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8 Weeks with Blender: Add-ons

This is the seventh chapter of a series of posts about my experience working with the open-source application, Blender. I'll spend at least 30 minutes every day over a period of 8-10 weeks working directly with Blender and I'll post my discoveries, links and ideas at least once a week. Obviously, I'm not going to cover everything that Blender can do, but I'll follow my own interests and share what I've learned with you.

Open-Source and Closed-Source Development
Let's start with some quick definitions: Open Source development is the entire user-base who has complete access to the source code; Closed-Source development is where the user-base only has access to specific code set in order to create plug-ins that mod the applications functions. These are usually commercial applications like Maya or Cinema 4D. Each company varies as to how much you can alter or add to the application, but essentially users only have access to a limited code base.

Developing in Open-Source allows you to create not only alterations to everything in the application, but even another entire version of the software is possible. In Blender's case, there is bforartists, which is a fork of the original Blender that focuses on "a better graphical UI and a better usability". Another fork of Blender is Mechanical Blender which focuses on CAD utils development.

Blender itself contains dozens of plug-ins developed by the community that are part of the default installation. A quick look at the Blender 2.79 preferences under "add-ons" and you'll see what I mean. You can easily turn on or off any add-on under the Preferences drop down menu and in the add-ons tab. The Blender Wiki has a complete list of Blender add-ons in the current offical Blender release.

The Blender 2.79 Preferences panel

Blender Add-Ons
The Blender community, as I mentioned in my last 8 weeks with Blender article, is vast. And since creating add-ons (or modding) the application is done with Python code, lots of people have created add-ons. Blender Nation has the biggest archive of these add-ons. The Blender manual contains lots of great information about what add-ons are and how to both create code for them and how to activate them that are inside of Blender already and those that you have downloaded from outside sources. And don't forget Blender Wiki, which is an in-depth catalog organized around what areas the add-on affects (animation, development, import-export, etc). Official add-on list is here: https://wiki.blender.org/index.php/Dev:Ref/Release_Notes/2.79/Add-ons

blazraidr has a good tutorial called, "Quickest Way to Install Blender Add-ons" on his YouTube channel. Focuses on installing add-ons that are not part of the official Blender release.



Some Favorite Add-Ons
Since Blender users have many different ways to use the software, there is no real consensus on that are the best add-ons. Blender.org has a careful vetting process for the add-ons the include with downloads of Blender, so perhaps these are the best. However, after spending a week researching and trying out various add-ons, I'd like to recommend some that I think will enhance your Blender experience and speed up your workflow.

Archimesh by Antonio Vazquez
Archimesh is essential a tool that allows you to create all kinds of architectural structures and elements like windows, doors. It's super-easy to use and comes with lots of great models.

Dynamat by Pratik Solanki
Dynamat is an add-on which makes your shading workflow a lot more easier. Makes adding shaders much quicker. 32 Dynamat chaders come with the add-on with an option to add more shader packs which Pratik states "are coming soon".

Animation Nodes by Jacques Lucke. An absolutely fabulous add-on that institutes a new animation system in Blender. Currently in version 2.0. Be sure to check Jacques patreon page if you decide to use this excellent add-on.

Mira Tools by Paul Geraskin. A set of 8 modeling and retopology tools that include CurveStretch and DrawExtrude. A fantastic addtion to Blender modeling and probably the most useful add-on listed here.

Asset Management 2.0 by Ptiwazou. This one's subjective in that it helps my workflow a lot to know where all of my assets are for a project. I have literally thousands of assets on several different drives. This asset lets me access and organize them quickly.

Sculpt Tools by Piotr Adamowicz. A small group of operators that make some boolean and modifier-based actions and faster. Makes sculpting so much easier and fun!

Note that while all of the add-ons listed above are free, some developers charge for their work. Most of the prices are fairly low and in general the add-ons are very well done. Blender Market is the place to go for these add-ons. My favorite there is the LowPoly Factory by Lubos.


Links

  • I really like Akash Hamirwasia's Youtube channel where he covers Blender add-ons frequently. He also scripts his on add-ons and his Enrich 1.1 add-on is a great tool for post production.

Download the current Blender release (2.79) here:
https://www.blender.org/download/

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add-ons, blender, Blender Market, Blender Nation, open source, plug-ins
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