Blender at RISD

For what it’s worth, I’m one month into using Blender as my primary software in the course “3D for Illustration” at the Rhode Island School of Design. I’ve taught the course for six years, and previously used Cinema 4D as my primary software because of its relatively friendly interface. I got tired of students trying to find cracked software, though, so they could work at home, and over the past year or so Blender has become such a powerhouse that it seemed the logical choice to introduce 3D to people who were already competent with 2D image-making.

It’s working out well so far! The students are less intimidated by the interface than I’d feared, although the keyboard-based functionality is a little alien and they’re a little behind where previous-years’ classes have been, using the more visually-oriented Cinema interface. They’re catching up very fast, though, because of the ease of obtaining the program wherever they happen to be, and especially because of the wealth of tutorial material out there.

Today I just led an extra class for alumni and the parents of current students who were interested in exploring 3D and got a very favorable response. Since it was only an hour and a half, I concentrated on describing the process of constructing a 3D scene: modeling, texturing, lighting, rendering, compositing, with very simple examples. I started with a showing of Elephant’s Dream, to show what Blender is capable of, and ended with Chris Larkee’s “esign” movie, and in between led the parents and alums through an overview of 3D, as exemplified by Blender. They were very interested, especially after I assured them that it was free and readily available to experiment with.

Anyhow, I’m optimistic that once some of the other departments at the school realize the power and functionality of Blender that they will adopt it, as well. Fingers crossed, and thank all of you people out there for putting up with my questions and making this possible!

That is great news!
Nice to hear people are actually trying the software before judging the interface.

Hotkeys are the key to being adept at any application, I will never understand how some people cry and moan about learning all the keys.I actually love the hotkey layout, leaves one hand on the mouse/tablet most of the time.

If at some point people find blender too complex, another nice package for new people to 3d is Wings 3d. Make a selection, right click and choose function… repeat :stuck_out_tongue:
it also supports dynamic hotkeys so you can assign them as you work by just hovering your mouse over the desired function, and pressing the INS key, then your desired hotkey :smiley: (hope to see something like this for blender someday, GIMP uses dynamic hotkeys too)

Well, anyway, thanks for spreading the good word about blender, it is my favorite 3d application.

Great story: worthy of Blendernation IMHO…


@nickej, great news indeed! Thanks for letting us know. I think that blender is the obvious choice for learning the basics of 3d, as you said, free, tuts galore, and a great community. But sadly, until blender is used more extensively in the industry, they will have to move on to the bigger named apps once they get seriously into it.

About hot keys yes and no. I learned blender as one of my first 3d apps. Then incorporated XSI. One thing is, in xsi you could almost get working straight away with hot keys as they are based on the prime keys of other art programs. (that is what I noticed anyway…) but blenders keys are abstract to what people (majority) who used windows based apps before. So learning them then switching between another app, can get mighty confusing. Thus I guess that’s why cry and moan about learning all the keys.

I think blender has the best work flow, once you have mastered the keys, but you must master them first… time equals money:evilgrin:

Also Wings 3d is great as well, but to cover a comprehensive class in 3d design, all elements would have to be taught and as wings 3d is basically a modeler, it would only be useful for character/object modeling only.

Once the event refractor is finished and remapping (to ones liking the keys is made possible) then this argument will go straight out the window and into the trash can of history.

All guns blazin’ for Rhode Island School of Design. Great stuff!:evilgrin:

but blenders keys are abstract to what people (majority) who used windows based apps before. So learning them then switching between another app, can get mighty confusing. Thus I guess that’s why cry and moan about learning all the keys.

yea! right, like people just sit down to any windows application and can absorb all the hotkeys :stuck_out_tongue:
What I was saying was :no matter what, you will need to learn hotkeys, no matter what application you use.Notepad in windows has much different hotkeys than the windows task manager.
You need to understand the functions then the keys.

About wings3d, it is a great place for new people to start. Yes it is just a modeler. That is why I suggest it. the interface is nice and clean… when the new person right clicks they are only presented with functions that they can use, no need for hotkeys. No clutter with hundreds of buttons they cannot even use at that moment (like lightwave).
They can just sit and experement and learn what Translate, Extrude, vertex, and other terms mean from hands on experience.

