Review: Modeling Workshop



Hey Guys!

Recently I was given the opportunity to take part in the first CG Cookie Blender Workshop, Let’s start with a summary, we will then progress to an in-depth review and finally if you can’t be bothered reading this you can skip to the bottom where I will share the final verdict.
Do bear in mind that this review is my personal opinion (Alex Telford), if I say something you disagree with you are welcome to leave a comment, or if you wish to expand on the review you are welcome to leave a comment. I will keep this review as honest and unbiased as possible as I want you to make your own decisions on whether you take the workshop. I am here to highlight the good and bad and share my experience.
Enjoy!

Summary

Price (as of time posting this review): $220 ($440 for premier)
Length: 4 Weeks (5 weeks for premier)
Instructor: Jonathan Williamson
Website:
https://cgcookie.com/workshops/

Video:

Good topology is one of the hardest things to do with CG, but with this workshop you get to learn directly from the pros how to create well-formed topology on both organic and hard surface models through a well-structured, clear and precise series of tutorials, exercises and tutor feedback.
The Blender Cookie modeling workshop is a four week short course dedicated to mastering your modeling skills in Blender, targeting not only how to create organic and hard surface forms, but also how to model using correct topology.
The workshop is broken into 4 weeks:
Firstly, there was a starters pack that was available before the workshop begun, this was here to make sure even the early beginners were ready for the workshop.
Week 1: Topology
– Week one was dedicated to topology and creating clean edge flow.

Week 2:
Poly modeling intensive

– Week two was about different techniques of polygonal modeling.

Week 3: Sculpting
– Week three was about how to sculpt.

Week 4:
Retopology

- Week four was all about how we can create clean topology over a sculpted mesh.

There is also a fifth week for premier focus, I did not partake in this so am unable to comment on it.

In Depth Review

Now we get to the meat and bones of this review, I will review in sections:
First impression
Website interface
Content
Live Q&A

Instructors

First impressions

The workshop got off to a bit of a slow start, when I logged in to the website for the first time I was greeted by a forum and some beginners getting started tutorials. Though it quickly began to pick up pace as more and more people jumped in on the forum and got chatting.
It was quite fun talking to people and seeing where everyones skillset was at and where they would like to be, I especially liked how Jonathan got involved and talking to see how he could tailor the course to fit the needs of the students.

I’ll give the first impression a 9/10, I like how passionate the instructors were, and the ability to chat on the forum, though a live IM system would have been cool and made keeping up with the forums a little easier at the start.

Website interface

The interface of the CG Cookie workshops sports a darker theme, with a few links to each section of content.

The main hub of the website revolves around a forum system, which during the short time it was used received over 400 threads and over 2500 posts, this is where I would have loved a search feature, as it was easy to lose track of threads. A chatroom would have been a nice addition as well, there was a live Q&A which could be used as a chatroom but was disabled unless there was a Q&A active.
Speaking of the live Q&A, this was very good and fluid to use, more on this later though.

otherwise posting to the forum was fairly straightforward with no big issues that weren’t quickly sorted. there was a small limit on posting blends though which meant we had to use pasteall.org to post our blends.
Now regarding the tutorial side of things (which is why we signed up right?), these were easy to access, and split up into their appropriate sections within the given weeks, I would have liked to have seen a breakdown where I could quickly click on a video I wanted to jump to though rather than navigating through the list to find the one I wanted.
Lastly I will make a note on the videos themselves, the video player was fairly unusable for anyone with a slow internet connection (even on my sort of unreliable 100Mbit I was almost constantly in buffering mode), however there is an option to download the video which was nice. I do feel however that an option to download lower resolution videos to save bandwidth would have been great, they were working on it but it looks like a feature for the next run of the workshop.

Overall I’m going to give the website a 7/10, it was well formatted, but let down by the lack of a search feature and having to download such high resolution videos.

Content

Now we get to the meat of the sandwich, let’s take a look at the content.
I will review the content of each week, then I will have a few things to say about site wide content such as downloads and such.

