I had a play with Blender many years ago - back when Caligari was still actively developing its trueSpace 3D package. At that time I thought that Blender was an extremely worthy bag of spanners - a wonderful idea that looked and felt like it was trapped in the UI straight-jacket. This was, I must confess, a snap decision based on hours (actually probably minutes) of attempted use. Clearly I hadn't been willing to suffer the mental pains or productivity dips that result from trying to work with a new set of complex tools.
A holiday challenge
It dawned on me that I hadn't really tried to get my head around a new 3D package in well over 10 years. I wanted to remind myself what it's like, having spend many months on more technical learning challenges, like getting to grips with Hadoop and Big Data. Now usually the Christmas/New year holiday gives me the biggest allowance of the year for self indulgence - which has often resulted in days of playing computer games. So this year I decided to invest that free time in learning to use Blender. I assumed that one of three things would happen:
a. I'd give up because of some serious limitations or because it's just so horrible to use that I could see now value coming out of the effort. For the record, about 2 years ago I fell madly in love with SketchUp only to drop it like a burning rock after seeing what happened when a scene got moderately busy.
b. I'd be so impressed with Blender that I'd undergo CGI apotheosis, becoming a Blender evangelist, throwing away all my old tools and floating around the internet of a cloud of Blender love.
c. I'd get to grips with Blender, learn its strengths and weaknesses and then go back to 3DS Max 4 with a new set of tools to call upon when required.
So one month later, which is it?
Well, having a 15-month old son has resulted in a big reduction in the time I had available to invest, so I'm actually only half way through where I thought/hoped I'd be. But I'm still on the journey. Still enthusiastic. So far though, I'm somewhere between b. and c. depending on what kind of 3D output I'm looking to produce. I don't consider myself quite an evangelist but I'm increasingly an enthusiast and supporter.
Today, Caligari is - very sadly - a footnote in 3D modelling history while Blender has grown into a very respectable tool that has proven capable of (limited) production-quality output. When the full feature film (http://gooseberry.blender.org/) is finished you can remove that 'limited'.
Blender still has a reputation for being unfriendly to new users, I think this is true (to some extent), although I'd add that if you want to do 3D modelling and animation, and you want to produce work that is worthwhile - that people other than your mum will appreciate - then you have to be realistic about the time commitment required for learning the tools and techniques - not to mention to apply and practice 3D art.
Spending an hour per day for 2 weeks, (doing a combination of reading/watching and using) is what I consider a foot-in-the door for learning Blender modelling. At that point you'll know enough to Start up Blender and get working on something without constantly needing to search the documentation or every little thing. It's a fair investment, but well worth it because when proficiency is reached they a creator of worlds you will be.
Random thoughts on my journey into Blender are discussed here.