November & December 2012
December 10th saw another release of Blender, with Blender 2.65 bringing some great new features and improvements. This release sees the introduction of flames within the smoke simulation and adaptive domains, allowing the smoke to travel with animated objects.
The mesh system has also had some work done to greatly improve the operation of edge bevel and a new Simetrize feature has been added that can be accessed from the W menu.
The Cycles Render Engine has seen the addition of motion blur and some new shaders added, including anisotropic which will allow a better visualisation of brushed metal surfaces.
I have continued to add to my Blender 2.6x guide book and as I am writing this I have just passed 100 pages. I am still working on the
Modelling reference section, explaining Blenders most commonly used modelling tools. Whilst writing up an explanation of the array modifier I had given a few examples of different array modifier usage and one of the examples uncovered a problem causing Blender to crash.
The Staffordshire Knot opposite uses a model of a single turn of rope arrayed to a BezierCurve with two different end caps. I noticed that once a Subdivision Surface Modifier was added to the rope's Modifier Stack Blender would crash when Tabbing into Edit Mode.
Its impressive to know that the Bug was reported on 15th December and was corrected by the time Blender 2.65a was released 5 days later.
The developers really need to be congratulated on the rate they are closing bugs in the program.
To see what has been covered so far in the Modelling Guide you can dowload the contents page's from here
January to June 2012:
Its been slow progress on the Blender 2.6x Guide Book. I am about 20% of the way through the information I would like to include in this volume, which will cover the basics of mesh modelling. Luckily this is an ongoing personal project so I am not under any time constraints from publishers.
In the true spirit of Open Source computing, this book is using, wherever possible open source tools in all aspects of it's production. The computer I am using to write the book is powered by the Ubuntu operating system, all images were created using a combination of Blender and Gimp and the book was written using the powerful Libreoffice word processor.
The intention is to create a book that is formatted in a way that suits print on demand publishing, allowing the purchasers to have a well formatted printed learning aid for Blender, without the added overhead of a publishing company.
The deadline I had set myself to complete the book by the end of this year won't be achieved, but I am hopeful that in the first half of next year it will be ready. The book will hopefully be a useful and very affordable reference and learning aide for many new Blender users.
This month I thought I would report on something a little different. Having given up on active sports over 15 years ago, following some serious lower back problems. I dedicated a great deal of my time to retrain myself in more academic subjects. In effect I had restructured my life so that it didn't involve getting into situations that brought on the intense back pain I used to suffer. I gave up cycling, mountain bike racing and road running for sitting at a desk designing or organising others in the various rolls I have been employed in. This sedentary lifestyle hasn't done me any favours health wise, though the back has stabilised and no longer gives me the problems it used to. The stress of work combined with no time for of physical activity contributed to me suffered an ocular stroke almost two years ago. Since then I have changed my diet and started increasing the amount of exercise, culminating this month in in a day on mount Snowdon with my son.
Having walked to the summit of Snowdon several times in my younger years, I had never had the opportunity to walk the Crib Goch ridge. I would like to think I was taking Tom to the summit, but the reality is he is far more experienced at hill walking and mountaineering than me, having done the three peaks only two months earlier. My lack of fitness certainly slowed things down, but I did it and can honestly say I have not felt so alive and exhilarated for at least 20 years. Its a great sense of achievement to tick off three of my lifetime ambitions all on one day: to walk the Crib Goch ridge, to be on a mountain and look down on clouds below me and to be at the summit of snowdon on a clear day.
July & August 2012:
It's really difficult to find time between running a Trade Association and finishing off a some long overdue construction projects, so progress on learning Blender is very slow. Over the last two months I have only managed to add 12 pages to the Blender 2.6x Guide Book I am writing. but at least I have a solid start and structure to work on.
Back in 2009 I wrote a short article on the creation and rigging of my JCB model. Following the article going live, I received a number of requests for a tutorial on how I animated the hoses using only curves and hooks.
I must admit it has been a while, but this is a good subject to break me in to writing tutorials for the Blender 2.6x interface and way of working.
The tutorial is very short but should be easy to follow if you have had a little experience with the new Blender interface and basics of using the program.
Progress with relearning Blender is moving forward, not only am I becoming familiar with the new interface, but I am also uncovering a few new features that I haven't found much documentation for. One of these is Linking of Instance Groups, that allows you to determine which group is visible in the scene when you link to data from another file. Sago on Blenderartists pointed me to a video tutorial from the Sintel open movie that demonstrated the process well.
When "Instance Group" is selected and you link in a group of objects, the objects are visible in the scene. With "Instance Groups" unchecked the group will still be imported in to the scene but won't be visible. A useful feature when you are importing both a high and low poly mesh of the same model and you only want one visible in the scene.
Whilst learning the interface and new features, I am also documenting what I learn for a guide book and future tutorials, specifically for modelling in the Blender 2.63 series. So far I have brushed up my skills with LibreOffice and set up a Book template where I am already at page 33. I expect to be able to document all the features I want to cover into the book which I expect will end up at around 350 pages. Hopefully, free time permitting I will be finished towards the end of the year.
