Blender Book Review

Learning Blender: A Hands-On Guide to Creating 3D Animated CharactersLearning Blender: A Hands-On Guide to Creating 3D Animated Characters by Oliver Villar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To get your copy click … HERE or to get it directly from Pearson click … HERE

This book is well organized by each part of the process steps as Villar takes us on an adventure to turn his 2d sketch of “Jim” into a colorful moving 3d character. The book is very suitable for a college or even an advanced high-school course in 3D animation. For experienced Blender users there are several tips and tricks that one might miss or forget so this book makes a good review in that respect. There is also a large set of downloadable movies and Blender files that come with the book.

If a personCar_Dashboard_at_Night doesn’t know computers then learning things like Word or Excel can be like learning to dBoeing_747-400_cockpitrive a car. Slightly daunting but doable.

For people with some computer experience the first time they play with a 3d Animation program is more like climbing into the cockpit of a 747. Cold and intimidating, but pair up with a good pilot and practice then you’ll be flying in no-time.

And for those who have never completed a 3d animation short, designing, modeling, rigging, texturing, animating, and compositing  a 3d character from start to finish can feel more like a space shuttle mission to Mars.


But with Oliver Villar’s new book Learning Blender: A Hands-On Guide to Creating 3D Animated Characters this sometimes momentous task feels like meeting a new friend on vacation who is going to introduce you to another friend who we’ll call Jim.

Unlike many other tutorials this book does not note every key stroke. Instead it teaches concepts and techniques which are supported by the videos and with the exercises at the end of each chapter. More specific exercises on a smaller scale in the middle of the chapters might be in order , such as with rigging to gain further understanding though.

There are dozens of screen shots that show what is going on, but due to Blender’s black background it is sometimes difficult to see where the small/thin orange colored vertex lines are located.

Rigging can be plagued with unseen issues that even an intermediate user might not catch. Villar does a good job of noting some of these issues and how to fix them. In Video 12 you can even see Villar getting tripped up as he endeavors to explain several concerns. While this video could be edited to remove some of the issues that occur in rigging, it does benefit the viewer in showing just how many things are going on at once. For the reader this is when the Villar videos become invaluable as he shows several ways of catching and, more importantly, fixing things.

The tracking and compositing sections of this book definitely add to the end goal. Like rigging, doing much more than a walk cycle or additional film compositing techniques would easily fill another book each. But within this book’s scope this was an added treat that brings the user to a natural conclusion.

Personally the book’s cover doesn’t work for this hobbit. I don’t see the connection between the cover art and the character ‘Jim’ which is what the book is about creating. Nor was the formatting of the table of contents something that reassured me of the quality of the book. With outside cosmetics and a few orientation typo’s aside though, overall this is a GOOD BOOK for learning Blender and I would recommend it to any new Blender user.

And as Villar would say, “There you have it!”

Well almost. To truely test the book I followed along and then started adlibbing in order to expedite the project.

Carl Model 1 Front

With the modeling section all went well. I made my own variation of head, hands and feet along with an angled leg just to be different and comical. When it came to the explanation of the eye lids I lCarl Model 1 three quarter rearost it a bit as there was no visual detail in the book on where exactly or in what direction the extrusions were being made. The palette of the mouth was another fuzzy / unclear experience that would later have to be fixed in order to show teeth and tounge properly. These tend to be things that experieced people like Villar might not think of because they are more farmilar with the end result. As for the legs, well that was my own doing. Later the leg angle would prove to be a major hinderance in ease of rigging and animation (walk cycle). So here’s a tip on the last – keep it straight folks.

Next came UV mapping and materials. While Villar gives an overview of both the Blender Render and the Cycles Render approach for materials, I would have preferred it if he had just picked one or the other, with Cycles beingCarl Mid Coloring Process the popular favorate. Once again, time being a factor I opped for quick and dirty color scheme using some materials on file just to get a rough idea of appearance. While not the final version this enabled others to see the preliminary work and suggest some improvements. One thing in particular is that the green alien doesn’t work well with red shirts. There is a reason why these guys aways get killed on StarTrek.

Having an initial paint job, my little friend (Carl) here moves down the assembly line to the next department: RIGGING. First we have the issue of Video 12 in which Villar is noting several concerns but gets temporarily lost. Although he shows the solution/s to properly rig the foot it is confusing to know where we left off after having so many back and forth changes. This would be a wonderful place to have a step-by-step in print with diagrams in the book rather than generalities. One issue occurs when both book and video to disconnect a certain controller bone. Disconnecting is shown to still have a parent/child relationship but with each bone having their own location. A CLEARED bone has no parent/child relation and in this former case that is what is needed to have the foot work properly.

Next I encounted the issue of leg alignment, which was self-inflected on my part. A simple fix would be to rotate the leg as Villar shows early on, so that the leg is straight and then insert the bones. Or if we do it my way we end up with a bow legged alien walking around.

One thing that Villar tends to do is give direction x,y,z from the viewpoint of the character, while most hobbiests see Blender from the spectators viewpoint. Sort of like saying the actor’s left or right, rather than stage left or right as we see it.

The arm / hand IK is also a little confusing and there is no support video for that section. A couple of fixes are:

 1 Rewatch Video 12

2 Make a smaller seperate version of IK bone linkage until one understands better how to set it up.

3 If all else fails go to your local club or on-line group … if all else fails. Since failure is inevitable, resistance is futile, it costs nothing and everyone is fun and pretty cool. So join the club!

Rigging Carl

While you can test a rig there are always special cases or positions in which things go wrong. There just is no way to know what the rig will be like in every position ahead of time. For Carl here the rig seemed to work fine, even when mirrored, but later when he started kneeling down his pants would cut through his shirt or belt. In other cases weird deformations took place because the auto-weighing of bones put some enphases on other bones that pulled the deformation in strange directions. When this happens, and it will, breath slowly and weight paint check each one of your vertex bone groups. Well that’s about it for now. Oh there is one last thing.

One thing I did early on was to make a different copy of the file at each milestone point. E.G. When Modeling, UV mapping, Rigging, Shaping where completed. In this manner many different versions of the character can be made without having to start from scratch.

Till next time Happy Holidays, and may you and the New Year Blend well.

Coffee Break


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One comment on “Blender Book Review
  1. Hi! Thanks a lot for your great review! I’m glad you generally enjoyed the book 🙂

    For sure there are some complex parts, and I’d like to have more space to expand in given subjects (like rigging), but I had to keep it short 😛

    Nonetheless, your result looks very nice!

    About the book cover, I have to agree with you! However, the situation (surprising to me as well when it happened) is that you need to have a cover by the time you start the book, so the publisher can start promoting the book all around, setting up pre-orders and such. So when the cover was built, Jim still didn’t exist and I was just organizing the book 😛

    Thanks again! 😀

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