17 March 2015

Blender Cookie - Blender Basics & Mesh Modeling Fundamentals Course review

I was recently contacted by the people at Blender Cookie the educational site concerned with all things Blender 3D and asked if I would review two of their courses:
  • Blender Basics - Introduction For Beginners
  • Mesh Modeling Fundamentals In Blender
I have been a big fan of Blender Cookies previous tutorials so I agreed to do a review of both the products combined.

Before I move onto the review of the two courses, it is perhaps useful to first give some information about the Blender Cookie website and some of its features.

The Blender Cookie website is sub-section of a larger site called CG Cookie which is run by Wes Bruke.  The CG Cookie website acts as a educational hub around which you can learn many different topics using various different pieces of software (not just Blender) as well as various courses on more traditional forms of learning such as drawing, painting and traditional hands on sculpting.

The site is split up into the following main sections:
  • CG Cookie
  • Blender Cookie
  • Concept Cookie
  • Max Cookie
  • Unity Cookie
  • Sculpt Cookie
The CG Cookie section covers things like interviews and topics that are not specifically tied to a particular piece of software (as far as I am able to determine).

The Blender Cookie section covers courses and tutorials which specifically use Blender.

The Concept Cookie section covers concept art and design as well as user exercises such as drawing and such like.

The Max Cookie section covers the 3D software 3D Studio Max, for those in the unfortunate position of having to use this inferior software :).

The Unity Cookie section covers the Unity game engine system, for those that want ot make real time games.

The Sculpt Cookie section covers sculpting methods and tutorials for both traditional (hand and clay) and digital sculpting.

So as is probably becoming apparent CG Cookie coverages an awful lot of educational topics.  Now because I am a Blender user I will generally only focus on Blender Cookie section of the website.  It is important to realize though that all of the features that the website provides are provided across all the different sections of the site as a whole.

In general most of the educational content is provided in the forms of high quality videos which can be streamed directly in your browsers (and is HTML 5 compatible).  The videos are very well encoded and very well narrated.  If you don't have the fastest internet connection you can watch most of the videos off line by downloading them.

Also useful is that some of the videos also have Close Caption support, this doesn't extend to all videos but I assume that over time more videos will get more Close Caption support.

If you are not into the video style of education then there are also occasionally written tutorials but note that the vast majority of the tutorials and courses on the site are video form.

For tutorials which require resources such as project files they are also provided with the videos.

The website recently underwent an upgrade which added a number of features and one of the most noticeable was gamification features.  In education Gameification means turning learning into a game which reward you with things like a score or in CG Cookies case XP points can be gained by taking quizes on the material you have seen or for using certain features of the website.  This allows members of the website to compete with each other to improve their skills.  You can track your progress with your own Dashboard and compare against other members using the leader board.


CG Cookie provides access to its content in 3 basic ways:
  • Free to access by everyone
  • One off payment to buy a particular course
  • Citizen Membership ($18 per month)
For courses that are not free the Citizen Membership is popular as not all the courses have the option to buy them out right.

As well as providing access to various educational materials the CG Cookie website also acts as  sort of educational social site where users can interact with each other and post in their galleries which other users can comment on.  You can follow users and keep track of what each member is upto when they are on the CG Cookie website.


I have not really explored the social side of the site but it seems pretty effective if the galleries posted on the site are anything to go by.

Navigation around the site is as far as I am able to test fast and effective, videos downloaded quickly and web pages loaded quickly as well.

All in all a good website, well organized and covering a seriously large amount of topics.

Anyway now that I have given (a brief and probably very incomplete) run down of some of the features of the CG Cookie website it's time to move on to giving my review of the two courses mentioned previously:
  • Blender Basics - Introduction For Beginners
  • Mesh Modeling Fundamentals In Blender

Blender Basics - Introduction For Beginners

Unsurprisingly given the title of the course, this course covers the very basics of using Blender.  It is split up into 6 video parts, 4 of which cover using Blender:
  • Introduction for Beginners
  • Interface and Navigation
  • Selecting and Transforming Objects
  • Adding and Removing Objects
  • Using and Customizing the Interface
  • Last Words
The course is aimed squarely at Blender beginners, if you have any experience with Blender previously this course will not be of use to you.

Each of the 6 videos in the course are very short, each one covering a specific basic topic of Blender usage.

The entire course is free to everyone and is narrated by Jonathan Williamson a very experienced Blenderhead.  Like all of Jonathan's educational videos they are very well narrated and well produced.  He explains everything very clearly in all of his videos.

These videos have Closed Caption support.

Introduction For Blender Beginners - Covers what topics will be covered in the other videos in this course.  Gives a basic explanation of what Blender 3D Viewport is and what 3D is in general for those entirely new to 3D modeling.

Briefly Panning, Zooming and Rotating the 3D Viewport in Blender is demonstrated.  Selecting and moving objects using the 3D Manipulator is described and shown.

Interface And Navigation - This videos covers the basic properties of Blender's 3D Editor interface elements.

