Posts about Blender

The travel-size Wikipedia globes we had 3D printed are up on the Wikipedia thank you page!

So you may remember the wall-hung 3D Wikipedia logo we made a while ago when we were helping them out with redoing their offices.

Well, we took that same 3D model (done in Blender!) and we 3D printed small, round versions as well. They came out great!

Wikipedia has a picture of one up on their thank you page right now. Check it out!

We were really happy how they came out. Thanks to Ideate for the local printing services.

Blender 2.5 Alpha is out

Blender 2.5 Alpha has been released for testing. Why is this such a big deal? 2.5 includes the long-awaited UI overhaul! Blender's somewhat-crazy, non-standard UI has a reason and history that most folks don't know. But many try Blender, and give up on it, simply due to it's quirky interface. So it's currently a bit of a lose-lose, it's a hard yet rewarding UI to learn that hinders adoption. But to those that do learn it, they tend to find it to be pretty good.

Let me explain. Blender was originally written as an in-house tool for an European special effects and animation house. It's focus was entirely on making someone who already knows 3D animation and modeling as efficient and effective as possible, and not on ease of use or learn-ability. It was also written for a small, focused group of people with their own ideas and demands, for even after the parent company started selling Blender to other people, it was still a rather obscure tool that only a devoted few used. Later on, the parent company, that special effect house, went under and almost took Blender with it. But the original developers were able to raise the money to buy the rights and source-code from the Bankruptcy court, and they, in turn, made it open source. Which gave us a professional-quality open-source actively developed tool with a bizarre UI.

Old and Broken:

Fast forward several years, and the Blender team has re-written the UI from scratch, making it look a little more like Modo in the process, and adding the ability to animate anything, hook into anything, and configure anything. So far it looks like a real winner!

Teh New Hawtness:

So check it out, help with the Alpha, and if you've never used Blender give it a new try and let them know what you think.

The Wikipedia globe, now in 3D!

That's right! We've made the Wikipedia puzzle globe in 3D! No glasses required.


We started out with a 3D model, manipulating the globe in Blender to be flattened so it could hang against a wall.



After creating a satisfactory version, we "sliced" the model in our CAM software, and set up the job to be cut on our CNC machine, Frank.

Using Trupan, a certified sustainably harvested fiber board that is very soft and mills well, we first made a prototype. Always, always first make a prototype.


Here at BWC, we only use certified sustainably harvested woods, as we want to ensure there will be those far in the future making wonderful things like this. As you can see from the prototype, the globe was milled on the machine in horizontal slices, then built up into it's final shape. We created the globe to have two removable puzzle pieces. You can see one here in the final large version...


At this point the globe has been glued up and sanded down. Next, many repetitions of primer, sealing and sanding occurred, which eventually gave us this:


A smooth surface, with the letters and the puzzle piece lines well formed. A full day and a half of hand painting was next up. We wanted the globe to have a very rich, tactile look to it. Hand painting is the only way.


The letters and puzzle lines were painted in with meticulous care. The final globe has two removable puzzle pieces, and is coated with a waterborne lacquer to protect it from greasy finger prints. (We only use water based and water borne finishes here at Because We Can)


And now for a quick demonstration:





The Wikipedia Globe in 3D, brought to you by Because We Can!


Blender to CNC

Something that we get e-mails about from time to time is how we use Blender with our CNC machine. Everyone wants to know software, formats, etc. The missing link here is something called CAM software.

You don't go directly from Blender to the CNC controller; there is an in-between step where you generate toolpaths for the CNC machine to follow. Blender can't do this directly, and no one has made a plug-in (yet) for it, so you'll need to use a separate CAM package to do the job.

It goes like this. We model something up in Blender, sometimes from scratch and sometimes based upon an imported Revit model. Once we're happy with it, it gets exported to an .STL file. We then import that file into Vetric Aspire. Or, if it's a two or four-sided milling job, we use Vetric Cut3D (which is a nice cheap solution for 3D milling).

Toolpaths are generated by those tools, and saved out into jobs for the machine to run. Then we setup the material on our CNC machine, setup the machine, and then run that job. The machine goes to town, carving away, and then you've got your part!

We've yet to find a decent open source 3D CAM package. And honestly, the features and ease-of-use of the Vectric tools in combo with their cheap (for CAM software) prices really make it the way to go if you're at all serious about what you're making. While we understand that some out there want a 100% open source solution, we're using Blender because we like it and feel that it's got great features, not because it's free.

Anytime we get a question more than once via e-mail, we like to turn it into a blog post, so that we can share the answer with everyone!

Blender's new Deform Modifier


Haven't talked about Blender in a little bit. A new version was just released, and it's got a few new features that are great additions.

While Grease Pencil is awesome, and the new sun and better AO lighting are great, and the new vector-level snapping is a very welcome (FINALLY!) addition, what I've been digging on the most is the new Deform Modifier. In combo with the Array modifier and some more complex textures, you can produce some really fun forms and renderings quickly. Here's a little 'study' I did on taking one form and 'processing' it into more and more abstracted, organic shapes. Enjoy!


