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Blender Encyclopedia: Modifiers

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There’s too many settings and functions in Blender to remember what each one does. And Google searches often raise more questions than they answer!

Introducing the Blender 101 series! The series where we focus on a specific area of blender and show you what each function does.

First up…

The Modifier Encyclopedia

by Anderson Baptisa

Ahh the ever growing modifier panel. There’s some that we use everyday, and others we don’t go near since we’ve never understood what they actually do!

Which is why I’ve spent the last month, trying out every single modifier and creating examples for each…

Modifiers in Blender

So let’s tackle each one (starting from left to right).

The Modify group

Mesh Cache

What it does:

Applies animations from external files to your objects.

Why use it?

To transfer a completely rigged character to another 3D application, bake an animation to disk and then play the results (like importing a realflow animation into Blender), or for re-using animations across other meshes like a stadium crowd for example.

point_cache

Watch a tutorial on this.

UV Project

What it does:

Dynamically changes the UV coordinates to an object.

Why use it?

Once setup, it allows the user to quickly adjust a texture with a proxy (empty) object. (Unfortunately it is not available for Cycles yet. Sep/14)

uv_project

Watch a tutorial on this.

UV Warp

What it does:

Moving the existing UV coordinates from one object place to another.

Why use it?

Can be used for animations like text scrolling on a billboard.

uv_warp

Watch a tutorial on this.

Vertex Weight Edit

What it does:

Allows the artist to animate or customize the weight of a vertex group.

Why use it?

If you’re using a feature that is accessing a vertex groups (like a particle system), then this modifier will allow you fine tune it’s effect or even animate it’s influence.

vertex_weight_edit

More in depth reading and examples.

Vertex Weight Mix

What it does:

This modifier allows you to mix the influence of two vertex groups.

Why use it?

With this you can add vertex group A + vertex group B with variable strength to use both on a single modifier.

vertex_weight_mix

More in depth reading and examples.

Vertex Weight Proximity

What it does:

Controls the weight of vertex groups based on the distance of an object.

Why use it?

It could be used to animate parts of an object melting based on the distance to a flame.

vertex_weight_proximity

More in depth reading and examples.

The ‘Generate’ group

Array

What it does:

Makes repeating instances of the mesh.

Why use it?

Used commonly to make things with repeating geometry, like a brick wall or street lamps along a street.

array

Watch a tutorial on this.

 

Bevel

What it does:

Adds a bevel or chamfer to all the edges or vertices of a mesh.

Why use it?

Since no object in the real world object has a perfectly sharp edge this modifier adds realism by making the edge slightly chamferred.

 bevel

Watch a tutorial on this.

Boolean

What it does:

Unite, subtract or intersect the geometry multiple objects.

Why use it?

Can be a time saver in modeling complex shapes, but it really shines in animations like an “invisible” door opening up on a wall.

boolean

Watch a tutorial on this.

Build

What it does:

Constructs (or deconstructs) your mesh, element by element.

Why use it?

Together with some material effects you can achieve a really cool animation of a laser building an object.

build

Watch a tutorial on this.

Decimate

What it does:

Reduces the amount of geometry on your mesh using different algorithms.

Why use it?

You can set a lower resolution mesh of your objects for physics simulations or optimize your scene, decimating objects that are far away from the rendering camera.

decimate

Watch a tutorial on this.

Edge Split

What it does:

Turn smoothed edges into sharp corners based on their adjacent faces angle.

Why use it?

For creating sharp edges with the smooth shader on, without the ugly artifacts.

edgesplit

Watch a tutorial on this.

Mask

What it does:

Hides/shows parts of your mesh based on vertex groups.

Why use it?

Useful when modeling a complex scene and you want to focus on one part of the mesh.

mask

Watch a tutorial on this.

Mirror

What it does:

Mirrors your mesh along any axis.

Why use it?

Saves time when modelling perfectly symmetrical objects like characters or cars, as you only need to model one side.

mirror

Watch a tutorial on this.

