If you’ve ever played an RPG, tabletop or digital, or love to read epic fantasy books, or even watch fantasy movies, then you’ve probably thought once or twice about epic fantasy swords and weapons. Maybe you’ve even contemplated creating one. While making your first 3D models can seem like an almost impossible task, we are going to walk you through all the steps so that you can create your very first fantasy weapon in Blender and Daz Studio.
We’re going to use Blender in this tutorial because it’s open-source, and thus completely free to use. Blender is a powerful software that rivals all the best paid platforms in what it can do for you. Ultimately, it’s the best place to start as a beginner. With the release of Blender 3.0 in December of 2021, you will find the best, most intuitive, and powerful version of Blender yet.
Finding a Reference Image
When it comes to awesome fantasy weapons, it’s perfectly acceptable to push the limits of reality. In this case, we’re talking about really big swords. From hit video games like Final Fantasy VII and X, Monster Hunter, and Dark Souls (just to name a few), there’s something awesome about swinging around a massive sword like it weighs nothing.
While selecting a reference image, look for an image of a weapon that is laid flat. These pictures of a fanmade 1:1 wood recreation of Katana, which you can view on Deviantart created by MithrilLady, are great examples, and are the images we’ll use in this tutorial if you’d like to follow along with the same weapon.
Getting Started in Blender
If you’re unfamiliar with Blender, it may be useful to watch a basic tutorial first. While this tutorial is geared towards beginners, it won’t explain every facet and tool in Blender; we’re assuming you have a basic knowledge of Blender and its basic features.
To upload the reference image to Blender, follow these simple steps:
- Save the reference image to your computer.
- With Blender open, drag and drop the file into the workspace.
- With the image selected, access the Transform options located in the upper right of the workspace. Zero out the X, Y, and Z for the image’s Location and Rotation. If you don’t see the Transform drop-down, you may need to click the little carrot to expand this collection of settings, which is found in the same location.
- Keep the scale at 1.000 for all dimensions.
- Now that you have the reference image placed properly in the workspace, click on the blue circle containing the letter Z found in the upper right corner next to the Transform box. This will use the preset viewport setting that looks down perfectly along the z-axis.
Hopefully, it’s now clear why we wanted to locate a reference image that was also taken in this same manner. Because our reference sits neatly using only the x- and y-axises, we can easily block out the shape of our weapon in 2D before we expand into the third dimension.
Now we’re ready for the fun (and trickier) part.
- First, add a plane to the scene with the Shortcut Shift + A and select Mesh > Plane.
- With the mesh highlighted, Press Tab to enter into Edit Mode.
- With Vertex Select chosen, select three of the four vertices that make up the plane using Ctrl + LMB and delete them.
- Now you can grab that lonely vertex and press G to grab it, allowing you to move it anywhere freely.
- Drag that vertex to the tip of the sword and click to place it.
- Now, by pressing E, you will extrude a new vertex from the first one, connected by a line. Position the new vertex a short distance away from the first. By repeating this process, trace the basic shape of Katana. For now, just focus on the blade. Go ahead and also trace the middle segment as well.
As a beginning 3D artist, it is difficult to worry about things like topology — how you choose to arrange your polygons. For now, while you place your vertices, just be mindful to use simple symmetry. For each edge of the sword, try to place the same number of vertices as much as possible. That said, don’t stress too hard; we can always add new vertices later when we start combing segments and filling in the faces.
You can fine-tune the placement of your vertices by selecting them and pressing G. You can also double click G to freely move the vertex anywhere along the segment it belongs to. Lastly, remember that the more vertices you create, the smoother a curve will appear. Don’t give in to the temptation to overdo it here, however. We can always add more detail later if the curves of the sword appear too jagged. If you are following along with the same reference image, your workspace should look something like this:
Placing vertices can be extremely tedious, but it’s important nonetheless.
- Select 4 adjacent vertices and use the shortcut F to fill in a quad.
