03 June 2012

Allan Brito - Blender 3D 2.49 - Architecture, Buildings and Scenery - Ebook Review

A while back I received an email from the people at Packt telling me of a new book they had just put out, and since any email the mentions the possibility of being able to read new Blender books instantly gets my attention, I clicked the link and was presented with a web page detailing a book called "Blender 3D 2.49 - Architecture, Buildings and Scenery".

This was confusing as I remember having reviewed a book with almost the same title and identical cover picture. So I went to my reviews and checked and sure enough I found a review with the same book cover and almost the same title. So I deleted the email and just put it down to an automated email snafu. Unfortunately I should not have been so quick with the delete button as it turned out to be an updated version of the previous book they put out.

Product Specifications:
  • Name: Blender 3D 2.49 - Architecture, Buildings and Scenery
  • Author: Allan Brito
  • Price: £18.69 (Sept 21 2010)
  • Type: EBook PDF Format
  • Pages: 376 (336 Roughly Useful)
So a little bit late here are my thoughts on Blender 3D 2.49 - Architecture, Buildings and Scenery:

For those that do not know architectural visualization is the technique of modeling the exterior and interior parts of a building so a potential client can see what it looks like (usually before it is constructed). In the old days before 3D, this would be done using an artists painting/drawing or someone would have constructed a model out of wood or card, now that all this kind of modeling is done on computers, this book covers the processes involved in visualization using Blender 3D 2.49.

This book is written by Allan Brito, who is a very skilled modeler and user of Blender 3D and has written multiple books on using Blender for various tasks. He has a very popular website that covers all aspects of architectural modeling (http://www.blender3darchitect.com). Mr Brito is very skilled at both the topics of Blender and Architectural Visualization.

Knowing all the above how does the updated book do in explaining the process of using Blender 3D to do Architectural Visualization? The short answer is very well given the page count.

The book starts by guiding the user through the basic but most important features of Blender, so as to allow a person that has never used Blender to get their feet. Covering the Blender interface and the basic ways of interacting with objects and meshes in Blender. To further help with this many pictures are used that for the most part are very clear and really help in getting across how to carry out particular tasks.

On a side note about the pictures: Some of you may remember that in the older version of this ebook the pictures were all in color, while in this newer updated version, most of the pictures in the ebook version are in grayscale? This was not intentional and having contacted the people at Packt, they say it's a mistake and are investigating. So they will probably fix that issue soon, then you will be able to re-download the book from Packt. So I am assuming in this review that the correction gets carried out. In any event even with the grayscaled pictures they are still useful and it is still possible to follow along using the pictures, it doesn't get in the way of using the book.

One thing that really stood out in this getting started section was the explanation of the Active Window concept, as I don't often see that described users are normally just left to figure that out, it was good Mr Brito took the time. Chapter 1 through 3 cover most of the basics of using Blender.

At Chapter 4 with the basic Blender tutorial chapters out of the way is when we start to use what we have learned to do Architectural Visualization tasks. Also scattered throughout the book are sections which cover the theories and fundamental concepts of Architectural Visualization. They help in explaining why certain things are done the way they are and how they are different from more traditional ways of doing 3D modeling.

A good amount of text is given over to using Blender to do precision modeling using the 3D grid and various snapping and 3D Cursor techniques. Which is useful for a lot of different Blender tasks not just Architectural Visualizations. Coverage of what layers are used for in Blender and how to use them was also present, a useful section on using layers for backups when doing complicated modeling changes was used in the book to show their usefulness.

Throughout the text different pieces of furniture and building elements are constructed, while introducing the user to different features of Blender at the same time. Various modifiers are explained that are deemed useful for Architectural Visualization, such as the mirror modifier and the array modifier. An informative section of the text goes over the process involved in making rounded corners for building walls using Blenders spin tool. As well as showing you have to construct items yourself, a discussion of when and how to use other peoples models is detailed, and various links to useful sources for models are provided. A nice clear explanation of edge loops and control loops was given helping new users when it comes to using the Subsurf Modifier and constructing object from scratch, even though the book is not really trying to teach you all the modeling fundamentals.

