05 March 2015

Gordon Fisher - Blender 3D Basics - Second Edition - Ebook Review

I had some free time recently so I decided to try and cram in some book reviews.

This time around I am reviewing "Blender 3D Basics" Second Edition by Gordon Fisher.  Those of you that have long memories will remember that I previously reviewed the first version of this book and was impressed with it.

This second version is an update of the first version of book that covers updates in Blender.  Though the updates are somewhat limited as at least for the basics of using Blender things have not changed all that much.

This version of the book has a larger page count and goes into slightly more details and covers more topics relating to the basics of Blender.

Product Specifications:
        For those that are unaware the book is another of Packt Publishing Beginners series of books.  This means that the book is squarely aimed at the beginner Blender user, very advanced features are not covered in any great depth.  What this book does do is cover the basics in a good amount of depth so that you have a very solid foundation in understanding Blender's most important features.

        All the resouces such as Blend files and graphics for each of the projects are supplied on the website when you purchase the book.

        The writing style in this book was very clear and easy to understand and the book was filled with many clear and easy to see and interpret pictures that were in full color.

        The book teaches Blender features using a series of different projects which the book sets as tasks for you to carry out.  At the end of each task a summary is given as to what you achieved and why you did the tasks that way.  A run down of all the shortcuts and tools used is also listed at the end of each project for reference.

        As well as showing you how to achieve certain tasks the book also has a good amount of explanation in terms of theory.  So theory of various topics such as animation, lighting, rendering, layout and compositing and many other areas are covered.  Once the theory is covered the book then switches to practical explanations to create projects.

        Note that there is very little coverage of Blender Cycles, but this is considered and advanced topic, so if you want Cycles information this is not the book for you.

        If you liked the first version of this book or have never read the first version, you will like this newer book, especially if you are new to Blender or 3D in general.  Definite improvement on the first book.

        Review Score 90%

        27 February 2015

        Blender 2.6 Cycles: Materials and Textures Cookbook Ebook Review

        Normally I try to keep on top of all the Blender books and review them in a timely maner, but sometimes I either run out of time or as in this case forget that I have read the book but not posted a review about said book.

        Normally I would skip posting a review of such a book if it was this late but since with a few exceptions most of the information in the book is still applicable in newer versions of Blender, a review seems in order.

        So the first thing to mention about the book is that it is by Enrico Valenza, as far as I can remeber I haven't previously read any books from him before.  A scan of Google reveals that as well as this books he is also working on two other books on Blender, which will be released soon.

        Back to this book, for those that have seen some of my other book reviews you will notice that this book is another one of Packt Publishing's Cookbook series of books.  These books takes the approach of teaching a subject by presenting topics as a series of small recipes to explain how particular features of Blender work and how you can use those features to produce complex effects and results.

        This books covers recipes which demonstrate how to use Blender Cycles material and texturing system.  The Blender Cycles material and texturing system is mostly controlled using a series of nodes which when connected together control how the materials and textures that node are applied to will be displayed when rendering and even when viewed in the 3D Viewport of Blender.  The node based system of material and texture creation is very different from how older versions of Blender (Blender Internal) created materials and textures.  The node based system is much more intuitive and easier to control and as a result is generally much more powerful.

        There are roughly 50 recipes covered in this book, covering creation of many different types of materials and textures, as well as lighting properties.

        Each recipes it presented in a fixed format, first the recipes are presented to the user and then after the instructions on how to implement them are explained the book then explains why they were constructed the way the were and a detailed rundown on the different parts of the recipe are given.

        Product Specifications:

              On the whole the recipes as they are presented are clear and reasonably easy to understand.  I in general could understand the instructions given and why particular recipes achieved the effects they did, one or two of the recipes were not clear to me why they worked, but they none the less did.  So this is probably my fault for being dense and not rereading the descriptions more closely.

              All the Blend files and resources required to carry out the recipes are included with the book.  Even if you don't read through the entire book and do all the recipes manually, having the Blend file is very useful as it allows you to pick them apart and experiment to see how they work.

