06 December 2014

CG Masters - Character Creation Volume 3.5 - Cycles Convert

I was contacted by CG Masters and asked if I would review one of their latest Blender training products "Character Creation Volume 3.5 - Cycles Convert".

Those of you that have read my previous reviews of CG Masters products know that they have created quite a collection of high quality video training materials.  All of them have been very well made and very informative.

The instructor this time around is Greg Zaal a very accomplished Blenderhead who knows his way around lighting, shading and texturing in Blender.

Greg is a Blender Foundation Certified Trainer.  Those of you that follow Greg's Adaptive Samples blog will have seen that he produces numerous useful tutorials and articles on the use of Blender and 3D in general.  He also has a portfolio website at http://portfolio.gregzaal.com/ where you can see more examples of his work.

As you can guess from the title of the product this is a continuation in the series of the 3rd Volume series.  The 3 earlier volumes covered the different aspects of creating a Ninja character in 3D using Blender.

The previous volumes in the series are:

Product Specifications:

        As has come to be expected from a CG Masters title the quality of the material is very good.  All the training material is accessible from within a web browser or if you want to access the training videos and resources directly you are able to.  All of the resource files and blend files that Greg creates are provided with the product, so if you wish to follow along with Greg you will be able to.

        The videos are encoded very clearly and are very easy to watch.  Even more of a surprise and possibly a first as far as I can remember, is the videos are encoded in webm format which not only gives very good video quality but also means that you will not need flash installed in your web browser to view these videos as they are natively supported by Firefox and Chrome web browsers.

        The Cycles Convert product is a little different from the previous volumes in the series as it is more of an extension to the previous 3rd Volume which covered texturing of the Ninja character model.  This means that the runtime of the videos is only 2 hours and 29 minutes, but Greg packs a lot of information into that time and the cost of the volume is also significantly lower.

        The texturing in the 3rd volume was however done using Blender Internal render.  In this 3.5 Volume the texturing, shading and lighting will all be converted so as to use the Blender Cycles rendering engine.  This results in the Ninja character having better looking shading and lighting and also shows how much easier it is to carry out the task of lighting/shading and texturing in Blender Cycles than it is in Blender Internal.

        This is not a beginners volume if you have never used Blender before I think you will struggle to keep up with Greg, but if you have experience with Blender Internal render you should easily be able to keep up.  If you have never used the Cycles Render before, do not worry as Greg explains the basics of how to use the Blender Cycles render.

        This volume has 7 chapters and some of the chapters are split into multiple parts.  This means that the videos range in length between 5 minutes and roughly 20 minutes meaning that the videos are very much manageable in length:
        • 0. Introduction
        • 1. Building a Basic Material
        • 2. Texturing Overview
        • 3.1. Lighting Setup
        • 3.2. Fresnel
        • 3.3. Subsurface Scattering
        • 3.4. Metals
        • 3.5. Clothing
        • 4.1. Sai
        • 4.2. Goggles
        • 4.3. Eyes
        • 4.4. Hair
        • 5. Node Groups
        • 6. Render Optimization
        All of the chapters to me were very informative though personally the parts I liked the most were:

        The video sections that covered the use of the Node Wranger which Greg helped develop.  This Blender Addon really helped speed up Greg's work flow when demonstrating and using various Blender Cycles Node features.  After seeing this in action it wouldn't surprise me if a lot of people are wondering why Node Wrangler is not by default active in the Cycles Node editor.  Amazing to watch.

        The video sections that covered how to make a faked glass shader using a Transparency Node, Glossy Node and Fresnel Node was another awesome piece to watch;  I can't say I entirely understand why it works (though this could just be me being super slow on the uptake), but I will be stealing that trick, plus it's an awesome quick way of making bubble like surface materials and it renders a lot faster than an actual real Glass Shader Node.

        The coverage of the Hair Node also stood out as I think it's the first time I have seen the Cycles Hair node usage explained so well and easily.

        If you are a big into Node Groups use, you will also appreciate the section on Node Groups as Greg does a very detailed run down on how to create and manage them.  I espcially liked the explanation of how to change the default values of Node Groups and the tip on using the Fake Users option to keep the Node Groups from being deleted.

        And the final section that I found useful was the section on Render Optimizations.  It's unfortunately true that although Blender Cycles can render gorgeous looking scenes, all the awesome comes often at the cost of speed, so anything that can help the user speed up their renders is welcome.

        Greg details a number of tips and techniques for speeding up Blender Cycles renders.  His explanation of how to use Multiple Importance Sampling to reduce noise in scenes, and the use of the Light Path Node Camera ray feature to also reduce noise and render times were really clever.

        So if you are wanting to convert a modeled character of yours from a Blender Internal shaded character into a Blender Cycles shaded one, this is the video for you.  It cover all the nodes you need to get the job done efficiently.  While it is true that not every node or technique is covered in these videos, the ones that are you will almost certainly find to be the most used and useful.

        Excellent tutorial and a good addition to the previous volumes, well worth the money.

        Review Score 90%