- Use this method to fill in the shape of the weapon, creating the main structure of the mesh as pictured below.
- Try to keep each quad relatively close in size, and avoid creating triangles if possible.
In some instances, you may have to sacrifice a small detail in favor of topology. Or, again, you may decide to use a weaker topographical choice in favor of sticking to the source material! Be patient here, and try to get creative when it comes to curves and interesting shapes.
Adding the Third Dimension
Up until this point, everything we’ve worked with has been along the X and Y-axis. Now that we’ve blocked out the shape of the blade, it is time to add some depth to it. There are several methods you can use to accomplish this.
You may notice that Katana is a single-edged blade with a split down the middle, made noticeable by the change in color of the metal. We’re going to use the Extrude tool to create the thicker dull edge of the blade first (the darker half of the metal). This is an instance when, for the sake of topology and maintaining a low-poly count, we may have to stray slightly from the source material. Let’s see if you notice where!
- Select vertices along the edges of the dark portion of the blade.
- Holding E, press Z to lock movement to the z-axis.
- Lift the mouse slightly to extrude new quads horizontally.
You may want to change your view to more easily see how far up you have extruded this selection. Your model will now look something like this:
To bring it all together, we will use a modifier to symmetrically replicate the other half of the weapon. The Mirror Modifier allows you to select an axis and mirror the object along that axis. Now, if we selected the Z-axis as is, it would not behave properly. Our original plane is currently placed exactly on the Z-axis, so we need to offset our model.
- Select the entire mesh with A, then press G, then press Z. This will lock movement along the Z-axis and allow you to shift the model downward. Lower the model until the top of the newly extruded planes are just below the X-axis line.
- To add the Mirror Modifier, click on the blue wrench icon found to the right of the workspace. Open the Add Modifier dropdown and select Mirror. Make sure that you use the following settings, and zoom in closely to ensure that you placed the model close enough to the red X-axis line that Blender knows to merge the symmetrically-generated half with its original counterpart.
- Once you’ve verified that the modifier has worked correctly, press Tab to enter Object Mode then apply the Modifier by selecting Apply from the drop-down menu of options above the mirror modifier section. Return to Edit Mode, and you’ll see the now enclosed mesh.
Sharpening the Blade
Currently, the blade edge of the sword looks like a strange double-toothed saw. The next item on our agenda is to correct this by giving our sword a nice, sharp edge. A beginner-friendly way to do this is by using the Merge tool.
- Select a vertice on the edge.
- Select the corresponding vertice directly above (or below) it and press M.
- From the selection of options, choose At Center. This will merge the two vertices directly halfway between each other, thus closing our weapon and giving it a nice sharp edge.
- Repeat this process along the face of the blade to complete this step.
To improve the angle of the blade and create a more visually pleasing look, try the following:
- Select the inner row of vertices.
- Press G to move the selection and Z to lock the axis of movement along the Z-axis.
- Slowly lower the line of vertices until you like the position and this face of the sword appears flat.
- Repeat this step for the third row of vertices as well to create a gradual slanting effect.
- Now is also a great time to close up the end of the blade using the Fill tool.
When you’re finished, your weapon should now look something like this:
Making the Hilt of Your Fantasy Weapon
If you can’t believe you’ve made it this far, don’t give up. You’ve made it through the most difficult and tedious aspects of creating Katana in 3D. Creating the hilt will be fairly simple, and a sword wouldn’t be a sword without a way to wield it!
- To start, head back to Object Mode (Tab).
- Add a new cube to the scene by clicking on Add > Mesh > Cube.
- Scale down the cube (G).
- Grab one of its faces (G) to pull it into a rectangle, using the reference image to give you an idea of how thick and long the rectangle should be.
- With the rectangle selected, press CTRL + B.
- Slowly move the mouse to add bevels until you are satisfied with the general roundness of the handle. While you won’t be creating perfect roundness here, you should get pretty close.
