Package Contents and Install
First steps, The 3d View
(FAQ) A few remarks
Welcome to the world of Blender! The program you have now in your hands is a free and fully functional 3d modeling, animation, rendering, compositing, video editing 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 free and open-source software, released under the GNU GPL licence. The full program sources are available on our website.
For impatient readers, here the two most important links:
the main website
wiki.blender.org the documentation website
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This is what you should get from a downloaded Blender package:
The Blender program for some specific platform;
This text, with links and the copyright notice;
A basic set of scripts, including importers and exporters to other 3d formats.
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 SVN repository with the sources can be found at the developer's section of the site.
Installing is mostly a matter of executing a self-installer package or unpacking it to some folder. Blender has a minimum of system dependencies (like OpenGL and SDL), and doesn't install by overwriting libraries in your system. There are also some extra files needed for a good install, like standard python scripts, but these are optional. Typically these will go to your HOME/.blender/ directory. Below you find instructions for it per OS.
Windows: The .zip download has a .blender
directory included, which can be manually copied.
Also note that Blender comes with some dll files, which have to reside next to blender.exe.
Linux, FreeBSD, Irix, Solaris: after unpacking the distribution, you can copy the .blender directory from it to your home directory.
OSX: the .blender directory is in Blender.app/Contents/Resources/. This is being located by default. If you like to alter some of the files, copy this directory to your home dir.
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.
Blender 2.5x use Python 3.1 as scripting language for im/exporters, UI buttons layout and other areas like presets. On Windows, Python 3.1 is included in the zip package from blender.org.
On other platforms Python is usually a standard component nowadays, so unless there's a version mismatch or an incomplete Python installation, there should be no problems.
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). In Blender 2.5 alpha 0, Python 3.1 is linked to your Blender binary, so you have to use a Python 3.1.x version.
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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 a Povray Render Exporter script. 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 rendered images and combine these into a single frame. This is how, for example, artists add laser beams, glows and dinosaurs to motion pictures. Blender also has builtin support for video sequence editing 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.
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 in your home directory called .B.blend. To save your changes to it, click on File->User Preferences->Save as Default or use the Control+U shortcut directly.
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: use the menu File->New.
Blender's screen is divided in "areas". Each of them has a top or bottom header and can show any of the available built in applications (called "spaces", like the 3d View, the Text Editor, etc). If you started with a default configuration, there should now be five areas:
A thin strip at the top where you can see the main menus and some important basic functions like search and the new Engine drop down menu;
On the left:
A big one, the 3d View, where you model and preview your scenes and the new toolbar on the left;
A smaller one at the bottom, the Timeline, where you can playback your animations and change basic animation settings.
On the right:
A small one on top, the Outliner, which gives you access over your objects and it's underlying data.
Beneath that, the Properties Window, which contains most buttons and settings.
These are the five 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 2.5x 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.
Editor areas can be split and joined with the new window split action zone. Dragging the zone inside the editor area with LMB interactively splits a new window in between, dragging the zone into another editor area joins it. Alt-LMB dragging the zone swaps the area with another.
There should be a button with "Default" 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.
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 Shift+A while the mouse pointer is inside a 3d View space will open up the Add menu, where you can add new objects to your scene.
This is how the mouse buttons work in this space:
Left button: anchor the 3d cursor in a new location -- it defines where your next added object will appear, among other things.
Right button: selection. If you hold it and move, you can move the selected item around.
Middle button: 3d space rotation or translation -- choose which one in one of the User Preferences tabs.
Combinations of mouse buttons and Shift or Control will give you additional options like zooming, panning and restricted movement. 3d scenes can be seen from any position and orientation, but there are some default ones you can reach with Numpad buttons or the "View" menu in the 3d View's header.
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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www.blender.org - the general site, with documentation and downloads
www.blenderartists.org - the main user community web site
projects.blender.org - the project's site
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.
IRC users are invited to try #blenderchat or #blender on irc.freenode.net .
There are also local Blender community sites in some countries, that should be listed at the Community section of the main site.
If you are a coder wanting to get in touch with Blender development, a good read is the "Get Involved" page 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: #blendercoders you'll find many active developers, here also the weekly 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
manufacturers, who target more at the latest SFX features for new 3d
In general Blender performs very well on 3d cards from renowned brands, such as NVIDIA, ATI or 3dLabs.
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 Blenderartists.org 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 some or all scripts that should appear in menus are not there, running Blender in debug mode can possibly inform what is wrong. Make sure the reported dir(s) really exist.
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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What's up with the interface?
How good is Blender? How does it compare to other 3d programs?
Something doesn't work, what do I do?
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.
Setting texture map input to "uv" in the Material Buttons window is not enough to assign a texture image and uv data to a mesh. It's necessary to select the mesh, enter edit mode, indicate face selection mode (modes can be accessed in the 3d view's header), load an image in the UV/Image Editor window and then define a mapping (or unwrapping). Only then the mesh will have uv data available for exporting.
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 uses a couple of innovative paradigms in the
UI, not following more common, somewhat standard rules for user
interfaces. In the past years several of our interface concepts have
been adopted in more programs though, especially using a configurable
non-overlapping subdivision layout and the paradigm to never block
the UI from working by offering all editors and options in parallel.
Typically free programs offer easy-to-use interfaces for large audiences. Blender however is, like other high-end 3d tools, meant to be a powerful production tool for professionals and 3d enthusiasts, for people who are dedicated to become 3d artists with enough time and motivation to master the software.
This also has its origins in the 90ies, when Blender was born as an in-house studio tool, optimized to speed up daily heavy work, and not to please everyone. But it's true that you can consider Blender's interface to be not very newbie-friendly. Luckily you only have to learn it once, and once you get the basics it'll feel like 2nd nature!
Blender also has been considerably improved since 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:
Start the program and access the main menus;
Find and configure user preferences;
Basic scene set-up: how to add and transform (move, scale, rotate) lights, cameras and objects;
Create and link materials to objects, at least to color them;
Render your scenes.
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 blender.org 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 has, like the others, its 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 such a small download).
Thankfully, these are relatively minor shortcomings. Many of Blender's modeling, animation and rendering/compositing features are up-to-par with the industry standards. The pace at which features are being added or polished in Blender is impressive, now that it's a well stablished open source project. We get daily feedback from professionals and studios using Blender, and results from the Blender Foundation's Open Movie/Game projects such as Big Buck Bunny and Yo Frankie! have set a reference standard for what a program like Blender can achieve. 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 many available Blender books, the main site and blenderartists.org are the best ones to start. 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 might 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.
Thanks for reading, we hope you enjoy Blender!
Document version 1.2, November 2009
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