03 June 2012

Aaron W Powell - Blender 2.5 - Lighting and Rendering - Ebook Review

It seems to me that recently the rate at which Blender books are being produced has increased (my eyes have certainly noticed, given the amount of reading I have been doing lately). Luckily though just like chocolates and sweet things, you can never have too many books to read as far as Blender goes, this is especially true when it comes to reading about Blender 2.5.

With this in mind, Packt Publishing been busy releasing Blender books again, and this time it's one that covers the subjects of Lighting, Rendering and Texturing using the Blender 2.5 series 3D modeling application.

Product Specifications:
  • Name: Blender 2.5 - Lighting and Rendering
  • Author: Aaron W Powell
  • Price: £16.99 (Nov 14 2010)
  • Type: Ebook Pdf
  • Pages: 252
The first thing to note is that this book is NOT a beginners book. You will be expected to know your way around Blender's interface and know how to carry out basic tasks within Blender 2.5. While the book will explain certain steps in detail relating specifically to rendering and lighting tasks within scenes using Blender 2.5, anything else that is required you will be expected to know how to do yourself, you will be asked to carryout out a task and be expected to know how. Also for those who like to do mesh creation, Mesh Modeling is not covered, so if you want a book to teach you how to create and manipulate geometry and meshes within Blender 2.5, this is not the book for you.

Well now that you know what it doesn't cover, what can you expect of the things that it does cover?

Chapter 1, is mainly a theory chapter, covering a grab bag of different topics and explaining most common types of light rig setups and some coverage of color theory. It won't make you an expert on color theory or light rigs, though it does give enough information to be useful throughout the other parts of the book. Given that it was covering the basics I was surprised to see that it had a nice description of what Chromatic Adaption is. This section of the book (at least the ebook version), is a good example of the quality of the pictures. Full color and very clear, making carrying out tasks very easy while following along. The text is packed with pictures throughout the whole book. This is also where I found the first issue, as there is a downloadable color picture set that I was unable to download from the Packtpub.com website or the cgshark.com website. Hopefully this will be fixed by the time you read this (they normally fix issues like this very quickly).

Chapter 2, after the theory stuff of the first chapter, things move on to a more practical level and the theory described previously is put to use in using light rigs and setting up scenes and render setting. An example tricycle model is used to demonstrate various lighting and material handling features. How to use layers is covered briefly, and it shown how they can be useful for controlling light rigs and light and shadow locations. The descriptions of the various light rigs and how to use them is not exhaustive but is adequate as a jumping off point to go into more detail if you wish to. Throughout the book various external links are referenced if you wish to find out more information.

Chapter 3, moves onto more meaty subjects of Ambient Occlusion, Environment Lighting, Global Illumination and HDRI rendering. For the most part this chapter has good descriptions of most of the settings for Ambient Occlusion and Environment Light, though obviously in a book this size every feature cannot be gone over in massive detail, enough was described of the important features to make this section useful. One bad point was the example HDRI texture which was supposed to be available on the website, was when I tried not available. This meant that the section covering how to setup a HDRI render was not easy to follow. Though luckily there are many HDRI textures available on the web, so it should not be a show stopper and hopefully Packt will fix their website links. Blender 2.5's Indirect Lighting feature was briefly covered although to me it seemed more of an after thought, something thrown in because it was something specific to Blender 2.5, though it could also be because Blenders Indirect Lighting feature is not yet fully featured.

Chapter 4, covers Outdoor Lighting and the various ways to setup lighting rigs, materials and textures, to have semi-realistic outdoor lighting of a scene within Blender 2.5. I say semi-realistic because it would take a lot more book space to cover the many minute details and settings to get something that really looked photo realistic. That said, a good amount of time was taken to cover the different types of shaders and material settings Blender supports and how they can be used to good effect. After having gone over the various settings, things move on to applying what we have been told to the example scene (still the tricycle at this point in the book).