The Tool Shelf region and the 3D Viewport Properties region interface elements are explained and brief explanations of what they are used for is explained.  The same also goes for the Info, Outliner, Properties and Timeline Editors.

Blender Editor Headers are demonstrated and it is explained that they can be flipped from top to bottom and vice versa.

Finally switching between different 3D Viewport viewing directions is covered using the Numpad and View Menu, as is switching between Perspective and Orthographic view modes.  It may have been useful here to explain when Perspective Vs Orthographic modes are needed.

Selecting and Transforming Objects - This video first covers how to select objects with the mouse.

Surprisingly it shows how to use the User Preferences to change the mouse button which is used to select objects from right mouse button to the left mouse button.  This is somewhat odd for a beginners tutorial and introduces non-standard ways of using Blender, seems to me to set a bad example.

Next how to select and deselected multiple objects is covered, and a clear explanation of the difference between a selected object and the Active Object is covered.

Once selecting objects had been covered the topic moves on to how to delete selected objects.

The 3D Manipulator is covered, showing how switch into it's various modes of operation and then transformed selected objects with it.  Also covered are carrying out the same operations with keyboard hot keys.

Transform manipulation using Axis Constraining is gone over also.

And finally for this video a brief explanation of what the 3D Cursor is and what it is used for is covered.

Adding and Removing Objects - This video covers adding and removing objects using the Toolshelf, hotkeys and menu entries.  Also covers some information on the effect of macro functions on duplication of objects.

Using and Customizing the Interface - This video is slightly more in-depth than the other video as it covers a fair number of the different methods for altering the layout of Blenders Interface, as well as covering what the difference is between an Editor and a Region.  Layout manipulation types covered are:
  • Resizing Editors
  • Resizing Regions
  • Changing Screen Layouts
  • Splitting/Joining Windows
  • Changing Editor Types
  • Saving Custom Layouts
And the final topic for this video covers Blender's Theme System and how to change your theme.

Bear in mind that the purpose of this course is to give you the absolute basics of using and getting around in Blender.  It can be seen as preceding a more detailed and advanced course "Mesh Modeling Fundamentals In Blender" which I review next. 
Mesh Modeling Fundamentals In Blender

The second review is of the "Mesh Modeling Fundamentals In Blender" course, which follows on from the "Blender Basics - Introductions For Beginners".

This course is more indepth and covers more of the features of Blender but is still aimed at the beginning Blender user.  It is not free however so you will need to be a Citizen Member of CG Cookie to access all of its videos.

It consists of 24 lessons which are video based and 3 of which are text based quizzes.  Just like the previous course the lessons are short bite sized lessons.  

The course is again narrated by Jonathan Williamson.

This time around the focus is more generally targeted towards the tools that can be used on Blender Mesh objects.  There is some tiny overlap in topics covered in this course as in the previous one.

The topics covered are:
  • Creating Mesh Objects
  • Editing Modes
  • Mesh Anatomy
  • Mesh Selection Modes
  • Subdivide
  • Extrude
  • Loop Cut And Slide
  • Inset
  • Knife
  • Delete And Dissolve
  • Select All
  • Select More / Select Less
  • Box Selection & Circle Selection
  • Edge Loops
  • Edge Rings
  • Solid Vs Wireframe Shading
  • Limit Selection To Visible
  • Mesh Hiding & Mesh Unhiding
  • Transform Orientations
  • Object Mesh Data
  • Sharing Data On Object
Creating Mesh Objects - This section of the course covers creating objects using the Toolshelf to add objects and also explains some of the Toolshelf entries.  The use of the 3D Cursor and it's role in positioning newly added objects to the 3D Viewport is clearly explained.  The roll of the Properties Panel is explained and how to use it to accurately position the 3D Cursor.

When adding objects to the 3D Viewport sometimes they can have extra options displayed in the Operator Panel.  Jonathan explains how these changable settings can be manipulated.  Handily Jonathan also shows the alternate Operator Panel which can be accessed by pressing the F6 key while the mouse is positioned over the 3D Viewport.

Editing Modes - Blender is heavily dependent on use of modes which change the way Blender works and the tools which Blender will present to the user.

Jonathan goes over the major differences between two of Blender's major operating modes "Object Mode" and "Edit Mode" with regard to Mesh Objects.  Jonathan shows multiple ways to switch between the two modes quickly, and also demonstrates how the Toolshelf entries change based on the mode Blender is in.

Mesh Anatomy - This section covers how mesh objects are constructed and how you as the user can edit mesh geometry only while in Edit Mode.

Mesh Selection Modes - Once in Edit Mode you can choose what type of mesh geometry you wish to easily select, this is achieved with the Mesh Selection Modes.  Jonathan goes over how the Mesh Selection Modes affects how you can select various parts of a meshes geometry.  Strangely the CTRL+TAB method of opening the Selection Mode menu was not covered.