I personally prefer blender to model BTW :smiley:
I think new people should just stick with blender, and get used to it.

I agree! I use it to model, then bring stuff over to XSI, when I need to.

B.T.W. I didn’t mean to sound like I was harping on you, sorry if I did, just mentioning the reasons why some find it hard. Mmph! You have my respect.

I have taken it off topic:o, so I will just say congrats once again to nickej for giving next generation artists a taste of what blender can dish out…no pun.

Here, here… Bart what are you waiting for?

That’s fantasic, nickej. It’s great to see Blender making inroads at such a prestigious art school as RISD. I think that’s very significant, because the kind of students who will be learning it there will be talented and motivated to create first-rate work with it. I’m sure we’ll be seeing your students’ work in the Blender gallery soon!

Hey bugman_2000 you should donate a few copies of your books (Character Animation & Simulating the physical world with blender when it comes out! ) to RISD to add to their library. I’m sure they would find them useful. Just an idea. Off topic again, looking forward to your new book as well.

yeah! that’s good news nickej! i’m really hoping our university, too, would also hear my request of using blender for its animation class next year. i agree with not motivating students to use cracked softwares.

Hey bugman_2000 you should donate a few copies of your books (Character Animation & Simulating the physical world with blender when it comes out! ) to RISD to add to their library
Actually, on the Sybex website teachers can always order free evaluation copies of whatever books they’d like to consider using for classes, so if anybody is teaching Blender they should definitely check that out. Just click “Request an evaluation copy” on this link (the new book isn’t available yet for this):,navId-290542.html


i made the same experience with students as well. lack of key customization is a problem when they come from Rhino or Maya but well after that is passed the learn it fast.

I cannot say the interface is horrible to work with or difficult - it is different thats all.

I am using it for SDS modeling to feed T-Splines in Rhino.

Thanks for all the replies! Yes, I’m hoping that particularly the final project will generate enough great stuff to warrant a posting here. At the end of the semester, they get to work on a four-week, self-generated project and past results have been wonderful.

I’m bringing in and passing around my copies of all the contemporary Blender books: Character and Essential, and encouraging the students to get them, but I’m not assigning them as texts because our emphasis is slightly different–illustration, not animation. To stick on deadline, 3D is best used as an element in illustration, rather than as the whole project, unless the client is very aware of how 3D works and willing to put up with a longer deadline than for straight 2D. Our other software will be ZBrush (2, unfortunately, not 3, since we’re on Macs and 3 isn’t out yet for Mac), which will be a great help with detailing and fast renders, although one of my students (with zero experience in 3D) misunderstood my second assignment and delivered a very nice Blender woolly mammoth using the Sculpt tool, which I’d mentioned in passing but not explained.

garuhhhh–stick with asking to use Blender. I was able to get it installed pretty easily because the cost was nil and I’m the Department Head (bwahaaahaahaa). The IT department is a little disturbed by the fact that the Blender file system cuts right through the Mac “invisible files” system and could conceivably avoid the various computer security programs the department uses, but they’re allowing it in.

Anyhow, I think that Blender is actually far more useful than just for the basics, even though thats all I’m teaching. As a sole-proprietor of an illustration business, Blender has all the tools I need for everything I’m capable of doing by myself. I teach Maya and use it at school, and maintain current licenses of Lightwave and Cinema 4D for business, but even while these other programs are capable of more stuff than Blender it’s either too time-consuming or too complex to bother with on most projects, especially for a single person. I’ve got students from my previous classes who’ve gone on to be Houdini wizards and Maya animators, but they’re with big companies. Most of what I do as an illustrator involves painting over a Blender perspective or using a Blender element in an otherwise painted or composited scene–not the most sophisticated use of the software, but one that is ideal for Blender’s price-point. It’s hard to justify spending north of $1000US for a tool that may only be used as a support element in the pipeline, but with Blender, it’s the easiest thing in the world.
Thanks again!

I was able to get it installed pretty easily because the cost was nil and I’m the Department Head (bwahaaahaahaa).

lol… nice!
i started a threadsome time ago, hoping i could point out the universities/academic institutions that uses blender…

As a former resident of Portsmouth on Aquidneck Island, Yea!!! Glad to see the yanks are catching on. I wonder if we could get Georgia Tech using it…