Blender Creator/ Publisher

Over the past year, there’s been a growing trend to give away 3D software. This is a marketing trick used in a crowded sector to woo customers into learning a particular application, thus making it worthwhile to upgrade to the ‘full’ version – at a small price, of course. Blender, from NaN (Not a Number), is a fully featured 3D-animation system that’s been in development for a few years. It was originally developed as in-house software running on SGI (Silicon Graphics Inc.) workstations, but has, with apparent altruistic abandon, been distributed for free across a variety of platforms, including Linux, FreeBSD, and Windows. At last, it’s been ported to the Mac, as an Mac OS X-only app. Selling software for big bucks means protecting it from piracy, which is expensive. NaN’s approach is to give it away as a full working version, and by so doing has built up a user base of 250,000 people. But here’s the clever bit: Blender tantalizes you with its possibilities, but is fiendishly difficult to use, especially with no manual. NaN, though, will sell you a manual, as well as other training products from its online store. NaN produces three applications. Blender Creator and Blender Viewer – a plug-in – are both free, while Blender Publisher costs $345 for a single-user licence, $845 for a 15-user licence and $2,995 for a site-licence. Content provider
Because Blender can be used to create interactive-3D content, you need a special viewer to access it, which recently became available for OS X. The Publisher version of Blender gives distribution rights, too, and comes with 3D games-engine reference documentation. Getting the picture? Although Blender Creator is free and feature-packed, the steep learning curve involved doesn’t make it the natural-choice 3D program. After all, usability is key to productivity. Yet there is no denying Blender offers a great tool-set: integrated modelling, animation, deformation, dynamics, lighting, texturing, rendering, post-processing and game-creation systems are wrapped in an alternative and unique interface. You can model using polygons, beziér surfaces and curves, and S-Meshes. The complex, and clumsy interface relies heavily on hotkeys and having a three-button mouse, making it un-Mac-like in the extreme. There’s a button panel to control various parameters throughout scene-building, usually at the bottom of the screen. This has 14 modes, many of which are accessible through the Function keys, or via the palette’s button bar. These can be used for things such as materials, textures, render options and object editing. There is no co-ordinates panel, and neither is there an undo command. You can, though, revert an object to its previous state, but by so doing risk losing many of the in-between modelling steps. Animation is handled with keyframes and function curves in the normal way.


The Blender experience isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s devilishly awkward and counter-intuitive, and there are better, and easier-to-learn commercial alternatives. For all this, Blender is a perfectly serviceable 3D application. Its most-impressive aspect is that it combines dynamics, collision detection, particles and a scripting system, plus you can use it to create interactive-3D content and games without having to program. Because the Creator version is free, it’s definitely worth checking out. However, remember: the investment in time required to do anything useful with the program will likely leave you frustrated enough to either ditch it, or buy the manual.

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