Phil Gosh reviews Thomas Beck's 'Blender 2.7 - Das umfassende Handbuch'. While the books is in German, plans are ready for an English version - and you could help!
Disclaimer & Call for translator
So, first things first: Why would you ever read a review about a book written in German (not even to mention: the book itself)? But bear with me for a second- we don’t expect all of Blendernation’s readers to check out a German book: Thomas Beck (the author of this book) has already found a publisher for an English version! Great news, but here’s the catch: He’s still looking for a translator (German to English) to help him work on the English version. So if you happen to know any translators, drop Thomas a mail at: [email protected] I’m sure Thomas (and lots of English speaking readers!) would be very grateful for any useful tips in this regard.
In the meantime, we decided to publish a review of the German book anyways, because after all, the knowledge, the topics and all the nice illustrations (more on them later) won’t change during translation. Great, so now with this out of the way let’s jump right into it!
Thomas Beck is Blender Foundation Certified Trainer (BFCT) and Blender developer. As CEO of his company Plasmasolutions, he offers 3d modeling, Programming and Design work; he also travels to studios all over the world
As a Blender user who actively follows Blender news you may have seen... or let’s rephrase it: I’m sure you’ve seen some of Thomas’s excellent preview videos of new and under development features which he posts on his YouTube channel Plasmasolutions. Search for “B3D Sneak Peek” in case you missed them until now.
Besides using and explaining pretty much every new Blender feature, Thomas also is one of the few developers with commit rights for Blenders source code, which means he can directly submit new features he’s coded. Blender 2.75 is going to have nice UI font previews thanks to his hard work on this feature.
Blender 2.7 - Das umfassende Handbuch (which roughly translates to “Blender 2.7 - The Comprehensive Handbook”) is exactly what its name suggests: a really extensive and thorough documentation, as well as an explanation of every feature Blender has. Of course, not literally every feature, I don’t think there’s enough paper to even print something of that scope. But all the important features, and even most of the less used ones, are presented in a visually pleasing and easy to understand and follow along way. The chapters start with a introduction to the user interface and then cover the entire workflow of creating a model, texturing and shading it, lighting and rendering and even postprocessing.
This approach makes it suitable for total beginners, as well as for more advanced users, who are able to quickly find the chapter they’re looking for. Besides explaining every parameter of a tool in Blender it often features short step-by-step tutorials on using those features, which is not only really handy but takes away the often dry and boring feeling associated with thick software handbooks like this one.
This gives the book two purposes: Work through it from start to end to learn Blender from the ground up, or use it as reference book whenever you need to know how a certain function, tool, or even area of Blender works. It’s worth mentioning that often there are explanations about fundamentals and basics like lighting design, material properties, or animation- things that are general knowledge and apply to all 3D softwares. Featuring these explanations is really one of the strongest points of this book, as it not only enables you to use Blender but already creates the right mindset to produce quality outcomes. The artistic process sadly often gets lost within technical explanations, which is not the case here.
I’ll talk a bit about each individual chapter, but before that I’d like to cover some parts common to every chapter:
Tips & Chapter Recap
Often there are boxes containing additional information or tips &tricks next to the main text on a page. These are incredibly helpful and often serve as a reminder or a summary of all the information covered on a page, or even a sub chapter.
At the end of every chapter there’s a short summary of everything you’ve learned in this chapter, as well as a outlook to the next one. Additionally, many of the chapters feature a section before that hints at further related topics to research if you’re interested.
This is one of the biggest and strongest selling points of this book. It features high quality, full color images and illustrations from beginning to end! Just look at the collage I created out of just a few of them. Ever seen a explanation of Blender’s scene structure that beautiful? There’s lots of illustrations in the book, usually one or more per page! And not even a single one of them is of low quality or hard to read. All the user interface screenshots are crisp and clear, and of course in full color.
