Review: The Nature Academy



Hi Guys,
If you don’t already know (and I hope you do) my name is Alex Telford, and welcome to metalix.co.nz

Today I have something a little different for you, a review of the recently finished "Nature Academy"
So for those of you who haven’t heard of this, it is a 9 week training course dedicated to creating photo-realistic nature scenes in blender, created by Andrew Price (blenderguru.com).
You can find it here.
Here is the intro video:

So does teach you what it says it will?
What do you get for your money?
Is it worth it?

Well thats what I’m going to discuss, We are going to take a look in turn at everything this course has to offer, each of the nine lessons individually including some before and after renders, a conclusion of my thoughts with my comments and criticism, what was good, and what it was lacking. and a final rating at the bottom.
So if your keen to just find out my final rating, you can just scroll down to the bottom :P

Now I know I’m quite picky when it comes to reviewing things, comes from working in the industry
I suppose.
But this way you get a good review, which hopefully will help you make up your mind about the nature academy.
And as with all my reviews, this is my opinion, I know not everyone agrees so feel free to leave your comments under this post.

Alright so before we begin, I should give you an indication as to the skillset required for this course.
Basically I started working in blender 3D near the beginning of this year(2011) so although I’m a fast learner, I’m still a noob 3D artist, But thankfully, these tutorials are written with guys like me in mind.
This course is aimed at beginner-intermediate range, so if you are opening blender for the first time. This course might not be for you, but if you can work the basics of the blender interface then you should be fine.

So lets take a look at the course in general.

Please note you can click on any image for a larger preview

The website


The nature academy website is definitely well designed, rather than simply throwing the tutorials out there it is well organized, clean, and fresh.
This website acts as a gateway to everything, including all the textures, model libraries, reference photos, blend files, forums and of course the tutorials.
I especially like the forum system, not that I used it much but it allows for some good discussions with others learning at the same pace as you.
There is also many other features such as categorized comments that I won’t discuss here and now but overall made the experience more pleasurable,

However, it’s not perfect, when you start the course, all the future weeks are "Locked out" so you can’t access them, which is fine, but Andrew did appear to have a lot of technical difficulties which caused a lot of delays, including the tutorials unlocking late, the wrong video links, missing blend files etc, usually these were sorted in a matter of hours, but a minor inconvenience for those eager to get into the next lesson.
I would have imagined Andrew would have been a little more prepared. But at least it seems all the kinks have been worked out now.

So overall I would give the website 7.5/10
I was very impressed with the website, a few bugs to squash but that’s to be expected for the first release, I would have liked a bit better punctuality though.

The Bonuses

Bonus #1 – Textures


Seriously?
When I signed up I knew there was going to be some free textures but this was not what I expected.
A total of 741 textures including 22 shadow maps, 81 Seamless textures, 204 background skies, I mean this is awesome.
And these are all fully licensed and good resolution.
The only bad thing I can seriously think of is the Dead Leaves preview looks like a play icon. That is how good these are, that I’ve resorted to picking on the poor little preview button.
So lets move on :D

Bonus #2 – Reference Photos


Ok so I didn’t really use these as much as I should of, but these are really good references, good detail, and really good variety of nature references, including forest pathways, logs and animals. what more do you need? oh, how about 2000 of them, will that do?

Bonus #3 – Drag and drop collection


Well this one wasn’t so much as a bonus, as it is actually required during the course.
This package includes all you need for a nature scene, including several varieties of grass, trees, rocks, and plants.
Great for filling up a scene without much effort. There is 158 of these.
Personally I would have liked to see a few more varieties of grass and mountains. But still a very good collection.

Bonus #4 – The vault


Well this is the life-saver of the pack.
The vault is a collection of the scene files used in the tutorials, very handy when you can’t get that setting quite right.
The only problem with these is that they are the scene files he made before the course, not the ones in made in the recordings. I think if he uploaded those as well it would be convenient as some things are different.

Overall, the bonuses fear very well with me, you get far more than you pay for here, and I can’t fault it on anything with the price you get them for.
10/10 from me.

The Tutorials

So now to get into the meat and bones of the training course,
Here I will go through each tutorial individually, show you some before and after results, and rate each course individually.
as well as a global rating.
So before I get into it, well talk about the content.
These tutorials cover 9 topics:
Grass, Rocks, Trees, Plants, Lakes, Flowers, Oceans, Mountains and Forests.
Which is good, but misses out on some key topics such as waterfalls, rivers, deserts etc.
I say this because he mentioned doing them in the livecast sessions. Perhaps it will be for the next one, I don’t know.
Now regarding the topics this wasn’t quite what I expected, basically you get one tutorial per week per subject. Which really doesn’t seem like much.
I would hardly call nine lessons an academy.
But then again where else would you enter an academy for a few dollars?

