At this years Blender Conference Thomas Beck released his much anticipated Blender Handbook. Read this review to learn what it's all about!
Blender has a huge amount of features and tools and editors, big enough for most books to not try and cover everything it has to offer. Not the Comprehensive Blender 2.7 Handbook by Thomas Beck though, which is easily one of the most extensive books about Blender there are, with more than 900 pages full of documentation, best practices and beautifully handcrafted full-color illustrations.
Originally written and physically released (in german) 4 years ago, with a big update and re-release late last year, the huge task of translating all this collected knowledge to english (of course while keeping it up to date, we all know how fast Blender is changing and improving) was finally completed this year. And during the 2018 Blender Conference it was finally released as self published ebook at plasmasolutions.com!
The book starts with an introduction, which provides basic knowledge about the work in the 3D space and the related work processes, after which the reader is being prepared for later chapters with an explanation of Blenders user interface. Over the next few chapters, the entire workflow of the creation of a 3D model is explained: from modeling a 3D model, to texturing and shading, lighting and rendering to post-processing. In addition, there are plenty of chapters on advanced topics such as animation, particle systems, simulation, tracking, Blender's Video Sequence Compositor, or even expanding Blender using Python scripting.
The book not only describes the parameters and setting options of the various functions, but also provides short step-by-step tutorials and use cases of the functions and tools. As a result, the book also reads very fluently and stands out from a dry software documentation. There are two ways to read this book: First, as a learning resource, working through it from the front to the back, or as a reference work that enables one to focus on specific functions or chapters.
It’s important to mention that the book provides lots of explanations of general 3D knowledge such as lighting, material properties or animation concepts not exclusively focused on Blender. By including such additional explanations the author enables the reader to produce results of the highest quality.
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 got nice UI font previews thanks to his hard work on this feature among others.
One of the book's biggest assets are the high quality illustrations and pictures, which you can find on almost every page. However, of course this is often necessary in order to familiarize the reader with the functions or concepts of Blender if explanations of the text alone are not sufficient. But rarely does any publication go the same lengths as this book with its exceptional hand-crafted illustrations.
Infoboxes, Advice and Chapter Previews
I really appreciate additional information or infoboxes next to the main text of a book, which is something this book has plenty of luckily! Be it helpful collections of further information regarding the current chapter or summaries of the most important bits of a page, they’re really helpful overall. Additionally there’s a short summary as well as a preview of the next chapter at the end of every chapter in the book. There’s also a short section dedicated to further topics the reader can research for more knowledge on the current chapters topic.
The target audience of this book ranges from total beginner looking for a headstart in the world of 3D to professionals who’d fancy an extensive handbook for looking up specific tools and features.
Of course the first chapter is an introductory one, in this case it covers not only the basics of getting and installing Blender, but also features information about Blenders history! There’s another part covering the idea (and success) of Blender open movies!
After explaining the teaching approach this book chose it features a theoretical walkthrough of the whole 3d model creation process, ranging from gathering references to modeling, unwrapping, shading & materials, rigging & animation to rendering and prostprocessing. I can imagine that this is of great importance and usefulness for people completely new to 3d and really appreciate that the author took the time to explain these basic concepts before diving straight into them in the next chapters.
2. The Interface
The user interface chapter starts with an explanation of Blenders very own UI paradigms and rules (which we all know is an important part of getting to understand the idea behind Blenders UI). It then goes on with an overview of Blenders UI areas, editors, screens. Additionally close attention is payed to the different UI elements and how they’re used (or supposed to be used!). Of course it also tells you how to customize the interface, navigate in 3D space, load/save data and making best use of the User Preferences. It also features important and sometimes lifesaving advice, like correct usage of the spacebar search and recovering lost files.
3. Working With Objects
This chapter teaches everybody the general 3D basics. From teaching various trainings and workshops I know that this is the part most students find rather boring. But of course if these concepts aren’t understood, then everything else building on them is doomed to fail. This book does a great job at presenting this knowledge by using lots of clear and logical illustrations (just look at them, they’re gorgeous!), as well as being not too lengthy and imprecise!
Then it continues with an explanation of Blender’s most important modes (Edit vs. Object mode), scene units and the very important Properties editor. After that there’s an often overlooked but nevertheless important explanation of how Blender handles data blocks and how to work with them. It closes by explaining how to work with object libraries and proxy objects, which is a chunk of vital knowledge quite a few people seem to be missing.
4. Modeling and Object Types
The great thing about this chapter is that it starts of with a general explanation of the most common modeling methods there are, from poly-by-poly to box modeling and more. This is universal knowledge and vital for every modeler out there, regardless of chosen modeling app.
After a short derail to Undo-Redo functionality (don’t you ever wish somebody had explained to you how it really works in Blender?), this chapter highlights how to work with background images and then continues with explanations of all the different modeling tools available to you in Edit mode. But this chapter doesn’t stop at Edit Mode tools, it goes on to explain in lengthy detail how the Sculpt Mode and all of its tools are supposed to be used. Besides explaining in detail all of the brushes and their settings, it also features more advanced but very useful 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 the good old but ever useful Empties. Additional shoutout to Metaballs! ;)
Next is an extensive chapter featuring all Modifiers currently known to mankind! It makes one think of the Modifier Encyclopedia but with detailed and up-to-date explanations of every setting each modifier has to offer. On 80 pages worth of content not only the purpose and use cases of the modifiers are explained but also a lengthy explanation for every single parameter of a modifier, accompanied by useful illustrations often showcasing the effect of different Modifier settings! Incredible.