Subdivide (Operator) - The Subdivide operator and some of its options are well covered and Jonathan does a good job of explaining just how useful this tool is.  He shows how to use Subdivide to divide a mesh equally in vertical and horizontal directions and also covers how to Subdivide in only one direction.  He also takes the time to issue the warning of accidentally creating very high density meshes if subdivide is used to quickly.

Extrude - The Extrude tool is quite possibly one of the most often used tools when mesh modeling in Blender and Jonathan does a very good job of explaining what it is and how to use it.  Extrude Region and Extrude Individual versions of extrude are covered.  How to access the Extrude menu with ALT+E is also described.

Extrude is a form of macro and Jonathan explains why this matters and what effects it has when cancelling an extrude operation.

Loop Cut And Slide - Adding and positioning loops cuts into your mesh geometry is very import and being able to do it quickly is very important to quick and efficient work flow when modeling.  Jonathan goes over how Loop Cut And Slide works and also covers some of it limitations with regard to non-quad faces.

Inset - The Inset tool is a reasonably newly introduced tool added to Blender that is extremely useful and a real time saver when you need to add inset faces and panels in mesh geometry.  Jonathan does a good job of explaining some of its options and shows a good few ways to use it to do useful things.

Knife - The Knife Tool is used to cut extra vertices into Mesh Geometry where you need them.  Jonathan explains the tool very well.

Delete & Dissolve - These are two related but different tools in Blender both of which have multiple ways of working depending on the version of the tool you select.  Jonathan explains clearly what these tools are for and how they differ from each other.  Since the Dissolve tool was introduced when Blender got support for NGons it is newer than the older delete tool and some people are not upto speed on the difference.

Select All - This section covers how to select or deselect all mesh geometry.

Select More/Less - Being able to select parts of a mesh and then have Blender automatically increase or decrease the amount of selected mesh geomtry is very useful.  Again Jonathan does a good job of explaning this feature and the various ways of activating it.

Box & Circle Selection/Deselection - If you want to select or deselect large sections of a mesh quickly then Box and Circle Selection tools are the tools you will often use.  These are modal tools this means that while these tools are active all you can do is select or deselect parts of a mesh, other features are unavailable to you until you leave this tool.  This is not made clear by Jonathan but his coverage or the rest of their features is good.

Edge Loops & Edge Rings - These two videos go into depth on what Edge Loops and Edge Rings are and how to select mesh geometry using these two types of structure.  Also covered is selecting multiple Edge Loops and Rings at once.

Solid Vs Wireframe Shading - Blender supports many different ways of displaying mesh data in the 3D Viewport.  Each different display mode has its advantages and disadvantages depending on when they are used.  Jonathan describes two of the major display modes:
  • Solid Shading
  • Wireframe Shading
Jonathan describes how to quickly access these display modes in Blender and describes how these modes differ and why you would want to use them.

Limit Selection To Visible - When dealing with complex mesh geometry Blender by default will not let you select mesh geometry which is positioned behind other mesh geometry.  This prevents accidentally selecting mesh geometry behind a mesh when all you wanted was to select mesh geometry on the front of a mesh.  This is often what is wanted, sometimes though you want to select all geometry that falls in a particular location and the Limit Selection To Visible setitng is what is used to achive this.  Jonathan does a good job of explaining what this tool does and showing the differences in how mesh geometry in the 3D Viewport are display when this option is enabled and disabled.

Mesh Hiding - One of the ways of dealing with selection of parts of a complex mesh is to temporarily hide parts of the mesh you no longer need to see.  This makes the mesh less complex and makes it easier to interact with.  When you are done you can unhide the hidden geometry and carry on your work.  Jonathan's explanation of Hiding and Unhiding mesh geometry was very complete.

Transformation Orientations - Blender has various ways of representing and interpreting how an object is tranformed.  The two most popular are Global and Local Orientations.  Although this topic can be somewhat difficult to explain clearly Jonanthan does a good job without getting too technical.

Object Mesh Data - Mesh Objects in Blender are basically made up of many independent data structures.  These structures can be shared between multiple objects and switched and changed at will by the user.  Again Jonathan does a good job of describing why this is useful.

Sharing Data Of Mesh Objects - Following on from the previous video Jonathan goes through how to link object data together so that they ca share data, he covers both standard duplication and linked duplicate methods.  Blender keeps track of the number of times data is shared and Jonathan shows how you can determine how many objects share a particular piece of data through user counts.  He also shows how to take data that is shared and make it a single user.

So that is all the video sections covered in this review and I would say that on the whole if you are a new Blender user or are new to 3D in general these two courses combined will be very useful to you, as I think they will very quickly get you up to speed with Blender and 3D in general. You won't be a expert and you will still have a lot to learn but you will have the fundamentals.

All the videos are clearly explained and Jonathan does a very good job in them all.  My only complaint is the use of Left Mouse Button to select objects as this is non-standard and confusing to Blender users.  It even confuses Jonathan a few times.  This is small complaint and I find it strange that he did this but the rest of the course is good.

Well worth getting if you want to get upto speed with the fundamentals of Blender.

Review Score 80%