Blender is a popular free software that has gained a prominent place in the 3D computer graphics industry thanks to its powerful features. With a simple free download weighing just a few hundred megabytes, you’ll get everything you need to produce and develop any element or entire project in the field of 3D graphics. To take the first steps in this important branch of contemporary graphic art, you don’t need to own expensive workstations or software with licenses worth thousands of euros, as many of the personal computers on sale today in shopping centers have the power to start exploring the world of 3D rendering and computer animation, as well as the production of models and textures for the development of video games. Blender’s almost thirty-year history began in 1994 as a proprietary application of the Dutch animation studio NeoGeo; subsequently it was distributed to the public in freeware version, gaining a decent following of enthusiasts. In 2001, the crisis of the NaN company nearly caused the permanent interruption of Blender’s development, but this was avoided through an agreement with creditors that allowed the release of the code under the GNU license and the payment of one hundred thousand euros raised through an extraordinary fundraising campaign organized by Blender’s creator, Ton Roosendaal. And this is how today we can enjoy an extraordinary professional quality graphic application, constantly evolving and constantly updated, all for free. Currently, the Blender Foundation is leading the tireless work of developers that makes this software increasingly loved by enthusiasts. Blender is used in 3D modeling, animation and post-production of real films, photorealistic rendering of scenes depicting environments or buildings of architectural interest, and much more. The following system requirements are indicated on the www.blender.org website:
- 64-bit quad core CPU with SSE2 support
- 8 GB RAM
- Graphics card with 2 GB RAM, OpenGL 4.3
- 64-bit eight core CPU
- 32 GB RAM
- Graphics card with 8 GB RAM
The revolutionary 2.80 release has undoubtedly introduced Blender into the pantheon of 3D software. The break with the past was particularly evident especially for the lack of the famous rendering engine: Blender Render (also known as Blender Internal) and its related OpenGL preview (GLSL). In its place today is the prestigious real-time engine Eevee, scalable and intimately connected to the photorealistic Blender Cycles, with which it shares the PBR (physically based rendering) approach. The decision to abandon blender render after twenty years of honorable career initially appeared far too drastic, in fact until the 2.7x releases it still enjoyed many users. Just think that the animated film Cinderella the Cat (Italian: Gatta Cenerentola – 2017) winner of many awards was made with this engine. In reality, the scope and necessity of such a change is quite simple to understand.
By observing the image above, you will notice two renders: on the right a scene originally rendered with blender render (release 2.79) while on the left the same scene rendered in real-time by the eevee engine. Yes, you got it right, eevee takes less than 1/60° of a second to generate an image similar to one that blender render takes several minutes of processing on a multi-core CPU. In defense of blender render, it must be said that to obtain a partially photorealistic rendering (certainly superior to that of eevee) it is necessary to activate a complex Raytraced algorithm very precise in the calculation of shadows and reflections, but also quite heavy. In Blender, the real photorealism will be obtained using the powerful Cycles engine, which uses the GPU and CPU together or individually. Although the Eevee engine is definitely indicated for non-photorealistic rendering or for generating partially photorealistic images, its usefulness is also to give the user an excellent real-time approximation of the scenes that we will finally render in Blender Cycles.
To begin using Blender 3.3 and learn the fundamental techniques of 3D graphics, no previous knowledge or studies are required; it takes the right amount of passion for what has been one of the most fascinating fields of computer graphics for decades, together with a good dose of patience and a desire to experiment. Blender is primarily a tool for graphics, and as such its purpose is to make the artist productive after a reasonable learning period. Therefore, the initial knowledge of the theoretical foundations of 3D graphics, whose general concepts are presented in this guide with the practical analysis of examples of neither banal nor high complexity, is not necessary. You will not find entire projects to follow step by step as happens in many guides dedicated to graphic software of this kind. The reason for this choice is very simple: on the web there are already thousands of tutorials (almost all HD video) many of which are free that show how to achieve particular effects or how to create various types of 3D models complete with materials and textures. Therefore, I thought that a guide like this should primarily concern itself with leading the beginner (but also those who already have knowledge of similar software) on an ideal path of orientation among the many tools used in the field of 3D graphics. The main function of a software like Blender is the design of various types of scenes within a virtual three-dimensional space, where from a virtual observation point, we will obtain more or less realistic images called Renders. We can consider 3D rendering as perspective representation of any scene through the combination of four closely interrelated elements: light, shape, shadows, color. The main of our five senses is certainly sight, that is, the perception of the physical behavior of light (visible spectrum). Sight allows us to distinguish the shapes and colors of the world thanks to the property of light to be partially or fully reflected by surfaces (as well as absorbed and refracted by volumes) forming complex shadings that, together with the eventual projection of shadows on other surfaces, will highlight the three-dimensional shape of bodies. Despite the fact that many 3D artists like to create still images, the power of software like Blender is best applied in the creation of animated sequences. That is why we will come to study the principles of movement, both that determined moment by moment by the artist/director, and that defined by precise physical dynamics. First of all, we will deal with the form by exploring the basics of 3D modeling. Then we will delve into the remaining subjects: light, shadows, and colors, which all derive from the action of the rendering engine, whose purpose is, as mentioned, to transform the virtual scene into the digital images that will finally represent our project.
Wishing you an enjoyable and productive study with Blender, I would like to remind you that you can support this project in two ways: by making a small donation through PayPal or by purchasing the professionally formatted and optimized for tablet viewing PDF version on Lulu.com