$Free / $40 documentation
$95 full version (adds additional features)
In a Nutshell
* Generates animation and 3D files
* Many advanced features
* Plug-in architecture
* Steep learning curve
* Small type in documentation
|Windows in Your Virtual World: Blender’s multiple windows are invaluable when dealing with 3D objects.|
* Linux 2.x kernel
* XFree86 3.3.x
* 90 MHz Pentium CPU
* 32 MB RAM
* 5 MB hard disk space
|* Linux||* Sun Solaris|
|* BeOS||* SGI IRIX|
|* FreeBSD||* Windows NT|
|* Windows 9x|
Numerous graphics-editing programs are available for Linux, from very simple paint programs to amazingly sophisticated packages that almost defy description. Blender, a program for creating rendered images and publication-quality animations, definitely falls at the high end of that range of tools.
Blend to Its Will
While Blender is extremely powerful and flexible, it has the very steep learning curve that’s characteristic of almost any 3D editor or CAD program, and it requires dedication to bring out its capabilities. In fact, we’ve been working with Blender for over a month and have barely sampled its capabilities.
We initially tried working with the free version of Blender using the downloaded documentation and tutorials. Our results were good even though the projects were very simple. It wasn’t until we received the printed documentation that we appreciated the program’s full power. The tutorial includes a CD-ROM of examples, with video clips of Blender animations that are truly amazing. The samples are surprisingly easy to generate by following the tutorial, and they demonstrate features that might otherwise go unnoticed.
No one would call Blender’s interface intuitive, but it does make sense once the keyboard shortcuts become familiar. It has pop-up menus that make the selection of actions or objects like cubes or cylinders easy even if many tasks require a combination of keystrokes, mouse actions, and the use of on-screen buttons and sliders.
Objects, Lights, Camera, Action
Blender supports multiple cameras and lighting, which can be used to create very lifelike images, especially when scenes incorporate realistic surfaces. The program even has a plug-in facility that will accept new surfaces and features created by third parties.
Animation is one of Blender’s most impressive features. Not only can objects move along paths, but their attributes can change along the way. For example, lighting effects can increase, decrease, or change color. We were even able to introduce lens flares and motion blurs. Another animation enhancement is particle support, which allows multiple objects to be created and animated based on procedures that can simulate natural laws.
Blender even handles postproduction jobs that utilize images or videos from other sources. For example, Blender can be used to add an animated, walking lamp, complete with its own shadow, to a video using masking and animation features.
The printed documentation is definitely worth the price. It’s far more extensive than the free, downloadable version and is packed with useful details. The manual sports many colorful examples, even if the font is so small it practically requires a magnifying glass to read. While the documentation adequately covers the program’s numerous keystrokes, menus, and mouse actions, a reference card would be nice.
Whether you need a production-quality 3D system or just some basic 3D scenes for a presentation, Blender fits the bill. If you’re prepared to spend some time learning how to use it, the results will be well worth your effort. This is one of the best 3D packages on any platform. LM