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%

10 March 2015

Enrico Valenza - Blender Cycles Materials & Textures Cookbook 3rd Edition - Ebook Review

Another day another Ebook reviewed in my recent catch up session to clear the backlog of unreviewed books that I have left to read through.

This time around it's a book by Enrico Valenza a very experienced Blenderhead who has written multiple books for Blender.

This is Enrico's 3rd book from his "Blender Cycles Materials & Textures Cookbook" series.

Unsurprisingly given the title of his book, it covers using Blender Cycles to create material and texture node setups in Cycles to achieve various different styles and types of materials that can be applied to objects.

Because this book is presented in the form of a cookbook it presents it's contents as a series of recipes, each recipe describing a particular method for achieving a particular visual effect in Blender Cycles.  Once the recipes have been documented the book then explains the recipes in detail showing why it was created the way it was and what the advantages/disadvantages of the recipes are.

Given that the information in this book is in recipe form, it is important that the recipes are accurate and as far as I was able to determine they are very accurate, there did not seem to be any silly errors.  This is unsurprising as the reviewers for this book were all very experienced Blender users.

Product Specifications:

        There are lots of recipes described in this book (40+) covering many different areas of material and texture creation. This is one of the reasons the page count for the book is 400 pages.

        The 400 pages are split up into 9 chapters which cover very broad areas:
        • 1 - Overview of Materials in Cycles
        • 2 - Managing Cycles Materials
        • 3 - Creating Natural Materials in Cycles
        • 4 - Creating Man-made Materials in Cycles
        • 5 - Creating Complex Natural Materials in Cycles
        • 6 - Creating More Complex Man-made Materials
        • 7 - Subsurface Scattering in Cycles
        • 8 - Creating Organic Materials
        • 9 - Special Materials 
        The introductory text in the book takes some time to explain the major differences between Blender Internal render and Blender Cycles.  Although this book is aimed at a Blender user with some familiarity with Blender, if you are completely new to Blender you will be able to follow along while reading.

        The versions of Blender covered in the text range from version 2.71 to 2.73, so if you are using older versions of Blender you may notice some differences between the book and your version of Blender.

        All the recipes in the book come with the resultant Blend files, so if you do not want to follow along and just pick apart blend file to see how to achieve the various effects you can do so.  The blend files are available on the Packt Publishing website.

        Chapter 1 - Starts with a basic introduction to some of the terms that are used with Blender Cycles and details how to setup and activate Blender Cycles render so that you can use it on your projects.  The advantages and disadvantages of Cycles are covered in brief.  As is the advantages and disadvantages of using Cycles Rendering on a Cpu/Gpu.  Followed by a quick example of how to use Blender Cycles Node setups to affect rendering.

        How to improve render quality and remove noise is covered so as to allow you to get better results from your renders in a shorter amount of time.

        Procedural textures are explained and demonstrated using various basic nodes, as is the bump and normal texture nodes.

        World Materials setup is covered as well as the often asked question of how to make the background transparent in renders.  The coverage of how to use environment textures and sky textures was very easy for me to understand and I think will save newer Blender users a lot of time.

        Various options of the Lightpath node are covered which allow the user to only have certain elements that are visible in a scene show up in a final render.

        Ambient Occlusion is described and there was a useful section describing what is and is not taken into account for material properties when Ambient Occlusion is being generated.

        Blender Cycles Mesh Lighting types are covered and contrasted to the lights that are used with Blender Internal.  The basics of how to control the amount, color and weather light is emitted from both or only a single side of a mesh light is explained, as is setting a mesh light up to light a scene but not have the mesh itself visible in a scene.

        Having gone though the more basic properties of materials and textures the chapter moves on to Blender Cycles support for volumetrics and how to use them to achieve some simple but interesting looking effects.

        And finally for this chapter using textures to enable displacement of meshes is covered.  Be aware that when this book was written this feature was still experimental so may change in the way it works.

        Chapter 2 - Goes over some of the major ways to make your workflow with Blender Cycles more organized and efficient by showing you how to arrange Blender's interface to make it more responsive when using Cycles.

        Topics such as setting up new screens, altering and saving a new defaults file is covered.  More basic but none the less very useful advice such as giving materials and textures informative names is covered.

        More advanced method of organizing elements in Blender are also covered such as Node Groups, Layout Frames, Coloring of Nodes and importing and exporting elements into and out of Blender.

        I learned that you could use ctrl+p to parent nodes into frames which I wasn't aware of.

        Chapter 3 - With the basic concepts covered the book then moves on to the process of taking the information from the previous chapters and creating usable materials.

        Specifically in this chapter the creation of Natural Materials is the purpose.

        The first material that is created is a rock material which is created with image textures and combinations of bump maps.  I think this is the first book that I have read that details using the Box Blending method to achieve good texturing results without having to UV Unwrap a mesh.

        After explaining how to make a rock texture with image textures the book then explains how to make a rock texture entirely using procedural texturing methods.

        Where there is rock there is often sand which is handy as the next recipe covered is how to make a simple sand material, again using procedural texturing methods.  Another handy tip was shown describing how to make the materials generic and tweakable using Node Groups with alterable options.

