A love letter to Blender

We have become a gold level sponsor of the Blender Development Fund and will start to actively share some of the Blender tools we have developed with the community.

Oct 23, 2019 · 5 min read
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This image was created using a Blender plug-in created by @JoseConseco3 that uses Embark’s own example-based texture synthesis algorithm. It was created in two steps using style transfer, and three images as input: the logos, a heightmap, and a satellite photo.

Many of us at the content team at Embark use Blender daily, and our long-term ambition at the studio is to use Blender as our default program for 3D and environment art.

Apart from supporting Blender’s development as a sponsor, we’re also going to share some of the Blender tools we have developed on our open-source portal, so stay tuned for that!

In case you haven’t heard of Blender, it’s a free and open-source 3D creation program, that lets you do pretty much anything related to your 3D pipeline. You can download it here.

We use Blender because it’s a great piece of software. It’s fast and reliable, and its community makes it better every day. We’re also fans of how Blender is making game development more accessible and collaborative, something that is right in line with our own long-term mission.

For too long our industry has been walled-off, with expensive software licenses posing a barrier for non-professionals to even get started. All that is beginning to change now, and Blender is a great example of what happens when powerful software is made available for everyone to use, and communities start to work together to change the status quo.

Below are some thoughts from two people at Embark’s content team, Robert Berg and Maxi Vazquez, who have used Blender daily for the past months. They’ll provide some more insight into how we use Blender at Embark, and what’s so great about it from an artist’s perspective.

Maxi Vazquez, Artist

Regardless of what 3D program you’re used to, it’s not difficult to migrate to Blender, especially after the release of 2.8 which has streamlined the user experience and added many requested features.

Jerry Perkins (aka MasterXeon) is the original creator behind Hard Ops and Box Cutter. You should follow him on Twitter and YouTube for tutorials on how to use his tools and for general tips about Blender.

If there are specific tools that you like and are used to in other programs, chances you’ll find an equivalent in Blender or as a community add-on, by simply searching for it on Google. There are also many short, to the point tutorials that help a lot when migrating, showing you how to approach specific tasks using Blender tools the way they were designed to be used.

Community add-ons that have become crucial for us at Embark include Box Cutter and Hard Ops. For my own personal projects, I also use MeshMachine and DecalMachine. These plugins will help a lot in your day-to-day work, especially if you’re doing hard-surface modeling, and will allow you to cut down on the repetitive manual input that’s required in software without custom tools.

A simple example of the powerful workflows modifiers enable

Modifiers are also super powerful, and something I already used a lot in my pipeline coming from 3Ds Max. These allow you to apply non-destructive operations on meshes, and makes it easy to iterate and get complex results that can be edited at any point. A good example is the Boolean Modifier in combination with the Bevel and Weighted Normals, which we use all the time here at Embark.

Eevee and the node editor are great tools for real-time work. These allow you to set up complex custom materials in no time, with the node-based shader editor. For us, that means that we can re-create shaders that we’re using in Unreal and preview how the final mesh will appear in Unreal while we’re working, making the iterative process way faster.

Early workflow test of a vertex paint shader. This allows us to see what the mesh looks like in Unreal while working in Blender.

I’ve already mentioned the Blender community, but I really can’t stress how important it is. Regardless if you take part in improving Blender’s source-code, build add-ons, or simply provide feedback, you’re part of a community that makes sure that Blender keeps improving. Every week, bugs are fixed and features are added to upcoming versions, which is exciting to follow on Blender’s dev page.

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Photogrammetry assets modeled in Blender, using Embark’s Auto Lowpoly tool, and rendered in Unreal Engine. Read more about how this was created here.

Robert Berg, Artist

In early 2019, when Embark was a completely new studio with no established pipelines or workflows, the early team of artists here figured we had an opportunity to try something new and see if Blender could work in a real production environment.

Blender was a program that some of us had started using in our free-time and were starting to appreciate, even if it was rough around the edges.

This coincided with the release of the Blender 2.8 beta, which really changed everything. Suddenly, all that had made Blender quirky in the eyes of a jaded artist like myself was gone, and Blender started rivaling the best 3D software out there.

Coming from 3Ds Max, one of my favorite and most used tools has always been Connect. Not having a similar tool in Blender had always been my main gripe with the program.

Luckily, creating tools in Blender is pretty easy, so Paul, one of our technical artists, recreated it to my specifications in a few hours. As a bonus, we even added some extra contextual features. The result is a tool that allows us to do most of our modeling and scan cleanup using a single button! We’re calling the tool Contextual Connect, and it’s fantastic. Simple, but fantastic!

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Embark’s Contextual Connect tool in action, all using a single hotkey.

Our ambition is to share some of the tools that we’ve built with all of you and keep our open-source tools hub updated with new stuff. And in the meantime, if you’re looking for some more in-depth reading on the work we have done in Blender, head over to this post about how we work with photogrammetry.

I’m very happy that Embark, and the industry as a whole, are giving Blender more attention. The fact that it’s free and open-source means anyone can learn and develop their skills with a powerful, versatile and fast program that is as good as any licensed software out there.

Embark Studios

Embark Studios is a Stockholm-based games studio, on a…


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The future belongs to the curious

Embark Studios

Embark Studios is a Stockholm-based games studio, on a mission to blur the line between playing and making. https://embark.games/

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