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Build a Flywheel & Piston in Blender

Learn how to model a flywheel and piston, then use Armatures and Bone to control the animation.
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Last updated 9/2015
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What Will I Learn?
Create a simple engine animation in two different models.
Learn how to model in Blender
Learn how to use armatures and bone to rig a model in Blender
Practise using short cut key often used in Blender.
View Curriculum
  • Download Blender for their operation system.
  • A three button mouse installed (Blender does not work well with the single button Mac mouse, so this should be replaced with an inexpensive 3 button USB mouse).

This course is about modelling, rigging and simple animation created in Blender. The key feature is learning how to use Armatures, Bones and Empty Objects to animate a group of Mesh Objects in a mechanical way.

In this course you will learn how to model a Flywheel and Piston System, then add armatures and empty object to rig the model, finishing Part 1 with a simple animated loop. In Part 2 you will build on the skills developed in Part 1 by building, rigging and animating 4 Pistons linked to a crankshaft, again creating a simple animated loop.

The is nearly 2 hours of video tutorials contained in the course. The terminology is based on key features used in Blender so that things can be easily identified. There are resources attached at the start of both Part 1 and Part 2. These files contain the finished models to be used to gauge how your own work in progressing. There are a number of Quizzes use to reinforce keyboard short-cuts or menus used during the modelling and rigging processes.

This course is for those learners wishing to further develop their skills in Blender.

Who is the target audience?
  • This course is designed for students who have started to use Blender and wish to enhance their skills, following on from my previous Blender courses.
  • This course is for student wishing the learn how to animate mechanical systems in Blender.
  • The course can also be used by those wishing to refresh their skills in Blender.
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Curriculum For This Course
Expand All 26 Lectures Collapse All 26 Lectures 01:56:16
2 Lectures 04:12

In this video I introduce you to what is going to be covered through out the course from modelling the flywheel and piston, rigging using Armatures and Empty Objects. Then how to create a simple animation.

In Part 2 a challenge is set so that you can implement what you have learned in Part 1 to create, rig and animate a 4 cylinder piston rotating on a crankshaft.

Preview 02:00

Through out this course I use the Left Mouse Button as a selection tool. You will probably be used to this in other applications, but it is not the Default setting in Blender. Instead the Right Mouse Button is used for selecting objects. So the start of this video takes you through how to changes the User Preferences so that you can use the Left Mouse Button as you normally would.

We will also look at what happens it you accidental try to Quit the application and some Navigational activities as explored.

Preview 02:12
PART 1 - Modelling, Rigging and Animating a Flywheel & Piston
1 Lecture 05:04

This video provides an overview of Part 1, where you will be taken through the processes of building all of the necessary Mesh Models, adding Armatures and Empty Objects. From there you will be shown how to add Constraints and do some animation.

In the Resource there is a zip file of the Blender document (*.blend) which I would encourage you to open and explore. Try not to alter it as this will help you to compare the file you produce yourself as you follow the course.

Preview 05:04
Generating the models of the piston systme and flywheel.
7 Lectures 38:29

In this video we begin the modelling process by creating the Piston Chamber using a Cylinder Primitive Object.

Key features shown in the video include the use of the 'E' key to Extrude, 'S' key to Scale and 'R' key to Rotate.

Modelling the Piston Chamber.

Once we have the Piston Chamber completed we Duplicate part of the model to begin shaping the Piston.

Modelling the Piston (Part 1).

In this video you will learn how to shape another Cylinder Primitive Object into the link that connects the Piston to the Rod.

Modelling the Piston (Part 2).

An important feature shown in this video is the Bridge Edge Loop used to connect two Meshes in Edit Mode together. To ensure this works the number of Vertices has to be the same along both the Edges the need to be joined. So you will also learn how to us Delete to Dissolve Vertices.

Modelling the Piston (Part 3).

In this video, starting with a simple Cylinder Primitive Object, you will learn how to model the Rod Object.Again the Bridge Edge Loop is featured along with Dissolve Vertices to join the two ends of the Rod together.

Modelling the Rod.

