Category Archives: Blender Foundations

Blender Foundations, One Year Later

Remember how this all started? I followed the Blender Foundations book from start to finish, actually doing everything step by step, to get myself familiarized with Blender. I was done mid-May last year, just a little over one year ago.

Back then I exchanged a few e-mails with the author, Roland Hess, both when I needed help and to point out a few issues for the errata, and a couple of days ago Roland sent me a follow-up e-mail. He wanted to know, one year later and after having completed a few projects of my own, if I felt that the book had indeed achieved his goal of “laying a great baseline for people to develop from”. The answer, while straightforward, is long enough to warrant a blog post :)

Simply put, it is a fact that this book got me through the learning curve as painlessly as possible. “Yeah, but how do you know if you never tried just learning from all the tutorials out there?” Well, I didn’t… not until Cycles came up. And I’m telling you: having to learn this new engine by grabbing bits and pieces from different tutorials out there (after filtering out the bad information) is a very inefficient way to do it. Which is probably the reason why I haven’t given Cycles a proper go yet, and that says a lot about what could have happened if I had tried to learn “the whole Blender” that way. That’s why I still recommend Blender Foundations to people who are looking for a structured approach to learning the app.

The education resources out there, namely the video tutorial sites like BlenderCookie and BlenderGuru, have been growing in an awesome way, but to me the true value in them comes when you already know your way around and are just looking for solutions to problems you encounter, or want to learn the advanced stuff. That’s where I think tutorials are the most efficient – when you have the foundations set and are just looking to build your knowledge, which is pretty much all I’ve been doing since finishing the book. Also by giving you a look at the complete pipeline within a project it gives you a pretty good idea of how to segment areas of knowledge you may want to dig deeper into, and how this or that tutorial may fit into that program.

I’ll also take the opportunity to assess how well the book has stood the test of time. Quite an accelerated time too, since in a year Blender has grown like crazy! Well here’s what: the omission of Cycles is the only noticeable thing. Big features like camera tracking and dynamic paint would probably only deserve a quick mention in a beginner-level book anyway, and the addition of B-Mesh goes mostly behind the scenes – surely the new tools that it brought, like vertex slide, the improved knife and of course the ability to use n-gons are things very much worth learning, but if you pick up the book today to learn basic modeling you will be able to follow the instructions in just the same way as you could last year without B-Mesh. Same goes for the rest of the book. Aside from the very slight differences in the UI here and there, you’ll be able to follow everything and while you’ll maybe miss a few tricks that have been added meanwhile, you’ll learn the basics just fine. And the book was published two years ago..! I said it then and I’m saying it again now: that’s a great future-proofing job.

Ah by the way, here’s a funny twist: the Blender 2.6 glitch on the cover is actually more deceiving now that we are indeed on 2.6x. Before, it was harmless. “Hey, there is no Blender 2.6 yet!” But now people may pick it up thinking it covers Cycles… They should be researching these things though! :)

If I had that Fax Seal of Approval I’ve always talked about, this would still get it!

 

Chapter 14, Final Output. It’s done!

Imagine  hitting the button to render your 125-frame animation, each frame of which takes four minutes to render, and learning after eight and a half hours that your animation compression settings were lousy. That’s depressing. Even if you get it right, what if you want to make a Web-resolution version, or a version that is small enough to email your mom?

Woohoo! I made it! :D

Managing to stay sober despite the imminence of the end, the chapter dealt with the Video Sequence Editor. Once again I had already found my way through it on my own, but Roland still managed to teach me a bunch of things I didn’t know.

After everything was ready I spent some time optimizing the scene for render time (I managed to cut 3 minutes out of 7 by just tweaking the Gloss controls on the wood’s Mirror settings!), but in the end it still took about 4 minutes per frame on my i7 laptop (“eight” cores). Doing the math that would take about 13 hours to render the 200 frames. Enter Renderweb! Arguably the only Facebook app worth having, what it does is it distributes the rendering of your projects to a bunch of other people’s PCs around the world, cutting down your render times a lot. It took mine only an hour and a half to get done with the help of some 20 nameless volunteers, talk about a time saver!

So here it is guys, the result of following this awesome book from start to finish:

A big thank you to Roland Hess, for the obvious reason of having written the book, but also for his help when I needed it and especially for making it a lot easier for me to get into this world that I’m enjoying more and more!