              It also helps that Enrico has a clear and easy to understand writing style.  Often Packt Publishing books are not the best edited or easy to read but in this case there is no problem.

              The book covers Blender 2.6x series of Blender but even with the newer versions of Blender (currently at 2.73) the information contained within is still useful and the Blend files will for the most part still work.  In fact in newer versions of Blender it will often be even easier to carryout the recipes as there will be newer nodes which negate some of the steps used in the recipes as presented in the text.

              So even though the book is getting on in age (in Blender development time scals), the information is still largely accurate the book is still well worth getting.

              Review Score 80%

              18 December 2014

              $5 eBook Bonanza Campaign from Packt Publishing

              Packt Publishing have eBook/Video sale  on until 6th January 2015.

              You can buy any ebook/video for $5.  So basically any ebook/video you buy from Packt is $5 per ebook/video.

              To get you started, they have put together the Top 20 Titles of 2014 for you to pick up there. But you can get ANY eBook or Video for $5 in this offer. 

              Click the link below for info:


              16 December 2014

              Gustav Nilsson - Mastering Drivers in Blender

              I was contacted by Gustav Nilsson a few weeks ago and asked if I would review one of his training video series "Mastering Drivers In Blender 2.7".

              I previously didn't know much about Gustav other than he has a blog (http://gustavn.com/), a twitter account (https://twitter.com/gustavnilss) a youtube channel (http://youtube.com/user/gustavnils) and a G+ page (https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/114446066195540713841/103800491101250773746/posts).

              All of which I monitor as I knew he had made/was in the process of making these training videos.  It's safe to say though that I was not sure what to expect quality/skill level wise as far as Gustav's Blender knowledge goes, as I don't think I had ever seen any of his previous Blender work.

              Turns out I need not have worried, the quality of his tutorials are excellent.

              Product Specifications:
              • Name : Mastering Drivers In Blender 2.7
              • Author : Gustav Nilsson
              • Price : €19 (Basic) €23 (Premium) €27 (Complete) (on 16th Dec 2014)
              • Runtime : 390 mins
              • Format : Video
              • Website : http://exploreblender.com/

                    For those that don't know in Blender the term Driver means a control or value that is altered by another object/script.  Drivers may not sound like a very impressive feature but when used correctly they are extremely powerful.

                    Without Drivers achieving complex actions would have to be done entirely through scripting or using just the controls available through Blender's GUI.  Blender's Scripting features are powerful but having to learn the Python programming language just to achieve certain effects in Blender is a little overkill, and this is where Drivers can step in.

                    The power of Drivers comes at the cost of them not being very easy to start to use.  If you don't already know about Blender's Driver feature it can be very difficult to determine how to set them up and get them to be usable.  It's not a feature most people would be able to use without being told how to.

                    Gustav's videos have the aim of teaching you both what Drivers are, how to set them up and then how to use the Drivers in various ways to achieve useful effects in Blender.

                    When you buy his tutorial series you can select between 1 of 3 different types of course to buy:
                    • Basic
                    • Premium
                    • Complete
                    The Basic course allows you to stream the video content but only at a maximum resolution of 720p.

                    The Premium course allows you to stream the video content at a maximum resolution of 1080p, and you are also able to download the videos.

                    The Complete course has all the features of the other courses and the ability to download the Blender source files that Gustav uses through his videos.  The Blender source files will no doubt be extremely useful to those who want to pick apart how the more advanced objects work when using Drivers.

                    I found that the 720p videos where very clear and easy to watch, so I don't think most people will need the 1080p videos, but the source files are very handy to have and they only come with the Complete course which also gives you the access to the 1080p videos.

                    All the videos are hosted on vimeo, which supports HTML 5 video playback so you don't need flash to watch the videos just a internet connection and an HTML 5 compliant browser (Firefox/Chrome) if you wish to view them online.

