Welcome to the world of Blender! The program you have now in your hands is a free and fully functional 3D modeling, rendering, animation and game creation suite. It is available for Unix-based (Linux, Mac OS X, etc.) and Windows systems and has a large world-wide community.
Blender is free to be applied for any purpose, including commercial usage and distribution. It's open-source software, released under a dual GPL / BL licence. The full program sources are available online.
For impatient readers; here the two most important links:www.blender.org the developement/community website
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This is what you should get from a downloaded Blender package:
The latest version for all supported platforms can always be found at the main Blender site, along with documentation, sample .blend files, many scripts, plugins and more.
If you are interested in the development of the program, information for coders and the CVS repository with the sources can be found at the developer's site.
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Blender's main strength is at modeling, animating and rendering 3d scenes, from simple cubes and monkey heads to the complex environments found in videogames and movies with computer graphics (CG) art.
Rendering is the process of generating 2d images from 3d data (basically lit 3d models) as if viewed by a virtual camera. In simple terms, rendering is like taking a picture of the scene, but with many more ways to influence the results. Blender comes with a very flexible renderer and is well integrated with the open source YafRay package. There are also scripts to export to other popular third party renderers like Povray and Renderman compliant ones. By animating the data and rendering pictures of each successive frame, movie sequences can be created.
In compositing a set of techniques is used to add effects to movie strips and combine these into a single video. This is how, for example, artists add laser beams, glows and dinossaurs to motion pictures. Blender is not a specific tool for this purpose, but it has builtin support for video sequencing and sound synchronization.
The game engine inside Blender lets users create and play nifty 3d games, complete with 3d graphics, sound, physics and scripted rules.
Via scripting the program's functionality can be automated and extended in real-time with important new capabilities. True displacement mapping, for example, is now part of the core program, but before that it was already possible using scripts. Since they are written in a nice higher-level programming language -- Python in our case -- development is considerably faster and easier than normal C/C++ coding. Naturally, they run slower than compiled code, but still fast enough for many purposes or for mixed approaches like some plugins use.
If you are reading this, you probably already have Blender installed. Anyway, it's a matter of executing a self-installer package or unpacking it to some folder.
There are many paths you can set in Blender itself, to tell it where to look for your collections of texture and sound files, fonts, plugins and additional scripts, besides where it should save rendered images, temporary data, etc. If you're only starting, there's no need to worry about this now.
Some downloaded scripts may require extra Python modules not shipped with Blender. Installing the whole Python distribution is a way to solve this issue for most cases except scripts that require extensions (3rd party modules), but we are starting to add more modules to Blender itself so that most scripts don't depend on full Python installs anymore.
Even if you do have the right version of Python installed you may need to tell the embedded Python interpreter where the installation is. To do that it's enough to set a system variable called PYTHON to the full path to the stand-alone Python executable (to find out execute "import sys; print sys.executable" inside the stand-alone interpreter, not in Blender). To check which Python was linked to your Blender binary, execute "import sys; print sys.version" at Blender's text editor), it's probably 2.3.something -- only the two first numbers should have to match with yours.
Depending on your platform, the installation may have put an icon on your desktop and a menu entry for Blender. If not, it's not hard to do that yourself for your favorite window manager.
But for more flexibility, you can execute Blender from a shell window or command-line prompt. Try "blender -h" to see all available options.
Blender saves data in its own custom binary format, using ".blend" as extension. The default start-up configuration is saved in a file called .B.blend. To save your changes to it, click on File->Save Default Settings or use the Control+u shortcut directly. To revert to factory defaults, erase the .B.blend file.
This is the point where we stop and warn newcomers that 3d Computer Graphics is a vast field and Blender has a lot of packed functionality. If you already tried to run it and fell victim to the "too many buttons!" syndrome, just relax and read this part of the F.A.Q.
Hoping the explanations helped, let's start Blender and take a look at it. At the top header you can see the main menu. Under "File" you'll find entries to save, load and quit. If someone ever messes with your workspace and you can't find your way around: press q to quit. Then erase the .B.blend file in your home dir and the program will be back to factory defaults.
Blender's screen is divided in "areas". Each of them has a top or bottom header and can show any of the available builtin applications (called "spaces", like the 3d View, the Text Editor, etc). If you started with a default configuration, there should now be three areas:
These are the three most important spaces, at least when you are starting. At the left corner of each header you can find the "Window Types" button, which is like the "Start" buttom of many desktop environments. Clicking on it lets you change what is shown in that area.
