for the vertical. I uploaded the images, and applied the textures.

Each of the parts turned out to be a separate item, all linked together into one object.

But then I looked around at the fence from the back and I noticed the little supporting branch stubs. There are only three little stubs — it looks like the middle two cross beams are just hanging in the air! I didn’t notice this when I was editing in Blender.

Nobody’s going to pay money for this fence now!

On the other hand, having gone through all this, I am now willing to pay anything — anything, I say! — for mesh objects designed by other people.

I only have one major regret. Over the past couple of days, I’ve tried everything I could think of to edit one of Damien Fate’s excellent mesh clothing templates, which are rigged so that the mesh clothing moves with your body. But during the process of importing them into Blender, editing the mesh, and exporting it again, somehow the rigging got lost and all I would up with in OpenSim was a useless — and super-tiny — shirt-shaped object.

Does anyone have any advice on editing and imported previously-rigged mesh? Trying to figure this out on my own is killing me.

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

  • Unless you are on a shoestring, do yourself a favor and purchase a modeler application that will not drive you half insane. Just my $0.02

    • Richardus

      And what is a easy modeller application ?

      besides editing mesh in blender is not the hard part, it’s the uv mapping. but i found another way i think as long i don’t need more then 8 materials or the grid don’t have material limit.

      • The available selection is highly dependent on the operating system you use.

        I have used Cheetah 3D as my main modeler since 2011 on OS X which has been very good, and even better once I wrapped my head around the UV mapper (!)

        I also use Zbrush, DAZ Studio and even DAZ Hexagon for some operations. I also use Textsoap some times to do reg-exes in the dae files once they are written from Cheetah for certain mesh types to improve the result once imported into OpenSim or SL.

        • Serene Jewell

          People have recommended DAZ for animations also. have you had experience taking animations from DAZ to OpenSim? I’ve heard it’s easier than animating in Blender.

          • You can make animations for OpenSim and SL in DAZ studio using the timeline function or with animate2. There is a skeleton for the SL avatar and the bhv export option has a setting for SecondLife compatibility. Since I have never made animations in Blender I cannot jude if it is easer or not, but it is not hard at all. I have made some simple animations in DAZ, but I am not very good at it. It is great for making poses too.

    • I tried to find one. I don’t mind spending the money for something that’s actually easier to use. My worry is that the tool I get adds features for pros, while making life even more complicated for beginners.

      For example, I have grown to really enjoy using GIMP, and have become pretty familiar with layers and filters. But if a friend just wants to crop a photo or adjust the contrast, I send them to an online tool that just does those very simple things, and does them with a click or two, and has a simple, intuitive interface so I don’t have to hold their hand through it.

      By comparison, cropping a photo in GIMP is a challenge — do you crop the image? The layer? The canvas? Crop to the selection? Crop to image? Zealous crop?

      So, for example, in my case with the mesh — it’s already rigged, all I want to do is adjust the hemline a bit, or the neckline. I have a separate bake map that I’ll edit in an image program, so I don’t need to worry about the texturing. Is there a program that will let me do that, while preserving the rigging?

      • Not to my knowledge, but I have not worked with them all.

        Usually, if you want to change the geometry, you have to bind the rigging (skeleton) to the mesh again and redo the weight mapping. Weight mapping is the tedious bit that can require many rounds of testing before you get an acceptable result.

  • You can’t edit mesh rigging unless you have the original file (not the dae) the rigging information was saved to. – Which is why you don’t see much copybotted rigged mesh as they would have to re-rig and weight map it. Most people don’t have that skill.

    • Serene Jewell

      That is what I expected too, but when I imported the collada dae file, there was an armature attached to the dress. I think that when Damien exported the objects to share, he exported both the armature and dae file together which one doesn’t usually do when exporting something to wear. It was very thoughtful of him.

      • Serene — I figured that’s what those arrow heads were.

        The question is — how do you keep them attached while editing the mesh, and how do you export them correctly to OpenSim? Any ideas?

        • Serene Jewell

          The rig remains attached to the garment while you edit it. But you only upload the garment, not the rig.

          The problem with editing these templates is that if you ADD vertexes and faces you need to make sure they get weight painted which is a skill you need to devote a couple of hours to learning.

          You might want to get Avastar and go through their introductory videos which show some really easy ways to make clothes, rig them, weight paint them, texture, and upload. Damien’s stuff is great, especially if it fits as it, but if you have to change the template much, you will be better off learning to do it from scratch. Besides, it’s more fun and you can get what you want.

          • So if all I do is move some vertices around a little bit, or delete some of them, what are the settings for exporting it so that the clothes can be worn in OpenSim?

          • Unless Blender is significantly different from other tools, the minute you delete geometry you have to fix/adjust the UV map and redo the weight mapping. Small movements of the existing geometry can probably work without any adjustments.

