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Graphics Books Media Software Book Reviews

The Blender Book 64

Craig Maloney wrote this review of a book intended to remove some of the confusion from the powerful, free 3D modelling program Blender. Blender is fun to play with, and has been used to create some amazing 3D graphics, but it's not exactly intuitive. Just figuring out what some of the major buttons do was a triumph for me, but I haven't touched it in a few years -- I'd like to try Blender again, but with a book like this one at the ready to supplement the user interface.

The Blender Book
author Carsten Wartmann
pages 311
publisher No Starch Press
rating 8.5
reviewer Craig Maloney
ISBN 1-886411-44-1
summary One of the best books around to learn how to use Blender, the free 3D modelling and animation suite from Not A Number.

What it's about

This book was originally published in German as "Das Blender Buch." I was a little wary of picking it up simply because it is a translation of the original. Thankfully, I didn't have to worry, as this translation is very fluid and natural. The topics themselves, however, might be a little dense for the first-time reader and may require several re-readings to get the full meaning.

Blender is a free (as in beer) 3D modelling and animation software package. It was developed internally by Not-A-Number (NaN) for their studio work, but was later released to the general public. Blender is very powerful, and likewise very complex. The Blender Book is a gentle introduction for anyone who is interested not only in getting the most out of Blender, but also for anyone who is curious about 3D graphics.

Chapter by chapter

The book starts off with a general overview of what Blender is, how to get it, and why you would want it in the first place. It then gives a very thorough, non-mathematical synopsis of color, 3D graphics, and animation techniques. Chapter 3 begins the Blender-specific topics with a quick overview of the blender interface, culminating in a simple keyframe animation. Chapter 4 introduces the basics of the Blender interface, with descriptions of the different mouse and keyboard functions that Blender uses. Chapter 5 delves into actually modelling objects in Blender, and Chapters 6 and 7 discuss materials and lighting. Chapters 8 deals with path animation, keyframe animation, interpolation curves (IPO curves), and vertex keys. Chapter 9 is a whole chapter about Inverse Kinematics (IKAs), which have been rather troubling for some Blender users. The chapter begins with tutorials for animating a robot arm, and ends with a skeleton animation of a bottle. Chapter 10 discusses particle animation, animating not only a camp fire, but also a rocket with a smoke trail, and a school of fish.

The last sections of the book deal with putting all these concepts together. Chapter 11 introduces the sequence editor, which allows the user to integrate clips with a pretty sophisticated post-production system. The example described in this chapter is a video titling sequence for a beach vacation in Indonesia. Chapter 12 discusses Python scripting in Blender, and how to use it for your animations and as a function plotter. Chapter 13 is the big reward: rendering. Naturally rendering has been discussed before this point, but this chapter contains all the neat tricks which Blender can do with the final rendering. Chapters 14 and 15 are full-scale, top-to-bottom animation and modelling tutorials, which are very useful for both beginners and experts to see how Blender manages to take a project from concept to completion.

The appendices are very well thought out, including a keyboard reference, tips and tricks, command line arguments, a Blender/Python API reference (Overview of Blender Modules), installation instructions, a glossary, and a listing of what's included on the CD. The index is also quite useful, allowing me on several occasions to find information rather quickly.

The pages of the book are very well laid out, with a 10-page full-color insert for those images that need the added benefit of color. The CD-ROM includes the 1.8 version of Blender (an older version, since as of this review Blender is now up to 2.12), and all the .blend files used in creating the animations. It also includes a gallery of the finished animations.

The upshot

I have very few gripes with this book after reading it. The Blender Book was published before the program's 2.x series came out. While little in Blender's human interface has changed, it would be nice to have had an addendum for the changes from 1.8 to 2.x. Also, it would have been nice to have this book in full color, but the cost in doing such would have made this book prohibitively expensive.

The Blender Book is a book that I would give (and have given) to any aspiring 3D artist looking to use Blender. With its rich tutorials and its clear explanations of difficult concepts, The Blender Book is the perfect companion for teaching budding and intermediate 3D artists about this exciting and powerful tool.

Chapter Listing:

  1. Introduction
  2. Basics of 3D Graphics
  3. Quick Start
  4. Blender Basics
  5. Modeling Tutorials
  6. Material Tutorials
  7. Light, Shadows, and World Tutorials
  8. Keyframe, Path, Lattice, and Vertex Key Animation Tutorials
  9. Inverse Kinematics Tutorials
  10. Getting Small: Particle Animation Tutorials
  11. The Final Cut: Postproduction
  12. Python Tutorials
  13. The Big Reward: Rendering
  14. Laser Tutorial
  15. Animating a Torpedo Through A School of Fish
  1. Keyboard Commands
  2. Tips, Tricks, and Useful Programs
  3. Command Line Arguments
  4. Overview of Blender Modules
  5. Installing Blender
  6. Glossary
  7. What's on the CD?
  • Index

You can purchase this book at Fatbrain.

