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Lance Flavell - Beginning Blender - Ebook Review


Terry Wallwork reviews 'Beginning Blender' by Lance Flavell.

Terry writes:

Lance Flavell and Apress have been busy writing another Blender 2.5 based book. Lance Flavell (known as Lancer in the Blender community) is a very knowledgeable Blender user. So I was very interested to find out about this book when Apress announced its availability.

So off I went and ordered the Ebook version of the book in PDF format.

Product Specifications:

  • Name: Beginning Blender
  • Author: Lance Flavell
  • Price: $34.99 (1 Dec 2010)
  • Type: Ebook PDF Format
  • Pages: 448

This is a book aimed at Blender beginners who are using the Blender 2.5x series. It takes the approach of introducing a subject and then giving examples and exercises for the reader to try and carryout and as a result learn how some of Blenders features work.

The pictures in the Ebook version are full color and apparently the paper book version also has full color pictures, which is useful. The pictures in the PDF version, unfortunately often had compression artifacts making them look very pixelated. Luckily most of the time the quality of the pictures was just good enough to get the point across, it's a shame the pictures were slightly below par but the rest of the content of the book is a much better standard.

Chapter 1 - This chapter deals with explaining what Blender is, how it came about and what makes it special when compared with other software. Instructions on how to obtain and install Blender are gone over, not in massive detail but in enough to be usable. Especially interesting was the good description of what opensource is and why it is so important.

Chapter 2 - Covers various beginner topics on using Blender, from interacting with the user interface in various ways to manipulating the 3D Cursor and explaining how it works and what it is used for. Once the basic interface features have been described the chapter moves on to explaining Blenders different types of primitive shapes and how to use them to construct simple models. A very good explanation of how to manipulate various parts of meshes and the interface using both the keyboard shortcuts and the mouse manipulations is explained. Usefully notes on possible issues with shortcut key conflicts with various different operating system platforms are highlighted, which I think would be extremely useful for a beginning Blender user to be aware of, as this can often be a problem users encounter and it's not often obvious how to fix it or that anything is wrong when it happens. At the end of this chapter the reader is given an exercise to make a simple robot model. I found this a good way to re-enforce committing to memory the subjects described previously in the chapter. Another thing I liked was the way that keyboard shortcut keys were almost always used and described, even some of the less well known shortcuts were mentioned.

Chapter 3 - Covers the fundamental topics of modeling in Blender, covering the differences between Object Mode and Edit Mode. There is a very clear explanation of what mesh topology is and how it impacts on the overall quality of a finally produced model. Simple modifiers such as Blenders Mirror Modifier and Subsurface Modifier are demonstrated and their uses enumerated. I was surprised the Sculpting and the use of Multi-Resolution Modifier was covered at this point in the book, I was expecting it later on, none the less it was well laid out and easy to understand and guided the user to sculpt a simple cat model. Another very useful feature of Blender covered in this chapter was Blenders Retopology feature. A lot of new Blender users and even some not so new users tend to not know about the Retopology feature (or only find out what it is much later) and I found it very useful that it was covered so early on within the texts. Another example of providing information that is often left out of beginners books is the description of how to use proxy objects when linking objects from a file in Blender. How to create proxy objects is often overlooked as a feature that is advanced and therefore not normally covered, this is not a mistake this book makes.

Chapter 4 - Covers the topics of Lighting and Procedural Texturing. It also covers setting up the camera for doing renderings and its various settings that affect render sizes. A topic I found helpful was how to setup the Blender camera to track objects and lights. After camera setup is covered the various lighting techniques and types supported by Blender are described, not in massive detail but more that enough for a beginning Blender user. Although to my mind the description of how Hemi lights worked was a little inaccurate, but not in a way that is likely to affect new Blender users. The important lighting parameter Dist: was explained very well as were the Spot Light parameters and their uses. How to setup simple lighting rigs and simple explanations of lighting theory were explained but don't expect advanced coverage of the theory side of lighting rigs, but there is a enough there to start with. Good explanations of what Key, Fill and Rim lights are and how they can be combined and positioned for effective lighting of a scene within Blender is described.

