This is my series of posts on my experience of the Citizen membership of CG Cookie, which I joined mainly for the Blender tutorials. You can view all of my tutorial reviews here. I’m sharing these for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to let others know what kinds of things you’ll be able to learn if you join. And also so that I have a record for myself of my Blender progress, because it’s easy once you’ve learnt something to assume that you always knew it.
For my third tutorial, I chose the Introduction to Hard Surface Modeling Plane Tutorial which is by Jonathan Williamson. I believe Jonathan is the founder-owner of CG Cookie, and has earned himself a well-respected name, so I knew I was in safe hands with this one.
However, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, for some reason I thought this would be an easy tutorial. ‘Easy’ being relative as I know all the ‘Beginner’ section tutorials must seem easy to the experts who make them. It was the toon style of the plane that probably had me thinking this would be a quick course to work through. No way! It took me hour after hour, over several days.
It almost didn’t happen. I found it tough-going at first and wanted to give up. Once I got past that and made some progress, I suddenly found myself stuck on something. I just couldn’t see a way through it. By then, I did really want to complete this tutorial, so that was frustrating. But I gave it a fresh go the next day and, as you see, I made it all the way to then end after all.
What I Learned in the Toon Plane Tutorial
Jonathan gives what seemed to me to be a very thorough look at hard surface modelling. If you tackle this tutorial, you can be sure you’ll be learning to do things the right way, no messy shortcuts or trying to hide bad topology. It’s a lot for a novice to take on, but if you do I think it’s well worth it for the hours you get to spend at the shoulder of this Blender expert, as he shares each aspect of his workflow with you.
Particular things that stood out for me that were either new or reinforced by this video series were:
- Working over background images from multiple aspects
- Using the shrinkwrap modifier to allow a more complex shape to conform to a simpler one
- Planning a model and blocking it out with simple shapes
- Using the bevel tool and when to use crease instead
- Using an empty with the array modifier
- Installing and using add-ons
- Using the shear tool
- Using the knife tool
- Duplicating objects in different ways (e.g. the gauges, the rivets)
- Creating a soft look on a seat
- Lots and lots of work on creating and maintaining good topology!
How Long it Takes and Where You End Up
There are 14 videos in all, averaging around 10 to 20 minutes long, but you’ll need much longer to pause and follow along if you are a novice.
By the end of the series, you’ll have yourself a nice little toon plane model. No materials are added and no UV-unwrapping or texturing done, since that’s not the focus of this tutorial.
I had a go at adding my own surface materials for Blender’s Cycles render engine. More experienced people have uploaded images where they have taken this further, some even feature custom uv-mapped textures. Don’t feel you have to do this. The plane is nice but the real beauty of this series is all that you will learn, above all those things that are done repeatedly so that by the end they start to feel like second nature.
The only pitfall of this and the other tutorials on the site is that there doesn’t seem to be any way to get help if you do hit a roadblock. Several questions in the comments sections for these videos never received an answer, others waited a month or more for another user to take pity on them. In startling contrast, one person received a response within 60 seconds (no lie) from Jonathan himself so I can only assume they were a personal friend. The rest of us are pretty much on our own if at any point we aren’t clear on something.
It would be a shame to be put off by that though. After all, this is a fantastic opportunity to learn to do something the way an expert user does it, with every single step explained. If at first you don’t succeed, well like me you might be trying to do the right thing on the wrong part of the plane. Or, also like me, you might have accidentally turned on (or off) something that is interfering with your actions, such as snapping. In most cases, watching a second time could be all it takes to get you back on track.