03 June 2012

William Reynish - Learn Character Animation Using Blender - Video Tutorial DVD Review

I was looking forward to having a look at this DVD and have had it on pre-order from the Blender E-Shop for a while.

  • Product Specifications
  • Price : € 27.50 (on 31st of Jan)
  • DVD Tutorial Sections
    • Blender 101 - Runtime 10 mins
    • Workflow - Runtime 19 mins
    • Rattling Bones - Runtime 21 mins
    • Get In Role - Runtime 13 mins
    • Acting For Animators - Runtime 8 mins
    • Posing - Runtime 16 mins
    • Keys And Breakdowns - Runtime 10 mins
    • Weight - Runtime 4 mins
    • Walk In The Park - Runtime 16 mins
    • Run - Runtime 9 mins
    • Arc Enemy - Runtime 22 mins
    • Flip Flop - Runtime 4 mins
    • The Big Picture - Runtime 31 mins
    • Total Runtime : 183 minutes
One of the main reasons I wanted to get this DVD was because of who was involved with it (William Reynish). Mr Reynish was one of the character animators on Big Buck Bunny. Having got that DVD and seen the Big Buck Bunny movie and loved it, I was eager to see how this character animation DVD turned out.

The DVD is another Blender Foundation endorsed release, so buying it from the Blender E-shop means that some of the profits from the sale of the DVD go towards funding the development of Blender.

Given the runtime and the fact that some of price of the DVD goes into Blender, the price of the DVD seems reasonable to me. Some could argue that it is a little expensive but I think in the end it's worth the price if you are big into the Animation side of things.

On opening up the DVD you are presented with a browser webpage which lists the 13 video tutorial sections on the DVD. The layout is nice and clean and worked well on my FireFox 3 browser. When clicking on one of the sections the video tutorial is displayed. Very useful are the 2 links at the bottom of each video tutorial that allow you to go back to the main start page and progress to the next video tutorial in the series respectively. That next link made viewing all the tutorials on the DVD much easier than having to go back to the main page and then click on the next section on the DVD main page. So interface layout wise the DVD does well.

Now although the videos are very clear and encoded well, one thing I did not like was the choice of video format used to show the videos, which was MOV (quicktime format). Blender is open sourced and multi-platform, so why the choice of MOV format video? This is very annoying as a lot of Windows/Linux platforms will not want to play quicktime (either because they don't have the browser plugins installed, or they do not want proprietary stuff on their systems). What makes it worse is that there are completely open sourced and freely available video formats which could of been used (ie ogg theora video). Blender people really should know better than to use proprietary formats. I keep banging on about it but no one seems to listen! Anyway, assuming you have the appropriate plugins/codecs you will be able to view the videos in your browser or go directly to the MOV files on the DVD and open them in your favourite media player. Surprisingly no media players are included on the DVD so if you don't have the various things you need to view the videos you will have to go to get various players yourself. This seems lazy on the DVD producers part, players really should have been included on the DVD. There is note on the DVD detailing how and where to get the various players should you need them.

It's worth mentioning that the DVD does not really cover anything but animation and does not go into any great detail on how to rig, model or texture characters. So if you want rigging details this is not the DVD for you. I personally feel it would have been helpful to include more information on rigging on the DVD but I guess they wanted to keep the DVD in a narrow focus.

Given that modelling and rigging aren't really explained in any major way, the DVD includes various models and rigs which are used to demonstrate various features of animation. These come in very handy, especially if all you are interested in is the animation side of Blender, or do not know how to rig/model your own things yet.

Below is what I though of each video tutorial section on the DVD:

Section 1 - Blender 101 - Getting Started with Blender

This section covers what Blender is and a description of what Open Source is and how it affects Blender. The various features of Blender are described such as its interface items and the basics of controlling objects with Move, Scale and Rotate. The section to me seem very clear, so clear that at the beginning it actually shows a picture of a mouse and the narrator says "This is a mouse". Some suggestions of what screen layouts to use while animating was also briefly gone over.

All in all this section does what is says, gives the very basics, so that a new Blender user can follow along with what is mentioned later on the DVD.

Section 2 - Workflow

After the basics are covered from Section 1, Section 2 moves on to some animation theory. The narrators describes some of the different ways in which animations can be approached. Straight Ahead and Pose to Pose animation methods are described as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each. The use of Breakdowns are also gone over briefly. Although theory discussions on a video DVD may seem strange, it really worked and was very clear, and later on in the DVD the information presented here really helped me. After this a simple example animation is described and the stages of developing and planning the animation are gone over. How to organise files and resources is also briefly demonstrated as is Proxy object use within Blender when linking in objects. Covering proxy objects this early took me by surprise, but for an animator who wants to get right into just grabbing a character from a library and animating, this info now is very useful.

