Ask anybody who knows Blender well which school they were taught it at, and their reply will most likely be â€œI wish.â€ Learning Blender has long been the major sticking point of this great 3D app; the price is very attractive to amateurs, but the interface, unfortunately, is not well suited to those that are not familiar with 3D applications and 3D computer graphics terminology. Further compounding the problem is the lack of professional Blender training available in most parts of the world, even in areas where 3D Studio Max, Maya, and similar training is readily available. Enter Rui Campos, a Java developer from Portugal. You may already know Campos as the head of the Blender Foundation Education Board (BF-Education), and recently I got together with Rui to discuss the initiatives that he and the board are taking to improve the situation of Blender education.
Rui first picked up the Blender in 2002, but promptly dropped it when, like so many newcomers, he struggled to understand it. At the time, words such as radiosity or UV mapping were not part of his vocabulary. He spent some time improving his modeling skills with Wings 3D and Max before coming back to Blender full-time after attending the 2004 Blender Conference in Amsterdam. During one part of the conference, Rui spent an hour watching well known community artist Andy Goralczyk create a model with Blender, and in an â€œamazing moment,â€ how Blender works finally clicked in his head. He says of his experience: â€œI just left the seat, sat down in front of my laptop, and within an hour I had modeled a head.â€ He continues, â€œthat was an amazing moment I will never forget; I was just amazed at what I had done. For the first time, I had done an organic figure.â€
Moments like this are what Rui now lives to create for others. Before coming to the conference, he had pre-arranged a meeting with the Blender Foundation to discuss the state of Blender education and what he believed could be done to fix it. The Foundation was, of course, already aware of the problem, but until that point, had no-one to spare to head up an education effort. After the meeting, Blender leadership created an education board (also known as BF-Education), with Rui Campos as its leader and sole member.
The first year was a quiet one for the fledgling education board. Most of the activity circulated about the mailing list: people joining up with the cause, sharing ideas, and making plans for the future. So little happened off-list during the first year that Rui believes that most of the Blender community was completely unaware of the board's existence. Rui also spent much of that year learning every trick, tool, and feature of Blender he could, but focused most heavily on modeling. Why? He says â€œI wanted to catch up Andy, it was my personal goalâ€ (you may recall that Andy was the one Rui was watching when he finally realized how Blender really works).
Whether or not Rui is now at Andy's level is not a subject this author would like to tackle, but it's clear that by the time Blender Conference 2005 had rolled around, Rui's modeling skills and confidence had greatly improved. He led a workshop on head modeling, a roundtable on education, and a project management session on Blender. The conference was a kick start for the education initiative, which seemed to be losing steam coming into the conference.
Today the education board is a thriving community working on several projects. Rui will be teaching workshops at the Libre Graphics Meeting in France this weekend (if you can make it, he would love to see you there). Rui is also very excited about two major upcoming projects: the Blender professionals website and the Education World Tour.
The Blender professionals website is the brainchild of the education board. It's purpose is to give those who use Blender professionally a place to voice ideas, share advanced tips and tricks, get the latest industry news, and more. Rui feels that while forums and services exist for Blender artists, developers and newcomers, there isn't much for advanced Blender professionals. The website, which Rui says may launch in as little in three months, will also provide an online place for professionals and companies to meet and make agreements. By providing these services, Rui believes that he will lure those that use Blender professionally out of the woodwork. This in turn should help convince schools to add Blender courses to their curriculum. As of this writing, a website address has not been announced.
The education board's other main initiative is the Education World Tour. As Rui explains it, the Education World Tour will consist of a group of Blender educators globe-trotting to spread Blender knowledge and wisdom. Because most people discover Blender on the internet, much of the community is very geographically fragmented, a problem that worldwide Blender workshops may help fix. Imagine bringing your friends to a day-long workshop where they will efficiently and effectively be taught the necessary skills to use Blender's interface, build basic models, and direct simple movies. If you can imagine that, you are beginning to see the education board's vision. Unfortunately, no locations or dates have yet been announced, but when they are you can expect to read about it here.
In the meantime, the Bf-Education board needs your help! You can join the education effort by joining the Bf-Education mailing list and participating in the meetings held every other week. There is also a #blendereducation channel on irc.freenode.net that you can join. Rui (who goes by â€œrcasâ€ in chat) needs your ideas. In return, you can expect to get tips on teaching and promoting Blender in your area, scoops on teaching opportunities worldwide, and to have a good time with smart people. The current Blender education situation is grim. Will you do your part?
This article is the first in a series about the forces that are driving Blender on development, documentation, education, and other fronts: where these forces are taking Blender and who is behind them. The author takes no responsibility for any errors or misrepresentations among the meaningless stream of characters that flow randomly from his fingers. Luckily he can blame it all on the voices in his head. If you or someone you know should be profiled as an individual that is helping drive Blender's future, please add a comment to this article and the author will be in touch.