Thursday, December 5, 2013

Some Observations About Blender

I just wanted to share a few of my observations as I proceed through Neal Hirsig's Blender Tutorials. I thought it might be an interesting read, and may be even a little enlightening.

I should mention that I used 3DS Max exclusively for roughly a decade. Since version 5 to about version 8, with some dabbling in the new 2010 release, I have made models for a village in the trees and architectural pieces for my Unreal Tournament 2004 levels.

I should also mention that my first exposure to Blender, outside of watching my friend try to use it some years ago, was Blender 2.49. It was a nightmare and I came to hate the program that seemed to, on purpose, do everything backwards. I tried writing a book as I attempted to learn this iteration of Blender, had an editor and everything lined up, but I could bot follow through. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I think I even stated somewhere that I would never use Blender again, probably with a fair sprinkling of expletives.

Things have changed. I have changed. I am not physically, if scientists are to be believed, completely the same person I was back in 2006-2008. Cells grow and die in the physical body. I was a Christian then, I have since left the Christian faith and all religions. I learned how to lucid dream, astral project, and see the world in a different way. I stopped mapping and modeling, I change my user name and presence on the web. I used to be depressed all the time, and I was angry, occasionally lashing out in rage. I contemplated suicide. I thought there was no reason for me to live, no hope.

I came out of all of that, and the work I made with these mindsets, beliefs and thoughts, to this point in my life. Just starting to get interested in level design and modeling again. Looking forward to seeing what I can make with my current mindset. Trying to use all free tools.

The free tools also changed. Gimp is pretty much on par with Photoshop now. Blender's interface no longer makes me want to run away in terror. The UDK, CryEngine 3 and Unity 3D are all freely available to use with a few limitations. If I want to make music I have LMMS and Audacity. There are actual books on Blender and Gimp as well as video tutorials at YouTube.

The old way of searching for help, joining forums, asking questions and hoping for a timely, relevant answer are fading. Now everyone is making tutorials, sharing their knowledge. It's just a lot easier to get help and to learn things. Back when I started with Unreal I had to get the ball rolling on the tutorials. There was very little information out there as I recall. I made my tutorials series for a site I ran then, called UnrealED Exordium, and that earned me a place at Gamespy. I ran several versions of the Nucleus, added to the tutorials I had done, and even, towards the end. made a few video tutorials.

Now UnrealED Exordium, The Nucleus, Nali City and a bunch of other familiar things have come and gone. Gamespy stopped hosting, I lost my website. I moved, stopped playing games so much, I started years ago playing Quake online. But my focus changed from playing games to making my own things. And now we come to the subject of this post, Blender.

My initial return to Blender came about in my interest in using software legitimately. I found the remains of the Uru community and I wanted to start making my own ages. I think I still do by my focus has changed. I tried DelED and Platinum Arts Sandbox (Qube 2) before that.

To make an age for Uru you have to, essentially, use Blender as your level editor. It has been tough and I am glad I found Neal's tutorials. Because as of yesterday, following his 3D Design Course, I found myself suddenly able to understand this formerly cryptic program.

For so many years I worked in a Quad View, staring with Deathmatch Maker for Quake, continuing to Unreal, and 3DS Max. When I tried to learn Blender 2.49 my first struggle was getting that view the way I wanted. But over the last few days I realized something. I don't need that quad view anymore!

Over and over in all the Blender Tutorials of any quality you find that teach you the program, they tell you to learn the shortcut keys. This is valuable advice, and the key to unlocking everything. Because now I know I can simply press NUM7 for a Top View, and NUM5 to make it Orthographic. I can work with a single window, allowing me to see a lot more and giving me much more workspace, and anytime I need another view I can simply select it with the NUM keys.

Tool menus, as of the newer versions of Blender, are accessed with the press of a T or N. Easy. Panning is Middle-Click + Shift and drag. Still learning my way around the camera. But again, its shortcut keys that are the key.

