"Blender 2.5 Character Animation Cookbook" is a new book by Packt Publishing written by Virgilio Vasconcelos, a 3D animator who uses Bender at his work and is also teacher of 2D and 3D animation at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil). He has won several awards in international events related to Blender.
You can watch some of the works of Mr. Vasconcelos at his site: http://www.virgiliovasconcelos.com
The scope of this book is to show how an animated character can be produced using Blender. Piece by piece, a humanoid figure is animated, until all the body is provided with bones, limits and the capability to move and be animated (rigged). Then, the author tells us how to combine all this rigging into a life-like movement or animation.
Everything from limbs movement to face expressions is covered, using neat recipes that explain every single step and part of the body.
The book is for 3D modelers that use Blender. Blender is the open source solution for 3D modeling, animation and rendering. During many years of development, it is reaching a perfection and an abundance of features that is much higher than many commercial solutions. And since the 2.5 version, which this book covers, also an ease of use and an intuitive interface that makes it easier to learn, using good books like this and others by Packt Publishing that I have reviewed before.
On Chapter 1, you get yourself introduced to the basic concepts of rigging and animation. It's an overview of the tasks of an animatior, and the starting point to make a good knowledge base so when you start animating you don't get confused or stuck in rutinary tasks.
Everyone that is on 3D knows how strange and confusing it can be at the beginning. Sometimes we find ourselves fighting against a legion of wrong techniques, and having to throw all the work to the recycle bin and start again from scratch. Others, the visual interface and even the concepts behind the interface of the programs we use can be an obstacle. It is better to read books like this, as in this chapter, that don't suppose you have a hint on all this, and avoid the hundreds of stupid mistakes of a beginner before they happen.
The second chapter is about the rig of the torso of our humanoid. The torso is considered to go from the pelvis to the neck. It is logical to begin the rig from the torso (with the origin in the hip, usually) to the rest of the body. The reason is because it is the center of gravity, and in most creatures, most of the limbs have their origin connected to the torso. The bone system grows this way like a plant that has its seed in the center of the figure and grows in all direction.
Also, it needs to be carefully done and have a balance between flexibility and realism. This chapter tells how to take these first crucial steps in making a solid rig.
Chapter 3 is all about the eyes. The eyes is what give real expressiveness to a face. Just with the rig of a torso and the eyes you get 90% of the expressiveness of a figure. In additiion, any photographer knows that the eyes in the face is what everyone looks most of the time. The attention of the public is driven to the eyes of the model. Later, they look to other regions.
Surely you don't want a "Poker Face", so in the next chapter, called this way, you get to know how to recreate full facial expressions, creating up to 12 facial expressions that show the most usual feelings and states of mind of a human face.
On Chapter 5, we transform our character so it becomes fully animated with the addition of the limbs controllers. Our character gets legs, arms and fingers now, fully prepared to what will happen in the next chapters, fully ready to become alive.
The sixth chapter is an introduction to animation in layers, a technique that allows to separate different parts of the animation so you can reuse and modify easier the different parts.
Chapter 7, "Easy to Say, Hard to Do" is a chapter that tells things like how to make poses natural and realist in an animation, by making tricks like avoiding unnatural perfect symmetry, making subtle movements between the main ones, simulating inertia, and so on. This way, the animation goes beyond a robotic sequence and becomes a life-like movie.
On the eight chapter you can apply all that you learned in the previous sections to simulate real life situations like a tennis match or a run through a forest. It's a series of examples that show all the animation of a body applied to different scenarios.
In "Spicing It Up" you will learn other animation techniques that deserve their own chapter. These are basically the addition of actions to a main animation that give more interest and enrich them, or animating things like hair. But the most interesting for me is the use of AniSculpt, the technique for making a mesh deform in an animation, as real muscles and soft bodies deform when they are in movement. This really takes your animations to a higher new level of realism.
The last chapter is a set of more refinements. The most remarkable one is the last section, that teaches how to make talking animations.
After all this, you will find an Appendix, with some practical tips about storytelling, naming conventions and the creation of a smooth transition along a story that you want to tell. It also introduces you to some Blender tools like the Grease Pencil, that allows to paint directly in 3D. This is very useful both for 3D modeling, concepting and animation.
With all this we have that Virgilio Vasconcelos has written a very practical book about animation that explores most of the problems and solutions through a series of chapters that explain many useful techniques to master this art in a very short time.
"Blender 2.5 Character Animation Cookbook" is definitively a recommended book for everyone that wants to become an animator using the most powerful open source 3D suite: Blender 3D.
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