I know some of you reading this have gone out and got the book at some point, and it’s awesome news! It’s just great to hear those stories. If you still haven’t, I don’t know what else to say to you other than Go get it already and have as much fun as I did!

Next up… Nothing. That’s the end. But obviously, it’s not. You’re familiar with Blender now. You should be able to go back to one of the sections of the example production and start poking around in the menus. Hopefully the knowledge and experience you’ve gained while working through these exercises will provide you with just the right set of fundamentals so that browsing the function menus will give you some ideas. Be adventurous. Choose a different option or pathway than the ones we’ve taken here. Don’t worry. You won’t break anything, and you just might create something amazing.

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This post is part of a series on the book Blender Foundations.
You can find the base post of the series here.

Previous post on the series: Chapter 13 (Simulations)

Chapter 13, Simulations

Happy birthday to me! Happy birthday to me! Happy birthday dear meeeeee… Hap-py birth-day toooooooooo… mmmmeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Just thought I’d let you know ;)

These toggles add effects to the halo, letting you create sparkly magic for your unicorn and pony animations.

Penultimate chapter! Time to learn a bit about environmental simulation, so we read about cloth simulation, soft-body, particles and smoke. Only cloth and soft-bodies will make it to our scene, so I had to take a shot at some magic:

Happy birthday to me!

As usual, clear explanations giving a nice introduction to the topic, with great tips along the way. Sorry if I’m not being specific at all, but we’re so close to the end I just want to rush to the last adjustments for the final rendering! Oh and yeah, it’s my birthday :p So peace, I’m out!

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This post is part of a series on the book Blender Foundations.
You can find the base post of the series here.

Next post on the series: Chapter 14 (Final Output)
Previous post on the series: Chapter 12 (Rendering and the Compositor)

Chapter 12, Rendering and the Compositor

It can tell if something is moving, to generate motion blur. It can differentiate individual objects from each other. It knows what light comes from diffuse shaders, specular shaders, ambient occlusion, reflection, and refraction. It even knows if you’ve been bad or good.

This was a quick chapter for me – because of my side projects and experimentations I’d already come across most of the things that are covered in this chapter. It is a great sum-up of the most important stuff though, so if you’re coming to this with no prior experience you will have a lot of knowledge to acquire.

The chapter starts with a lot of tips on optimizing render times for test renders. These are very useful for increasing productivity and are worth a marker on the book for reference. Then it goes on to explain the compositor and related subjects like render layers, to add the final extra kick to your images. It shows the nodes we’ll probably be using the most for getting common effects (like depth of field, motion blur, glare…), and then leaves it up to us to explore the rest.

Here is our scene with that extra kick:

Pre-kick...

... post-kick.

I started to write about other resources for learning compositing in Blender, but it turns out I have a lot to say, so it deserves its own post :) coming tomorrow!

———-

This post is part of a series on the book Blender Foundations.
You can find the base post of the series here.

Next post on the series: Chapter 13 (Simulations)
Previous post on the series: Chapter 11 (Animation)

Chapter 11, Animation!

The fun stuff: character animation. We make the kid walk across the room, grab the chair and throw a toy. It’s not How to Train Your Dragon, but it’s a start.

This was AWESOME!

Alright, now that I got that off my chest… this chapter was big and full of work to do, but unlike with other chapters with similar characteristics I decided to write just one post when it was done. It just didn’t make sense to break it up at any point. And yeah, you guessed it: lots of work (if you want to make it look half-decent), and LOTS of fun!

Roland gives out truckloads of tips on animation here, even though this is just meant to be an introduction (he even started the chapter with the “What we didn’t cover” that usually comes in the end). Judging from the amount of information presented just in these 30 pages, I can only imagine the value in full character animation books (*).

So here is the opengl render of my first character animation ever. No sir, we’re not finished yet, still 3 more chapters in the book to further improve the scene! The final animation will come when we’re done with the book :P

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/23609893 w=640&h=480]

There’s a looo-oooo-ooot to improve, but it’s not too shabby if I may say so myself! By the time I get to the 14th Chapter, it’ll be a bit more ironed out, I promise.

