Blender 3D – A fresh perspective on 2016

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Blender 3D is an open source application for creating everything on the pipeline of 3D. It´s wide spectrum on 3d tools cover: Modeling, Sculpting, Retopology, Node-base shading, Node-base compositing (Tracking, Rotoscopy, Chromakeying, Color correction, Relighting…), Game engine (a.k.a Logic), Rigging and animation, Python scripting, Motion Capture and external driven data parameters (OSC compatible), Uv Painting and projection, Non-linear video editing, Non-linear-3D scene editing (a.k.a animation clips or animation scenes), a wide file format compatibility file import (the widest I know supporting even MMD animations from 3d party softwares) including .ABC (alembic support stable as of 2.78 version),  Obj, FBX (ver. 2014-2017 in 2.78) and *new feature on 3d spectrum* the ability to create 2D and 3D animation with grease pencil (Disney´s “Paperman” should come to your mind).

With all these features set in scene, Blender gets a totally new perspective on version 2.78 (as of October 2016). You should really take a time to review your topic of interest from the entire BCon2016 (Blender conference) which was held on Amsterdam. The most influential expositors, invited by The Blender Foundation, covered many aspects of how Blender is shaping towards the future. The video that most called my attention was the experience on Nimble Collective and how they are taking Cirix streaming application and delivering to front end direct edition/participation of the artist for a 3d pipeline without the restraint of hardware. Plain English: Artists can use Blender from home from a tablet to create amazing quality 3d production.

Blender Cloud is another of the triumph cards on the open source mentality for the development of Blender. One of the conference covers in detail how they adapted from being “open source” modifiable desktop application to “charge by code”game changer. Users who generally would demand more of the software would eventually develop more efficient-specific-task-driven addons and functions which otherwise would not be possible as the level of the average user for Blender doesn´t need to inflate those scripts just to render a simple scene. Plain English: The tools and expertise are paid and download to “tune up” your Blender version. In case you want a function you can also hire a programmer and he´ll create the plugin (a.k.a addon) for you.

Seems incongruent to pay for something that´s supposed to be “open source”, so how do they manage the GPL licence? (use and modify what you want, charge nothing). Gotta admit Blender has come really far in less than 3 years than they came to be 13 years ago targeting $seriou$ business.

Blender – The Past

char-anim-dvd

Back in year 2k I was studying the possibility of all available softwares on the 3d arena. Alias Wavefront still had Maya under it´s control. Avid had Softimage and they were barely transitioning to Windows NT (specially difficult to develop there, but the OS was rock solid).  I was living in Barcelona, Spain and that was the first time I had heard of Blender because of  Daniel (Pepe) Lara. At the time he was coding the “Brazil” render, which later became the foundation for Vray render. 3DsMax adopted it first with Reyes render and later implemented Vray (Chaos Software group) and this gave the edge for realistic lighting on a “low end” 3d package for 3DsMax on Spain compared to what Maya was already doing in America for vfx and movies.

So I grabbed myself a copy on “Learn Character Animation using Blender” and opened the 3d app (a.k.a software) it was only around 20 mb, which was unbelievable for a 3d application (from here on I´ll a.k.a “app”). I tried one or two exercises from the dvd, ended up frustrated because the operations on meshes and viewports wasn´t standard at all. So Pepe Lara was “trying out blender”, and I thought to myself: “How possible is it for someone who´s capable of such amazing realistically renders at the time” to go to a software like Blender that was completely counter-intuitive?

I got my masters animation on Softimage XSI and never look back to regret not taking any other choice on the market. I´ll extend myself to that subject on another post. Forgot about Blender for good 16 years.

Blender – The Present

If you finished viewing some of the clips on BCon2016, you pretty much will summarize the present of Blender with these ideas and competitive advantages:

  • Geometry / procedural NODES (addon update Oct. 30!)
  • Game logic OSC.
  • Tracking and Compositing
  • Blender Cloud (An enourmous PRO content exclusively for Blender. Think of TurboSquid meets Shutterstock -socially-)
  • Pepe Lara and Grease pencil
  • Mocap support (Including Miku Miku Data animation camera and clips)
  • RT & GPU support
  • VR and PBR viewport support
  • Disney´s BDRF shader
  • Substance Designer support
  • Unity and Ureal shaders export and import (via addons)

Most of these features have been a long-dreamed project for the Blender Foundation team of core developers. They have active communities like BlenderStack, BlenderNation, BlenderArtists . Blender even invites you to port all of your ideas officially by joining their programs and certifications for a formal training and transmit that solvent experience into the pipeline of producing 3D. This was not possible to do before as to the level that it is now, because all of the above list have just *recently* been added to blender as a SOLID release. Since everyone who likes the software develops independent or community driven improvements on the source code, those addons are reviewed by the official Blender core development team at Blender Foundation and later released as official versions.

Since “official approved code” and “community driven improvements” grow at different speeds, you have many “modded” Blender to download with features from the -Official site- Graphicall.org  .The Blender API (Based on Python) is available online for continuous development (a.k.a. “Branches”). Official Linux servers and GIT sites also provide you the source code and files so you can customize even the smallest details or the overall look or themes and addons.