Starter Pack
This was considered ‘Week 0′, and aimed at bringing new users up to speed with modeling and such. I skimmed through this section as it was a little basic for me, though new users did find it useful. We can think about the start pack as a ‘bonus for newbies’ as it doesn’t take away from the workshop at all, but makes sure we are all up to speed.
I’m going to give this an 8/10 as it although it was a little boring to watch through, it really wasn’t aimed at me.

Week 1: Topology

This first week was why I really wanted to sign up to the course, here we learn about topology. I admit, I thought I was good at topology, I thought I had it down, turns out I was wrong.
Jonathan comes along and starts right from the basics and covers edge flow and why we use it, 3 pointers and 5 pointers and how we use them, perimeter loops, detail loops and fill loops.
This week revealed so many new things that I just never thought about, and after watching the videos I saw an instant improvement in my work.
Let’s expand on this.

We break each week into an introduction, some fundamentals, and some tutorials. Finally we finish on a small challenge.

Introduction
Here we learn about what topology is, why it is important, and how we will use it. I found this to be a very good introduction to topology and very easy for beginners to follow along with, yet was not boring or tedious for the more advanced user.
Lectures
Here we take a look at edge loops, tris quads and ngons, and quad only models.
Fundamentals
Now we take a look at each section in depth, 3 pointers, 5 pointers and all quad junctions. We learn not only what they do but where to use them. I was blown away by how little I knew about topology before these.
Tutorials
Now don’t think of these like your usual tutorials, we don’t actually make anything, but instead we take a look at some topology examples of a sports car, human head and fire hydrant. some good information here.
Challenge
We finish this week off with a challenge, this challenge was to fix the topology on three sculpted spheres, fairly simple stuff, the main problem people had with these was over complicating things.

I found this to be an incredibly useful week, there was so much information to take in and it was certainly a good wakeup call for myself and many others than topology does not need to be complex, or difficult. It is actually really easy.
I don’t think I can rate this high enough, I found it incredibly useful and it has exponentially improved my work and made me considerably more conscious about my topology.
I have now stopped using poles to just change the number of loops, and I have now started using them to limit topology to an area. or re-direct a loop.
I will rate this 10/10 as I learned a whole lot from this. which made this an awesome week.

Here is my result from the topology challenge:

Week 2: Polygon modeling intensive

In the second week we learn about poly modeling, which most of us are used to. This week covered two different modeling techniques in depth.
Edge modeling: the process of extruding edge by edge to get the final result.
Box modeling: starting from a box and adding detail to get the end result.
What I like about demonstrating these two methods is that Jonathan creates the same model using both methods, this shows us how both methods work.

Introduction
In this short video Jonathan explains what we will be doing this week.
Lectures
In this set we take a look at organic and hard surface forms, keeping it simple, and complex forms to simple shapes, lots of good skills and techniques.
Fundamentals
Here we learn all about different modeling techniques, and using loops to define areas of detail.
Tutorials
Everything from making a human head to a house, there is many hours of video here.
Challenge
This week our challenge was to create a cartoon dog.

So here is where we run into something a lot of people had trouble with during this course, can there be too much content?
It turns out there can, I still haven’t downloaded all the videos here as there is just too much for my internet allowance to download.
More on this later but on the content itself it was very good and although Jonathan brought nothing new to the table for hard surface (I do a lot of hard surface modeling so have that pretty much down) I found the organic modeling to be very useful as he talks about working the topology around the underlying structure, this was very useful for making creatures and editing the topology around the muscle structure.
Next we have the tutorial on box modeling a house, I have always wanted to make good arch-viz and this was very useful and eventually led to the creation of Oakwood Manor.

I will give this a 9/10, it was very very good, but I felt a little rushed to make it through so much content in the little time I had allocated to do the workshop.

I lost my cartoon dog, but here is a quadraped I made not too long after the workshop to demonstrate my knowledge gained:

Week 3: Sculpting

For the third week we took a look at sculpting, I was looking forward to this most of all.
We learned about organic and hard surface forms, keeping it simple and using alphas to sculpt high frequency detail.