Now that always seems to be what it comes down to, content vs price.
The content far out-weighs the price. That much is certain.
I would have paid more for more content, but it is the early days still, Andrew is adding more in the October series from what I am aware.

Now, the tutorials themselves. They are good.
They are very good,
However they are also very fast.
I have to pause and rewind often as I simply cannot keep up with Andrew.
Though he does stop and explain every step so it makes sense. which gives us time to catch our breath before he is off again.

Though I can gaurentee you will learn from them, you will suddenly realize you’ve been doing it all wrong.
You will also learn how to make a vignette nine times.

Below you will find my review of each individual tutorial, including what my renders looked like before the course(where applicable), and what they looked like afterwards.
I have also included andrews results so you can compare a noob like me to a master like andrew.

So lets get into it.

Week #1 – Grass

Before I started My Result Andrews Result

So this was the first week of the tutorial
In this tutorial you will learn the most important aspects of creating nature, learn about translucency, and in general, you will enjoy this tutorial.
To be honest, I actually used to think my grass was great, I thought it looked like grass should, then I did this tutorial.
Now I’m pretty much ashamed to show the world my old grass renders.
The results are fantastic, and I’ll never have boring grass again.
The only problem I had was that Andrew goes a little fast.
I could keep up alright, but looking at other peoples comments a lot of people agree.

So overall, I give this tutorial 9/10
Easy to follow, results are fantastic, but just a little fast.

Week #2 – Rocks

N/A
Before I started My Result Andrews Result

In week two we learn about rocks.
But we don’t learn about how to model rocks, no. We are far to lazy for that.
This is my kind of tutorial.
Basically the actual scene looks like this:

Yes it’s a field of cubes.
So there is a whole lot of modifiers, controlling displacements with empties, and some procedural textures.
This was very easy, and taught techniques I use frequently now.

He is a little slower here, but with the amount of precision required, I think he could go slower still.
I found myself pausing at the exact moment so I could copy some settings.
So overall, I give this tutorial 9.5/10
Easy to follow, results are fantastic, but just a little fast.

Week #3 – Trees

Before I started My Result Andrews Result

Welcome to the third week of the series.
Now it comes to something I thought would be very hard, and have not had much success with in the past.
But Andrew introduces us to a new program: Arbaro
It’s free which is good, and does trees very well, so we don’t actually learn how to model trees by hand, but we do learn how to generate them to get very realistic results.
By the time I sat back at the end, I was very pleased.
So I would have liked to learn how to model them by hand though, as Arbaro cannot generate all kinds of trees, and once again, Andrew is a little fast for beginners, but in a nutshell, this is yet another high quality tutorial.

So overall, I give this tutorial 9/10
Easy to follow, results are fantastic again, but I would have liked to have learnt how to model trees by hand.

Week #4 – Plants

N/A
Before I started My Result Andrews Result

So here is week four.
How to model plants with blender.

We actually learn how to model several varieties of plants in this tutorial, including modeling ferns and ‘leafy plant’. And using a free Ivy generator to make ivy that actually grows around your scene.
I did enjoy this tutorial, but did get a bit of trouble with the ivy. It just does not want to grow where you want it to.
But that was just me being a perfectionist.
However, texturing the ivy should have been looked more into, they look a little flat and fake to me, I think Andrew could have covered getting more realism out of it.
They look great in a scene, but when it’s a focal point it really killed the realism for me.

So overall, I give this tutorial 9/10
Easy to follow, Great techniques, but realism is a little off.

Week #5 – Lakes

N/A
Before I started My Result Andrews Result

And we are past half way!
In week 5 we learn how to create lakes, including modeling lilypads, adding ripples, adding fog etc.
This was a very good tutorial that was easy to follow, just what we would expect from Mr Price.
Though once again, we all struggle with his speed, especially in the compositor which required a lot of new techniques.
Apart from the vignette, we are getting very good at that now.

So overall, I give this tutorial 9/10

Awesome tutorial, but so fast.