In this video you are shown how to create the Flywheel starting with the inner rim, then the outer rim before linking the two with 8 spokes. Bridge Edge Loops are used, along with other keyboard short cuts used previously in the course.

Modelling the Flywheel (Part 1).

In creating the link between the Flywheel and Rod Objects you will see demonstrated the 'C' key which activates the Circle Select Tool. The size of the circle of influence can be changed by either pressing the '+' or '-' keys on the Keyboard Number Pad. Alternatively, you can use the Middle Mouse Wheel to scroll forwards or backwards to do the same thing.

Another essential part of this tutorial is creating a Vertex Group which will later become the Parent for the Empty-Rotation Empty Object, more on this in Lecture 12.

Modelling the Flywheel (Part 2).

This quiz will test what you have learned about modelling techniques used so far.

Modelling Techniques
8 questions
Rigging the Piston System.
3 Lectures 11:33

An important element to this video is the use of Ctrl +'A'. This is used to Apply>Rotation & Scale setting to Objects. Effectively, resetting Scale to 1.0 and Rotation to 0 on the X, Y and Z axis. This helps to prevent Object moving or scaling in unusual ways later in the process.

Resetting the Rotation and Scale for each Object.

In this video we refine the Vertex Group down to a single vertex so that it can become the Parent for the Empty Object called Empty_Rotation.This will later be used to get the Rod Object to track to Empty_Rotation.

Adding 3 Empties and Parenting Objects.

In this video you will see how the Armatures and Bones are created. It is important to ensure that the names for each object are clearly defined to make things easier when Rigging.

Adding Armatures, each with 2 Bones.

This quiz will see what you have learned about rigging using Armatures, Bones and Empties.

Rigging the Piston System.
3 questions
Adding Constraints, Minor Adjustments and Animation
3 Lectures 13:55

In this video you will see the Armatures renamed and the constraints add to both the Bones and the Empty Object. It is important to ensure that this part is followed correctly, as the animation may not work as anticipated later, if the constraints and parenting are not right.

Adding Constraints.

In this video the final Parenting of the Objects to Bones are done, so that the Objects follow the movement of the Bones.

Parenting Objects to Empties & Minor Modelling Changes.

In this video you will create the Flywheel animation, starting with adding a keyframe into the Timeline at the start and then a second at the end after rotating the Flywheel 1080 degrees. You will see that at this stage the Flywheel will start from a stationary position, gradually build up speed and the slow to a halt at the end.

The Graph Editor will be introduce so that a continuous motion can be created so the animation can be looped.

Animating the Flywheel.

This quiz will test to see what you have learned about animation during the previous section.

Animating the Flywheel.
4 questions
PART 2 - Create a four cylinder piston system with crankshaft
9 Lectures 40:09

This video introduces the challenge of creating a four pistons and crankshaft, to help enhance what has been learned so far.

Part 2 will cover some of the elements that will help you in building the model but you will be left to solve the problem of animating the model based on the material from Part 1.

In the Resources there is a zip file with two Blender files. 'Engine4Animated' shows the final animated model, while 'Engine4onZaxis' shows the issues that arose when the pistons traveled along the Z axis.

Preview 05:11

In this video you will be shown how the center part of the crankshaft was created using a Cylinder Object and an Array Modifier.

In the Resources the zip file contains two images that can be used as Background Images to help with the modelling.

Modelling the Crankshaft (Part 1).

In this video we add the spindles section to the crankshaft.

Modelling the Crankshaft (Part 2).

The final part of modelling the crankshaft is adding the pivots that the Rods will be attached to. (Remember, the Vertex Groups used earlier that were the Parents of Empty_Rotation?)

Modelling the Crankshaft (Part 3).

In this video the bar between the two Rod links is modeled.

Modelling the Rod. (Part 1)

The end links are created in this video for the Rod.

Modelling the Rod. (Part 2)

Bridge Edge Loops are used to join the two links to the bar, completing the Rod modelling.

Modelling the Rod. (Part 3)

This video shows what the piston looks like and gives a few tips on how to do some of the modelling. However, at this stage of the process you should have learned the necessary skills to complete the task of creating the pistons.

