06 October 2012

Gorden C Fisher - Blender 3D Basics - Ebook Review

Packt Publishing asked me a while back if I would do a review of one of their recent Blender titles "Blender 3D Basics".  I said I would love to review it but then life got in the way and I got somewhat delayed in reading all the way through the ebook.  Anyway better late than never I have finished reading it and here's what I thought of it.

The first thing I generally like to do when I start to review a book is have a look who the editors and technical reviewers are.  In this books case its got a strong set of technical reviewers.  One of the names I recognized was Allan Brito of the Blender 3D Architecture website.  Another reviewer Willem Verwey is a Blender Foundation Certified Trainer Review member, and has previously reviewed Blender 2.5 Materials And Textures Cookbook a previous Packt publication by Colin Litster.  The author of this book Gordon C Fisher also has an impressive background in all things computer graphics.  So with names like that attached to this book you can expect it to be properly checked and the information verified to be right.  As far as I could tell this is one of the best produced Packt books.  No silly typos, bad punctuation or other little annoyances that sometimes appear in Packt books.  The pictures in the ebook are well laid out and very clear and in full color.  So the production side of the ebook is good.

So what about the Blender content how does that come across and get communicated?  Generally very well.

Product Specifications:
  • Name : Blender 3D Basics
  • Author : Gordon C Fisher
  • Price : £16.14 (on 6th Oct 2012)
  • Pages : 468
  • Format : EBook
Blender 3D Basics Cover

This book is for beginning Blender learners who want to get into understanding the basics of computer graphics and modeling, and more specifically the basics of Blender 3D.  So if you have never had any experience with computer graphics or Blender, this ebook will start from first principles.

Given the target audience of this ebook is absolute beginners, if you have a couple of years Blender experience under your belt you are not likely to get much from this book.  If you are a beginner then you will I think find this ebook very useful.

Like most of the Packt Beginner's Guide books it tends to take the approach of teaching you Blender by making you use it.  Now a lot of books take this approach also, but this one takes it a little further than normal, as the text seems as if it is aimed at being usable in a classroom environment.  There are question and answer sections, various assignments and test the ebook gives the reader as he/she progresses through the material.  I am not absolutely certain but I think this is the first time I have seen this in a Blender book from Packt.

This classroom type approach to teaching Blender seemed to work very well when I was reading the material.  If I was a beginner I would have found it useful, the step by step approach to instructing the reader and the interspersed theory and test sections worked well.

The ebook starts by going over some of the history and development of film and animation.  Giving numerous examples of how animation has progressed throughout the years, explaining some of the techniques used to give animations there more captivating qualities.

Important beginner topics such as the theory of how animation works and the all important 12 Principles Of Animation are covered one by one, covering them in enough detail, but no massive depth.

In Chapter 2 after the history lessons and beginning theory has been described, the ebook then moves on to more practical matters, covering Blender's Interface and how the user can interact with it.  The description of Blender's interface was very clear and I think a new user to Blender would have no problem understanding Blender's interface given the information in this chapter.

Chapter 3 has very quick coverage of Blender's lighting system, animation and how to use some of Blender's Color features, coordinate systems, composition rules, color depth, and other topics.  This chapter is just a brief tour of these features and in later chapters they are more fleshed out.  One stand out part of this chapter was the very good description of how the HSV color values work.  This has to be one of the simplest and easy to understand explanations of how the HSV color model works, that I have ever seen.

Chapter 4 & 5 goes over the basics of selecting objects in Blender's 3D Viewport and manipulating mesh geometry using some of Blender's standard techniques.  The section on Datablocks and how Blender uses them was very clear and will help the new user quickly get to grips with just how useful they can be.  This is a topic often skipped over in beginners books, so it was good to see it covered.  Simple coverage of layers and their uses are described.  The information in this chapter is used to build a simple boat model which is used in later chapters.  Good examples of how to use reference blocking where covered to help the reader build their boat model, and simple material and texturing methods were explained.

Chapter 6 covers creating oars and oar lock model parts for the boat created in the previous chapter.  Simple animation is created for the oars and the boat.  Use of parenting is covered and how to use it to make animations easier.  Also covered is appending of models from other Blender files, so you can make use of them in other projects.  Appending was very clearly explained.  So the end result of this chapter is a simple boat model that is animated to move with moving oars.  Good result.

Chapter 7 moves on to going through the planning stages of building a bigger more complex boat model called a sloop.  This chapter covers story boarding and shot planning, and how to use Blender's Background images feature to setup picture references from which you can model more complex things from reference.  Short but clear coverage of the differences between meshes and curves are covered and the curves are used frequently for modeling different parts of the sloop model.  Beveling and the various curve features are covered.  Surprisingly for the audience this book is aimed at more advanced topics such as tv safe areas for broadcasting animations, and interlacing field are covered.  These topics are covered clearly so will cause no problem, they just seem out of place, but none the less useful.

Chapter 8 & 9 goes into more detail on modeling the sloop and covers modeling fundamentals such as edge loops, rings and various modifiers that Blender has, the most important of these being the Subsurface Modifier, Mirror Modifier, Boolean Modifier and the spin tool.  These tools were well described and used in clever ways to show how powerful they can be when used in simple ways.  Another surprise was the coverage of Blender DupliVert feature, a useful but often skipped over feature in beginners books.

Chapter 10 takes a different approach to the previous chapters as they covered modeling of solid hard body items.  The chapter moves on to modeling more organic type items, such as landscapes, trees and oceans.  Various approaches are taken to achieve this.  Blender;'s ANT landscape generator is used, as is the Sapling Addon which is used to quickly create tree models.  How to use Dupliframes is described and is used to quickly build a pier.  Dupliframes is a rarely describe feature and it was good to see it used.  Blender's Ocean Simulator Addon is also used to created a simple ocean/river scene.  Finally the topic of groups and how Blender uses them to organise complex scenes and models is covered and groups are used to help keep things manageable as the Blender project gets more involved.  Other topics covered in this chapter were Proportional Editing and Simple Texturing.  Very packed chapter but clear and easy to get to grips with.

Chapter 11 & 12 cover improving your camera, lighting, rendering and compositing skills with Blender, going over the various keywords and terminology. Good coverage of what depth of field is and how to use it in Blender were describe as was basic compositing.  The tips of how to achieve efficient and fast rendering results were particularly useful.  Some lighting theory was covered, specifically the basic 3 point lighting techniques.
At the very end of the book it wraps up loose ends and covers very briefly Cycles, but in no great depth.

All of the chapters come with extra material and references that can be obtained from a download pack that is on the Packt Publishing website.  This download pack contains all the models at various stages of completion through all the chapters and even more information on the various topics covered in the ebook.  In some parts of the ebook the download pack is important to reference, as you get a much clearer idea of some topics after having read it.

Because of the way the book seems to be aimed at being used in a classroom type way the long lists of step by step instructions may seem a bit irritating to some, but if you take the time to work your way through all the steps it does pay off.  And if you really don't want to have to have worked your way through all the chapters one by one you can at least get the completed projects for a particular chapter from the download pack.  Though why you would buy a book like this if you were not intending to do the actual exercises is beyond me.

So all in all for the target audience of the 3D & Blender beginner this ebook I think does a very good job of getting across a lot of the important topics of 3D software and modeling.  Just remember who the target is for this ebook.

Very good book, worth it for the beginner.

Review Score 85%