Week #6- Flowers

Before I started My Result In Black and White Andrews Result

Oh so pretty . . .
Week 6 is all about Flowers, well we only created one flower, but that is one awesome flower.
Especially since he is quite reasonably paced here I found, So he gets the speed point at last!
When Andrew said ‘That’s pretty much it’ something just doesn’t feel right. . . .
Oh and we can add a vignette. If you want to.

Ah that’s what was missing, :P
It’s at that moment we all realized we are little Andrews in the making.
Any who, very good tutorial, my only complaint is that we only made one flower.
I would have liked to see a realistic rose or something more complex.

So overall, I give this tutorial 9/10

Great tutorial, A little limited on variety.

Week #7- Oceans

N/A N/A
Before I started My Result Andrews Result

Now this one is realistic,
Here we make use of the ocean simulator.
Not really a lot to say here, the results were good, it took almost no effort, and I learnt something.
This was probably my favorite tutorial of the bunch.

I think adding foam would have been good though, as in foam being splashed up, not just another material.

So overall, I give this tutorial 9.5/10

Another fantastic tutorial.

Week #8- Mountains

N/A
Before I started My Result Andrews Result

Ok I’ll be honest,
I didn’t actually do this one, because I did this as the sample tutorial on pre-release.
But the thing is, here, almost three months later, I can still remember the techniques.
Not my favorite, but that’s because were making backgrounds.
Really good result though.
One tip I would have for this though is making the mountains low poly, I did a texture bake for a game environment, and got the same result with 256 polygons.

So overall, I give this tutorial 9/10
Good tutorial, Would have liked a bonus tip on texture baking.

Week #9- Forests

N/A
Before I started My Result Andrews Result

And here is the final tutorial
Virtual sad face.

Well I can’t say this was my favorite tutorial, the results were not overly realistic.
I definitely would have liked more foliage, such as rocks and layers of leaves.
This is the only tutorial where I didn’t like Andrews result,
This tutorial seemed very rushed, like he just wanted to wrap it up.
Personally I think it needs re-doing for the next series.

However apart from that it was a good tutorial. good, not great.

Though I do kinda like my result, I think I’ll add some more foliage at a later date.

So overall, I give this tutorial 6/10

Might seem a little harsh but I just got frustrated with this one. still some good techniques though. But felt a little rushed.

So Overall the tutorials get a whopping 8.8/10 from me.
I can just hear the jaws drop from those who have seen how I normally rate things.
I really enjoyed these tutorials and learned alot from them, it was a shame the forest one just wasn’t up to par with the rest of them.

The Price

So it’s about time we discussed the actual cost of this course
The price was $197 USD when I signed up.
And I was very cautious about spending that much on tutorials. It just seemed way overpriced.
However, I am glad I did, now that I have done the course I would have happily paid over a thousand dollars for it, it was fantastic.
Even without doing the tutorials, the bonuses alone make it worth it.

Not much more to say than he gets a big 10/10 for the price.
He is under-cutting himself a lot here, which is to be expected as Andrew has been known to be an incredibly generous person.

Completion

One last thing to discuss before I wrap this up, is completing this course,
This course is a registered course of some sorts, how do we pass?

Well Andrews answer to that is you need to create one finished render to prove you learned something.
Personally I think this takes credibility away from the certificate.
I think he should have "Complete three unique renders" or something
like that.

A big bonus though is the competition at the end, which is complete one unique render, and the best render wins a pretty sweet prize, including a wacom graphics tablet.
I’m yet to do mine but I definitely will.

So for this I give it a 7/10
I think it should be more of a challenge to pass, but the competition is a big bonus.

 

Conclusion

So it’s time to wrap it up.
Did I learn something from this course?
Was it worth it?
Well that gets a big fat yes, I don’t think I’ve rated anything this high before,
And my suggestion to you is that you sign up while it’s cheap, you get access to all content added in the future.
I almost said "My grass looks pretty sweet, I don’t need this course" and "It’s too expensive" But I was sooo wrong.

Lets put some more perspective on this, with the nature academy in my showreel, when I applied for university, they recommended me to Weta. Now I’m going to uni anyway, but seriously how awesome is that!

So here is my final rating:
Bear in mind I do rate harshly, because I am a perfectionist.
I found the tutorials were of excellent quality, and was only brought down by his errors on the website, and the fact it’s too easy to pass.

Review Rating
Website 8/10
Bonuses 10/10
Tutorials 8.8/10
Price 10/10
Completion 7.5/10
Final Rating 8.9/10

Outstanding must buy training course, My only regret is that I didn’t buy premium

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  • Swami

    thanks for your review. it is helpful