This is the sixth 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 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.
Dynamic Simulations in Blender There are 8 types of dynamic simulations you can create inside of Blender: particles, hair, force fields, rigid bodies, cloth, soft bodies, smoke/fire, fluids and dynamic paint. The Blender manual organizes these under the "Physics" section, but after working my way through a great CG Cookie course called "The Fundamentals of Dynamics", I'm going to refer to these effects as dynamic simulations.
Blender Particle System Originally, I wanted to cover how Blender can create all 8 of the dynamic effects I mentioned, but the range and amount of effects were simply too much to cover in this short article. I decided to focus on Blender's Particle system. Particles are what you use to make things like fire, explosions, leaves, rain, sparks, stars and much more. Even effects like magic spells or glowing trails can be created using particles.
Every 3D application worth its salt has a particle system. Blender has a very competent particle system that allows you to create practically any effect you desire. The Blender manual (2.79) is particularly good as a basic learning path for creating effects using particles. In fact, I printed most of this section out and put them in a folder called Blender Particles.
Remington Graphics has a nice intro to basic particles in Blender on their YouTube channel:
I was also impressed with Nicholas Fenix's experiment, "Orbital", where he created a short scene "... with a particle system and some displace modifiers". I got this from my Blender Cloud account.
Easy to Create Particle Emitters What attracted me to the particle system is the simplicity of setting it up so you can create something interesting. Blender has a good (but needs improvement) motion tracking system, so you can add fire coming off of your hands or fingers. Even fog or explosions can be added to a scene if you have the patience that motion tracking requires. In fact, Blender is a must-have application for the indie filmmaker who simply doesn't have the money or the time to deal with a fairly steep learning curve that comes with other 3D applications (for a beginner).
To create a particle emitter all you have to do is add a plane, size it up a bit then go to the particles tab on the right and click create new. Then go to the play button at the bottom of the page and particles will start emitting from your plane. Any mesh can be a particle emitter.
After setting up the particle system all you have to do is tweak the settings. You can lengthen the life of the particles, slow them down or change the way they are displayed when rendered. Another neat possibility is using another mesh as the object that will be emitted as a particle. Add a sphere then point the particle system to the sphere and it's raining spheres. Groups of objects can be used as particles as well. The possibilities are endless.
One aspect of particles that particularly intrigued me was Boids particles which mimic flocking behavior (like when birds flock together as they fly). Darkfall has a nice tutorial on his YouTube channel where you create fireflies in a bottle. I'll definitely come back to this once I have more experience using Blender
How Does Blender Compare?
Lastly, I took the time to work a bit with Cinema 4D's X-particles system and Maya's nParticles in order to compare them to Blender. Frankly, you can create perfectly fine particle animations/effects in Blender compared to these two 3D applications. The advantage Maya and Cinema 4D have is that they make the dynamics workflow easier. Maya, in particular, has a very good library of pre-built particle effects that you can plug right in and then adjust as much as you like.
However, Blender has a killer community and lots of smart people creating plugins, which I think is an advantage. I purchased the Particle Instantiator created by Tim Zoet at the Blender Marketwhich extends Blender default particle system so that you can convert particles to animated objects and rigid bodies. Check out Tims video for more info.
I will most definitely return to the dynamics system in Blender for future projects. Especially interested in creating motion graphics and abstract animations.
And, of course, there are many excellent tutorials on particles within the Blender community. A quick Google search will take you right to them. Note that the CG Cookie course is something you have to pay for. Everything else is free...including Blender!