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The Blender Book

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  • in free software. This is one of the major Achilles heels of free software. When it is almost impossible to use a program because of the complex interface, detailed documentation is very important. Yet this is the one thing that NO ONE likes to do. You could argue that the interface whould be intuitive, but 3d modeling and rendering are very complex my their very nature. Even the cream of the proprietary crop have very dense interfaces. Some publishers try to produce documentation for very popular software, but if it's popular, you can generally find enough information on line to use it. But smaller, less popular software is generally doomed by bad docs. If no one can use the software to its full potential, no one will recommend it to friends, coworkers, etc, and the software will wither on the vine. So come on people, DOCUMENT YOUR SOFTWARE. I know that it's about as much fun as self-dentistry, but it's for your own good.
  • ..in the midst of an XSI training course right now, I find it very similar to Blender(i.e., using lots of hotkeys). As other people have said, once you learn the major conventions in the Blender interface, it becomes _really_ fast to use. Subdivision modeling isn't as well implemented as it is in XSI; you end up using NURBS to get the basic shape, then doing fine-tweaking as a mesh in Blender.
    I'm not sure what other part of "faster" you want; Blender does pretty good at keeping up. Maya's renderer is definitely slower and a pig for memory(having taken a course at school, it would regularly devour dual P3/800s w' 256M of RAM for lunch). Of course, you don't get ray-tracing in Blender, which some people feel is important..
    The only other problem is the IKA system; it's rather primitive compared to anything else. It takes a lot of practice in rigging to get anything complex going(check out Barry Bond's work, though).

    My main complaints are the added cruft of the gaming system(which I'm completely uninterested in), and the fact that both Matrox and NaN blame each other for the fact that Blender hates Matrox OpenGL, leaving a poor G400 user to disable it each and every time.
  • Too bad Not a Number went bankrupt about 2 months ago.. I hope somebody can continue their work (maybe they can donnate the codebase to the public). Also, still haven't seen any press about their bankruptcy, although I know for sure they're bankrupt (I know a lot of guys working there)...
  • by coockie ( 4628 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @07:22AM (#94934) Homepage
  • ... and it is outstanding.

    Yes, it took me a couple of weeks to learn (3-4 hours / evening) surfing the online tutorial sites and trying stuff out, but this is not unreasonable for a piece of software of this sophistication and power.

    DivX v. 3 files (viewable under xmms-avi and xine using the most excellent avifile library) of some of my work can be seen here [openflick.org] (freely available under the Free Media License [openflick.org]) ... what one can do with Blender in a very short time is truly amazing.

    I bought "The Official Blender 2.0 Guide" from NaN in order to support the free (as in beer) nature of Blender and encourage the making of blender GPLed, i.e. free (as in speech). Whether or not NaN choose to do so is of course up to them, although I think with their business model of giving away the software and charging for the documentation GPLing the software would give them much wider exposure (e.g. availability in all Linux distributions, etc.).

    However, although my initial purchase of the book was somewhat alturistic, I have found it to be an invaluable reference. The same can be said for "The Blender Book" which I purchased later in order to learn some of the more advanced modelling techniques.

    Very cool software, and very excellent documentation ... contrary to what some anti-free software bigots are saying (it shouldn't be necessary, but I will point out that Blender is not, I repeat, not free software, although NaN currently doesn't charge for it, making such anti-free software criticisms doubly misguided).
  • There is so much background information you need in using Blender that this book will be good for quite some time. The Blender manual, while providing a good decription of what everything is, doesn't spend much time explaining it - it assumes that you already know what to do with it.
  • While it's true that Blender is difficult to get used to, you can learn to use it by playing around with it due to the excellent Blender user community. I've just started with it and I've found that most difficulties I've come across can be solved by searching the Q&A and tutorial databases.

    Making Blender more user friendly wouldn't hurt, but once you've acclimatised by mucking around a bit, you can start creating some quite complex, attractive models.

  • Does this book show you how to export blender files to a useful format, such as 3DS?
  • /// This is a copy, formatted better..

    I have used blender for over 3 years..
    Its not that hard to use, compared to something
    like Maya or 3DMax.. Its actually very intuitive
    once you understand how it works.. However it
    does have bugs as did Animation Master and Alias
    for most of the first several years the packages
    were released. However what a lot of people hate about blender is it doesn't support ray-tracing,
    that's a bit of a thorn in the side, there are ways to fake a lot of stuff, but its not for people who want to simulate reality. Its mostly for people who want to get stuff done quickly..
    Toy Story is a perfect example of faking reality, it was entirely rendered (not ray-traced). BugsLife did contain some ray-tracing, but Gerry's Game didn't, and I'm pretty sure Shrek didn't contain a whole lot of ray-tracing.

    Blender uses reflection mapping, which is excellent for simulating metals. It's lights are
    not accurate but using layers you can get the effects you want. I would suggest learning how
    to use surfaces instead of polygons.. The NeoGeo
    guys liked polygons but their best feature is
    the surface modelling.. Maybe I'll write a tutorial on it, unless ol' Carsten beat me to it.. Carsten I owe you a Heiniken!!

    Anyhow, the biggest things lacking are accurate
    Inverse Kinematics with surface deformation and support for texture vertices. The game engine for blender does support texture vertices and there is a rudimentary texture vertex like support using sticky vertices. You also can't import or export texture vertices. The accurate IK (ball & joint) is needed to do real character animation,
    limiting Blender to just BAbylon 5 style animation, flying static things, railroad trains, rollercoasters, etc.. Non-character animation..
    I take that back, it is possible but you have to use vertex interpolation (3D morphing).. Look in the book for vertex keying. There is also facial-keying support. There is a more intuitive method of producing walks (out of M&M's commercials) using vertex keying, even though its like playing with clay without a armature. See my website, the character animation in the bird was done mostly with vertex-keying and rotation-about-target and vertex selection brush (in edit mode type B twice).

