03 June 2012

Cartoonsmart - Blender Basics - Video Tutorial Review

I had been catching up on events in the Blender world and I came across the news on the official Blender website (ww.blender.org) that cartoonsmart (www.cartoonsmart.com) had released a video tutorial for Blender, covering the basics of Blender usage and modelling called "Blender Basics". As I generally like to check out the quality of Blender specific tutorials, I decided to write a review of what I thought of the video and the website in general.

That is when the fun started.....

Getting to the stage where I could actually view the website and download the video was made harder than it should have been. The website designer for www.cartoonsmart.com was obviously a flash junkie and the entire site is almost completely unusable without some form a flash support in your browser; Sometimes flash is really useful for some sites, but in this case it is hard to see the point of making the site almost flash exclusive when the layout of the site could have easily been accomplished with standard HTML. Although on windows and Mac machines it is reasonably easy to install flash; On my Fedora Linux box it did mean I had to install an extra piece of software that really shouldn't have been required.

Once I had installed flash and the site was accessible I went to the NEW tutorials section of the website and navigated to the Blender Basics tutorial section. Here you get a very brief description of the topics the tutorial covers, it's price ($15) and running time (2 hours). Before I paid however I searched on the page for a preview video to see if it was going to be worth buying at all; I could not find a preview on the actual Blender Basics purchase page, the preview was instead on the free section of the website; I feel it would of been more useful to put a link to the preview of the video on the same page as the page to purchase the full tutorial. After having found the free preview of the tutorial and checked it out, and determined that it would be worth reviewing, I bought it using the Paypal option. I'm a big fan of Paypal a lot of sites lose out on purchases from me because they don't have Paypal support. Once I had paid for the video, I was taken to a download page where I could download the 2 zip files each of which contained parts of the video tutorial. The downloads where large (348megabyes for both files) but on a dsl connection shouldn't take too long to download. Having got both parts of the video tutorial downloaded I checked the contents of both files and they consisted of a few example files used in the tutorial and quicktime movie files (.mov movie files). The fact that they saw fit to use quicktime .mov file formats for the video tutorial is another black mark against the video tutorial as a lot of Fedora Linux users will not be able to view the video. It's a shame .mov format was chosen it would of been just as easy to use .ogg (theora format) as that is available on all platforms and would of ensured that all Linux users could of viewed the tutorial (maybe cartoonsmart need opensource explaining to them and their website designer). Again adding quicktime support for Windows and Mac is not a big deal but in Fedora Linux it can be a hassle as there is no official support for it, I had to install a mplayer hack solutions, which has a habit of not working for a lot of people, in my case I got lucky. Failing that I would of had to convert the mov file to ogg and that would of been a burden. Next time people use Ogg Theora.

Okay so everything's installed to finally view the video tutorial, so what did I think of the actual video?

Well to be honest I was fairly underwhelmed given the price you have to pay for it. While it certainly has some good sections to it and $15 is hardly going to break the bank, you could get better videos on Blender fundamentals and basics from many places and they are free (do a search of google or go to Glen Moyes Blender Video Tutorials, www.blenderunderground.com, wiki.blender.org, www.blendernewbies.com, www.blendernation.com, www.blenderartists.org, www.rab3d.com, Tufts Open Courseware Blender Materials, Central Dauphin High School Blender Book or even www.blender.org (the official Blender Foundation website).

Also the actual production quality of the video is not very good, as none of the keys that are pressed and actions that are used are highlighted on screen as is often done with other video tutorials (which are free). It is extremely useful to have displayed on screen the key presses and mouse clicks that are being used to carry out the actions that are being seen on screen. An example of where this would really have helped in the tutorial is, at one point Nyquist (the video author) demonstrated modifying the mesh in a particular way and then used the undo key command to get his mesh back to the original state, in no place in the tutorial is the undo key even mentioned and the key to press to use it is never displayed on screen. So with this basics tutorial undo/redo is never explained.

Another omission is duplication of objects is never explained. For a basic tutorial you should be able to reasonably expect that topics such as duplication should be explained. The video author could of made things easier on the beginning Blender user by making more use of menu items to do things rather than key presses as this would of brought the new Blender in to contact with all the other possible options and maybe of helped them learn more. I know that all experienced Blender users use key presses and try to avoid menus like the plague, but this is not a tutorial for experienced Blender users and some concessions to help them learn should of been used.

There were also minor errors in the information given out in the video such as incorrectly claiming that the only way to restore factory defaults to Blender was to delete the .b.blend file. While this was true in older versions of Blender it is not true of newer versions of Blender such as 2.45 (which was the version of Blender used in the video tutorial, because in 2.45 there an option to restore factory default in the file menu).

Once the narrator has gone over what keys he thinks you will need to complete the next stage of the video tutorial, he launches into making a model of a rat like creature. While he speaks for the most part very clearly and doesn't fluff his lines very often, it is often difficult to keep up with what he is doing and because of the way the video was recorded it's often difficult to see where he has positioned his cursor as he tends to move the mouse around too quickly for the screen capture software to keep up. On occasions also the narrator appears to just stop talking while he figures out his next step in making his model, when really he should of edited out the gaps or used more planning and scripting so as not to get caught out once or twice like he did.

One more odd thing was that about 10 minutes before the end when he had finished the model he said goodbye after making the model geometry, he then comes back after a pause and says he can't stop the tutorial there as he needed to add materials colouring, at which point he does. This is awful use of editing or the lack of.

It seems to me that this tutorial is not good enough to warrant the price because for free you can get better quality, open sourced videos which explains things more clearly and in more depth. Given that this is a paid product the standard by which it should be judged is higher than for a free product.

I applaud cartoonsmart for making a Blender study video but they really need to be of higher quality and have much more depth to even be considered complete Basics tutorials, also the file format used for the videos and requirement of flash on the website, don't help.

Must try harder.

Review Score 50%