RedShark News

08 Dec

A Blender full of controversy

  • Written by 
Blender follow-up Blender follow-up Martin Tsine

One of our contributing writers, Phil Rhodes, wrote an article critical of the user interface and development management in Open Source Blender. The Blender community rose in its defense. Here’s our response

A RedShark colleague caused a bit of controversy with a recent opinion piece. Cinematographer Phil Rhodes, a frequent contributor to this site, penned an article describing his love and hate relationship with Blender, a powerful yet challenging open source 3D modelling and animation tool.

The conversation spilled from RedShark to blenderartists.org, where the topic was taken up in a thread entitled ‘Scathing commentary on Blender’. To be fair, when I read Phil’s article, I thought he had some valid points, yet I didn’t share his frustration with the program, and mentioned as much on that thread. 

Defensive

As expected, most of the thread’s other respondents took to Blender’s defense, critiquing the critique. Some could ‘see where he was coming from’, but thought he lacked the requisite experience in the program to make such judgments. A handful actually agreed with Phil concerning the UI and Blender’s unwillingness to adhere to certain conventions.

All-in-all, with a few scattered insults in the mix, it was par for the course. However, reading through the thread’s posts, I came across something rather troubling. The thread starter found Phil’s article through our email newsletter, which states near the bottom ‘From the Lightworks Team’.

Bias?

A link to one of our articles covering Lightworks was included as evidence of our bias and apparent ‘hatchet job’. This may not seem like a big deal, but there is a misconception as to what this article is and our intentions in running it that I aim to clear up.

For those who don’t know, EditShare is our parent company, and it also owns Lightworks, a non-linear editor with a pedigree that EditShare hopes to return to prominence. When first conceived, RedShark had deeper ties to Lightworks, but as the idea developed, it grew into its own entity. There is undoubtedly some amount of editorial overlap, and a degree of cross-purposes at play, as is typical throughout the publishing world. Because I work for RedShark, I take this all for granted as common knowledge, when it’s definitely not.

Phil’s article is best described as an Op/Ed. His opinions were based on his experience with Blender and other software, and his years as a film professional, but that doesn’t make him ‘right’, and certainly no more so than any of the piece’s detractors. The article is not a review, nor is it a cog of some malicious plan on the part of EditShare to harm the Blender community, or to devalue a competing application. For that matter, Lightworks and Blender are NOT competitors. They may share a sliver of functionality, but they are drastically different tools with their own respective focuses. If anything, they are complementary programs.

RedShark is not a bully pulpit and the drafting of Phil’s article wasn’t a top-down decision. Here, contributing writers submit articles and we publish them based on if they are interesting and well-written, and if they fulfil a tenant of our editorial mission: to provide ‘News, Views, and Know-How for the Moving Image Professional’.

Shared paths

Now, time to wrap this up with a note of irony. As was mentioned by RedShark readers in the comments, complaints about Blender’s UI, keyboard layout, and ‘innovative’ way of accomplishing tasks mirror those lobbed at Lightworks from time to time. Some have even described the Lightworks learning curve as steep (I don’t believe it is, but that’s just my opinion). Lightworks’ journey back towards the top of the industry is not unlike Blender’s fight for recognition as a professional 3D animation suite. The paths forward for Blender and Lightworks are separate yet similar enough that one may inform the other. Although this Op/Ed was borne through conflict, I believe there’s much we can learn if we can glean lessons from parallel narratives and open ourselves to the criticism that follows every worthy endeavor.


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  • I think the problem with the other article was that it wasn't very balanced, as was implied by the title, it lent more towards 'hate' even though I'm sure that wasn't Phil's intention. It should have been more of a constructive debate like the other articles posted on this wonderful website or posted as something like My Experience with Blender and Problems with Innovate Software that Change the Workflow.

    I think Phil's points raised are valid but there should be opposing points to make you think more about each side of the fence and yes the side of the fence he raised was intriguing and got you thinking but I would also like to hear from the other side as well. For instance he raised the point that many common shortcut keys won't work in Blender thus you had to learn a new workflow just for Blender, which was interesting and got you thinking. However, there should have also been counterpoints regarding existing workflows and decades old defined practices that are limiting innovative UIs like Blender's which has (I've heard) much faster designed shortcuts and interface to speed up it's workflow that is that way because it is not following the norm.

    This then could lead into a short-term/long-term debate regarding companies and training regarding learning new UIs and workflows.

    The other problem is that he wasn't really comparing it too other 3d programs (eg he could have pointed out that in 3ds max if you press ctrl+s it sometimes enables soft selection instead of saving as it would commonly do in other programs...but that wouldn't have worked with his opinion/points about Blender) but rather at one stage Lightworks...

    Basically I would like to see a follow up article on the other side of the fence so both sides are covered and it's not a purely biased yet interesting opinion.

