The BSG (Blender Survival Guide) is now completely available on iTunes as part of the COW Podcast. Making a program like Blender takes enormous amount of time and resources. It's a very expensive operation that relies on the generosity of people. More people know about Blender, more people will be likely to buy books and tutorials from the Blender Foundation and in doing so they help the development of the program.
Please help me increase the awareness of Blender by subscribing, rating and voting for this podcast. With enough attention the podcast will be featured in the main page of iTunes and that can attract more people who don't know yet about Blender. My goal is to get in the top 50 of the technology section. It doesn't cost you anything, the Podcast is free, but it will greatly help in making Blender a global success.
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When I started the BSG I didn't know if it would be even noticed. Well, you made it very clear since the beginning that there was a crowd of people "hungry" for accessible training about Blender. And so I kept delivering an episode every week for 10 weeks. Then I took a little break and now I have delivered two episodes in one day completing a standard set of 13 episodes of a TV show:
I hope you will enjoy them. The Blender Survival Guide, or BSG, is now available on your desktop, on your iPad and on iTunes as a Podcast.
I'm quite happy with it and I think it will keep people busy for a while. Similarly to what happenes after the final episode of a TV season I'm gonna take a break and come back in a while with more and more content.
This "break" doesn't influence the other Blender activites at the COW and I will be always available via our wonderful forum so continue to post your comments, requests and suggestions for new BSG topics.
So, as we say in Italian, "arrivederci", which means "we'll see each other again", and keep blendering!
As promised, a new episode of the Blender Survival Guide, BSG for short, is available for your viewing pleasure.
We spent 10 good weeks getting comfortable with Blender and now we are in excellent position to start stepping it up a bit. With BSG 11 I begin to delve a little deeper into the modeling side of Blender, showing how to modify basic geometry and how to solve some of the problems that you will face in everyday projects. This involves joining different pieces of geometry, re-arranging them, creating organized duplicates of objects, etc.
All this while we search for the "Holy Grail" of lighting: volumetric lights.
BSG 11, clocking at around 30 minutes, is only the first part of this new tutorial. Next week we will see how to actually achieve the effect by using the amazing Lux Render. You don't want to miss it!
After 10 straight weeks of delivering the blender survival guide, it's time for me to take a short break. Blender 2.6 is coming and so it's time for us to make a plan on how to migrate to the new version. As I mentioned several times I wanted to make the Blender Survival Guide a tutorial that reflects the reality of real life production. And that's why I want to create a good plan to plot the migration to 2.6 gradually so that you will be able to use the new features without risking your projects. In order to do this I need to spend a little more time with Blender 2.5. I am also involved in a couple of software projects that I am developing so I'm in a bit of a crunch time right now, I needed to take a short break. But rest assured that next week we will have a new tutorial, one that will show you how to download the new versions of Blender, how to use them, how to install them on your machine next to version 2.49 and what to expect from them. I believe that that approach is going to bring a lot of of benefits for everybody.
There's been a bit of confusion about what the next version of Blender will be called. Since the currently stable version is called 2.49b, it would appear that version 2.5/2.6 is a small, bug-fix-like, increment. It is not. The next version of Blender is a complete re-write of the application, from the ground-up. The UI has been completely re-worked and the "guts" of the application have been improved to reflect a very strong push toward newer technologies and emphasis on animation. Furthermore the underlying Python API has been updated to the point that scripts that worked with 2.49 don't run on 2.5.
So why 2.5? It's a mystery to me. Long emails with the developers and even with Ton Rosendaal himself failed to make it clear to me why such a small increment in number. In any commercial product this would be called Blender 3.0, and rightly so. I attribute this phenomenon to a strong form of modesty of the developers, a typical European attitude, that made them think that re-writing a new UI was not enough to warrant a full jump in version number. Truth to be told, if you look at the chronology of Blender, the version changes have been always very small, even when massive new features were introduced.