Highly configurable workspace
Blender's interface has been considerably improved for the 2.3x series. Besides the goals of exposing functionality via menus and adding tooltips for all buttons, there are even more ways now to change your workspace.
As before, areas can be resized, subdivided in two or joined; headers can be moved to the top or bottom of an area or hidden completely. Just experiment to find out how, it's trivial. Hint: the mouse cursor changes to a double arrow when it is over the inter-area edges.
There should be a button with "SCR:" in the top header. It has some preset workspaces that can be tried now for a tour of the possibilities. When you change your current setup to something worth keeping, that same button has the option to save the new screen.
Since version 2.30 Blender lets users define new color themes that can also be shared with others when saved in the default startup .B.blend file.
The User Preferences space has many options there that you may want to tweak, like turning button tooltips on/off, setting paths, etc. Just remember to save your configuration if you want to keep it for the next session). Since these preferences are not saved in regular .blend files, the presets will retain working even when loading files from others. Note however, that the arrangement of the UI itself - its screens and windows - are always saved in each file.
Mouse buttons and the toolbox
Pressing the SPACEBAR or Shift+a while the mouse pointer is inside a 3d View space will open up the toolbox. The toolbox gives you faster access to many functions, like adding new objects to your scene, editing their properties, selecting and so on.
This is how the mouse buttons work in this space:
When you want to edit the vertices of a mesh, for example, it's necessary to select the object and enter "Edit Mode", either using the 3d View header "Mode" button or by pressing TAB on your keyboard (press it again to return to object mode).
And this was only the beginning ...
The above guidelines should have given new users enough to start playing with the interface. The next section lists online references that can actually teach about 3d and this program, but it's a good idea to spend some time just playing with Blender, looking at menus and finding what mouse actions do in each space.
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This short presentation is meant to guide newcomers to Blender through their very first steps, giving directions to where you can find the resources you will need. We can't teach you 3D in these few lines of text, that would take a lengthy book.
The Blender Foundation has released a new guide, with hundreds of pages of illustrated tutorials. It comes with a CD-ROM that has Blender version 2.32, YafRay and many goodies: sample .blend files with models, textures and animations, plugins, scripts, documentation, etc. It's an extensive reference written by Blender gurus and also a good way to help Blender development.
You can learn more about it at the main Blender site: www.blender3d.org. There you'll also find news, online documentation like tutorials, the 2.0 guide, the Blender Python API Reference for script writers, etc. There are also forums, galleries of images and movies, games, scripts, plugins, links and more.
The main Blender community site is elYsiun: www.elysiun.com. There's a lot of activity in its user forums, where newbie and guru users share tips and tricks, show their most recent images, movies and scripts, ask for help and generally have a good time.
Irc users are invited to try #blenderchat on irc.freenode.net .
There are also local Blender community sites in some countries, that should be listed at the links section of the main site.
If you are a coder wanting to get in touch with Blender development, the developer's site is at www.blender.org. A good way to start is to follow the mailing lists for a while and check bug reports, to see if you can fix one. On irc.freenode.net: #blendersauce (open channel) and #blendercoders (official channel, where also meetings take place).
In the realm of open-source cg programs, it's a pleasure to mention other great projects that can help you achieve your visions. Note that these programs are completely independent from Blender and have their own sites, documentation and support channels. Note also that this list is not complete and should be updated on future versions of this text.
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If something isn't working, please read this entire section before looking for help.
If the program crashes or something isn't working properly, try running
Blender in debug mode: execute it as "blender -d" from a
command prompt. This might give some info about what is wrong. There are also
other options that might be useful, "blender -h" lists all of them.
Most likely an immediate crash is due to Blender's need for a compliant and stable working OpenGL.
Although OpenGL is cherished as an excellent cross platform library, the enormous
growth of different 3D cards have made this a complicated affair for Blender. Unlike
other programs - or 3D games - Blender utilizes OpenGL for its entire GUI, including
buttons and pulldown menus. That means also the 2D options for OpenGL should
work good, something easily ignored or badly tested by 3D card manufacturors, who
target more at the latest SFX features for new 3D games.
In general Blender performs very well on 3D cards from renowned brands, such as NVidia, ATI or 3DLabs. Recently however, new drivers (especially for ATI) have shown that they're dropping basic OpenGL support needed for proper menu drawing in Blender. Downgrading drivers then always works, but we're also working on rebuilding the (quite old) code for GUI drawing to prevent such errors from ever happening again.
