Blender 2.5 Materials and Textures Cookbook Review
Blender 3d article
First off, I will admit, when I saw 'cookbook' I completely expected to get a book with straight up steps telling you exactly how to do an assortment of different materials and textures on a sphere and that be that. I had used Colin's tutorials at his website previously and knew there would be really good results, but I figured I'd probably have to figure out what each step specifically does on my own. However, I was very pleased to discover I was wrong. You see, each chapter in the book is divided into sections, called recipes, and each recipe has a quick intro after which it goes right into the steps for making the material. There is no theory - which I love. You jump right into real usable material creation almost right away. I also really liked that at the end of each section there is a review of sorts, with explanations of key steps from the section and what certain settings that were used do. On top of how well the book it set up, it isn't just basic static materials on a mesh. There are also recipes for animated textures, UV mapping, and I was especially surprised to see a chapter on generating smoke and fire. Seeing materials and textures being used in such a wide array of applications all in one book was pleasantly surprising (You can see the full contents here).
Another great thing about this book is all of the extras that come along with it. Throughout the book you are reminded (and a few times required) to use downloaded files from the PacktPub website. While it is a pretty big zip file, it was incredibly helpful in itself. The blend files match right up with when you are prompted to save in the book so that if you mess up (or try to go too fast, like me) you can open of the corresponding blend file and compare your blend to it. The blend files also open up the possibility of skipping steps that you feel you already know. In many chapters, especially as you get to the second half of the book, you will use provided blend files to skip the modeling portion of the exercise so you can focus on the materials and textures. Another download that goes along with the book are the color versions of the images in the book. Yes, the images throughout the book are black and white, which I wasn't sure about at first. I mean, it is a materials and textures book after all. However, I think I only used the colored images once because, frankly, they don't need to be colored. At worst, I just had to compare my renders to renders in the downloaded blend files if I wasn't sure I did it right and even if I never got my renders right, I still got some pretty sweet results.
One more thing I really liked was the emphasis on using procedural textures. I find that almost all inexperienced materials users, including myself, would rely on image textures found on the web far too much which, as this book shows, is in many cases inferior to well made and well thought out procedural textures. Until the second half of the book or so do you start working quite a bit with image textures and not only that but as you get to the end of the book you progress into making your own image textures. Another unexpected bonus.
It's probably obvious by now that I am really happy with the book, but there was one potential problem I noticed. I think it is really just a matter of how quickly Blender changes, but was when going through the Smoke chapter there were directions for using the Smoke High Resolution Cache, which I remember seeing before but doesn't appear to exist anymore (or maybe I can't find it?). So, if you wait to get this book, or any Blender book really, be prepared for some changes and doing some translating, so to speak. I ended up just ignoring the High Res Cache and things seemed to work out just fine. That was the only time this sort of thing happened but all in all, I don't think other changes could possibly change enough to be a major problem. Similar to the fact that you can still use 2.49 books with 2.5 if you know where to find things since what you are learning are concepts that will work no matter what version you use.
As you can probably tell, I highly recommend this book, especially if you have been struggling with creating good realistic materials and textures. I have really struggled with materials and textures and I always felt like I ruined my models, but after going through this book I feel so much more confident about it and I can't wait to use what I have learned. All of the results are fantastic and it is obvious that a lot of thought has been put into each project throughout the book. If you can get past the black and white images and any potential mismatches due to a rapidly changing Blender everything will run smoothly and you'll have dozens of new tricks and techniques that work for any version of Blender. Plus, just being as giddy as a school girl after you make some truly awesome fire makes it all worth it.