Ambient Occlusion and Environment Lighting is very briefly covered. I would liked to have seen more information on how to use environment lighting features and how useful it can be, but in a book of this size, space is limited and you get enough information to get you started.

Having covered the basic lighting features the chapter moves on to describing procedural texturing. It does this by taking a Text object and converting it and applying textures to it, in the form of bump maps and color textures. Applying multiple textures to a material is described and demonstrated on the text object. It was easy to follow and showed just how powerful Blender material and texture system can be.

Chapter 5 - Covers texturing using UV Mapping techniques and the steps involved in preparing textures for modification in external applications such as The GIMP. The description of how to use the Uv Image Editor to unwrap mesh objects is clear and useful. Surprisingly Projection Painting is described, as are texture brushes and how to use them. Another highlight of this chapter was the description of the difference between Bump and Normal Mapping, very informative, as often the distinction is not clear. Also very educational was the description of how Normal maps can be made manually. For those that want to use Blenders ability to create Normal Maps automatically this is also covered. I also really appreciated the section on ways to fix common normal map problems when they are baked, lots of people may benefit from this information not just beginners.

Chapter 6 - Covers Curves, Nurbs and MetaBalls. While curve are often documented in Blender books and tutorials, Nurbs and MetaBalls are much less frequently documented. This is a shame as Nurbs and MetaBalls have features that when used in the right situations can be very useful. The description of how MetaBalls and Nurbs work was not the clearest and it took me a couple of re-reads to get to grips with the information, even so still a useful section. Another small problem with this section is that the text refers to fields and parameter names that have been changed in recent version of Blender, so the names the book gave for parameters do not match, which may be slightly confusing to new users. The coverage of 3D Curves, Bevel Objects and Taper Objects were very clear and I think will be very informative for new user, even not so new users. It's a shame this book was not released a month later as it would have been able to cover RotoBeziers addon which allows for keyframed animated curves, but as it was still a very useful chapter.

Chapter 7 - Goes over basic animation and rigging techniques as well as covering the standard terminology and methodology involved in rigging and animation. The explanation of keyframing both what it is and how to do it within Blender were clear and to the point. Time saving features such as auto-keyframing were noted and their use demonstrated. A simple animation is constructed using a monkey model. The uses for the Graph Editor and Dopesheet are documented, here though I do wish more information had been given as to the differences between what the graph editor is used for and what the Dopesheet is used for. The various bone types and weighting methods are described and each is demonstrated in various ways. Though strangely Blender Auto/Heat Weighting method did not appear to be described, I could have just missed it but if not I do find that very strange.

Chapter 8 - Carries on where things left off in Chapter 7, but this time covering more advanced rigging topics such as what FK and IK is, what Control Bones and Bone Layers are and how and why they are used and the differences between them. A demonstration of how to rig a finger and a leg are gone over as are custom bone shapes. Slightly more exotic features such as Pole Targets are used and a good description of why they are useful is also done. Various ways to create both simple and more advanced foot rig designs were gone over. Once the rigging explanations were completed the chapter moves on to the subject of animation and a basic animated walk cycle is created. The section on shapekeys is very useful as shapekey are often a feature that can be difficult to get to grips with. They are used to demonstrate how to do lip syncing on a speaking character. Overall this chapter was better than most other beginners books in showing some of Blender more useful features, very good chapter.

Chapter 9 - Covers how to use Blender in your Movie Making pipeline. Once you get to this point in your Blender education it becomes useful to use the Video Sequence Editor and Compositing Nodes. So this chapter covers the use of the Video Sequence Editor and Node Compositor to make and do the post processing tasks needed to make movies in Blender. How to use Depth Of Field is covered. The various different methods of Greenscreen usage and filtering is gone over, then it is shown how to composite live action footage and CG together and various Video Sequence Editor filters are demonstrated also.

Chapter 10 - Demonstrates how to use Blender Physics, Particle and Hair features. It's a fast moving chapter and quickly goes over each feature very quickly, but generally in enough detail to be useful as a jumping off point to further study. The features are demonstrated by making a simple exploding rocket that animates a model and particle systems. After the particle settings are described the chapter moves on to describing how hair particles work, and a simple wig is constructed using them. Lastly fluid and smoke simulations are covered, again only very briefly but with enough information to be useful.