The confusion connected with the next version originates from the factthat the development team decided to adopt a long-standing, albeit puzzling, standard of the FOSS (Free/Open Source Software) community: odd numbers for the development version, even numbers for the release version.
So, currently Blender is called 2.5 Alpha 2. There will not be a 2.5 release. When this version will be considered stable and bug-free enough for public use it will be released as 2.6.
For the sake of clarity and brevity I will refer to the next version of Blender as "2.6". 2.5 is what you use at your own risk. It's alpha or beta quality software. Fun and exciting to use but "bleeding edge" if included in your pipeline. No more, no less then relying on beta versions of After Effects if you are one of the beta testers.
There is no doubt that at some point the 2.5 beta will be so close to final quality to be usable in production. At least by power users. And it's a very well know fact that the quality of FOSS applications tends to be higher than commercial apps at the same stage (beta). This is because FOSS doesn't suffer from commercially imposed deadlines that sometimes force compromises of quality. I've been there, believe me, it happens all the time.
So, hopefully, this clarifies the issues and what you can expect from Blender 2.6: a completely new UI, a polished and improved Python API, a fair slew of new features.
I'll start covering 2.6 in the upcoming episodes of the BSG as I believe, it's time now, to get acquainted with it.
This week episode of the Blender Survival Guide is a direct response to the feedback that you have sent after Episode 9 was published. Being able to edit the value and position of each keyframe to fine tune your animation is a necessary ability and the BSG 10 shows you how to do it.
Blender's animation tools are very sophisticated and powerful but they use a unique layout for the UI and at first it might not be that clear where everything is. That's why I wanted to cover this topic, once again, from the perspective of the MoGraph artists so that you can now see where everything is without having to read chapter after chapter of stuff that might never be used. Like rigging, for example.
So, if you were wondering how to create a "hold frame" or how to re-time your Blender animation, or you wanted to learn how to use markers (Blender has markers?), go to the Blender Survival Guide #10, it's available at this link:
Of special value it's the possibility of using this for retopology. Retopology is the rotoscoping of 3D, a necessary "evil" that sucks your time away like a giant black hole. Having tools like this is an incredible time saver and another example of how advanced Blender is.
It's that time again!
The glorious conclusion to our book promo is available! The Blender Survival Guide #8 is online, here at the COW.
I'm particularly pleased by this episode because it highlights a series of tricks that are at the same time simple and useful.
In setting up a scene or animation one of the most important features of the program is how you manipulate the objects, how you change their position, how you move them in the right spot. This week's episode addresses all that.
Blender includes a bona-fide Non-Linear Editor (NLE). Nothing to threaten Adobe or Apple but a very handy tool that can be used at any time, on any machine, and that handles sequences of images with extreme ease. BSG #8 shows you how to enable it to add music to your Blender animation.
Lastly you might wonder how to set up a shot that uses two or more cameras. All covered in this episode of the Guide.
We are approaching the end of what I call a "Survival Guide" but more Blender tutorials, more topic-oriented, are scheduled to be released, here at Creative COW. The development of Blender 2.5 is finally reaching Beta status, and soon I'll be busy planning a new set of video tutorials using the new version of Blender. It's gonna be fun!
I don't want to brag about it but we are at the 7th, non-stop week of Blender goodness, here at Creative COW, and there is no sign of slowing down :). On the contrary, this week's episode is twice as long as usual, clocking at about 42 minutes. And it's not finished. Next week I will complete the job and show how to create the final result. But this week we see how to create a promo shot for a book, and in the process we learn how to apply multiple materials and textures to a single object. That is the kind of operation that you need to do over and over again when working in 3D. Getting a grasp on how to assign multiple materials is an essential skill and a perfect fit for "survival Blender."
The BSG is meant to provide a basic, well rounded, set of skills that will help you approach Blender with the maximum amount of reward and the minimum amount of labor.
It seems that it has reached the goal as more and more people are now asking for more advanced topics. Those will be coming soon, a lot depends on the speed of development of Blender 2.5/2.6.