                    Gustav's narration and explanation of what he is doing in the various tutorials is very clear and easy to understand.  It became apparent very quickly that he is very knowledgable when it comes to Blender's Driver system.  The myriad of inventive and clever ways he uses Drivers to achieve many different tasks in Blender was amazing to watch.

                    He demonstrates the various uses of Drivers by constructing a collection of different objects:
                    • Ladder
                    • Analog Clock
                    • Digital Clock
                    • Simple Domino
                    • Spider In Terrain
                    • Advanced Domino
                    • Glass Of Water
                    With the Ladder object Gustav uses Drivers to makes it's tilt, change the number of rungs and adjust the length using custom controls.

                    The Analog Clock uses Drivers to keep track of time and automatically update its display as frames progress in an animation.

                    The Digital Clock works very similar to the Analog Clock but shows how to animate a digital clock which keeps time.

                    The Ladder, Analog Clock and Digital Clock are reasonably easy to understand and serve as a gentle introduction to Drivers.  The remaining Simple Domino, Spider In Terrain, Advanced Domino, Glass Of Water objects are progressively more advanced in their use of Drivers and various techniques to achieve the desired functionality of the objects.

                    These videos are not for Blender beginners, if you are totally new to Blender you will struggle to follow along with these videos.  However if you are not new to Blender but are new to Blender's Driver system, do not worry.  Gustav's explanations of what Drivers are and how to use them are very, very thorough.

                    A favourite section of mine in the videos was the video covering creation of the Spider which has legs which follow terrain topology,

                    Even if you have no interest in the created objects that Gustav uses to demonstrate Driver functionality, just the information on why and how they are used the way they are is worth its weight in gold.

                    The techniques he uses to create a glass of water which reacts to being tilted (and simulates water escaping from the glass) as it's tilted, is very impressive, but it's also advanced, you may have to watch the videos repeatedly to fully grasp how they function.

                    As far as I know these videos are probably the best video documentation on the use of Drivers there is for Blender.  Once you have gone through all these videos you will know Drivers inside and out.

                    If you want to get to grips with Blender's Driver system, this series of tutorials is a must.  Just remember that you will need to be paying attention in the later tutorials as they become very involved.

                    Some could argue that some of the ways that Drivers were used in these tutorials would have been better implemented as full Python scripts, and this may well be true, but remember the purpose of these videos is to teach you Drivers.

                    I would probably have given this tutorial series 100%, I wasn't able to do this as one of the tutorials was too advanced for me to follow (the Advanced Domino).  But that is my fault not the videos (Gustav explains the Advanced Domino object very well I just wasn't able to follow it), but it did mean I had to take on faith that what was being said was correct and the best way to achieve a certain effect.  Given the quality level of the other videos I have little doubt that the Advanced Domino video is done the way it's supposed to be.

                    If you want Driver skills this is the course for you, the amount of tips and ticks I learned was stunning.

                    Review Score 95%

                    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%

                          29 November 2014

                          Frederik Steinmetz & Gottfried Hofmann - The Cycles Encyclopedia (Ebook)

                          Good things have been happening in the Blender world recently, specifically the Blender Cycles rendering engine has been getting all manner of improvements and new features.

                          It is true that Blender Cycles is becoming the render engine of choice for Blender users when they want to do work which looks reasonably photo realistic.  The realistic lighting, shadows, caustics, reflections and global illumination almost for free out of the box, makes Blender Cycles much easier to get impressive looking renders from.

                          It is certainly true that you can do very impressive work with Blender Internal render though you need a greater depth of knowledge to achieve the same level of results as you would get from Blender Cycles.

                          So in short Blender Cycles has lowered the barrier to entry for impressive render results.

                          So Blender Cycles seems like a slam dunk, so everyone is using it right?