    Some of blenders strengths: duplication/instantiation, and the first program where you can select a number of objects that are
    instants and make them duplicates, and vice versa. Lofting of surfaces is intuitive and
    the same key command can be used to complete a face in polygon mode "f", for face (or fill), however you want to look at it. You can
    do adobe-after effects like image sequencing
    even before you have your rendering done (programmers out there will remember lazy evaluation from their LISP programming experience), blender has lazy compositing (a film strip can be a scene).

    The biggest feature of blender is everything is in one file, and files are more or less forward and backward compatible, so if you have a older
    version of blender, you can load newer files in
    (don't hold your breath though because game blender files won't exactly show up correct in a
    old 1.6 version of blender).. Blender also
    has python support (MEL users in Maya would respect this).. No feature for creating MEL like scripts from a sequence of performed commands..

    Animation scenes can be copied (the entire scene,
    including objects, cameras, lights, motion),
    the motion can be instanced (linked) in two
    scenes, meaning you change motion in one it changes in the other.. Actually everything
    is capable of being done this way. You can have
    material attributes on objects change over time.
    The buttons used for moving and zooming in the
    3D view can be used in the interface to zoom..
    If you need to enter precise values into a
    parameter, hold the shift key down and click on
    the entry (this is true of most all parameters)..

    And the list goes on..

    The list goes on..


  • They already ran out of their Five million of angel investment given to them last April?
    I think they are simmering on the game engine..

  • 3dmax was never intuitive, get reall..
    If you want intuitive get Truespace (aka Caligari which has been around for almost two decades [see
    amiga and turnkey systems]).. 3DMax is
    only useful with plugins, without it its worse
    than blender. I would rather use Lightwave than 3DMax but lightwave lacks perspective modelling,
    something that few 3D apps have like Maya and
    3Design (TDI Explore), Softimage..

    3Dmax is only the most pirated 3D app on the net,
    that's why its more popular.. Blender is free,
    and people instantly assume its not useful for anything. Its practically the fastest rigid body
    modelling program and it does quite well for
    organic modelling as well.. Its not meant to be a all around 3D app like Max.. It was first designed to be a game design kit for NeoGeo (the
    internal copy can toast Playstation games).
    Ton released it as a 3D app first because the game side was a bit proprietary and the source
    code a bit unstructured because it was designed
    In-house to make games and multimedia presentations. NeoGeo decided not to make games,
    they decided to make multimedia presnetations and
    Ton went off on 60K of his own money to develop
    the package fro a year.. Then he took a vacation
    in greece, for three weeks and wrote the
    manual. He then tried to make money
    selling C-keys and the manual.. That didn't
    work so well.. Once he got angel investment of
    5 million, he decided to make the package completely free and bought together some of his
    friends from past projects to help him out
    in making NaN into a startup.. He hired 10 engineers, and is supposedly developing the game engine..

    I know Ton and the crew, a bit of a black sheep,
    though, I did attend game blender with 30 others,
    and we did have fun and saw a lot of the early
    blender and NeoGeo work.. Ton was first a artist
    before he became a programmer, he painted
    in his youth up until he was 30, and then started
    NeoGeo.. He is very talented an considering
    he made most of blender by himself, considering
    the complexity of the interface and considering that 3DMax used some kind fo canned library
    and was developed by 10s of engineers for Autodesk.. The comparison is a bit unfair, but
    I'm not backing out on what a terrible interface 3DMax has, the fact that instead of using construction history that Maya has, they use stack modification, it really only appeals to
    engineers who just learned how to art, and not
    to the general population..


  • Its not near death, NaN got 5 million
    angel investment last april, if you do the
    math that's enough for two years of
    development. They are working on the game
    engine and B@rt told me while I was at
    gameblender conference that they want to go for
    the virtual world market.. Allowing game designers to connect blender games together..
    When you go to the blender site, you are not
    talking to Ton's crew anymore, you are talking to B@rt and the business side of NaN which is
    about 6 business people.. The engineers are in Eindenhoven working on the full gameblender..

    I don't think he plans to open source it,
    its still too popular..

  • I agree with some of your points, most of them actually. The one i have a problem with is your point about the interface. I have used all the programs you've listed and then some for 3D content creation and you just have to learn the interface to truly understand. If blender were to get a renderer that was more on par with bryce 4 or worldbuilder I'd never touch any other 3D package. The reason I feel this way is the interface, I picked up blender and played with it way back when it was first released and put it down quickly b/c I couldn't do anything with it. Well, that all changed when I found a tutorial describing what keys do what functions. Now when I reach for a 3D tool my first choice is blender and it's because of how fast/easy it is to use.

    The blender UI is a two handed thing, you need one hand on the keyboard and one on the mouse. Gestures and keystrokes get you in and out of all the different modes and functions. As for modeling features I will say blender is currently lacking althought it is catching up, it's also much younger than Max, lightwave, maya etc., it still has a way to go. the other nice thing about the ui is that it's totally customizable and the gui setup is saved in your one file with everything else.
    Once again, I'll say it, please try to learn the blender interface before calling it obtuse and impossible and discarding it as a very useful tool, because that's what it is. It's even useful to 3D modelers who mostly work in other programs.
  • This really is off-topic.