Chapter 11 - Covers using the game engine to make simple games. Done mainly using Blender Logic Bricks to construct a couple of simple interactive games. The games that result are very good examples of what can be done with the Blender Game Engine. This is a very brief chapter but game creation is very complex and not a lot can be covered in such a short amount of space. But as a taster of what's possible with the Blender Game Engine it's useful to get you started with game creation in Blender.

Chapter 12 - This final chapter connects up various lose ends topics such as where to get further information on Blenders various features and also has an FAQ section answering and fixing the most common problems encountered by new Blender users. The FAQ section to me seemed very useful as the questions answered were definitely the ones that I encountered when I first started using Blender so I would assume they will be useful to other readers.

So on balance this is an excellent book for a Blender beginner, it even had me re-remembering things I had forgotten. This book is a combination of detailed enough to give a Blender user most of the salient information needed to use Blender effectively, and not to difficult as to make it confusing or overwhelming. Personally I think this is currently the best general purpose beginners book to basic Blender 2.5 features so far. Other lesser books would try to cut down on the number of topics covered and probably make a much smaller book but I think this book benefits from the larger amount of pages. It's not a perfect book it does have its problems, such as having badly displayed pictures in places and sometimes not being quite clear enough with explanations of certain sections of the book.

If you're a Blender beginner or an experienced Blender user that is new to 2.5 or a bit rusty, this book will be well worth the money. I really hope Mr Flavell does another Blender book, given the quality of this one.

Review Score 85%


  1. I've recently witnessed the completion of a 2.3 $M Cdn. expansion of my College, which I designed after having used Blender for three weeks back in 2005 (2.37a). In 2009 (2.45b), I did a YouTube animation that convinced the architects and financiers to use the design as their template. So...that makes me a successful Blender user. The ONE THING that broke open Blender for me was Grab/Scale/Extrude on a Constrained Axis. That's the link from drafting on paper with a ruler and pencil to working in 3d. I hope this Ebook makes a point of that.

  2. Nice to see this here (I am the author, Lance Flavell). Thank you.
    Zinc, yes the book is pretty thorough on explaining axis movements and doesn't miss on smaller details like rotation vs trackball.
    Zelen3d - retopology does exist in 2.5, although you have to hit the right buttons to get it working even close to the retopology of 2.4. Even then there are one or two quirks I hope the devs will fix before too long.

    I'd like to point out the book is not just in E-book format, but is a paperback as well. There has been a delay in printing the paperback and when I last questioned Apress for the reason, they said their printer made a mistake with the cover (of all things) and recalled them. Paperback printing should now finally happen within the next week.

    I announced the release back in November, on including a small sample of the pages, although I'm not sure how many people got to see the thread (BlenderArtists forums grow so fast now, it can be hard to spot anything).

    Glad to see the book being publicised here (it was a lot of work, so I'd hate it to slip by unnoticed). This review is the only one I've seen on the book, although a couple of other reviewers contacted me saying they were looking at it, and were very pleased with what they saw. The book is about covering the bulk of areas Blender handles (e.g. modelling, animation, rigging, texturing, compositing, etc etc), with enough to get started in each of the areas, and I hope readers get a lot out of it.

  3. Hay! I use to work for Apress! but here in CT, the company went out business.
    let me tell you this All prints shop are "Crooks"! work twenty years in the trade.
    They sell the paper at high prices in case they screw up and Ho yeah! we give you a discount if we make a mistake on our part. What a sell pitch!

  4. Cheers RNS. Yes, the delay in the print version was annoying to me (I'm waiting to give complementary copies of the book to a certain number of artists whose work is inside) but I don't want to open discussion on the pros & cons of publishers or printers. The delay in releasing the print version doesn't change the book content from being a comprehensive introduction & guide to Blender 2.5.

  5. hi,
    actually, this collection of books are very well done, i have in the same collection: python and gimp, and it really help my student in classroom, maybe those documents are made for that purpose, long term learning with additional support from teachers...

    anyway, i will have a look at this one !

  6. I do believe I will be buying this, probably tomorrow afternoon, merry Christmas to me!! Thanks for making such an awsome book covering 2.5.

