Book Review: Foundation Blender Compositing by Roger Wickes

Book Review: Foundation Blender Compositing by Roger Wickes


Hardly anyone realizes that Blender even is a video compositing and non-linear editing tool (in addition to its modeling, rendering, and animation capabilities). There are few, if any, books available on how to use it for that purpose, so Roger Wickes' book is much needed. It contains an enormous amount of very useful information.

Foundation Blender CompositingFoundation Blender Compositing

It's important for me to say that, because while the book contains lots of useful, well-explained information, it also contains a lot of dross which has to be tolerated or ignored. So this review may come off as a bit of a nit-picking session. In my opinion, the author spent too little time organizing and trimming the fat from his own prose, and the editors were basically asleep at the switch.

However, this doesn't change the fact that it's an important book, and if you have any interest in producing videos, you'll find it very useful. Indeed, I read it pretty much cover-to-cover in a few days, as I am actively evaluating different free software video editing tools for my own project.

The contents

This book starts out establishing the credentials of Blender and the value proposition it presents to video producers. As I've already mentioned, it's not widely known that Blender even has these feature, since they've been overshadowed by its other capabilities, so this is probably a necessary place to start.

After that the book presents Blender's 3D environment and its tools for modelling and rendering in 3D. I found this a little dismaying, since I already have good sources on this part, although this book does place an emphasis on the particular needs of compositors for these tools, and there are some great tricks here.

However, I think it was a mistake to start with these parts of the program -- it left me for awhile with the impression that "compositing" in Blender was going to turn out to be just a case of using (or abusing) 3D modeling and rendering tools to do compositing (in the same way that it is technically possible to do image processing with a text editor). This would work, but would clearly be overkill and extremely tedious on a long project.

Fortunately, though, this is not the case. Around chapter 10, the book gets down to the real meat of the subject with Blender's node-base editing interface. Later chapters introduce more sophisticated editing nodes, and then, in chapter 13, the video sequence editor is introduced.

So for anyone familiar with the basics in Blender, I recommend that you skip from chapter 4 to chapter 10 and then come back to read chapters 5 through 9, as these contain a number of techniques which are useful for advanced compositing tricks.

Relevance to free software

The book is about the free-software package Blender, so it is obviously relevant to free software. Several other free-software packages are mentioned along the way, and the author obviously appreciates the benefits of using free software.

However, I did find several passages rather grating. At one point, the author casually dismisses free culture values with a straw-man argument that he doesn't even bother to support. At another he presents a very questionable legal interpretation which essentially expresses what some highly-proprietary corporations want you to think about what they have the right to control, but is probably very far from established legal precedent. I didn't feel that these were intentional attacks, mind you, but they did seem casually hostile to free culture, which I found ironic at best in a book which is about a free culture product which is frequently used to create other free culture products.

Pros

This is an important new book. Blender's compositing and video editing features are fairly new, and very under-documented.

This book explains in sufficient detail everything you need to know to get started with compositing and editing video in Blender. It also explains how to use the more familiar modelling and rendering features of Blender with an emphasis on the needs of compositors.

The book is full-color, which is very useful because of the large amount of color-coding in Blender's graphical interface.

Thank goodness the included disk is actually relevant to the subject, and not just another GNU/Linux distribution! It contains many of the examples used in the book and is referred to at several points in the text.

Cons

Overall, the editing is poor and the writing style is meandering.

Wickes strays off topic too often -- into legal theory, proprietary industry attitudes, nearly meaningless business buzzwords, and "bean counter" talk that is not likely to be hugely interesting to most readers, and which do not stand up to the same standards of quality as the technical parts of the book in any case.

Just as distracting, though, are the numerous copy errors that should have been caught by a proofreading editor. I had the distinct impression that "editing" had consisted of running an automated spell-checker on the manuscript, since there were numerous errors of the kind that such machines don't catch (wrong word, omitted word, extra word, repeated text, etc).

Additionally, there were conceptual errors in (for example) perspective theory which could've been corrected with a little research, and misuse of film industry jargon (such as using "crew" where "cast" was intended). These were off-putting and occasionally confusing.

I doubt many will find this important, but the book uses a lazy visual design style with chapter images which are all identical to the front cover. This misses the whole psychological point of putting images on chapter headings, which is to encourage eidetic mnemonics in visually-oriented readers -- the image becomes a memory key for accessing the information in the chapter. Instead we have images which serve no more purpose than white space used to relieve the text.

In short...
Title Foundation Blender Compositing
Author Roger Wickes
Publisher Friends of ED
ISBN 978-1-4302-1976-7
Year 2009
Pages 467
CD included Yes
FS Oriented 8/10
Overall score 7/10
Category: 

Author information

Terry Hancock's picture

Biography

Terry Hancock is co-owner and technical officer of Anansi Spaceworks. Currently he is working on a free-culture animated series project about space development, called Lunatics as well helping out with the Morevna Project.