I am not a Blender expert, I switched from Max+Vray which I have used off and on for the last 20+ years to Blender at the start of Feb 2017. Autodesk made my life hard when trying to re-download old subscription content that I had paid for so I had a choice of paying Autodesk again or using something else out of principle.
2 client jobs came in and I dropped myself in the deep end and chose Blender + GPU Cycles to do both jobs, both 2 week deadlines and my Blender experience was about 1 week of dabbling. Scary! Exciting!
So, I want to talk about hiccups I came across so that others can get an idea of what it was like.
In hindsight the first thing any person switching tools should do is this:
- Understand the views. Creating and collapsing views or you will get in a mess.
- The 3D Cursor (left mouse click).
If you spend half a day mastering those two things you will live a happy stress free life in Blender as they were without a doubt my biggest confusion when starting out and on a deadline. I got myself into many a pickle at the early stages with these two things. The 3D cursor starts off a thorn but soon you discover it is great.
Honestly, do the “getting started” and learn this because these two areas are not worth figuering out by trial and error.
Right, some of the things I discovered…
The Blender camera is a Free Camera. You can make a Target Camera by:
- Create an Empty with Shift + A (this will be the target)
- Select your Camera, click the constraints icon (looks like a chain link) in properties.
- Add a “Track To” constraint
- Set the Empty as your target. Set “To” as -Z, set “Up” as Y, and tick “Target Z”
Forget the left click action to select objects. In Blender it is right click.
You can select/deselect everything with “A”
Press B to draw a bounding box to select
In edit mode you can draw a selection by holding CTRL and left mouse button to create lasso style selections
Re-create the pivot point
If you are having pivot point woes maybe from an import then a quick fix is to create an extra object in Blender, join the objects CTRL+J so they are one then go into edit mode and delete the extra object. Voila, the old object now has the new pivot.
Max Isolate selection
Select some objects and press numpad slash “/” This will put you in “Local” mode which is like Isolate in Max, press it again to return.
Zoom to selection
To zoom to selection press numpad dot “.”
Shapes, where is the square!
To create a closed square shape do the following:
- Shift+A, curve, circle
- Tab to edit, press V select Vector
- Press R to go into rotate and on numpad tap -45 (minus 4 5)
AMD and GPU OpenCL has little support in Blender Cycles. My Mac Pro with dual D700’s is actually faster using the CPU then it is with the GPU. AMD are working on ProRender for Blender which you can sign up to a beta to here: http://pro.radeon.com/en-us/calling-all-blender-experts-apply-to-test-the-radeon-prorender-plug-in-beta/
Things were too slow. Render farm rendering was going to be a pain so on day 2 of the job I offered a guy on EBay a swap of his dual GTX 980 desktop PC for a high end laptop. We did the deal that day and I was back up running that evening after driving 100 miles through thick fog! what an adventure that was.
Be aware that asset management can get a little disorganised. Blender can create maps internally that are only saved when you save the blend file. External textures are external until you “Pack” the blend file. Some bakes like for fluids create a cache folder and set of files that are also external and will not be packed into the blend file. I hear you can enable the MDD add-on and export some baked/cached animations to shape keys which you can re-import onto the model thus removing the modifier but I never tried his. I think it might be for cloth sims but I will look at that again later.
Network rendering was not as simple as I had hoped. In fact it was confusing. I gave up in the end and instead loaded the same blender file on different machines and made sure “Placeholder” was ticked in the rendering properties and overwrite was un-ticked. This allows the same as network rendering for sequences without having to use Blenders network rendering feature. I don’t think Blender can Bucket render a single image on the network either so keep that in mind if you are doing stills. I will look at Blender Networking again and give it another shot.
Sometimes we need to convert from client CAD files. SAT, IGES etc. To do this the fastest and easiest way for the client is to simply send you the full CAD file set and you do all the work, better than asking the client to send multiple test sets. Just download a 30 day trial of whatever package it is they use (e.g. Autodesk Revit) and do plenty of export tests, FBX if you can. You can also download latest 3DSMax trial and import many cad formats, some come in as Body objects etc so apply a mesh modifier on the stack before exporting as FBX from Max. You can also apply a MESH DELETE modifier if you want a body object or linked Revit from being excluded in the export for example. If you do a lot of parametric CAD importing then you need something better like Okino Polytrans as it will save a lot of time of CAD cleanup later.
Blender has some nice features to find problems on imported CAD models using “Mesh Analysis”. You can find this feature when in edit mode press N and scroll down to find it. Other things you should look at are “Merge vertices” and “Remove doubles” which should be done on any imported model that you have not made yourself.
Rendering just a tiny part of the viewport and Z Depth
In the viewport hit CTRL+B and draw a render border. Great for fine tuning noise out of a large render in a faster workflow. CTRL+ALT+B to remove it. You can also use this technique to fix a botched render job if something in part of the image needed updating.
Also, render out as EXR, make sure “Z buffer” is ticked under output AND that your camera far clip plane has been set up optimally. You can view how this looks by selecting your camera and under the camera properties, turn on “Limits” under the display sub category. This is effectively the Z Depth near/far range guide. If animating the camera then slide the timeline about in top view and make sure that the clipping range is good across your whole frame range.
I would just like to add one more thing that comes natural in Max that isn’t so obvious in Blender.
I had over a 100 animated arrows in my Blender scene and realised I needed to turn off various ray settings for groups of them. After selecting all the arrows and unchecking various cycles object properties, it only unchecked the last arrow I had selected.
So, taking a hammer to a nut I wrote a little python script that would do it for me like the following:
selection = bpy.context.selected_objects
for obj in selection:
obj.select = True
obj.cycles_visibility.diffuse = False
obj.cycles_visibility.glossy = False
obj.cycles_visibility.scatter = False
obj.cycles_visibility.transmission = False
obj.select = False
for obj in selection:
obj.select = True
Today I discovered you can do this much simpler by selecting all the objects and holding ALT while un-ticking something in their object properties to make it apply to everything selected. Doh!
If something does not work as expected then I find 7 times out of 10 was because I had not reset the scale. In Object mode press CTRL+A and reset the scale (and or rotation) back to 1,1,1
So that is my initial list of notes. Like I said, I am new to blender so a lot of my discoveries could be lack of experience. After completing two projects during Feb, hitting both deadlines and happy clients I will stick with Blender. I do not miss 3DSMax anymore which is pretty amazing considering Blender is free software and it did 99% of what I needed. Rigged and posed characters using rigify, fluid simulations, volumetric murky water, cross-section cuts of complex models, landscape sculpting and all sorts going on in these two jobs and Blender pulled it all off. It crashes less than Max too.
A great experience.