6. Rendering - An Image Emerges
In this chapter not only the basic principles of rendering are explained before diving into the Blender specifics. Of course, lots of stuff related to rendering is mentioned, for example how to view your renders and how to work with Blenders render settings. At the and of the chapter there’s an extended subchapter about color management and how to correctly work with color spaces or the “Filmic” color transformation.
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. Personally I really appreciate such theoretical and software-agnostic parts of chapters, it even reminded me a bit of Jeremy Birns great book “Digital Lighting and Rendering”. Again, this is something I wouldn’t have expected to see in a “software handbook” (I put that in quotation marks because we all know Blender is more to us than simply a tool ;) ), 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 too and there’s a nice 3 point lighting tutorial to round it off.
This chapter is huge, not surprisingly, but with over 140 pages it blew me away on how extensive it is. This is easily 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, UV Unwrapping and how to use the UV Editor and even baking!
This chapter starts (as one would’ve guessed) with animation basics, ranging from animation history to current important terms and techniques when animating digitally (and differences to traditional animation). It then covers all the available editors in Blender: Graph, Dope-Sheet, Action and NLA editor. After even covering Shapekeys and path animations it shows useful helper tools like Grease Pencil, Marker or Motion Paths. Of course, since Grease Pencil is grown so much the last few years a lot more attentions is paid towards it now. The chapter closes with an explanation of animation rendering, what settings are involved and important and featuring explanations of motion blur rendering techniques.
10. Vertex weights, Skinning and Rigging
Rigging is usually a topic lacking good explanations and best practices since it’s rarely covered in any basic tutorials or books. And as expected 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 are also included in this chapter.
11. Particle Systems
Blender’s particle systems got their own chapter and it’s full of information and pretty pictures to illustrate all the different settings and parameters.
This chapter starts by explaining how naking/caching particles works and then explains 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 finally the chapter where all the fancy simulation stuff is found. After a brief overview of the different types of simulations and Blenders simulation module, 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 in detail.
13. Postproduction and Compositing
Starting yet again with a theoretical part (which is a good thing!), the history of postprocessing is outlined from the beginning to the current state of the art. After that the chapter quickly dives into important concepts like render layers, render passes, and of course node compositing. To my surprise a rather big part of this chapter is dedicated to NPR (non photorealistic rendering) with Freestyle. This chapter has been expanded with subchapters about stereoscopy and the great Cycles Denoiser!
The theoretical part in this chapter outlines techniques to integrate CG (computer graphics) in film, ranging from locked cameras to motion control camera rigs. Continuing with an overview of the automated tracking algorithm, the tracking workflow inside Blender is explained comprehensively. After tracking is covered, close attention is paid to masking and rotoscoping and how everything integrates with Cycles rendering!
15. The Video Sequence Editor
Good old Video Sequence Editor (VSE), finally getting some love in book form. After fundamental concepts of movie editings like frame rate and color grading are covered, this chapter continues with an overview of Blenders VSE and its UI and how to work with strips. Explanations of all the elements found in the FX Toolbox conclude this chapter.
16. Expanding Blender
Now this is the chapter that blew me away in terms of scope. I was expecting the usual: To be told what addons are, where to get most of them and how they are installed and activated. (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! I hope this unexpected detour to Python motivates a few readers to dig into writing their own addons!
Usually the appendix chapters of handbooks aren’t very appreciated, but this one is great! This chapter features a nice list of communities and tutorial sites for further education once you finish reading the book (although reading everything is going to take some time!). Additionally there’s already a part discussing Blenders future and specifically Blender 2.8!
Once again, I wish this book was around when I started learning 3D/Blender. Fortunately, due to the nature of being a really useful handbook it’s definitely a great asset for blender users of all skill levels!
I can only imagine what amounts of time, dedication and labour must have gone into creating this awesome book! Besides collecting and compiling all the vasts amounts of knowledge into easily readable form the beautifully handcrafted illustrations alone must have taken ages to create! A book about visual centered software should be nice to look at in my opinion and this one delivers on all accounts! I can appreciate high quality screenshots but all the additional very helpful illustrations really sell it for me!
Having read the german versions of the book before I’m pleased to see nearly all the stuff I was missing then (like baking) is now already covered in the book!
As a conclusion I can say that this book actually seems to deserve the title of “Blender bible” a few people gave it right after its release. If anybody, regardless of skill levels, seeks for a awesome resource to level up or a comprehensive documentation covering not only tool settings but also best practices, then look no further!
Link to official homepage: https://www.plasmasolutions.de/the-comprehensive-handbook/?be=3
Author: Thomas Beck
Price: 49,90€ (39,90€ until 25th of November!)
Release Date: 2018
Software Version: 2.7x
Fully recommended vast collection of Blender knowledge useful for users of all experience levels!
- E-Book Format
- Overall Quality
- Value For Money