Chapter 5, describes Indoor Lighting and how to setup lighting rigs in ways to simulate light in enclosed spaces, as illuminated by incandescent light. Rather than using the Tricycle as the model to demonstrate things on, in this chapter we move onto a different model of the inside of a diner. Given the complexity of the indoor scene, more complex lighting, texturing and materials features are described and used. Layers and how to use them to control the illumination of various parts of the diner are gone over, and how to use layers to break up a scene in controllable ways is demonstrated. More light types and their settings are covered specially Area, Point and Spotlight Settings, but here it would of been very useful to have gone into greater detail as to the settings that control lights and there uses.

Chapter 6, goes over using UV Mapping and Unwrapping and using this to texture a wine bottle with a label. Also covered are various methods for aligning UV nodes and using UV test grids to determine if a texture is distorted. Once the UV Unwrap has been created the author shows how to export that UV Unwrap from Blender and open it within Gimp so as to create the label for the wine bottle. This is a very simple chapter but is clear and shows the process of texturing in external applications such as GIMP well enough.

Chapter 7, goes into detail on how to organize projects in terms of how to organize resources such as Blend files, textures and scenes in directories, so as to make them easier to manage as projects become more complex. This chapter is somewhat redundant with the small scenes presented in this book but if you do start to make larger things the information should come in useful.

One stand out feature that I was not expecting in this chapter was the coverage of how to use the Material Node Editor to add a label and apply transparency to the wine bottle once it had been unwrapped and the texture had been created. I think this is the first time I have seen the Material Node Editor even mentioned in a book let alone used. It really showed the potential power of the Material Node Editor. The Official Blender documentation on all the Node Editors is appalling but the Material Node Editor and Texture Node Editor documentation is even worse, so the fact that Mr Powell used this method to apply textures is very surprising. Packt/Mr Powell could pretty much name their price for a book that properly documents how to use the Texture Nodes and Material Nodes in Blender in detail. Also standard Compositing Node Editor usage was briefly covered to demonstrate how to add a Depth Of Field effect to the diner scene.

Chapter 8, takes the content of previous chapters on indoor and outdoor lighting and uses the information to light a scene which has both indoor and outdoor lighting characteristics, going over some of the approaches and tricks that can be used to give effective lighting to a porch type room. This is an extremely short chapter, it's only real purpose is to tie together indoor and outdoor lighting techniques.

Chapter 9, takes the previously introduced porch room and using a reference picture demonstrates how to texture the entire room. This sounds as if it would be very involved and large chapter, though unfortunately this chapter is merely a click this button, select this option type of chapter very little explanation as to the different ways it could be textured or the reasons options are selected the way they are is covered in any great detail. This is a shame as this chapter had the potential to draw together all the other chapters and be a great learning and explanation chapter, opportunity missed.

In theory this book sounds great, a Blender 2.5 specific book which covers the theory and practical side of texturing and lighting scenes within Blender. So far at least it's the only book specifically dedicated to this area of 3D. In practice though the book bites off more than it can chew. It's not a book for Blender beginners but what it does cover is not detailed enough or up to the level an intermediate/professional Blender user would require. If you have seen other books of 3D rendering and lighting they are considerably more dense and page heavy than this book. Combinations of not having enough pages and not covering the material they do have at a level high enough for professional users makes it neither one thing or the other. The things they do cover they cover clearly and with good pictures, but this book really would have been better aimed at beginners. However because it doesn't go over how to use the basics of Blender it will be hard for a true Blender beginner to follow it.

The price of the book is £16.99, and at the moment there is 50% off the book giving it a price of £8.50, which is a great price, so if you get it while this special offer is still active it's a good deal. Given the price and the fact that it is Blender 2.5 specific this is the reason it got the review score it did. Had it been more expensive it would have gotten a lower score also the coverage of the Material Node Editor Helped the score also.

In the end this a book that doesn't know who it's aiming at.

Review Score 70%