The curios notation for the version number is due to the fact that it seems that the Blender team has adopted a long-standing convention of the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) world. Odd-numbered revisions are the "in progress" numbers. When the program reaches release status the number is then converted to an even version. So, 2.5 is the in-development number and when Blender will be ready for release it will be called 2.6.
The next episode of The Blender Survival Guide, part 7, will be fairly intense and filled with lots of new techniques and information. Before we can tackle that task, which will be once again based on real life experience, we need to get organized and prepared. This week's BSG is focused on gaining some essential tools to control our scene, from the "Tree View" (Outliner) to the use of Layers.
And while I have your attention, I want to mention that I'm constantly monitoring Blender's evolution. While a lot of people have asked for tutorials about the upcoming 2.5/2.6 version, I find that it's too much of a moving target to make it feasible at this date, mid-March 2010, to work on specific topics. I download the weekly builds, and I monitor the developer's mailing list and it's clear that there are still a lot of basic features that are missing; features that I find very useful in everyday work and that I'm not ready to give up just for the thrill of being on the "bleeding edge." So, be patient but rest assured that once Blender 2.5 "gels" and reaches the beta status, new COW-worthy tutorials will be released.
The Oscars are a tough act to follow. Nevertheless I don't let those low-budget productions scare me so a new episode of "the guide" is ready for your viewing pleasure.
Continuing from where we left off in part 4, this week's Blender Survival Guide (BSG) unlocks the "secret" of creating animations in Blender and how to export said animations to the outside world.
Ever wondered why we called it "the outside world" while it's still inside the same computer?
Anyway, bonus feature includes creating a clip with alpha channel while retaining your sanity. In other words,not being a victim of the "codec shuffle". Since we have an alpha channel it's now trivial to import such clip in After Effects and combine it with a background.
It's all there, you just need to click on The Link:
In what is now a weekly "tradition", part 4 of the "Survival Guide" is now online. Expanding on the subject started last week, we work on making the 3D text look better by learning how to use additional fonts, how to create new materials and how to take advantage of optimized Ambient Occlusion.
These are all fairly dense topics but, as usual, I give you the condensed version of them so that you can start appreciating the features without being "clobbered" by the details.
I'm a big believer in "learn by doing" instead of "learn by endless list of features" :) so the BSG continues in giving you a non-linear, target-oriented, presentation of the amazing power of Blender.
We are approaching the end of the Guide, since I think that six or seven episodes should be enough to get people started. I will continue presenting Blender tutorials after the BSG is completed but they will be single-topic lessons.
If you have any specific topic that you would like to see covered in the guide or other videos please drop me a line here at the COW and let me know.
Part 3 of the "Survival Guide" is online. It's finally time to stop messing around with the workspace and start working on a real scene. While traditional lessons about a 3D package would start with the principles of modeling I know that, as a AE user, one of the first things that you want to see is how to create 3D text. The Blender Survival Guide, only found here at the COW, is specifically tailored for the AE artists. It's "Blender for After Effects", in the shortest time possible. While we create the new 3D text we use the opportunity to learn all the essential survival tasks: how to move, scale, rotate objects and how to position the camera to frame the shot. Just before the end we see also how to add lights, how to change them and finally how to do a quick test render of the scene.
Blender 2.5 has been updated officially to Alpha 1 status. While this is still alpha-quality code, it has hundreds of fixes/improvements from Alpha 0 and the developers have been hard at work to stabilize several crucial features like Collada. I tested the Collada import against complex models, like the ones generates by Daz Studio and the results are really encouraging.
As usual, I remind you that this is not meant to be used in production, but you should definitely check it out and become familiar to what is going to be one of the most promising 3D applications of the future. Head over to http://www.blender.org/development/release-logs/blender-250/ and download your version.
In this episode I show the last few steps necessary to create a more comfortable, complete and informative desktop for Blender, and at the end we see how to save our preferences so that they become Blender's default.
