24 July 2014

Richard Salinas - 3D Printing With RepRap Cookbook

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

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

Product Specifications:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Review Score 80%

        13 July 2014

        Aidy Burrows - Complete Environment and Animation Project

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

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

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

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

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

        Product Specifications:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              Well worth the money.

              Review Score 95%

              18 June 2014

              Lee Posey & Light BWK - BNPR's Freestyle Level Up video training

              If you have been using Blender for any length of time then you know that Blender's feature set is forever increasing;  Hardly a week goes by when some new feature is either tweaked or an entirely new feature is added.

              One of those reasonably new features is Blender's Freestyle feature.

              Blender's Freestyle feature is a more feature rich and flexible version of Blender's older edge rendering technique.  Freestyle is a class of post processing non-photo realistic rendering system, used for doing stylized renders with line geometry.

              Blender Freestyle is so flexible and powerful that not many yet know how to use it (or even what it is specifically).  There is a lot of misinformation as to what role it plays in the creative pipeline of software such as Blender and other software.

              Light BWK & Lee Posey have a very clear definition:

              "Freestyle is a geometry based, post processed, line art renderer. Commonly used in animation, info-graphic, arch-viz and product visualization. Freestyle is only line art, not a surface shader as most believe it is."

              Product Specifications:
              • Name : BNPR's - Freestyle Level Up
              • Author : Lee Posey (TheJikz) & Light BWK
              • Price : $38 USD or Bitcoin equivalent (on 9th June 2014)
              • Runtime : 124 Mins
              • Format : Video
              • Website : https://blendernpr.org/store
               

                    In an attempt to remedy this apparent lack of information on what Blender Freestyle is and what it is for Lee Posey and Light BWK have created a series of video tutorials that describe the features that Freestyle has to offer, and also describes how to integrate it into your workflow.

                    Their stated aim is:

                    "Learn FreeStyle the fun way. Masterfully create geometry based post-processed *line art* from the very basic to the very advanced for your still images, product design, arch-viz, motion graphics and motion pictures."

                    Both Lee Posey and Light BWK are very experienced Blender users so you can expect the information they provides to be accurate.

                    The tutorial series comes with all the videos and Blend files included.  The videos are very clear and well encoded and they are spoken very clearly and very well produced.

                    For each purchase of this course a percentage of the money raised goes towards funding development of B.E.E.R (Blender Extended Expressive Rendering) an impressive Non-Photo Realistic rendering extension for Blender.

                    You can see the videos for the site promotion and Freestyle line demo for the Freestyle Level Up course below:





                    There are 15 videos which teach the various important topics for getting to grips with Freestyle.

                    The approach taken when teaching the material is to use a points scoring game metaphor.  With short videos which teach specific topics in a short amount of time as you watch the material and do the tasks you gain points.  This game based approach is somewhat strange but the information provided is accurate and clear and you can ignore the point scoring if you want to.

                    It should be made clear that if you are entirely new to Blender you may struggle with this material;  As it is assumed you have at least basic familiarity with Blender's interface and how to interact with it.  If you do have this level of knowledge of Blender then you should be able to understand what is presented in this course.  The fast pacing of the videos does mean though that you may well have to watch some videos multiple times to grasp the topics that are covered.

                    Freestyle is not anymore difficult than other parts of Blender but it does have strange terminology which can take a while to wrap your head around, but the terminology is consistent to other software according to the authors.

                    The tutorial videos often speak of things like mastering a topic, and while you will get a lot of useful information from the videos, Freestyle has so many options and they are so configurable that you will at best get a good grounding in what Freestyle is capable of;  It will require extensive experimentation to get the most out of this material.

                    The Freestyle Python API method of controlling Freestyle is not covered, but this is not really a major limitation as this still leaves a lot to learn from and experiment with.  According to the authors the Freestyle API is undergoing lots of changes and could not yet be documented in a tutorial series.

                    Features such as Line Sets, Styles, and Line Textures, Line Modifiers are covered and various examples are used to demonstrate some of the harder to grasp features.  You are expected to experiment and try out various features for yourself when watching the videos.