          • Serene Jewell

            Re: the export settings. I replied with the detailed answer a few days ago in a comment above. Bottom line: 1. Only export the clothing – not the rig and 2. Pay attention to the BOTTOM LEFT CORNER before you save your dae. There is a popup named “Operator Presets” Choose “SL+Opensim Rigged.”

            Original reply:
            It really depends how much you tweak them. If you are scaling something just a little bit, your UV Map won’t necessarily need to
            change. In that case:

            Click on the dress only (not the armature.)
            Choose File – Export – Collada
            then look at the bottom left for “Operator Presets”
            Choose “SL+Opensim Rigged”
            Choose Selection only
            Choose “Only Selected UV Map”
            Then save your .dae
            Go to opensim and upload

            I think that will get you what you want. If you are doing significant
            changes to the mesh you may need to edit the seams and UVMap, so get a beverage of your choice and watch a video to learn to do that. 🙂

            This would all be much easier to show than type. Hit me up for a Google hangout or Skype sometime (not Wednesday) and I’ll take a look at it with you.

          • Serene — I’ve been trying to do this, both with meshes that I’d edited, and with the unedited Damien Fate meshes — just trying to bring them into Blender and export them into OpenSim while preserving the rigging.

            I’ve followed the instructions above, and haven’t been able to get it to work.

            Can you email me at [email protected] and we can set a time to to do a Google Hangout? I’m available most of the day tomorrow and Thursday.

      • When I opened the dae files in DAZ studio it had the rigging but it pulled the mesh in all directions so the only thing you could do there was to export it as obj and re-rig it. The rigging is pretty early SL rigging with the 26 joint rig and not the 52 joint for fitted mesh.

        The other issue, if you were to re-rig for fitted mesh, is that the mesh is triangulated. As a test I took the exported obj into Zremesher and generated a mesh of quads that was easier to work with. Of course you loose the UV map in that process, but then again some of the items I tested are quite crude anyway, so you would want to add geometry a few place, and then uv map it again.
        I have not been desperate enough to go through that process, hehe.

        • You lost me halfway through the first sentence!

        • Serene Jewell

          I was looking at the rigging in Blender. It is what Avastar calls “classic rigging” settings and it looked fine. I imported into Opensim and it wore fine. He probably donated those items because he was moving to fitted mesh and these were classic mesh (just guessing.) In Blender you can choose “Mesh-Tris to Quads” to simplify it. I agree it would be a pain to remap the UV’s (the existing UVs are on the website buy the way.) But for beginners, having something with a rig to look at and take apart and fiddle around with can be very useful as you learn.

          • Serene —

            So if I take Damien’s DAE files into Blender, then tweak the meshes, are there particular settings I need to set in order to export the rigging correctly for OpenSim?

          • Serene Jewell

            It really depends how much you tweak them. If you are scaling something just a little bit, your UV Map won’t necessarily need to change. In that case:
            click on the dress only (not the armature.)
            Choose File – Export – Collada
            then look at the bottom left for “Operator Presets”
            Choose “SL+Opensim Rigged”
            Choose Selection only
            Choose “Only Selected UV Map”
            Then save your .dae
            Go to opensim and upload

            I think that will get you what you want. If you are doing significant changes to the mesh you may need to edit the seams and UVMap, so get a beverage of your choice and watch a video to learn to do that. 🙂

            This would all be much easier to show than type. Hit me up for a Google hangout or Skype sometime (not Wednesday) and I’ll take a look at it with you.

          • They upload fine as they are, there is no doubt about that.

            I have the original uv maps in files that are older than the ones published on the website, so I think I perhaps bought them at some time in 2011. – For most of the items it is probably not very hard to redo the uv after updating the geometry. With the old uv maps you can set seams similar to the old maps, and then let the mapper do most of the work.

            I think I simply did not bother with them at the time because they did not scale to any of my shapes, and I did not have all the tools (and experience) at the time to rework them.

            As you say, it is a starting point for learning, so it is a good resource. 🙂

  • Serene Jewell

    I took a look at the Damien Fate files. They are rigged and they maintain their rigging and weights when you import them into opensim or Blender. If you are only going to texture them, upload them directly to opensim. If you are going to edit them in Blender, you probably need to learn weight painting. I think most people who create clothing for SL and opensim are using the Blender Avastar plugin for clothing, but the Make Human project is evolving rapidly and gaining ground.

  • Mircea Kitsune

    Woah… there are people who find Blender difficult? I’m someone who barely has the ability to learn new things… yet since the 2.5 interface was introduced, understanding and using it has been piece of cake.

    • Serene Jewell

      Blender is not any more difficult than a program like Photoshop really. It’s just a matter of putting in time with it.

  • Success! Thanks to Serene Jewell, I was able to import a Damien Fate mesh into blender, take off the old rigging, edit the mesh, put on new rigging, and get it into OpenSim. Whoo hoo!

    Read all about it here: http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2015/06/quick-mesh-rigging-how-to/