    You have got to be kidding me. Have you ever used Blender? You know you can do Python scripting in Blender, if you want to do scripting?
  • Hm.. sounds like UT, Q3, and all those FPS games. I wonder why?
  • Yes. Blender has been used by FX companies in Europe to do 3D graphics for TV commercials and studios for a number of years now. This is originally how Blender got started - NaN developed the product in house (on SGI) to do their own work, and then decided to release it for free to the public.
  • by mav[LAG] ( 31387 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @11:52AM (#94947)
    The reason this is so long is because my friend swears by Blender, almost entirely because some of it is GPLed, and I have a difficult time convincing him that right now there is no Free equivelent to high end commercial 3D graphics, not by a longshot.

    OK. Slight misunderstanding by your friend. None of Blender is GPLed - it's free as in beer only. Perhaps he was confused about the fact that NaN have released the code for some of the tools they use back into the community as GPLed software. On to your other points...

    I have never heard anything of the sort and I HIGHLY doubt it.

    It's true - almost. Blender was originally written to provide 3d graphics for games and TV commercials in Europe. AFAIK it hasn't been used for any kind of SFX rendering on film - yet.

    1. Poor rendering. Blender doesn't have the quality or features neccesary in its own rendering engine and does not have renderman scene output.

    I think Blender compares very favourably with 3DS Max rendering output. And Blender's Renderman plugin works just fine - through a Python script. It's not complete but that won't take too long. Combine it with BMRT (which I do regularly) and you have a winner.

    The 'Magic Four' described above have many animation features that can aid in about every area of animation. What separates Softimage and Maya from Lightwave and 3DS is for the most part very powerful animation tools.


    3. Blender's interface is wretched. It is beyond reproach and it pains me to say it, but I cannot think of how it could be any worse. It seems that features were just tacked on an buttons were thrown into the panel. It is not elegant in any way. I have used a lot of different 3d packages so anyone who replies and says 'its great when you get used to it' doesn't understand.

    No doubt about it, it's written by engineers for engineers - not by artists for artists. And yet, once I learnt how everything fits together in the Blender interface, I found it easy to use - which is I think different from "intuitive." Maya is a good example of intuitive - give it to an artist and away they go.

    When stuff needs to be done, and done well, the people under the gun reach for the best tool and Blender isn't it. Maya unlimited costs $16,000 per license. Blender is a low-end program, and could be a good one at that. ... Maybe if it stays around as long as the other programs mentioned here it will aproach the same functionality.

    Agreed - but consider the fact that there are 250 000 users of Blender out there. Not bad for a program less than five years old. Blender is a staggeringly popular tool at graphic design shops and colleges worldwide - because it's free and produces amazing results in a short time. The high-end competition will both benefit and - paradoxically - hurt because of this. They'll benefit from the hordes of students who've been introduced to the basic principles of rendering through Blender and want to go on to the high-end, and they'll hurt because of the momentum of people writing scripts, giving feedback and pushing Blender to its limits, thus improving the program.

    I agree with your main tenet, but it sounds very similar to the arguments that Microsoft used to trot out about Linux a couple of years ago. Unless the high-end boys keep orders of magnitude ahead in terms of fuctionality and start making their prices a little more affordable for students and beginners, they could well be eaten alive by Blender.

  • i got the blender book last christmas, and was pretty pleased with what it offered. since id been using blender (and other 3d programs) for a while, i already knew some of what the book was talking about, but, as with any piece of software that is that complex, there was a whole lot that i didnt know.

    the only problem that i had with it was that it seemed to be a collection of tutorials, and a lot of them looked very similar to ones that i had already seen on the internet. that being said, it is convinient to have a hardcopy of the tutorials, so that you dont have to switch windows (or desktops). they also seemed to be well written, which cant always be said about tutorials (hey, they do it for free).

    all in all, if you have the money, and are willing to spend it, it would be a good purchase. but the blender communitiy is very strong, and you can probably find enough to at least help you get started for free, online.

    just my two cents

  • I'm sceptical that this book will help and I *really* wish the effort that has evidently gone into creating it had been spent on improving the interface such that the book would have been unnecessary.

    No doubt NaN has put a LOT of effort into their design of the UI, i.e. it's deliberate.

    It isn't that difficult to understand, once people understand the 3 or 4 big conventions that are used. It's those that are the stumbling block.

    I too picked up Blender perhaps a year ago, played with it, and couldn't figure out how to do anything. But a couple hours and a couple of chapters into this book, I was rather productive, and could then experiment and figure out lots of the rest.

  • > ...the only real way to learn *any* Graphic app,
    > be it Photoshop, Maya, or Blender, is to sit
    > down and play with the thing.

    Normally, I'd agree with you - but Blender's
    interface is *extremely* arcane...to the point
    where probably half the people who try it give
    up in disgust having failed to figure out

    OTOH, people who *do* 'grok' the interface seem
    to *love* it and are very vocal in saying so.

