Blender for Visual Effects

Video editing and visual effects are two closely related fields. They're also dominated by expensive proprietary software. There are open-source alternatives to some of these packages, and some of them stand up very well by comparison. Blender and Natron are two outstanding examples of FOSS software that give the big names a run for their money.

Blender was once a commercial package, but the source was opened and given to the community. Since then, it's enjoyed contributions from hundreds of developers and has an enviable collection of powerful features. As a community project, the addition of new features is driven by the needs of the users.

In fact, many professionals favor Blender over the likes of Maya. Blender isn't just a copycat—it's designed with productivity in mind. It's packed with shortcuts and hotkeys that make it possible to become productive quickly. But with so much power hidden away behind arcane invocations, it can be rather difficult for newcomers.

During the past several years, the Blender Foundation has put a lot of effort into Blender. The goal has been to make it a serious tool for CGI, post-production and visual effects. It has funded several open film projects to showcase the tool's abilities and to provide resources for the community.

But while the power is there, it can be hard to learn. To say there is a steep learning curve is more than an understatement. The impressive examples together with Blender's wide availability has led millions of people to download it and take it for a spin. Often this leads to a long and productive partnership, but there also are many cases where aspiring VFX artists crash and give up.

Clearly, there's a need for more training resources. And, that's why Sam Vila's new book Blender for Visual Effects is so welcome.

The book follows the format of an extended tutorial, guiding the reader through a single project. It's a real-world project from the author's portfolio. Along the way, many features are exposed, and the reader learns how to use them in a real post-production workflow.

The book covers many important techniques, including tracking, rendering and composition. Blender is undeniably powerful, but it does have its own idiosyncrasies and some weaknesses. The book highlights these and teaches the student how to work with and around these issues.

Blender is an amazingly productive tool when you know how to work with it, rather than against it. Much like vim, it can be frustrating at first, then liberating. Without a good guide, it's a dizzying mass of confusion.

Vila's book peels away the confusion and reveals the joy of working the Blender way.

Blender for Visual Effects is available in print or as an ebook. You can read more here.

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