Blender Adventures

I’m a fairly avid user of open source software.  I believe that when everyone comes together to make something great, they can achieve something just as good as teams that are driven by money. That said, in the open source world, there is some level of disconnect between the quality you can expect from a so called “professional” software, and the open source alternatives.

Sure, you’ll hear GIMP fans clamor over how good GIMP is, but the face of the matter is, if you have a paying job, you probably haven’t been able to switch to a completely open source world.  I know this first-hand. I work daily in Windows, running Adobe, The Foundry, and Autodesk stuff, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Now, I could go on and on about my thoughts on for-profit development vs the open source ecology, but that’d be super boring, and really, all we care about is what the programs actually can do, and what they are used for.

Still, I love open source, if only because I feel what it stands for is an awesome thing. More and more though, I am finding myself being legitimately impressed by some open source projects, and sometimes even jealous of their features.

Recently I decided to learn Blender, and I don’t mean learn to make a shiny cube with a light on it, I mean really learn Blender. And to date, I have been nothing but pleased.

So some background first. I am a visual effects artist, I have about 4 years of industry experience so far (check my IMDB link on the right to see). My degree was in computer animation, and my  focus since then has been in VFX compositing.  I love 3D, though my job is generally played out in the 2D world.  I kept seeing posts about this “Cycles” renderer that Blender has been developing and touting more and more as it gets close to being finished, and it made me finally decide to learn Blender.

Blender has improved so much since I last used it I cant even begin to describe. Granted, back then (maybe 3 years ago) I never took the time to properly learn it. The interface is cleaner, the tools work better, and the features have piled up.  This is one software, or should I say one community, that hasn’t been willing to sit still. While Maya has been adding features and improvements, I can honestly say if I went back 3 years in Maya, I really wouldn’t hit many things that I would miss on a day-to-day basis.

Cycles is amazing, and Maya needs to learn how to handle shader networks.  It’s so intuitive, so easy, and so good looking.  I would compare it to UDK’s shader editor, which is also top of the line (especially for a game engine!)

When I have to go back into Maya’s hypershade node network and build a shader, I hate every minute of it now. There are tools like Mental Mill for Maya, but those cost money. :(

Blender has some quirks that, as much as blender enthusiasts will call them features, bug the crap out of me though…

The whole rightclick leftclick thing is annoying. If you want to select with right click, at least keep it consistent.  selecting an item with right click in the 3d view, then moving to the outliner and selecting with left click is just silly. Easy enough to change in the settings though. Also, whats with not asking if I want to save when I close the window without saving? O_o That’s been standard in software since like.. the first computer I used. (DOS 6.something)

All of these are settings you can change, but you shouldn’t have to.

In any case, the renderer is very nice, the shading network is amazing, and the whole program is miles ahead of where it was even a year ago.

If Blender keeps up their momentum, they will soon be a major contender, if they aren’t already.