03 June 2012

www.CartoonSmart.com - Blender Materials and Textures - DVD Training Video Review

CartsoonSmart a frequent producer of training materials for Blender 3D, has produced another video, covering Blenders material, strand, and texture features.

Product specifics:
  • Blender - Materials and Texture - Price $10 - Running time: 2 hours
  • According to their website with this training video you will:
    • "... Learn how to setup a photo-realistic scene using sample images to texture or map onto basic 3D shapes..."
This video is another one made by John Nyquist (apparently "the first American to become a Blender Foundation Certified Trainer", according to the website.). He also did the other Blender Basics videos (see previous reviews of), which on the whole where pretty good efforts and worth having.

So first things first the price it's $10 for 2 hours of video, this is pretty good value. If memory serves these prices are much cheaper than they used to be, so having to pay less is always a good start.

The topics covered (as enumerated by the cartoonsmart website) are:
  • Texture Mapping
  • Image Mapping
  • UV Mapping
  • Painting Surfaces
  • Outliner Window
  • OOPS Schematic
  • Mirroring and Transparencies
  • Surface Reflections
  • Atmospheric Shading & Lighting
  • Cloudiness and Fog
  • Multiple Materials and Textures
  • Procedural Textures
  • Projecting an Image
  • Particle Emitters
  • Creating Strands (hair or grass)
  • Combing Particle Systems
  • Random Texture and Color Variations
It seems pretty broad the amount of topics to be covered for a 2 hour video but, for the most part the topics described are covered in adequate detail to be useful with a few exceptions.

On first starting to watch the video, Nyquist gives a brief descriptions of what materials and textures are and how they relate to each other within Blender. This had been covered in the other series of their videos but in this case it was useful in refreshing my memory.

After the description the video moves onto how to name materials and mentions the advantages of naming materials with meaningful names. Also it covers the Autonaming tool, which according to the video is fun (oh the excitement, I have to go lay down...). Later on in the video Nyquist asks how big the Autonaming database was, and it wouldn't surprise me if someone emailed him with answers along with all their name!

How materials are assigned and can be shared/appended and linked is covered, with fairly good examples of each. Special attention is played to the affect of linking materials rather than appending and how this limits what can be altered on a mesh/object.

At this point "Fake Users" are also detailed, with a good explanation of why they are needed and how to bring them into affect.

How to unlink materials is also covered, though weather it needs to be explained in a Blender video at this level I am not sure but it's better to be safe than sorry, I guess.

The next item covered was a real bright spot of the whole video, as it showed me something I didn't know about. What was described was the differences and advantages/disadvantages of assigning materials to either the mesh of an object or to the object itself. Showing a really informative use for it with linked duplicates. Just finding this out made the video worth $10. I know others will be saying I needed to do more Blender wiki reading but still I didn't know so it caught my attention.

Another really handy thing that was demonstrated was a trick with 3 cubes which in edit mode had their vertices deleted and replaced with the vertex's of spheres instead, leaving 3 spheres where cubes were.

One of the things that is often skipped over when describing Blenders features is the OOPS schematic viewer. Although the video didn't go into massive depth about it, it did cover enough aspects of the OOPS to be useful.

How to set colors is covered as well as how to change the preset color palette by CTRL-left clicking on the color you wish to change. It was a feature I didn't know about. Also covered were the spec and mirror shader colors.

Color ramps and color banding is described, in fairly good detail. Though some would argue that it was a bit long winded, but I think it needed to take its time to explain how to use it because it is slightly fiddly to get to grips with.

Next Alpha transparency is covered, as well as the difference between z transparency and ray transparency. How ray-tracing is used with the Index Of Refraction for simulating the bending of light through objects. This was demonstrated by modelling a wine glass. Which covered the spin tool. It was here that I found the first annoying part of the video, because way to much time was spent tweeking the wine glass rather than pausing the video and carrying on when he had the glass how he wanted it.

Once the wine glass was done, remove doubles is described, it was probably not needed as it really should be known already by people seeing this video.

Loop cuts are described and it is shown how to use them to control areas of a mesh which has had a sub-surface modifier applied to it. This section of the video seem pretty clear to me.

After the glass had been modelled a description of ray depth and transparency depth is covered by making a scene which has a mirror in it which reflects all the things in the scene multiple times. Also various lighting issues are covered as well as explaining when it can be useful to change shading modes to help with setting up lighting conditions.