                    All in all an excellent introduction to Blender Freestyle, and currently the only good source of Blender Freestyle information, as the Wiki information is not the easiest things to understand at the moment.  There are various websites but the information they cover is patchy and does not cover Freestyle as a single whole.

                    Well worth adding to your collection of Blender based learning materials.

                    Review Score 85%

                    23 March 2014

                    Mythravarun Vepakomma - Blender Compositing And Post Processing - Ebook Review

                    A few weeks ago I was browsing the Packt website for ebooks about Blender that I may want to read and came across one on compositing that I had not seen before.

                    This one is by Mythravarun Vepakomma, and from memory I don't think I have read any other books by him.

                    One thing that did make me take notice of this book was the technical reviewer, "Olivier Amrein" one of the known Blenderheads for those that frequent Blender Artists and other popular Blenderhead hangouts.

                    Product Specifications:
                     

                          This won't be a particularly long review as the book itself is not very long.

                          The books stated aim as described in the book is:

                          "Blender Compositing and Post Processing is a one-stop solution to attain state-of-the-art compositing skills to create mind-blowing visuals and productive composites using Blender Compositor."

                          So given the very bold statement above I set my standards very high as to what I expected from this particular book. To put the statement above in context that's like getting Sebastian Konig or Pablo Vazquez levels of compositing skills (TD Level).

                          For those of you wondering if it actually achieves those lofty goals, the unfortunate answer for me at least is no.  If you are expecting this book to give you Technical Developer levels of  Blender Compositing super powers you will be disappointed.

                          The book at best and if I am in a charitable mood could be described as being aimed at complete Blender compositing beginners.  Anyone with any prior experience of compositing in any other system will already know everything in this book (and almost certainly a lot more besides).

                          The books approach to teaching Blender's compositor is to take a collection of Blender's most common Node Types and explain the settings on those nodes individually.  Only a small sub-set of Blender Nodes are covered and of the ones that are covered they are at best skimmed over.

                          An indepth coverage of all the settings and features of the nodes provided by Blender's compositor would indeed be a very useful book for someone with previous experience in compositing, but the coverage is not indepth or complete.

                          Unfortunately describing the functions of nodes in isolation is not a very effective way to teach someone how to use Blender's compositing features with any level of sophistication.  The real power of the compositor comes when you are shown how to combine all those nodes and do amazing things with them, and this book doesn't take things that far for the most part.

                          I honestly think that you would get more indepth and useful information on Blender's compositor directly from the Blender Wiki than you will from this book.

                          It doesn't cover enough of the basics to be useful to a Blender beginner, and is totally incomplete for someone aiming to reach Technical Developer levels of compositing skills.

                          Avoid this one.

                          Review Score 55%

                          21 March 2014

                          Buy One Get One Free From Packt Publishing

                          I was contacted by Packt Publishing today as they are having a buy 1 get one free ebook promotion for their 2000th book release celebrations from 18th-Mar-2014 and will continue until 26th-Mar-2014.

                          Since they have quite a large collection of Blender based books, this could be useful to Blenderheads out there.

                          Info direct from Packt Publishing :

                          Buy One, Get One Free on all of #Packt’s 2000 eBooks! http://bit.ly/1j26nPN #Packt2k #b3d

                          26 January 2014

                          Matthew B Stokes - 3D Printing For Architects With MakerBot - EBook Review

                          It has been a busy time for me with EBook reviews as this is the second of two books I have been asked to review by Packt Publishing.

                          This this time it covers using the MakerBot 3D Printer Replicator series.

                          MakerBot are one of the most popular consumer level 3D printer makers out there, doing a number of different 3D printers.

                          Product Specifications:
                           

                                The first thing to note is that although the title of the book suggests that this book is for architects it's slightly misleading.  When demonstrating how to use the MakerBot series of 3D printers it does this by having the user build a series of architectural items, building items and floor plans for example.  Though it is safe to say that even if you are not an architect but have a 3D printer there is a lot of useful information you can take from this book.  Also it is likely that if you are an architect you already know more about 3D printing and have access to much more expensive 3D printers than are covered in this book.

