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Animating with Blender - Book Review

18

Animating with Blender cover

Some days ago I got a copy of Animating With Blender - How to Create Short Animations from Start to Finish on my mailbox, and I have just finished reading it.

It was written by Roland Hess (also known as harkyman) while he produced his recently released and Suzanne Awards nominated short The Beast. I've never written a book, but I believe it is at least as hard as making a short animation, and this guy managed to make them both at the same time. This alone already made him deserve my kudos even before I started reading.

Now that I've finished this reading, I'm very happy to say that this book is a clear sign of evolution of the Blender Community. Until its release we already had some great books, but all of them had the same purpose: teach how to use Blender or how to achieve an specific task. That is great - and still necessary - but this new book goes a step further: now that you already know how to use Blender, how about being productive and making something cool with it?

As I said, the biggest source from where he gathered the information to write this book was his own short production. The author stated that he knows about some shortcomings in the movie, and I really recommend you to read his book without being too picky on the movie itself, since he put on those pages the result of what he learned during that production.

Believe me, there are lots of things we learn when producing a short and having that information written, on your hands to make you avoid some common mistakes is great for you, aspiring to be the next Brad Bird. :)

One of the first ideas you'll find on the book is that it will help you avoid your movies' "death" by natural causes. This kind of death for short movies is actually very common, and it happens for a number of reasons he points out while suggesting some possible solutions.

This book aims to cover most production aspects of your new award winning short, with a very easy language and bits of humor on it. From your first idea to the final release, there are some great tips on common mistakes and ways to avoid those "natural causes".

The book comes with a DVD with the movie, all the production files and examples, HD versions of Big Buck Bunny and Elephants Dream, and some softwares like Blender (O RLY? heh), Audacity, a renderfarm manager and the VLC video player for anyone who may face trouble playing the movies.

It was also a nice idea to add at the end of each chapter the Peach Perspective on the subject. There are some questions answered by the Peach team, talking about their experience in all aspects of their production.

I wrote down some topics I found interesting while reading the book:

  • Tips for story creation, maintaining it interesting and not over complicating things;
  • Some clever ways to organize and naming your files and assets (believe me, that's important);
  • Important and often overlooked tips like setting up the correct aspect ratio for your renders;
  • An interesting way to test your maximum working polygon count, to avoid future headaches;
  • How to prepare your meshes and let'em ready for animation;How to work with libraries and linked assets - an often overlooked feature that is extremely important to animation workflows;
  • Good habits when working with Blender;
  • Tips for audio recording;Rigging and skinning even with info on the recently added Mesh Deform modifier;
  • Creating facial controls and eyes rigging;Useful tips on working within the Action Editor, like grouping and some overlooked and rather obscure features;
  • Tips on specific tasks, like making your character hold something or making a simple walk;
  • Very cool tips for decreasing render times while still maintaining good quality renders;
  • Ways to light your scene in a good way, from exterior to interior scenes;
  • The good use of simulations (fluid, cloth, hair...), their drawbacks and workarounds;
  • How you can handle the final composition, rendering your frames and even setting up a renderfarm;
  • Good info on putting it all together in your masterpiece, making sure it will work on all kinds of media: from the web to DVDs;
  • There are tips even on asking help in the forums. :)

I really think this is a great book, with some valuable information that will sure help you taking your idea to the final production in a sane way. Aimed for who is already somewhat comfortable with Blender, this book is a must have during all of your production stages as a good reference on how to (and - important - how NOT to) do things.

It is good to see that our Community is getting this kind of publication, going a bit further than just using the tool to how to make some interesting with it. It is a great addition to our Blender bookshelf. :)

What else can I say? Well... go for it! ;)

About Author

Virgilio Vasconcelos

Brazilian animator who uses Blender since 2003. Professor of 3D (with Blender, of course) and Digital 2D animation at UFMG (Federal University, Minas Gerais' state), Brazil. Writer of Blender 2.5 Character Animation Cookbook, from Packt Publishing. Has a MFA degree with a research involving tools for free character deformation in 3D and is now performing a PhD research on distributed creation of media and animation.

18 Comments

  1. Looks like a great book! I'm probably gonna buy it.

    The only thing I find disappointing is that the book is not published by the Blender Foundation and therefore no profits from its sailes will help Blender development.

  2. Just for the record -- Ton is very in favor of third party educational materials like this. In fact, he sees it as quite necessary to the development and spread of Blender as a useful tool for artists, and a sign that Blender itself is growing and evolving. Also, it's my ability to actually make a little money from a project like this (which ate nine months of my life, btw) that allows me to continue to BE a Blender developer, artist, evangelist and documentarian. For example, in October, I spoke about Blender at two conferences in the U.S. That was on my own dime -- travel, hotel, food, etc. If I didn't have a little bit of money set aside, specifically from projects like this, there's no way I could have done that, and wouldn't have been able to put Blender on the same speaking card as luminaries from Ubuntu, Novell, John "Maddag" Hall, etc. Not all roads to advancing Blender lead directly through the Foundation, and as time goes on, that will actually be more and more the case.

