Learning Blender.. why?


Jason – interested in learning Blender as an animation tool.

Welcome to this series of posts on learning the open source 3d animation tool Blender.


blender_logo_qI’ve been in the animation industry for a long time – almost 20 years!  I’ve used many 3d animation applications in my time.  My first was back in the early 90’s using Infini-D (if you’re interested.. I can show you my first animation “Happy Happy Bee”.. it doesn’t look very happy, nor does it look much like a Bee).  I then quickly moved over to using Wavefront’s Advanced Visualizer and TDI Explore packages on an SGI.

As Alias and Wavefront merged, I joined the company and began using Maya in its infancy.  I used Maya for over 8 years, both at A|W and then at Weta Digital on the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  When I moved to DreamWorks in 2004, I began using their proprietary animation tool EMO.  In 2010-ish, I started working with the development team at Dreamworks to help design their next-gen animation toolset, focusing mostly on Premo (which was first used on How to Train your Dragon 2).

So as you can see, over the years I’ve used a number of 3d animation packages.  I love learning new tools and figuring out the ins and outs of why they work.  Seriously, for some reason, I find real joy in digging down to understand why developers made the choices they did, how I can manipulate the tool to do what I want, and in what way I can help push the tool to be better in the future.

Blender is one of those applications that I’ve downloaded in the past, but have never really given it a fair shake.  Each time I opened it I was immediately thrown by the selection paradigm (right mouse button?  really?) and the confusing interface. I would open the package, try and pick the cube, get frustrated, and then close the tool, only to download it again a year or so later.

Recently, I’ve decided to give Blender another try.  I’ve been extremely impressed with some of the things I’ve seen artists create with the tool – and it’s really improved over the years.  Just check out one of the latest short films created with it, Cosmos Laundromat.

The quality of what the team was able to create is pretty darn impressive.  Especially since Blender is free.

So I’ve decided to learn how to use Blender – and I’d like to share that journey with you.  However, like all journeys, I’ve got some rules I’ll be following.

First – I don’t want to just learn the tool, I want to become part of the community.  I’d like to support the developers in their efforts to really democratize the creation of animated content.  Thus, I’ve joined the Blender Artists website, and am paying for the Blender Cloud.

Second – I’m not going to jump in and immediately switch my interaction paradigm to one I’m familiar with – Maya.  I want to learn it the way the developers intended.  Yes, that means I’ll have to get used to the Right Mouse Button selection.  There may be a few addons that I’ll install to add functionality – but I’ll be selecting each one carefully and not do it to try and force another tool’s paradigm onto this one.

ThirdI’ll be documenting my journey here through all the successes and failures – and I hope you’ll join me in this process.  Please feel free to comment and add to this with your own experiences!

So stay tuned over the next few weeks as I learn Blender and share any tips or tricks I find!

Jason Schleifer
Jason Schleifer
Jason and his mad scientist eyebrows have been pushing the boundaries of CG animation and sharing his knowledge for nearly 20 years. Widely recognized as an industry leader and mentor to hundreds of animators, Schleifer, formerly of Weta Digital and Head of Character Animation at DreamWorks, now works as Head of Content and is a co-founder of Nimble Collective.


  1. Honorato says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jason. I’m also starting to use Blender and Ioving it so far. Will definitely stay tuned for your posts!

  2. Christiaan says:

    As a fellow Blender newbie looking to learn, the right click select seems like the one feature that is the most no-brainer thing to change as there appears to be no good reason for it to be that way and you can easily change only that in the options leaving the rest of the interface to Blender defaults. Say what you will about the Blender UI but it’s definitely highly customizable. Curious to see how you get on with it, especially in animation and rigging.

    • Jason says:

      I had an initial instinct to change the right mouse select, but decided to stick with it as the default for now. I know there is talk of changing a bunch of things for the next release.. once that changes, then I’ll switch to the new paradigm. One thing I really like about the right-click to select is when animating rotation.. it’s easy to select the new thing I want to rotate, even through the rotation manipulator! With Maya, if I want to change my selection to something that’s currently behind the manipulator, I have to either change tools to select mode, then pick the thing, then back to rotate, or I have to deselect first, then select. In Blender you just right-click through the manipulator.

  3. Luciano says:

    Awesome man, i was a maya user for about 6 years when i got to blender, but i dont ever want to work in maya again.