                                The book starts by introducing the reader to 3D printers in general, explaining what they are and how they are used.  It goes over the various different types of technology that 3D printers use to produce their models.

                                I especially liked the history of 3D printers section and a description of all the different technologies;  This is not really essential information but it is good to know.

                                Having gone over the history and technology of 3D printers in general the book moves onto the main focus of the book the MakerBot series of 3D printers.  It details the specifications of the various different MakerBot machines, going over their various differences and some important limitations of each printer.

                                There were good explanations of the various difference pieces of software you can use to model your items that you are going to 3D print.  Usefully there was information on how to properly model your models such that they can be successfully 3D printed, with the best results.

                                If you haven't had a lot of experience with 3D printers the modeling theory section of the book will be a life saver and will likely save you a lot of time and wasted plastic.

                                Having gone over all the theory, the book then moves on to the more practical side of things, by showing you how to 3D print a roof truss as your first real use of your MakerBot.  With this quick practical demonstration out of the way the book goes into more detail on the various software that can be used to control the MakerBot and alter it's performance settings.  Specifically it covers the MakerWare software that is the official software for MakerBots.

                                Topics such as how to import models and reposition them in ways that make printing more efficient and likely to produce correct results are explained.  How to minimize printing problems such as warping and the various advantages and disadvantage of different types of plastic materials are covered, in clear and easy to grasp ways.

                                More advanced topics like making acetone and abs plastics anchoring substance called slurry is covered, how useful this is I am not sure but it is nice to know.

                                Once the basics of settings, positioning, and materials properties are covered, the topic moves on to Multicolor printing for those that have printers with more than one print head, and also covers a technique for printing multicolor 3D parts for machines that only have on print head.  Though here the books seem a bit confused calling this feature either Z Print of Z Pause depending on where you are reading in the book.  Either way its a very handy bit of information to have if you want to print multicolor parts but don't have more than one print head.

                                When you have to create or import the 3D model that you want to print the MakerBot has to slice that model into a series of layers, this is called 3D Slicing and the book has a good explanation of the steps involved and does a reasonably good job of explaining the various settings which determine how the 3D slicer works, and how this can alter the final results of your printed objects.

                                When printing more complex parts it is often not possible to print them as one single object, the parts must be split into multiple bits and then reassembled.  There are some good examples described that show some of the basic ways of doing this and how it helps to achieve more complex models.

                                As one of the later projects you build a store facade which is entirely made of interchangeable parts which can be attached together.  Topics such as tolerance fits and connection types are covered.

                                Once you have a reasonable grasp of how to make things yourself the book then moves on to involving yourself with 3D printer model creator community showing how to use 3D printers model sharing sites Thingverse and GrabCAD.  It shows how to register and download models from each site.  So at least you wont short of things to print.

                                The more legalistic side of things is covered very briefly with respect to licensing and how you have to ensure you're not breaking it.

                                As a last final more involved project Iterative Design process techniques are covered and you are shown one way that you could design an architectural floor plan.

                                The writing style is clear and informal.
                                I would say that on the whole this book is aimed a 3D printer beginners, who are new to both 3D and 3D printing.  The price is good as well for what you get.

                                Good book, a little unclear in places but if you are a 3D printer owner and especially if you own a MakerBot Replicator series printer this book could help you get better 3D printing results.

                                Review Score 85%

                                Ravishankar Somasundaram - Git Version Control For Everyone - Ebook review

                                I was recently contacted by Packt Publishing and asked if I would do a prelimary review of one of their books "Git Version Control For Everyone";  I agreed and did the preliminary review and what I had read so far seemed well written.

                                Now I have finished reading the complete ebook so now it is time to do a full review.

                                For those that are unaware of what GIT is, in simple terms it is a piece of software that allows you to store and keep track of many different versions of things from documents to source code.  It allows you to collaborate with people in teams managing their changes and additions to content they create.

                                It's a reasonably modern version/content control system, it has many advantages over older control systems like SVN.  As a result it has become a very popular method of implementing version control especially on software projects.