    Sorry that was long. And it's not to chastise your point of view, but to kind of say: "Don't be disappointed, this is a sign of strength!"

  3. 5* book, definitely worth buying. I really needed to find a good book that covers all the aspects of animation production in blender for my students at the university. When I downloaded the animation I wasn't very sure, but a good look at the "contents page" on Amazon spurred me to buy it (after all, it's not like there are dozens of books on blender out there...)
    Boy! I am not deceived, this book is PACKED FULL with good info on animation production, I consider it an even better reference than Mullen's "Introducing Character Animation with Blender" (which is also good in its own way but has its flaws in the way the material is covered).
    Everything is presented in a matter-of-fact, direct, clear and concise manner, that makes you want to go ahead and start working on your animation right away.

    Anybody who wants to do an animation and get an understanding of the overall process before embarking on this mad process of animation production should get this book!

    To the author: for the next book, maybe you should try to work with an animator who knows about animation arcs, squash and stretch, cartoony movements, etc, as this was the main flaw of the animation, and which may put off people who might think that the animation reflects the content of the book.

  4. No apologies needed Roland, I just ordered the book! I still haven't finished reading my other 4 Blender books but I ordered it anyway.

    You're right that good educational materials are very important for Blender. I certainly hope that I will be able to give something back to the Blender community someday in the form of profits I earn when I make my hit computer animation movie ;)

  5. Im very excited about this book. Like the article stated, it's nice to see more books that don't just focus on "how to do", but "how to make". I actually encouraged my school library to get a lot of blender book and this one was definitely on the list. Now i just need to get my own copy! There you go Harkyman, that's two buyers!! Keep up the awesome work!

  6. It looks like a great book, do you know if there is or will be an ebook version available for purchase. I've come to prefer ebooks so I can easily take my book collection where ever I go with my laptop.

    Snoop

  7. Thanks for the review, Virgilio. On the strength of this recommendation, I've decided to order it.
    Keep up the good work, Roland!

  8. Bought it. Hope it's got some real top quality information, seeing as how some of the best information I've got from about Blender was free or super free.

  9. SnoopBaron -- if you're interested in an e-book version, email Focal Press's customer service department: [email protected] They are interested in exploring e-books, as I know they've been asking their authors about them. So, a nice email from a potential customer would probably be good information for them.

    Icono -- You have me wondering about the difference between "free" and "super free" now. Funky.

  10. @Tony: I purchase a lot of stuff from the Blender eShop to fund Blender development, that should be enough.

    I did donate 100 euro's to Wikipedia yesterday and I urge everyone to do the same!! Wikipedia is one of man's greatest and most important knowledge libraries.

  11. This has been an excellent read so far. Blender's great tool with a not so obvious pipeline and this book makes up for it.

  12. I have not wrote my review of the book for amazon yet but will very soon. For anyone who is interested in taking many many shortcuts to creating a 3D animated short in blender, this book is for you!

    I will write the rest on amazon this week

  13. Doesn't anyone see the irony in not releasing this book in a free form too?

    I mean, that's like a basic FOSS principle.
    Both The Mancandy FAQ and Creature Factory were released under CC-BY.

    Or at least I think you should release it later so that it can be incorporated with the rest of the documentation.

  14. cgat, there's no irony. Commercial publishers don't generally release books under CC licensing. This is true of commercial books about Linux or any other open source software. There are some exceptions, and some publishers go for a different business model that includes such licensing, but at present it's not widespread. And all publishers need to cover their costs. Unlike the Blender Foundation, most publishers do not receive grants and donations to help them operate.

    If you want to get down to the nitty gritty on FOSS principles, please recall that it was St Richard Stallman himself who emphasized "free as in free speech, not as in free beer." The most fundamentalist free software idealists are concerned with availability of source code. Less idealistic people (the ones who use the term "open source") are even more eager to emphasize the importance of a healthy commercial training, support, and merchandising side arising open source projects.

    The Wiki and the BF open content resources are excellent, community-powered resources. And as long as there is a community to support them, they will continue to be. Commercial resources serve a different purpose, and they are made possible by different means.

  15. For the record, all of the production files -- the entire final production tree -- of the animation that accompanies the di is licensed CC, and is available for redistribution. Right now, I'm not personally redistributing, but anyone who has bought the book can do so.

  16. So, I bought the book and went to track it's status, on a 5 day shipment, from... 52 miles away. I could have drove there in an hour.

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