Fax’s Shopping Choices are back, this time with a small twist!
If you checked my previous post or if you’re someone who likes to stay up-to-date with things you already know that the Blender Foundation is launching a new training DVD, this time on the subject of rigging. Nathan Vegdahl, of Mammoth Rigging Tutorial fame (and of course Big Buck Bunny and Sintel and Project London fame), is the author and he asked me to write a pre-review of the thing. So there’s the twist!
Before I start, here are a couple of links:
– first to the product page, which has a full description of the contents, together with a trailer that you have to watch and an example chapter that will probably make you pre-order this without needing to read this post;
– and then to Nathan’s thread on BlenderArtists where he answers a few questions about the product.
Be Humane. Rig.
“So what’s up with a new rigging product by the same guy?” you might be asking. Well as Nathan himself puts it in that BA thread, that Mammoth was a (fantastic) tutorial – this is training. The previous product showed you a complete rigging workflow, from thinking about it to actually doing it, on an example character. This new one is designed to teach you how to rationally tackle rigging problems. If you suddenly have to rig something else, say a centipede, you could go back to the mammoth tutorial and adapt something you’ve learned there to the centipede and hope it actually makes sense to do so in the first place. Oooor you could stop and think about the movement requirements of the critter and how to solve them. Humane Rigging aims to equip you with that capability and long story short, in my opinion, it delivers.
The DVD is divided in 5 main chapters each tackling a different character (there is also an Introduction and a last chapter on linking and using proxies). The “internal structure” is the same used in the Mammoth tutorial: divide and conquer basically. The individual rigging problems are tackled thoroughly one at the time and then everything is put together in the final rig. This was one of my favorite things in the other video so it’s great to see it again, it really helps keeping things as simple as possible instead of jumping right into the full rig and having every other bone get in the way of explaining the current task at hand.
The concepts are presented throughout the chapters in a great pedagogic way – Nathan uses simple characters to explain simple rigs, and as we progress to more involved requirements he expands and sometimes improves on previous concepts to face the new challenges. So basically the learning curve on this pretty heavy topic is smoothed very well. It still is a truckload of information but it’s not just dumped on you at once. When you get to the heavy stuff (like the torso rig, the apex, a far-from-immediate thing to solve) you’ve already been trained on the building blocks.
Another plus from the way it is organized is that it really communicates how important it is to think about the actual requirements of the character and what the animator will find useful to have. Not all of your characters will be realistic human characters, for example, and if you use the same concepts you would use on that for a simple character you’ll not only end up with overkill rigs but also likely making the animator’s job harder. So by presenting simple rigging concepts first it’s not only easing the way into more complex stuff, but also giving you simple tools that will be useful in simple cases.
Mr. Squeegee's requirements and non-requirements (screen-grab from the DVD)
The best part for me is that Nathan is able to “get it wrong” for us. What I mean by this is that even though he knows exactly what he’s looking for, he goes through a few missteps – even though they seem to fulfill the task they are actually less than ideal for one reason or another. So he’s not just showing why some stuff works, he also shows why other approaches don’t. That process of progressing towards a suitable rig is a mine of knowledge in my opinion. (If you had a déjà-vu reading this don’t wonder why, I took it from my pre-pre-review in the BA thread and just fixed it up a bit :P It holds true throughout the DVD so no need to find new ways to write the same thing!)
To wrap up the review in terms of content let me just go back to the subject of how much information this packs inside: this packs a LOT of information inside. Seriously though, it is not only generally packed with information on everything you need to know to put together control rigs (even things you weren’t really expecting but are very important – you will be fully versed on rotation modes, for example, how they work and when to use which), it is also full of little nuggets of info that will make you feel special for knowing about them, with reason. It’s like having someone teach you how to play a game very well and mastering all you need to win, and then he teaches you a bunch of kick-ass c-c-c-c-c-combos on top of that. I’m serious. Maybe it was just me, but did you know about Action Constraints for example? I’ve never seen that treated anywhere else and they are so incredibly useful. My gyrocopter rigging tutorial would be much shorter and much less hacky if I’d used them! Or how about those characters that get to you with straight arms or legs, how do you prevent the IK solver from going nuts trying to figure out which way to bend? Or how about a nice alternative to using pole targets? And the torso rig I’ve already talked about is in itself a case-study on very clever use of bones in ways that you very probably never thought of. Lotsa nice tricks in here.
The presentation and production are also very nice. Nathan’s humor and laid-back…ness helps maintaining your attention, and the addition of captions really helps explaining concepts more clearly. If you’re like me you will laugh out loud when a certain something kicks in for the first time, but I won’t spoil it for you ;). As expected, audio and video quality are great.
So that’s a bunch of pros and no cons so far. There have to be cons though, right? Especially since I was asked to write this review by the author, I must find something to complain about to show that I’m not being influenced by that fact and that this is an honest review, right? Well… even if I did feel that pressure… which I don’t, since honestly saying that something is awesome is still being honest… I couldn’t really find anything about this that could be improved. Within the scope that was defined (control rigs, no treatment of deformations (they may become the subject of a following DVD though)) this product delivers, without a doubt. I won’t nitpick and I’m not even sure I’d find something to complain about if I did. Nathan made a couple of mistakes throughout the video but he caught himself and mentioned them in post-production captions, so we can’t even go there! :) I can’t even say that the light style is a problem – I’m sure some people would prefer something more professional (there’s a con for you if you do!), but others will love it this way and I’m one of them. Just imagining my dry uni teachers teaching me this subject… argh.
Conclusion: when we thought there were already fantastic resources out there about rigging in Blender, this comes out and shows that there was nothing like it. Not that the others are any less fantastic now – they just don’t have the same goals. If you want to learn how to rig whatever in Blender this is the first thing to get. You will be directly supporting the Blender Foundation too, so if you can put aside the 25€ to get this (less than half of what the Mammoth cost! I just noticed this. Seriously, where are the cons?!), I totally recommend it!