    • Nimble Collective says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Luciano! What is it about Blender that makes you not want to go back to Maya? What area of production do you focus on?

  4. Adam Juhasz says:

    I almost second Luciano, for the following reasons (was an animator, now a previz artist, heading into directing): the instant availability of really useful features like: joint translation reset (alt+g) which helps shoulder areas deform in a more sophisticated manner, without adding any extra mechanisms, and keeping it simple / external pivot (3D cursor) in combination of “mouse mocap” lets you time an action movement within seconds and have at least a roughly appealing motion that acts as your timing guide, and has the essential poses for the production quality animation phase later on. i love the really quick viewport changes on the number pad, mirroring poses or animations is easy, copy paste in the graph editor works as expected (looking at you maya, even though you have a myriad of settings for this) I could go on, but Blender just seems and feels like a really robust preproduction tool, that has everything needed to communicate ideas in a quick and appealing way. Grease pencil FTW! works like a charm and is a directors/anim supervisors best tool, just like the tool mentors used in AM.

    What i’m still scared of in blender is the heavy duty production, referencing in maya is still more straight forward, grouping has a different meaning than in maya, asset management is getting there with awesome add-ons popping up nowadays, etc. playing it nice with other software is also a biggie. That Alembic IO system needs to just happen, and happen good. FBX gives us headaches on a daily basis in an autodesk only env, I’m no fan of it…

    so if maya is the elephant, then blender is that silly cheetah running circles around it, not knowing when to just leave it behind and really evolve the heck forward. I like elephants, no prob, but I’m sitting on that cheetah, and enjoying the ride. It is a 20+ year old wild cat, so I’ll just leave it at that… 🙂

  5. Adam Juhasz says:

    Oh, and the video sequence editor…If you’re animating more than one shot and those shots need to be checked for good flow and continuity, then the VSE is a perfect tool to do just that. It also allows you to get creative and mix up a few shots, see where that goes, does a shot need to be dropped? find out using the VSE 😀

    In maya we have the camera sequencer, which is awesome for many reasons, but we have a similar and stupid simple solution for that in blender too, bind cameras to timeline markers…you drop a few markers in places you want to cut in the timeline and a hotkey binds the selected cam to the selected marker (ctrl+b) so in a multiple cam setup you can explore your coverage of a certain action in no time. again this is a directors tool, but is awesome.

    Quick mood exploration is also easy in blender with (if you need) physically based lighting/rendering on the GPU is just too funky to not play around with. i could go on…but work needs to get done!

    • Thanks Adam!

      I’m super excited to get more into the VSE.. especially for managing a series of shots! It feels like it’s pretty powerful just for regular editing.. but once you get into the idea of having it live & using it to organize your shots.. VERY cool opportunities there!

  6. Welcome to the community! I work on and off as a texture artist/generalist with Theory Animation, and David Andrade and the other animators all came from similar backgrounds as you describe. I am really interested in what you discover as you go, as I am mainly a 2d artist that picked up this 3d stuff. I don’t have experience with Maya, but I have watched the production team work with their animations in Blender, and sharing notes with grease pencil onion skin helped them a lot.

    • Thanks Craig! Love what David and Theory Animation are doing.. it’s great to see a team of people passionately creating their art! 🙂 Plus, David’s doing a great job of spreading the word about cloud based production & bringing people together to discuss it!

  7. Absolutely awesome…I think it is a matter of time that more professionals will start using Blender and therefore forcing industry standards to drop their prices.
    It is truly amazing what Blender’s capability is (especially as it is free). Also have to give the designers the create for creating such an awesome animation.

    Suicidal sheep….LMAO

    • Alex, I agree! It’s another completely interesting and increasingly viable option as a tool in each artist’s toolkit! 🙂 I checked out your link for blender tutorials, btw.. what sort of things are you going to be focusing on?


  8. JulianEisel says:

    More about why right-click select *is* actually smarter -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcwk6zvBnVU

    However, planning kinda leans towards left mouse selection by default, but it’s still a great interface concept. I wish other apps would’ve realized that too 😉

    • Thanks for the youtube link, Julian!

      Once you understand the RMB click, you can definitely take advantages of it’s workflow improvements. The challenge is the introduction to that concept.. it goes against the way many people “think” of picking something, and it’s inconsistent across the interface.

