How I learned Blender - and 5 Tips for You
At least once a week I get an email like this: "Hey Andrew, how did you learn blender? Do you have any tips?"
I used to be annoyed by this question. But I've grown to understand it.
When learning any new craft, it's natural to look to those with experience and ask for their "story".
I'm in Korea now and everytime I come across another foreigner who speaks fluent Korean I ask "Hey how did you get so good at Korean?". And I always secretly hope that they'll whisper something about a magical pill that made them speak fluent Korean overnight. But sadly the answer is usually always, "Well I took a few classes, bought some books and just practiced whenever I could."
The road to success is rarely discovered overnight, but it can be made shorter with the right advice. So in this post I'm going to answer the question I get asked the most, and then follow it with 5 Blender Tips on how you can accelerate your learning.
Way back in '04
Ahh yes, the good old days of 2004. Saddam was captured, and Facebook had just launched at Harvard. It was also the year that I first discovered Blender.
Ever since Toy Story I'd admired 3d animation, but always considered it an expensive professionals tool. Then I saw Killer Bean 2, and after realizing it was made by one guy, I wondered if there was some free software somewhere that I could use.
A quick search brought me to... Anim8or! Which I downloaded it, dabbled around with and promptly quit after realizing there were no tutorials for it.
But a little more searching and I came across this image, created with "Blender".
It was all the motivation I needed. I decided right then and there, that if someone else could create a sexy red car like that, using this software called 'Blender', then so could I.
So I downloaded the latest version of Blender (2.32), and got cracking:
My first reaction was to push all the buttons and wait for something to happen, but once the novelty of that wore off, I searched for tutorials. I came across such gems as The Gingerbread man tutorial and A ride through the mines. (nostalgia overload!)
But back in those days, tutorials were somewhat of a rarity. All-in-all, there was probably about 10 in total. Which meant that you had to do most of the learning the hard way: solo.
My hard drive quickly filled up with dozens of dead end projects... sword.blend, car.blend, tree.blend. All of them incomplete and horrible. But my goal was to make a red car, so I kept learning.
I burdened the blender community with questions on pretty much everything:
It was a painfully slow process.
And aside from my circle of school friends, most people were not impressed with my skills. After a year of using Blender, I created this animation. Which... is an assault on your senses.
At one point I spent several weeks on a project called the 'Mystical Tree' which when I posted it online, got no responses.
'How can no one reply? That's so rude. I spent weeks on this!!' I thought.
Still to this day I post work online that sometimes gets zero replies. The pain is still the same, but theirs a lesson in every failure ;)
Anyway, slowly and steadily, over the course of 4 years, I created what I set out to do in the first place... I created a red car:
So that's my story.
But thankfully, your story doesn't have to be as long or painful. The Blender of today has more users and more importantly... tutorials!
Here's my advice for anyone hoping to improve their skills in Blender:
5 Tips for Learning Blender
#1: Soak up tutorials
If you're just starting out, or you're entering an area of Blender you've never tried before, then tutorials are you ticket to success. There's no faster way to understand something than to learn from someone who does.
Even I still watch tutorials from time to time. If there's an area of blender that I've never used before, you better believe I'm going to watch a tutorial on it! Why fart around with the docs or ask on a forum when a screen captured tutorial will tell you the answer with the sound off?
Tutorials are a huge blessing.... and a curse.
There's something I call tutorial addiction. A lot of users today are falling into the trap of becoming dependent on tutorials.Just like an alcoholic who needs whiskey to start the day, if you need a tutorial before you can do anything, then you're addicted, and you're not really learning.
A tutorial will show you the ropes, but your aim should be to get off them at some point and fly solo.
Use them as you would training wheels.
#2: Challenge Yourself
This was one of the realizations that helped me the most, many years ago.
What you need to do is start a project that's outside of your comfort zone, then force yourself to complete it. Decide on the end result, and really lock it into your mind. Then once you've got that goal in mind, you'll always find a way to achieve it.
