Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mandelbulb 3D Tutorial: The Basics

Alrighty! Finally decided to get down and start documenting all I've learnt so far about Mandelbulb 3D, a wonderful program for rendering 3D fractals.

Follow me on Tsu! Join up using this link: (It's invite-only, and you've just been invited =) ):

First thing to say is, don't get intimidated by all the very technical math terms found when you open the program! You don't need to worry about most of it for now. (Though most of them, if you hover the mouse over them, will have a little description as to what they do in practical terms). Just follow my lead. So this is what the program looks like upon first opening it:

Also, two other windows open up with this one, called Formulas and Lighting, which I'll get to later.

The first thing I'm sure your eyes fixes upon is that big juicy looking button called "Calculate 3D" ... Go ahead and click on it ;D ... Here is what you should see after a quick rendering:

The Mandelbulb

Yes, it is the famous Mandelbulb. Now if you're like me, you probably went ahead and tried the zoom button in the bottom left corner. This is fine, but what happens is, it jumps back to 2D and you have to click on Calculate 3D again. A much better option is the "3D Navi" button you see there on the top-left. It will open up a new window that looks like this:

Mandelbulb in the 3D Navigator

From here, you can explore the bulb further. Notice the different buttons at the bottom there... Now, I don't quite understand all of how everything works yet, but I'll try and explain as much as I know:

  • The two "rolling" buttons are self explanatory. They roll the image either clockwise or counter-clockwise. You can set the amount of degrees it will roll if you click on that little down arrow in the bottom right corner. (It opens up more settings):

Navigation controls and settings

  •  The 4 "looking" buttons are exactly that: If you click once to the right, for example, it's as if you're turning your head a little to the right and looking in that direction. Same with left, up and down. To what degree you turn your head is also determined by the "Looking+Rolling angle" in the bottom settings.
  • Then there are the two walking buttons, which is the default function of using the mousewheel. By default, using them zooms in closer to or further from the fractal (getting closer reveals more detail). But if you have "Fixed zoom and steps" ticked (also in the box that pops down when clicking on the bottom right arrow), then you simply move closer to it. Like this, if you get too close, you start walking through the fractal. Try yourself to see what I mean.
I have problems though, with these two little buttons... Especially when using the mouse wheel, where zooming in changes many more parameters than the zoom. Sometimes its behaviour is unexpected and most of the time I can't figure out why. The best thing to do when you get lost in a zoom, with lots of sky and pixelation, is to click on the Parameter button. This will load the original settings, which should bring you back to the full-size bulb.
  • Then, the 4 "Sliding" buttons: The best I can do to explain these for now is to say that it's like you're side-stepping and turning a little, in whichever direction you click. You'll notice that the zoom is affected when clicking on them. For me, the best thing about them is using them with the Looking buttons, to rotate the fractal and "look around corners".

*** A note: There are these navigation tools in the main window that can be useful (if a bit cumbersome) especially when first loading your fractal and inspecting it for the first time:

As I mentioned in the beginning, you can zoom in here, but it switches to 2D so you need to re-"Calculate 3D" each time. The same thing with the move tool. And the arrows are for rotating the 'bulb in any direction by the number of degrees you specify.

Ok so, now zoom in to an area you like, get used to the other navigation keys, and once you've found a good spot, stop there. I did exactly that:

A nice foresty zoom-in of the Mandelbulb

Ok, I'll get to colouring and lighting in the next blogpost. For now though, let's just save your fractal for future access. The first thing you need to do is click on the "View to main" button, in the top left corner. Then you go back to your the main window, make sure you have "Preview" chosen, and click on "Calculate 3D":

And your image will be rendered quite quickly in the main window:

Foresty area rendered in the main Window

So now that it's rendered, you can start changing it's look by using the Lighting window. As I said, that's for my next post. For now, let's save your fractal for future retrieval. You have 4 different saving options:

