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Beginning Blender 68

terrywallwork writes "Lance Flavell and Apress have been busy writing another Blender 2.5 based book. Lance Flavell (known as Lancer in the Blender community) is a very knowledgeable Blender user. So I was very interested to find out about this book when Apress announced its availability. So off I went and ordered the Ebook version of the book in PDF format." Read on for the rest of Terry's review.
Beginning Blender - Open Source 3D Modeling, Animation, and Game Design
author Lance Flavell
pages 448
publisher Apress
rating 85%
reviewer Terry Wallwork
ISBN 978-1-4302-3126-4
summary Beginners Guide to Blender 2.5 features and how to use them.
This is a book aimed at Blender beginners who are using the Blender 2.5x series. It takes the approach of introducing a subject and then giving examples and exercises for the reader to try and carryout and as a result learn how some of Blenders features work.

The pictures in the Ebook version are full color and apparently the paper book version also has full color pictures, which is useful. The pictures in the PDF version, unfortunately often had compression artifacts making them look very pixelated. Luckily most of the time the quality of the pictures was just good enough to get the point across, it's a shame the pictures were slightly below par but the rest of the content of the book is a much better standard.

Chapter 1 — This chapter deals with explaining what Blender is, how it came about and what makes it special when compared with other software. Instructions on how to obtain and install Blender are gone over, not in massive detail but in enough to be usable. Especially interesting was the good description of what opensource is and why it is so important.

Chapter 2 — Covers various beginner topics on using Blender, from interacting with the user interface in various ways to manipulating the 3D Cursor and explaining how it works and what it is used for. Once the basic interface features have been described the chapter moves on to explaining Blenders different types of primitive shapes and how to use them to construct simple models. A very good explanation of how to manipulate various parts of meshes and the interface using both the keyboard shortcuts and the mouse manipulations is explained. Usefully notes on possible issues with shortcut key conflicts with various different operating system platforms are highlighted, which I think would be extremely useful for a beginning Blender user to be aware of, as this can often be a problem users encounter and it's not often obvious how to fix it or that anything is wrong when it happens. At the end of this chapter the reader is given an exercise to make a simple robot model. I found this a good way to re-enforce committing to memory the subjects described previously in the chapter. Another thing I liked was the way that keyboard shortcut keys were almost always used and described, even some of the less well known shortcuts were mentioned.

Chapter 3 — Covers the fundamental topics of modeling in Blender, covering the differences between Object Mode and Edit Mode. There is a very clear explanation of what mesh topology is and how it impacts on the overall quality of a finally produced model. Simple modifiers such as Blenders Mirror Modifier and Subsurface Modifier are demonstrated and their uses enumerated. I was surprised the Sculpting and the use of Multi-Resolution Modifier was covered at this point in the book, I was expecting it later on, none the less it was well laid out and easy to understand and guided the user to sculpt a simple cat model. Another very useful feature of Blender covered in this chapter was Blenders Retopology feature. A lot of new Blender users and even some not so new users tend to not know about the Retopology feature (or only find out what it is much later) and I found it very useful that it was covered so early on within the texts. Another example of providing information that is often left out of beginners books is the description of how to use proxy objects when linking objects from a file in Blender. How to create proxy objects is often overlooked as a feature that is advanced and therefore not normally covered, this is not a mistake this book makes.

Chapter 4 — Covers the topics of Lighting and Procedural Texturing. It also covers setting up the camera for doing renderings and its various settings that affect render sizes. A topic I found helpful was how to setup the Blender camera to track objects and lights. After camera setup is covered the various lighting techniques and types supported by Blender are described, not in massive detail but more that enough for a beginning Blender user. Although to my mind the description of how Hemi lights worked was a little inaccurate, but not in a way that is likely to affect new Blender users. The important lighting parameter Dist: was explained very well as were the Spot Light parameters and their uses. How to setup simple lighting rigs and simple explanations of lighting theory were explained but don't expect advanced coverage of the theory side of lighting rigs, but there is a enough there to start with. Good explanations of what Key, Fill and Rim lights are and how they can be combined and positioned for effective lighting of a scene within Blender is described.

Ambient Occlusion and Environment Lighting is very briefly covered. I would liked to have seen more information on how to use environment lighting features and how useful it can be, but in a book of this size, space is limited and you get enough information to get you started.

