11 February 2016

Gottfried Hofmann - Point Density Magical FX Pro Edition

Blender as a 3D Creation Suit is going on its ever continuing march of adding new features and improving features that already exists within it.

One of those improved features of Blender that recently got some attention was Point Density textures.

Previously Point Density Textures were supported in the Blender Internal Render but not in the Cycles Render.  However recently Blender Cycles gained the support of Point Density Textures.

For those who are not aware of what Point Density textures are the quickest way to describe them is that they are in some ways similar to Blender Smoke features but for vertices and particles.  Anywhere an object, vertices or particle appears in a Point Density Domain (3D Voxel Domain) will be rendered similar to the way smoke particles are.  Point Density support is a form of Volumetric Rendering.

Point Density Textures allow for a myriad of Volumetic Rendering effects.  Anything where you need smoke-like, dust trails, turning objects in to glowing plasmatic forms, etc without all the intense calculation involved with real smoke simulation the Point Density Texture may be able to step in.

Now Blenderheads are very quick to take Blenders new and improved features and put them to the test to see what they can do with them.  One of those very experienced Blenderheads Gottfried Hofmann contacted me to ask if I would review his newest product called "Point Density Magical FX".

Since I am a big fan of Gottfried's work and I really like his BlenderDiplom Blender tutorial website, I was eager to see exactly what he could do with Point Density Textures.

Product Specifications:

        Gottfried's newest product aims to both describe how to use and setup Point Density Textures to achieve various cool looking special effects and to provides templates which can be used in your own projects for what ever you need.  This useful as there are not really many tutorials on doing Point Density special effects type things so it fills a gap.

        You can download the product from Gottfried's website when you do you are taken to the gumroad.com website.  This website is similar to Blender Cookie in that it allows you to host and sell various types of things such as videos and tutorial.

        I have never used gumroad before but in reviewing Gottfried's work I can say that it was very easy to use.  You can download the various purchased resourced or you can watch them online, it will even let you download directly to a Drop Box account, though I was not able to test the Drop Box feature as I do not own a Drop Box account.

        To start with on getting a request email from Gottfried to review his product I got directed to his website and on purchasing the product I was directed to gumroad.com.  From there setting up an account was very straightforward.

        All purchased products are added to your gumroad.com library where you can browse and view your items as you wish.

        I tend to like to download and watch all the things I have so that's what I did.

        The Point Density Magical FX comes with various things:
        • Templates
        • Demo Files
        • Training Videos
        • PDF-Guide to Point Density in Cycles
        • Starter Files for training Videos
        • .blend of Promo Image
        • Documentation of Templates 
        There are two different versions of Point Density Magical Fx, a Pro and a Training version.  The Pro version comes will all the things mentioned above while the Training version comes with:
        • Training Videos
        • Starter .blends
        • .blend of the Promo Image
        I mainly concentrated on reviewing the Videos and PDF files as these are the most important in getting to grips with how Point Density Textures can be used.

        If you download all the files it is roughly 4gig in size.  So you will need a reasonably good internet connection speed or a lot of free time.  Though the website seems very stable and I had no problems downloading the content.

        The PDF file was the first thing I read and it gave a to the point review of what Point Density Textures are and some of the less obvious points about how they are calculated.  I found this PDF informative and useful.  If you are not one who likes to read PDFs you can get all the same information from the collection of video files that Gottfried narrates.

        It is worth noting that Gottfried's narration is very clear and easy to understand and the quality of the video encoding is very clear and well paced.  I only had basic experience of Blender Internal Point Density Textures and found it very easy to follow Gottfried's explanations of Cycles Point Density Textures.  I think that if you have never used Point Density Textures before you will also have no problems understanding and following Gottfrieds explanations.

        There are 4 videos supplied covering various Point Density Texture based special effects:
        1. Basic Point Density Setup
        2. Stylized Flame
        3. Ocean Of Spheres
        4. Smokey
        The first video shows how to setup a Point Density Texture from first principles.  Showing you the basics of how to get started with them.

        The video then moves on to making a logo illuminated by Point Density Textures.  Also covered is baking and turning Point Density Textures into images which can then be composited.  If you have never used the turbulence force field modifier this is used to achieve random movement of Point Density Textures.

        It is surprising with just some very simple settings and modifiers the quality of the effect Gottfried achieved.

        After the logo was completed the next thing that is demonstrated is using Point Density Textures to place them inside glass jars that can be effected by various light absorption and scatting effects.


