More and more people today are getting or wanting to get into the world of digital art in one way or another, but might find themselves limited in their options on what tools and programs they could use to break into the craft. Whether it’s 3D modelling, CGI, 2D animation or just world building, most programs such as Autodesk Maya, 3DS Max or Adobe Animate just aren’t affordable for the vast majority of hobbyists. Programs like this are generally industry standard and require hundreds to be paid per year just for one license, personal or not.
But what if that wasn’t the case? What if I told you there was a program that did all of those things, even all at once, and even allowed you to mix these mediums to create something truly unique? What if I told you this program is also completely free, open-source, constantly updated and even fosters a huge community of creators with wildly differing ideas and projects?
Blender is a program created by the Blender Foundation, and is described by many, including industry veterans, as the “swiss-army knife of 3D” - it does most things (modeling/sculpting, rigging, animation, rendering, compositing, and game creation) relatively well, but it doesn’t specialize in any one thing. At the time of writing this, Blender has just been updated to version 3.0. This version came with many new features that are detailed in this wonderful video created by the Blender Foundation. You can watch this video below:
One of the key reasons I’ve become so interested in using this program is one I mentioned earlier with it being Open-Source. Without getting too technical, this means that the programs source code (the code which the whole program is built on) is freely available for everyone to view, inspect and modify. This is a big part of the reasons for its huge community following. Compare this to any program made by Adobe for example. While they are still very useful and fantastic programs, the only people who know how it works at a technological level are the developers at Adobe themselves. We as users cannot change or modify how it works to suit our needs outside of third-party plugins.
Despite Blender being primarily a 3D modelling/animation software, features have been added recently that allow for full scale 2D animated projects to be created. You can use Blender like you would use Adobe Animate to create cartoons and animations. But with Blender being Blender, it goes the extra mile to incorporate what I feel (being a 2D artist primarily) is one of the most impressive features in any creative oriented program I’ve ever seen to date.
This function is called the ‘Grease Pencil’. At first glance, it works like any other brush tool in a program like Photoshop or CSP, and you can use it just to draw one still piece of artwork if that’s more your style. But where it blows me away is how it lays the brush strokes as a 3D object that you can then edit in 3D space. This means you can actually edit your drawing as if it were a 3D model and be able to change and deform the shapes of the strokes you’ve already put down.
As if that wasn’t enough, you can place 3D objects inside of the 2D animated scene you’ve created, and if you’re skilled enough, have them interact with each other to create some interesting mixed media. You can have a 3D animated character interact seamlessly with a 2D animated character because of this or have a 2D character navigating through a 3D modelled environment, or vice versa. Your imagination really is your only limit in terms of the artwork you can create with Blender. And I'm by no means an expert.
In fact, I would consider myself very amateur with the program. I'm still learning how to use Blender every single day because I’ve got ideas for creative projects that before discovering Blender I thought would have no chance to exist without having to attend university to learn to use industry standard programs or getting a wallet-bleeding set of licenses myself for multiple different programs and packages, and awkwardly trying to bash together assets I've made from these programs just to create something cool.
The Blender Studio exists as an official division of the Blender Foundation that for a small fee per month (no more than Netflix or Spotify!) lets you access tons of in-depth and informative guides and tutorials for anything you can think of that you’d want to learn how to do in Blender. If you don’t want to pay, YouTube channels such as Blender Guru offer free tutorials that are just as good for beginner to intermediate users. If you’re just looking to “learn Blender” as a newcomer, I’d definitely advise going the free route to start with.
I could go on for ages about each different feature in Blender, but realistically I probably couldn’t without sleeping or eating in between topics because there are seriously that many different things you can use Blender for. I will link some seminars I've watched and thoroughly enjoyed by people much more experienced than myself.
World Building in Blender
Using Blender in in the production of of a 52X11 TV Series
The Next Leap: How A.I will change the 3D industry
If you’re even the slightest bit interested in 3D modelling, sculpting, and 2D/3D Animation, there’s no downside to giving Blender a try. I’ll say it again because it’s hard to believe but: it’s completely free to use and forever will be.
Elliot Fernihough, Cohort 33, Junior Content Assistant at Northcoders