                          Well not quite Blender Cycles has two potential issues that you need to evaluate before taking the Blender Cycles route for rendering:

                          1. Blender Cycles needs a very powerful modern GPU based graphics card.  Specially a CUDA based system from NVidia (OpenCL support from AMD is so bad at the moment it's not practical yet to use OpenCL even though that would be the better system).  And even if you have such a card, render times with Blender Cycles for certain types of scene can be very, very long.  If you don't have a compatible GPU based card you are stuck with CPU only rendering and this is a good way to gain lots of patience.
                          2. Blender Cycles uses completely different methods for creating material shaders for the objects in your scene.  Specifically a Node based system.  Which unfortunately is not very well documented at the moment.  This means a lot of Blender Cycles Node functionality is a mystery to a lot of Blender users.

                          Frederik Steinmetz & Gottfried Hofmann's "The Cycles Encyclopedia" ebook aims to fix the second problem in the list above.

                          Product Specifications:

                                Now Blenderheads that have been around for a while will know the names Frederik Steinmetz & Gottfried Hofmann as they are two very talented Blender tutors and both BFCT's.

                                They run the www.blenderdiplom.com which produces English and German Blender tutorials of high quality regularly.

                                Frederik & Gottfried's Ebook describes all of the Blender Cycles shading nodes, and gives examples of the effects of each node.

                                Many pictures and diagrams are used to demonstrate the effects on materials of each node.  The pictures are large and in full color and very clear.  So you will not have any trouble seeing the effects of each node, as described in the book.

                                I saw a pre-release version of the Ebook (0.8) and it had some minor grammar issues and the occasional missing sections of text which had not yet been written.  By the time you read this I think version 1 will have been released and you can expect those issues to have been fixed.

                                Even with the small unwritten section and the occasional grammar errors, I think this book is currently the best available as far as documenting the Blender Cycles Shader Nodes is concerned.

                                The topics covered in this Ebook are somewhat advanced so I would say that if you are completely new to Blender or 3D in general you may struggle a little to understand some of the concepts that are explained in the text.  I think this book will be more useful to Intermediate/Advanced Blender users.

                                The price of this Ebook may seem a little high, but remember you do get 6 months of free updates to the Ebook, so it will only get better with time.

                                Excellent Ebook, if you use Blender Cycles you probably need this book.

                                Review Score 85%

                                01 October 2014

                                Aske Olsson & Rasmus Vos - Git Version Control Cookbook

                                If you have been or are involved in activities such as programming/software engineering then GIT is a term you have likely come across very often.

                                GIT is a Version Control System, it allows you to keep track of changes in things weather those things be documents or computer code.  It allows you to control how those changes are applied, it allows for changes to be carried out by multiple people, who can be in different parts of the world. 

                                GIT is very powerful and fast and was developed by the same group of people who now maintain and extend the Linux Kernel.  So with such a group of power coders involved in GIT's creation it should be no surprise that GIT has such power and flexibility.

                                However as has been often quoted "With great power comes great responsibility.".

                                The above is also true of GIT, it's powerful but this can mean that a lot of the functionality of GIT is hidden in a spiders web of complex command line statements, and while the fundamental basics are not too hard to grasp, once you move beyond the basics GIT very quickly becomes very complex.  Anyone who has ever had to read the GIT reference manual will have an understanding of just how complex!

                                This is where "Git Version Control Cookbook" comes in, it is aimed at the GIT user who already knows the basic fundamentals of how to use GIT and wants to move on to the more intermediate/advanced uses of GIT.

                                Product Specifications:

                                      The book does this by trying to clear  up a lot of the confusion surrounding GIT commands and how to use them.

                                      Like all of the other Cookbook series of books from Packt Publishing the recipe, solution, explanation format is used.  A problem that needs to be addressed is identified, a solution is created, then an explanation of the arrived at solution is documented.

                                      The range of different recipes that get explained and carried out in this book, range from reasonably simple to quite involved.  At the end of most of the recipes there are links to further information relating to most of the recipes if you want to take things further with a specific topic.  These were especially useful to me.

                                      There are 340 pages in the book and a lot of recipes (90), so it will not be a quick read, and given the level of information contained within some of the recipes are quite dense, it would require someone who is a little rusty with GIT to reread and experiment with the recipes to fully grasp what is being achieved.

