While the primary purpose of Blender is to be able to create 3D models and scenes, sometimes different workflows require the use of different software, in which another program may have been used to create an object, and Blenders toolset is then used to modify that object.
To import an object based file format into Blender 3D, go to the File menu and select the import option. You then have a selection of file formats to choose from such as .fbx and .obj for 3D models. Choose the option that matches the file format of your object and locate the model in your directory to import it into Blender.
There are other settings that may need to be checked as well depending on the format that you are trying to import, and different file formats will transfer various amounts of information such as texture and animation data where applicable.
Importing An FBX File
The FBX file format is referred to as a universal file format that is used to transfer object data from one application to another. You will find on digital marketplaces like the blender market objects will be downloadable in this format among others. The FBX format is popular because it allows the user to not only import geometry data for the object but also animation data as well.
The term FBX is actually short for Filmbox Capture Tool and is actually a product from Autodesk, which operates more 3D applications than any other company in the world and includes the likes of Maya and 3Ds Max in their inventory. The format allows the artist to transfer a lot of data.
Not only are you able to import geometry data into Blender, but you can also import materials, textures, rigging, lighting, scene information, and animation data into Blender with the FBX format.
To import an FBX file you should first ensure that the addon is enabled. Addons are similar to plugins used by other applications to improve the base functionality of the software. If you go to the File menu and then select the import option, you will see a list of file formats that you can bring into Blender.
Even though it is an addon, it should in fact already be enabled by default with Blender as standard. So it should already be available in the list. If not then the addon is not enabled and we will need to find it in the preferences menu. The preferences will be located at the bottom of the edit menu. It is also an editor type and can replace any of the other panels like the 3D viewport.
If you open up the preferences from the edit menu, then it will appear as a separate window and not be attached to the interface. The sidebar will have a list of subsections based on the options available, the one that we want to select is the Addons subsection.
From here you will notice there are a lot of addons in this library, and most of them will be disabled. Don’t scroll down trying to find it. Instead, go up to the search bar and just type in FBX. You don’t even have to press enter here as the list auto updates depending on the search parameters. The only option that should be visible now is the addon for importing and exporting the FBX format, enabling it, and then closing the preferences panel.
Now go back to your import men and select the import FBX option. This will open up the file directory allowing you to locate the file that you wish to import. Select the file that you want to add to your project and click import. The model and all associated data will be accessible in your project, and the model will appear at the center of your viewport.
If you want to make changes to what data carries over into your project, you can control these settings in the file browser before you press that import button. These settings appear in the side panel and may not be visible. If not, then press the ‘N’ key on your keyboard to bring these options into view.
The options that you can choose from here will defer based on the file format that you are looking to import. For an FBX file, you can apply transform data, set a scale offset (Imported objects often appear very small by default), and control what animation and armature data gets imported if any.
If you notice any weird behavior from the import, such as incorrect rotation, then you may want to double check your preset parameters the next time you import. If the issue is something else like geometry not transferring correctly, this may be down to the export settings that the object originally came from.
Importing An OBJ
When working in Game Design or any pipeline that involves using multiple applications. There are two file formats that you will need to be aware of, as they are most commonly used for transferring data from one application to another. The first of these is the FBX file format which we have already covered above, the second of these formats is the OBJ file format.
OBJ, which is short for object, is a file type developed by a company called wavefront technologies for the specific purpose of exporting 3D data from one application to another. For example the process of exporting an object from Maya over to Unreal Engine.
At first glance, you may think that OBJ and FBX are very similar, as they are both universal formats that can be imported to and exported from any 3D software. The key difference between the two is the type of data that is transferred. Unlike the FBX format, OBJ only transfers geometry-based information and does not allow the user to transfer armature or animation data.
Its focus is exclusively on the object itself storing data on vertex positioning, normals, UV’s and texture vertices. This actually makes it more useful in some scenarios and is actually quite beginner-friendly for being a relatively barebones file format. It is the lean nature that makes this format so compatible with so many applications and is useful in the early stages of a project pipeline such as when creating assets for animation. you can create your base model using whatever software you want and then export it easily as an OBJ file.
Importing an OBJ file is a similar process to importing an FBX file. Go to the File menu at the top of the interface and select import, followed by the wavefront obj option. This again will take you to the file browser where you can locate and import your obj file.
If you compare the two, you will notice that the parameters available for the OBJ format are slightly different from what we see with the FBX, such as the lack of import options for armatures.
Note: like the FBX format OBJ requires an addon to work, and also like FBX that addon should be enabled by default. If it does not then follow the same steps as listed above for the FBX format, with the only difference being that you would type obj in the search bar.
What About Importing Blend Files
It makes sense that you would be able to bring in a native file format from one project to another if that format is built for the application. With Blender, the native file format is the .blend extension used to store or the appropriate scene and object data.
In older versions of Blender you would not ‘import’ but either append or link your objects into a new project.
To append an asset is similar to a regular import, in which you locate the file that you want to bring into your project and edit it however you wish. The key difference is that we get a lot more control when it comes to what we want to bring in. When we append we are transferring data from one project to another, whereas the traditional import process involves creating an object in software A, exporting it as its own file, and then importing it into software B.
Because both software A and B are Blender, we don’t need to export anything, to begin with. This allows us to access any data we want from the old project, such as a material or a camera that had custom settings applied. We can take any asset from one project and use it in another with this method.
Like appending, the process of linking allows us to access data from other projects and use that data in our current one. However, the key difference here is that an object that is directly linked cannot be edited in any way other than its transform properties in the new project. In essence, that data is being borrowed from the original file and therefore can only be changed in that file.
A workaround to this is to use what is called a proxy, which in lamens terms allows the user to edit the object in the current project. Only a single proxy can be assigned to an object at any one time and can be used to edit the geometry data, geometry and materials data, or even pose data for animations.
This however is the old way of doing things in Blender, a more modern approach is to use library overrides. These are more flexible than traditional proxies in which they allow for the same object to be used in a scene multiple times, and have changes made independently to each object instance.
With library overrides you can also add new modifiers to the modifier stack and even create a chain of overrides. For example, you have the base model in project A, which you then bring into project B to make changes, then you can bring the project B model into project C to make changes, and so on.
The Asset Browser
But even that is not the easiest workflow for sharing objects across files. As of now, we have the asset library, a fantastic tool that allows us to save our objects, materials, and other data blocks into a file, and then access that file directly in Blender itself.
This allows us to simply drag and drop the asset from the browser straight into our scene. this is the workflow that most people will use when sharing a file across multiple projects, but remember that the base asset will not change while it is in the library and that each time you bring that asset into your project, it becomes an independent object from the asset library.
Importing Licensed Files
Many applications will use file types that are specific to the application itself, much like Blender uses the .blend extension for each project.
The general process of transferring these files over from one application to another involves first exporting them as a universal file format like an FBX, and then importing that file into Blender. This process allows us to transfer data from almost any known application.
For example, a Maya project uses either the .ma or .mb file formats, both of which are considered native formats. The MA format is the older Maya ASCII format that stores data in a plain text format, while the MB type is a binary format that stores more information while requiring less storage space, with the key drawback being that we cannot edit the text of an MB file in a text editor.
Regardless of the differences between the two, they share one thing in common, they are Maya formats and cannot directly be used in Blender. The solution, as we have already mentioned several times, is to export the project as a universal file, and then import that into our Blender project.
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