Posted on: November 24, 2020
As part of our new behind-the-scenes series of blog posts which share insights into our authors’ writing processes, in this post we’re delighted to share an interview with John M. Blain, author of The Complete Guide to Blender Graphics, which is now in its sixth edition.
Read on to find out how this instruction manual on how to operate the Computer Modeling and Animation program Blender came about. John also shares some top tips on the publishing process and some free software he used to make the process easier.
What inspired you to write The Complete Guide to Blender Graphics?
I never intended to write a book let alone to have it published yet here I am with the sixth edition of The Complete Guide to Blender Graphics pending release. This book is an instruction manual describing how to operate the Computer Modeling and Animation program, Blender.
Free Open Source programs abound and provide fantastic, fascinating avenues for all sorts of applications. One application in particular named Blender caught my attention. It was and is a Computer Modeling and Animation program. Blender had all the bells, buttons and whistles anyone could wish for and demanded that each and every one be explored and their function understood. I was hooked.
When I discovered Blender the program had recently undergone a major upgrade. Blender continues to evolve with new versions being released as improvements are made and new features are added. To learn how to use Blender, instructions, by and large, are provided by enthusiasts who post video tutorials on the internet. There are some written tutorials in PDF format and there is an excellent Wiki Manual. Being the dinosaur that I am, I prefer a written tutorial.
How did the writing of the book come together?
At the time of my discovery there were practically no tutorials for the latest version of the program. As I experimented, attempting to relate old instructions to the new interface I scribbled notes and scribbled more notes which became unwieldy and more and more disorganised. It was time to create order in the chaos. I commenced typing and making diagrams for reference and compiling my own operation manual. Diagrams were constructed from Screen Captures placed in the Word Processor with notations added. They still are today.
In amongst the scribbling and typing for Blender I dabbled with some programming languages. Java and Python intrigued me and HTML proved useful in generating a web page. I placed my Blender notes on the internet for all and sundry to see. Got some criticism and excellent corrections with general feedback and
most importantly a suggestion and encouragement to publish as a book.
To this day I remain extremely grateful for that encouragement from a gentleman by the name of Neal Hirsig who at the time was a senior lecturer at Tufts University in Boston, USA. Neal was teaching Blender Computer Graphics at the university and had compiled a series of extremely useful video tutorials as part of his class instruction material. With his permission I referenced these tutorials through my notes when submitting for publication.
Lo and behold my notes were accepted as a manuscript by Taylor and Francis. And so began the publishing process.
How was the publishing process? Do you have any tips?
Compiling the manuscript is the beginning of the publishing process. In this respect I am referring to publishing for a technical subject. Depending on your accuracy, correctness and how you have organised the subject matter this process can be a silk road or a tortuous rocky mountain path. There can be times when the condition of the journey is affected by circumstances beyond your control. Be prepared to be patient and accepting of failures by others involved in the process. Not everyone is perfect.
Eventually the First Edition was published, printed and copies of the book received and I experienced that exquisite thrill of turning the pages and savouring the aroma of a new book, my book. Even today that event is a most gratifying experience.
How did you keep on top of all the Blender updates?
Blender never sits still. Improvements are made and new features are added to the program and consequently a written instruction manual is partially superseded before it is printed. This requires a continual review to keep abreast of changes and at an appropriate point a new edition of the book is required.
There is a limit to what fits between the covers which means you have to be selective. Having a website helps since you can place supplementary material on the site which you reference in the book. This can be a freebie for the person who purchases the book and for anyone who accesses the website. You can also advertise the book on your website by including a book table of content and sample pages.
My website address is: www.tamarindcreativegraphics.com
Even at the best of times there is a to and fro process between the Author and Typesetter and Editor. It's part of the deal. To save some of the hassle, in recent times, I have resorted to presenting my manuscript as a Print Ready PDF document. This means, theoretically, it's good to go to the printer. Another exercise I undertook, again to save the to and froing, was to compile the index for my book. I know what needs to be indexed.
What software did you use to help with the publishing process?
I love the free stuff! You don't have to outlay a fortune or even spend a cent. There are excellent Free and Open Source applications for almost everything. My collection includes the following:
- Blender (of course!) - The free Open Source Graphics Suite for computer 3d modeling and animation which also incorporates a dedicated workspace for 2d animation. You also have the facility to do video editing.
- Apache Open Office - The Open Source, Word Processing program which allows image insertion and incorporates drawing tools for creating diagrams.
- Wisdom Soft Screen Capture – For taking images of the Blender interface to be included in operation instruction.
- Fast Stone Image Viewer – Keeping track of Screen Captures when constructing diagrams.
For producing a Print Ready PDF I use an old version of Nitro Pro 10. This isn't free, but you can't always get something for nothing.
Below is a picture of my home workstation which has, as someone said, “growed like Topsy” being developed over time from sundry bits and pieces and modified to suit how I work. It's nothing flash but it's mine.
What would you have liked to have known before beginning the writing and publishing process?
That's a million dollar question. There are so many facets and I would think everyone beginning the process will encounter a different learning curve. The only thing I will say is, be prepared to spend some time and persevere when the plan doesn't appear to be working.
When you open the page of your first book you will be rewarded beyond all bounds. The process can be rewarding and fun.
These images have kindly been provided by the authors for inclusion in this blog post.