    I'm sceptical that this book will help and I
    *really* wish the effort that has evidently gone
    into creating it had been spent on improving the
    interface such that the book would have been

    Blender is free - but *NOT* Free...that's a pain.
  • Yeah - the correct expression is:

    'free' as in 'free beer'

  • Regardless of the new features, I know of a large percentage of modellers / animators (we'll just call them artists from now, m'kay?) that still use 1.80 far more than 2.x. Why? It's tried and true, and most artists I know have been using Blender since well before 2.x came out. Any features needed from 2.x can be used simply by loading a pre-2.x .blend file into a 2.x version. Remember, guys, the blend format is purely and simply backwards compatible and forwards compatible and probably rotationally compatible, knowing those crazy Dutch developers.

    Read the book. Carsten rocks.
    ------------------------------------------ ----------------------
    Everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey...
  • by DeadMonkey ( 54395 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:56AM (#94953) Homepage
    The Blender Book is about modelling and non-interactive content. At the current stage, for a beginner, using 2.x would just be foolish. Most modelling/animation work done in Blender right now is being done in 1.80, simply because it's a whole lot more reliable and more supported platform-wise.

    Eventually, the tools in 2.x will outweigh the few problems it has and more people will make the switch. As of now, however, The Blender Book is perfectly applicable to the current modelling version ;).
    --------------------------------------------- -------------------
    Everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey...
  • If you consider dxf useful, then "Yes".

    DXF (Autodesk's Drawing eXchange Format) only contains a subset of an object's attributes. Import/export in .DXF format strips everything except shapes and layers.

    Among the things that are not supported are textures and texture mapping, object hierarchies, unified face normals, and smoothing groups.

    DXF has always been my "format of last resort", and I've found that even when a program claims to support DXF i/o, it's often a broken implementation. Plus, since it's ASCII, there are CR/LF issues when moving objects across platforms.

    The 3DS [sourceforge.net] file format is just as "open" as DXF, retains more attributes, and is smaller, too.

    k., turning caffeine into animations since 1989

    "In spite of everything, I still believe that people
    are really good at heart." - Anne Frank
  • Quoting Linus' favorite analogy: What do you think is easier, latin characters or pharao symbols?

    Latin chars have NOTHING in common with their meaning. They are in NO way "self-explanatory", not even close. And still we find them easier because they require little basic learning to achieve great flexibility.

    A complex software product must have an interface that makes it efficient to use. If it isn't self explanatory, it doesn't matter much, you'll have to learn anyway. My experience is that many tools that do not follow the "usual" way of manipulation become more efficient, faster and easier to use - after you grasped the philosophy behind.


    • bash (no visual presentation, no icons)
    • vim (different editing modes, keybindings)
    • Gimp, Photoshop & Co. (yes, you need to learn here too)
    and so on.

    Of course, there are the programs that only perform very simple tasks and are simply horrendously difficult to use. But most apps that do not use the UI interface standards have a reason.


  • But the 2.x series has already got some very important features. Like the unified renderer, which improves image quality by a big amount! So I recommend using blender 2.12 or the upcoming 2.14 anyway.
  • I'll be giving a presenation on RT for www.flux.org in a couple days. I found another book, The Official Blender 2.0 Guide, that's been useful. It has lots of examples, and in general is a good introduction. The main problem is that it seems somewhat haphazzardly put together from separate tutorials; there are a few instances where it asks you to complete a step without having previously shown how to do the step. Like the other Blender guide, it was released with an earlier version (2.03) and there are a few instances where the interface has changed slightly.
  • by RaeF ( 120232 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:32AM (#94958)
    I tried to use the blender to make 3D graphics, but all i got was a big bloddy mess.... that spinning blade kept getting in the way...
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @09:34AM (#94959) Homepage
    Are nice to have, but the only real way to learn *any* Graphic app, be it Photoshop, Maya, or Blender, is to sit down and play with the thing.

    That won't help with Blender. If you just launch it and try to play with it, you won't get anywhere. Download it and try. Not only is it hard to figure out how to do something, often something will seem to happen by accident, and you won't be able to do it again. The mouse interface is not "point, click, and drag"; it uses gestures. Plus there are many, many, function keys, some of which have mouse equivalents.

    I've used Softimage and Maya. They have tough learning curves too, but Blender seems worse.

  • by Uberminky ( 122220 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @07:25AM (#94960) Homepage
    I know this is off-topic, but I just thought I'd mention it. I just started playing with POV-Ray [povray.org] this summer, and I've discovered that it's a lot of fun! For those that don't know, POV-Ray is a freeware raytracer that's been around for years and years. This is in my opinion a truly incredible piece of free software. Here's why I think I love it so much: everything is programmed! It has a built-in macro scripting language. This is a Very Cool Thing. For the average Joe this is probably a major drawback, as GUI-oriented modelling makes many things far easier. Also, POV is a raytracer, which is generally not fast enough to render long animations (most people use scanline renderers, I believe). Anyway. I have no artistic talent. I can't draw to save my life. But I can (arguably ;) write code, and thanks to that, I can make beautiful pictures.

    For those that want it, there's a popular (shareware? I've never used it) graphical system for Windows called Moray [stmuc.com]. It apparently allows you to graphically setup your scene, and it generates the POV source for you to tweak as you see fit.

