Welcome to the first article in the Free Creativity series here at Lightmaster Studios. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be thoroughly reviewing and recommending the best free software available for all your creative needs. This includes digital art, animation, movie sequencing, image processing and audio editing. We kick off in fine style with popular open-source software, Blender 3D.
What is Blender?
Blender is Open Source 3D modelling and animation software. Open source means that the code that creates the software is available publicly for anyone to study, change, improve and develop. Although there are official releases and developments to the software, it is developed publicly, with users helping to identify bugs and expand functionality by creating new scripts. Developers work with the community, which is a very strong combination with the potential to produce amazing software.
Blender has so much functionality that it is not restricted to 3D modelling and animation, it can be used for:
- 3D artwork
- Creating 3D games
- Editing live action movies
- Image processing
- Post production
Blender is a phenomenal software; not only is it open-source and free to anyone who wants to download it, but with the constant development going on with it, it has now risen to rival the more “industry standard” programs that cost an arm and a leg. A lot of the features that Blender includes out-of-the-box (i.e. smoke and fluid simulators, game engine) are specialized plugins that have to be purchased separately with these other programs (or sometimes aren’t available at all).
For a full and more detailed list of features, visit: http://www.blender.org/features-gallery/features/
Download and Installation Information:
With such an extensive range of features and capabilities, the next thought is that it will be a huge installer, consuming most of your hard drive when installed and requiring 128 gigabytes of RAM to open.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The installer for most versions is about 30 MB, with zip archives (meaning that it could run from a flash drive on any computer) being slightly more at about 40 MB. This being compared to a similar commercial product having a n installer of 1.46 GB, is virtually nothing, and means that you will not need a super-fast Internet connection or massive hard drive.
Tips for downloading and installing:
- Visit http://www.blender.org/download/get-blender/. This is the official download page from the Blender Foundation for new Blender releases.
- If you intend to use it on your home computer, I recommend choosing an installer. Select the one that matches your operating system. This includes checking whether your operating system is a 32 or 64 bit version.
- Download and install your version. If prompted to do so, follow the instructions to install Python, though it is bundled with most Blender releases so a separate installation of Python should not be required. Python is a scripting language and is required for Blender to run. It will not harm your computer.
- Check the download page frequently to see if there is an updated version that you can download. This might have further fixes or features, so is worth updating to.
Cool features in Blender:
Though this could potentially be a very long list, I’ll outline a few of the features that make me excited about Blender.
The new Cycles Render Engine mean that your images or animations can be rendered to a Pixar/Dreamworks standard.
Physics Simulations: particles, smoke, fluids and cloth can all be accurately modelled for animations or games.
Video/Movie editing to a high standard. The Video Sequence Editor (VSE) can rival premium alternatives.
Is Blender easy to use?
If you are unfamiliar with movie, animation and 3D software, then there is a learning curve to using Blender successfully, but Blender is certainly no more complex than the premium alternatives.
Advice for beginners:
- Do not be put off when you first open Blender. To begin with, it will look very confusing and scary. I remember trying to use Blender for the first time and thinking that it was beyond me, but with just trying a few basic things, I immediately grew in confidence.
- Be patient and give it time. Play about with it and you will soon discover that it is not as hard as it looks.
- Seek help, don’t go it alone! The massive Blender community is exceptionally helpful. See below for the best places to start.
Learning to use Blender:
These are just some the best places you can visit to find help with Blender:
User Manual: http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/Doc:2.6/Manual
All Documentation: http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/Main_Page
Blender Artists: http://blenderartists.org/forum/
Blender at CG Society: http://forums.cgsociety.org/forumdisplay.php?f=91
Blender Cookie: http://cgcookie.com/blender/
Blender Guru: http://www.blenderguru.com/
Blender Nerd: http://blendernerd.com/
There are so so many that I simply can’t mention them all!
Fortunately, you can find a full list right here: http://www.blender.org/community/user-community/
Not convinced about how good Blender really is?
Let the movies do the talking: http://www.blender.org/features-gallery/movies/
Share your experiences and advice about Blender. We want to know what you like or don’t like about it, what websites you recommend and what advice you would give to new Blender users. Leave a comment, post on Facebook or tweet us on Twitter.