                                If there is one big limitation with GIT, it is that the official documentation that comes with it, although it is very complete, it is not, to put it mildly, the easiest documentation to understand and interpret.  Even the simplest and easy to use GIT commands when explained in the official documentation seem to be the most complex and labyrinthine command ever invented.

                                This limitation of GIT official documentation has resulted in many books on GIT that seek to make it easier to understand and use for normal people (see non-coding geeks).

                                Product Specifications:
                                 

                                      This book by Ravishankar Somasundaram seeks to help the person that is completely new to the topics of version control and GIT in particular.  It's aimed at beginner and takes the approach of using examples and analogy to explain the important tools and concepts that GIT uses to get it's version control tasks carried out.
                                      The book starts explaining what GIT is and it's history, as well as its advantages when compared to other version control systems.  All done in an easy, non-technical way of explanation.  Although it doesn't go into great detail it's a nice primer on the reasons for GIT.

                                      After the history lesson, obtaining and installing the GIT software for various platforms (Windows, Linux and Mac) is gone over.  The instruction seemed clear and easy to follow and there were many very clear pictures to see, all in full color in the ebook I read.

                                      Once installation of GIT has been covered the book moves on to doing basic configuration tasks with GIT, showing how configuring works in GIT allowing you to explore other configuration options when you want to.

                                      From this point on the book introduces some of the most fundamental GIT commands, explaining how they work by using the approach of asking you to carry out various GIT version control activities by creating and managing various documents and placing them under GIT's control.

                                      On the whole this method of do something then explaining what it is you just did, is a clear and easy to understand method of teaching use of GIT;  In parts I thought certain topics would have benefited from more explanation but this is a beginners book and so some deeper explanations of certain topics may have been to complex for a book like this.

                                      One very useful thing the book does is to teach 2 different ways of interacting with GIT, those ways being either using a Graphical User Interface or by using a Command Line Interface.  Teaching both approaches will benefit the users who like one way of interacting with GIT over the other.

                                      The book basically has 7 chapters each of which covers the various most fundamental commands and feature that GIT has.

                                      There is one final chapter 8 that is very strange for a beginners book,  it tries to explain some of the more advanced internal features of GIT that make all of GIT work.  This chapter seem completely out of place.  There are basically two reason for this, 1st in a book aimed at a beginner the information it gives will probably just be seem like techno-babble & 2nd it's incomplete so if you genuinely wanting to know all the under the hood stuff, it doesn't give enough information to be really useful to an advanced user.  So it doesn't help the beginner or the advanced user.

                                      So all in all if you are a beginner who has never use version control before or has never used GIT before, this book has the fundamentals covered;  You will be able to use GIT to get things done after reading this book, just skip chapter 8.

                                      Not the best book in the world and it won't make you a GIT expert but it will give you enough information to get going in GIT fast.

                                      Review Score 70%

                                      24 January 2014

                                      Ravishankar Somasundaram's Git - Version Control for Everyone - Provisional Review

                                      Packt Publishing recently posted on G+ asking if anyone would be interested in reviewing one of their new books "GIT - Version Control For Everyone".



                                      I agreed as Blender recently switched to using the GIT version control system and I thought some of the more technically inclined Blenderheads would be interested in a review.

                                      This book is currently priced at £11.99 (Jan 24th 2014)

                                      This is only a partial review as the people at Packt needed it posted fairly quickly and since I am not the fastest reader in the world, I said I would do a partial review of the chapters I was able to read.

                                      I have so far managed to read through chapters 1 to 3.  It's not a massive book, the ebook consists of about 180 pages (trust me GIT huge so getting it down to 180 pages it an impressive feat).  So far it appears to be well written and easy to follow along with.  It takes the approach of guiding you through a series of tasks, teaching you GIT through a learn by doing approach and using common analogies to make sense of some of the more difficult concepts involved with GIT.

                                      Because this books is aimed at the GIT beginner is uses lots of pictures, which are very easy to see and interpret.

