Making Metal Structures

A simple yet realistic technique

The Blend.

One detailed technique for realism in Blender, in 5 minutes each week.

By Samuel Sullins

The Blend

Every seen a bucket-wheel excavator?

It’s a stupendously cool mining machine that looks like this:

No, I didn’t Blend this. Sadly.

It looks like a big, complicated machine—and it is. But when you look at it long enough, you start to realize something.

It’s mostly made of one thing: those crisscross metal structures.

Turns out you can make all kinds of big, interesting creations, using those same metal structures.

In today’s Blend, I’ll show you how to start making your own huge metal structures.

I wrote a book…

If you’re a beginner, you’ll find this book useful.

It introduces you to Blender, walks you through all the basic tools, and teaches you how to create your first final render.

Available for preorder now. Releasing on February 2.

Today’s Technique

When you look up close at most metal structures, they’re not made of SOLID steel.

They’re always made of some kind of flat or hollow steel.

  • Steel tubes (square or round)

  • I-beams

  • Angle iron (steel made in an L shape)

We’re going to use the last option, angle iron, because it’s really easy to create in Blender.

First, add a plane. Then scale it thin and extrude one long edge upward to make a shape like this:

Now you have angle iron. It’s paper-thin, though, so you need to upgrade it with a Solidify modifier. Make sure you turn on Even Thickness or it’ll look weird:

Now that you have angle iron, you can create just about anything metal. Give it a simple metal material (for extra realism, use a picture of some metal as an image texture.) You can duplicate, rotate, and scale this all over the place—but it’s difficult to imagine a whole structure that way.

I like to start with a building block I call “the Crate.” Once you have the Crate, you can build large structures quickly and easily.

This is the Crate. It’ll take you a few moments to build—simply duplicate, move, and rotate your piece of steel to make the shape. When you’re done, join it all into one piece by selecting all the parts and pressing Ctrl + J.

The reason we do it this way is so it looks fairly realistic—even if you get reasonably close, it still looks like metal welded together in a way that makes sense.

With the Crate, you can build all kinds of structures:

Once you have a structure mostly blocked out, it’s ideal to go back over it and add more specialized pieces of angle iron to hold things together where needed, or to make thinner, different-sized parts, like we see here:

Read on to get to the Extra Tip down there ↓

Samuel’s Selections

  • This tutorial suggests making a checklist so you don’t forget to use all your Blender tricks. I made one right away; I can already tell it’s going to be useful.

  • A totally new tutorial about realistic window shades just appeared on the internet

  • If you’re new to Blender, the book will help you get going

Today’s featured render is by Haewen:

I’m featuring this one because I’ve tried filling a glass container with particles before. It’s really, really difficult.

The way the ice cream and crushed Oreos are modeled inside the glass also looks realistic…and that’s even harder to achieve. So excellent work, Haewen!

↪ Reply to this email with your own render for a chance to get featured!

Extra Tip

Try making other units like the Crate—simple, re-useable chunks of steel structure that you can duplicate to create structures. A triangular version of the Crate is useful, as is a longer, flatter Crate.

Pick next week’s topic.

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