I was fortunate enough to be given a review copy of this newly released course from Aidy Burrows and Gleb Alexandrov. You may remember Gleb from my previous review and interview from his course for Realistic Lighting by Gleb Alexandrov or his incredibly successful blog Creative Shrimp. This time around Gleb teamed up with Aidy Burrows, the lead instructor, from CGMasters to produce this massive 12+ hour course showing you how to tackle visual effects scenes in outer space. Will the name live up to the hype? Time to strap in and find out . . .
Time to Get Real Honest People
Alright by show of hands, who has sat around focusing intensely on an action figure trying to use your connection with The Force to knock it off the table? Who has dreamed of building a lightsaber or that they’re standing on the bridge of a starship and uttering those legendary words “Make it so.”? If you even try to tell me that wasn’t you then my fist will fly out of this computer screen and punch you in the face faster than you can say “Chuck Norris”. We all did that stuff.
I can trace my interest in 3d and Blender all the way back to those experiences. That driving itch to decipher the secrets behind just how those movie magic geniuses were able to make the impossible come to life right before our very eyes. Scratching that itch is what led me to Blender. And for all of you other sci-fi nerds out there now there’s a course showing you exactly how to make your own galaxy far, far away right inside the comforts of Blender. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about Space VFX Elements by Aidy Burrows and Gleb Alexandrov. Let’s take a ride into another galaxy and delve into this monster of a course!
- Over 12 Hours of Content
- 22 Separate Tutorials
- Both Procedural and Image-based Workflows Covered
- Only Open Source Software Used
- For Beginners to Intermediate Users
- Bonus Videos (Including a Look at the New Micro Displacement Feature in Blender 2.78)
- Primer Tutorials Explaining Foundational Skills and Unique Concepts
- All the Sweet Project Files
- Additional Textures and Assets
- Price – $60
Let’s take a look at what you get when you decide to purchase the course. There’s a lot here so instead of digging into each individual lecture, I’ll just give a brief summary of each section.
How to Build Planets
This section will show you literally everything you could ever want to know about how to create all of the effects you see on a planet’s surface from the point of view of someone hovering in outer space. Gleb and Aidy trade off between procedural and image-based shading techniques as they delve into how to make the planets look rich, detailed, and realistic. What’s really amazing to me is just how simple the lighting setup and models are. It doesn’t take much if you know how to shade in Cycles like a wizard. The power of the techniques shown are all in how you build those shaders for your planets. Definitely my favorite section of the course.
- Simple Planets
- Advanced Planet
- Planet Close-up
- Procedural Planet
- Procedural Gas Planet
Here Gleb starts by giving you a simple way to use Blender’s powerful modifier stacking system to create an extreme level of detail in your asteroids starting with a very simple shape and layering warps and displacements on top of each other to achieve the final effect. I’m a big believer in procedural modeling with the modifier stack and this is one of the best examples to date of how to start with something simple and make it into something complex with the right tools. Then you’ll learn how to bake your high resolution details to a low resolution model to achieve extremely fast rendering speeds. Aidy wraps this section by showing you how to navigate the perils of an eerie asteroid field. This section is chock full of useful tips and tricks.
- Procedural Asteroid
- Asteroid Baking Textures
- Asteroid Field
In this section Gleb will demonstrate a couple of methods for creating 360 degree space panoramas using custom made image-based texture maps. The really cool thing about the demos are that they also cover how to effectively render out your own panoramic HDR spacescape images that you can use to help light your space scenes with HDR world lighting. By creating several of these and adding them to your own library you will have enough backdrops for all of your future projects without having to go hunt them down around the web. Aidy takes this idea to the next level demonstrating how to build out the panorama procedurally and combine your own hand painted touches right on top from Blender’s viewport using 3d painting techniques. Lastly, Aidy shows a method for layering your effects in the 360 degree panorama so that you can get proper parallax effects while viewing your spacescape from all directions.
- Image-based Spacescape – Part 1
- Image-based Spacescape – Part 2
- Procedural Space Panorama – Parts 1-3
Forming Gas Clouds
This last section of the main part of the course takes you into some really interesting new material as Aidy and Gleb explore how to create different gaseous effects in space. As with several parts of the course there are pleasant surprises along the way and one of the things I continued to see throughout the course was a focus on demonstrating how to animate the effects so they are useful in a shot for film and not constrained to just still renders. What’s also great is to see the introduction of some bonus tutorials that give you even more options for expanding your space VFX capabilities.
- Gas Clouds
- Composing a Scene
- Black Hole (Bonus)
- Nebulae Flythrough (Bonus)
Some Sweet Bonus Footage
Since I started planning to write the review when the course initially launched in December I’ve felt like bonus footage has been flying at me right and left. This isn’t something you see a lot of nowadays and it was refreshing to see such ownership and pride taken with the execution of this course.
