Using Shape Keys in Blender 3D

May 11, 2008 9:52 pm

Tags: 3D, 3D modeling, 3D models, animation, Blender 3D, Blender3D, key frame, shape keys, tutorial

A simple tutorial on shape keys in Blender 3D. Shape keys allow you to change a mesh without changing the original shape. You can can create shape keys for a character, for example, that allow it to smile, frown, blink, wink, etc. It could represent an object exploding, a pipe bending, etc. Each key will be given a slider bar, which you can adjust at any time to apply any shape key. The slider allows you to apply the shape key from 0 to 100 percent, or anywhere in between.

Once you start adding shape keys to a mesh, you won't be able to change your mesh without erasing your shape keys. Make sure you're finished with your mesh before you start adding keys.

Starting with an existing character, we're going to add a shape key that makes him look like he's creating the “Oooo” sound with his mouth.

With your object selected, switch to Object and Edit mode (F9). You'll see a tab marked 'Shapes' and a button marked 'Add Shape Key'.

Click this button to add the “Basis” shape by default. This represents the shape of our character without any alteration.


Whenever you add a new shape key, always select this key first, to ensure your new key will be started from this base shape and not another shape key which has already altered the mesh (Unless for some reason that's what you want to do).

Click the 'Add Shape Key' button again to create the first shape key. I've renamed mine to “Ooooo” so it's clearer to me what it does. Right now, the new shape key looks exactly like the “base” key. With this new shape key selected, we're going to go and edit our mesh so our character looks like he's making the “Oooo” sound with his mouth.

Here's my guy after I've altered his mouth to make the “Oooo” sound shape. That's all there is to making a shape key.

To create a new shape key for the same object, select the “Basis” key from the list, click on “Add Shape Key”, rename it to something descriptive and change your mesh to your liking.

I'll move on to describe the sliders next...


In another window, with your object still selected, change to the Action Editor mode. You should see your shape keys listed here. Clicking on the down arrow will reveal all of the slider bars.

The Slider shows the amount of the shape key that is applied to the mesh. The green line represent the current frame of animation. The numbers listed across the bottom are frame numbers. All of the shape keys will be set to 0 by default for the first frame.

Move the green line forward a few frames by left clicking and dragging in the Action Editor window (Or by using the arrow keys). After you've moved a few frames, adjust the slider for your shape key. When you do, a new yellow diamond will appear in the window. This shows that you've set a new key frame at the current frame with the value of your shape key. Blender will automatically fill in between the two diamonds (Key Frames) to animate your character.

Dragging the current frame indicator (the green line) back and forth between the two key frame indicators will animate your character in the 3D window.

Move your cursor over to the 3D window and press “ALT-A”, which will start the animation. You'll see your character's expression change as it runs through the Key Frames and applies the Shape Keys that you've created.


I went on to create several shape keys for my character's eyebrows. Each time, I select the “Base” key, click “Add Shape Key” and edit the mesh to the desired shape. Each of their sliders will show up in the Action Editor window when they're created.


Good Luck with your modeling!


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Scott [Reddog9] is a licensed electrician in Vancouver, WA. Studied in several programming languages, including Fortran, Pascal, Basic, Python, Java script, HTML. Into SciFi, BSG, Starwars, UFO Hunters, Ghost Hunters, Destination Truth, Who's line is it Anyway, PS2, Sailing, Pizza, Victorian Architecture and all of the good things of the Middle Ages. Single father to princess Hannah, the heiress to my kingdom and all of my treasures. I enjoy spending most of my free time 'playing' with Blender. Is there anything you can't do with this program? I love finding new tricks and techniques to use in my modeling. There's so much fun in creating something from nothing. I spend quite a bit of time learning different ways of using Blender's Game Engine. A couple of things I'm working on now is a cross-country vehicle sim and a 'Blenderized' version of the classic Battleship game. It's hard to stay focused on one project sometimes. Be sure to check out Scott's Renderosity Gallery, tutorials and Freestuff, as well as his personal Web Site.

May 12, 2008

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Article Comments

criss ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 14 May 2008

Wonderful tutorial, thank you!

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