Introduction
In this short video Jonathan explains what we will be doing this week.
Lectures
Here we look at where sculpting fits into the workflow, and separating artistic and technical sides of 3D.
Fundamentals
We look at various brushes, organic and hard surface forms, sculpting wrinkles in clothing and adjusting viewport lighting.
Tutorials
Here we take a look at using the skin modifier, remesh, alphas and some practical sculpts.
Challenge
This week our challenge was to sculpt a creature bust.

I was certainly looking forward to this as my sculpting abilities were nothing short of abysmal. Though I watched through all of these videos and still didn’t feel like I was any better at sculpting, yet low and behold, I flick open blender and start pumping out some awesome sculpts! Although I didn’t feel like I learned anything from these videos, what he says sticks in your mind and you somehow become a better sculptor. It wasn’t just me though, I saw many students rapidly become better sculptors, which is fantastic.
So I’m going to give this a 9/10, It was awesome, and I benefited from this the most, I just wish I could figure out why I improved so much, it also would have been nice to cover dynamic topology sculpting.

Here is a selection of speed sculpts I did this week, these were all under an hour.

Week 4: Retopology

In the final week of the course we look at retopology, which is basically taking out high resolution sculpts and making them animation ready.

Introduction
In this short video Jonathan explains what we will be doing this week.
Lectures
Here we learn about modeling for animation, and keeping our mesh as simple as it needs to be.
Fundamentals
We look at working with joints, mapping out topology, and capturing the original form.
Tutorials
Here we look at various methods of retopology
Challenge
This week our challenge was to retopologize a creature head.

After the initial topology week I wasn’t too worried about this week, as I already knew a lot more about topology, but to be honest retopology is a bigger subject than I had anticipated.
My favorite part about this week was working with bsurfaces, as it really makes retopology easy and I was able to do the challenge in no time at all.
I also loved how Jonathan went on to talk about topology around joints, after doing a lot of animation this year I always found it frustrating having to rig and animate a character that just didn’t have enough geometry around the joints and it’s good to see it covered here.
I’ll give this week a 9/10, it was a good week, though was a little less intensive than the previous weeks.

Week 5: Premier Student Focus

I didn’t have access to week 5 so can’t comment here.

Live Q&A

Another bonus feature of the workshops was the live Q&A, two sessions at different times each week, I only managed to make it to a couple of these but can vouch that these are very good and Jonathan and Wes were able to answer every question thrown at them.
I can only give 10/10 for these, they were like a bonus each week and definitely added to the workshop experience.

Instructors

The instructor for this course was Jonathan Williamson, you may know him from his tutorials at Blender Cookie.
Jonathan is definitely one of the most passionate 3D artists I know, and it really shows through in the tutorials, he is clear, concise and to the point, and always easy to understand.

Final Exercise

At the end of the workshop we were given a final exercise to make an ant, this is the one we submit to get our certificate, I was very impressed to see that it is possible to fail this, Jonathan will give the exercise a good look over and critique and make sure you have learned what he set out to teach during the course.
Here is my result from the final exercise:

Downloads

During this workshop there was a ton of stuff to download, from the source files and models of various projects such as a car, a house and a creature, and many many hours of video. my folder of downloads from this workshop is fairly heavy, should you take the next workshop expect to be downloading between 10 and 20Gb of data, though remember you can come back to them at a later date.

Conclusion

This workshop was on it’s first run and there certainly was a few issues, but these are greatly outweighed by the amount of awesome that is in this workshop.
Jonathan has created a clear and easy to follow workshop on perfecting your modeling skills with a heavy focus on correct topology for both organic and hard surface models. If you are looking to take your modeling skills to the next level, I would highly recommend this workshop.

During this workshop I saw myself go from someone who could model anything, to someone who can model anything with correct topology and twice as fast, If I haven’t convinced you that this is worth the money then that’s ok, but I can virtually gaurentee that this will take your skills to the next level.

My final rating: 9/10

You can visit the workshop here:
https://cgcookie.com/workshops/

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