  7. Hello to all. I've been using Blender for more than 2 years now. Blender is quite a piece of software, I'm sure that I'm only using about 20% of it. Many points mentioned above would be of interest to me, books I've read before for beginers really lacked many information mentioned above.

    A little thing though, "maybe I'm wrong and it was not said above, and was actually covered in the book". It would have been grate if those considering to write a book or even Lancer for his future book, to cover extrenal renderers. I know Blender has it own renderer but using blender nearly everyday, I always see it limits. Until this change, covering Yafaray and Luxrender being free renderers, and even to mention Vray or other commercial renderers would have been awesome. I'm not talking to cover all their features, but to give a glance on how use to use at least one of them and show what we can achieve by using Blender with those renderers to get commercial quality renders.

    Big thanks to Terry for the work he is doing to review the different books that come out for Blender.

    Big thanks also to Lancer for taking time to write such a book. I know how much work it is to make one.

    I'll surely buy the book and hope that its sales do encourage Lancer to write another when maybe when 2.6 comes out.

  8. Lancer, will you be answering the criticism of the PDF's image quality? I'm interested in purchasing the e-book, but I'd like good quality images. I could accept bad images in a free book, but not in one I'm purchasing.

    Thanks for your hard work!


  9. Thanks again for the feedback.

    Statik - I haven't seen the final E-book version (perhaps I should purchase a copy online myself to see). Sounds like "compression artifacts" would indicate issues which happen with jpegs, whereas I pretty much exclusively submitted pngs which should not suffer in this way.
    I did use a few jpegs early on on the book (chapter 1) but only because they were images taken from the internet (with permission) and those were in their original quality. They were illustrative renderings, not instructional images. I'm wondering if the crit is pointed towards them. It would be handy for me to know which images were affected, though the crit does read like a more wide issue than the first chapter. It could be that someone in the pipeline has chosen a higher compression for creating the final PDFs than should have been used. I'll fire your question to Apress and see what they say.

  10. Hi,
    I was following this book since a while, and so far, although I only viewed the preview in I think the book is what I was waiting for :)

    Lancer, can you provide a sample chapter here in blendernation or maybe in your web site. Thanks!

  11. Lance, if they didn't at least send you a sample of the book before starting to sell it ... ok, it should be clear by now, but please use a different publisher/printer/whatever next time. This is not professional behaviour. Well I can understand choosing the cheapest option, I'd have done that too I think ...

    Anyways, I just put the book on my whishlist. The paper version.

  12. if you hear they are going to update the pictures, let us know. I'm interested in the PDF, but i'd hate to buy t and then find out that next month they are going to fix all the pictures.

  13. I'd love to have the book but i'm here in Nigeria. How possible will it be for me to purchase it since i don't have a credit card.

  14. I'm very interested in the PDF e-book as well (keeps the trees alive and my shelves clear).

    Considering the rate features change and get updated in Blender, I'd imagine this book would require quarterly revisions (at least).

    I've always wondered why authors/publishers don't offer a subscription for updates to e-books that deal with fast-changing (software) products. The author would probably be working on a second version anyway.
    It would be a definite win-win for everyone:
    - existing customers are up-to-date with their product
    - author gets immediate feedback (including requests for new chapters, like above)
    - author gets continuous income from subscriptions (like monthly)
    - the book and subsequent versions get better because of it

    Something you would consider, Lancer?

  15. The book seems to be exactly what i'm looking for. I'd love to get a hard copy.
    Amazon is really frustrating though. list it at $31.49 which is just over £20 but list it at £39.49!
    Added to my wish list regardless.

  16. Tomst, scientific american medicine does that--with medicine ad surgery changing almost on a daily basis it is impossible to create a fixed text book--so when things need to be changed it sends you he pages to replace--blender really has to do something like this--with on demand printer it would really work--i would like to see something like this-- im foaming at the mouth to get a hard copy hard

  17. Had the ebook a couple of days now. I've been reading it on my HTC HD2 on the way to work. The PDF reflows well on the phone. I should have took the web deal on both because I will also now buy the paper version. Not in the 3D industry and have no wish to be. In education and using blender for simple engineering animations. I'm a little past an absolute beginner but not much. I run the animations in the classroom full screen on a smartboard in 3d view. great for zooming in and panning live in front of a class etc etc.