        By this point in the book the node setups and recipes can be somewhat involved and you will be glad that you have access to the blend files.

        Next in the recipe list is a very simple and basic method for making a rocky ground type texture.  Not the best looking but is very simple and quick.

        If you are getting bored of all the rock based materials then have no fear the book moves on to explaining the softer material of snow and how to create it using procedural textures and translucency.

        Snow being a material that only generally looks right with SSS applied it can be slow to render, so usefully a method of faking SSS using translucency is described.

        One material that is often requested by Blender users, is a good method for making a material that looks similar to how ice would look.  So an ice recipe is provided.  It's not the most advanced ice material ever but it is good enough and since you have the blend files you can always tweak it as you see fit to get the results you require.

        Chapter 4 - Concentrates on creating materials which look man made specifically:
        • Generic Plastic
        • Bakelite
        • Expanded Polystyrene
        • Glassy Polystyrene (clear hard plastic)
        • Rubber
        • Antique Bronze
        • Configurable Metal
        • Rusty Metal
        • Wooden Material

        Chapter 5 - Covers creating more complex and larger scale materials.

        If you have used Blender for any length of time you will often want to have a quick way of generating large scenes with ocean water.  Blender has an ocean water feature, but it is not the most flexible feature.  So instead the book documents a method which gives an ocean which is created manually using various Cycles Nodes to increase flexibility.

        After creating the ocean surface obviously you need to create a material which can represent what the environment looks like when you are under the ocean, so the book moves on to creating an under water environment material.

        Rendering a underwater scene using volumetrics can be very slow so a method is used which fakes the volumetric effect.

        While in previous sections of the book materials such as snow and rock have been described, combing these types of materials to form a shader which creates mountains which have rock and snow on them and reacts to the height/angles of the mountain surfaces to determine where snow should be is described.

        Finally for this chapter we go out of this world and a recipe for creating a render of earth as seen from space is demonstrated, using a combination of image textures and various other types of image maps to create elements such as land maps, clouds and water sections of the earth render.  There is no outer atmosphere but the earth shader looks good at a quick glance.  The techniques shown here can be used with many different types of texturing tasks, especially with regard to unwrapping a UV Sphere.

        Chapter 6 - Covers creation of 4 materials:
        • Cloth Pattern Shader
        • Synthetic Sponge
        • Leather
        • Spaceship Hull Shader

        According to the book these are more complex man made material types.  While I can't comment of the complexity, they are useful material types to know how to make.

        The Spaceship hull shader is the standout recipe in this chapter and shows some very clever techniques to use very simple textures to displace a torus to make a futuristic looking flying torus craft.  Also covered is a way to apply decals to the craft.

        Chapter 7 - Subsurface Scattering In Cycles chapter covers various features of Blender's SSS tool and details most of the SSS node control values explaining how to use them.  Because SSS is slow to render the chapter explains various techniques to fake the look of SSS.  For this the translucent shader is use as well as the Dirty Vertex feature and the Ray Length Light Path node.  They together help to achieve SSS in efficient ways and for the most part look very similar to real SSS.  If you are ok with the slow speed real SSS is also covered.

        Chapter 8 - This chapter covers creation of shaders for living organic materials:
        • Blobby Skin Shader
        • Wasp Chitin
        • Irridescent Beetle Material
        • Tree Bark
        • Tree Leaves
        • Human Skin
        • Alien Grey Skin
        • Fur And Hair

        The Tree material was interesting to see how it worked, the book also had a handy method of getting rid of seams on the tree branches.  The skin shader looks nice but I can't say how accurate it is compared to real skin.  I also liked the fur/hair material, as it gave a nice effect and I haven't seen enough coverage of Cycles fur or hair in many books, so it's good to see it mentioned.

        Chapter 9 covers a grab bag of materials which didn't fit into other chapters, such as:
        • Fire
        • Smoke
        • Materials that take depth into account
        • Shadeless Materials
        Fire and Smoke have got a lot more flexible in recent versions of Blender Cycles and it has also gotten easier and faster to create.  The book initially shows you how to make fire and smoke using the Quick Effect method and then shows the manual way to create the same material.  This helps to understand how it all works behind the scene.  The fire and smoke effect looks pretty good for a static image render.

        I really liked the depth based material effects and they were surprisingly easy to create compared to most of the other mentioned materials in the book.

        As any book on material in Cycles must do there is a recipe for creating clouds.  Which with some tweaking could be very useful.

        All in all given the large range of material recipes described by this book there is highly likely to be some recipes that you find useful and will want to use.  Yes some of the materials are a little simple and some could be made to look better with some tweaking.  But on the whole I like how most of the recipes look.

        Cycles has improved a lot with its supported materials and different node types, that it supports, making it easier and easier to make complex looking surface and depth based materials.  This book does a good job of showing off Blender Cycles power.

        This book is well worth getting if you don't have the older editions and even if you do there is enough in this new one to make it worth purchasing.

        Review Score 93%

        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