As promised here is a review of CMIVFX’s Massive Mammoth Masterclass on Rigging, by Nathan Vegdahl (I’m linking to a presentation video because there is no product page on CMIVFX for the bundle. You’ll find links to Volumes 1 and 2 on the video description).
Well… it is awesome. No really, it is. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s anything short of awesome in Blender education out there. Either there isn’t or all my homework picking the products really pays off ;)
That's the awesome end-result (thanks to Sebastian König for providing the image!)
First things first: video and audio quality are very good. Wasn’t expecting otherwise but hey, I thought you’d like to know :P In terms of the information contained… well the product pages are a good summary of what is included. Just to reinforce though, it is 6 hours full of information.
What I really like about the tutorial is the structure. Instead of jumping right in to rig the model, Nathan first shows you the techniques you’ll be using for rigging different parts of the character, one at the time, with a very thorough explanation and no distractions. This makes the first part of the video a great reference for your future rigging problems, and in fact it is extremely informative. Then he brings it all together and starts rigging the model. Another advantage of this is that it makes the rigging workflow much more clear, since he doesn’t have to break it to explain the intricacies of rigging a leg or what have you.
The fact that the weighting process is detached to a separate module is also a nice idea. It makes it a good reference, since you may have different methods for weighting and just want to use those and then figure out how he sets up the controls. Or you may be tired of auto-weighting or your manual weighting not getting good results, and you can just see how Nathan approaches the weighting process. This is actually my second favorite part of the tutorial (my favorite being the first part where he tackles one rigging problem at a time). Maybe it’s because of the (bad) experience I had while correcting auto-weights on the kiddo character in Blender Foundations, but although Nathan’s method involves a lot of work you really see the results in the much better deformations. The included add-on to go with this method is also very useful. In fact I’m curious to check other rigging resources almost just to see how different the approaches are, because this does look top-notch.
Rigging a quadruped brings some interesting nuances into play. More often than not, the tutorials on rigging you will find out there will be on a humanoid subject, and that alone makes this tutorial more valuable. Rigging a quadruped isn’t just a matter of putting a humanoid armature on all fours and giving it a Spline IK trunk or a tail – there are differences in the way that these characters should move that will influence decisions in the rigging process, and thus the rig itself. So while a tutorial on a biped can just rely on the fact that we possess a basic anatomical knowledge of ourselves and that we can always pose in front of a mirror to figure out how the rig should work, Nathan takes the opportunity of having to rig a mammoth to put a reference image of an elephant skeleton in front of you and making you think to understand how it works. I found this very valuable – not every character that will come my way will be a simple humanoid, and if it weren’t for this I would possibly just adapt my humanoid rigging knowledge to it instead of trying to figure out how it should work.
It’s actually hard to think of negative things in this product. The only thing I can think of I’m not even sure about: while weighting the mesh, Nathan picks two cross-sections of the model to show you how he weights the vertices in them, but then pauses the video to work on the rest of the cross-sections; when he comes back there is quite a lot of work done and many cross-sections set up, so I thought it would have been good to hear why he picked those particular cross-sections, but then again the process is so long and repetitive that it would easily add a couple of hours of video just doing the same work over and over. Plus, to be fair, Nathan does give hints on which cross-sections are important to define, like ones that will be under the influence of several bones. So yeah, it really is hard to point out anything not so great about this, honestly.
Finally, Nathan’s style is very friendly and laid-back. It’s as if you had a friend come over and teach you this stuff. While he’s explaining things clearly he also has fun with funny things from time to time – he’s not joking around, but sometimes weird stuff happens and instead of going silent he just plays into it. That really helps maintaining attention and not getting bored throughout the 6 hours of video, at least for me :)
“Would you recommend this product to your friends and/or family?” Absolutely! My mom would actually like at least some parts of it, like when Nathan shows how you could plot parabolas on the graph editor :P (she’s a math teacher). In all seriousness, yep, if you have just the basic understanding of what bones are and what they are supposed to do, this product (of course with effort on your part as well, as always) will show you clearly how to best rig a character and above all in a very well structured way.
I should get a Fax Approval stamp :P