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How to create spiral columns quickly in Blender 2.8x

Assalamu’alaikum. Hi guys. My name is Widhi Muttaqien from Expose Academy. In this tutorial video, I want to show you how to create “spiral columns” or also known as “twisted pillars” quickly and easily in Blender 2.8x. Besides that I also cover how to use real-world measurement unit, how to optimize the modeling result for the use at different application scenarios, and I also mention in this video a bug in the “Screw” modifier and how to work around the bug.

The techniques you learned in this video will be applicable for creating any types of spiral-like objects such as ropes, cords, candles, furniture decorations, cables, candies, etc.

I hope this short tutorial can be helpful. Happy Blending! Regards, Widhi Muttaqien


Video transcript:

Assalamualaikum. My name is Widhi Muttaqien from Expose Academy. In this tutorial video, I’m going to show you how to model a spiral column or also known as twisted pillar, quickly and easily in Blender 2.8 or above.

Now, before we start modeling anything, I want to explain the overall process in a macro overview. Basically, we only need two 2 steps. The first step is we need to define the base shape. And then the second step is adding the screw modifier. And that’s it. But besides the modeling workflow, I also want to discuss how we can optimize the result and how to use a real measurement unit in 3d modeling.

Creating the base shape

First, let’s create the base shape. We won’t be needing all of these objects, so press A to select all and then X and then “delete”. Press 7 in the Numpad to go to the top view. For the base shape, you can use many different variations depending on your needs. You can create something like this, or this, or any other shapes you can think of. For this tutorial, I’m going to create a simple shape which is this one. This is a very common shape used for spiral columns. Basically, it is formed by a circle and then copied or mirrored 4 times. So we’re going to do just that. Shift + A and chose “circle” here. Let’s zoom in a bit. To make this single circle becomes 4 circles, we can add the “mirror” modifier. Make sure you have both X-axis and Y-axis mirror planes turned on. Press Tab to go the edit mode. Move it up and to the right a bit. Now, to make the circle move precisely in a diagonal direction, we need to input the same distance for the X and the Y-axis. We can see we already have around 0.4 value here, so let’s just use 0.4 for the X distance. Press Tab, and then put 0.4 also for the Y distance. Again, this will make the circle move in a diagonal direction. Okay. Now due to the mirror modifier, we can see we have 4 circles. What we actually need is just the outline or outer edges. We don’t need any of the inner edges. Previously, before Blender version 2.8, you need to go to the edit mode and cut here and also here manually, which is tedious. Alhamdulillah in Blender 2.8, the mirror modifier can now do this for us automatically, using the bisect option. This will remove every mesh elements penetrating the mirror plane. If we activate the bisect X, Blender will cut at the x mirror plane and remove this side. If we turn on the Y option, it will do the same but on the Y mirror plane. So now we have this continuous edges.

Setting up the real-world size

Before we add the screw modifier, we want to change the size of the object so it has a realistic size. Let’s say that we want to create an architectural column and not some kind of furniture decoration. For an architectural column, the common diameter is between 25 cm to 40 cm. Let’s just make this object’s diameter to 40 cm. So press N to open the sidebar. In the dimensions section. In the X input field, we can type dot four like this. Then press Tab. Another way to do this is to use the centimeter unit. So type 40, then cm, then enter. The results are the same. Next, every time you change the dimensions, the scale value here will change. They are not at the default value of 1 anymore. Due to this, you need to apply the scale. So press Ctrl + A and choose scale here. Applying the scale will make all of the scale values reset back to 1. But the size or the dimension of it is maintained. So now we have a base column with a correct or a realistic size. Let’s press N to hide the sidebar panel.

Adding the screw modifier

Next, we’re going to turn this basic shape into a 3D spiral mesh using the “screw” modifier. Let’s add the “screw” modifier. Next, we want to make the column to be 3 meters high. We can do this by inputting 3 in the “screw” input field here. After we have the height fixed. Next, we want the spiral to rotates 3 times. For this, we need to use this “angle” value. To rotate 3 times means you need to input 360 degrees multiplied by 3. The easiest way to input something like this is to let Blender do the math for us. So type 360, then type multiply symbol, then type 3, then Enter. Now it rotates 3 times or 1080 degrees. But if we look at the model, by twisting it 3 times, we now need more edges to accommodate the twist. If you want to see the wireframe while in the solid mode, you can go to the overlays menu up here, and then turn on the “wireframe” option here. We can see there are quite a lot of vertical edges, but the horizontal ones are lacking. For this, we need to increase the “steps” number. Usually, I just use the angle value up here and then divided by 10. So type in 108 and then Enter. But you can use any number you like as long as you think it looks good enough on the model. Okay. Now, in the “screw” modifier there are actually 2 types of “steps” parameters. The first “steps” that we just changed only affects the viewport. The second “steps” which is the “render steps” is the one that actually gets rendered when we do the final rendering. If we only have 16, then we only have 16 horizontal edges in the model when we render it, which will look rather ugly. Usually, we just need to make the “render steps” to have the same value as the “steps” parameter or sometimes even higher. For now, let’s just make it the same. To copy-paste value quickly in Blender, you only need to hover the mouse on top of the input field. Without clicking or anything with the mouse. Simply press Ctrl + C. Then hover the mouse over this one. Then press Ctrl + V.

