As someone who spends most of their day in Illustrator and Sketch, I don’t often get the chance to do work that falls outside the realm of two-dimensions.
The right tools
If I want to make fancy skeuomorphic application icons or experiment with visualisations of how sound bounces around in a room, I can only approximate what these things would look like in 3D using tools designed for 2D work.
I decided to look into 3D software and see how hard it is to learn. Turns out it’s actually pretty easy to learn the basics, and many of the resources that you need to do it are out there for free.
If you’re a total beginner like me, I recommend checking out Blender. It’s a free alternative to some of the expensive tools like Cinema 4D and Maya, so it’s great for learning. That said, it doesn’t feel any less powerful than the others. You can do modelling, rigging, animation, compositing and even physics simulation so you’ll have plenty of interesting things to play with.
To use any of these 3D modelling tools you’ll want to get yourself a 3-button mouse - A mouse with two buttons and a clickable scroll wheel for example - so you can navigate around in 3D space. It’s possible with a trackpad, or with a two-button mouse and some additional keyboard modifiers, but not nearly as fast and much more annoying.
Show me the resources
There are lots of free tutorials and getting started guides out there for Blender. Blender’s own website is a great place to start, but I decided to buy a video course called Blender Game Asset Creation. If you’re not looking to get into 3D modelling for games don’t let that put you off - I picked this course because it gives a great overview of how to use Blender along with an introduction to some of the concepts behind 3D modelling, texturing and rendering.
As a side-note, I don’t recommend buying this through Steam because it’s a total nightmare to use when it comes to video courses.
Another resource I find useful is Blender Guru’s series of video tutorials on YouTube. Along with technical how-to articles and beginner tutorials there is also some discussion of the concepts behind modelling and rendering, like this this one about the physics of light and how that factors into making realistic renders.
Outside of these resources, I found myself looking around for information on how to do very specific things like: Randomly scattering objects, working with bump maps, using colour ramps, importing and working with SVGs, making sharp shadows and compositing.
My Blender cheatsheet
Lastly, as it’s virtually impossible for me to keep all of Blender’s keyboard shortcuts in my head, so I maintain my own list of them in a markdown document. You may find it useful too, so go grab it from GitHub.