Overall Rating: 4.4/5
Blender is a free open source 3d program maintained by the Blender Foundation, a non-profit corporation headquartered in the Netherlands. Blender offers options for 3d modeling, as well as animation. I first learned of Blender in early 2009, but have been unable to really dig into it until now.
Blender files are automatically saved in a proprietary format, but the software appears to have the capability to import and export to numerous other formats, including 3d Studio and LightWave formats.
Cross-Platform Availability: 5/5
Blender has excellent cross-platform availability. On the download page at Blender.org, there are seven different versions of Blender 2.49b available for download. There are versions for Windows 32 bit, Windows 64 bit, Linux x86-32, Linux x86-64, Mac OS X, Solaris, and Irix.
The Blender Web site has a resource section which contains a wealth of plug-ins, textures, and other materials to enhance the user’s experience and creativity. There are also hundreds of Python scripts available to increase Blender’s functionality.
Support Quality: 4/5
The User Manual is really just a wiki where anyone can contribute information. It actually appears to be quite helpful, even offering information on how to install Python manually if necessary. There are also several video tutorials available and user communities to provide support, and the Blender Foundation has published a couple of books to train users. The Blender Foundation also holds a yearly conference, offering speakers on various subjects relating to Blender specifically and 3d modeling in general. I probably would have given the support quality a five instead of a four if it weren’t for the fact that the manual and help files are only available online. I believe they should install with the program so they can be accessed without an Internet connection.
The interface appears daunting at first and is probably difficult to learn for someone who has never tried 3d modeling and animation. While this may seem to be a negative, any 3d program has the same issue. That said, I do think the interface could be more user-friendly. Even as a semi-experienced modeler, I was confused with several aspects of the interface. I was able to create basic shapes and lights pretty quickly, but it took a couple of hours to figure out how to add and modify the textures of the shapes. The panels have a lot of information that seems confusing, but the basics are relatively easy to figure out. This is where the manual really came in handy. Once I read the section on the UI layout, things started to make more sense, but there still seemed to be a lot of unnecessary buttons. I probably would have given it a three if it wasn’t for the cool built-in monkey face shape. I also had some issues with several of the keyboard shortcuts, but this may have been because I was using a laptop instead of a desktop.