03 June 2012

Angela Guenette - Blenderella - Character Modeling In Blender 2.5 - Training DVD Review

If you use Blender enough and stay in the irc channels for long enough, certain artists popup repeatedly or are mentioned in tones of awe. We see their work, are suitably impressed. One such artist is Angela Guenette, who has worked on everything you can do in the 3D modeling world (website Ponder Studios.org), see her youtube channel for examples of her work.

The people at the Blender Foundation were so impressed they decided it would be a good idea if they made her one of the main 3D modelers on the Sintel open movie project which was released a while back. She was the person responsible for modeling the character of Sintel the heroine of the movie.

So when i found out that Ms Guenette would be creating a training video DVD, I went right to the Blender EShop and ordered a copy.

Product Specifications:
  • Name: Blenderella - Character Modeling In Blender 2.5
  • Author: Angela Guenette
  • Price: €27.50
  • Type: Training DVD
  • Length: 6 Hours 38 Mins (Roughly)
Topics Covered:
  • Section 1 - References
    • Head
    • Body
    • Hand
  • Section 2 - Head
    • Eyeball and Cornea
    • Background Images
    • Eye Socket Blocking
    • Nose Blocking/li>
    • Mouth Blocking
    • Eyeball Fitting
    • Eye Socket Detailing
    • Mouth Detailing
    • Nose Detailing
    • Cheek, Jaw, Forehead, Scalp
    • Neck
    • Shaping
    • Ear
    • Final Shaping
    • Geometry Eyelashes
  • Section 3 - Body
    • Background Images
    • Torso
    • Pelvis
    • Leg
    • Arm
    • Fingers
    • Hand and Thumb
    • Rest Pose
  • Section 4 - Hair
    • Hair Base
    • Hair Strands
  • Section 5 - Clothing
    • Pants
    • Shirt
    • Boot
    • Masking Under Clothing
    • Shirt 2 And Corset
    • Boot Detailing
    • Corset Detailing
    • Pants Finishing
  • Section 6 - Wrap Up
    • Wrap Up
A few days ago the "Blenderella" DVD arrived, and given what I had heard and seen of Ms Guenettes works, I was very eager to see what the Blenderella DVD would be like.

The first thing to note is that Blenderella is not a beginners DVD. Very little time is taken to go over the basics of how to use Blender, although Ms Guenette does cover the basics of the Blender 2.5 interface. You are expected to know the basic ins and outs of Blender before you watch this DVD. I personally think a beginner may be able to follow along so long as they know the basics of vertex manipulation, but they would have to be paying complete attention as things move along at a fairly brisk rate on this DVD.

A combination of commentary and timelapsed sequences are used to explain and visualize the various steps and processes involed in modeling a high quality (but not vertex heavy) 3D model of a woman from start to finish.

The start of the DVD goes over how to use and setup reference images before you start modeling within Blender. This is the first time I have seen on a Blender Foundation DVD, how to properly setup reference images. Yes other tutorials have gone over setting up background images but rarely in the amount of detail as this DVD. Not only is how to assign background images described, also how to alter the contents of reference images so as to get the most accurate reference to work from is also explained. Normally most tutorials skip over this step or only lightly cover it, which is shame, as it is such an important step, that must be done correctly.

Having setup and corrected the background images such that they are usable, things move on to modeling the individual parts of the Blenderella model. The different video sections range in length from a few minutes to just under 30 minutes. So there are many different video section, each gernally describing and visualising a different part of the Blenderella model. Each video moves from blocking (rough modeling), through to very detailed modeling as the sequences of video progress.

The tutorials emphasize not just making a model look nice visually, but also making sure that topologically the models are of a very high quality. One of the ways this is achieved is by only modeling using quad polygons and diamond quads. Unsurprisingly the quality of the mesh geometry is excellent, watching the videos it seems that Ms Guenette never puts a vertex in the wrong place and almost never hesitates when she is placing and maninulating vertices. As a handy hint to the viewer Ms Guenette also indicates the topoligical flow of the models different parts by highlighting various parts of it using simple material coloring techniques. Some may find this useful while others will find it a distraction, but at least the time was taken to try and make things clearer to users not as sure of themselves as far as mesh topology goes.

Unlike a lot of Blender training DVDs this one does not resort to sculpting to add surface details, instead a combination of subsurfacing, proportional editing and manual vertex pushing are used to form all the detail of the Blenderella model. This has the advantage of keeping the mesh geometry very clean and light weight. Also it allows the viewer to see how to add creases and wrinkles in the Blenderella model using just basic vertex manipulation rather than sculpting. I found this very useful when watching the modeling of the hand knukles and similar items. Often it is difficult to determine how wrickles are constructed for items such as fingers, but it is much easier to see when done manually, rather than just going directly to sculpting them.

The Subsurf, Mirror, Mask and modifiers are used to aide in construction of the Blenderella model, their use is clearly explained. One surprising part of the DVD is that at the end after the model is almost completed Ms Guenette goes over how to check your finished model to make sure it is in a sane state, by checking for triangles and doubles and applying scales and transformations. It may only be a small thing to check but forgetting can cause annoying problems and it is good that time was taken to highlight this often overlooked step.

So the overal quality of the modeling is excellent, I couldn't find any fault in the videos or the modeling techniques used in them. If you want to know how to do mesh modeling and do it to a very high standard, these videos will be a massive help.

The finished blend files and all the resource files are included on the DVD, so if you do not want to watch all the way through all the vidoes you can still experiement with the finished blend file.

All the above text are the good points of the DVD and normally this is where the review would stop, however there is unfortunately an issue with the production of the DVD. Apparently if you are using a Windows machine the html interface to the DVD does not work because of a prodcution mistake when the DVD was created. The Blender Foundation is aware of this issue and has issued a patch which can fix the issue on Windows. If you want a replacement DVD they will replace it on request. Please bear in mind that even if you don't apply the patch or get a replacement DVD, you can still access the video files on the DVD directly from inside the video folder on the DVD. The encoding of the video is not effected and is very clear and will play on any video player which supports MKV (Matroska) video files. MKV file format is an opensourced video format that is playable in all the major video players. If you can't play the MKV files you can download VLC media player which will play the videos. I am not sure why ogg or webm wasn't choosen instead but if you have problems, VLC is very easy to use and install and is available for all platforms. Maybe next time a training DVD is released by the Blender Foundation it will have its video encoded in webm format, at which point you won't need a seperate video player, it will be directly supported in your browser.

Even taking the production issues mentioned above the videos are of excellent standard and are well worth watching if you get the chance.

Review Score 80%