By default, the 3D View window is the largest area in the Blender screen, where you see your objects in the 3D grid, the Object Tools on the left side, and the header on the bottom of the 3D View window. When you first open Blender, one of the first things you'll notice is the large cube in the center of the grid. In the center of that cube is a little white circle with three arrows radiating from it. Those three arrows represent the three axes you'll be working with. The red arrow is the X axis, the green arrow is the Y axis and the blue arrow is the Z axis relative to that cube.
On the bottom left of the grid, you'll see the universal X, Y and Z axes using the same color coding. You'll also see text that, at this point, says (1) cube. The (1) means Frame 1 and the cube refers to the cube that is currently selected.
The Grid View
The grid boxes represent Blender units used to measure distance or size. Each grid box is one Blender unit wide and one Blender unit long. They won't render when you render your images; they're just there for measuring purposes.
Left-click anywhere in the grid, and it will move a crosshairs symbol that acts as a cursor.
The black concentric circles symbol with a black line radiating from it is called the sun symbol and represents your light source. This will be very valuable later, when you are working with light and shadows and want them to look realistic.
The triangle pyramid symbol is the camera or viewing angle. When you render your images, you will likely want to inspect them from different angles. That may mean doing multiple renders while moving the camera around to different points.
Adjusting Your View
You should have a three-button mouse with a scroll wheel to rotate the view. Click down on the scroll wheel and you'll be able to drag and rotate the grid in any direction you want to inspect your objects from any angle. (This won't affect your rendering since you're not moving the camera.) You can also zoom in and out by rotating the scroll wheel. Another option for zooming is to hold down the CTRL button and move the mouse up and down. You'll notice something funky if you try to zoom in too close to the box while in perspective view. It will actually zoom into the box and closer to the point where all the axes converge. This won't happen with orthographic view.
You can also dolly up and down in your view by holding down the Shift key and scrolling.. This is actually moving your view along the Z axis. You can also dolly left and right by holding down the CTRL key and scrolling.
For an interesting experiment with orthographics vs. perspective, hit 5 on your number pad at any point when creating your scenes. This will give you the orthographic view, making all the grid lines exactly parallel. This is useful for making sure all your objects are to scale without tricking your eye into thinking that objects in the background are smaller than they should be. Hit 5 on the number pad again and you'll have the perspective view again. With perspective view, all the grid lines would converge at a point in the distance if they were extended. This gives the illusion of depth to your scene.
Placing Your Cursor
This is a very tricky business because, remember, you're dealing with 3D animation software. With most programs you only deal with the Z axis (up and down) and the X axis (left and right). You might think you have your cursor in the right spot when you've left-clicked on a place while looking down at the grid plane, only to rotate your view and find out that you have it placed somewhere under the grid. You will often have to rotate the view quite a bit and make multiple clicks to get the cursor close to where you want it. If you can't get it placed exactly but can get it close, don't sweat it. If you want to go the professional route with 3D software, you're going to be paid to create 3D models, animations and so on, not waste time playing with your cursor. Once you have that object created somewhere close to where you want it, you can select it and drag it to the exact spot.
You can select objects with the right mouse button. For instance, click on the light source or the camera, and you'll notice that the little circle with the three axes are suddenly centered on that particular object. The object is also outlined in orange and the word “cube” in the left-hand corner will be replaced by the name of your selection.
By default, you can hit your Tab key to switch between Object and Edit Modes. Toggling between each will produce different options in the Object Tools menu and different ways of highlighting selected objects. You can also go down to the 3D View window's header and select a different mode, like Sculpt Mode. Now when you hit the tab key, it will switch between Sculpt and Edit Modes. Each mode will give you different options for modifying selected objects. Changing modes will also give you a different-looking cursor when you have it on the grid, so if it looks funny and something is going wrong when you try to work, check your mode.
Hitting “Z” on your keyboard will switch between the default solid view and a wireframe view. This is useful for situations in which you want to get rid of opaque surfaces and see the 3D shape of an object. You can also click on the drop-down box next to the “modes” drop-down menu to see options such as wireframe, texture, solid and bounding box views.
...Maybe you'd prefer to move faster.
You prefer to work at your own pace when working with Blender. Or maybe you would rather skip the boring beginner stuff and jump right into it. (Though you will likely come back to it if and when you get stumped.) This book gives you a lot of goodies about creating your fantasy worlds.