      Blender could probably make things easier for users by thinking about the initial introduction to this concept. Modo does a great job of introducing new users to their methods of working with objects. Their “onboarding” experience is smooth, cohesive, and completely painless. The new user learns a new paradigm for modeling, but does it in a way that brings them in slowly and easily. It’s really quite lovely! Blender could learn from that. 🙂

  9. Dddjef says:

    I’ve been using autodesk products for 20 years too. I switched to blender 5 years ago and it was a real pleasure. The most important thing for meis a real support, the dev proximity. I had to go back to Maya this year, it was a real pain, but my new company was afraid to not find animators. It’s a really good thing people like you give it a try

    • I’ve heard the same thing, Dddjef. When we mention Blender to people and all that it can do, they’re interested.. but they also hesitate because companies are usually hiring for the industry standard tools. I totally get that! I also think that studios and small teams are trying to reduce costs.. Blender is certainly a viable option for that.

  10. This is very cool! I’d love to follow your struggle with this one! ;D I have few years of Blender experience and I can tell, the start (first few weeks) can be quite rocky, but since you already have a lot of experience your problems might be slightly different than what mine was. 😛

    • Thanks Artturi!

      I think my “challenges” (not problems 🙂 are that I have a mental model for how 3d packages like Maya & node graph architectures work. They make sense to me because I “grew up” on them. Blender has a node graph.. sort of.. but it also doesn’t. Getting my head around the different modes.. and what’s available for me to use in the different modes (edit, pose, object, etc) is confusing at times. I’m learning to work around them, but I have to remember that certain things can only happen in certain modes, and I’m not quite sure why yet. This mostly has to do with creating drivers and things like that.. stuff where in Maya or Houdini or other packages you don’t have to worry about that modality.

  11. Looch says:

    I focus on character animation and rigging mostly, but either way I’m sort of a generalist.

    My problem with maya is that there is always some stupid bug that has been there for the longest time and that has never been fixed and that the solution is usually retarded workaround.

    Also simple stuff that should be out of your way, it isnt, like remember how for 2016 they announced a decent text creator?, blender’s isnt perfect or nearly as powerful as maya’s new created text tool, but hey it’s been there for 10 years at the least…

    Rigging, OMG rigging, clearly i’m not an advanced rigger, i don’t do feature film rigging, but i’ve rigged quite a lot of characters, for different purposes like games, shorts, and such, and man blender’s rigging system may not be the most flexible, but it surely makes 90% of everyday tasks very simple and quick… have you noticed how you don’t need to freeze transformations?… i’ll tell you more about that if you want.

    Standards have been implemented already for you, like .L and .R conventions for rigging, it makes sure most people will use them and very many tools that come will work too, like flipping a pose, or copying and pasting an inverted animation, or symetrizing a rig, with constrins and all…

    that’s just the tip of the iceberg =)

    maybe check out my blog you might find something interesting http://www.lollypopman.com

    • Nimble Collective says:

      Thanks Looch!

      Great blog! I love that the first thing there is on linking.. this is SUPER confusing for most first time users. Especially if they’re used to Maya!

      The one thing I’d love to find out more about is how to link multiple versions of the same rig w/out having to do the symlink workaround. For example.. let’s say I have a car rig. I link it to a shot, create a proxy, and we’re all good. Then I want to bring in a second car. I link in the car again, create a proxy…. and then the second proxy affects the first linked character, too!

      The workaround at the moment is to symlink the file on disk.. then link in the sym-linked file. It works.. but.. oy, not the best workflow. 🙂

  12. Gil' says:


  13. George says:

    I’m going to give it a shot as well Jason! lets see how it goes.

  14. Rhys Yorke says:

    I’ll be following you on your journey – I’m interesting in seeing the outcome. Good luck!

  15. Peter Lankawa says:

    I have been working in blender for about 5 years. My main income was from blender, but with maya I can profit 15 times more because of more precise tools (maybe not faster, but better looking and feeling) like animation is hands down the best in maya and blender is just a toy for kids. Blender has a great modifiers (for example array the best and build is really nice one) but with quality render and work you cannot compare.

    Although its nice to have blender as utility side by side with Maya.

    • Hi Peter, thanks for the reply! We have seen people be successful in Maya and also quite successful in other tools! It’s never a bad to increase your knowledge.. as you say, having tools side by side is a great thing! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Request a Demo

Copyright © Nimble Collective – Privacy PolicyTerms of Use