                                      I am not a GIT expert so occasionally I did have to reread certain parts of the recipes and do a bit of Google searching to fully comprehend why some of the recipes worked.

                                      It is important to note that the book is very well written the authors have good writing styles and everything was well explained, it's just that I rarely do anything even remotely as complex as some of the tasks described in this book.  If you are a more frequent user of GIT you will likely not have some of the confusions that I did.

                                      Although GIT can be used as a general purpose Version Control System this book definitely has most of the recipes orientated towords tasks that a computer programmer would want to carry out, such as:
                                      • Configuring GIT
                                      • Admin Tasks
                                      • Branching
                                      • Merging
                                      • Patching
                                      • Obtaining Release Log Bug Fixes
                                      • Various Other Things...

                                      My favourite recipe was a simple one that showed you have to obtain a list of Bug Fixes for a software release using JGIT software repository.  And the other highlight for me was the coverage of how the Rebase command works.

                                      Rebase is one topic that always causes me a lot of confusion so I was glad of a simple explanation of exactly what it is and why you would want to use it, and a good explanation of the pitfalls of it.

                                      Another useful highlight for me was that the book didn't just stick to teaching how to use just GIT internal commands, it also covered how to extend GIT by using various external shell scripts, to make GIT even more flexible.

                                      Another thing I found useful was that most of the recipes used real repositories of software to demonstrate various GIT commands on actual real open source software.

                                      I think that maybe this book has two different audiences in mind.  The first is the one who has the basics of GIT under their belt and wants to expand their knowledge.  The other is the person who just wants to find a specific recipe to get a specific task done as quickly as possible.  While I think the first set of people will get more from this text than the second set, it is possible to use this book to just look up a specific recipe.

                                      It is always a little difficult to rate books like this because in the end how useful the book is to you depends on weather the recipes achieve things you find useful.  But since the range of topics the recipes covered were quite large and in my opinion they are the sort of tasks every GIT user would need to know, there is likely to be something in this book that you will find useful to know if you are a GIT user.  For a full list of all the topics covered in this book checkout the website (https://www.packtpub.com/application-development/git-version-control-cookbook) for the book.

                                      All in all this was an interesting and informative read, just remember that it is not a beginners GIT book, you will need familiarity with the basics of GIT to get the most out of this book.  For the price I really can't complain either 340 pages for just over £7 is a good deal.

                                      Review Score 90%

                                      30 September 2014

                                      Packt Publishing - Level Up Promotion

                                      Was recently contacted by about a campaign they are running "Level Up" Packt is giving its readers a chance to dive into their comprehensive catalogue of over 2000 books and videos for the next 7 days.  Also the more books you buy the less you pay for each.   Since they have a large collection of ebooks on Blender thought it would be worth relaying:

                                      See link for details:  http://bit.ly/Zn98Dd

                                      The more EXP customers want to gain, the more they save:
                                      ·         Any 1 or 2 eBooks/Videos – $10 each
                                      ·         Any 3 to 5 eBooks/Videos – $8 each
                                      ·         Any 6 or more eBooks/Videos – $6 each


                                      24 July 2014

                                      Richard Salinas - 3D Printing With RepRap Cookbook

                                      It has been reasonably busy here lately trying to keep up with book reviewing.  To that end the people at Packt Publishing contacted me and asked if I would review one of their latest books "3D Printing With RepRap Cookbook" by Richard Salinas.

                                      Since a lot of Blender users are also 3D printer owners I thought it maybe useful to review this book, even if you are not owners of this specific brand of 3D printer a lot of the information contained within this book should still be useful.