LuxRender, an Open-Source Non-biased 'Maxwell-style' rendering engine

Ever since getting heavy into Radiance back in the day, and producing bad renderings on my beloved Amiga 2000 (until I got my MacBookPro, that was the last computer I honestly liked) with Caligari before that as a kid, I've always been a big old rendering geek. Heck, I'm even going to be teaching a lab on it (Mental Ray in Revit) at this year's Autodesk University.

While there is a huge number of open source rendering engines out there, the latest one that caught my eye is called LuxRender. It's very much along the lines of a Maxwell, in that it's a non-baised physically-based rendering engine. And much like Maxwell it's slow as all get out and takes forever to produce renderings, but can produce some very impressive renderings indeed.

I've always thought that Maxwell was over-rated somewhat. People get funny about renderings. I mean, I've seen renderings that Radiance or this new LuxRender have produced that looked as good as those produced by Maxwell, and they even have similar technology under the hood. These kinds of renderings take a ton of time, the material and lighting setup is very complex, and honestly, while great for a particular niche, aren't the be-all-end-all of rendering systems I feel. Those who don't have a heavy rendering background sometimes sadly seem to just pick whichever one has the nicest looking gallery and buy that, then get frustrated when they find that it's not really the sort of tool they needed or that it's really, really hard to get images that match those they see in the gallery.

I've always personally thought that using the right tool for the job is the way to go, and sometimes a tool that's difficult to use and takes forever to produce a decent rendering isn't the right tool. It's more about communication I feel than it is about having a perfectly rendered texture. For example, if I'm using the built-in rendering engine in Blender, and I'm producing renderings in under three minutes, and you're using something like this LuxRender or Maxwell, and it's taking a half hour for you to produce an image, well my images will work better if we're both on deadline. My rendering will be better, because I'll simply have more time to get it right, more tests, more tries, more drafts, and more time to adjust and tweak things. More time to focus on what I'm trying to communicate with the image and less time on prefect sun and shadows. Once you add an honest assessment of production time to the picture, buying the best-looking rendering engine, setting all the sliders to 'best', and then hoping for the best will rarely give you the best.

It works great with Blender so far, and there are plugins for Max, Maya, and more. And being open source you can download it and give it a go for free. It's complex (way, way complex) mind you, but if you're a rendering geek like me, well, that's just an upside.

Now I just need to get a good workflow from Revit to Blender and I'm set. Sadly the free FBX converter from Autodesk doesn't seem to like Revit 2009 files very much, and until Revit can directly produce an .OBJ I'm gonna have to figure something else out...

Sketches to Sculptures via Blender!

Our friend, Michael Christian, a well-known local artist, approached us with an idea to produce some small, more affordable pieces for a more down-to-earth show he was going to have.

Frank Eyes Frank Faucet Frank Drip

Typically, Michael makes huge metal pieces that look like this:


But he wanted to make a series of smaller pieces that didn't require a crane to put up! After meeting over what was easily possible via our CNC table and workflow, the idea emerged to do these 'portraits' of characters based upon his rather surreal ideas. Michael then produced some small hand sketches with smooth shading and nice highlights.

Frank Drip Sketch Frank Eyes

These sketches were scanned into Photoshop, where they were touched up, and then were brought into Blender. There they were used to produce nice 3D models directly from the sketches. This was quick and easy, taking very little time and producing great results.

First we used the Displace modifier on a subdivided plane, making the image itself 'punch' the plane geometry up. Then, using the Multires tools, we further subdivided the plane. Then we did additional sculpting, smoothing and inflating, while using the image as a brush to bring out more detail where desired. Finally, we selected all the surrounding flat faces, deleted them, and then Decimated and cleaned up the meshes to get nice, clean, smooth models. Each one took no more than twenty minutes to model this way.

Blender Model

Those 3D models were toolpathed in Cut3D, then carved out via our CNC table, taking anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour depending on the size of the figure. Custom frames were designed and cut for each figure as well, which took no time at all, for they were simply beveled edges and mostly flat.

Frank Drip Carving

And then Michael sanded and sculpted the figures further, and then hand-painted each figure and frame.

Michael Sanding

And here are the final pieces, twelve in all, hung in the space.

Each piece was affordable, for the workflow of pencil sketch to CNC was quick, and now Michael can produce more in different runs of colors, sizes, frames, and finishes too.

This was a very collaborative project. We really love working with other creative folks to produce interesting things, for it always pushes us to learn and try new things!

