What is Blender?
“Blender is the free and open source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, even video editing and game creation.” - blender.org
Blender is one of the brightest shining examples of FOSS (free & open source software) due to its genuinely professional toolset and capabilities. This makes Blender an exception to the rule of “getting what you pay for”. A large pool of pros use Blender in various corners of the industry from television/film VFX, feature animation, scientific visualization, architectural visualization, motion graphics, AR, VR, and much more.
The history of Blender is a testament to what a global community can accomplish together. Ton Roosendaal is Blender’s Steve Jobs. He was the primary developer from 1995 to 2002 when it was created as a proprietary tool for a Dutch animation studio. In 2002, Ton launched the “Free Blender” campaign seeking to crowdsource €100,000 to purchase the rights to the software and release its source code. From that point, Blender has been developed by its global community of users and a handful of Blender Institute employees (whom are paid by donations and grants).
The Blender community (it's users, developers, and donors) is hugely varied due to the wide range of Blender’s applications as well as its ease of access. One thing we all have in common our willingness to share; be it our software, art, knowledge, techniques, business insights, or ideas.
What can you create with Blender?
Blender can create a massive spectrum of visuals. Honestly, if it’s a visual anything, Blender can either create it or be used to create part of the thing. And what’s better, Blender can create visual things at a professional level.
"Open-source software, like Blender, can do almost everything Pixar's software can do...Somewhere out there, a brilliant kid and their friends are working in their garage [using and improving on tools like Blender]....They will be the next Pixar." - Pixar’s Tony DeRose
Obviously, Blender can be utilized to create feature-quality animation. But it’s also capable of much more:
One of the most popular uses of Blender is game asset creation, meaning all the models and textures that make a game pretty. Here are some examples:
- Eat Sheep iOS game (Blender + Unity)
- Inhuman Kind project (Blender + Substance Painter + Unity)
- Realtime Space Station (Blender + Unreal Engine 4)
- CGC robot game character
Visual Effects (VFX) is all the fake stuff happening in movies including explosions, giant monsters, scene replacement, making Brad Pitt look super old and super young...the crazy stuff. And Blender can do it. A few examples:
- Barnstorm VFX work on “The Man in the High Castle”
- Studio Loica’s work on the Legends Trailer
- The Tears of Steel short film by the Blender Foundation
As referenced above, movies by studios like Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, Illumination, etc; animated movies where everything is created from scratch in the computer, usually with a defined ‘cartoony’ style. Here are some impressive animations created entirely with Blender:
Game assets, VFX and animation are the most popular uses of Blender, but there is much, much more. Blender is also used for incredible visuals:
- character art & sculpting
- architectural visualization
- scientific visualization
- vehicle rendering
- product rendering
- motion graphics
- 2D animation
How do I download Blender?
As open source software, Blender is constantly being improved, modified, and forked for various purposes by various people. This is an awesome part of the Blender culture, but it can be confusing to understand which version you should be using, especially when starting out.
The official version of Blender, often referred to as “master branch” (like a tree), is available to download from the official site, blender.org. It’s compatible with the 3 major operating systems (Mac, Windows, and Linux) as well as Steam. The site is smart enough to detect your operating system and should automatically download the appropriate version.
This is THE version of Blender used by the vast majority most users.
“Release Candidates” are work-in-progress versions that are close to being released officially. These are feature-locked and primarily used for pre-release bug testing. When an RC is available, you’ll see it’s downloadable under the official download link.
“Experimental Builds” are work-in-progress versions of the next Blender release. They’re under active development and can be downloaded for testing/experimenting with new features. However, they are not recommended for production projects. Meaning “use at your own risk”; don’t work on anything you’d hate to lose. They are available to download at the bottom of the official download page.
“Branches” are experimental forks of Blender. Trunks and branches of a tree...get it? These versions are built by anyone savvy enough for unofficial experimentation and development. Sometimes we’ll see a cool feature be developed unofficially in a branch and eventually add it to master if it’s quality is proven. A lot of fun things happen in branches.
Get involved in the Blender Community
One of the key assets of Blender is its community. There’s many nooks and crannies of the global community. Here’s some tips for where to get plugged in:
- Blender Nation is the best place for daily news about all things Blender.
- #b3d is the most popular twitter hashtag for Blender stuff on twitter.
- Blender Stack Exchange is a great place for community-sourced Blender help and troubleshooting.
- BlenderArtists.org is the most popular online Blender forum.
- r/blender is the Blender subreddit.
- BlendSwap.com is an excellent source for free Blender assets like models, shaders, etc.
Frequently Asked Blender Questions
Is Blender as good as commercial software like Maya and 3D Studio Max?
In short, yes. Blender has proven itself a very competent 3D package for professional quality computer graphics. That doesn’t mean it’s free from weaknesses, but neither is commercial software.
What’s up with Blender’s right-click selection?
This is one of the most confusing things about getting started with Blender. It's a 'leftover' from the olden days before left and right clicks for selection were across OS and all software. Until today, by default, selection in Blender is done by right click while left click is the “action button”. This is opposite of virtually every computer application I’ve ever used. While there’s debate over which is the “best option”, you can easily change this default behavior to left click: File > User Preferences > Input tab > Select With: Left. Arguably, there’s slightly more functionality that can be accomplished with right click select, but don’t feel bad about switching to left click select. Plenty of high-level users do it too.
Will a studio hire me if I use Blender?
If a studio decides to hire based on software proficiency, they either have a large number of talented candidates and can afford be picky or they’re misplacing their priorities. Any studio worth their salt knows it’s not the tool that creates great work; it’s the artist. Therefore, a studio should hire you if you’re a good artist, regardless of the software you use. In our community at CG Cookie, we've had a plenty of users over the years who landed amazing jobs in the creative industry using Blender only.
Can I sell what I make with Blender?
Yes! Blender is GPL licensed which means you can use Blender for “any purpose” including selling what you make with Blender (BlenderMarket.com) and/or getting paid for what you create with Blender (studio job/freelance).
Why do people charge money for things made with Blender?
Because time is mankind’s underlying currency and it’s never free. Tutorial creators, addon developers, or artists selling their .blend files - their time has value. If a person decides to give what they make away for free, great for them and for us! But that’s generosity and it costs them their time at least. The ability for Blender users to make money with Blender is a key aspect of this community’s success.
How does the Blender Foundation make money?
Donations and grants. That’s right, Blender isn’t created for free out of thin air. Nor does the Blender Foundation pay its bills and employees with benefit-to-society credits. It takes real money donations and grants to make this awesome software what it is. Don’t forget that.
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