Having covered the basic lighting features the chapter moves on to describing procedural texturing. It does this by taking a Text object and converting it and applying textures to it, in the form of bump maps and color textures. Applying multiple textures to a material is described and demonstrated on the text object. It was easy to follow and showed just how powerful Blender material and texture system can be.

Chapter 5 — Covers texturing using UV Mapping techniques and the steps involved in preparing textures for modification in external applications such as The GIMP. The description of how to use the Uv Image Editor to unwrap mesh objects is clear and useful. Surprisingly Projection Painting is described, as are texture brushes and how to use them. Another highlight of this chapter was the description of the difference between Bump and Normal Mapping, very informative, as often the distinction is not clear. Also very educational was the description of how Normal maps can be made manually. For those that want to use Blenders ability to create Normal Maps automatically this is also covered. I also really appreciated the section on ways to fix common normal map problems when they are baked, lots of people may benefit from this information not just beginners.

Chapter 6 — Covers Curves, Nurbs and MetaBalls. While curve are often documented in Blender books and tutorials, Nurbs and MetaBalls are much less frequently documented. This is a shame as Nurbs and MetaBalls have features that when used in the right situations can be very useful. The description of how MetaBalls and Nurbs work was not the clearest and it took me a couple of re-reads to get to grips with the information, even so still a useful section. Another small problem with this section is that the text refers to fields and parameter names that have been changed in recent version of Blender, so the names the book gave for parameters do not match, which may be slightly confusing to new users. The coverage of 3D Curves, Bevel Objects and Taper Objects were very clear and I think will be very informative for new user, even not so new users. It's a shame this book was not released a month later as it would have been able to cover RotoBeziers addon which allows for keyframed animated curves, but as it was still a very useful chapter.

Chapter 7 — Goes over basic animation and rigging techniques as well as covering the standard terminology and methodology involved in rigging and animation. The explanation of keyframing both what it is and how to do it within Blender were clear and to the point. Time saving features such as auto-keyframing were noted and their use demonstrated. A simple animation is constructed using a monkey model. The uses for the Graph Editor and Dopesheet are documented, here though I do wish more information had been given as to the differences between what the graph editor is used for and what the Dopesheet is used for. The various bone types and weighting methods are described and each is demonstrated in various ways. Though strangely Blender Auto/Heat Weighting method did not appear to be described, I could have just missed it but if not I do find that very strange.

Chapter 8 — Carries on where things left off in Chapter 7, but this time covering more advanced rigging topics such as what FK and IK is, what Control Bones and Bone Layers are and how and why they are used and the differences between them. A demonstration of how to rig a finger and a leg are gone over as are custom bone shapes. Slightly more exotic features such as Pole Targets are used and a good description of why they are useful is also done. Various ways to create both simple and more advanced foot rig designs were gone over. Once the rigging explanations were completed the chapter moves on to the subject of animation and a basic animated walk cycle is created. The section on shapekeys is very useful as shapekey are often a feature that can be difficult to get to grips with. They are used to demonstrate how to do lip syncing on a speaking character. Overall this chapter was better than most other beginners books in showing some of Blender more useful features, very good chapter.

Chapter 9 — Covers how to use Blender in your Movie Making pipeline. Once you get to this point in your Blender education it becomes useful to use the Video Sequence Editor and Compositing Nodes. So this chapter covers the use of the Video Sequence Editor and Node Compositor to make and do the post processing tasks needed to make movies in Blender. How to use Depth Of Field is covered. The various different methods of Greenscreen usage and filtering is gone over, then it is shown how to composite live action footage and CG together and various Video Sequence Editor filters are demonstrated also.

Chapter 10 — Demonstrates how to use Blender Physics, Particle and Hair features. It's a fast moving chapter and quickly goes over each feature very quickly, but generally in enough detail to be useful as a jumping off point to further study. The features are demonstrated by making a simple exploding rocket that animates a model and particle systems. After the particle settings are described the chapter moves on to describing how hair particles work, and a simple wig is constructed using them. Lastly fluid and smoke simulations are covered, again only very briefly but with enough information to be useful.

Chapter 11 — Covers using the game engine to make simple games. Done mainly using Blender Logic Bricks to construct a couple of simple interactive games. The games that result are very good examples of what can be done with the Blender Game Engine. This is a very brief chapter but game creation is very complex and not a lot can be covered in such a short amount of space. But as a taster of what's possible with the Blender Game Engine it's useful to get you started with game creation in Blender.