    I've started working on entries for the Internet Ray Tracing Competition [irtc.org], it's been a lot of fun. The current topic is "Fantasy and Mystic", and is due August 31st. Some of the work done is simply *incredible* (check out Gilles Tran [oyonale.com], freaking awesome). Come on you Fantasy and Sci Fi folks, you'll love it. (And you're not required to use POV-Ray for the IRTC, btw, but it's sponsored by the great folks who bring us POV.) Go browse the IRTC galleries, some of the winners are truly stunning.

    And lastly, for those interested, here's my first submission to the IRTC contest (topic: "Insects and Spiders"), it's called Pond Life [indiana.edu]

    Seriously! Everybody go check it out! No, it's not as easy as lots of other packages. But I must say this is the most fulfilling programming I have ever done. (Probably because my robots don't work yet. ;)

  • The best way I've seen to learn a program is with a video or a macro program that will walk through common steps. I tried this with 3dstudio max and it was great. If you don't understand a part, either pause the video (on the computer) and mess around with the prog, or rewind it and try again. Granted, IMO 3dsmax has an easier interface to master than blender, but I bet it would work well..

  • on second thought, maybe it's not a good idea for blender. Would be hard to follow the video when blender hogs the whole screen.. :)

  • One of the early blender users is working in my company Captainvideo(he is co owner)

    I have seen him work with blender very often and i am still amazed at the speed of this program.
    Not only does it render very fast, but it is allso a very fast modeler.
    He has worked on two 35mm films with blender. the hires output was printed to 35 MM film.
    One was "The Red stuff" by Leo the boer.

    a film about the early years of russian space exploration for which he adapted paintings bij a russian kosmonaut to stunning moving 3d scenes.
    Village voice about the red stuff: "The Red Stuff would make a resonant double bill with Space Cowboys."

    the other was "god is my copilot" a film about religion on an american aircraft carrier. a pilot looks up into the starry night before launching an attack- stars are done in blender.

    He has allso done a lot of television work with blender
    Check out his work at


  • The math behind nurbs isn't even incredibly complex let alone using nurbs. They are actually very simple, even though they are a great tool.
  • Anyone here knows if blender was actually used for some serious work like a movie or special fx? No sarcasm here, I'm just curious
    The reason this is so long is because my friend swears by Blender, almost entirely because some of it is GPLed, and I have a difficult time convincing him that right now there is no Free equivelent to high end commercial 3D graphics, not by a longshot.
    I have never heard anything of the sort and I HIGHLY doubt it. The four main 3D packages are Lightwave 6.5b, 3D Studio MAX 4, Softimage XSI 1.5, and Maya 4. Most of the special effects that you see are done with Softimage and Maya. Almost everything that is rendered for film is rendered with a program created by Pixar called Photorealistic Renderman. Things that aren't rendered with it (things that need true shadows, reflections, and refrections, which don't come along as often as you might think) are rendered with eighther BMRT (free for non commercial use, and adheres to the Renderman scene description standard that Pixar invented) or Mental Ray (Very high quality renderer that comes with Softimage. The reasons that Blender has probably never been used in commercial serious production of film, television, or games are the following:

    1. Poor rendering. Blender doesn't have the quality or features neccesary in its own rendering engine and does not have renderman scene output.
    2. Animation features. The 'Magic Four' described above have many animation features that can aid in about every area of animation. What separates Softimage and Maya from Lightwave and 3DS is for the most part very powerful animation tools.
    3. Blender's interface is wretched. It is beyond reproach and it pains me to say it, but I cannot think of how it could be any worse. It seems that features were just tacked on an buttons were thrown into the panel. It is not elegant in any way. I have used a lot of different 3d packages so anyone who replies and says 'its great when you get used to it' doesn't understand. Just because you suffered through documentation, manuals, and experimentation to finally be able to use it doesn't mean it's intuitive because it isn't. Lightwave, Maya, and 3d studio are intuitive interfaces. If you can't use Blender don't worry, it doesn't mean that you aren't cut out to do 3D.

    I don't want any of this to detract from Blender, because the main reason it isn't used in high end production is that it doesn't matter that it is free. When stuff needs to be done, and done well, the people under the gun reach for the best tool and Blender isn't it. Maya unlimited costs $16,000 per license. Blender is a low-end program, and could be a good one at that. Magazines and websites are starting to pay attention to it as they should, but just because (some) of Blender is GPL doesn't make it the best thing out there. Maybe if it stays around as long as the other programs mentioned here it will aproach the same functionality. Most have been through about least 8 very major revisions, and each revision usually takes at least a year with a full team 10+ people working on it. The exception is Lightwave which is worked on by a very small team but manages to more than keep up because of phenomenal programmers.
  • I know it sounds like anti-open source tripe and that's why I hate to make the argument but its the truth. The point I am trying to make is that Blender is different from the other major open projects out there in that high end 3D graphics are constantly making leaps and bound. Linux is gaining on MS because it is moving fast while MS is not. I didn't know about the python script to renderman interface and I am actually not that surprised, although I am also not surprised it isn't complete. I don't know much about the rendering quality to be honest, but I don't really like 3D studio's eighther.