Menus are also brought up with a simple sequence of keys, occasionally a complex set of them, but its still less tedious than Max. I used to be a menu guy. But Blender is not really a menu program. I mean the menus are there, but its designed more for shortcut key usage than menus. Well Blender, as far as I know, was not originally a Windows program, and Windows, as an OS, has always been menu driven. Blender is shortcut driven, and the sooner yo figure that out the better off you will be.

Next thing is configuring Blender. My advice - don't! Now I have to have my normal Left Mouse click instead of the Right Mouse. But more and more, all the things I had to do to configure Blender the way I wanted, it just makes things more difficult. Blender will let you do things your way to a certain extent, but you will suffer the consequences!

For example I used to enable the snaps. I was also always an "on the grid" guy. I remember in my reviews of Unreal Tournament maps I would always check to see if the mapper placed things on the grid. I don't know the driving motivation or mindset here. Why things had to be on the grid for me. I think perhaps I used to be that way, in a sense, in life as well. Was I afraid of getting lost?

Blender is designed for the artist that used to be the two-year old who liked to color outside the lines and use red to color whales. The sooner you understand this, the better. I have found that leaving the snaps off I don't actually miss it! I can always press and hold CTRL, but generally I no longer use snaps! Now this may change when I am trying to build a house model or something. But I am more relaxed now and able to leave things at their defaults.

Same for viewing the wireframe of a model. Just press Z. Bam! I tried to so hard for so long to make Blender work like UnrealED. But that's really like trying to mate a cow with a horse. Maybe it will work, I don' know, but generally we can assume that they are two different beasts! So no more turning faces off as I instructed in my Blender Age Builder series. In fact that whole series is fast becoming irrelevant and I may have to scrap the thing and start over. We'll see.

More and more it's just becoming easier with Blender as I let go of my old ways of thinking and doing things. I used to spend hours making and extruding complex shapes to make my meshes. As I follow Neal's tutorials I am slowly coming to understand Box modeling, which is really what Blender specializes in. Again I can do shape modeling in Blender, bend it to my will, but I will end up spending hours searching for help to obscure problems and trying to make something. If I would just use Blender as designed I could make the same thing in less time and just as well!

I hope these words give you something to think about if you starting out in Blender or struggling with it. I will be, in time, making a variety of tutorials for this program, starting a I think with a set of spiral stairs. I think I know how I can do them in Blender, quick and easy. But the main thing I want to bring across in my teachings, starting now, is that you should try, as much as possible, to use Blender the way it was designed.

You may not like that at first. It may bug you. It bugged me. But if you can't bend you will break, plain and simple. I strongly encourage you to learn how to be flexible, in body, mind and spirit. Just because you have thought one way about something doesn't mean there aren't other, perhaps better, ways to think about it. Just because you have always done something in a certain way is no reason to try a different way. Force uses a lot of energy and will wear you down. Flow uses little energy, beyond the will applied, and will wear down whatever opposes indirectly over time.

In all your work, whether it be mapping, modeling or the job you go to every day, think water rather than wrecking ball. If you are a wrecking ball, throwing yourself against all opposition, you will get beat up. Sure you will tear down, destroy, turn your opposition into rubble. But you will damage yourself in the process, and it takes longer to rebuild from rubble than to use what already exists. Better to be water, flowing around, over, and under your opposition, leaving little if any trace behind, using little energy, yet having the power to wear away all obstacles in your path. You use less energy, in fact you even use your opponent's energy against them, and you overcome without having to destroy.

Remember Destruction is the antithesis of Creation and an expression of Hate. Creation is the antitheses of Destruction, and an expression of Love. If you operate on destructive energy, like I did, you hurt yourself and others. But if you operate on create energy, you help yourself, and others. Approach all your pursuits in life with creativity as the driving force and your motivation. Seek to create, not to destroy. You will be a much happier person, of that I can speak from experience.