price also reveals how he decides on what Blender tutorials to make, and why donuts are so popular.
If you’ve ever dived in to try learning Blender in the past few years, you’ve probably come across Andrew Price. The 3D artist is the person behind Blender Guru and Poliigon, and the familiar face behind a wealth of Blender tutorials on YouTube.
So how did he get here? In this final story as part of #3dartistsrock week, I asked him about his journey to becoming a major force in the Blender – and wider 3D – community. But I started with asking him what’s getting him excited about the current 2.80 release.
b&a: As a major Blender user, what are your thoughts on the 2.80 release?
Andrew Price: The biggest thing that I think will make 2.80 have a splash is that for the first time ever it’s going to be accessible to the wider 3D community, because it’s finally got a much more standard user interface and hotkey system.
Previously, for example, Blender, up until 2.80, has had right-click as select. So not even unconventional in 3D space, unconventional in software space. Having a non-standard mouse-click as select, it’s just always been that way. And it’s only now that there’s been a push to finally standardise and adopt typical conventions that other software has been using for a long time.
Another example is Blender used to just be all about hotkeys, so, if you wanted to move an object you had to know that the hotkey was G. If you want to rotate it, it’s R, if you want to scale it, it’s S, extruding is E, I is insert. There was no indication really on how to do that if you didn’t know these hotkeys. There was a toolbar which had some words in it, but when you clicked it it didn’t function how you’d think. It was kind of like they tried to slap an interface over the top of this hotkey system. It wasn’t good.
Basically, there’s a guy there, William Reynish, who has spent the best part of probably about a year, figuring all this out, including how to keep the existing Blender users happy so that you can still use the shortcut method that people love, but then also introduce actual visible buttons that you can click on that behave the way people would expect. That’s probably the biggest thing that I think will really help Blender.
The second biggest thing is the real-time rendering engine. It’s called Eevee, and it functions pretty similarly to Marmoset, Unreal Engine, or any kind of real-time engine, and the big advantage is that it’s – unlike Marmoset or Unreal – it’s built into a fully functioning 3D application. So, for example, in making an architectural scene, I’m working on one right now, and you can model the room, add in countertops and model drawers, and do this all with the real-time engine turned on, so you can see the reflections, and the texturing, you can paint, and do all this with your final render.
Blender also has a proper layer system now. Previously Blender was limited to 20 layers and there was no naming. It was just little dots that you had to remember. Now there’s a proper layer system. And there’s also a fully 2D animation pipeline. You can actually now draw in 3D, with Grease Pencil.
b&a: Why did you find yourself drawn to Blender originally?
Andrew Price: Because it was free. That’s entirely it – I was a poor high schooler. I started in 2003, so I was 15 at the time. And I was really into Need for Speed, those video games. And I was playing Need for Speed one night, and I was watching the car on the turntable, the select car screen, and I was like, oh man, I really want to make my own 3D car, that would be so cool, it’d feel like I’d own it, even though it’s virtual. And so I searched, this was before Google, on MSN.com or something, “3D car,” and I found this image of a red sports car that was rendered, and it was hosted on a website called Blender.org.
And that was where I discovered Blender. And I downloaded it, opened it up, had no idea what I was doing, and there was very, very limited tutorials, because the community was a fraction at the time. But I told myself, if somebody else can teach themselves to create this car, then I can as well. And that was my motivation to pull me through, to learn it myself.
Then, in 2008, I created a site called Blender Guru. And by the name itself, I’ve been tied to Blender, essentially. It just so happens that it’s slowly become, I won’t say industry standard, but let’s say, ‘no longer laughed at’ – as much as it used to be. Now, you’re seeing it on ArtStation, or professional people that are working on big films, and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, they’re using it at ILM!’
b&a: So, jumping ahead to today, what is the mix of things that you do in the 3D space right now?
Andrew Price: Well, I started Poliigon.com about three years ago, and that was basically to appeal to the wider 3D community. Because previous to that, on Blender Guru, I’d made little products like the Grass Essentials, which was a pack of grass models that myself and some contractors that I’d been hiring had built for me, or a Rock Essentials, which was a pack of photo scanned rocks. These were products that we poured our heart into, and when we launched it, they did very well, but the only people who’d buy them were Blender users.