Chapter 12 — This final chapter connects up various lose ends topics such as where to get further information on Blenders various features and also has an FAQ section answering and fixing the most common problems encountered by new Blender users. The FAQ section to me seemed very useful as the questions answered were definitely the ones that I encountered when I first started using Blender so I would assume they will be useful to other readers.

So on balance this is an excellent book for a Blender beginner, it even had me re-remembering things I had forgotten. This book is a combination of detailed enough to give a Blender user most of the salient information needed to use Blender effectively, and not to difficult as to make it confusing or overwhelming. Personally I think this is currently the best general purpose beginners book to basic Blender 2.5 features so far. Other lesser books would try to cut down on the number of topics covered and probably make a much smaller book but I think this book benefits from the larger amount of pages. It's not a perfect book it does have its problems, such as having badly displayed pictures in places and sometimes not being quite clear enough with explanations of certain sections of the book.

If you're a Blender beginner or an experienced Blender user that is new to 2.5 or a bit rusty, this book will be well worth the money. I really hope Mr Flavell does another Blender book, given the quality of this one.

You can purchase Beginning Blender - Open Source 3D Modeling, Animation, and Game Design from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.


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Beginning Blender

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  • by hjf ( 703092 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:52PM (#34461874) Homepage

    But, will it blend?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Mouse move and click.

    5 minutes of this, and you won't need that book anymore.

  • I find Blender an enormously frustrating program. It's clearly very powerful and I've done some nice things with it myself. But the user interface is confusing. Blender 2.5 was supposed to fix that, but it's just as confusing only in a different way. For starters, put big undo/redo buttons prominently into the interface to help people get started, and start respecting some standard UI conventions.

    • Respecting UI standards would ruin blender.
      How about sane shortcuts? Undo is ctrl+z in every single application, also in blender!
      The 2.49b to 2.5x upgrade was insane, after getting into the flow, I can no longer go back. If I go back, I can only do stuff that is shortcuttet, but the fact that spacebar search is not up there makes it really really lacking.
      Another point to make: Buttons is really really bad for the workflow, when they are not needed. Most shortcuts are placed to sane defaults, along with that

      • by t2t10 ( 1909766 )

        How about sane shortcuts? Undo is ctrl+z in every single application, also in blender!

        Doesn't work in 2.55 beta on Linux. Blender also needs Alt-click with no substitute.

        Another point to make: Buttons is really really bad for the workflow, when they are not needed.

        But they are needed by beginners, so that they don't have to worry about shortcuts at the same time they have to worry about everything else.

        Respecting UI standards would ruin blender.

        A menu bar, a few optional toolbars, a context sensitive menu

        • Your first problem is the default WM problem, which can be solved after digging down into a option menu somewhere and change alt modifier to super instead.
          I disagree about your second point: It would waist space, and ruin the initial workflow learning. When you are learning blender as a 3D newb, how hard is it to aknowledge that grab is set to G, scale to S, rotate to R and extrude to E? Add on that you got plane locking on Z, X and Y, which coincidently are on the names of the axis. Besides that, and the

          • by t2t10 ( 1909766 )

            I think you must elaborate your points, because they are currently far too shallow for me to interpret.

            Blender doesn't use standard UI conventions: its menu bar is different, its shortcuts are different, its toolbars behave different, etc. All that makes learning hard when people are trying already to wrap their head around Blender's view of 3D modeling.

            Other problems are that it shows tons of information by default that's irrelevant to many users. The UI and objects can be in lots of modes that aren't cl

            • by Creepy ( 93888 )

              yeah - I had major issues with Blender's interface myself, and it has many of the same problems as the commercial software I work on - the interface is far too busy, flow is not intuitive at all, and has too much garbage most people don't care about on it - it can be powerful, but I personally don't think it would be significantly faster than the professional CAD software I use (note that Blender WAS professional CAD software at one time).

              Note that I have not used Blender since 2.3, so I have not tried the

            • I agree about the help system lacking, that one annoys me. I disagree about using UI conventions being a good thing when using a poweruser app, as it would slow me down.
              I also agree the view is a complete mess, however I doubt any of the competive apps are any better. At the best they might have a few useless wizards more, to hide the mess. The mess is still present, so the point is a bit moot.

              As for your last statement: I guess that makes you addicted to your tools. Going from milkshape to blender was inni

              • by t2t10 ( 1909766 )

                As for your last statement: I guess that makes you addicted to your tools. Going from milkshape to blender was innitally a disaster for me, until I realized there was a workflow. I would image it would be a lot worse if I had actually learned to use a real 3D application, and properly learned it. I would ask "where is my buttons?!", and "where is my workflow?!".