Importing models was covered and here although it gives you just enough information to import a DXF file and modify it for use within Blender, here I think more time should have been taken to describe more of the importing features and the various scripts and techniques used for cleaning and importing the varied import formats that Blender supports. Although hopefully this section of the book should give you enough information to find out the rest of it on your own, it's an important topic and needed more time as lots of things can and do go wrong when importing models from other formats that are not native to Blender.

Once the book has gone over how to create some simple objects it moves on to showing how use materials, textures and uv mapping over the next 3 chapters, giving enough information to do basic materials and texturing work for an Architectural Visualization project, even covering how to use Radiosity in later chapters. Though baking of textures is not covered in any detail. The sections on UV Unwrapping were clear and I think a new Blender user would have had no problems understanding them. UV Unwrapping is often a difficult subject to describe in a book especially describing seams, but the book does it well. There is the odd technical mistake about pinning preventing you from moving UV Unwrapped Nodes but its not a big issue, and it arguable depending on how you read it weather it's wrong at all. Thankfully there are very few problems like that in the book. Another advantage of this updated book is that a lot of the bad grammar and mistakes have been removed and for a book with over 300 pages there are not many typos.

In Chapter 10, Lighting is covered and this is a highlight (no pun) of the book. The descriptions of the different types of lights in Blender and their uses for Architectural Visualization is very detailed, going over both theory and practice on how to use them within Blender. Although its a small thing I thought the description of the Dist: parameter for lighting was one of the best I have read from a Blender book. I found out things even I didn't know about Dist. As a final test of all the things learned in the lighting section a demonstration of how to light a Solarium is used show the uses of various lighting types, which I think would be useful.

The more exotic lighting techniques are covered in chapter 11, those being Radiosity and Ambient Occlusion. Given the Blender 2.4x series doesn't have fully fledged global illumination (yet), the coverage of radiosity is welcome as there will be times where it comes in useful, even if it is being phased out slowly. More useful was the text on Ambient Occlusion and its various uses and options to bring a rendered scene to a new level of realism. The only real criticism I have of this section was that baking was not covered and being able to bake Occlusion is very useful, but other than that a good chapter.

Chapter 12 covers how to use external render Yafaray with Blender to produce globally illuminated scenes. Some of Yafaray's most important options as regards setting up Blender materials to be used in Yafaray are covered, and a good description of the different techniques that Yafaray uses to render a realistic 3D scene are described in some detail. Though obviously in a book this size an in-depth treatment of Yafaray could not be done, but enough information to get you started with Yafaray and Blender is given.

Chapter 13 introduces animation and Blenders Game Engine and shows the reader how to integrate models and scenes into Blender's animation system. The process of creating basic animatics and renderable animations is covered, as is how to take those animations and make them into a playable movie file. Blender IPO curves and NLA editor are covered briefly showing how they are used and how they can modify the timing of animations. Lastly on the animation side of things Blender Game Engine is used to make an interactive animation which allows the user to navigate around a 3D scene using the keyboard, so as to explore a building model. Although coverage of Blender Game Engine was very brief, it gave enough information to allow someone who has never used it to make a walkthrough using it. Even though it was a small section it does give Blender a unique feature that other systems don't generally have.

Chapter 14, moves outside of Blender and covers how to use the Gimp application to carry out certain post production tasks such as color balancing and correcting hypothetical errors which could be introduced in to render. While Post Processing in Gimp is very useful and often needed, I do think that attention should have been put on Blender's Node editor as at least for color correcting Blender's Node editor is the more Blender centric way to do things. Still the coverage of GIMP was clear, someone who has little experience with Gimp will have no problem following along.

Chapter 15 is the final chapter and is a new chapter that didn't exist in the older version of this book. It covers some of the changes that will be coming when the Blender 2.5x series is stable and finally released. The chapter does not go into any great detail on using the newer version of Blender other than describing how to reorganize its interface. No attempt is made to actually build anything using it. This is probably just as well because since this part of the book was written the Blender 2.5 series has moved on quiet a bit and a lot of the information written about it would be out of date. Even so it does serve as a heads up on what to expect when the new version of Blender is released.

Overall this has been a good book. It won't make you an expert in any of the areas it covers, but it doesn't try to. It gives you enough information to get tasks done. The previous version of this book was littered with grammatical errors and some repeating sections, thankfully this updated version does not suffer from either of those problems and is a very useful book.

Review Score 75%