Coincidentally, at the same time, I was making all these tutorials for YouTube and in every single tutorial, I would say ‘Go to textures.com and get this texture, and that’s the one we’re going to use.’ And I realised at some point, for one, I didn’t even really like the textures on there, some of them were really blurry, there was no normal, displacement maps, anything like that. And also, I was just driving free marketing to this textures site, and how much does it cost to photograph some textures? I thought, well I could do that, that’s easy. Now, it cost a lot more than I thought, it was a lot harder than I thought, as many things tend to be.
But, we spent a year building Poliigon, I think we spent probably about $200K on it as well, not just on the site, but building up the assets for a long time. And then we finally launched it, and it was basically a texture library, with the sales point being that we were giving you not just the texture but the normal map, the displacement, the gloss map, all that kind of thing.
Since then, it’s been three years since it launched, and we’re now 30 full-time people who work for Poliigon, 6,000 paying subscribers, and it’s growing. We’re just trying to figure out how we can scale that, grow that to be bigger, whilst at the same time growing my YouTube channel.
b&a: With your YouTube channel, how do you come up with tutorials? How do you come up with an idea? Is it something just from a personal project, or are you just say something that you think people would be interested in?
Andrew Price: Honestly, most of it is based on what I’m interested in. I pick the topics that I myself want to learn. The subway one was, I was just like, I just love this grungy, fluorescent lit corridor, how creepy it can be with a flickering light. And I wanted to do it. And I found a little reference image, and I just did it.
The beer tutorial, some of that is personal curiosity. I made this beer, this was like, I don’t know, four or five years ago. And that was partly because I wanted to know if I could do it, but also because looking at what people have as their career, like I know for marketing, a lot of people in product visualisation or marketing or whatever would have that kind of a job. Like, make a drink advertisement.
So it’s basically those two things, looking at what people need, for example, architectural visualization is very clear. Obviously lots of people have this as a job, and they want to know how to do it effectively. And so, I find that that usually makes a pretty clear winning tutorial, when you pick something that, it looks cool, but it also has a very real, practical value, that you could get a job with, essentially.
b&a: What’s a tutorial you might’ve done in the past couple of years that you were really surprised at the response you got? Can you think of one that’s a bit of a highlight?
Andrew Price: Probably the subway. Honestly, that got a million views or something. That was pretty surprising. As I said, that was just something that I was interested in. And I thought, it’s cool if I can make it, and hope it gets some views, but it’s been one of the top performers.
The biggest performer, actually, now that I think about it, the one that I didn’t expect, was the donut series. I wanted to do a beginner series for Blender. Because people had asked for it, and I’d always really targeted my tutorials at intermediate to advanced users, because that was where I was at, and I was like, that’s what I want to make. But obviously the biggest category of people learning any skill is beginners because obviously people taper off as they get into it.
So, I actually had a few ideas in my head of maybe a snowman, maybe a cupcake, maybe a chair. And I think that I asked my wife, and I showed her some images for this beginner series, and she’s like, ‘Oh, you should do the donut.’ I thought, ‘Really, the donut? All right.’ And then I put it into a survey, and I sent it out to Twitter, and I asked, ‘Which one of these images would you want to make in a tutorial?’ And there was a donut, and it smashed all the others. I’m like, ‘What is it about a donut? All right.’
It was right before the Blender conference in Amsterdam, so I had to fly to Europe, and I wanted to get this beginner series out before then. And I had a cold at the time, so I had this weird sounding voice, but I had to do it, and it was like a 10 part series. And so, I was recording three parts a day, and each one was half an hour long. I just got it out, and I thought it was all right, it was kind of casual, I could’ve done it better, but I’m glad that it’s up. And it’s by far – probably 80% of the views on my channel, are from this one donut series.
This week at befores & afters is #3dartistsrock week, diving deep into a different 3D artist each day to reveal their work and their process.Sign up to the weekly b&a VFX newsletter