Some useful links to check:
The graphics card FAQ
3D card performance database
To be sure that some functionality is scripted: all scripts in Blender can be accessed from the "Scripts" menu in the Scripts Window's header, even if the same functionality is also in another menu somewhere. If you see an entry in one of the submenus there, it refers to a script. Please don't report problems with scripts to the bug tracker or other normal Blender channels. You should find the author's site or contact email in the script's text itself, but usually the Python & Plugins forum at elYsiun is used for posting announcements, questions, suggestions and bug reports related to scripts. It's the recommended place to look first, specially if no site was specified at the script's window or source file(s).
If you really think you found a new bug in Blender, check the Bug Tracker entries at the projects site and if it was not reported yet, please log in (or register) and fill in detailed information about the error. A small .blend file or script (if it is a problem with the Blender Python API) showcasing the bug can help a lot.
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Rendering: to see something when you render (F12) an image, make sure the scene has a camera pointing at your models (camera view is NumPad 0) and at least one light properly placed. Otherwise you'll only get a black rectangle.
If you want the fastest possible access to Blender's functionality, remember what a wise power user wrote: "keep one hand on the keyboard and the other on the mouse". Learn and use the shortcuts, configure your workspace to your needs.
Blender does not follow the most common, somewhat standard rules for user interfaces -- it doesn't look like most programs do -- which is not necessarily a bad thing. There used to be two sides to this: Blender was both a powerful production tool for professionals and enthusiasts who dedicated enough time to master it and also a nightmare for some newcomers who might have tried one of the commercial 3d modelers first. The main reason for this is that Blender was born as an in-house studio tool, optimized to speed up daily heavy work, not to please everyone. But it's true that in the past the interface was far from newbie-friendly.
Hopefully this is not the case anymore: it has been considerably improved for the 2.3x series, exposing most functionality via menus, adding panels, color "themability", tooltips for all buttons and internationalization support. This is an ongoing effort or, better, a goal to keep the best ideas in Blender's design while expanding and making it more user-friendly.
Too many buttons!
Again, 3D Computer Graphics is a vast and fun field. If you're only starting, Blender can seem daunting, specially because of all its packed functionality. Don't let that upset you, there is no need to care about all those buttons right now -- or ever.
There are basic things all users should learn early up:
One hour is enough time to assimilate and practice that before going on with basic mesh editing and texturing, for example. There are many different areas to learn about. Taste, interaction with other users and your main interests (game art, rendered stills, movies) will guide you and define the skills you'll want to master. Then it goes like a spiral: practice something for a while, study and find about new tricks or whole new areas, practice a little more and so on. Soon you'll become pleased to have all those buttons to play with. A few more months and you'll probably be back asking for more ...
If you ever get the impression that it's not possible to create great looking or complex works with Blender, rejoice -- you are just plainly uninformed, as browsing galleries and community forums can easily confirm.
In short: it takes considerable dedication to become good, no matter which program you work with, as long as it is good enough not to get in your way. Blender is. And, like the others, has strong and weak points.
Compared to commercial alternatives, Blender misses some features and isn't as "newbie-friendly". It doesn't come packed with "one-click" or "wizard" functionality, where you get much faster results in detriment of flexibility and value. It also isn't bundled with tens of megabytes of sample models, texture images, tutorials, etc. (which only partly explains how Blender can fit in a less than 3 MB download).
Thankfully, these are not fatal shortcomings. The pace at which features are being added or polished in Blender is impressive, now that it's a well stablished open source project. More: through plugins and scripting, many repetitive or otherwise cumbersome tasks can be made trivial. But plugin and script authors go further, teaching Blender new tricks, from importers and exporters to more advanced "applications".
About goodies, there are many places where you can get them (check resources). Besides the book, the main site and elYsiun are the best ones to start, specially because some resources you find spread on the net are not up-to-date with current program versions. This doesn't render old tutorials or books useless -- just a little harder to follow, sometimes -- but older scripts probably won't work. For free texture images, a simple search for "free textures" should bring many results, just pay attention to their licenses if you plan to release your work later.
Commercial packages can make it easier for newbies to produce nice looking material, but only another newbie would praise the results. There's a huge difference between what a skilled artist and someone poking at buttons and using presets can accomplish.
Last but best of all: Blender is open-source, free for all to use, study and improve.
First note again that errors and questions related to specific scripts should not be sent to Blender developers or its bug tracker. Then read this short section thoroughly, please.
Thanks for reading, we hope you enjoy Blender!
Document version 1.0, april 2004
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