If you want, you can leave the beveled cap at the bottom of the handle just as it is and it would look just fine. If you want to more closely mimic the source material (this is fan art after all!), delete the beveled cap with the face selection tool. Once removed, switch to the edge selection tool. By holding Alt when you left-click the edge, Blender will select the entire loop. With the entire loop selected you can use the extrude tool to create a nice little bevel and end cap to the handle.
With that, our fantasy sword is modeled! If you would like to join the handle and the blade into one object, switch over to Object Mode and select both objects, then back in Edit Mode press CTRL + J and choose By Selection to join them into one object.
Adding the Final Textures
We’re so close to being finished now. All that is left is adding the textures! There are plenty of methods you can use, for example, programs like Substance Painter. To keep things simple and within Blender, let’s get started.
To get this model looking like Auron’s Katana, we’re going to UV Unwrap the model then use Photoshop to finish it up. If you don’t have access to Adobe Photoshop, don’t worry. Any software that allows you to manipulate digital images will work.
You can even use resources like textures.com to find HD textures if you want to create a hyper-realistic weapon. In this case, because Final Fantasy X is an old-school PlayStation 2 game, we’ll just paint the textures by hand in Photoshop. Before we can do that, we need our UV Layout so we know where to paint the texture.
- In Blender, while in Edit Mode with the model selected, click UV > Smart UV Project. Because this is a fairly simple model, Blender should have little trouble unwrapping it for you.
- Navigate to the UV Editing tab and view the UV Layout. If everything looks good, go ahead and export it as a PNG. If not, you can try again or manually unwrap it yourself by marking your own seams. This can become a little complicated, but Blender has excellent documentation, and there are tons of tutorials online if you run into trouble.
- With the UV Layout in Photoshop, start painting on a new layer. Bring in any existing textures you want to add detail and realism to your textures. Be mindful to let the color bleed over the edges to ensure you don’t miss any spots, and make sure you reflect any aspects that will be joining together, like the handle.
- Once you’re pleased with the textures, you can use Photoshop to generate a normal map. Navigate to Filter > 3D > Generate Normal Map. The normal map will add detail to the model and is particularly useful with the golden embellishment found on Katana. With a normal map, we can mimic real-life shadow and depth without actually needing to model that design.
- Export the texture and normal map, hop back into Blender, and open the Shading tab. In the lower part of the screen, you should see the default material. Using Add, insert two Images. Here you can open your texture and normal map. To get your texture to apply properly, plug Color into the Base Color node.
- To load your normal map, click Add > Vector > Normal Map. Attach the Color node from the normal image into the Color Node for the Normal Map box. On the other end, attach the Normal to the Normal found at the bottom of the material node. You should see the details apply instantly in the preview above. Adjust any of the settings for the material if you want to make any additional tweaks.
Bring the Model into Daz Studio for the Final Render
Now, all that is left to do is export our model as an FBX file and import it into Daz Studio, so we can make a final render. The great thing about Blender is that it’s almost universally compatible with any program. To show off all our hard work, we’re going to use Daz Studio.
Open up a new project in Daz Studio and go to File > Import. Navigate to the location on your computer where you saved the FBX file and select it. Now you can load your favorite characters, HDRI, and environments and render!
For our final image, we chose an HDRI, added a spotlight to emphasize the sword, then added a lens flare in post-processing. For more information on Daz Studio and best practices for setting up renders, check out these extensive learning videos.
We hope you learned something new about Blender, Daz Studio, and 3D modeling in general. Creating a model from scratch can be a daunting process, but with practice, it will only get easier as your skills improve.
If you don’t feel up to the task of creating your own model by hand, you can always take advantage of our shop, which contains thousands of high-quality models. There are several fantasy weapons that you could use in your next scene. If you haven’t signed up for Daz Studio yet, doing so is easy, and the program is completely free!
If you stuck with us this far, thank you, and we wish you the best on your 3D journey.