Blender is an open source project first released under the GPL in 2002 and now has a large user and developer community supported by the Blender Foundation.
Blender is designed to run on a variety of platforms and implements an opengl interface so a half decent graphics card is generally necessary. Python is also used extensively which provides a platform for users to write plugins; this has proved to be quite useful for games developers to design levels. Available platforms: FreeBSD, Irix, Linux, OSX, Solaris and Windows.
The user interface is complex, but powerful, and once understood provides a rapid development platform. There are numerous tutorials available from the Blender website and across the internet. The Blender forums also contain informative posts and users who are generally very helpful to newcomers.
Virtually every function provided has a keyboard shortcut with multiple functions per key. While these can take time to learn they prove useful for making many rapid alterations.
The Blender interface
Blender provides two default render engines, the Blender Internal render engine and the YafRay raytracing render engine. In addition, the Python interface to Blender provides a means to export files to many other formats such as the Renderman standard, used by many proprietary renderers and also Pixie and Aqsis, two open source Renderman compliant engines.
Rendering is a intensive computational process and, depending on the level of detail, can require massive amounts of computing power. As such, many renderers can split the task into chunks which can be completed separately and reassembled once completed. This can be achieved on a per frame basis or for animations simply by distributing the individual frames to different computing nodes.
Ainkaboot uses high performance clusters to achieve this. A process which is this simple is considered a trivial parallel problem and the time to execute can potentially scale linearly with the number of processors used. In the example DrQueue was used to submit the job to the cluster. DrQueue is an open source program designed to provide queueing facilities and batch distribution for a cluster.
In the example animation the only part in motion is the camera as we fly through the tunnel. This is quite simple to animate than more complex animations but demonstrates the important part lighting plays in a scene.
By specifying KeyLoc positions in the time line blender interpolates the motion and provides a convenient graph interface to tune the motion in 3D space. The interpolation can be of different forms providing a smooth or jerky motion when rendered.
We hope you found the article interesting, feel free to download blender and the example blend file and play around with blender yourself. You are welcome to provide feedback on the contact page or email the author Hanni Ali.
Next month: A in depth comparison of different render engines, their relative ease of use speed and of course visual results.