(*) Speaking of books on Character Animation, there’s suddenly a nice supply on that subject applied to Blender! Tony Mullen recently published the second edition of his Introducing Character Animation with Blender, and in June Roland Hess himself will launch Tradigital Blender: A CG Animator’s Guide to Applying the Classical Principles of Animation! Animated times ahead!

———-

This post is part of a series on the book Blender Foundations.
You can find the base post of the series here.

Next post on the series: Chapter 12 (Rendering and the Compositor)
Previous post on the series: Chapter 10 (Shapes and Morphing)

Chapter 10, Shapes and Morphing

Figure 10.4 shows the smile pushed to 200% (2.0), which is clearly a bit maniacal

Yet another chapter that was a lot of fun to play with, hard to stop playing with, and even harder to get right when I got serious. We learned how to create shape keys and how to set up drivers to use and blend those shapes more intuitively during animation.

We’ve also hit a new milestone: this time around the author expects you to do a lot of work on your own, because yeah, you’re supposed to be able to. So no more “ok now to make the eyes blink together lets start by adding this bone by pressing Shift+A and selecting “bone”…”, no. You’ve learned how to do bones, you’ve learned how to use a bone to drive the jaw shape keys, so now just do the same for the eyes! I like this – it saves pages and tests me. If I’m not able to reproduce the effect, I should go back and work harder on that.

Alright!

Homework for me and you: here’s a link to the first of a series of three tutorials on creating an advanced face rig, by David Ward over at BlenderCookie. I’ll have to work through it soon (it’s so hard to focus when learning these subjects!), it’s probably a good complement to what the book taught.

My oh my, look how far we’ve come! Animation is just around the corner!

———-

This post is part of a series on the book Blender Foundations.
You can find the base post of the series here.

Next post on the series: Chapter 11 (Animation)
Previous post on the series: Chapter 9 (Rigging), Part II

Chapter 9, Part II

Chapter 9, Rigging

Part II, Skinning

Wow, this whole process really is a lot of work. After creating the armature, dealing with (bad) deformations after applying it to the mesh made that seem like a walk in the part. More intuitive than all the thinking about bone configurations and IK constraints and all that, but hard work nonetheless.

The automatic weight painting did a good job in most of the body, but I must have messed something up because the fingers were weighted completely wrong. So yours truly had to weight paint all 10 fingers. First I had to find a painting scheme that got the best results, then I had to replicate it on the other 9 fingers, and then tweak each of them because as the song goes no fingers are made equal. The interesting part is that despite being very fussy about it, I secretly enjoyed doing it. Hmn…

Then of course, in the end of it all, I had to play a bit. You know what? I’ve always been interested in body language, way way before even hearing about Blender. Not only does that give me some extra sensibility in posing, it also makes it a lot more fun. I can already tell I’m going to enjoy this:

"If my answers frighten you, Vincent, then you should cease asking scary questions."

It’s actually while making the kid get into poses that you find out how well you’ve rigged it. That’s what production testing is all about after all. Get ready for lots of additional tweaking while posing!

Next up is a chapter fast in content but again demanding in workload: Shapes and Morphing!

———-

This post is part of a series on the book Blender Foundations.
You can find the base post of the series here.

Next post on the series: Chapter 10 (Shapes and Morphing)
Previous post on the series: Chapter 9 (Rigging), Part I

Chapter 9, Part I

Chapter 9, Rigging

Part I, Creating the Armature

I’m not going to lie. I despise rigging, and need to get this off my chest. (…) it’s enough to make me want to throw my computer through the window and run screaming into the forest to spend the rest of my mortal years with the raccoons and groundhogs.

But that’s not going to happen to you. Honest.

Bahahaha, that’s the second paragraph in the chapter – imagine my face when I read that after mentioning, on the previous post, that I was really looking forward to rigging ;)

But now that I’ve worked my way through the armature I can totally see where he’s coming from. This is a lot of work, even more work to get it right, and apparently the rig described is “relatively simple”. There are a lot of concepts involved that must really be understood before applying, relationships that must make sense, extra bones outside the body that actually do the whole work unlike our own bones, a lot of voodoo like constraints and drivers… so it’s really not just adding bones and moving them around.

Anyhow as always the instructions were clear and precise, so although I’m sure I’ll have to revisit this whenever I feel like creating a new armature, the end result for the character worked as expected. Here’s the complete armature before we start skinning (actually applying the armature to our character’s mesh):

"Get this thing OFF of me!!"

