Saturday, October 08, 2011

Learning a new software: Blender

Blender is a 3D design software. It is a complete tool, allowing you to create entire worlds in 3D, modelling, meshing, applying texture, and animating the world.

Here is an example of what Blender can do. This movie was created completely in Blender.

Isn't that impressive? What is more impressive is that Blender is available for free, you can download it and install it right now (Windows/Mac/Linux). And if you want to make your own movie based on the characters behind Sintel, you can download all the art and characters at the Sintel website. This level of sharing is refreshing: it allows new graphics designers to learn a complex tool, and be able to look behind the scenes of a very complex project.

Blender has a beautiful UI, though it looks very complicated initially. When you load it up the first time, the number of buttons and controls is overwhelming. This is what the default Blender 2.5 UI looks like. There is a small cube placed at the center of the viewport, and many properties and control widgets are open. Once you learn a few Blender principles, you find that the UI is clearly arranged, and every control is in the perfect place. As with any good tool, the tool itself vanishes pretty quickly. Within hours of learning Blender, you focus on the 3D modeling activity rather than the Blender tool.


Learning Blender
I tried learning how to use Blender using a book. It is hard to explain the various UI elements using written words. It is even harder to describe the 3D world you are creating using just words. The best book I have found till now is called Blender for Dummies. It requires no previous knowledge, and is an excellent resource to begin modelling simple meshes in Blender. It covers Blender 2.5.

In case you want to start while your book is on its way, here are a list of online resources. I list Blender 2.5 resources only. The Blender interface changed a lot between 2.4 and 2.5. If you are starting out, it is best to start with 2.5 directly.
  1. Getting Started with Blender: This is a set of seven video tutorials. They are short and cover the very basics of using Blender. You can watch all seven within an hour and you will have a great idea of the Blender UI and basic features.
  2. Neal Hirsig's blender learning course: More than a collection of isolated tutorials, Neal has created a comprehensive learning course. You can download all videos to your machine and follow along with Neal as he patiently explains every feature of Blender. Neal's explanatory style is impeccable: it is a pleasure to follow along and learn. You can downloads all these videos from sagefans.net.
  3. A collection of tutorials at Blenderlinks: Finally, when you have mastered the UI, you can focus on a specific topic by looking through the links at Blenderlinks. The videos are created by many contributors, so the videos differ in sound quality and expository style. But if you want to learn a single topic, the videos at cgcookie linked from Blenderlinks often provide the perfect recipe.
Blender is a powerful software, and it compares well against software which costs thousands of dollars. With a little bit of effort, you can learn how to create an entire 3D world inside your computer. It is scriptable in Python, which allows you to use Blender 3D models from an automated system. Give Blender a try, and see what you think!