                                      From the chapters I have read it goes though all the basic steps of obtaining, installing and configuring GIT on the most common platforms available (specially Windows, Mac, Linux).  It describes the many different types of version control systems and their relative strengths and weaknesses when compared with GIT.  So it doesn't just explain how to do specific things in GIT but also the reasons why things are carried out the way they are.

                                      So far what I have read has been very well written and even though this books seems specifically aimed at the GIT beginning, I think the person that has a little bit of exposure to GIT would also benefit from reading this book.

                                      If you are not a person that likes to use Graphical User Interfaces for your GIT tasks the Command Line Interface versions are also covers.  So it appears that both type of user are supported.

                                      By the last part of chapter 3, the basics of adding, removing and controlling files with GIT in a project had been covered and it to me at least seemed well explained and easy to grasp (and I am by no means a GIT expert).

                                      When I have read the entire book I will do a full review.

                                      See the links below for books website:

                                      http://www.packtpub.com/git-version-control-for-everyone/book
                                      http://goo.gl/mnN6kH

                                      22 December 2013

                                      Rob Tuytel - Creating 3D Environments - Unveiling The Old Masters

                                      Rob Tuytel contacted me recently asking me to review one of his newest books "Creating 3D Environments - Unveiling The Old Masters".  I was excited to review this book as Rob is a very talented Blender user.

                                      So talented that he worked on the Blender Foundation Open Movie "Tears Of Steel".  If you watched that movie then you will likely have seen the very distinctive buildings.

                                      This ebook covers creating 3D environments using Blender tools.  The novel thing about Rob's approach is that he tries to model and texture buildings in a style similar to the old Dutch Masters.

                                      Product Specifications:
                                       

                                            The Ebook is full color, all the images in the book are very clear and easy to see.

                                            This book is not for Blender beginners, it is aimed at Blender users who know how to use Blender tools, specifically, modifiers, uv texturing, cycles node system for example.

                                            If you have been using Blender for a reasonable amount of time you should be able to gain much from the information in this book, especially if you are interested in creating environment scenes with the old masters compositional styles.

                                            There are 2 version of the ebook available, one version comes with just the ebook that I am reviewing in this post, the other version comes with this ebook and an extra character pack.  This second version costs more but the character pack could be very useful for people who want to make environmental scenes with Blender but aren't very good at creating their own character models.

                                            It was mentioned previously that this book is aimed at intermediate level Blender users and the main reason for this is that when Rob explains what he does to achieve his modeling and texturing effects in Blender, he tells you what he doesn't but he doesn't tell you how to do it, you are expected to know.  This has a big advantage that he can cover a lot of ground going over the different aspects of environment creation.

                                            This books is aimed at Blender users but if you are coming from other software you should be able to convert the information easily enough.

                                            The book starts with Rob explaining some of his background and the history of the subject he is about to create, he covers some of his favorite painters and what he is inspired by.

                                            After the discussion on art history the real work starts, he breaks down paintings of old street scenes explaining why they are composed the way they are and how you as a Blender user can use the same techniques to achieve the high quality results in your own work.

                                            The book then moves on to creating a scene from a painting in Blender.  Although you can try to exactly follow along and make the same sort of picture as Rob uses in his examples, he recommends throughout the book that you instead find your own scene to recreate instead of try to exactly copy him.  He would rather you use his techniques to make your own scene as he says you will learn more;  This on the whole seems to me to make sense and will make reading the book much more fun.

                                            The street scene he creates is created in stages as he progresses through the book.

                                            These are just some of street scene elements he covers:
                                            • Street Foundations (Roads, Bridges, Pavements)
                                            • Making cobbled roads
                                            • Bridge and Railings
                                            • Buildings (Walls, Windows and Doors, Roof)
                                            • Adding Grime and aging a scene
                                            • Vegatation (Trees and Bushes, Grass, Moss)
                                            • Prop Items (smaller Items that appear in a scene)
                                             At a couple of places in the book he uses another piece of software called "Flora 3D" to do trees and bushes.  This is not open source or cross platform and isn't cheap.  Though Rob also shows ways to make similar objects using Blender's sapling addon.