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  • It's a shame Phil couldn't have followed up the article himself. I do like Blender, but not to the point where I ignore its flaws, but I do think it's a great piece of kit. I slightly agree with some of his points, but it did just seem like a slamming session on Blender. It's his opinion, fair enough, he's more than welcome to it, but isn't this supposed to be a news site? His opinions didn't seem well balanced at all, making sweeping statements that the software isn't great because you have to learn it (really? Seriously? When was the last time you sat down in front of some design software and intuitively knew how to do everything?). Just sounded like someone who had a bit of a chip on his shoulder if I'm being honest...

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  • Steven,

    isn't this supposed to be a news site?


    It's a news and views site.

    I don't think it's possible or even desirable to try to be balanced within articles. I try to avoid any bias except towards good products and interesting writers.

    But you are right: there's a lot of interest in Blender, and whatever anyone thinks about it, it is an amazing program. We are currently looking for the right person to write regularly on Blender for RedShark.

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  • Thanks for your reply David. I really like Red Shark, great website that seems to be going from strength to strength, it's just that the controversial article in question was, as suggested, quite controversial... I agree that news doesn't have to be balanced to be good, but a little bit more balance would have been great, like maybe conceding that some other 3D applications have UI's that take time to learn also (I personally didn't find learning Maya or Cinema 4D any easier than Blender).

    Hope you get a regular writer on such things, but it might be a good idea to get a general CGI strand rather than just specifically Blender. I know that I'd personally like to read news about 3D software other than Blender. Even if it's not your tool of choice, it's always good to learn about what else is out there.

    Keep up the good work.

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  • I agree that Paul does make some valid points regarding the UI, and working with the program. However, as a professional 3D artist for the last 10 years, and working with close to every 3D program under the sun, I have a very different opinion I would like to Share.

    To give you a brief history regarding my experience, I began my foray into 3D using 3dsmax R2.5. I used 3dsmax all the way until version 9. Due to the instabilities and inherent difficulties using the software in even small productions, the studio I worked at began looking for other software to fit the bill. In my free time, I began playing around with several programs, from Maya, to Lightwave, to Softimage. I briefly dabbled with Blender at that point, but I, like many other people, didn't really take it seriously due to it's open source nature, and because, at the time, I had a very hard time navigating my way through the program. I began to fall in love with Softimage, and for the most part, have been using it ever since.

    After spending the last 4 years as a Softimage user, I've developed a complete and utter hatred for all things 3dsmax.

    In the last year, I've begun experimenting with using Blender in my pipeline. For the last 6 months, I've spent a great deal of time in Blender, and the more time I spend in the program, the more I fall in love with it. That being said, it's certainly not without it's flaws. Sometimes, modifiers don't work the way you want them too. The Mirror modifier is certainly quirky. The array modifier baffle's me, and I can't seem to figure out why it works the way that it does. But, as far as speed and quality goes, I can model faster in blender than I can in any other program. I used to do all my modelling in an inexpensive boutiqe software called Silo, but the dev's haven't updated the program in years, so I moved on.

    I think part of the reason why it's very difficult to find finished projects, either personal of commercial that are completed using Blender, is due to the nature of it being open source. As I mentioned earlier, most 3D artists you talk to (including many of my friends), don't take Blender seriously. Many people think that, because it's free, it's not as capable as the commercial offerings. On top of that, many (not all) of the artists that do use it, are hobbyists that do other things to make a living. In cases like that, it's not likely that you will see full, finished projects completed using the program.

    Yes, some of the things in Blender don't make sense, and are extremely difficult to use. But, given the nature of complex 3D programs, how is that really different than anything else? Many tools in Maya, 3DSMax, Softimage, and Lightwave suffer from the same problems as Blender does.

    I have a contract to do VFX for a 15 minute sizzle reel for a TV show based on a comic book that I'm going to start in the new year. I can tell you right now, that Blender will be used EXTENSIVELY on this project. Not exclusively, but it will be used for many, many shots.

    Also, David, I would love the opportunity to contribute to the site, since you mentioned that you were looking for a Blender contributer.

    Anyways, that's my opinion on the topic. No ONE 3D program is going to fit the bill for every artist out there. That's just how it is. Some people are going to love certain programs, other people are going to hate them.

    All I know, is that it's a good thing we have choices.

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  • There is a famous say in France which is also used by one of our greatest journals; it is an extract from Beaumarchais's play
    " The marriage of Figaro": It says "Without the liberty to blame there are no flattering praises". I think this applies perfectly to this controversy....The same applies to criticism.

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Patrick Jong Taylor

Patrick Jong Taylor is a freelance writer, director, editor, and motion-graphics artist. He lives in Los Angeles, which means, at any given moment, he's probably eating sushi on a surfboard while reciting lines from 'The Big Lebowski'. Or washing his Bentley.

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