Saturday, September 12, 2009

Blender College Course

Hi. This is Ira Krakow. The purpose of this video is to make you aware of a complete, free, Blender 3D course. The course was, and possibly still is, taught by Neal Hirsig, an instructor at Tufts University. From the Web site, it appears that he taught it from 2006 through 2008, and that Tufts University students received college credit for it.

A disclaimer. I don't know Neal Hirsig. I have no affiliation with him or Tufts University. My only motivation is that I wanted to learn Blender 3D and that I found that his course helped me get started up the learning curve, which I think is quite steep. I found Neal's presentation to be simple, concise, and easy to follow. Neal's experience is in stage set design. I found that his explanation for concepts like scene lighting and camera placement showed a deep understanding and real world experience.

All the content - the syllabus, learning units, video tutorials, PDF and Zip files for the examples, and student projects - are available at the Web site at:

Blender Course Web Site

(show the home page)

This video is a virtual tour of the course's Web site. I took some screen shots, and will comment on how I navigated through the course.

(Course Objectives)

Here's how Neal describe the course objectives.

The Blender 3D Design course is intended to offer students an introduction to the world of computer generated 3-D modeling and animation. As an introductory course, it provides a basic understanding of the skills and techniques employed by 3-D designers in a wide range of applications. In this online course we will explore basic mesh modeling, applying textures and materials to 3-D objects, lighting, animation and rendering. This course should provide a good basis for further independent study in architectural, engineering and theatrical modeling and game design.

Dual Level:
There are 2 progressive levels of study in this online course: Beginning Level and Intermediate Level. Learning Units 1 through 12 comprise the Beginning Level Course and Learning Units 13 through 24 comprise the Intermediate Level Course (Note: The Intermediate level Course is currently under development.)

Online and Self-Paced:
This course is offered to students online. That is, all of the course material is located on this web site or on other web sites. This course is self-paced meaning that you can pick and choose the Learning Units, Video Tutorials or PDF tutorials as you see fit. The sequence of Learning Units are a suggested path of learning Blender but you are welcome to use this material in any way that suits your purposes.

All the software that you need - Blender, and the optional installation of Python - is free and available from the Web sites Neal cites. Neal also describes the hardware requirements, and states that a 3 button mouse is required. Actually, I found that I could use Blender with only a 2 button mouse on a laptop. However, you need to activate the Emulate 3 Button Mouse button - there's a video in the course called Blender for Laptops that shows you how. What happens is that Alt-Left click becomes the equivalent of using the middle mouse button. It's a bit awkward, given the combination of keys that Blender often requires, but it's not impossible. So if you have a 2 button mouse, it's really up to you whether or not to get a 3 button mouse just to use Blender.

(Learning Units)
The course is divided into Learning Units, each learning unit consisting of an introduction, a series of videos, and, for many of them, some projects to give you practice. The 12 learning units for the Beginning Level course are complete. This is the course that we're taking. A good way to proceed, to paraphrase the Mad Hatter said to Alice in Alice in Wonderland, just begin at the beginning, continue until you get to the end, and then stop.

It appears that Neal was thinking about doing an intermediate level course, because there is a link to it. However, the link points to a page that says the course is in progress, and since the last update was in April, 2008, it doesn't appear that the course will be ready any time soon.

(Blender PDF Tutorials)
All the assignments are available at this Web site. These include a PDF file detailing how to build the object or scene, a ZIP file containing any files, such as JPEG images needed for textures or background, and the .blend file containing the completed assignment, so that if you get stuck, you can see how your project should have turned out. I found that it might take two or three tries to complete the assignment successfully, but in the process you learn a lot.

(Blender 3D Course)
There are about 150 Blender video tutorials, grouped by topics from the basic Blender UI, and editing meshes, to more complicated topics, many not covered in the learning units, such as box modeling a frog, texture gradients, and importing and exporting between Blender and Google Earth. A great review tool is to simply watch a video a few times, and then try to follow along in Blender. This reinforces your Blender skills quickly.

(Blender 3D Design Projects)
Neal assigned student these projects: a Magic Sword, a Robot, a la Crate and Barrel, Animal Planet, and Architectural Modeling. You can read the assignment by clicking the link from this window...

(Magic Swords)
...and you can see the student's results, either as a Flash demo, or in many cases, you can download the .blend file.
Here are some renderings from the Magic Swords assignment.

(Cheat Sheet)
The Web site includes a handy "cheat sheet" of most of the Blender hotkeys. This is useful because Blender has a bewildering number of key combinations as shortcuts and hotkeys. You can also download and/or print the cheat sheet as a PDF.

So...go to

Tufts University Blender Course.

or Google Free Blender 3D Course. When I did it, the link was right at the top. Happy blending!