                                            Throughout this section of the book when he is creating models and texturing them he uses the same set of tools over and over again to achieve very impressive results in his renders.  It goes to show that you don't need to use Blender's more complex tools to get excellent results.

                                            Having created and textured all the items in his scene he moves on to the  topic of atmosphere and lighting of the scene.  He covers some of Blender's lighting settings and how changing them can alter the look and feel of your final render.

                                            Finally that last part of the book goes over the process he goes through when making his own custom 3D environment scenes.  This covers collecting textures, planning how long the scene will take to make, visiting locations for inspiration, rough blocking of scene, modeling, texturing and finally rendering.

                                            Also especially useful are that throughout the book Rob has links to various videos he has created that show specific topics in greater detail for those who are interested.  They are very good videos and well worth a viewing.

                                            One interesting point he made was that he likes to finish a scene and then leave it for a while and come back to it so that he can look at it with fresh eye and make any improvements then.  This is a really good idea, don't think I have seen it expressed before in a Blender book.

                                            One thing to note is that although this book is written in English it is not Rob's native tongue so very occasionally the book can use odd wording, this is not a big issue but something to be aware of.

                                             So for the most part this is a very interesting and useful book, but do not expect it to hold your hand and explain every little thing to you, you are expected to know your way around Blender.

                                            Review Score 80%

                                            30 November 2013

                                            CG Masters - Master It - Volumes 1 & 2 - DVD Training Review

                                            CG Masters have released another one of their tutorial series this time called "Master It"; 

                                            It's a two volume Blender video training course which is aimed at beginning Blender users.  With it's aim being to take those beginners and give them broad exposure to many of Blenders different tools and features, enabling them to get up and running quickly when using Blender.

                                            This course is presented by Christopher Plush and Aidy Burrows.  Both Christopher and Aidy are very talented Blender users with a lot of Blender knowledge to impart.

                                            Product Specifications:
                                             

                                                  If you decide to purchase this training course then you have two options, you can either buy a physical DVD or you can download an electronic version.  In either case the price of the course is the same and both version present the same material.

                                                  The price is one of the first things I noticed.  For $60 dollars you get almost 18 hours of training material.  So the value for money aspect is very high given the quality of the training material.

                                                  As with all CG Masters tutorial materials the content is produced to an extremely high quality;  The video and audio are very clear and easy to follow.  With lots of realtime and occasionally timelapsed video recording.  Chris and Aidy are very good an explaing what they are doing throughout their videos.

                                                  The materials provided in the course include all the Blend files, videos, textures and final results of all the work for you to examine. You can access the videos and other resources either directly using your own media player of choice, or alternatively access all the content from inside your web browser.

                                                  The web browser interface neatly organizes all the course content into manageable sizes allowing you to quickly navigate to the sections that interest you most.

                                                  This is a course for beginning Blender users so it is designed to be watched from start to finish and where possible you are advised to follow along and try and carryout the tasks shown in the training videos.

                                                  Unlike a lot of beginner type courses this one tries to cover all of the most fundamental features of Blender and it's tools.  By necessity it can't cover every single feature but it does cover a lot of different topics, and most of the important tools and features are covered.

                                                  Topics List:

                                                  Volume 1 - Section 1 - Welcome To Class 
                                                  • Chapter 1 - How To View
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Common Terminology

                                                  Volume 1 - Section 2 - Understanding Blender
                                                  • Chapter 1 - 3D Space
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Anatomy Of A Mesh
                                                  • Chapter 3 - Saving And Loading
                                                  • Chapter 4 - Window Types
                                                  • Chapter 5 - Creating A New Layout
                                                  • Chapter 6 - Toolbars
                                                  • Chapter 7 - Layers
                                                  • Chapter 8 - User Preferences

                                                  Volume 1 - Section 3 - Working with Blender
                                                  • Chapter 1 - Object Mode
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Part 1 - Edit Mode & Modeling
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Part 2 - Creating A Toon House
                                                  • Chapter 3 - The 3D Cursor And Object Origins
                                                  • Chapter 4 - The Specials Menu
                                                  • Chapter 5 - Materials And Textures
                                                  • Chapter 6 - UV Unwrapping
                                                  • Chapter 7 - Color, Normal, and Specular Maps