    Part of the reason I love lightwave, 3ds, and am starting to love Maya as I learn more about it is elegance. This is something that Blender does not have. It is the main crutch holding it back. The interface is horrible, and I don't feel there is any excuse. By engineers for engineers doesn't make sense eighther, the interface is awkward and makes accuracy difficult. I have used Lightwave, 3DS, Maya, Truespace, and Imagine and they are all much easier to work with then Blender, even Truespace.

    The reason it is used so much is simply because it is free. I don't think as it stands anyone would buy it until the interface is redone.

    From the Blender website: Because we have always believed in Open Source products we decided to open some parts of Blender 2.0. Also we have used some Open Source packages in the creation of Blender and we must of course give these back to the OS community. Here is a short overview of what you can expect in the near future: So I guess 'it's coming' which could mean anything really.
  • It should most certainly be noted that on the website (www.blender.nl [blender.nl]) some excellent tuturial material can be found. With these a new user should be able to master the basics of Blender (which is quite an ellaborate program) in a couple of weeks. Trying to learn the program by trying random key/mouse combination is a pain (believe me, I've tried it, there wasn't much documentation available a couple of years ago).

    About the question if there has been done any professional work with Blender: yes there has been, and there will be. Not only used by NaN but also used as teaching material for future generations of 3D artists, this tool could quite well set a new standard to 3D modelling and game creation.

    After having used the program for around 3 years and heard many many user feedback, I'm quite certain of the following points:

    - User interface is quite hard to learn, but pays back once you're common with it.
    - *Very* quick modelling posibilities
    - multiplatform
    - free
    - fast
    - nice modular setup of UI
    - bit edgy on some things, used to have some bugs which caused the program to crash. Many of them are removed right now.
    - fully OpenGL (including the GUI)

    I think if you're only faintly interested in 3D modelling, you should give it a try, it's worth the effort.

    The book seems to be good material, although I have not bought it yet (I've seen it though). Excellent fullcolor images, clear layout, good texts. It also supports NaN ofcourse, which is generally a good thing :]
  • The python scripting in Blender is not at all the same. In POV-Ray scenes and objects are described in the POV-Ray language (.pov files) which is an extremely flexible language for describing scenes and objects. Instead of simply describing a scene using points and meshes you can script them (or use points and meshes if you really want) and program into the pov file there movements and everything. It is really great for those of us who also program.
  • I think No Starch Press [nostarch.com] does a good job of making Linux applications accessible to non-technical/creative users. Yes, there's no substitute for experience, but Linux Music and Sound [nostarch.com] opened my eyes to applications on Linux that I had no idea existed, and I found The Blender Book to be very accessible. Now, I wish they would write a book on using Broadcast 2000 [heroinewarrior.com], which was treated briefly in Linux Music and Sound. I think the press might evangelize a few users simply by having their book available at Barnes & Noble or whatever, reminding users there are free alternatives to Photoshop or Media 100, which can be out of the reach of many starving artists.
    In additon, the instructions in the book are written for the layman, unlike much of the documentation included in RPMs or on websites, which seem to focus on revisions or technical feature discussions. Its about how to use the program, not how the program works or was made.
    Finally, although the CDs No Starch includes with the books may not be the most up-to-date versions of the software, they are very useful for users who do not have broadband connections and may not be able to easily download large applications. Since they are all on one CD, it is trivial for a user to try many applications, finding which ones best suit his or her needs.
  • Have you actually tried to use Blender?!

    The program relies so heavily on hotkeys that I have to wonder if they obfuscated it on purpose just to sell more books :)

  • I agree the the Blender Book is a handy and informative tutorial and reference. I've paged through the v.1.8 and v.2.0 at the local Barnes and Noble. However, I'll be damned if I'll pay $40 US for the thing. It's not even spiral bound. There is NO pdf available (compare to the Linux Documention Project) and the material is copyrighted. Nor is Blender itself GPL at the moment.

    Blender is neat and (mostly) free, but I think I'll pass on this one for awhile.
  • Yes, but sometimes one needs more due to the complexity. For example, NURBS are incredibly powerful and incredibly complex. I would imagine learning to model with them would be a LOT easier with some sort of a formal foundation (books, school, etc).
  • my mom worked on the book ^_^
  • sure it takes a bit to learn but it feels really natural after learning. one hand on the mouse and one on the keyboard and you fly through this 3d world effortlessly. The online tutorials and community are great and there's even a SOUTHPARK BLENDER PROJECT [icenet.fi] with models of all those guys on the show.

  • Just figuring out what some of the major buttons do was a triumph for me

    Hmm, you know, that's the way I feel when I use Blender. However, I'll let you in on a little secret - it has nothing to do with the complexity of the program. With all due respect, 3D Studio MAX 3 is still a *little* more complex (and powerful) than blender, and yet, it has a very intuitive interface I could learn within minutes, even without prior knowledge in 3d-animation/modeling.

    Hmm, did you notice that the only source of income they get from distributing Blender for free is from selling a book that describes how to use the friggin program? OK, it sounds a little too much like a conspiracy theory, but it's an interesting thought. A new way of software distribution - make people download it for free, but make the interface so weird and unintuitive so people will have to pay for documentation.

  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:36AM (#94976)
    Are nice to have, but the only real way to learn *any* Graphic app, be it Photoshop, Maya, or Blender, is to sit down and play with the thing.

