A while ago, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for around 6 years now. I completely switched all of my computers from Windows systems to GNU Linux systems. It’s not that I don’t like Microsoft, I’d be a hypocrite if I said I don’t since I own an XBOX and an XBOX 360 and I love both systems. However, Windows simply doesn’t fit my needs anymore and I was having various issues with Windows 7 that I don’t have with Linux-based operating systems. Plus, I loathe Windows 8 and Windows 10 doesn’t look like it will be any better for me. So, I made a switch to something I love. I’m running Peppermint OS 6 64-bit and it’s fantastic. Minimal desktop UI to keep system resources free for other things, such as gaming and CGI.
Naturally, when you make changes like that, other changes are necessary. I’ve had to say bye-bye to many Windows programs, most of which are games. Sure, I can run some stuff using WINE (the Microsoft compatibility layer) but not everything works or works well with WINE. One thing I’ve never had any luck with, and what has kept me in Windows these past several years, is my 3D CGI software. I’m set for 2D software, I use Inkscape for logos, texture bases, etc. and I use GIMP for textures, backgrounds, post processing, etc. Both of those are easily installed on any Linux OS. However, 3D is another story. Over the past 15 years, I’ve basically used two programs: Truespace and Lightwave. Truespace is Windows only and Lightwave is Windows and Mac only. Neither has a Linux installer. Also, I have never had any luck getting either to work with WINE. For unknown reasons, Truespace just never worked. Lightwave works and runs (kind of roughly) but I can’t get my USB dongle to work with it. WINE has no USB support. There’s a patch, which has to be applied to the source code and then you have compile it. I’ve tried this, I’ve copied all of the necessary files over from the Windows registry and I just can’t get it to work. More recently, I’ve tried a Lightwave 2015 demo, which doesn’t require a dongle. Newer versions of Lightwave use a file that you drag onto the splash screen. This didn’t work for me either. So, Lightwave is out.
When it comes to 3D CGI in Linux, there are a few options. There’s Maya, which costs $3675 USD for the perpetual license. Yikes! I can’t afford that. Then there’s Modo, which is $1799. While less than half the price of Maya, that’s still too steep for me. More affordable options include Silo at $159 (currently on sale for $104) and AC3D at $89. I could certainly afford one of those, but those are more “game centric” choices. Plus, Silo doesn’t have an internal rendering engine, I’m not sure about AC3D. I prefer full featured software. And, of course, there are several free options. There are a few packages that are no longer developed and then there are Wings and Blender. Wings is nice, but is all subdivision and another modeling only program. Blender is the full deal. Modeling, materials, animation, rendering. You can do it all in Blender. So, that was the best logical choice for me.
I’ve tried Blender several times over the past decade. My two biggest attempts were in 2010 and back in January. In 2010, I was running Blender 2.49 and looking to switch to that. I was making good headway when a project took me back to Truespace and I never got back to it. Back in January, I was working on some modeling tutorials and other good stuff in Blender 2.73a when I decided to try converting some of my Lightwave models to Blender. There are some issues there. The easy one to fix is where Blender flips the ngons. I can just convert those to triangles in Lightwave and all is good. The biggest hurdle is how differently Cycles handles textures. Cycles doesn’t have simple mapping tools (plane, cube, cylinder, etc.) and you have to unwrap everything. Unfortunately, most of my objects in Lightwave use that type of mapping. Also, Blender won’t let you assign multiple sets of UV coordinates to a single object, Lightwave will. So, that’s an issue. What it boils down to is that I need to do new UV mapping and all new textures when I convert my models. Fun. Anyway, I didn’t want to do that back in January, so I went back to Lightwave. However, this time, I’m not letting any of that stop me, I’ll get around to converting those models eventually. I figure I can run Lightwave in Discovery Mode (limited function) which should hopefully be enough to let me triangulate those ngons and get stuff ready to convert. We’ll see.
Anyway, on to Blender. I’m using the latest version, 2.75a. Since it’s not in the repositories of the distribution I’m using, I just downloaded it from the website, dropped it into a folder and created a menu entry for it. Easy peasy. I’ve done tutorials in the past. I don’t really care for tutorials, especially the ones that take you on the “tour” of the program and its UI. Sure, you’ll learn stuff, but you’ll forget it as quickly as you learn it. Studies show that, if you know where to look up information, you’re less likely to remember it than if you find the information yourself. So, I’m not doing tutorials this time, at least not long ones. I’ve had to do a web search on a few things and I’ve found some answers to a few things on forums and YouTube, but I’m not doing full tutorials. I’m looking for the information I need and then getting back out.
In my opinion, the best way to learn art software is to simply get in and make something. That’s how I learned CGI originally and I find it’s the way I can retain stuff better, if I figure it out on my own. For my first big project, I’ve decided to start with the Paris class from The Starfleet Museum. I’ve always liked the Paris Class, I did one in Truespace nearly 7 years ago. I’ve been thinking of doing a new model of it for a while, so I’m doing one now. I picked this ship because it’s not overly complex, but it is complex enough to force me to use a variety of techniques to model it. It’s definitely helping me get a grasp for the software. This is where it stands after a few days of learning and building:
So far, everything is going smoothly. I find modeling in Blender to be not much different than modeling in Lightwave. It’s certainly closer to Lightwave than it is to Truespace. So, the transition isn’t as bad. Lightwave has more tools, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Lightwave has too many tools, in my opinion. It has tools for EVERYTHING, even separate tools whose functions could be combined into one tool. A great example is edge bevel and edge rounding. In both Lightwave and Blender, I can select an edge by selecting the individual points that makeup said edge. To soften the edge, I can do what’s called an edge bevel to add a single angled series of faces, or edge rounding, which adds a series of faces at different angles to create a rounded transition. In Lightwave, these are separate tools. Why? I dunno. In Blender, one tool. If I want the bevel, I just tell it to make one face. If I want it rounded, more faces. It’s that easy. No need for two tools. Another thing that I absolutely love that totally rocks over Lightwave is the Cycles render engine. It’s so much better than Lightwave’s Radiosity.