Subject: General Tech | September 30, 2016 - 10:58 PM | Scott Michaud
Blender 2.78 has been a fairly anticipated release. First off, people who have purchased a Pascal-based graphics card will now be able to GPU-accelerate their renders in Cycles. Previously, it would outright fail, complaining that it didn't have a compatible CUDA kernel. At the same time, the Blender Foundation fixed a few performance issues, especially with Maxwell-based GM200 parts, such as the GeForce 980 Ti. Pre-release builds included these fixes for over a month, but 2.78 is the first build for the general public that supports it.
In terms of actual features, Blender 2.78 starts to expand the suite's feature set into the space that is currently occupied by Adobe Animate CC (Flash Professional). The Blender Foundation noticed that users were doing 2D animations using the Grease Pencil, so they have been evolving the tool in that direction. You can now simulate different types of strokes, parent these to objects, paint geometry along surfaces, and so forth. It also has onion skinning, to see how the current frame matches its neighbors, but I'm pretty sure that is not new to 2.78, though.
As you would expect, there are still many differences between these two applications. Blender does not output to Flash, and interactivity would need to be done through the Blender Game Engine. On the other hand, Blender allows the camera, itself, to be animated. In Animate CC, you would need to move, rotate, and scale objects around the stage by the amount of pixels on an individual basis. In Blender, you would just fly the camera around.
This leads in to what the Blender Foundation is planning for Blender 2.8x. This upcoming release focuses on common workflow issues. Asset management is one area, but Viewport Renderer is a particularly interesting one. Blender 2.78 increases the functionality that materials can exhibit in the viewport, but Blender 2.8x is working toward a full physically-based renderer, such as the one seen in Unreal Engine 4. While it cannot handle the complex lighting effects that their full renderer, Cycles, can, some animations don't require this. Restricting yourself to the types of effects seen in current video games could decrease your render time from seconds or minutes per frame to around real-time.
Subject: General Tech | September 9, 2016 - 07:00 AM | Scott Michaud
The Blender Foundation maintains the most popular, free, open-source 3D suite, Blender. One major component of any 3D application is the chunk that turns 3D geometry into one or more 2D images. This is often passed to third-party software, like mental ray or Pixar Renderman, but basically everyone has their own internal ones.
About five years ago, Blender released a new rendering engine, called Cycles, whose just-released 2016 demo reel is embedded above. Not being held back by history, they swung for the fences with it. It supports multiple GPUs (albeit mostly NVIDIA, even to this day, due to CUDA vs OpenCL at the time -- but AMD might be commissioning development soon) and integrates tightly with the editor. It produces great images, although it's very slow for cartoonish imagery (but Blender is working on a viewport renderer for that sort of content anyway).
Also, Blender with Cycles is what we used for our recent animation projects. Version 2.78 is currently in release candidate mode, and should be released very soon.
Subject: General Tech | July 16, 2016 - 06:07 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Blender, ishikawa watanabe laboratory
This is definitely tangential to our typical coverage, but I came across an interesting research project from the Ishikawa Watanabe Laboratory. A common trick that physicists use to measure rotating objects is to shine a strobe light at it. When the object seems to stop in space, your strobe light frequency is some multiple of the object's RPM (assuming the object doesn't have identical sections within a single cycle -- you'll need to go into fractions in that case).
This is another trick in the same family. Basically, they load a carousel of the same object with all possible material components. Then, in a darkened room, they flash a strobe light on it to instantaneously illuminate just the portions they want, at the intensity that it contributes to the final material. So, when you adjust the material on the computer, which they demoed with Blender, the object appears to adjust along with it, letting you see what it should look like in the real world. They can even apply a mask in front of it to allow some level of texturing.
This should be useful for product design, once a library of materials are captured and stored in the CAD software. They claim that 3D printing allows it to be applied to any object, but I'd assume there's some limits regarding how structurally stable the object is. I'm imagining a technician wondering why their metal channel doesn't seem to be applied, only to turn on the light and see their intern knocked out on the floor with a bruise on their forehead. It all depends on what their apparatus is running at and how big it is. Ideally, they would be above the upper range of photosensitive epilepsy is about 30Hz, or 1800 RPM, but I don't have the required info to calculate how that maps to structural integrity of models.
