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Exporting and importing FBX in Blender

FBX is one of the most common file formats used to move 3D models and assets between different applications. When using Blender together with other software there are many cases where we will need to import and export FBX files. Whether that be for exporting a model to a game engine or other some other 3D applications. So how do we do it?

To import or export an FBX in Blender, go to the file menu and find import or export then choose FBX from the respective menu.

In many cases the default settings works just fine. But there are a lot of export and import settings we can adjust to make the most of our FBX import and exports. In the rest of this article, we'll go into more detail about what an FBX file is, what they are commonly used for, and a more in-depth guide about importing and exporting.

What is an FBX file

FBX is a universal file format that is supported by a large variety of 3D modeling tools and related software suites such as game engines and CAD software. The format can store a large number of objects related to 3D scenes. In Blenders exporter and importer these object types are supported.

  • Meshes
  • Lights
  • Cameras
  • Empties
  • Armatures
  • Animations

According to Wikipedia, FBX also known as filmbox was developed in 2006 by Kaydara. The format is proprietary and currently owned by Autodesk.

External content: Wikipedia - FBX

The format itself can either be stored as ASCII or Binary, it is commonly used for Exporting models to Unity and Unreal Engine as well as being the main format used by Autodesk.

Blender's FBX importer and exporter was developed without the use of the FBX SDK and is written in python.

How to import a FBX file into Blender

Blender has a built in FBX importer that is enabled by default.

To Import a FBX file

  • Navigate to the top left of the blender window and select File
  • In the drop down select Import and then FBX (.fbx)
  • Navigate to the FBX file in the Blender File View and select it
  • Select Import FBX

Now you may have noticed there are many settings available when we're importing an FBX file, so what does each one do? Let's cover each section in turn.

Include

Custom Normals

If the FBX model has custom normals blender will attempt to import them, if it cannot find them or import them it will just recalculate the normals.

Subdivision Data

If the FBX model has information about Subdivision Surface modifiers Blender will import them.

Custom Properties

If our model has Custom Properties, this option will Import them.

Import Enums as Strings

If the FBX model has Enums this will convert them to strings.

Image Search

If the FBX model is in a folder that has sub folders this will search through them for any images that the model uses, blender warns that this may be slow.

Transform

Scale

The FBX file will be scaled using this number as the factor, this is helpful if our model is imported at the wrong scale.

Decal Offset

If the FBX model has any alpha meshes they will be displaced by this value.

Apply Transform

if the FBX model has any Transform offsets this will apply them.

Use Pre/Post Rotation

This will use the Pre/Post Rotation from the FBX file's transforms.

Manual Orientation

This allows us to change the forward and up direction manually, use this if your model is imported with the wrong orientation.

Animation

Animation Offset

Any animations on the FBX file will be offset by this value, use this if your animations are starting at the wrong time.

Armature

Ignore Leaf Bones

This will Ignore the last bone on the end of a bone chain, if the FBX file imports with extra bones on the end bone chains that you don't want, enable this option.

Force Connect Children

This will connect the parent and children bones even if their positions don't match.

Automatic Bone Orientation

This will try to align the rotation of bones in the FBX file, use this if the armature imports with bones facing the wrong way.

Primary Bone Axis

This will set the orientation of the primary bone axis.

Secondary Bone Axis

This will set the orientation of the secondary bone axis.

How to export a FBX file from Blender

Next, we'll also likely want to be able to Export FBX, Blender also comes with a built in FBX Exporter, this is again enabled by default.

To Export an FBX file

  • Navigate to the top Left of the Blender window and select File
  • In the drop down select Export and then FBX (.fbx)
  • In the Blender File View navigate to the path you'd like to export your FBX to and set the file name.
  • Select Export FBX

The FBX Exporter also comes with many options to configure our export, so what does each one do?

Include

Limit to

We can limit to both selection and active collection, selection will simply just export only the selected objects, active collection export any objects in the collections that are set to active.

Object Types

This specifies the object types that will be included in the export, for example we can select mesh and then only the meshes in our scene will be exported.

Custom Properties

If we've assigned any Custom Properties to our objects this setting can be used to export them.

Transform

Scale

This will allow us to manually change the scale of our object on export, sometimes the scales of objects will be off by 10-100 units making our objects too large or small in the software we import our model into, this will allow us to fix that.