Blender's new Z-Brush like 'Sculpt' mode

Blender's got a new Sculpt mode! This allows for Z-brush like modeling within Blender. It's just in the current testing beta, which you can download from here. But still, this is big news. Seems every time I turn around Blender suddenly makes a huge jump (which is great for us, for we use it a lot here at Because We Can). While it's still in beta, it is usable, and due out in a 'full' release soon. Also, obviously, it's not as feature-riffic as Z-brush is, but for an open-source package it's rather impressive and going to be very, very useful.
turning on Multires
For those that haven't used Z-brush, 'Sculpting' is a special sort of subdivision modeling, where using a mouse or a Wacom tablet (it's pressure-aware!) allows you to add to, subtract from, imprint, bend, stretch, and manipulate a model almost like clay. It's a very quick way to model complex organic forms (and a lot of fun).
turning on Multires
This is what five minutes of playing around with the Blender Monkey resulted in. I thought I'd take a moment and write up a quick tutorial to how to get the new Sculpt mode to work so y'all can play with too (it's a lot of fun!). First off, just open up the new Blender Beta, and add a simple cube to your scene.
turning on sculpt mode
Then you'll see two new things, a Sculpt mode on the Mode: menu, and a new control box called 'Multires'.
turning on sculpt mode
Multires allows you to turn up or down the level of subdivision on the fly, and is an important part of Sculpting. Don't worry about it for now, just know that you have to use it to Sculpt something.
turning on Multires
So let's pick that cube, then click 'Add Multires' and then click 'Add Level' five or six times. You'll see that the cube subdivides into a smooth egg shape.
turning on Sculpting
Now switch to Sculpt Mode, and pick on the new Sculpt tab that appears. Leave the rest of the options as-is, we'll come back to them later.
Then simply click and drag over the top of your cube, and you'll see that it 'draws' on the 3D surface of it. If you've got a Wacom tablet, it's pressure-aware, so if you press harder it will draw more (and vise-versa). Swap the 'shape' setting to 'Sub' instead of 'Add' to carve into the shape instead. Picking the 'Airbrush' option will make the warping happen constantly as you hold down the mouse button, instead of just when you drag the mouse. Size and Strength should be obvious. Then there are the other Brushes and the Symmetry buttons...
Grab pulls the model around instead of drawing on it. And if you pick a Symmetry button, Blender will automatically make the model match on both sides as you edit just one side of it. Great for faces and cars!
setting up a texture brush
Brushes can also be derived from Textures. This is way cool. Click on the 'Brush' tab, and then select and empty slot; you'll get a list of all the Textures in your Scene and you can pick one. Here I'm just using a Noise Texture called 'Tex'. I also upped the subdivision level another notch or two via the Multires. Cool thing with this is that you can turn it up or down as you need more speed or more detail when modeling (and rendering).
drawing with textures
Go back to the Sculpt Tab, pick Draw, then Sub, up the strength a little, and now when you draw on the model, it will take the Noise pattern and apply that directly to the mesh. Too cool!
resultant mesh
Have fun with Sculpting! As you can see it's a terribly powerful and fast way to create very complex models, and a wonderful addition to an already great tool!
Rev: 12/15/06
Hey! This little tutorial made it onto Blender Nation, the best Blog for all things Blender. Welcome everyone, hope you find this a help!

Space Invader Noguchi...

Got this prototype modeled up just the other day, playing around with other ideas that we could do for coffee table bases, and this one was too much fun so we're gonna do it. It's two of the Space Invaders, actually the same one in its two 'positions' it flashes between while flying about sending screaming electric death to those below. Put them together, and they can make a table, ala Noguchi...



The top would be a thick piece of clear plastic, with the underside carved out in the shape of one of the 'space demons' that were painted on the side of the original stand-up arcade game. Here it is shown on a white shag rug (something I'm not neat enough to own, actually, so I just throw them into my renderings instead).


Still not certain what material to make it out of. The above renderings, all done in Blender (new version! woot!) and Yafray (finally getting the hang of that rendering engine), are thinking that it would be made from a thick, shiny plastic. But here's one out of wood, to give it a try...

Watch for this one, soon to be on the store! Oh yeah, we got a working store now! Double woot! 

Reception Desk Photos...

So here's some more pics of the recption desk we finished recently. We're super happy with how it came out! Modeled in Revit, with parts modeled in Blender, and cut via CNC out of sustainably harvested walnut, this was our first big complex job we did via our design process.

We love the red our client choose for the wall behind it, it really makes it pop.

That's the wing, the only part that was modeled in Blender (and cut from solid walnut). The rest was modeled in Revit (and cut from walnut veneer plywood, with the guts just being cheap rough plywood). All the wood in the desk is sustainably harvested. The finish is a nice dark walnut stain with a poly sealer over the top.

We had this hourglass custom-made. Seeing that this lobby design is based upon the Death Jr. game, the client requested an hourglass prop for the table. It's a working hourglass, as in it really takes an hour for the sand to go from the top to the bottom. We had it custom inscribed to say 'To Backbone: Thanks for making my kid look cool. Death' and the other side has their logo on it. Everyone loves it! And I kinda want one for my own desk now.

The client also wanted a classic phone for the desk to go with the overall look. Ebay to the rescue, we found this lovely little bakelite number. It's a great shape and has a really nice action on the wheel. Very satisfying technology, with a nice and heavy receiver and cloth cord.

Y'all will see a lot more photos of this lobby soon, for we'll be finishing up the rest of the job here shortly! There's a logo to go on the wall (that's 80% done) and a display wall we'll be putting up soon. Our first 'big job'! So excited...


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