Subject: General Tech | March 19, 2016 - 06:37 PM | Scott Michaud
Speaking of open-source animation software, the Blender Foundation has just released Blender 2.77. This is a relatively minor update, maintaining compatibility and structure with other 2.7x versions, but it has some interesting aspects to it. While there will probably be other 2.7-level updates before then, 2.8 is internally described as “the Workflow release,” which is also starting to be discussed by the foundation.
The headline feature is improved Cycles ray traced rendering, especially on GPUs. Both quality and performance get a bump, and a few particle effects are now GPU-aware. Personally, I am very interested to see how the “Edit-mode boolean tool” will work. I started 3D modeling with a NURBS-based CAD tool, and booleans were pretty much your first choice to get anything done. I then transitioned to Maya, which had the worst boolean tools I've ever seen, choosing to delete both objects if it couldn't figure out how they combine (and that was basically anything other than two plain primitives). It was liberating going to Blender, where I had a boolean tool that mostly worked, but it still causes a few glitches here and there. I'm hoping that, now that it's a default tool, it will continue to grow in robustness.
This is also the first release that (officially) ends Windows XP support. I mean, it's open source. Compile it for whatever platform you like. But you will not be able to upgrade to 2.77 with the official builds, and there's no telling how complicated back-porting will become going forward.
Subject: General Tech | February 2, 2016 - 11:34 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Blender, open-source
The Blender Foundation guides development with a series of first-party short films, each of which are created with open-source software and released under a Creative Commons license. Despite their purpose, to promote open source software and highlight ways to improve Blender, they each have engaging traits that are uncommon in commercial films. Cosmos Laundromat opens with a fairly long shot of a sheep's attempt at hanging itself, while Sintel's ending will make you feel hollow when it reveals its meaning.
This short, Caminandes 3: Lamingos, above, is much lighter than Cosmos Laundromat or Sintel. It has more of the ironic, mischievous cartoon feel of Big Buck Bunny, their second Blender short film. It is about a Llama and a Penguin who are trying to eat some berries; unfortunately, they are both trying to eat the same ones.
The two-and-a-half-minute short film can be downloaded and is free to use under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Its assets are also available, but only under a Blender Cloud subscription.
Subject: General Tech | July 17, 2014 - 05:16 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: open-source, open source, fbx, epic games, Blender
Blender, probably the most popular, open source 3D creation suite (sorry Wings!), was given a healthy donation of $13,500 USD by Epic Games. According to the tweet from Ton Roosendaal, Chairman of the Blender Foundation, this is intended to support FBX development, which is becoming the industry standard method of importing and exporting 3D models, skeletons, animations, and so forth. It is also for "epic-game-style navigation controls" (not sure what this is -- Unreal Editor-style controls maybe??)
EpicGames donates 10k euro (13.5k usd) to Blender Development Fund. Is support for more FBX work + epic-game-style nagivation controls. #b3d
— Ton Roosendaal (@tonroosendaal) July 5, 2014
FBX support would definitely be a welcome area of development. It exists, but not at the level of other 3D applications, because those could link directly to Autodesk's library. The format is owned by Autodesk after they acquired Kaydara in 2006. Its closed-source SDK was put under a license that was incompatible with Blender and its public documentation was non-existent. Since then, the Blender community has been working on reverse-engineered support. They have come a long way, the exporting from Blender and importing into Unreal Engine 4 is apparently reasonable, today. Of course, with Epic's focus on the indie developer, $13,500 seems like a good investment to help it continue.
Beyond its status as the default import format into Unreal Engine 4.x, FBX is also standard in many different modeling applications. While it is fairly easy to move around most base, polygonal geometry (and UVs to properly apply materials to them) from suite to suite, the same cannot be said for animation data, and so forth. FBX was designed to be a single pipeline for all of that.
Hopefully, Blender can become a first-class citizen.
Subject: General Tech | September 27, 2012 - 03:00 AM | Scott Michaud
The Blender Foundation has released several "Open Movies" in the past to showcase the functionality of their open source 3D and visual effects production software. All "Open Movies" were produced with Blender and are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Oh I seriously hope that juice box is made of Mangos.
Their latest release, "Tears of Steel", was developed along with the latest wave of Blender releases under the codename Mango and is a take on the robotic uprising trope condensed into a 10 minute indie-style film. Of course the visual effects are all over the place and look amazing. The writing is obviously lackluster and campy but it clearly does not take itself too seriously -- if there was any question then stick around after the credits and you will agree.