Section 3 (Rattling Bones) & 4 (Get in Role)

The DVD comes with multiple free rigs for the user to use as they wish on their models. This section shows how to use them and adapt and control them for use on your own models rather than the ones the rigs were originally attached to. Bones and Armatures and using weight painting are explained, and the various Bone layers which are used to organise the various parts of Armatures (Deform Bones, and Control Bones, Face Bones and the like). The narrator does a very good job of explaining and showing how to do the adaption and control. This section will be very handy and will allow an animator new to Blender to quickly get to grips with making their models and meshs much more quickly animatable.

Section 5 - Acting for Animators

This section covers more general animation theory, concerning how to make the animations you create seem more believable and giving a sense of life and motivation to a character/object. Various pointers about animating the body and not just the face to convey emotion and intent are covered. The importance of the eyes is also explained and how to use them to change emotional states. Some examples are demonstrated to see the effect.

This section was reasonably informative if a little slow. The screenshots were very clear and easy to understand.

Section 6 - Posing

This section goes over how to pose your character using Blender and describes more animation theory. The description of using a characters Silhouette for clear posing was very easy to understand, as was the information on Lines of Action and how to use them.

A Blender specific feature that was demonstrated was the grease pencil which is available in the recent version of Blender. This is a very handy tool for animators.

Covered in some detail was the difference between Forward Kinematics, Inverse Kinematics and Auto Kinematics and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each method of pose control. I liked this section very much as it explained Auto IK, and until this point it was not clear to me how this worked.

In this section I have a gripe with the production of the DVD, as for a while the audio is all messed up and there appears to be 2 conversations going on at the same time, making what is being said difficult to decode. This does not last long but it really should have been spotted and corrected.

Another issue I had was also about some of the advice given on character viewing and camera positioning. The narrator states that it did not matter how a character looks from all viewing positions so long as the view from the camera position looks correct. This in my opinion is a seriously bad piece of advice, and will catch out people.

Section 7 - Keys and Breakdowns

This section goes into more detail on using Key and Breakdowns in the Blender environment, giving examples of animations that don't have Breakdown keys frames and those that do. It is clear from the examples that the Breakdown Keys have a massive effect on the fluidity of animations. How to move update and add Keys is demonstrated in detail showing the tools at the Blender users disposal for altering Key positions.

Section 8 - Weight

One of the important features of making animations believable is the interaction of a character with objects of mass. In this section the narrator goes over some of the animation techniques and tips that should be kept in mind to correctly indicate weight effects between characters and other items. A brief description of center of gravity is offered and then this section is finished. So a small runtime section, but still useful information. It would have been nice to have more examples in this section to get the point across better.

Section 9 (Walk in the Park) & 10 (Run)

These sections cover the aspects of how to make Walk and Run Cycles within Blender. Useful descriptions of how to use Inverse Kinematics to make animated feet in a walk and run cycle stay still and not slide across the floor when animating. Asymmetry, to prevent animations from looking too robotic and unrealistic is covered also. Walk and run cycles are known for being one of the things that cause new animators no end of problems when they first start. This section did a very good job of explaining how to do it right and get good walk and run cycles.

Section 11 - Arc Enemy

This section demonstrates and describes the importance of natural movement arcs for joints such as arms and legs when characters are moved. The visualisation curve feature of Blender is shown and this really helps in describing the use and important of these arcs of movement when you can see the curves easily on screen. The Relax Pose feature of Blender is also demonstrated which I did not know about so I was definitely glad I saw this section.

The advantages of using Forward Kinematics to help in preserving arcs of motion on certain parts of a characters joints are gone over. Again a very informative section.

Section 12 - Flip Flop - Overlapping Actions

In this section Overlapping Actions are described and demonstrated. Overlapping Actions are multiple animated movements that start close to each other in time but not at exactly at the same time. An example of Overlapping Actions is demonstrated using Big Buck Bunny character. Ideally I would of like more examples and description of Overlapping Actions but this section is still useful.

Section 13 - The Big Picture

This is section ties together all the things learned in the previous sections and uses the information to make a short animation. The short animation is the Jim rig punching a punching bag. It good to actually see all the steps come together to make something real and usable.


The DVD seems to be well thought out, and I found it useful and learned things which is always a benefit. It does in my opinion have a few problems and in some cases it would have helped to have done more narration on the theory of animation techniques (the 12 rules of animations). One other thing I did not really like is it could of added more information on how to actually create rig from the ground up. It's a shame that rig creation was not covered in any real detail, this would have made the DVD much more complete for animators. Also it is important to realize that this book seems to be aimed at the beginning animator, so if you have experience of animation you may not get much out of this book. However even if you are not new animator, if you have not used Blender before this book maybe useful in getting you up to speed quickly with Blender.

Go get this book!

Review Score 75%