I really can’t believe how many Blender instructionals and general 3d graphics books got this wrong, when it’s one of the most essential things. If you’re going to teach me how to create awesome visuals, why are you not using those in the training material? I know it often comes down to the publisher saying “full color is too expensive” so I’m even happier that it worked out for this book. Also, kudos to Thomas for creating all these beautiful graphics, illustrations and diagrams. This must have been a lot of work, but it really paid off!
The introductory chapter starts slow with information about Blenders history. It features a screenshot of Blenders 2.25 user interface, (which was before I started using it) but it definitely makes me appreciate the current UI even more. It then continues to explain the concept of open movies and how they’ve helped shape Blenders feature set.
After this it explains how to get and install Blender.
Finally, this chapter features an short explanation of all steps involved in 3d content creation, beginning from gathering reference material, modeling, shading, rigging, animating, rendering and postprocessing to even tracking and video editing. I can imagine that this is of great importance and usefulness for people completely new to 3d.
2. User interface
The user interface chapter starts with an explanation of Blenders very own UI paradigms and rules, which helps to prevent confusion right from the start. It then goes on with an overview of Blenders different areas, editors and screens. After that, close attention is payed to the different elements that make up the UI and how they’re used. Of course it also tells you how to customize your interface, navigate in 3d, load/save data and the using the User Preferences. It also features important tips, like using the spacebar search and recovering lost files.
3. Working with objects
This chapter starts with general 3D basics. From various trainings and workshops I’ve taught, I know that this is the part most students find rather boring- however if these concepts aren't understood, then everything else is doomed to fail. This book does a great job at presenting this knowledge by using lots of clear and logical illustrations, as well as being short and to the point!
Then it continues with an explanation of Blender’s modes (Edit vs. Object mode), units and the Properties editor. After that there’s a really great explanation of how Blender handles data blocks and how to work with them. It closes by explaining how to work with object libraries and proxies.
4. Modeling and object types
The modeling chapter starts with an overview of different modeling methods, again not directly related to Blender. Poly-by-poly/box-modeling/sculpting, and which of these to choose depending on the situation is very important knowledge for every modeler nonetheless.
After a short derail to Unde-Redo functionality, this chapter highlights how to add background images and then continues with explanations of the different modeling tools available in Edit mode. As soon as the reader manages to work through the modeling-tools, it goes on to talk about Sculpt mode. Besides explaining all of the default brushes and their settings, it also features more advanced knowledge like matcaps and hiding parts of your mesh for a better sculpting experience.
It then continues with in-depth how-to-use explanations of Bezier/NURBS objects, Text objects, Metaballs, Lattices and finally Empties.
As the name suggests, everything in this chapter revolves around Modifiers. Similar to BlenderGurus Modifier Encyclopedia, this chapter features explanations for every single modifier there is, over 60 pages worth of content. Contrary to the aforementioned webpage this chapter not only explains the purpose and use cases of the modifiers but also has a lengthy explanation for every single parameter of a modifier! Wow.
6. Rendering - creating a picture
So this chapter not only covers the basic principles of rendering (raytracing, pathtracing, etc.) before diving into the Blender specifics, but it explains the Blender Internal render engine as well as Cycles rendering. Of course, lots of stuff related to rendering is also mentioned, for example how to view your renders and to switch between render slots to compare with previous renders. At the and of the chapter there’s also a short overview of external render engines and color management.
7. Lighting Design
This chapter starts with a great theoretical part about lighting design, how lights can be used to define form, convey emotions or guide the viewers eyes. Again, this is something I wouldn’t have expected to see in a software handbook, so I’m even more pleased it’s there. After that there’s a comprehensive overview of all available light types in Blender, be it Internal or Cycles. After all of the World settings are covered, there’s a nice 3 point lighting tutorial.
With over 100 pages, this is one of the biggest chapters in the book. This is mainly due to the fact that, besides Blenders material management and how to work with textures, the Blender Internal materials as well as Cycles shader nodes are explained in depth. It even goes as far as showing how to use OSL in Cycles.
