What is on your to-do list this summer? For me, it’s going to be learning a program called Blender. Blender is an open-source 3D modeling program, which can create elements for use in WSI’s TruVu MAX. If you’ve ever worked with MAX you’ll immediately realize the usefulness in being to create your own 3D models from scratch.
I’ve always been an advocate for continued learning. I try to find the time to squeeze in extra reading and learning when I can, but too often there isn’t a lot of time. Summer is the exception for me. I’m not teaching between May and August, and there are usually quiet mornings for projects before I head to work in the afternoon. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks trying to come up with a summer project for this year. I’ve tossed around a few ideas, but I think I’ve come up with something that will be both useful and interesting. This summer I’m going to try to master Blender.
If you are not familiar with WSI, they are making the jump to 3D graphics with the scene creator in TruVu MAX. Before that, we used ShowFX which was largely based in 2D. For the past decade, if you wanted to make a graphic and needed a square or rectangle in ShowFX, you just created a polygon out of four points and straightened out the sides. If you gave it a little bevel and some texture, it looked pretty good. Now that WSI is shifting people to MAX, the days when you can just draw out a 2D object are ending. Instead, you need to select from a limited number of 3D objects in a palette provided by WSI. It’s a great system to work with, and the results speak for themselves, but I often feel limited to the things I can do based on the two dozen objects that came with the system. If I ever needed a new texture or element for ShowFX, WSI came pre-loaded with GIMP, an open-source drawing program. There is no such equivalent for creating simple 3D objects for TruVu MAX. You really need a separate, third-party program to get the most out of what MAX’s graphics have to offer.I’ve looked in to other 3d programs, but I think Blender is my best bet. I could ask my station to buy me a copy of Maya, but I’d rather show what I can do with 3d first. Trimble SketchUp (formerly Google SketchUp) is another good option, but I don’t think the free version is going to support enough features. Blender is free to download and use. I can learn it at work and in my free time at home. I’ve actually had some experience with Blender in the past. I tried to learn it years ago and had some limited success. Having just taken a peek at it for the first time in a while, I can tell that there will be a lot of re-learning to do.
The steep learning curve is one of the best parts of this deal. I’ve always advocated to entry-level meteorologists that they should have a superpower; something unique that they can do very well. It’s easy to say that you are really good at ‘connecting with the viewer’, or super dedicated to social media, but those are things anyone can claim with very little effort. It’s also not very tangible. How do you really measure ‘connection’? But there are few out there who can say they can make really nice weather graphics, and even fewer who can say that they can make their own 3D models from scratch. That is a skill you can show a chief or a news director, and set yourself apart from the rest of the pack. Personally, I’m not trying to pad the résumé; I just really want to learn this stuff. Everyone should find their own thing they are really interested in.
How am I going to do it? The last time I played with Blender, I used some self-guided tutorials out there found on Blender’s website. It’s a good place to start, and I’m sure I’ll check back there. Over the past weekend though, I played around with Lynda.com. It’s a paid site with hundreds of video tutorials for just about everything related to computer programs and programming. Lots of videos are free, but if you really get into it, it costs $25 a month. I’m not sure it would be something I’d going all year, but if I use it and it works, the $75 over three months would be well spent. If you compare that to the cost of a three-credit course at a local college, then it seems like a deal. Plus, I can go at my own pace and I don’t have to worry about homework, or weird instructors.
So that is my project for the next few months. I’ll post my progress this summer in the comments below. Do you have something cool you are going to learn this summer? It doesn’t even have to be weather related! Interested in learning Blender too? Let me know and we’ll start up some support forum or something. It’ll be fun.
UPDATE: I learned how to use Blender, but it ended up not playing well with WSI MAX. The 3d objects just wouldn’t export with the textures and surfaces looking the way they should, and I couldn’t edit any of that within the MAX scene builder. I did have some luck with Sketch Up, and right now that would be what I would recommend to anyone trying to bring in objects into WSI. If you’ve had any more success with this than I have, please (PLEASE) let me know.