        The second video covers the creations of a plasma flame like effect which can surround and object and give it a flaming look.


        Various modifiers and weight painting techniques are covered to achieve these effects, all well explained and demonstrated.

        The third video takes a different approach from the previous two in that it shows how to emulate Point Density Texture like effects without actually using Point Density Textures.  This can help with rendering speed and memory usage.


        The video shows how to take a collection of Dupli-Objects and place the Blender logo across them and have those spheres animated to morph into the Blender logo when the camera moves to the correct position.  The compositor, and the displacement modifiers and various other features of Blender are used to achieve this effect.

        In this video there were some very clever techniques and tips covered.  Of particular note was the tip that you can use the compositor viewer node to save altered images without effecting their native resolution.  Another cool little piece of information was the coverage of how to use the From Dupli tickable option to project an image texture across a collection of Dupli-Objects.  There was also so tips and tricks regarding the use of the RGB curves node.   All useful pieces of information which I did not know about.

        The forth and final video covers using Point Density Textures to create thin wispy smoke that looks similar to how tabaco smoke would look that is animated.


        One stand out point that I did not know in this video was the technique for baking particles that follow a path with the Bake Action feature with Visual Keying active to get particle trails which looks smooth.  I don't know if this is a Blender bug or a feature but, it is still very useful to know how to get around the issue.

        All in all an excellent product that is reasonably priced and very well described.

        If you are looking for how to learn Point Density Textures or just want the Blend files for making your own versions of the logos for your own products then Gottfried's latest product is for you.

        Review Score 95%

        13 April 2015

        Complete Dinosaur Creation by Steve Lund - Video Training Course Review

        Having reviewed a fair number of 3D modeling courses that use Blender, I have seen many different things created, and in general I am more interested in the features of Blender that are demonstrated than that actual thing that is created.  However there is one particular thing that my inner 7 year old does like and that is dinosaurs;  When the particular dinosaur is the mighty T-Rex well then so much the better!

        So when I was contacted by CG Masters and asked if I would review their latest Complete Dinosaur Creation course I of course said yes, because well dinosaurs and Blender you can't really go wrong with that combination.

        For those that have been Blenderheads for a while or have previously read some of my other reviews you will already know who CG Masters are, but for those that haven't CG Masters are the creators of many high quality tutorial courses which go through the process of creating various things with Blender from beginning to end.  Their tutorials cover the range of Blender user experience levels from beginner up to very advanced.

        Product Specifications:
         
              The Complete Dinosaur Creation course is instructed by Steve Lund a very knowledgeable Blenderhead who is also known as CG Geek on G+ ( https://plus.google.com/+BlenderSteVe/posts ).

              After having downloaded the course content you have a number of ways of accessing it.  You can if you want use your web browser to access the course resources or access them directly from the resource directories.

              Of the various resources made available in the download are:
              • Various Texture files for the course
              • The Blend files for the course
              • Video course files
              • Blender 2.72b (Windows & Mac)
              It's worth noting that as I reviewed this course on a Linux machine I had no issue viewing or using the content, even though the Linux version of Blender is not supplied with the course, it is very easy to get from the official Blender Website.  I used the newest version of Blender and all the content of the course is still compatible with it.

              Since I reviewed the downloadable version of the course it came as a collection of archive files with a download size of 13.5GB which means that unless you have a very fast internet connection it is going to take a while to download.  So if internet speed is an issue then you may either want to use a download manager to get the files or instead get the DVD version of the course.

              The videos in the course are very clearly encoded and well narrated by Steve who is for the most part a very clear speaker and does a very good job of explaining what he is doing and why.  This is definately a good thing as the entire course is over 13 and a half hours in length.  If you are going to follow along while watching you will need a lot of free time.

              The video introduction to the course goes over the topics that will be covered and shows what the end result will be.

              After the intro Steve shows the viewer how to do basic blocking of the T-Rex form and the basics of how to setup Blender 3D Viewport background images to aide in creation of the T-Rex model.  The T-Rex is initially created using the poly by poly modeling method.

              Having blocked out the T-Rex Steve covers using the Mirror modifier and Blender's Proportional Editing Tools.

              I am not T-Rex expert but to me the modeling looked realistic, though if there are any palaeontologist out there you will have to make your own decisions. 

              With the basic T-Rex forms created Steve then refines each of the major parts of the T-Rex model adding progressively more and more detail at each stage.  Unlike the rough blocking stage Steve uses a combination of vertex and face pushing and pulling and extensive use of Blender's Sculpting and Proportional Editing tools to add the fine mesh details to the T-Rex mesh.

