The Blender Book
Author: Carsten Wartmann
Publisher: No Starch Press
Price: $39.95 US
Reviewer: Clifford Anderson
In the world of digital imaging, there are two classes: 2-D and 3-D. The Blender Book by Carsten Wartmann deals with the latter. Blender is a free, Linux-based 3-D program, that has gained a fairly rich following with Linux users. Wartmann's book is currently unique in that it is the only book to date dealing with the topic of teaching Blender to the rest of us. Therefore, it would be unfair to class his book as “best of breed” alongside other books available on the same topic, nevertheless it warrants a good review by virtue of its strength of content.
That said, the book itself sets a path to take the reader on a topical, hands-on journey through the various aspects of Blender's features. “Features” means two things here: those that are specific to Blender as a program, and those that are specific to 3-D modeling. This is to give fair warning to the potential reader. Wartmann is not shy about displaying his technical literacy regarding the details of the 3-D world (i.e., he doesn't water down the language to make the book more palatable to the casual reader). What he has set forth in writing is a willingness to give us a straight, no-nonsense approach for understanding 3-D in general, and then to go about the business of using Blender to render our work.
With regard to the book itself, one of the more virtuous aspects is its self-containment. The book comes with a CD-ROM that has the latest version of Blender (version 1.8 upon publication), a copy of Python (for scripting) and a substantial number of files that the reader may bring into Blender and view in all their detail. What is more, Wartmann has included all the necessary graphics to compose the lessons for each chapter and has rendered all the motion 3-D lessons as *.avi movies for the reader to capture the essence of each lesson before getting started. Very nice, indeed.
The content of the book does not assume that the reader has a knowledge of 3-D, so the author begins with explaining the world of 3-D rendering by covering the basics that will be necessary for doing the tutorials throughout the remainder of the book. What I found most intriguing is Wartmann's ability to describe the huge arena of 3-D and reduce it in manageable chunks so that readers get sufficient detail, all the while not finding themselves bogged down with information overkill. Wartmann, therefore, is consistent with his intent for writing his material: to give the reader an adequate understanding of both 3-D rendering and the use of Blender in “a fast, practical, and compact introduction to the world of 3-D graphics and animation...” (page 2)
Those who do have a knowledge of 3-D rendering will appreciate the book for its hands-on approach to understanding the interface and functionality of Blender as a program. Blender is not Maya or 3-D Studio Max. It is a coming-of-age program that is continuing to be developed under the company, Not a Number. That said, Blender most assuredly has its own way of creating 3-D graphics, in that its interface is quite different from that which other, more commercially prolific, 3-D programs offer as standard. Wartmann shines as an author because he keeps the knowledgeable student interacting with Blender's unique interface by virtue of keeping his detailed analysis of 3-D rendering specific to Blender, as well as keeping us abreast of where we are in the program with plenty of screenshots in order not to lose sight of the program's interface while following his prescriptions.
Without exhausting the book's content here, it can be said that Wartmann does a good job at covering the basics for 3-D modeling and rendering. From understanding simple shapes (bezier curves, NURBS, text and metaballs) to creating realistic animations via Inverse Kinematics (IK) and radiosity, the author breaks these concepts down into chapters and subsections, conquering each topic with a hands-on tutorial. Once we get past the introduction to 3-D and Blender's interface and terminology, our task for interacting with the book is create, create, create.
For example, Chapter Five starts with creating primitives (simple shapes: spheres, cylinders, etc.), moves us forward by understanding the math behind it and how to implement the math to fine-tune a primitive via the controls of Blender's interface, then adds the issues of rotating, smoothing, extruding and warping a given primitive. Once those basics are covered, it's on to creating a mountain terrain, or landscape. Add to this a texture fill and a little tweaking with curve (bezier) editing, and we have a finished project before us. What is most effective about Wartmann's approach is, while doing the tutorial, he is constantly revisiting and/or adding 3-D concepts to our learning curve while introducing the tools at hand. This helps the reader to stay in the world of 3-D modeling and all its aspects without sacrificing the forward movement of creating the content itself.
Here's a specific example of what the reader can expect from Wartmann's book. NURBS are as common in 3-D rendering as is a line in vector illustration. But the author makes no assumptions. Therefore, when introducing the use of NURBS, he shows us his cards straight up: “NURBS (Non Uniform Rational B-Spline) curves are three-dimensional curves represented by a class of equations defined by nonuniform parametric ratios of B-Spline polynomials. (That's probably more than you wanted to know, but there you have it.)” (page 83). Right. From there, he moves on to how this is translated via Blender's interface and then moves us into creating a simple NURB curve. The amount of material to cover all this? Two pages. The point to be made here is, although Wartmann is terse in some of his explanations, it is not at the sacrifice of the reader's need to understand the context by which he is creating 3-D images/animation from within Blender. The author covers all his bases within a reasonably short amount of space.
The last sentence above is one of the very few issues I have with the book itself. It's too small! 3-D is a healthy topic all by itself and using Blender is no small feat. At first blush, opening the program is to become a little overwhelmed by its sheer girth of functionality. Although Wartmann concedes that his book does not exhaust every aspect of Blender's power, I certainly would have liked him to give it a try! Nevertheless, what he does do is give the reader a sufficient amount of detail to have us up and running with the basic concepts of 3-D rendering from within Blender in both its complexity and flexibility.
Those who are new to 3-D and want an excellent (and free!) program by which to indulge their curiosity will appreciate having this book to get them quickly up to speed with Blender. Others, who are already familiar with the concepts of 3-D imaging, will not be disappointed by the approach of Wartmann's book because its main concern is to familiarize the reader with using the unique angle with which Blender creates 3-D images/animation.
Clifford Anderson is a freelance writer and graphic designer. Currently residing in Portland, Oregon, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.