03 June 2012

The Essential Blender - Blender Book Review

I am a massive fan of Blender and I always like to promote it's use and features and the fact that it's open sourced and free (let's not forget the price!). All is not sweetness and light however; Blender is such a powerful and flexible piece of software that good documentation is essential. Unfortunately it is one of Blender's weak points; There is documentation in the form of Wiki Blender (wiki.blender.org) which is very good and updated often to reflect the new features of Blender; It is the official documentation source for all things Blender; Also there are many other Blender tutorial and video websites that have sprung up as Blender has become more popular; This is great when you know about them but if you are a totally new to Blender there is a good chance you will be unaware of these sources of information. Another problem that a lot of people new to Blender have is being overwhelmed by all the information in the wiki documentation. On top of that new users don't really want to be jumping to multiple different sites to learn their way through all the features that Blender has, they would much rather have printed material in the form of books that can guide the reader through the features of Blender in a controlled and ordered way. Although the wiki is excellent it is not complete in all areas and is sometimes not the easiest thing to read.

So no problems then, just get some good Blender book from your friendly book seller (Blender e-Shop) and get your reading head on, right? Because Blender has been around years and it's very powerful, as powerful if not more so than some of the biggest commercial 3D modellers on the planet and they have literally a forest load of books, surely Blender is in the same book laden position?

Unfortunately, no....

A quick search of search of amazon's book section reveals the following books listed for Blender 3D:

3D Game Blender 2.0
Was first published on June 2002 and is currently unavailable, according to amazon.co.uk
The Official Blender Gamekit
Was first published on 30 Mar 2003
The Official Blender 2.3 Guide
Was first published on 30 June 2004
Introducing Character Animation with Blender
Was first published on 16 Feb 2007
Bounce, Tumble, and Splash!: Simulating the Physical World with Blender 3D
Pre-ordered not yet available
The Essential Blender: Guide to 3D Creation with the Open Source Suite Blender
Was first published on 19 Sep 2007
6 Books sold on amazon and of those "3D Game Blender 2.0", is no longer available, "The Official Blender Gamekit" and "The Official Blender 2.3 Guide" are so out of date with the current Blender version (2.45 when this article was written) as to be pointless to buy. That leaves 3 books, "Introducing Character Animation with Blender","Bounce, Tumble, and Splash!" and "The Essential Blender". Of the 3 books left worth getting 1 of them "Bounce, Tumble, and Splash!" is still only available in pre-order as it has not yet been released, I included it in the list of books worth getting because Tony Mullen is involved in it and anything he touches turns to gold. So when it is finally available I have no doubt it will be worth getting. After having started with 6 books we are now down to 2 books that you can actually buy that are worth getting, those being "Introducing Character Animation with Blender" and "The Essential Blender".

I'm half way through reading "Introducing Character Animation with Blender" and will do a full review of that book when I have read through it all, but so far it is an excellent book (another Tony Mullen success).

I have read all of "The Essential Blender" so I decided to give a review of this book.

First thing first is it's a paper back book having roughly 370 useful pages, split into 15 chapters. Given the name of the book and the fact that it only has 370 pages and 15 chapters it should be obvious that this is not a book which covers any topic in much depth; Rather it gives you enough information so that you can go out into the big wide wiki Blender world (wiki.blender.org) and other numerous Blender related websites such as www.blender.org and carry on learning more from these sites. This book is definitely aimed and both the complete Blender 3D beginner and the 3D modelling beginner in general. In the beginning chapters it explains in some amount of detail how to install Blender and where to get it. Then it moves on to describing all the usual 3D terms and concepts in a 3D world so that complete beginners to the 3D modelling are not completely lost. This is all very helpful, though I do wish there had been slightly more space and information devoted to explaining more concepts and terms, but on the whole it was enough to get a person started.

The sections on the Blender interface were very well described and would help the Blender beginner get to grips with how the Blender interface can be used to some sort of good affect. It is very important that any book which wants to teach someone how to use Blender properly tackles the interface as this can be a big problem for even seasoned pro's from other Modelling environments. The one thing to note is that when this book was made it was on a slightly older version of Blender and some of the screen shots don't match up, but these differences are barely noticeable and will have no real bad affect on your use of the book. It's at this point that a problem rears up that causes no end of problems throughout the rest of the entire book, and that is the fact that the pictures and screenshots in the book are low contrast, washed out and very, very murky, to the point that a lot of the time it is almost impossible to see some of the things that are being referenced in the pictures. Now in the beginning of the book this does not really matter, but later on in the book it is vital that you are able to see the pictures that are being described, as the authors often depend on the fact of you being able to see what's in the pictures to carry out particular tasks. This almost certainly needs fixing by either making the pictures higher contrast or better still making the pictures colour which would help a lot.

After going through the Blender interface options the book moves on to the basics of object and mesh manipulation, doing the usual this is a cube and this is how to add it, move it, rotate it and scale it etc. Another strange thing happens at this point the books seem to get a little more advanced in the tools it started using and describing to the reader. Most books I think would spend a lot more time describing the basics and techniques of object creation and manipulation in terms of object and meshes than this book does, and leave some of the more advanced tools it describes to much later on in the book. Also the reverse is true some very important basic information on things such as materials are left till much later in the book than they really should be. As an example in the mesh modelling section (Chapter 4) the reader is guided through how to make a raised bridge using the array modifier. At this point in the book I feel this tool is too advanced to learn much because the book almost entirely misses out on the more basic tool manipulation techniques such as positioning items correctly, aligning vertices and using the 3D cursor and pivot point correctly. These may seem like boring things but they are vital for the beginning Blender user to get good at, and really should be described as soon as possible.

Chapters on most of the other important features of Blender are presented in basic fashion to give just enough information to the beginning Blender user to at least get an idea of how to utilise a particular feature. However the coverage of the composition editor was very brief and really did not seek to explain why things did what they did but was more of a step by step instruction guide to get a particular effect, while this may be fine for someone who wanted to know how to do that particular effect, it is no good for someone who wants to learn how to use the composition editor for other effects.

The section describing the lighting side of Blender were on the whole clear but unfortunately let down entirely by the awful, washed out screenshots. I was also impressed with the chapters on how to use particles and fur creation. Although again one wonders what a topic like this is doing in a beginners book on Blender. The odd mention of python scripts and their uses are highlighted when particular tasks require them, but on the whole the use of Python scripting is ignored for a more advanced book.

So on the whole this book sets out to give brief introduction to a wide range of Blender features and for the most part I would say it does a good enough job to get the new Blender user eager to get other more advanced books and websites, so he/she can learn more. I do feel however that in certain sections in the book more time should of been taken to cover the more basic topics.

A point worth mentioning is that this book is much smaller and less detailed than "The Official Blender 2.3 Guide" and the reason given for this is that their aim is to make a series of books covering the different areas in Blender in more detail in other books that they will release. This will be great if the Blender Foundation releases these extra books quickly, but so far this has not happened. So as a consequence there is no equivalent Blender 2.45 Guide which is a shame as it could be very useful in printed form.

A Blender user that has been using Blender for a while is probably not going to get much out of this book, the Blender wiki and various Blender websites will probably be of more use to you, for a Blender beginner however this book could well prove a very useful starting point.

The cost of the book from the Blender e-Shop 27.20 euros which is a little bit on the expensive side. A very good point in favour of this book is that it's a Blender Foundation book so some of the money from buying the book goes to the Blender Foundation, so for that reason alone it's worth buying.

Review Score 70%