Multiresolution

What it does:

Subdivides your mesh and allows you to sculpt more details on each level.

Why use it?

Commonly used when sculpting a character as it allows you to sculpt detail on each level of a subdivision and go back and forth.

multiresolution

Watch a tutorial on this.

Remesh

What it does:

Mesh reconstruction algorithm.

Why use it?

Useful with problematic meshes that have issues like too many triangles or faces that are too thin and elongated. Meshes like this tend to present artifacts when deforming or subdividing.

remesh

Watch a tutorial on this.

Screw

What it does:

Stretches a mesh in a revolving shape.

Why use it?

It can be used to make a vase or other circular meshes out of a simple profile string of vertices.

screw

Watch a tutorial on this.

Skin

What it does:

Creates a skin mesh using the edges of an object.

Why use it?

Useful for quickly creating a base mesh of a creature, using just strings of vertices.

skin

Watch a tutorial on this.

Solidify

What it does:

Adds thickness to faces.

Why use it?

Useful for making models hollow for 3D printing. Also for fragments in an explosion where each part needs to look dense instead of like paper.

solidify

Watch a tutorial on this.

Subdivision Surface

What it does:

Subdivides your geometry for a denser, smoother mesh.

Why use it?

Keeps your mesh clean and low poly, whilst giving you the freedom to increase or decrease the detail for your render.

subdivision

Watch a tutorial on this.

Triangulate

What it does:

Converts any type of polygon or n-gon into triangles.

Why use it?

For exporting your model to a game engine where you’ll need triangular faces instead of quads.

triangulate

Watch a tutorial on this.

Wireframe

What it does:

Converts all the faces to a renderable wireframe mesh.

Why use it?

Useful for showing off the actual geometry of an object, like for a demoreel or portfolio.

wireframe

Watch a tutorial on this.

The ‘Deform’ group

Armature

 What it does:

Deforms your object with the use of bones.

Why use it?

Just like in real life, the bones and tendons in our bodies are what deforms our skin and muscles. If you need to animate an organic character, this is the way to go.

armature

Watch a tutorial on this.

Cast

What it does:

Deforms your mesh into a sphere, cylinder or box shape.

Why use it?

For creating interesting morphing animations between geometric shapes (great for motion graphics).

cast

Watch a tutorial on this.

Curve

What it does:

Conforms your object to a curve shape.

Why use it?

To deform any object into the shape of a curve. Like a snake, chain links, or a cartoon bus making a tight curve.

 curve

Watch a tutorial on this.

Displace

What it does:

Deforms your object with the use of a texture map.

Why use it?

Extremely useful for creating realistic materials, by taking an image texture, making a displacement map then using it to change the geometry. As seen here.

displace

Watch a tutorial on this.

Hook

What it does:

Grab vertices from another object when one interacts with it.

Why use it?

You can animate one object pulling or pushing parts of another object. Think of a piece of gum on the sidewalk when someone steps in it and stretches it out.

hook

Watch a tutorial on this.

Laplacian Smooth

What it does:

Smoothing algorithm that removes ‘noise’ from the geometry object while trying to keep its overall shape.

Why use it?

Especially useful for scanned data that might present noise in the mesh surface. You may also achieve an erosion effect on your mesh by playing with its parameters.

laplacian_smooth

Original scan data of a bust of Galileo by Derrick Salmon.

Watch a tutorial on this.

Laplacian Deform

What it does:

Manipulate portions of your mesh while the algorithm tries to keep the overall details and shape.

Why use it?

Repose your character without having to create bones, assigning vertex weights, etc… Also comes in handy for stretchy exaggerated poses on cartoon characters.

laplacian_deform

Watch a tutorial on this.

Lattice

What it does:

Deforms your mesh using a lattice (cage) object.

Why use it?

For deforming the overall shape of your object, simulating stretches, squashes or bends…

lattice

Watch a tutorial on this.