If you drop into my site from time to time, you have probably noticed the core Blender content on the site has been a little lacking over the last three years. Up until May 2009 I ran a product development office and architectural specification service for a large building products manufacturer, regularly using 2D and 3D CAD software. Over a number of years I had introduced Blender into the work-flow, mainly for making product visualisations, but increasingly to produce graphics for sales brochures and presentations. The recession in 2009 meant it was a favourable time for me to change jobs and moved to a different emplayer to, provide a technical service to the UK's domestic solid fuel and biomass sector. The work was much more clerical, with standards writing and fighting unworkable regulations occupying most of my time. There was still a little time available to work with Blender, adding graphics to many of the guidance documents I was writing. Unfortunately the office was a 140 mile round trip from home and typically took 3 to 4 hours to do the journey. This ate into my free time and meant my personal creative projects had to take a back seat. In May 2011, I changed jobs again this time moving closer to home to ICOM Energy Association; providing support to the commercial heating sector, the intention was to take over the running of the association from the previous two staff. In October I became Chief Executive and besides maintaining the same level of service for members, have developed a new Website and restructured some of the activities to work more efficiently. However this has also come at a significant cost to my personal time, though hopefully over the coming months, this will reduce.
During the three years I have been inactive, Blender has changed significantly and the new interface and modelling system means my guides are well out of date, along with my knowledge of using the new interface and tools. So I feel now is the right time for me to relearn Blender and reintroduce some creativity into my life at the same time. As part of the learning process I have started documenting my progress into what will hopefully be a well structured and easy to understand guide book. The intention is to try and finish the guide book by Christmas this year, but that is dependent on how much of my personal time is absorbed into my job. Keep a look out over the next few months to see how I am progressing.
March & April 2012:
It's been a busy time for the launch of new software, April sees both a new version of Blender and an updated Ubuntu operating system. Unfortunately I made the mistake of upgrading my operating system to Ubuntu 12.04 too soon. Having used Ubuntu since 2008 and all 7 upgrades since then having gone without a hitch, I decided to upgrade to 12.04 on the day of release. Unfortunately this upgrade was the 1st that had issues with my hardware and what seemed to be issues with the Nvidia graphics drivers, meant my system crashed for the 1st time since building it in 2009. Stability was a big issue and Blender wouldn't run without locking up the computer, so I decided to reload the operating system, reverting back to Ubuntu 11.10.
Its not until you do a clean install that you realise just how many little tweaks and customisations you have done. My previous install had been upgrades from the initial Ubuntu 9.04, with that version you could add desktop launchers.
It was easy to add a launcher to the unzipped Blender builds I had on my computer. The unity interface of Ubuntu 11.10 no longer has this ability built in, but fortunately I found a workaround on the Ubuntu Geeks website.
The process was to install the "gnome-panel package" by typing the following in the terminal.
sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends gnome-panel
Then run the following command in the terminal
gnome-desktop-item-edit ~/Desktop/ --create-new
That opens the create launcher window above. Give the launcher a name, I have used the version of Blender as I still occasionally use different versions for different jobs. Click the brows button and navigate to the program launcher in the folder where you have unzipped the version of Blender , click OK and it will add the launcher to your desktop.
It's been a valuable lesson in patience. Next upgrade I will wait a few weeks for any bugs to be sorted before I install programs in the future.
The problems with the operating system, has meant that I haven't had much time to look at the latest Blender 2.63 release. Having only spent a few minutes looking at the new Bmesh modelling system, I must say I am impressed with its functionality, but admit it is going to be a complete new learning process to be able to push the system to its full potential.
Now if only I could get the time to explore all the new features that have been included in blender since the upgrade from Blender 2.49
January & February 2012:
It's been an exciting start to the year for users of Blender, especially those interested in modelling. Firstly Blender 2.62 was released on 16th February bringing some great new tools such as Motion Tracking, Render Layers and Passes in the new Cycles render engine and the Remesh modifier, to name just a few.
This has been quickly followed by a commitment to add Bmesh to the next releas of Blender which is expected in April. If you haven't been watching the development of Blender, Bmesh is the new modelling system that will modernise the modelling function of Blender. Since Blender 2.5 series the modelling tools had become quite limited and it wasn't possible to model objects with the same efficiency as could be done in the Blender 2.4 series. With the introduction of Bmesh many more modelling tools will become available.
Having downloaded a recent development build of Blender from the Bmesh branch, I thought I would have a go at recreating the 608 Bearing using the new modelling tool set.
This is the first time I have been able to recreate the precision modelling process since Blender 2.49. Though the tools are a little different and so some new techniques will need to be developed, but my first impression is this new development will significantly speed up modelling.
As a development build it is still a bit buggy, though it never crashed once whilst I was modelling the bearing. Some of the useful tools from Blender 2.49 are not developed yet. I used to model using edges to build the profile and the knife was often used to trim edges, snapping the knife cut to vertices. This isn't possible at the moment as the knife only cuts edges that belong to a face.
One big advantage is that the new Bmesh system allows polygons with multiple vertices (detailed on the image below where the highlighted face has five vertices). This will be a great advantage for hard surface modelling.
I imagine that once Blender 2.63 is released the modelling system will be sufficiently developed to recreate the 608 Bearing tutorial for the Blender 2.6 interface.