After reading my last cookbook from Packt, I really looked forward to going through this one, titled Blender 2.5 Character Animation Cookbook and written by Virgilio Vasconcelos. I really like the idea of relatively short sections that can be done fairly quickly. The format allows you to walk away without having to worry about being halfway through a project when you need to take a break. You can do a couple sections, walk away, let it sink in a bit, and come back with a new mini-project to go through. No need to flip back a couple pages to remind yourself what you were doing.
While each chapter consists of many individual sections like any cookbook, if you are new to character animation, you can’t really expect to jump to whatever section you want. You may want to go straight to the walk cycle, but there is a progression to the book. You start out with the really basic stuff at first (Such as adding a bone) and as you get deeper into the book the more you are doing on your own and the more detailed the projects get (like lip syncing and secondary actions). There is a lot less hand holding at the end of the book then at the beginning. I know some people out there who want hand holding all the way through, but I personally think less hand holding is better. It forces you to remember how to do many of the things you were supposed to learn in previous chapters, rather than just repeating each and every little tiny step. I’ve noticed that I learn the most when the hand holding stops and I have to remember the steps on my own. However, if you can’t remember the first time, generally you’ll be given a reminder of where in the book to go in order to refresh your memory or to another chapter that goes through a similar topic.
Another thing to note is this book relies heavily on the source files. I personally like starting from scratch and going all the way through, but considering the way a cookbook is formatted I completely understand why it is necessary. At the beginning of every single section you are told to open a new blend that is set up for you, typically with the use of Otto. (Otto is the character you get to play with throughout the book.) Sometimes these files will match right up with the end of the previous section but I don’t think there was ever anything in a file that went beyond what you had already learned in previous sections. Whether that was consciously intentional or not, it’s really nice because if you end up messing something up as you should have a good idea on how to fix it.
Beyond the technical stuff, there is a lot of information packed in this book and looking back I think it is amazing how much is crammed into it. Obviously, you’ll get the basics of rigging and posing for each part of the body at a time, while thinking about all the types of movement the rig should be able to have. There’s also the importance of all of workflow habits that beginners wouldn’t think about their first time through, such as the importance of how you name the bones and how to make the rig easier to use and so on. After learning how to rig everything, you move on to actually using the rig and other tactics to animate Otto. Even after you finish learning how to animate with the rig, the book goes even further and talks about adding more realism with ways to keep the mesh clean and adding little secondary movements when you initially might think someone is motionless. All in all, the book covers a very broad range of topics within character animation and I think Virgilio does it very well. The explanations are short, sweet, and to the point and you are given clear reasons why you follow the conventions used throughout the book.
While I did learn a lot and will definitely go back to the book when I start my own characters, there was one thing I wish it had. You see, the whole entire book is focused on animating a human. Yes, humans are probably the most common character, but I had hoped for a section about robotic characters or non-human characters and was slightly disappointed that it didn’t. Maybe just one section with a few pointers would be nice, stating the main differences between human and non-human characters if any. I think everything taught in the book could be used to create other types of characters on your own, but maybe a little reassurance and things I should pay attention to when doing so would be nice.
Overall, I think the book is great and I definitely recommend it. I went from nervous and unsure about tackling my own character to confident enough to see myself creating one in the near future (with the help of the book of course!). I do want to warn you, though, that this book will be difficult if you are brand new to Blender. There are reminders for the keyboard commands, but I really think you need to understand the basics on how Blender works, how to use it, and where things are. While it’s not necessary, I think it would also help if you have a vague idea of armatures, bones, and what they do. Beyond that, people new to character animation and even those who want to take an extra step toward professional character animation would benefit the most. There’s so much information, there is bound to be something new and useful for you.