Again, this chapter starts with animation basics, ranging from animation history to current important terms and techniques when animating digitally. It then goes over all the available editors in Blender: Graph, Dope-Sheet, Action and NLA editor. After covering Shapekeys and path animation it shows useful helper tools like Grease Pencil, Marker or Motion Paths. To conclude this chapter animation rendering is explained.
10. Vertex weight, skinning and rigging
This is one of the chapters I looked forward to most since it’s rarely covered in any basic tutorials or books. And I wasn’t disappointed, besides an extensive overview of creating and manipulating vertex weights, this chapter also deals with armatures/bones, constraints and skinning. Short tutorials on skinning or IK rigs conclude this chapter.
11. Particle systems
Blender’s particle system got its own chapter and it’s full of information and pretty pictures to illustrate all the settings.
This chapter starts by explaining how to create a particle system and the different kinds of particles there are. After a basic overview of all the panels belonging to the Particle System’s tab it gets more advanced by outlining Cycles hair rendering. After that there is a great overview of all the available force fields and how they interact with particles. Then rendering particles using either Blender Internal or Cycles is explained.
Now this is the chapter where all the fancy VFX stuff is found. After a brief overview of the different kinds of simulations, collisions are explained. Cloth simulation is the first more in-depth subchapter, followed by Soft-Bodies and Dynamic paint. Of course a large part of the chapter is dedicated to fluid and fire/smoke simulation. Last but not least, rigid bodies are examined.
13. Postproduction and compositing
Starting yet again with a theoretical part, the history of postprocessing is outlined from the beginning to the present. After that the chapter quickly dives into important concepts like render layers, render passes, and node compositing. To my surprise a rather big part of this chapter is dedicated to NPR (non photorealistic rendering) with Freestyle. A pleasant surpirse I may add.
The theoretical part in this chapter outlines techniques to integrate CG in film, eg. motion control camera rigs. Continuing with an overview of the tracking algorithm, the tracking workflow inside Blender is explained comprehensively. After tracking is covered, close attention is payed to masking and rotoscoping.
15. The video sequence editor
Finally, the often overlooked Video Sequence Editor (VSE) gets some love in printed form. After fundamental concepts like frame rate and color grading, this chapter continues with an overview of Blenders VSE and how to work with strips. Explanations of all the elements found under “Effect Strips” concludes this chapter.
16. Extending Blender
Now this is the chapter that blew me away in terms of scope. I was expecting to be told about what addons are, where to get them and how they are installed. And of course all of this is covered. But then the chapter continues by teaching you how create your own scripts! It even features an introduction to programming in Python!
What can possibly be written here that’s of interest you may ask? Well this chapter features a nice list of communities and tutorial sites for further education once you finish reading the book. Additionally there’s already a overview of big upcoming Blender features like stereoscopic rendering, OpenSubDiv, Viewport FX etc.
This book is ahead of its time it seems. Also, there comes a DVD with it, containing additional tutorials as well as all the project files for the tutorials in the book.
This book, as its name implies, is a handbook intended for total beginners to start out as well as advanced users who need a handy reference for lesser used functions and tools. It’s definitely not (and doesn’t want to be) a big project walkthrough telling you how to use tools in a specific use case.
I wish this book was around when I started learning 3D/Blender.
Besides being full of information covering nearly all parts of Blender it’s also visually stunning and beautiful to look at, from layout to screenshots to diagrams and illustrations. This is a very important point for visual people like me and if the knowledge it contains is also extensive and easy to follow (it is) then I’m sold.
As an advanced user I was missing some stuff like retopology, baking or game engine, but I understand that inclusion of all these topics may have burst the scope of this book, which is already nearly at 800 pages…
So to conclude I can not recommend this book enough, it should be on the shelf of every Blender user who wants to own at least one Blender related book.
- Link to German version on Amazon
- More info including complete chapter overview
- Author: Thomas Beck
- Product page (german)
- Price: 49,90€ (ebook version 44,90€)
- Published: 12. December 2014
- Software Version: 2.7x
- Type of book: handbook
- Pages: 775
- Extras: DVD including Caminandes and more than 200 demo files
- Book format
- Printing quality
- Value for money