                Geometry is not a question of tools or workflow or preference, it's a question of mathematics. Blender does not provide the user with a reasonably

          • Change the window manager? Seriously? I am not reconfiguring my entire window manager (of which almost all my meta keys are bound to shortcuts of some kind) just so ONE application can work properly. Blender (which is mostly used in linux anyways) needs to seriously look at what the default and most common hotkey configurations are before blindly overriding the most well known and trusted window manager hotkeys in the linux world (aside the basic alt+F# keys of course).
      • Worry not, they plan to have a new default keymap [] by the time the final version of 2.5 is released (i.e. by the time 2.6 is released) and that will have ctrl-z as the default for undo. I'm not entirely sure why it hasn't been done yet. I've seen some talk on the blender.devel list about issues with the configuration system, so maybe that has something to do with it. It's still on the TODO [], though, so for now I still have faith that the new keymap will be included in this release.

        Does anybody else think i

    • AWGTGTATA (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <> on Monday December 06, 2010 @02:45PM (#34462494)

      I find Blender an enormously frustrating program. It's clearly very powerful and I've done some nice things with it myself. But the user interface is confusing. Blender 2.5 was supposed to fix that, but it's just as confusing only in a different way.

      As I (and others) have said time [] and time [] again, Blender is *not* more difficult to use than any other full-blown 3D Toolkit.

      • by t2t10 ( 1909766 )

        Tools like SketchUp show that user interfaces in 3D building tools don't have to suck as badly as Blender. The fact that Maya and tons of other tools are equally obscure doesn't change that.

      • Re:AWGTGTATA (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @03:56PM (#34463794)

        I haven't dealt with blender or any other 3D packages much in about 2 years. Prior to that I spent a lot of time around Lightwave from 1998 - 2005 and Blender from circa 2000 - 2007 and then went back to Lightwave even for the hobby work I do on the side because I didn't have the time to relearn Blender every few months when I had time to do 3D work. I'd much rather spend my time creating rather than relearning the program.

        Here are my problems with Blender:

        1) The interface changes too often. It seems like just as I got used to the layout and where everything was in the UI, a new release would come along and suddenly everything changed. This seemed to be happening about every 6 months to a year. The basic interface for Lightwave hasn't changed that much from when I began with Lightwave 5.6 to Lightwave 9. Hell, I didn't even use Lightwave for a couple years and was able to pick up the latest version (9 at the time) again in just a couple days. Recently I downloaded Blender 2.5 and it was like having to relearn the entire application. I loaded some of my old files and found all the careful particle animations I had no longer work on the new version.

        2) It could take days to reproduce the same quality of results with Blender that I could produce in minutes to a couple hours with Lightwave. Especially with lighting. I could get better results in Lightwave than Blender in half the time.

        3) Functionality suddenly breaking. I had a lot of Lightwave Models. In the 2.2/2.3 versions prior to 2.37(?) they had a LWO importer that worked extremely well for importing meshes including textures. The last couple versions I used, the feature was broken. I would have to keep an old version of blender around to import models, save as a .blend, then import those files into the lastest version of blender. It was a PITA especially when I have 3 - 4 hours on the weekend to work on 3D stuff. I know there are new and better formats these days, but back then this was a problem.

        • 1) This is mostly because Blender is undergoing a complete UI rewrite. Lightwave is undergoing the same for the version after 9. It was a mature application from 5.6->9. This is similar to the Power Animator -> Maya transition or SoftImage -> XSI transition.

          2) This would depend quite heavily on what kind of lighting effect you were trying to achieve without knowing what specific lighting techniques you were trying to use it's really hard to quantify this. Certainly Light wave probably does have som

      • From one German to another: "German" and "English" should be capitalised!

        • by toriver ( 11308 )

          They both are! With Berlin and London, respectively! :)

          • I was referring to this:

            [My english is better than most other people's german, so please point out mistakes politely. Thank you.]

            • by EEPROMS ( 889169 )

              I was referring to this:

              [My english is better than most other people's german, so please point out mistakes politely. Thank you.]

              Seems fine to me, you don't have to put capitals on every proper noun, very old hat in this day and age. Usually I only put capitals on proper nouns in relation to people or persons names or places, for a general language (not a place as in this case) I don't think capitals are needed.