Apply Scaling

this will set any scaling changes applied to the object, for example the above scale change would just show as the object being scaled by whatever factor you've entered, by applying it that will set it as the default scale, so instead of the object showing as being at a scale factor of 100 it would show as 1

Forward

This allows us to orient our model incase it is incorrectly orientated in the software we import to

Up

This will change the up direction, use this combined with forward to fix any orientation issues on export.

Apply Unit

This will take into account Blender's units, if disabled the units will be used as is.

Use Space Transform

This will apply all global space transforms to our models, if this is disabled, they will not be changed.

Apply Transform

This will apply any position, rotation, or scale modifications we've made to our models, so if your object is rotated on 90 degrees on the x axis, the object will retain that rotation, but the rotation will be applied so the objects rotation will show as 0.

Geometry

Smoothing

  • Normals only

Only use this if the importer understands split normals.

  • Face

This will export smoothing per face.

  • Edge

This will export smoothing per edge.

Export Subdivision Surface

This will maintain the subdivsion surface modifiers on your model.

Apply Modifiers

this will apply any modifiers on your model.

Loose Edges

This will enable and disable exporting of loose edges.

Tangent Space

This will add Binormal and Tangent Vectors, this will only work correctly with meshes that only contain Tris and Quads.

Armature

Primary Bone Axis

This will set the orientation of the primary bone axis.

Secondary Bone Axis

This will set the orientation of the secondary bone axis.

Armature FBXNode Type

This is the type of node used to represent Blender's armatures, only use the other options if you experience issues with Null as other options may not re import into blender correctly.

Only Deform Bones

This will export only bones that are used for deforming our model, for example bones used for controlling an IK rig that don't directly deform mesh will not be exported.

Add Leaf Bones

This will add bones onto the end of the bone chains, use this if you plan on working on your armature outside of blender.

Bake Animation

Key all bones

This will force Blender to export at least one keyframe for each bone, this can sometimes be required when exporting to applications such as Unreal Engine.

NLA Strips

This will export all the NLA strips as separate animations.

All Actions

This will export each action as a separate animation.

Force Start/End Keying

This will force blender to add a keyframe to the start and end of animations.

Sampling Rate

This is the rate at which the animations are sampled, think of this as the number of frames skipped when an animation is being sampled, this will not speed up the animation but will interpolate for the frames that are skipped.

Simplify

This will simplify the animations, the value decides how much the animation is simplified.

  • What are the most important export settings to keep in mind?
  • Export settings for Unity and Unreal engine, at least for static meshes.

While many FBX Export guides will suggest that you always turn of leaf bones this actually will vary depending on how you're going to use the exported rig.

For example if we plan on using Unity's IK system but are missing bones on the ends of our armature this is what leaf bones solves.

If we don't plan on adjusting our animations or poses outside of blender then that would be the best case for disabling them.

You may also need to configure the scale settings, or use apply transforms as well as the orientation settings.

Unreal Engine

If we are exporting a static object to Unreal Engine the standard settings should work fairly well, though sometimes Unreal Engine will throw errors about the normals of the object, we can fix this by changing the smoothing to Face.

We may also need to configure the scale of the object, for static objects simply applying the scale should fix any scaling but we can also manually adjust the scale using the scale option.

Unity

Unity also works well with the default export settings, our files will usually be automatically scaled by unity so that they are the correct scale, these aren't applied by default though so if that's an issue you can use the scale settings apply them.

FBX Import and Export Presets

Once last feature I'd like to cover is adding Presents to the FBX Importer and Exporter, if we're doing a lot of work with FBX files this can save us from having to manually reconfigure our imports and exports each time.

To Add a Present to the FBX Importer or Exporter

  • Navigate to the top left of the blender window and Select File
  • Either select Import or Export and select FBX (.fbx)
  • Configure the settings like you would to import or export an FBX file
  • At the Top of the settings panel select the + Icon and type in the name of the present

Now you can click on the Operator Presents drop down and access any of the presents you have set to quickly configure the importer or exporter.

Final thoughts

FBX can be a very versatile format that is used in many different cases, knowing how each settings affects our exports can save us a lot of time and headache, especially when we need to bring our models into game engines which exposes a lot of issues we wouldn't normally see in Blender.

Thank you for your time.

Written by: Damian Paterson

Editor & Publisher

Erik Selin
3D artist, writer, and owner of artisticrender.com

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