Now, it seems that our model is finished. But if we turn on the “face orientation” overlay. We can see that some of the surface normals are flipped. The outside should be all blue. And the inside should be all red. Not brindled like a lollipop candy. To fix this easily, we can just turn on this “calculate order” option here. Now we can see that the outer faces are all blue and the inner sides are all red. Which is nice. But, another problem arises. Which is a bug in Blender. Let me turn off the “wireframe” and the “face orientation”. We can see the shading looks wrong. This is a bug in the screw modifier. I hope this gets fixed in the future release of Blender. If you apply the modifiers, you actually will get a nice looking mesh. Let me show you this real quick. If I duplicate this object. And then apply all of the modifiers form top to bottom. And then go inside the edit mode and then exit again. We can see the mesh is actually fine. So again the mesh here is actually like this one if you later apply the modifiers. But if you want to keep the modifiers as they are without applying them, then there is a workaround to fix this bug. And that is by going to the data panel, in the “normals” section, turn on the “auto smooth” option here. I don’t understand why, but somehow it fixes the bug. Now, usually, the “auto smooth” option works with the smooth shading mode. We don’t need to manually set the model to smooth shading because the screw modifier already does this for us. Okay, so this is the high polygon final result.


If you want to use this model for real-time applications such as games or VR or AR, etc. This large amount of polygons may not be suitable for those purposes. Instead of using it directly, what you should do is to bake the “normal map” out of this model. And then use the normal map on a low polygon cylinder object. You will see the spiral column detail on that low poly object as if it is the original high polygon object. But we won’t be covering “normal map” baking in this tutorial.

Now, if you use the model for non-real-time applications, such as for visual effects or animation. Another scenario to optimize the model is by using the decimate modifier. This can be useful if the model is not located too close to the camera, but far away in the background or at the midground area. Essentially we want to reduce the polygons count but not too much. So “add modifier”, then choose “decimate” here. The basic function of the decimate modifier is to reduce the face counts in the 3d model. There are several modes in the decimate modifier. If you use “collapse” mode, you can reduce the face counts based on percentage. But this method will lead to a non-uniform topology. In this case, I prefer to use the “un-subdivide” mode here. You can increase the “iterations” value here. Usually, even numbers work better, as odd numbers tend to rotate the face topology. We can see with 2 iterations value we can get a nice and clean optimized result.

Workflow flexibility

The last thing I want to mention is the flexibility of this technique. Because we rely on modifiers, we can always change things around when needed, non-destructively. We can even change the base mesh. Just for example, we can go to the edit mode. Press 7 to see from the top view. Press Numpad dot to frame the object. Now if you don’t want to be bothered with this mesh in the edit mode, you can turn off these edit mode previews. And make sure we are in the vertex mode. Deselect all and then select these 3 vertices here. Press X and then dissolve vertices. So we have this flat area here. If we go back to the object mode, and re-frame the viewport, we get something like this. Pretty cool right? Just try to experiment and have fun with this technique.

Okay guys. If you want to learn more about computer graphics. Perhaps you want to jump into the video game industry. Or perhaps you want to create digital assets that can generate passive income. Or you want to have a career doing something you really love. Or become an entrepreneur in the creative industry and build your own design firm. Or maybe you just want to learn CG as a hobby. Then you should check out my courses at Udemy or at Skillshare. The links are in the description below. Currently, I have courses in Blender, 3ds max, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Krita. And more to come -in sha Allah-. All of these courses will guide you from the very basic, step by step, until you can master the skills that you need. As always, subscribe to my channel. Share the video. Give a thumbs up if you like the video, and give a thumbs down if you hate the video. Check out my other tutorials. Wassalamualaikum.

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