    Quite a fan of Apress books, I like there visual layout and pleased to see this is in the same vein. Very well written IMO. This book feels great for "I need to learn Hooks now" or just feet up, pint of coffee on a sunday afternoon.

    Thumbs up here.

    P.S. Lancer the graphic on page 79 on Lamps settings is awsome. Paints a thousand words.

  18. Zak McKracken - Don't worry, Apress are very much professional. While they have not given me a copy of the finished Ebook, my contract states that I will receive a generous number of paper copies, which have simply had a printer delay (should be ready very soon).
    I've asked Apress about getting hold of an Ebook copy so that I can see the standard of the final images for myself. In the final proof PDFs some images were a little small, but the quality seemed fine, so I'll see whether the final Ebook is the same, once I am given access.
    Great to know people have been reading it already. Moreso that they are enjoying it. I must give credit to Luca Bonavita, the Technical Reviewer and also a certain other editors, who read through everything of the first drafts and made recommended alterations, changes and suggestions of anything which they thought was missing. Most of this was taken on as updates by the final draft.
    Thanks Lynchy. It's really good to hear the opinions of someone who's already reading the book.

  19. Lancer,
    Bought the book, haven't had too much time to delve into it - work and finals. Enjoying what I have covered. Found it after it was mentioned on Slashdot, I believe.

  20. Can you give us your impression of the image quality? I've been looking for a good e-book to replace my aging blender manual and this one might be it . . . if the images are good.

  21. Hi Statik.

    Apress haven't been forthcoming in sending me the Ebook I'd previously asked for, so I went online this morning and bought a copy to have a look and see for myself whether there were any graphic issues. Unfortunately, the quality of some of the images is below what I would have expected, with some of them (not all; others are fine) appearing to be overly compressed. They are not the same sharp PNG images I sent Apress, nor do they resemble the ones like I had sent to me on the final proofing stage. Comparing the file size of Beginning Blender (16Mb) against other Apress books (Beginning Gimp at 45Mb) makes me conclude that someone has been overzealous in compressing the images at the final stage of making this Ebook. The book is still readable, although I agree that the quality should be bumped up from what it is now and I've emailed Apress to ask whether they are prepared to regenerate a clearer version. From what I understand, if you have ordered an Ebook version of an Apress book, the download link stays live in your account and should allow you to download afresh any future updates. Hopefully I'll hear soon from Apress regarding the images.

    Regards - Lance Flavell (Lancer)

  22. Thanks for the feedback Lancer. I look forward to hearing back from you when the issues are resolved. If I purchase the book through Apress and they don't resolve the issue, what are the chances of you sending out an updated copy to your customers? (I'm not in the publishing business so I don't know if that would violate some agreement on other).

  23. I'm reading this book and currently I'm on chapter 4.
    It's a great book and I'd definitely recommend it to all beginners.
    I am a beginner. Before this book, I tried a few youtube tutorials which they all were very helpful; however, the advantage of starting with this book is that you get a good direction of how to progress your learning.
    Anyway as a beginner, I ran into a few places in book so far that more clarification would make it great.
    It would be nice if readers like me could email the author, Lance, as we encounter these very minor issues.
    Overall: Great book.
    Thank you Lance for the great guidance. I hope you publish Blender for Intermidiate. I like your book so much that I think I would be able to need the next book soon.
    keep it up.

  24. I share the same problem with behestelah on "I ran into a few places in book so far that more clarification would make it great.".

    On chapter 3, under "A note on modifiers" there are confusing statements. First it's said that:
    "if a multiresolution modifier is applied before a mirror modofier, the shrinkage may cause a gap in the middle seam..., on the other hand, mirroring first and then smoothing creates no such seam."
    Then immediately comes a statement which sounds to be contradicting to the above statement:
    "It is not possible to apply a multiresolution modifier after a mirror modifier,"

    I'm a beginner too and I think this is a great book to learn from. But clarifications on some sections such as one mentioned here would bring this book closer to be perfect in my opinion.

    Highly recommend this book, a must have for beginner.

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