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Author: Roland Hess
Format: Paperback, 376 pages
Publisher: No Starch Press; CD Edition (September 27, 2007)
Review by James Pyles
November 22, 2007
The chapter on installing Blender was somewhat descriptive. It told me where the archive files were stored on the CD, but no actual installation instructions. I looked in vain for further hints and tips but none were to be found. As an old Debian hand now running Ubuntu on the desktop, I opened a terminal and a quicklater, I found that I could get the software directly installed from the apt system (yafray was also recommended and I installed it as well). No muss, no fuss. (Note to author: please include this fact in the 2nd edition. Thanks). The process for installing on Windows and MAC is different but you Windows and MAC users will have to discover it from the book since I'm only evaluating the text from a Linux point of view.Code:sudo apt-cache search blender
A couple of months ago, I reviewed Michael Hammel's The Artist's Guide to GIMP Effects (also No Starch Press) and among other highlights, the book provided the vast majority of graphics in full and vivid color. This is so important in a book that is teaching the reader how to create graphic effects. Unfortunately, No Starch didn't take its own hint (though No Starch may not have had the same control over this book as you'll see in the final paragraph of this review) and provide the same visual references in the Roland Hess book (I doubt that Hess had any control over this vital detail, so I can't hang this one around his neck). No matter how well the book is written, if the reader can't get at least an adequate idea of what effects are supposed to look like, then an important part of the lesson is missing.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of 3D rendering, Chapter 1 does present a nice overview of the basics involved with plenty of visuals (though in murky b&w). Still, it's enough to give you the basic idea and to make you want to try your own hand at creating a shape or two. That's where Chapter 2 comes in: The Blender Interface.
Assuming you got the installation from the CD to go or you downloaded and installed from blender.org (or you used an installer like apt-get), you can open Blender and start learning how to use the interface in this chapter. Good thing too, because the Blender interface isn't one of the most intuitive UIs I've ever worked with. On my Ubuntu box, I clicked Applications, Graphics, and the Blender 3D modeler and presto-chango, just like that, Blender launched.
That was the easy part. The next part wasn't easy at all. I tried matching the text instructions to both the graphics in the book and the interface. Unfortunately, black text on a dark gray background such as in the screen capture on the first page of Chapter 2 didn't really help. I figured it out but it took a few moments extra that it shouldn't have. Just to hedge my bets, I opened up the tutorials on the Blender site to see if that took any of the difficulty away from the experience.
That helped some, but even the website stated that the interface is pretty intimidating. The graphics on the site were at least in color, but only some of them could be enlarged so you could see details. I started the process of working my way through the book and working my way through Blender and the Blender site. At certain points, it was easy to forget exactly what I was supposed to be reviewing and I had to remind myself it was the book. That's not a good thing and it means that I'm struggling with all of the various elements more or less equally.
The good of the book is that if you can overcome the presentation flaws, it really does contain a great deal of useful content in assisting the reader in using a very powerful and absolutely free 3D rendering application. There are a few learning curves such as overcoming the Blender interface and getting your mind around working with 3D images and animations but that's largely between you and Blender.
The challenges the book presents beyond the too small, too murky, and too colorless images are the way instructions are presented. I'm the first to admit that this is as much a flaw in me as in the book. After all, different people learn in different ways and I'm a real diode when I learn: current flows only in one direction. I'm super-duper linear. I like instructions in steps and there isn't "step 1" in this book. The instructions are presented in narrative form.
This is probably some sort of miswiring in my brain pan, but it's easier for me to perceive and follow instructions if they're broken down into 1.2.3... or A.B.C... rather than paragraph by paragraph. Something about the font size and style in the book made it harder for me to read as well and I thought maybe I was just tired (after all, as I write this, Thanksgiving dinner is still digesting in my gut) but I opened up the aforementioned GIMP book and the graphics and text just jumped out at me from the page. All that and instructions were written in steps (Step 1. Do this, Step 2. Do that, Step 3. Do the other thing...). Sorry, but that's how I'm built to learn.
I like No Starch Press. I like what Blender can do, and I suspect that if I ever met him, I'd like Roland Hess. With all that said, I really hate to ding what I think could have been a truly great book on how to use Blender but no matter how brilliantly a book has been written, if in its printed format, it's hard to read, hard to follow, and the graphics are hard to see, the average reader will stop and give up and turn to some other source of information such as the website tutorials or another book, rather than stick it out with the one in hand.
I'm going to continue to make efforts to use Blender and to use the Roland Hess book (and actually, Hess is the Editor and Lead Author, there are almost ten other people who contributed to the content) to help me use Blender, but please No Starch Press (Bill Pollock, are you out there?) and please Tom Roosendal and the Blender Foundation (the actual publishers in the Netherlands), make it easier for me to read the next time? You really are selling your product, your authors, your book, and yourselves short. Thanks, gang. Cheers.
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