                                                  Volume 1 - Section 4 - Lighting and Rendering
                                                  • Chapter 1 - Blender Internal VS Cycles Renderer
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Camera
                                                  • Chapter 3 - Lighting
                                                  • Chapter 4 - Lighting And Rendering A Scene

                                                  Volume 1 - Section 5 - Modifiers
                                                  • Chapter 1 - Introduction to Modifiers
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Generate Modifiers
                                                  • Chapter 3 - Deform Modifiers

                                                  Volume 1 - Section 6 - Animation and Physics
                                                  • Chapter 1 - Introduction to Animation
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Object Animation
                                                  • Chapter 3 - Cannon Blast Exercise

                                                  Volume 1 - Section 7 - Game Engine
                                                  • Chapter 1 - Introduction
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Adding The Main Controls
                                                  • Chapter 3 - The Keys
                                                  • Chapter 4 - Opening The Door
                                                  • Chapter 5 - The Final Product

                                                  Volume 1 - Section 8 - Tips And Tricks
                                                  • Chapter 1 - Tips And Tricks
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Creating Normal And Specular Maps
                                                  • Chapter 3 - Normal Maps, Bump Maps, Displacement Maps, Which One Do I Use?

                                                  Volume 2 - Section 1 - Acoustic Guitar In Cycles
                                                  • Chapter 1 - Setting Up The Blueprints
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Modeling The Body
                                                  • Chapter 3 - Neck And Headstock
                                                  • Chapter 4 - Fretboard
                                                  • Chapter 5 - Turning Pegs
                                                  • Chapter 6 - Strings
                                                  • Chapter 7 - UV Mapping
                                                  • Chapter 8 - Creating The Texture Maps
                                                  • Chapter 9 - The Environment
                                                  • Chapter 10 - Rendering In Cycles

                                                  Volume 2 - Section 2 - Game Scene Overview
                                                  • Chapter 1 - Baking AO And Shadow Maps
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Game Scene Overview

                                                  Volume 2 - Section 3 - Finishing The Toon House
                                                  • Chapter 1 - Addons - Grass, Ivy, Clouds
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Nodes
                                                  • Chapter 3 - Finished Toon House Overview

                                                  Volume 2 - Section 4 - Cool Extras
                                                  • Chapter 1 - More Addons
                                                  • Chapter 2 - Cloth Simulation
                                                  • Chapter 3 - Face Modeling Made Easy
                                                  • Chapter 4 - Making Tileable Textures

                                                  As you can see from the topics list above the range of topics covered is very extensive.

                                                  Videos range in length from just a few minutes to over an hour.

                                                  The course is split between two volumes. The first covers the very basics, while the second volume covers slightly more advanced topics.

                                                  The standout part for me in volume one was the creation of a cartoon style house.  Using a select few tools Chris was able to create a very fun looking house.  This house is later improved on in volume two.

                                                  The second volume can be thought of as using all the topics and tools covered in the first volume to product bigger more complex projects.  For example volume two goes over how to model and texture a guitar, using all the tools mentioned in the previous first volume.  Volume two also covers various extra features and tools that Blender provides, such as addons and simulation features.

                                                  I personally would have prefered more and deeper coverage of the Blender Game Engine and a little more focus on the Shading Nodes of Blender Cycles Render.  Although both Blender Internal features and Blender Cycles render features are covered, a little more coverage of the Cycles nodes would have been welcome.  That said for a beginner course there is more than enough coverage to keep you busy learning and digesting what is in this course for a long time.  Also note that the Blender Game Engine coverage does not cover Python Scripting.  The Video Sequence Editor is not covered but is planned for a future course.

                                                  So all in all these two volumes are excellent and will get a beginner up to speed and confident in using Blender very quickly.  Even if you are not a complete beginner you will likely learn something from the second volume with its more advanced coverage.

                                                  So two volumes of training videos at this price, with this level of quality, it's a good choice;  If you are wanting to get a handle on Blender they are well worth having.

                                                  Review Score 90%