Recently, I noticed a steady stream of Blender artwork on Twitter by Paul McManus, tagged #renderaday. I was intrigued and asked him to tell a bit more about this project.
Hey Paul, could you introduce yourself to the Blender community?
I'm Paul McManus and I'm a Software Engineer and Digital Artist. My interest in producing 3D digital art goes back many years. In the 1980s I wrote a planar facet modeller and ray trace renderer that were used by Interior and Product Design students at Teesside Polytechnic where I was doing postgraduate work. Around the same time I did some work with Fred Baier, a pioneering furniture designer. We worked on quite a few designs, and Fred used them to make several pieces over the years to follow. One of them, The Prism Chair, is now in the permanent collections of the V&A Museum in London and two more in the USA.
In later years the focus of my software was more on the web rather than the desktop. This required more visual entities than previously and so I decided to start making my own. I started with my own software but quickly came to realise that there were better programs out there for this kind of work. My first port of call was POVRay. I used this for quite some time. It was great for producing small visuals, glass effects, button caps and so on.
How did you discover Blender?
All my computer graphics work until this point had been still images. A couple of years ago I was asked about doing some animation to support a web site sales initiative. The problem: (as always) there wasn't a lot of time to do it in! My other problem was that I didn't have any software to do the work in other than POVRay. A little Googling pointed me to Maya, 3DSMAX and Blender. The first two were discounted because of the cost verses the income potential of the project. That left Blender, which on first opening revealed a mysterious UI - nothing I did appeared to do anything useful. Of course, I'd not read any documentation. Blender was rejected on the basis of a 15 minute test drive and I went out looking for other software that might work for me. A few days later the project was shelved.
A little while later, around mid 2012, I had a need for some animated GIFs and some more ambitions graphics for a web project. I uncovered some great work on Blender Nation, CG Society and deviantArt that gave me new motivation to see what Blender could do for me. This time I read the documentation. Most of the work was straightforward and not very challenging once I'd got the hang of the UI.
A turning point in my use of Blender came in early 2013 when my old desktop PC died and needed to be replaced. I was lucky enough to get one of the first Titan graphics cards in my new machine plus lots of memory and a fast processor. This all made Blender a dream to use.
A year in and it was becoming obvious that Blender is huge. A lot of the features I'd not even tried out in roughly 12 months of use. I was doing the typical thing of only using the same 20-30% of features I'd learned early on, over and over. I'm a firm believer that learning as part of solving a problem is more effective than trying to learn something when there is no specific need. The day-to-day work was not really presenting any significant demands to take me out of my comfort.
How did the #renderaday project come to be?
In September 2013, a family member invited me to sign up for the photo-a-day challenge on the http://fatmumslim.com.au/ website. The idea is that for each day there is a word or phrase for which you have to post a picture. I'm a keen photographer and that seemed like fun so I agreed. As October approached I decided that it would be more interesting if I could post a picture produced using Blender. I knew this would be a real challenge. I also knew it would force me to learn some new tricks. It's now five months and I've managed to do this every day. Some days have been more difficult than others. The main thing is I've learned a lot - and I'm still learning. Most of the pictures are very simple scenes, what's important is that my workflow and work patterns are getting refined so that I can produce stuff fairly quickly. Weekends allow for a little more indulgence and so I try and do something more demanding then.
There is still a lot more to learn. My current learning centres on Python and Blender scripting for some low-poly game asset creation.
Paul is available for contract work, you can find more examples of his work and contact details on his website.