                                      Product Specifications:

                                            Before the book review I feel it is useful at this point to have a look at the author of this book Richard Salinas, here's his background information from the book:

                                            "Richard Salinas is a scenic artist in the film industry, where he has worked for over 20 years on numerous television and motion picture productions.
                                                He was educated at the University of Missouri where he studied sculpture and three-dimensional design.
                                                He also has a formal education in the field of electronics. He developed an interest in computers in 1981 when he began programming on his university's mainframe and one of the first affordable personal computers: the Commodore VIC-20.
                                                Since 2012, he's constructed five 3D printers of various designs and hacks. His aim is to explore the possibilities of creating fine art sculpture with DIY technology. You can follow his progress at www.3dprintedsculpture.com"

                                            Scanning the information in the bio above it should become clear of the type of mind Mr Salinas has, very clever, technical and very geeky.  It doesn't mention it in the bio but I bet he has memorized printer codes, knows machine code, etc. I mention this to put you in the right mindset.

                                            The RepRap series of printers are for the truly experimental types, the ones who like to control every setting and know what every single belt, pulley and firmware setting does.

                                            For those that don't know the RepRap is an Open Source  3D printer that can come in kit form and you can if you want build it yourself.  In fact a lot of the parts that go into the construction of the RepRap can be printed with a RepRap.

                                            So knowing all the above it should be easier to understand the target audience this book is aimed at;  I would suggest an Intermediate level 3D printer user who has some experience with using a 3D printer.  You won't need to be a guru, but if you are completely new to 3D printing and your first experience of it is with a RepRap printer and this book, then you may have to run fast to keep up.

                                            Like all of Packt's other Cookbook series of books its take the approach of breaking up a complex series of tasks into a series of bite sized "recipes".  Each recipe goes over a specific topic or task to help the reader more fully understand information presented.  After each recipe is completed the book give a full explanation as to why each recipe was done the way it was and often gives extra information for those interested. 

                                            The are plenty of full of color pictures throughout explaining and demonstrating almost all of the topics and features of the RepRap printer and the software that you can use to improve the quality of it's output.

                                            The beginning chapters of the book unsurprisingly cover the basics of 3D printing, going over what 3D printer are, the various terminology, what slicers are and how 3D models are used inside of a computer to be 3D printed.

                                            The beginning chapters had some very useful descriptions of the software and hardware you can use to acquire models for 3D printing. Specifically you are shown how to scan 3D models using various different techniques, from using a digital camera, using a laser scanner and manually creating the models inside of a 3D modeling application.  Once the models are obtained you are then shown how to do a basic 3D printing of the models.

                                            Initially the first results may not look very impressive but as the chapters progress the range of techniques you can use are expanded slowly but surely improving the 3D printing results that you achieve.  A common collection of models is used in all the recipes allowing you to see the difference in printing results as you try the different settings and tweaks the book describes.

                                            In later chapters you are exposed to printing more complex and detailed models which require you to use more and more features of the 3D printing software to achieve acceptable results, topics such as support structures, slicer setting and non-manifold topology are covered extensively.  Surprisingly one of the simplest methods of getting complex shapes to more easily 3D print wasn't covered, that being breaking model into sections that can be connected back together;  I am not sure why this is the case maybe the author assumed that people with RepRap printers didn't need to be shown such obvious methods.  Other than that one oversight as far as I can tell all the useful topics were covered.

                                            There is quite a large collection of software involved in getting good results from a RepRap printer, in fact that are many different pieces of software that can achieve the same tasks but do it in slightly different/better ways from one another.  Helpfully the book demonstrates how to use multiple different pieces of software to achieve to the same task.  As a result you are able to compare and contrast end results.

                                            Another interesting parts of the book for me was the section on troubleshooting the 3D models to make them more likely to successfully 3D print.  There was extensive use of software to make the models jump through all the hoops required to get it in a form that makes a 3D printer such as the RepRap happy.

                                            Finally the appendices of the book are worthy of note;  The first two are very technical and only the most hardcore RepRap fanatic (or hardcore geek) is likely to find them useful.  The third appendices though I found very useful as it covers all the different types of material filaments the RepRap supports and their operating values, as well as safety precautions that should be taken when using those materials.

                                            At times the amount of new information presented in this book can become a little intense but if you go back and reread parts over again they should become clearer.

                                            Good book, but you better have that RepRap experiment and tinker spirit to get the most from it.