The various options of the view properties panel are explained and it is shown how to numerically control the position of the 3D cursor, which is often overlooked, so I was impressed with that.

How to control shadows and make them transparent when needed was covered when rendering the wine glass was described and it was shown how to control which items got transparent shadows, this can be an option that is easy to forget if you not paying attention so it was good that it was highlighted.

There was the odd sound of a barking dog on the video at this point, Nyquist must really hate the pause button or the video sequence editor.

The various diffuse and specular shader properties are covered, as well as explaining how they are different from each other. Though I feel this is one area where more detail would of been helpful, as although the diffuse and specular shaders as a group were covered the individual shading types were not covered (i.e. detail in on toon-shading and the other less documented shaders)

Nearing the end of the first part of the video, how to render an object in wire frame and halo object types are cover. The rending in wire frame I found interesting as it's a question that often gets asked and Nyquist taking the time to explain how to do it is very handy.

This second half of video covers various texturing topics and strands.

First up is a general description of the differences between image and procedural textures. Once that has been done, the mirror made in the previous half of the video is given another texture to give the simulated affect of the mirror turning cloudy. This is very useful but at this point Nyquist then explains that you can alter how much the fogginess affects the mirror by altering the color button in the map output tab, when this doesn't work, instead of pausing the video and finding out how to do it, he just skips it entirely and moves onto the next subject. This is not the way to do training video. You could maybe forgive this in a free video and maybe even for someone who isn't Blender Certified, but Nyquist is one of the best, so there really is no excuse. A shame really as that would of been very useful to know how to do it, if you new to Blender.

This issue aside, the explanation of how to apply multiple textures is useful, though the description of what each of the mixing types does is really not very good, just saying that they work similar to how they do in photoshop is not really satisfactory (for one I use GIMP not photoshop, and anyone who doesn't use either would not really be in any better position either.).

He redeems himself by next mentioning the really good free texture disc called "The Blender Texture disc". I have used this and really like it, there are many other free texture discs, but mentioning this one can really help Blender Newbies looking for a source of textures.

Then the topic moves on to creating an orange out of an orange sphere. This part of the video was very, very good. It covered how to use multiple materials to make the orange look very realistic without much fiddling. Covering topics such as bump mapping and displacement modifiers. Both of which were very useful and very well explained. The bump mapping process was also briefly described when creating a wooden floor but was much more clearly demonstrated in the creation of the orange. The wine glass that was created was no where near as realistic as the orange and the orange didn't take anywhere near as long to get finished. Awesome section of video. Also covered while making the orange was how to alter textures sizes and the number of times they repeat upon and object.

After completion of the orange, it is shown how to take the completed scene of the wine glass, orange, mirror and wooden floor and use that as the background in the scene, by using the world panel options. I feel it would have been been useful to explain more of the options in this panel especially the horizon options.

For the last part on texture, it is demonstrated how to use an Empty as a target on a texture to position textures at will on a surface. After this UV mapping is also gone through and how to paint onto textures using the UV Image Editor. Also described in some detail, is what seam marking is and how it is used to unwrap meshes to make them easier to UV Map. I found this section very informative overall.

The very last section of the video moved onto strands and particles. In this section we were shown how to make basic grass type scenes. Some of the physics button options were explained but a lot of them were left unexplained. Though perhaps this is okay as a lot of them are very hard to explain and this is not an advanced video, still a little more explanation would have been nice. The strand shader and children particles were covered and this was really good because the children particles options are really powerful and allow dense strand objects which don't take forever to render on a normal machine. Also useful was the description of the Map Input strand option with color ramp/colorbands to give graduated strand colors. These items are often not mentioned so it was good to see them described and used in a useful way.

One of newer features of Blender 2.46 is particle mode which allows the user to alter and model hair almost in the way that a hair dresser would, add, cutting, growing and combing the hair/strands to get them in the shape desired. This option makes working with strand in Blender 2.46 much easier than in previous versions. It is given a fairly good description in the video and anyone who has never used it before will be left comfortable with it. Excellent.

So all in all it was a very good video, yes there were annoying parts and bits that I definitely think could of been explained in more detail. But on the whole these videos keep getting better and this is no exception (though their marketing blurb about being photo-realistic is definitely overoptimistic). Though with the price being good, it's worth buying.

It will be interesting to see if they take the materials and textures topics further and in more detail in their next video.

Review Score 75%