Sculpting is another advantage on Blender but not to the point of Zbrush or 3D coat replacement -yet-. Also Microvertex displacement has been another outstanding point for making the transition to Blender 2.78 for new users. You can read a quick review here. Microvertex allow you to zoom into the region of the mesh you´d like to sculpt with more detail and definition and it will retain detail. Unlike subdivision progression and iterations (which gives you a lot of polys where you don´t really need them in order to keep the mesh cage unified in density), Microvertex displacement gives your sculpted meshes with level of detail without the weight of millions of polys.

Grease pencil video demo, is outstanding for one reason only: Layering. Most of 3d software packages don´t consider a 2d vector aid to sculpt or redraw a 2d frame on top of the 3d animation, or even -snap to a 3d object- that is drawn as a stroke and deforms on space. Grease pencil is the closest thing we got to Disney´s technology on “Paperman“. Speaking on what other amazing things Blender is implementing, watch the BDRF shader conference and how it´s using the viewport on 2.78.

Blender also is putting up amazing resources for game engine authoring (Blender´s got an internal game engine “Game Logic”), Normal editing, weight map tools, vertex maps (a.k.a “vertex groups”) are available for combining vertex painting along with the realtime viewport shaders which displays an amazing quality even if you got a low end graphic card.

Here´s how my code window looks like on Blender.
Softimage Trex base mesh, added to Blender via Creaprim addon.
I spent almost 6 hours customizing buttons and shortcuts, panels and layout to work like Softimage, and this is the result.

Blender – The Future

The UI is more customizable now. I have been a Softimage user since 2k. I came across Max, Maya, Modo, Lightwave, and what kept me away from Blender was the very overcrowded and redundant interface. I´ve met a lot of friends who came into blender much more earlier than I. They have always known *the general problems* as Andrew Price mentions them on this video as all Blender users do: they simply ignore efficiency on design rules. Andrew Price is not alone thinking that Blender needs -somehow- a fix on the general UI. All over the net people who takes UI seriously as part of everyday work, should -and would- change most of the interface to suit their needs. Blender´s got 5 different UI layouts, each one of them specializing in one task, and there´s one general UI with all the addons, properties, tools and settings you´ll imagine. But it´s still not enough. You know how to code .py? You can change the entire interface… I mean, don´t Maya TDs do that everyday?

Blender´s been on the CG arena 16 years! Now, let´s remember that Blender started as a free sprout on the desert of open source of CG since 2k. An epoch where Adobe, Macromedia and Autodesk had the big pie slice on software productivity and costs. Back then there was no Krita, Inkscape or any other open source -everyday use- tool. In 2013, Blender started to switch things around when a serious debate with the Blender foundation, agreed along a very large numbers of artists, that coding was important but interface was even more. Hence on 2.6 api they have release much more possibilities to work with pie menues (like maya, modo), more 3rd party application keyboard shortcuts, custom fonts for all the interface, custom buttons and panels. The only -serious- and real thing that Blender lacks at the moment is the ability to stay afloat a window over the interface: it only floats as a separate WINDOWS container (and it gets behind of the focused app by the system). I would invite you to take a look on how Blender is used on Japan, you´d believe it´s on top of any other software out there, specially on 2d cell shading animation and effects.

Cycles – Speed. Up until release 2.6 I had the opportunity to read how Cycles was implemented on Blender, and it just didn´t make sense to me, that the principal part of a 3d software (rendering) was left behind…or rather way down on the libraries of execution (runtimes) as Cycles on 2.6 was the very last thing to be calculated. Fast forward some more versions and behold! 2.78 was just what all people who are used to Vray and Montecarlo speed times, were waiting for. Now it´s possible to work and have a progressive render (cycles native) going on a panel window. Needless to say: Material editing and compositing also have this native ability to be active while you CC or compose on top of it. This is a really nifty feature that allows for full screen to be occupied and check out details on the making. Noise is still an issue on Cycles; but considering it recently joined Cinema 4D, that´s a brilliant strategic move to bring Blender people to team up with C4D mographers. If you had doubts about how reliable Cycles is now, I´d recommend you to get your links to search over the new team who´s boarding the coding ship for Blender on the Cycles area. That should be an inspiration on it´s own.

Microsoft just joined the Linux Foundation as a team player, and they want to cheer us up with some -up comming- great news. If this doesn´t mean they will implement more code for native kernel handling for Linux features, I don´t know what could this mean. Plain English: Microsoft could write direct-to-linux kernel code into the Intel chips (faster performance, better RAM use, solid applications).

Blender is completely customizable by Python

Streaming desktop. Blender Cloud and Nimble Collective are working to partner up and deliver top speed Blender configurations from backend Linux servers to front end artists, studios and global teams. Blender already dominates on a free “cloud render based service” using every single computer joined in a global network for faster processing on render frames. You can read more about Cosmos Laundromat (Blender short movie) on this article. Some of the frames on a single computer could take up to 2h45 but on a Blender Cloud render farm, as little as 2 or 5 minutes.

Programmers are taking Blender more seriously, and it´s increasing the number of awesome implementations for Rendering, Lighting, Asset managment, Farming, Compositing, Object referencing (finally it´s solid and stable!), and many other TD related tasks for producing a reliable Pipeline for feature lenght movies like Kiribati. I would like to share one of the most promising expos of the entire conference (don´t mind the dog character, the expositors will make your jaw drop showing you the reliability of Blender on 3d pipelines).

And with that, I´ll leave you until next time for another full lenght review on Blender. Please share this article to your socials with the buttons below this video. Thanks!

If you would like to get Blender training CGcookie and StoreBlender offer you entry level and advanced Blender tutorials.

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