                                            Review Score 80%

                                            13 July 2014

                                            Aidy Burrows - Complete Environment and Animation Project

                                            I was recently contacted by CG Masters to do a review of one of their newest video training products.  This time it was created by Aidy Burrows a very experienced 3D artists who has worked on many large and complex projects.

                                            Aidy's latest product for CG Masters is a collection of video tutorials which goes over all the steps involved in creating a short animation of a large scale environment.

                                            The total runtime of all the videos is more than 25 hours, so it is an enormous amount of content, you will need lots of time to take it all in and because it's aimed at Intermediate/Advanced level Blender users, you will most likely need to rewatch it several times for it all to sink in.

                                            The animation contains 3 scenes, an inner city street scene, a dance hall, and a sewer scene.

                                            Aidy goes over all of the steps required to model, sculpt, texture, composite, render and video edit each of these scenes to produce the final animation.

                                            Product Specifications:

                                                  All of the videos are very clear and well encoded, you can access them directly or using a very clean web browser interface.  All the resources needed to follow along with the videos are provided.  The resources provided are extensive in terms of textures and Blend files.

                                                  The approach taken with each of the scenes when creating them is the same for each:
                                                  • Create Rough Block out Model of Scenes
                                                  • Create Higher Poly Representations
                                                  • Sculpt High Poly Models
                                                  • Texture and Bake High Poly Models onto Low Poly Models
                                                  • Make them renderable in Blender Cycles
                                                  The scenes that are created are done in such a way as to take High Poly models and reduce them down to low poly models which can be used in realtime environments such as game engines but still retain the vast majority of their high detail levels and be used to make high quality renders in Cycles.

                                                  So the videos will be useful to multiple target audiences:
                                                  • If you are interested in how to construct various architectural scenes in a structured and efficient way.
                                                  • If you are wanting to learn how to quickly create high quality textures using Gimp.
                                                  • If you need models that will be usable inside of Game Engine Environments.
                                                  • How to use the textures inside of Cycles and it's shader nodes
                                                  I can't stress enough how useful these videos will be to people who need to do high quality texturing work or realtime environment work.  The methods and techniques Aidy uses really make even very large scenes manageable on even moderate machines.

                                                  The introductory videos go over all the basic techniques that Aidy uses to create all scenes, props and shaders.  These techniques are then used throughout the rest of the videos.  So if you have never used the techniques that Aidy uses they are explained well and assuming you are an Intermediate/Advanced level Blenderhead you should not have any problems.

                                                  The videos are recorded in a mix of realtime playback speed and timelapse.  Aidy will show you in normal speed what he is doing and then when he repeats the process he will generally switch to timelapsed mode.  Even in timelapsed mode the videos are still clear and easy to follow.

                                                  You are effectively getting 3 products in one:
                                                  • Teaches how to model/sculpt.
                                                  • Extensive Gimp texture creation knowledge.
                                                  • Compositing, Rendering and Animation.
                                                  Any one of these products would be worth the price.

                                                  I learned a lot about baking of Normal Maps and texture creation using gimp and how to mix them together using Vertex Painting.

                                                  Normally I would give more details of the topics and techniques Aidy uses to achieve the effects in the videos, but there are so many and the range of techniques used is so large that it would be an enormous repetitive list which would basically boil down to "Aidy teaches topic X, it was well explained and clear", "Aidy teaches topic Y it was well explained and clear", and so on.  So as far as I am able to discern every topic you need to create high quality, efficient, large scale scenes is covered, all very well.

                                                  No Python or Blender Game Engine Logic Node use is covered as Aidy does not need these features to achieve the results he needs.

                                                  So it's a short review for such a large product, but the quality is excellent and I would imagine that anyone wanting to get to grips with large scale scene creation which is impressively textured and yet resource efficient will find this product very useful.  I would recommend going to the CG Masters website and checking out the example videos and check out the list of topics they cover.  All of them are done well.

                                                  Well worth the money.

                                                  Review Score 95%