Mesh Deform

What it does:

Deforms your mesh using any other mesh as the cage, instead of the standard cube shaped lattice.

Why use it?

Really useful for all kinds for deformations. Pixar also uses this method on many of their stretchy cartoon characters.

meshdeform

Watch a tutorial on this.

Shrinkwrap

What it does:

Deforms your object to wrap around another object.

Why use it?

Conform a spline to the geometry of another shape. Like a road across a terrain.

shrinkwrap

Watch a tutorial on this.

Simple Deform

What it does:

Simple deformations of an object like Twist, Bend, Taper and Stretch.

Why use it?

Create interesting animations using basic deformations.

simpledeform

Watch a tutorial on this.

Smooth

What it does:

Smooths out the overall geometry but unlike the Laplacian Smooth; this will not try to retain the overall shape of your mesh.

Why use it?

For vastly smoothing out the geometry of an object.

smooth

Watch a tutorial on this.

Warp

What it does:

Warp a portion of a mesh from one point to another.

Why use it?

For animations where part of an object needs to stretch to another point in space.

wrap

Watch a tutorial on this.

Wave

What it does:

Deforms your objects using wave like oscillations.

Why use it?

Useful for adding simple wind effects to an object, without having to use a complex cloth simulator.

wave

Watch a tutorial on this.

The ‘Simulate’ group

Cloth

What it does:

Simulates the realworld effect of fabric.

Why use it?

For simulating various types of fabric, from silk to denim.

cloth

Watch a tutorial on this.

Collision

What it does:

Used in conjunction with other simulations, to make an object collide with others.

Why use it?

When your simulation needs to interact with another object. Like sparks (particles) bouncing off the floor.

colision

Watch a tutorial on this.

Dynamic Paint

What it does:

Makes objects paint each other when they collide.

Why use it?

Multiple uses like; footsteps in the snow, rain hitting the pavement, fire burning a wall etc.

dynamic_paint

Watch a tutorial on this.

Explode

What it does:

Explodes your mesh into separate pieces. Must be used in conjunction with a particle system.

Why use it?

For animations of an object disintegrating or exploding.

explode

Watch a tutorial on this.

Fluid Simulation

What it does:

Simulates the real world effects of fluids.

Why use it?

For simulating fluid to the real world size of 10 meters (max). Do not use for large bodies like lakes or oceans (use the Ocean Modifier instead).

fluid

Watch a tutorial on this.

Ocean

What it does:

For simulating large bodies of water like a lake or an ocean.

Why use it?

When you want to simulate simple water surface effects on a large body of water.

ocean

Watch a tutorial on this: Part 1Part 2

Particle Instance

What it does:

Works together with a particle system mixing different meshes depending on the particle state (birth, life, death).

Why use it?

For switching a mesh with another from when it’s born to when it dies. You can also use this modifier to spawn particle trails from emitted particles.

particles_instance

Read more about it here and here.

Particle System

What it does:

Creates particles that can be ’emitted’ (thrown) from an object, particle instances that remain stationary or hair.

Why use it?

Multitude of uses: a comet emitting a trail of debris, trees distributed across the ground or using the hair type particles to create hair, fur or grass.

particle

Watch a tutorial on this.

Smoke

What it does:

Simulates the real world effects of smoke or fire.

Why use it?

For creating a simple smoking object, a fire or both.

smoke

Watch a tutorial on this.

Soft Body

What it does:

Makes the mesh (or part of the mesh) behave like jelly; wobble, stretch and be affected by gravity.

Why use it?

Retains the original shape of the mesh, but makes it soft and able to collide with others. Also useful when part of a character needs to ‘jiggle’.

softbody

Watch a tutorial on this.

In Closing…

Hopefully this article gave you some ideas for your next project, and of course I hope you now feel confident trying new modifiers :)

What part of Blender would you like explained in the next Blender 101 article?  Post in the comments below!

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