Starting with part 3, which will be released next week, we will start looking at the essential Blender skills, all from the After Effects artist's point of view.
There are many excellent tutorials about Blender, free and commercial.
The vast majority of them aim to make you a 3D modeling artist and animator. Almost none of them are targeted toward the After Effects artist. Adopting a program like Blender for your Motion Pictures pipeline is different than trying to create the next Jurassic Park. A lot of people have much more modest requirements and still can take advantage of a real 3D environment.
That's why I create the "Blender Survival Guide," here at the COW.
This multi-part tutorial aims to teach you the necessary skills to get up to speed with Blender in the shortest time possible. All the essential stuff without the geeky parts.
If you are completely new to Blender and you are dying to use it, this tutorial is for you.
Think of it as "Bear Grylls" for Blender.
The first episode is ready, take a look at http://library.creativecow.net/articles/ciccone_paolo/blender-survival-guid... and let me know if I'm going in the right direction.
For years the integration of 3D in the post-processing pipeline has been dominated by commercials applications. Today there is an alternative that I think is worth your attention. I just released the After Effects Exporter for Blender. This program integrates in the File/Export menu of Blender and it allows you to export an entire animation from Blender to After Effects. You can export the camera, lights, 3D meshes, planes, which will create corresponding After Effects 3D solids, and footage. The Exporter even supports multiple passes.
I prepared a 20-minute video tutorial on how to use it. You can find it here at the COW. Next to the tutorial there is a link to download the projects files. That link points to a zip archive with all that you need to get started. In the archive you can find the exporter itself, a Blender Python program, a handy user's manual and the Blender file showcased in the tutorial.
The exporter, nicknamed AEE, is released as Open Source Software and I hope to have it included in the final release of Blender 2.5. While other solutions have been tried before, I believe this is the first time that Blender has such complete support for After Effects. This exporter should streamline your pipeline considerably and I'll be very interested in hearing about your experience in using it.
Even before the official launch of the iPad we knew that Apple was going to released a tablet-based computer. After watching the "behind the scenes" of Avatar I immediately imagined using a tablet as the simulcam used by Cameron. Think about it: you have designed a scene in Blender or other 3D modeling software. You hit "play" and the animation starts. While the frame counter runs you grab your iPad and hold it in front of you. The screen shows you the Blender scene from the modeling computer. The two machines are linked via Wifi or cable, if wireless is too slow, and the accelerometer of the iPad sends information to a special Blender plugin that interprets the coordinates in real time and updates the camera view. Congratulation you are now James Cameron!
But why stop at this point? If you model and animate in 3D you can use the iPad as a specialized "soft keyboard" with wheels and sliders that you touch on the screen, a-la Star Trek, and send inputs to the application. Spinning the model with natural gestures will become common place. Best of all, the soft keyboard will be able to detect the applications different "modes." For example, if you are operating on the whole object you will have "gizmos" for move/scale/rotate . If you're editing the mesh you will have gestures for merging or splitting seams.
Moving to NLEs, I can see the iPad as a control device for scrubbing the timeline with a simple swipe of the finger, zoom into a clip with the usual "pinch", ripple delete by simply lifting a clip.
The iPad is going to be different things to different people but for the pros in the Motion Pictures industry it will be a versatile control device. With the convenience of programmable software keyboards there is really no limit to the range of applications.
After a few, fairly verbose, posts in this blog, I'm going to keep this short and let the images speak for themselves.
The following are some examples of current work done in Blender.
RGB Prod is a small studio in Switzerland. They created the following ad based on the concept of a watch transforming into a robot. The animation and rendering are done in Blender with additional post-work in After Effects.
And here are a couple of examples of rendering of Blender scenes with the amazing Lux Render.
Lux is a physically-based renderer, it's Open Source and has a very well written interface for Blender. The images were created by Martin Lubich.