Modelling the Piston.

There are a few minor differences to the way the Armatures are laid out in this model compared to the way they were set up in the Flywheel model, so this video takes a look at what those differences are. However, the basic concepts are the same as used in Part 1.

This is where you begin to demonstrate your own methods of solving problems - i.e. this is part of the challenge.

It is important to re-examine the files Resourced in Lecture 17 to make comparisons with your own model. If you come up with a different solution, please share your findings with the rest of the group.

Exploring the Bones & Empties Configuration.
Course Conclusion.
1 Lecture 02:54

This video wraps up the course discussing what has been covered.

There are two resources I have added to this lecture. The first is a video of a model flywheel and piston system I recently found in a museum showing additional armatures. The second is a PDF file suggesting how you could use the video to help you recreate the model in Blender to further develop your modelling and animation skills.

Course Conclusion.
About the Instructor
4.1 Average rating
155 Reviews
14,657 Students
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Filmmaker, 3D Artist, Writer & Educationalist.


I have been a Media lecturer for twelve years, initially at UCE Birmingham and more recently at the Southern Regional College, where I was the Course Coordinator on the HND in Interactive Media Production and the new HND in Creative Media Production for three academic years.

My academic work involves designing and implementing courses from BTEC First Diploma Level 2 through to HND Level 5 courses; internal verification; planning and grading assignments; reviewing equipment and software needs for both classroom and studio based work; and pastoral care for students. I have also had a key role in setting up the NI SkillSet Academy between 2006 and 2008.

I have over thirty years experience in digital video, film and television, primarily as an editor but over the past twenty years also in production. I have worked for the BBC NI, UTV, RTE and many independent production companies. I have written numerous short scripts, which have been put into production and screened either in film festivals or broadcast on UK television. I have developed one of my feature film screenplays called 'The Fall' into a published novel and set up the new publishing company, Gullion Media Limited in 2008. I have been working with new authors to publish their books. To date the company has published 4 books: 'The Fall'; 'Hidden' ( both authored by George J. Kingsnorth); 'GeoCache' by Errol Bader and 'Stripping it back' by Billy Dixon.

With Jeff Marshall, as co-producer, I have written and director an award winning low-budget digital feature film called 'Fiddler's Walk'. I am currently producing a feature film called 'Monty's Quest'. In addition, I am co-producer, co-director and editor of the feature length documentary 'Bleeding Pines of Turpentine' (BPOT) about the devastation and recuperation of the long-leaf pines in North Carolina and how this has affected the local community. BPOT was the opening film at the 2nd Newry Film Festival 2013 on 16th September 2013.

Work History:

Managing Director of Youtreetv Ltd, a new company set up to produce video tutorials for on-line courses November 2013 - present.

Managing Director of Gullion Media Limited, a new publishing company Sept 2007 – Current.

Lecturer in Media Production, Southern Regional College Sept 2004 – Feb 2014 (Currently on a career break).

Course Director/Senior Lecturer – Digital Television Technology & Production, TIC Dec 2002 – Sept 2004.

Freelance Editor/Director & Managing Director Blue Sphere Productions now Kingsnorth Films Ltd Aug 1997 – Current.

Avid Editor, Callister Communications Ltd, Lisburn May 1995 – Aug 1997.

Freelance Editor/Director, Belfast, June 1989 – May 1995.

Picture Editor, Anglia Television, Norwich – June 1988 – May 1989. Assistant Film Editor, BBC NI, Belfast, Dec 1984 – June 1988.

Inhouse Productions Ltd, Manchester, April 1984 – Dec 1984.

Education: Master of Education, 2013 University of Ulster.

Master of Arts Degree in Media Studies, 2005 University of Ulster.

Postgraduate Diploma in Further & Higher Education, 2008, University of Ulster.

Postgraduate Certificate in Digital Television Technology & Production, 2003 UCE.

Postgraduate Certificate in Popular Culture 2003 O.U.

BA in General Studies 1997, O.U.

H.N.D. Film & Television 1983 Bournemouth & Poole College of Art & Design.

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