    Just like a traditional media artist must experiment with brushes and canvas for years before producing, so must a digital artist excecise his tools.
  • From time to time, I work on writing my own animation software. But, I don't want to have to also write my own modeller, and none of the libre ones I've seen are really that good. So, I'm trying to learn blender well enough to do modelling in it.
  • In the context used, faster refered to how fast one can work, not how fast the program runs (although that is also important). It didn't take me anytime to become productive in SI 3D (never touched XSI), but I still stumble slowly through blender. I'm not sure what the difference is. It just doesn't quite feel right. But, at that price I will persevere.
  • Faster than what? Faster than Truespace? I agree. Faster than Softimage 3D? I don't think so.
  • When people say that, I want to know what they are comparing against. For instance, is blender faster than Truespace? What about Lightwave 3D? 3DS Max? All quite possibly. But, it is it faster to use than SoftImage 3D or XSI? Well, I haven't used XSI yet, but I doubt that it is faster than SI 3D. How about is it faster than Maya? Mirai? I doubt those two, but I haven't ever had a chance to try them. The s-mesh features though are a good sign. I far prefer sub division surfaces to NURBS.

    I remeber when Lightwave came out with MetaNURBS. Many people were bashing it because it wasn't really NURBS, but was instead subdivision based. Now, everyone has realized the problems with NURBS (complexity issues) and is racing to implement Sub-division modelling.
  • I agree with you entirely, although I personally believe that a book is a little more than "nice to have" -- it can guide you, suggesting what areas to "play with." I played with Photoshop for quite some time, and got quite good at it. But then I flipped through a book, and saw a whole bunch of things that I never knew I could do...

    So essentially, you'll learn best from playing with the tool, but I suggest having the book on hand to guide you.

  • Anyone here knows if blender was actually used for some serious work like a movie or special fx? No sarcasm here, I'm just curious

  • probably half the people who try it give up in disgust having failed to figure out ANYTHING.

    Uh, that would be me. A friend, who is a 3-D graphics expert, suggested I give it a try, and I found the experience completely frustrating. Then again, the last 3-D package I had any success with was CAD 3-D for the Atari ST. That was a neat little program; pity it never got ported off the Atari.

  • In fact, see the post from Ton Roosendaal, Creative and Technical Director: Here [blender.nl]
  • If you consider dxf useful, then "Yes". Also, there are export python scripts to create RenderMan and POV files.
  • You haven't talked to your buddies lately, have you? NaN is back in business.

  • by stew77 ( 412272 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2001 @06:37AM (#94987)
    Calli's book is great, but it's already outdated. It doesn't describe any of Blender 2.x advanced features (like the game engine) and IMHO you should consider buying the Blender manual instead (which is much more beautiful and there's also a lot of Calli's work in it - he works for NaN now).
    the manual [blender.nl]

  • With the last versions of Blender, not detailed in the book, you too can design 3D games, with a geometry and physics engine (you can specify friction and gravity for example). Download the games demos & Blender and you can play those games (I think a player is on the way or even released right now), wich are really fine and professionnal. Blender may not be (or only parts of it) OpenSource, but it IS a heck of a good proggy... except that, in my opinion, the UI designer really need to be push to the blender itself ! Of course, if you do not want to pay for the book, you still can have a look on some really good tutorials on http://www.blender.nl Another thing that is really interesting in Blender is that it does NOT use ray tracing, so it IS really fast to render, and you can render a video sequence in human-scaled time.
  • I am not artistic at all. I purchased "The Official Blender 2.0 Guide" (not the "Blender Book") and was able to create some simple 3D objects.

    The book has a lot of detail, and kind of a strange columned layout, and was a little hard for me to follow at times. It did make it possible for me to actually use Blender which was more than I was getting before the book. The book still doesn't cover anything about the game engine though.

  • If it isn't atleast party self explanatory then it is not a good product. It's like those games that use stupid icons with no words to go with them, how in the world am I suppose to know what that button does, does it allow me to save, load, nuke my computer, crash windows, etc. Self documentation is the best solution. Some documentation is helpful when some item is a new and unfamiliar concept but generally, is unneeded if it is a good product and wrote to be self explanatory. If this is not the case then the end-user is going to be frustrated and probably put a whole through their monitor anyway before reading documentation(most people don't read documentation) and then switch to another program.
  • Yeah, if you wanna be good you have to play, but explanations of the UI always speeds things up for me...
  • Mr. Wartmann is also one of the author of the original 2.x blender handbook. I bought this (the blender book) some time ago in germany, before it is translated to english and it is a very bad book. He just wrote down a typical demonstration show but if I want to learn a software, I want to play with it and that is not supported by this book. So you also need the orignal handbook with the reference and the shortcuts description. Regards.
  • ive used this book and would recommend it. blender isnt exactly the easiest app to learn. this book goes step by step to show you the quickest way to get things done. its slow enough for people not familiar with 3d designs, but also moves fast enough for people who just need a quick class to get familiar with it.

    blender rocks
  • Yep, you're right you wouldn't have seen any press as Not a Number were up and running within 2 weeks with new investment. Check out the newly designed website (www.blender.nl)and download Blender 2.14 which will be released at the end of the week.

If you think the system is working, ask someone who's waiting for a prompt.