Adopting a tool in our professional pipeline is a delicate process. What the program does is most important, but it's not the only factor guiding our decisions. Longevity and ease of integration are crucial features. But when it comes to my suggestion about Blender I hear other issues. People ask me: "How is it possible that something that is given for free is even remotely as good as the commercial products?"
In many years of advocating Open Source Software (OSS) I heard a few people expressing doubt about adding OSS to their toolbox. The classic objection is that OSS is not driven by commercial forces and therefore unpredictable.
This opinion fails to consider the main force behind OSS: the need to write the best software for the task at hand, free of the commercial pressure.
In a way, the force that drives OSS is the same force that drives many people here at the COW: a strong desire to selflessly share and help.
There is also the fact that some of the worst software ever installed on our hard disks has been commercial. The recent events about the Chinese hacking of Google and other companies has been caused by the poor implementation of a Web browser, a product of the largest software corporation of all time: Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
When was the last time that you heard an official government advise its citizens to stop using a legal piece of software? Well, in the past week both Germany and France have publicly asked their people to stop using Internet Explorer. So commercial-driven development is not as bullet-proof as some companies want us to believe.
Web designers all around the globe have been painfully aware of how Internet Explorer's sloppy implementation of the Web standards breaks perfectly legal HTML code. In fact, code that triggers IE's bugs runs perfectly fine, as it should, on the browser included in my $199.00 Nintendo Wii. I guess it took a major international espionage scandal to show how real those issue are.
You may not realize it, but you're already using and depending on OSS daily. The Internet runs almost completely on Open Source Software. Most of the emails worldwide are handled by Sendmail or other Open Source programs. The Web is predominantly served by the Apache web server, another OSS. In fact, Creative COW itself uses Apache to serve the pages that you're reading right now and it uses Linux, also Open Source, as the underlying OS.
When you type "creativecow.net" in the address bar of your browser, the program needs to resolve the name to the IP address of the COW, 220.127.116.11, and that is done by the DNS (Domain Name System) protocol, implemented worldwide by another Open Source program called BIND. Aren't you glad that you don't have to remember those pesky numbers?
There are many other examples of OSS at work, including Google's Android OS and the latest IBM mainframe, a monster with a price tag of $212,000 which is set to run not an IBM OS but Linux instead.
So Open Source Software already runs our data, our conversations, our digital world and our lives. In fact it has been one of the driving forces of innovation and services in everything that is connected with the world of computers.
In this light Blender is just another OSS program and its free nature should not upset anybody involved in the production of commercial work.
If you judge Blender on its features alone, it's an astounding program. It includes one of the best mesh modelers ever designed, and a completely open architecture that allows you to render your scenes with a variety of render engines, free and commercial. This includes Pixar's RenderMan, and compatible applications, and GPU-accelerated engines like the new Octane render.
The new After Effects Exporter that I'm writing, and that will be available in the next two weeks, will make integration with AE a snap, allowing you to move your 3D camera, planes, footage and other elements from Blender to AE with one click.
Linux has demonstrated years ago that a hybrid model that includes both Open Source and commercial applications is perfectly viable and to the advantage of all parties included.
Two days ago Disney announced that they released Ptex, the new texturing engine used in their feature film "Bolt," as Open Source. The same film by Disney uses another Open Source Software that is included in Blender: the Bullet physics engine.
If Open Source is good enough for Disney, it's good enough for the rest of us :)
2009 was tough for most people in the Motion Graphics market. A recent, informal, survey at "The Motion Exchange" highlighted how many freelancers and studios have avoided upgrading to After Effects CS4 because of economic concerns. When times are tight and challenging, your best option for success is to offer what you were not offering before, to upgrade yourself and be more marketable. If you are an After Effects artist and enjoyed success in 2D land, now it's time to expand you toolbox into 3D territory. And when I say "3D" I mean 3D modeling and animation, not the stereoscopic 3D.
3D MoGraph (3DM) is now employed in many, many productions. If you simulated 3D elements in AE with plug-ins like "Trapcode Particular" or "Pro Animator" you will benefit in adopting a fully featured 3D environment. Using a 3D modeling program removes the limitations that you have in the 2.5D world of AE and allows you to offer solutions that are only limited by the time and budget available.