              While this courses aim is to produce a dinosaur and not teach the finer points on the techniques of sculpting in Blender, Steve's use of Blender's Sculpting features is clear and easy to understand and he does take the time to explain the sculpting features that he uses throughout the course;  So if you haven't used Blender's Sculpting tools before you should not have any problems following along to what Steve is doing.  Sculpting and Multires were used thoughout and Steve makes sure to properly explain how to use the Multiresolution Modifier.  Blender's Dynatopo feature wasn't used, not sure why but it didn't seem to me that the workflow process Steve used suffered in any way because of this.

              The one small issue I noticed and I am probably being a bit nit picky was that at one point Steve had an issue with Mirror Modifier splitting the mesh and leaving a hole in the mesh along it's center line.  He eventually managed to determine what the cause of this issue was and fixed it in later parts of the course;  It may have been better to pause recording at this point find the issue fix it and then tell the viewer what the issue was and how it was fixed rather than having issue present until later videos.

              As the T-Rex got more complex Steve gave various tips on how to keep the performance of Blender high and allow you to model the T-Rex in a fluid responsive manner.  Blenderheads that have been using Blender for a while will likely know those tips but for newer Blender users it will be handy extra information to have.

              The next major part of the course comes when covering the texturing of the T-Rex.  All the texturing is done using the Blender Cycles rendering engine rather than the Blender Internal rendering engine.  This means that you get all the power of Cycles renderer but you will need some patience when doing renders if you don't have a particularly powerful Graphics Card.  Topics such as how to carry out the basics of using Cycles Shading Nodes are covered in a clear way.

              Normal Maps and Normal Baking and how it works as well as the processes involved in UV Unwrapping are all explained in a very clear way.

              After the basics of Normal Map creation and applying those Normal Maps are gone over Steve moves onto using one of Blender's newer features, Image Stencil Texturing.  This feature allows easier more intuitive texturing on the surface of a mesh.  I am not certain but I think this is the first commercial course that I have seen that covers the use of this new feature.  Steve did a very good job of explaining what it is used for and its various features.

              Steve uses the Image Stencil Texturing feature to very good effect, he textures the T-Rex mesh very efficiently and it really shows the power of the Stencil feature.


              With Blender Cycles having Subsurface Scattering for a while it's good to see Steve use it to give even more realism to his T-Rex, has does a reasonably good job of explaing what the various SSS node settings do.

              He shows a good technique to add scars to the T-Rex using Specular Mapping and Painting on the scars using Texture Painting.

              One thing I really liked was Steve's explanation of how to make changes to a low poly mesh and then have those changes be transfered to the high poly sculpted mesh improving normal map quality.  I didn't know about this feature and it looked super useful.

              Grunge texturing techniques are demonstrated using another Blender feature I haven't seen used before the Brush Mask feature.  This is yet another very useful feature.

              The next stage of the course covers the techniques for adding a rig to the T-Rex so that it can be posed and animated.  Only the basics of rigging and applying the rig to the model are covered but they are enough to get a reasonable animation walk cycle created for the dinosaur.  The basics of creating and using Shape Keys is covered.  Again you won't end up being a Shape Key expert but the informtion that is covered is useful.


              The T-Rex is integrated with video footage using Blender's Motion Tracking feature.  This was clearly explained and demonstrated, and if you have never used Blender Motion Tracker before you should be able to now do basic Motion Tracking in Blender.

              Another of the things that caught my eye was when the dinosaur was being animated was the use of Dynamic Paint to make foot print deformations in the ground as the dinosaur places its feet on the ground.

              Also integrated with the ground deformations was a simple method of adding a dust upwelling effect when the feet strike the ground using Blender Cycles Particles for dust effects and debris scattering.

              With the dust, debris and scene integration covered Steve covers setting up HDRI environments and lighting the scene so it looks visually appealing.


              Finally the often tedious but useful issue of rotoscoping/masking is covered so that various unrelated elements in a scene can be composited together to look like they are in the scene together.  The masking was basic but showed the overall process well.

              This was a great course, I enjoyed watching it, even though it took me quite a while to watch all of it.

              If you want a course that shows you all the major steps in creating, modeling, texturing, animating and rendering a project with a T-Rex or any other sort of megafauna this is the course for you.

              Review Score 90%

              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.

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9o9Zq3YtHw

              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.

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWexRSc38P4

              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%