              • It's not *every* proper noun! In this instance it is about nouns that are languages, a *tiny* subset of proper nouns! Of course *you* can do whatever you want, but, that doesn't make it grammatically correct. Without the comment about how great your English is, I wouldn't have bothered anyway...

    • I find Blender an enormously frustrating program. It's clearly very powerful and I've done some nice things with it myself. But the user interface is confusing.

      Ditto here. I was happy with kpovmodeller, but that was dropped from Ubuntu, and although it could be manually installed, it no longer worked with Ubuntu. The chat rooms and forums all suggested using Blender instead, so I tried it. Man, talk about a steep learning curve!
    • As a dyed-in-the-wool Blender user, I find the new interface frustrating too -- but mostly because I learned on the pre-2.5 interface, and there's a lot that doesn't carry over. For a starting user, though, I'd think that 2.5 would be pretty simple, seeing as you can press the spacebar and then search in real time for the functionality you're looking for.want to extrude something? type "extrude" and there it is! Typing "knife" gets you the knife tool. It's practically like playing Scribblenauts.
    • by capsteve ( 4595 ) *

      blender has a very steep learning curve, similar to it's commercial counterparts like maya, modo, lightwave, to name a few. yes the UI has some failings, but if you've seen the UI for other 3D apps, it's not too far from the competition... eventually you'll get the hang of where most of what you needs is located, you can always refer to a book such as this as a desk reference. as an aside, i think that several 3d apps have a tendency to violate current UI conventions due to their lineage in X11 unix apps wh

    • To some extent, I agree with you, but honestly, it's sort of a "once you get it, you never go back" sort of thing.

      I guess it may seem "unintuitive" at first, but really it's all about learning the shortcuts and practicing. Once you know them, modeling in Blender is faster and more satisfying than any other modeling program that I've tried.

      So... should UI's of a specialized program be designed to be easy to learn, or very efficient once learned? There are definitely arguments for each of those (and others

      • by t2t10 ( 1909766 )

        So... should UI's of a specialized program be designed to be easy to learn, or very efficient once learned? There are definitely arguments for each of those

        It's not an either/or proposition.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Compared to what?

      IF you tell me you find Maya and Lightwave to be incredibly easy and intuitive, I'm going to ship a midget with a Giant Mackerel to smack you with. Every single 3d EFX and CG program I have ever used is convoluted at best, a sheer clif of a learning curve at worst.

      • I found Lightwave/Modo to be incredibly easy to pick up from scratch and do amazing things with. Maya was a bit more tricky though, a lot of the default interface isn't immediately intuitive until you read through it a bit.
      • by DrSkwid ( 118965 )

        3DStudio 4 for DOS

    • No other major piece of graphics software that I can think of wastes space that kind of thing. The same goes for copy and paste. Blender uses standard keyboard shortcuts for those and has a complete built in undo menu.

  • Great, another book about Blender that will be outdated by the end of the week.
    • Indeed. Why bother writing a book about a transitional version of an application? 2.5 is in flux - it won't be "stable" until they finish with it!

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Monday December 06, 2010 @02:28PM (#34462294)

    While it doesn't have as much detail as this book, the FLOSSmanuals manual [] on Blender is a quite good introduction that's a bit more concise and to the point (and free).

    • 1. That's for 2.4, not for 2.5 as this is
      2. That seems great to speed a CAD-savy user into using Blender. It is not however a good starting point for someone new to the 3D field.

    • The document you linked to covers the current release (2.4x). The book covers the new release (2.5). AFAIK, 2.5 is still in beta.

      There are quite a few differences in the new Blender. To me, the new releases seem a little more user-friendly. If you spend a lot of time with 2.4x, the 2.5x releases will feel a bit awkward. They seem to do a lot more hand-holding.

      The great thing is that they did not change the file format. There are a lot of 2.4x python scripts that haven't been ported to 2.5x yet. But y

      • It is, and unfortunately it makes little sense to learn on 2.4x, when 2.5x is bringing such high degree of change.
  • From wikipedia:

    Blender is a free 3D graphics application that can be used for modeling, UV unwrapping, texturing, rigging, water and smoke simulations, skinning, animating, rendering, particle and other simulations, non-linear editing, compositing, and creating interactive 3D applications, including video games, animated film, or visual effects.

    It wouldn't be a Slashdot book review unless it was cryptic about what was being reviewed.

  • Amazon dosn't exists anymore for me, so i think i'll pass, thank you very much. A shame i was looking forward to some nice book about the new blender version.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.