It is somewhat of a shift from their last release -- Sintel -- which I will admit tugged at my heartstrings. Frankly as much as I liked Sintel I am kind-of glad that Tears of Steel, despite its name, did not intend on making me cry.
Oh why do I keep talking? Enjoy it. Heck, it is Creative Commons Attribution -- mash it up if you want to. Go nuts.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | April 27, 2012 - 04:42 PM | Scott Michaud
The latest version of Blender has been released to the public officially. This version integrates, after much anticipation, BMesh and in the process reengineers how Blender handles geometry. Models are no longer constrained to triangles and quadrangles and can have any number of sides.
I do a bunch of illustration work for PC Perspective and elsewhere. Most of my work is in 2D these days although originally I worked in 3D applications almost exclusively. When occasions allows it, scarce as they are these days, I return to 3D if new projects need it or old projects get returned to.
Here today, n-gon tomorrow.
I originally started with Rhino3D when I was introduced to it for a high school shop technology class. When 3D shifted to a persistent hobby I shifted to Maya and purchased an educational license. That license has become well used for game design contests and personal art projects over the past several years.
Faced with the greater than three thousand dollar price tag of a new license of Maya -- I could buy a Wacom Cintiq 24 and another used car (minus repairs) with that -- I looked at Blender once again. I am not against paying for software which gives me value over the alternatives. The GIMP just cannot replace Photoshop for my current illustration work, try as I might, and I eventually was led to purchase one of Adobe’s Creative Suites. Maybe Blender would have a different fate?
Sorry boy, cannot play today.
After a few attempts at getting used to its interface -- I mean the man-hours must be cheaper than a license of Maya, right? -- I was about ready to give it up again. The modeling flow just did not suit my style well at all. After exercising my Google-Fu I found an experimental Blender project called BMesh and loaded one of its experimental builds. After just a short period of usage it felt more natural than Maya has felt.
I felt as though I would actually choose Blender over Maya, even if given either one for free. Best part: for one, I am.
So why do I mention this in the post proclaiming the launch of Blender 2.63? Blender 2.63 fully integrates that experimental branch into the trunk core application. BMesh is, as of this release, officially unified with Blender.
For current users of Blender, Game From Scratch has put up an article which demonstrates the benefits which BMesh can provide. If you focus on modeling predominantly, your grin should grow as the article moves on. More tools should be developed for the new geometry engine too. Keep grinning.
Admittedly, again, I do not have too much time to play in 3D lately and as such your mileage may vary. Still, I can honestly say that as of what this release’s preview builds demonstrate: the water is finally warm for 3D modelers to try Blender. Is there room for improvement? Of course, but now is a great time to give it a try.
Subject: General Tech | February 18, 2012 - 11:11 PM | Scott Michaud
So what do you do if you blew all of your money on a professional workstation and have nothing left for software?
Well, you get a better business strategy.
Occasionally there are open source products which rival or exceed the usability of the packaged products. I first started learning 3D modeling on a perpetual educational license of Maya and 2D art on a combination of Photoshop and GIMP. While I could not manage to eliminate Photoshop from my workflow I found the switch from Maya to pre-release Blender + Bmesh builds felt like an upgrade -- not just a manageable change. Blender is rapidly getting even better with each new bi-monthly version such as their just-released 2.62 update.
(Photo Credit: Blender Project / Alexey Lugovoy)
Blender decided to introduce many new features throughout the 2.6 series of releases by developing them in parallel and merging branches into the release trunk as they became worthy. This release yielded a new renderer known as “Cycles”, new UV unwrapping tools, reprogrammed Boolean tools, and motion tracking features.
Personally, I look most forward to the official 2.63 release scheduled for April. It appears as if the secrecy surrounding the development status of Bmesh was lifted and its introduction to the canon application is pinned to that release. Prior to pre-release Bmesh builds, Blender just felt too distant to the style of modeling which I developed in my years of using Maya. Since the addition of Bmesh, Blender was able to fit all of the essential roles which Maya satisfied and avoided some of my long-standing gripes with Autodesk’s $3000 package in the process. I was not even referring to its cost.
By the end of the 2.6 line, I expect that Blender will be an upgrade for users of many 3D applications. Check it out, for free, at their website.