Can you learn Blender from a book? Should you even try? Actually, yes. If it wasn’t for a book – Blender 3D Basics by Gordon C. Fisher, to be precise — I might never have crossed the line that divides Blender users and, well, everyone else.
It wasn’t my first attempt. I first tried Blender years ago. Apparently I’m in good company there, or so the statistics say. It turns out most of us have a couple of false starts. Put that down in most cases to the learning curve.
Yes, it starts out steep. As you try to haul yourself up by your fingernails, only to slide down again, you can be forgiven for thinking it’s an impossible feat. Happily, the terrain soon evens out once you get to grips with the basics.
From there, you can catch your breath and contemplate all the interesting paths that have opened up before you.
So where does the book come in?
Subtitled the complete novice’s guide to 3D modeling and animation, this is a book that was written with the beginner in mind. Fisher knows many of us have tried before and given up. He’s aware that the user interface that becomes so intuitive to the experienced looks like a confusing mess of panes and menus to the newbie.
With that in mind, he takes you through a tour of the essential navigation tools and HotKeys. It will seem like there are way too many keys to remember at first. Later, they will become second nature and you will love the speed with which you get things done via keyboard input, working in tandem with mouse movements. Trust me, you really will.
With these fundamentals under your belt, the book next gets you started on a simple but engaging project. Clear, precise instructions guide you every step of the way. No knowledge is assumed. If you need to press R once and Z twice, you’ll be told exactly that. If you can’t move on until you’ve pressed the escape key, rest assured you will be told to press Esc. And if you need to click on a button and it’s the 9th one from the left, you’ll be told that too.
While it might all sound a bit wordy, I love this clarity. It’s incredibly reassuring for a beginner.
In any case, the book is packed with images too. Any time anything is even the slightest bit confusing, it is illustrated for you.
Working through Blender 3D Basics feels like painting with numbers – only more interesting. You will follow short instructions, one line at a time. I’d like to say you can’t fail, but I did run into one problem myself. Either I missed a step or something was accidentally skipped. Not to worry. This is a good time to mention that if something goes wrong or you need to skip a section, ready-made models and files are included. Simply load up the one you need and continue from there.
Aren’t there videos that do this?
There sure are. Some of them are very good. So I know you are wondering… why bother with a book?
Videos are a powerful learning tool, but a book can have the edge for a confused beginner. No clicking around trying to follow along while scrabbling for pause and rewind. You stay in control with a book. It’s a calmer way to learn.
What do you learn?
This complete guide lives up to its promise. After a thorough introduction to the interface, you learn to model and animate a scene made up of angular, smooth and organic objects (a boating scene with rowboat, sailboat and lake). You do this a step at a time, working up from the easier to the more challenging aspects.
In doing so, you are introduced to animating, modelling to scale with a variety of tools, materials, lighting, and using the camera.
Rendering is done with Blender Render. You will hear a lot these days about the Blender Cycles render engine. It won’t have a huge impact on you at the novice stage, so stick with Blender Render for this book.
You learn a lot even when you start small
When you decided to give Blender a go, there’s a good chance you were tempted by all those amazing animations you were going to make. Or the characters you’d create. Your very own Sintel or Big Buck Bunny. Right?
You won’t get there with this book (or any book for novice users). Your finished animation will look simple, but you’ll know how much work went into it. You created it, after all.
Even better, you’ll be comfortable with the Blender interface – so much so that it’s the other software applications that will seem strange and out of step!
It’s a solid foundation on which to build. From there, you can explore the elements that appeal to you, improving your skills in more specific areas.
Remember, Blender does things differently
If you come to Blender from more user-friendly software (DAZ Studio, Poser, Hexagon, Wings3D, etc.), be aware that you’ll need time to adapt to Blender’s differences. For instance, in this world the Z axis is the one that goes from bottom of the screen to the top. Right-click is used to select.
These and many other little quirks of Blender make that first encounter frustrating. The Blender 3D Basics book will help you get used to them.
My recommendation: Persevere
This book might also need perseverance. The introductory chapter offers a look at the evolution of animation. You are encouraged you to explore this, spending some time on it. The author will also give a rundown of what you can do with the 3D skills you’ll be acquiring. The point of all this is to get you excited and ready to leap into the hard work ahead. If instead you are impatient to just get going, why not leave this chapter for later?
The same goes for the author’s pop quizzes and diversions into things such as composition and storyboarding. Of course, these are useful things for a professional animator to know. But you might just want to learn to use the software right now. I know that just doing a project and learning skills along the way was what I cared about.
By the way, do you tend to judge books by their covers? While the cover of this one is appropriate (and kind of nice that it’s not some photo-realistic scene no beginner could attempt), it’s not wildly exciting. Again, don’t be put off by that. The excitement comes from building on your skills little by little, as you work through the book, until you surprise yourself with how much you suddenly know.
If you need a clear book that takes you from eager (or nervous) newbie to someone who knows their way around, this is the Blender book for you.
The book will keep you right on track, but you will need to be patient with yourself while you are learning.
My experience? Well, if it hadn’t been for this book and some quiet time over Christmas, I don’t know if I’d have progressed with Blender. It took me by the hand and guided me through the bewildering landscape of the Blender UI. It introduced me to all the key elements of the software. Once I was comfortable with that, I was able to work through videos and online tutorials without losing my way.
I’ve since studied making models in Blender via other resources, as that’s currently my main interest. Different teachers can be valuable in different ways. However, I plan to go back to Blender 3D Basics by Gordon C. Fisher to finish my boating scene. While I’m at it, I’ll also go over the basics of animation again, so that when I’m ready to take that futher I’ll have a solid foundation to build on.