This is the first of a series of articles introducing Blender 2.5 for the classroom!
For those of you that don’t know Blender, it is high on my list as being my most favored open source software that can be downloaded at no cost over the Internet. Blender, as a 3D modeling and animation software, was on its way to being a rival to the current industry standards such as Maya and Lightwave. However, the company went bankrupt before it was complete. Instead it was purchased by the Blender Foundation for 100,000 Euros and is now supported by a wonderful community that works extremely hard at keeping it updated with the latest functions and gimmicks at no cost to its users.
Now for those of you that are familiar with Blender, you may feel that while there is little doubt to its capabilities, its overly complicated interface makes a Blender experience frustrating and difficult for a classroom environment. I’d like to make an attempt at changing your mind!
My feeling is that there is a slow increase in energy for 3D modeling and/or 3D animation in school. We are seeing this medium develop significance outside of the entertainment industry. The health and science community are using 3D artists to help them visualize scientific outcomes, reactions and experiments. News reports, commercials (which I don’t count as the entertainment industry) are regularly using 3D models and animation to simplify how they communicate information, and we also have the growth of 3D virtual environments to think about! So what is stopping this digital medium being integrated into the curriculum? My feeling is that it is a natural lack of knowledge to a new, and sometimes complicated medium. However, it is also the cost of current 3D modeling and animation software, which I found out as we began the process of developing the 11th grade 3D Modeling and Animation curriculum, for the Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.
We avoid mandating a specific technology with our curriculum, but we also inform our teachers that we are only capable of making a commitment to supporting software that we are familiar with, can trouble shoot, teach, and have the ability to make video tutorials for. So, I had to decide which software to learn for the development of the 3D Modeling and Animation curriculum. There was some concern related to what is industry standard, and I could sympathize with this at some level. (Even though we worry less about this when editing for film – most Hollywood studios use Avid, and I haven’t seen this program in many classrooms). I began to seek advice from 3D artists primarily in the entertainment industry. From my experience I noticed that when I said ‘Which software do you use’ they usually said Maya, and the conversation quickly led to how great Maya is, the education packages available, and the value in industry standard software for this course. Yet, when I rephrased my question to ‘Which software do you think I should use to teach 3D modeling or animation’ the response was different. Most professionals (and these were professionals) suggested that it doesn’t matter what software you use to learn how to develop 3D models and 3D animation. This question usually led to a discussion about cost, the importance of understanding the concepts, regular access to the program, and how most of the basic operations are the same no matter which software you use.
Unfortunately, not many of these artists were familiar with Blender (perhaps because it wasn’t around when they were learning), but I heard one story of an experienced Hollywood animator who discovered Blender, and loved it!
The reason for my advocacy in integrating Blender into the classroom (and our curriculum) is because it is free, works on cross platforms, is supported by a wonderful community, has lots of online video tutorials, and a student can take a project home to continue working outside the classroom. This final piece is priceless! Just imagine, twenty-four students, and twenty-four computers all with the latest version of Blender. The only thing you will have to purchase is a 3-buttom mouse for all computers, otherwise the experience will be challenging. Those using an Apple mouse will have to go into the system preferences and change the mouse default to three buttons (turning the scroll into a third button).
I have been working in Blender for about a year now (on and off) and am really enjoying it! Here are my suggestions.
Students should be given very basic tasks at the beginning that teach them the Blender interface. They should also be introduced to some of the basic mathematical concepts in Blender. Blender uses different modeling tools, but primarily it uses mesh objects made up of polygons. I think the technical term is Polygonal Modeling. Polygons are shapes made with edges, vertices and faces (simple polygons are triangles and squares. The squares are called quadrangles when speaking of them in this concept). Scale, dimension, space and form will all eventually need to be covered.
Now here is the good news! Blender recently upgraded to Blender 2.5, which has a completely new interface, which is a lot easier to navigate. The other good news is that we developed some very basic introductory video tutorials, which can be accessed below. Once you have explored these tutorials (which introduce Blender and the mathematical concepts I referenced), I suggest you look at my second article that introduces Blender. This article presents an activity that explores the concept of geometric form, while engaging student creativity. Feel free to get in contact with me about Blender – that’s how much I love it!
Introduction Video Workshops