If you’re thinking “that looks simple enough”, here’s a close-up of the hand:

"Oh hey, these you can leave on. Cool stuff."

If you’re still thinking it looks simple enough, well, sorry to disappoint. I will get to your level one day though, you’ll see.

If you really liked building this hand, then congratulations. You might have what it takes to be a good rigger. If not, don’t feel bad. There are lots of great pre-built rigs available, and there is absolutely no shame in using them.

Where do I stand? To be honest I don’t know. Each time I got something working I was really excited, and I’m really proud of the end result, but I’m not sure that’s enough. That’s probably because I’m still feeling a bit intimidated by all the intricacies, so I wouldn’t be surprised if in about an hour I decide to rebuild the whole thing from scratch to make sure I understand the concepts.

In any case, next up is skinning, and that’s where I’ll find out how well this whole mess behaves!

———-

This post is part of a series on the book Blender Foundations.
You can find the base post of the series here.

Next post on the series: Chapter 9 (Rigging), Part II
Previous post on the series: Chapter 8 (Sculpting)

Chapter 8, Sculpting

When you’ve reached level 6 on the example model, set the Preview control down to 0. This takes the pressure off of nonsculpting modes and prevents you from doing something silly like entering Edit mode on a 2.6 million polygon model. Blender might be able to handle it, but you’re going to wait a while to even find out.

Considering that next Thursday is the release date for the Vehicle Modeling Series I mentioned a while ago, I decided to focus on the book until then leaving (modeling intensive) projects to the side. It obviously makes sense: I’ll be more qualified to tackle those projects, and it’s not like I don’t have enough to entertain myself meanwhile, especially considering I’ll finally be tackling animation. Too obvious, yes, but I have to keep saying this to my indisciplined self :)

Soooo on with the book I got, quickly tackling the introduction to Sculpting in chapter 8. One word of praise before anything (or rather yet another word of praise): many months and many many revisions later, the sculpting tools have changed quite a lot, BUT the book’s instructions are still incredibly accurate. Only one key binding seems to have changed: the key to reverse the effect of a sculpting tool seems to have changed from Shift to Ctrl (I say “seems” because I’m using a pre-stable build, so this might not even be final). The rest is all good to follow along. Fantastic job making the book as up-to-date with the future as possible.

Again, lots of fun in this one. It went over the available tools (which are now accompanied by a bunch of new tools), gave some tips on best practices, showed how to add details like wrinkles and bumps to our characters face and finally taught how to generate a normal map from the highly detailed mesh. Of course, before I managed to focus on these, I had to play around:

The Dark Side of Blender is a pathway to many abilities, some considered to be unnatural...

I’ve made a note to think of some side-project to practice sculpting. Meanwhile it’s time to move on to something I’ve really been looking forward to: Rigging!

———-

This post is part of a series on the book Blender Foundations.
You can find the base post of the series here.

Next post on the series: Chapter 9 (Rigging), Part I
Previous post on the series: Chapter 7 (Surfacing), Episode VI

Chapter 7, Episode VI

Chapter 7, Surfacing

Episode VI, Camera Projection (and Finishing Up)

And we’re done! Quick and easy again, and a surprisingly cool effect – that background you’ll see in the picture isn’t just a background picture; oh no, no sir, if I move the camera (which I’ll make sure I do when I animate this) the image will adjust accordingly as if it were 3d itself, because, well, it is. Sort of. Basically we projected a 2d image of a landscape onto 3d objects that closely followed that same landscape. So when I move the camera, as long as I don’t move it too much, the whole thing will look coherent. It’s called a Live Matte, and you’ve seen it done in TV lotsa times.

After that it was up to me to finish the scene. Surfacing the chairs, the shoes, the hands and the room trim. And voilà:

Ta-daaaa! Click the image for high-res version in all its glory

(see the dirt on the walls I was talking about on the last post, by the way?)

This was a long chapter, and now once we’re done with the next, on Sculpting, we’ll finally start tackling Rigging, Shape Keys and then actual Animation. Exciting times ahead!

———-

This post is part of a series on the book Blender Foundations.
You can find the base post of the series here.

Next post on the series: Chapter 8 (Sculpting)
Previous post on the series: Chapter 7 (Surfacing), Episode V