In 2008, I started this project of an Underground Carpark. And I learned more in those 3 months than I did the 4 years before it.
This is powerful stuff.
Your first project will probably suck (I'm just being honest). But that shouldn't deter you, because regardless of whether you notice it or not, you'll have learned valuable lessons during that project that you will carry with you into your next one.
Repeat this over and over again and you'll have slowly armed yourself with the skills to confidently take on any new project you can imagine. It's a wonderful feeling to picture something in your mind, and know exactly how to create it in Blender.
Sometimes it's fun to just play with features with no goal in mind. And sometimes those experiments lead to great things.
Use the fluid simulator and just throw water around a box. Not only will you learn little lessons in this, but it may spur you to turn it into something bigger.
My Sparks animation started as just a pposts test. After I realized I could get some attractive sparks, I began to experiment more and more, until I finally had a little animation.
It was a fun little project that I enjoyed. It's not world class or anything, but I learned a lot and had fun.
The most successful companies of today are letting their employees take on "experimental" days. Google gives their engineers one day a week to work on anything they like - and get paid for it! Sounds crazy right? Well it was on one of those experimental days that Gmail was born.
Experiments are valuable.
#4: Be Patient
This is the hardest pill to swallow, and not one that people like hearing. But to get good at anything, you need practice and patience.
As a kid, the first time you held a held a paint brush you probably didn't paint the mona lisa. But as a kid you didn't care. You just painted coz you could and it was fun.
But as you grew older and you more mature, you began to fear failure. Websites like Failblog, Lamebook and r/cringe encourage people to laugh at those who fail. And if you expose yourself to enough of this utter dross, then you'll become increasingly hesitant to start any new project. You'll give up half way through, or hide the finished render on your hard drive in fear of criticism.
But failing is the only way you'll learn.
In the offices of Facebook, you'll find this large poster:
Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were any of the masterpieces you see posted online today. If you saw their hard drive full of failed attempts you'd probably relax a little and realize how much in common you have with them.
One of my favourite quotes is: "The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough." -Randy Pausch
Practice hard and don't expect quick results necessarily. Anything worth achieving takes time.
#5: Distance yourself from the Blender Crowd
"Whoa whoa, what?! Andrew are you mad? Take that heathen attitude elsewhere!"
I realize that this advice sounds like an insult, but it's not. Let me explain.
CG studios and animation houses, generally use paid software like 3ds Max and Maya. Some use Blender, but most don't (sad truth).
That means that most artists who are striving for a career in CG, have paid for a formal education and are competing for top positions at Industrial Light and Magic, are not posting their artworks on BlenderArtists.
For example... if you post a piece of artwork on the BlenderArtist forums and you can be showered with compliments. But post the same artwork on CGSociety? You can be flat out rejected:
So what can you gain by joining the mainstream CG community? A dose of reality.
When you apply for a job, enter a CG competition or do some freelance work, you don't get special points for using Blender. You get compared as equally as anyone else. Or to put it into words spoken by someone at the Blender Conference, "Blender shouldn't be treated like the special olympics".
When I first started out, I stuck to BlenderArtists. I posted my work there and enjoyed the compliments.
But it was only when I started posting my work on CGSociety that I got a real kick in the gut, and realized that I have a long way to go.
It's part of the reason that I started my inspiration tumblr blog. Whenever I'm feeling cocky, I go there and reflect on the works of the true masters and acknowledge that I have a long way to go.
If you can take on the position of a humble artist with lots to learn, I can guarantee that you'll never stay stagnant, and grow at a much faster rate :)
So that's all. I'm still learning Blender everyday, just like yourself. I'm having fun creating new projects and teaching others in the process.
If you have a tip for learning blender, post it in the comments below and help another user out!
By the way, my next big training course "The Architecture Academy", is almost here! It's been the labour of love of mine for the last year. Next week I'll be launching the teaser trailer, and then following it with some free tutorials and finally a big launch trailer :) Stay tuned!