But what I just said is probably nothing new, you might have thought about this already but had to decide to postpone because a 3D modeling program like C4D or Maya, just to mention some of the top names, costs quite a bit of money.
The good news is that you don't need to spend any money to add professional 3D modeling and animation to your toolbox.
I want to be sure that I'm clearly understood about this, so let me repeat it. You can enter the world of 3D modeling and animation without spending any money. It's just a matter of choosing carefully.
While programs like C4D and Maya are excellent at what they do, they also cost several thousands of dollars per license. In fact they can cost more than the whole Adobe Production Premium, a bundle that includes Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Flash and other applications that you are more likely to use on a daily basis. It's understandable that many people are careful about making such investment.
The solution is to use Blender 3D, the amazing 3D modeling and animation software developed by the Blender Foundation in Holland.
Blender is Open Source Software (OSS). This means that you can download it from Blender.org and start using it with After Effects today, for free. Blender is also completely multiplatform, supporting Mac OS, Windows, Linux and many other flavors of Unix.
This is excellent news because you will have to practice for a few months before you will be proficient enough to use 3D in a profitable manner. During that time, the money that you would invest in 3D software is not giving you any ROI, it's an expense that you are not recovering. And that can add quite a bit of stress. By using Blender you completely alter that picture and you regain control.
The concepts behind 3D modeling and animation are the same regardless the software that you use. And the amount of time that you need to learn a 3D program is not much different between one application or another.
The most time-consuming activities are related to learning the theory: mesh modeling, texture mapping, material definition, render layers, etc. These concepts are the same whether you're using Blender, Maya or C4D.
Start using Blender today. Learn how to model and animate in a 3D environment. Become familiar with a workflow that integrates Blender and After Effects. Do all this without pressure and without investing money. And in doing this you automatically expand your offering.
Blender is widely recognized as one of the best mesh modelers in the market. In fact, when it comes to creating a 3D model, many artists who use other modelers often switch to Blender because of its sheer power, versatility and speed. The same is true for texture mapping work. Blender's UV Mapper is actually better and simpler than the one included in Maya.
So, why don't we hear more about Blender in the MoGraph field? Because by being Open Source, Blender lacks the marketing power behind commercial applications. That's all. Feature-wise, Blender is simply amazing.
To make the point even clearer I decided to highlight some of the features of Blender and how they correspond to similar features, for example, in C4D.
Character rigging with bones, constraints, IK, FK included standard in Blender. C4D module: Mocca
Standard Renderer includes node-based materials, procedural and bitmap-based texture, Ambient Occlusion, Sub-Surface Scattering, Radiosity. Several external renderers are available. C4D module: Advanced Renderer
Particle system includes explode modifier, fluid simulation, cloth simulation and smoke (Blender 2.5). C4D module: Thinking particles and Dynamics
Network renderer. Blender is OSS, you can install it on as many machines as you want, create your own Linux low-cost renderfarm. C4D module: NET Render
Hair simulation is standard. C4D module: Hairs
Array modifier, Constrains modifier, Symmetry modifier and many others allow you to create and animate objects for Motion Graphics effects. Export of camera information to AE comps is also available. C4D module: MoGraph
Texture Projection Painting. C4D module: BodyPaint 3D
Of course we are not talking about a 1-to-1 correspondence here. For example C4D exports to several compositing and editing applications including FCP, Blender has exporters only for After Effects but that is enough for me since AE is where I do most of my post work.
So, by adopting Blender you save a staggering $4,445, the admission ticket for C4D Studio with BodyPaint 3D, and you can relax and learn at your own pace because you are not under the pressure to recover the investment. It's the best, easiest path to 3D Motion Graphics.
Go on, download Blender and drop by at the new Blender forum here at COW. We have a list of tutorials in there that can get you started in no time.