Book Review: Blender Cycles: Lighting and Rendering Cookbook

coverI was recently contacted by Packt Publishing and asked to review Blender Cycles: Lighting and Rendering Cookbook by Bernardo Iraci.

So first up, what is this book about. From the title you would assume that it focuses on lighting and rendering, and while those topics are discussed in detail, the primary focus is actually on creation of materials that render well in specific lighting conditions. Which on further thought, actually makes sense. Materials, lighting and rendering need to all work together for a polished look.

Now that we know what main topics are being discussed, here is a quick look at the table of contents so you can see what type of lighting situations are covered.

Chapter 1: Key Holder and Wallet Studio Shot
Chapter 2: Creating Different Glass Materials in Cycles
Chapter 3: Creating an Interior Scene
Chapter 4: Creating an Exterior Scene
Chapter 5: Creating a Cartoonish Scene
Chapter 6: Creating a Toy Movie Scene
Chapter 7: Car Rendering in Cycles
Chapter 8: Creating a Car Animation
Chapter 9: Creating an Iceberg Scene
Chapter 10: Creating Food Materials in Cycles

Purchase of this book of course comes with downloadable project files. There are two blend files for each chapter, one project blend ready for you to use as you follow along and a finished result blend that has all the materials and lights set up. The project blend contains all the models needed to complete each “recipe”. All the models are saved with any needed UV maps, Vertex Groups, etc. already set up. Leaving you to focus on the topic at hand.

The files are valuable resources both for the models and all the materials and lights. There is also a texture folder filled with all the needed texture images for each project as well as an “Additional Materials” blend that contains materials not covered in the recipes for you to use and study.

The layout of the book is Packts’ familiar “cookbook” format. Each chapter has a short introduction, the “recipes” which give a step by step breakdown and then the “How it’s Done” sections where further explanation is given.

So now we get to the part you all really want to know. How good is it?

Well, like most things in life, there are some good things and some not so good things about this book. Let’s tackle the not so good first and get it over with.

The Not So Good

Over the years I have read a great many computer/software books. When it comes to the editing of these books I am fairly tolerant of editing mistakes, because I know how easy it is to miss the occasional mistake here and there. Grammar, minor spelling and editing errors don’t get me wound up and more often than not, when reviewing these books I only mention such errors briefly if at all.

That being said, Blender Cycles: Lighting and Rendering Cookbook suffers from not just a few editing errors, but enough errors that it does make the book considerably more difficult to follow. There are awkward passages that don’t make sense on first reading (or even several readings), spelling mistakes, missing steps in the recipes, with the biggest problem being the mismatched file names for models/objects and image textures throughout the entire book.

Using Cycles is not difficult, but it can get complicated rather quickly with nodes connecting in everywhere, so having to stop and figure out what files, objects or textures are supposed to be used at any given point as well as the missing step here and there, makes a complicated subject just that much more difficult.

The Good

After reading the “not so good”, you are probably wondering what was good about this book, and there was still quite a bit of good to be found.

Bernardo is actually quite knowledgeable when it comes to how to set up materials, lighting and rendering in cycles. Something that is obvious from the finished materials themselves as well as in the “How it is Done” sections after each set of recipes. Between the individual materials, lighting set ups and rendering settings, there is an amazing amount of information to absorb.

The materials and lighting setups are not only useful as they are, but also as a jumping off point for your own experiments and exploration. I learned a great deal about what was possible in Cycles as well as how it all worked together. In fact there were a few recipes I have noted for future projects of mine that will be very useful.

One of the things I did enjoy most about the book was the variety of materials that were covered. These are not your simple “make it red and shiny” materials, these are useful and adaptable with built in controls for fine tuning the material to your needs.

So there it is, the good and the not so good. With one remaining question to be answered. Would I pick this book again knowing what I now know about it?

The answer is quite likely, and here is why.

1. I actually like a challenge, and while this book was difficult (okay some sections were more than difficult) and I wouldn’t recommend it to beginners, it was not impossible and I think I may have ultimately understood more because I did have to work at it. Yes I know, I am seriously weird that way. :P

2. The book covers a lot of really nice materials with good explanations of why things work. I like knowing why. :)

One final thought

This book contain a lot of information, but be prepared, you are going to have to work for it.

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