Saving Options

  • As an m3i: This is Mandelbulb's file format. Loading this will load your fractal exactly as you left it. Note though, that if you save your fractal in this format, the file can be big. My one above was only 1.3mb or so, but if you render it on "High" instead of "Preview", expect the file to be much bigger. Over 100mb is normal. See saving as m3p below.
  • As an m3p: This is a parameter file. To my knowledge, it is exactly the same as an m3i, but way smaller. It saves only the necessary information needed to render the fractal again. When you load it, you have to click on "Calculate 3D" to get your fractal back. I recommend you do this now. If you like, save your fractal in both m3p and m3i and then go compare the two file sizes.
  •  As copy/pastable parameters: Very useful if you'd like to share a particularly interesting discovery with fellow 'bulbers. You simply click on the 'txt' button with blue disk on it and then paste wherever you like. And the other way around too. If you find parameters posted by someone, you simply copy them (starting from "Mandelbulb3Dv17{P.....S....O/...ET...2......." etc, until the closing "}" bracket) and then click on the 'txt' button with the yellow folder on it.
  •  As an image: You can choose bmp, png or jpg. Use this only once you're 100% happy with how your fractal looks.

Ok, that's it for now! I'll do the next one soon, about Colouring and Lighting. But don't let that stop you from experimenting by yourself :)

If my tutorial is helping you, please consider supporting me over at my Patreon page.
I also have a deviantArt gallery.

Go to next page of this tutorial: Lighting and Colouring


  1. Thank you for this tutorial on the basics of the program. I have been using UF and Apophysis for years, but was somewhat intimidated by Mandelbulb 3D due to the lack of basic information.

    So many thanks from Thailand.

  2. My pleasure Jing-reed! I've become a bit more experienced now with M3D so expect a few more tutorial pages soon =) ... Please follow my blog with your Google account, it's always nice to gain a follower... =D

    Thailand! Always wanted to visit.

  3. Hi. But all of these programs assume you've done fractals before. A simple, basic question...where do you get the image to start with? I mean, can you take one of your own raw or JPG or PNG or whatever files and start with that?

    1. Hi Indy =)

      It's true that Mandelbulb 3D is made without much of a beginner's guide, but that's really what I've done for you here. Just follow the tutorial. The image you see above is the default one that is loaded when you open the program. That is, it is the default formula, which you then generate into a 3D image by clicking the "Calculate 3D" button.

      So no, you can't start with any old image. You start with a basic formula, and then tweak the parameters of the formula (without knowing what you're even doing or understanding any of the maths behind it) to see what image comes out ^^ That's part of the fun, finding amazing shapes.

      But just tweaking numbers and rendering every time is a bit tedious, because so much of what you might tweak would result it a mess, which is why Jesse built in the 3D navigator ;)

      And then, the visual parameter tweaker REALLY makes things easier for you! ^^ Just follow along on my tutorial, you'll see...

  4. My image comes out very low resolution when saved. How to fix this?

    1. At the top of the main window, there are two boxes labled Width & Height. Enter the dimensions you want your rendered image to be here.

  5. What use is this program other than random curiosity, if you cannot start with your own image and see what happens with modifications in the program? The individual that introduced me to the program showed me his works that start with his own images and are modified in the program.

    1. Oh, what a question! Hehe... You can check all the art I've done for examples, here:
      You can use your own images and backgrounds or colourmaps, but you do need to play around with the formulae and get to know the program a bit to start creating. It takes a bit of effort but I've found it well worth it! =)

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  7. This is my first dumb question. How do you reset? I opened the program, had no idea what to do, clicked a bunch of buttons, got that bulb at some point, and wound up with a blank blue square. I can't find any "undo" or "reset" button (or even a close program button) so I had to just quit the program from the dock.

    1. Hi Colleen =) Nice to see people are still using my tutorial!
      The best way indeed to reset is to close the program and open it up again. Later, you'll be resetting, when necessary, by opening the m3i file which you will have saved before, which you'll learn how to do later.
      There is a little undo button though. Look just above the "Calculate 3D" button. There's a little arrow. That will put all parameters back to how they were the last time you hit Calculate 3D. (You will then have to hit calculate 3D again). Feel free to ask me more questions =) And you can follow me at if you want to see what I'm doing nowadays with fractal art.

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  9. hi please help i have been using this wonderful program for a few months . but something has change in my computer and now i cant open it. i tried to download again but i dont have the aplication. i have mp3 files and i hae the paramaters but i am missing the acaual line that opens the program. pls help:)

  10. hi please help i have been using this wonderful program for a few months . but something has change in my computer and now i cant open it. i tried to download again but i dont have the aplication. i have mp3 files and i hae the paramaters but i am missing the acaual line that opens the program. pls help:)