In my ongoing efforts to “sharpen my axe” I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve my Blender skills. So I was curious to check out Packt’s new book “Blender 2.5 Materials and Textures Cookbook” by Colin Lister. This book fits the bill very well. While it is aimed at professional Graphics Designers with at least a rudimentary working knowledge of Blender 2.5, I have also found it to be very useful for me being a jack-of-all-trades game developer and spotty Blender 2.5 knowledge.
This review is written from the perspective of using Blender to create graphics for real-time applications such as games. The author has aimed his material mainly at Graphic Artists who create very high quality still images or animations using the built-in Blender rendering engine rather than an external game engine such as Unity, UDK or the Blender game engine. Nevertheless, it’s easy enough to just bake the textures created in Blender for use by external engines.
This book presents 80 recipes for creating a wide variety of textures and materials ranging mainly organized into natural and man-made materials. Blender has some extremely advanced features for procedural texture generation. This texture cookbook presents a multitude of techniques for creating, manipulating and combining textures to achieve some truly spectacular effects.
Colin Lister promises to teach everything from an increased understanding of the new Blender 2.5 user interface to creating an entire animating ocean and UV mapping a human face. He also teaches how to synthesize complex materials without complex mesh objects by using alpha transparency.
The basic approach of the book is to present each of its 80 recipes in a way that allows them to be followed independently of each other. While many of the recipes depend on previous recipes this isn’t a problem if you download the .blend files from the publisher’s website and use them as starting points. Each recipe starts by presenting a step by step procedure followed by a section that explains how it works.
All in all this book is really great, very informative and tremendously helpful. I learned things that I had no idea I should be learning, such as the node editor. Each node represents a texture or a procedure for combining textures. You can then graphically arrange how the nodes feed into each other to create the final effect. This sure beats using a text-based interface.
I really like the step-by-step learn by doing approach of this book. While it is tempting to just read through the recipes, I found that by working through the recipes myself I could better learn and appreciate the complexities of what’s going on.
If you get this book I would warn you though to save your work often and make sure that things are working for you as advertised. There are cases where things break. This can happen because of user entry errors, possible Blender strangeness (2.56 is a beta version after all, though it has yet to crash on me) or the occasional omission in the book itself. I’ve so far only found a couple of places where it’s the books fault, and in all cases I was able to figure out the problem. When in doubt you might need to load the .blend files from the publisher’s website rather than your own .blend files.
Another technical note is that you’ll definitely need to use Blender 2.56 beta which us freely downloadable at blender.org. Blender has a history of making pretty radical changes from one version to the next, especially when it comes to the user interface. This is crucial when trying to follow the recipes, so don’t expect to be able to work through this book with Blender 2.49 or earlier.
The writing style is very pleasant with a good mix of technical information and interesting side notes. The only criticism I would have is that sometimes there is a very long series of steps that you need to go through without really knowing why you’re doing them or how they work. The explanations are sometimes several pages later, so you just have to be patient, or maybe skip back and forth between the cookbook section and the explanation section. It helps to do frequent test renders which can visually show you the effect of each step of the recipe.
In summary this book has everything I expected and more. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who’s interested in learning about how to make interesting textures and materials in Blender 2.56. There aren’t a whole lot of other books out right now about Blender 2.56 in general, so I’d also recommend this for people who simply wish to get better with the user interface.
The free sample chapter is Chapter 4 and very useful by itself. It shows how to set up Blender for texture development and gives some good hints on how to use the new user interface, so it’s a good place to start. Here’s a link: Sample Chapter
You can get more information about the book and purchasing information at the publisher’s website by clicking here: Blender 2.5 Material and Textures Cookbook