The Domino Effect – Learning Blender’s Rotation Controls



In my last post on moving objects in Blender, I used the idea of playing Jenga to help you learn to be comfortable moving objects around.  We got great feedback on that post, including a really kind tweet from Adam Juhasz:

must promote this, cause it’s kewl: learn #b3d the fun way, find out what @NimbleCollectiv is about #freedom of #art



Continuing in that vein, we’re going to have fun with another game to learn rotation.  This time.. it’s dominoes! As always, feel free to watch the video, or follow along through text.  Or both.  Seriously!   We do it for you!


But first.. let’s talk about the rotation manipulator.

Rotation Manipulator

Rotation Manipulator

To choose the rotation manip, you can select the rotate button in the transformation manipulators area of the header for the 3D view.  This will allow you to switch between different manipulation modes without having to use a hotkey.


Rotation Manipulator Button

Once you have the rotation manipulator chosen, you can start rotating your object by simply clicking on the manipulator itself.  You have three options:

3 Different options for rotation with the manipulator.

3 Different options for rotating with the manipulator.

Individual Rotation Axis

Click and Drag with the LMB on either the redgreen or blue axis to constrain rotation only in that axis.  This is a great way to limit rotation on one particular orientation.  I use this quite a bit to help ensure I’m not adding slight rotations where I don’t want them.

Rotating in Camera Space

Click and Drag with the LMB on the outer white curve.  This rotates the object flat to the camera plane.  It’s a fast way to orient something, but can often cause some additional rotation where you might not want it.  Works great in orthographic cameras.

Arcball Rotation

Click and Drag with the KMB on the inner white curve.  This will rotate the object like an arcball.  I find this very handy for rotating heads, hands, hips and shoulders of a character.

I often find that clicking directly on the manipulator is a very slow way to interact with my objects.  It almost feels like I’m hunting for the thing to click on instead of just choosing an axis and going with it.  This isn’t always the case.. but it’s often enough that I prefer to use hotkeys.  And if I’ve learned anything about Blender since I’ve started working with it.. it’s that hotkeys are … “key”.

Hotkeys for Rotation

To jump to rotation mode, use the r hotkey.  Easy to remember, eh?  r for rotate!

By default when you hit r with an object selected you will immediately be rotating in camera space.  This is the same as if you had clicked on that outer white ring on the manipulator.

If you want to switch to arcball mode, simply hit the r key again.  This will toggle you between camera space and arcball.

Tip for Rotating! When rotating using hotkeys, I find it best to keep your mouse somewhat far away from the center of the object. It tends to give me more control!

Using the Pivot Point

Various pivot options when rotating.

Various pivot options when rotating.

On the header bar, there’s a button you can click which will let you switch between different pivot options when rotation.  By default it’s set to Median Point, but you can switch to a few different options depending on what you’d like to do.

Individual Origins

This will rotate the objects you have selected around their own origins.  It doesn’t matter how many you have selected, they’ll each rotate around their own space.

Active Element

When you have multiple objects selected, the rotation will occur around the active object.  Very handy when selecting lots of items!

Median Point

Rotate around the mid-point of your selection.  Handy for things like feet on a character, if you want to rotate the whole thing at once.

Bounding Box Center

Does as it sounds.. rotates around the center of the bounding box of your selection.

3D Cursor

Rotates around the 3D Cursor – that little target thingy that appears when you click with the LMB!  This is what this thing is used for!  Awesome!

Using the 3D Cursor

Now that you know what that 3D cursor can be used for.. how do you put it where you want?  You have a choice.. you can either place it manually by clicking with the LMB, or using some pretty nifty snapping options.

To bring up the snapping menu, hit SHIFT S.  This will let you either snap the 3D cursor to something.. or snap something to the 3D cursor.

I recommend you watch the video for this particular section.. it’s much easier to explain visually.  Or, check out the documentation and read it for yourself.


Practice.. by Building Dominoes!

As always, the best way to learn is to practice.. and what better way to practice than by building Dominoes!  Attached is a Blender file with two dominoes and a floor.  The red domino is the starter domino.  It will automatically fall and knock over the blueish grey domino.


To make a whole line of dominoes select the blue domino, duplicate it using ALT d and move and/or rotate it to a new location.  Do this as much as you want, hit play and watch magic happen!

Creating multiple dominoes!

Creating multiple dominoes!

Quick tip – To repeat the last action over and over, hit SHIFT R.  This will allow you to quickly place dominoes one after another.

Once you’ve created a masterpiece, feel free to tweet about it!  We’d love to see what you’ve created!

Enjoy a time-lapse of building the Nimble Collective logo..

Building Nimble Collective’s Logo with Dominoes from Nimble Collective on Vimeo.

Jason Schleifer
Jason Schleifer
Jason and his mad scientist eyebrows have been pushing the boundaries of CG animation and sharing his knowledge for nearly 20 years. Widely recognized as an industry leader and mentor to hundreds of animators, Schleifer, formerly of Weta Digital and Head of Character Animation at DreamWorks, now works as Head of Content and is a co-founder of Nimble Collective.


  1. It takes an exceptionally gifted and dedicated teacher to turn something as potentially dull as rotation practice into such a fun and enjoyable exercise! 🙂 Wonderful post and video, thank you Jason.

  2. Tom says:

    Pretty cool! Here’s an alternative approach using 10 lines of Python code:

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