The Great Mouse Launch – Part 1: Building The Dominoes

By now you should be getting comfortable navigating the 3D viewport of Blender, manipulating objects, changing your view to suit your needs, and generally be itching to make something more interesting.

I thought it would be fun to do a tutorial where we start tossing things around and I hit on the idea of launching Robyn into the air and trying to get him to land into a basket.


While playing around with this idea, I was also working on the Domino tutorial and Rex sent out a link to this guy who demonstrated how you could knock over dominoes increasing in size until you get to some pretty big extremes.

So I thought.. why not combine these two things and build a MASSIVE domino chain that would cause Robyn to launch incredibly high?  Can we do it in Blender?  Then can we make it LOOK like a blueprint?  YEAH!  Let’s try it!  Let’s start with creating the dominoes in this tutorial, then we’ll work on some fun rigid body dynamics and get Robyn LAUNCHED, and finally we’ll make it look all “blueprinty”!

Enjoy the tutorial!

Helpful Links


Pie Menu, Blender documentation on the Pie Menu Addon

Blender 101 – Modifier Encyclopedia, Tutorial on all the Blender Modifiers from Blender Guru

Getting nice bevels in Blender, Nimble Collective Tutorial on making sure your bevels work correctly in Blender

Pie Menu Addon

Since we’ll be switching between various views as we model, it’s important to be able to do it as efficiently as possible.  Usually hotkeys will fill this need, but in Blender the default hotkey for switching to particular viewpoints is on the numpad (and I don’t have a numpad), I’ll need to make a quicker way to do this.  I could make a new hotkey.. but instead I’d rather introduce you to one of my favorite Blender Addons – the Pie Menu!

Blender Pie Menu

Blender Pie Menu

For those of you used to Maya, these are very similar to Marking Menus.

  1. Go File -> User Preferences -> Add Ons
  2. In the filter area, type pie
  3. Enable User Interface: Pie Menu

Now to switch between your camera angles you can use the [kbd]q[/kbd] hotkey and simply choose an angle.  Sweet!

New Hotkeys Used

There are a few new hotkeys we are introducing in this tutorial:

SHIFT A – Brings up the Add menu to add objects to your scene.

x– Delete selected objects.

s –  Scale selected item.

q – Bring up a Pie menu to allow you to change your 3D Viewport.

TAB –  Bring up a Pie menu to allow you to select between various interactive Modes.

CTRL b –  Bevel Selected Items

Tips for Scale and Bevel

Scale: Depending on where you place the mouse when you hit s it will either be easy or difficult to scale the object. Try having your mouse placed towards the edge of the object when you scale. It will make for an easier experience!

Bevel: With the Bevel tool, it behaves much better when you hit CTRL b while your cursor is near the origin of the object.  Pretty much the exact opposite of scale.

Using Reference Material

Find Reference

Before creating any model, it’s a good idea to look at reference or artwork to make sure you’re building it to be as accurate as possible.  If we do a search for domino on google, we’ll get a full range of image results:

Results of a google image search for domino.

Results of a google image search for domino.

I found one image which works well for our scene, as it has a really high quality front view.

Front View of Domino to be used as our reference image.

Front View of Domino to be used as our reference image.

There are two ways you can use the reference within Blender.  First, you can have it displayed in your viewport tied to particular orthographic views (i.e. one image for the front, one for the side, etc).  Second, you can bring in your image as an object in 3D space to work with.  I prefer the second method, but we’ll show both.

Display Reference In View – Front View Only

To use the reference we’ll need to add it to our 3D View, but we want to do it from the Front View.

  1. Hit q and choose Front
  2. Hit n to bring up your 3D View’s Properties panel.
  3. Scroll down until you see Background Images
  4. Toggle Background Images on, and then click Add Image.
  5. Navigate to the image you want to use for the dominoes and select it.  The image will appear in your front view!  T’Awesome!

Display Reference As Object – Works In Any View!

If you prefer to work in a perspective view, you’ll need to add your image as an actual object in your scene.  Blender has a very handy way to do it – you essentially create a node and tell it to display itself as an image!  Imagine Maya’s locators.. but with more display options!

Add an empty to your scene.

  1. dataPropertyHit SHIFT A to load the Add Menu.  This is the menu you can use to add any object to your scene!  It works in the 3D viewport, the VSE (to load clips), and the node editor (to load nodes).  It’s all-powerful, and all awesome!
  2. Choose Empty->Image.  The empty will be created sitting at the location of your 3D Pivot.
  3. In the Properties Editor (Not the same properties editor for the 3D viewport.. this is your actual Properties Editor), you can click on the Data icon which will let you modify the properties of your Empty.
  4. Click Open to open your File Browser and find the image you want to use.  Now the Empty will be displayed like an image!  
  5. Now feel free to Move and Rotate the Empty around the same way you would any other object.. g to move and r to rotate!
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. Hmm, for some reason the “Camera” option on the Q pie menu isn’t working for me.
    Does it work for you?

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