In this world of ever-developing technology, we are seeing leaps and bounds of progress in the area of graphics and animation. Some of us think to ourselves, “Well, that is nice but I’d never be able to create something like that. The software must be so complicated and expensive!” Thanks to the passions of the open source communities and Google, there are now two excellent and professional grade 3D modeling programs on the market which are entirely free. Both programs have had a fascinating history that has only allowed them to improve steadily, bringing the notice of many tech magazines and blogs. Within this article, we will go over Google Sketchup and Blender, their pros and cons as well as what each program does especially well. So, have a seat, pull up your computer and let’s investigate the world of 3D rendering.
Blender is a free software program that can be found at http://www.blender.org . It has been around since 1989 as a company specific, in-house program for a Dutch-based animation studio that used it as their primary source. However, in the early 2000’s, it became clear that the animation studio could no longer keep its doors open, and so they released the code to the public under a “GPL” license which ensures that the software will remain free to the public for use and sharing. This is a common format for Open Source and community-based software, ensuring that they will continue to be developed and improved while making certain that the community itself not only contributes in what ways it can, but also reaps the benefits of their contribution.
Blender is constructed to be usable by students, hobbyists and professionals with equal ease and support through the community wiki where tutorials can be found that walk you through every and any issue that you might encounter. There are books written both by the Blender Foundation and by those who enjoy a passion for the program and are considered super users. The most stable release was made available in October of 2011. It is lauded to be perhaps the most usable release created as of yet, and there are many hopes that it will keep going in this vein.
There are a few ways that Blender makes itself user friendly:
- A community wiki: In the wiki, there are help topics as well as tutorials that will walk the user through most problems that arise.
- Video tutorials: From “Getting started with Blender” to advanced techniques, there is a video available on the site for your guidance. There are also many user-created videos to be found on YouTube offering help in animation techniques.
- User Forums: The forums are a place where Blender users can get to know one another, get assistance with a project and just relate to one another.
- Yearly Conference: There is held a yearly user conference in Amsterdam where professionals, students, developers and those just want to meet and talk with other Blender enthusiasts in person can meet.
Blender offers a full list of features including a physics engine and real-time game creation, which puts this program definitely as most usable and customizable 3D animation suites available with the most reliable user base in order to facilitate customer service and technical help.
SketchUp, while currently owned by Google, was the creation of a company named @Last Software and was first seen on the market in 2000. That very year was the recipient of a Community Choice award for its sleek interface which helped the user to feel as if they were working with something as uncomplicated as pen and marker. It was agreed upon that SketchUp would be an intuitive program that was fun for users to learn and easy to expand the scope of it in time.
In 2006, Google purchased @Last Software due to a growing interest that they had in a plug in that, @Last, was creating for Google Earth. Over the next few years, Google developed and released several versions of SketchUp and included various features and, of course, fixes bugs and added more usability to its core. In 2011, the latest and most stable version, Sketchup 8 became available for download via Google’s application pages.
While there are high hopes for SketchUp to be a highly usable and intelligent program for modeling everything from tea pots to skyscrapers, unfortunately, it is not there yet. A number of problems still exist with the program at this time, including:
- A lack of technical support: While there are 13 tutorial videos, they are not as in-depth as they could be.
- A lack of available Help Documents: While there are some help documents, it lacks the community-based support that has become a hallmark of long standing freeware.
- Limited Gallery: Users who are shopping for new 3D software want to be able to see many and varied examples of what the program is capable of.
Unlike Blender, Google SketchUp has a Pro version that has more features available to the user. However, those features are not listed on the website, and the program comes with an exceptional price tag of almost five hundred dollars per license. At that level, you also have access to (paid for) professional training to come and teach your employees to use the program if it is to be used in a professional setting.
When shopping for a freeware 3D rendering program, Blender and SketchUp are the two biggest choices in the World Wide Web at this moment. Each program has its plusses and minuses. However, both are amazingly full-featured as well as being innovative and easy to learn for even the newest beginner. As the world of entertainment moves more towards three dimensional animation and artwork as a standard, we believe that more and more improvements will be made to these already superb programs. It will be beneficial for users to remain onboard and grow with the program they choose as it becomes more functional and sought-after in this fast-paced industry.