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Blender 2.0 Review
Open Source (Free)
When I first started using Linux it had many impressive, if not attractive, features. For the price of a blank CD-R, I could turn my home computer into a production quality, web/SQL/email/news/chat/proxy/younameit server.
On the Linux desktop side I could check email, surf the net, chat with geeks, word process, program anything under the sun, and do just about anything that could be done with a computer. I had it all. Or so I thought.
Take it to the Max
About a year ago, I was introduced to the world of 3D modeling. More specifically 3D Studio Max. Now I'm not the next chief of ILM studios, nonetheless it is fun to mess around and see if I can model the perfect coffee mug, or create a pair of underwear with its own particle system. But there is one issue that stands in my way. As a College student I am not willing to pay $3,500 to just "mess" around. Isn't there a better way?
Yes there is
Developed by Not a Number (A Netherlands-based software company), Blender is an open source, 3D modeling/game design package that has been available on the Internet since 1998. It draws its mystical powers from its "free-ocity" and its rich feature set, which can stand toe-to-toe with any commercial 3D package.
- Environment Mapping
- Texture Mapping
- 3D Game Creation
- Inverse Kinematics (IKA's)
- Lattice deformations
- Python Scripting
- Particle Systems
- Distributed rendering across a network
- AVI generation
- Outputs rendered images into universally supported formats (JPEG, targa, etc)
The Blender interface is a strange beast. You see Blender makes extensive use of keyboard shortcuts. They have a motto that reads something like "Always keep one hand on the keyboard, and the other on the mouse." I actually spent very little time with the mouse, and most of it on the keyboard. Blender has an on screen target cursor that lets you use to place objects in the 3-D space. Once you have your target cursor positioned (using the mouse), you then use your keyboard shortcuts to place your object (Lights, geometry, etc?). Rendering can be done with a quick flick of the F12 button. The screen is horizontally divided in half.
The upper portion of the screen is the 3D window, where you place you geometry and lights. This can be divided many ways so you can have multiple views of your 3D project. The lower portion of the screen is a panel where you can control the properties of your materials, textures, and lights. In this panel you will also find places to manipulate particle emitters, radiosity, animation, python scripting, and the nitty gritty of the project's final output.
For a freely available application, Blender is a force to be reckoned with. Its rich feature set, and high quality output let it stand toe to toe with the mightiest of professional 3D modeling packages. Check out the image gallery at the Blender website, and you'll see what I'm talking about.
For as great as Blender sounds, it also has its negative attributes. For instance there is definitely a steep learning curve that one has to overcome if the plan is doing anything more than rendering a ball on a plane. There is no free documentation to help you get by. You can purchase a users manual for about $40 US, and tutorial guides for about $20 US a pop. Or you can go to http://www.blendermania.com for an extensive collection of user created tutorials. The tutorials will help you get started, but boy was I relieved when I finally broke down and bought the two available tutorial guides. They were worth every penny.
Blender is a great tool, if you are willing to put time into learning how to use the unique Blender interface. Its price tag alone makes it worth checking out. And if you find that it is for you, it is possible to do almost anything you want with it. My suggestion is to shell out the money for at least the tutorial guides, which will permit you to do way more than you could if you relied on tutorials found on the Internet. All in all, Blender is a real solid program with features that will make your mouth water.
ConclusionThe Good - Pros
- Professional quality 3D modeling
- Rich feature set
- Animation rendering - High quality output
The Bad - Cons
- Steep learning curve
- No freely available documentation
The Ugly - Issues
The Verdict - Opinion
With all things considered Blender is a great program at a great price. The interface is really easy once you get to know it, but getting to know the interface can be a real challenge.