Review: Blender 3D

OK, this is very cool! To have the ability to work with animation software that did not cost the same as a brand new car? Very impressive. According to this article from NewsForge, this once thought to be nice thought has just come to a reality near you!

Imagine yourself making a Pixar movie and not paying a dime for the software needed to do it. That’s the premise behind Blender 3D, a free fully featured 3D content creation suite. Open sourced under the GNU GPL since 2002, Blender has grown a lot since then. The current version, 2.36, is a real winner.

You can download Blender for all supported platforms (Microsoft Windows, Linux (i386), Mac OS X, FreeBSD 5.3 (i386), SGI Irix 6.5, and Sun Solaris 2.8 (SPARC), as well as the source code and several plug-ins. Bleeding edge users can download a Blender CVS compilation from the Blender Testing Builds forum. You can also grab the source from CVS and build it yourself.

For Windows users, Blender provides an installer program. If you have a *nix box you just have to unpack the contents of the install download to a folder of your choice.

Blender comprises two applications — Blender (or blender.exe), the main application, and BlenderPlayer (or blenderplayer.exe), which in addition to their other functions you can use to play games made with the Blender Game Engine.

The interface

Compared to other 3D applications, Blender has a non-standard user interface, yet this UI improves user workflow in Blender. The flexibility of the UI allows users to clone other applications’ UIs or create a personalized one.

Previous versions of Blender were shortcut-centric in operation; they relied heavily on the mouse and keyboard. While this remains the fastest way to use the app, beginners will appreciate that most functions are now available via menus or pop-up toolboxes. Rotating, scaling, and moving commands are also available as mouse gestures. There is also a brand-new complete undo/redo system that works for every change the user makes.

Modeling

On the modeling side, we find a huge set of 3D objects like polygons and NURBS, beziers and B-splines, metaballs and vector fonts. Even the Blender mascot, the monkey Suzanne, is provided as a 3D primitive!

Modeling in Blender is quite fun, especially if you’re doing organic modeling and using Blender’s Subdivision Surface option. You can use optimal iso-lines for mesh editing, which makes it easy on the eye. Add to this the option to model meshes using vertex, edge or face, selection mode, and many tools such as extrude, bevel, cut and spin, screw and warp, noise and smooth, subdivision, and much more, and you have a complete modeling toolkit.

Not every function is as good as the mesh modeling tools. Boolean functions in the meshes are still a bit clumsy compared to some other (commercial) packages.

Sub Surface Scattering would be a bonus for those wanting to achieve hyper-realistic skin, but this is only available as a set of Python scripts that fake the effect.

Beside the built-in tools, there is a huge range of extra tools to help you in modeling. Tools written in Python can be loaded in the built-in scripts window. A Python API for the Blender core provides enough functionality to build an infinite set of tools. Some of the best-known tools are MakeHuman for human body modeling, L-System for tree generation, World Forge for fractal terrain generation, and the aforementioned subsurf-scattering fake scripts.

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