Micropolygon Displacement Basics - Parts 1 and 2
With the release of Blender 2.78 a new experimental feature was added called micro displacement. This is essentially a really awesome extension to the subdivision surface modifier which automatically subdivides a surface based on its proximity to the camera in your scene and a set of custom parameters that you set before render time. The implications of this new feature are tremendous and many Blender artists are already taking their renders to new heights with the ability to add an unprecedented level of detail to their scenes. The issue with new features is that they can be hard to learn with so little documentation and solid explanations floating around in the Blender ether. So Gleb was kind enough to provide these tutorials explaining the new feature and how to use it for your own scenes. There’s massive value here in these videos you don’t want to miss.
Ok this is quite a bonus tutorial. On the outset you may think “Planet zoom, so what?”. Well in his typical fashion Gleb takes the challenge of making and tutorial and totally goes out of his way to over deliver. You will learn techniques in this single tutorial that you can use for all of your other Blender projects. What got me most excited was Gleb’s discussion of manual camera culling. It’s a way to get Blender to hide what your camera doesn’t see in a render . . . wait for it . . . automatically. Yeah that’s right. The setup he shows you is genius, can save you huge amounts of memory and render time, and I can’t wait to put it to good use in my own projects. You gotta see this tutorial.
The Wrap-up and My Personal Thoughts
So at this point you can see that this course isn’t just a set of tutorials. It’s an encyclopedia that you can keep coming back to in order to reference how to create solid visuals for your space project needs. And what’s so great about this course is that so many of the things covered can be applied to all of your projects. Yes this course is subjectively all about space, but the things I learned about procedural texturing, tweaking normal vector coordinates, procedural modeling with heavy modifier stacking, hand painted HDRs, micropolygon displacement, I could keep going for at least another hour–they all open up new possibilities and that’s the real power of the training provided by Aidy and Gleb.
Starting with this review I want to implement a new rating system for all my reviews that give you a composite average of different features and how well something performed under close scrutiny. Another way to think about the score is how many waves is the product making in the Blender ecosystem? If this was just about fan solidarity I would have to give them something off the charts because the cult following around this course is legendary. I’ve never seen people so excited about a set of tutorials before this. But I want to take an honest look at some important values I look for when I shop for my own training products.
So how did Space VFX Essentials measure up?
Value for Price - 10 / 10
The amount of money that was asked for ($60 USD) considering what you get with this course is an absolute steal. In my opinion they could have easily charged upwards of $150 for the sheer amount of information presented, the innovative solutions to common problems, and the top tier quality of the design and presentation.
Overall Presentation - 9 / 10
The delivery of this course is just about as close to perfect as you can ask for when it comes to a course this size. Nothing really to say here to Gleb and Aidy except, “Good job fellas. Keep up the good work”. I did have some trouble when testing the video downloads with alternate video players because of the codecs used, but VLC was a good solution that worked well for viewing the whole course seamlessly.
Knowledge Retention - 6 / 10
The demos presented in this course were fantastic, albeit lengthy. And it was hard at times to stay focused through several videos that were up to an hour long or more. This is the only area where I felt like the course would have benefited from either splitting up the content or possibly even releasing multiple volumes so it was easier to absorb the massive information dump.
The other thing I didn’t see much of was a way to retain all the new incoming information. Studies have shown the best way to lock away what you’re learning as you learn it is with activities designed to help you practice embedded throughout the learning process. It’s my belief that the course would have benefited a lot if there had been some exercises designed to help you put the training into action right away inside each section. This is even more important with a large course and a course aimed at some beginning level students such as this one. So much is covered and I know to get the most out of the course I’ll need to go back over and over again to watch each video so I can pick up on all the little tips and tricks taught. Hands on exercises is something I personally want to start implementing more in my tutorials and training products moving forward.
What I like is that there is plenty of practice style resources included with the course. You’ll find accompanying .blend files for all of the complex effects that were covered in the course. There are also several of the final renders and some additional resources. So when it’s time to start adding these space effects to your own projects you’ll have a great set of files to get you going.
Unique Features - 10 / 10
Aside from writing a custom add-on to go with the course or just flat out offering the whole thing for free I don’t know how Gleb or Aidy could have possibly brought more value to the table. The innovative solutions presented for procedural texturing and modeling complex visual effects elements has left me completely satisfied that these guys are true geniuses and I have a lot left to learn. If only every bit of training was this insightful and appealing.
Curriculum Design - 10 / 10
Aidy and Gleb left little to be desired in the way of more subject matter by the time you finish watching the entire course. I mean they cover pretty much anything you could want to know about generating natural phenomena in outer space. The topics were broken down in a very organized way and it was easy to see that they put a lot of thought and effort into preparing you to experience each section by building on the knowledge from the previous section. Very well executed.
This course is a virtual tsunami of training unleashed upon the global Blender community.
Buy it the day before yesterday. It's a must have.
Congratulations to Aidy and Gleb for such a fantastic product. I know the community joins me in my enthusiasm for your work and we hope to see more amazing courses like this from both of you in the months to come. Grab Space VFX Elements and start your odyssey into the great unknown today.
P.S. I was gonna do a video review for this too, but I woke up with a sore throat and decided I didn’t wanna sound like a wookie on camera. So maybe next time around fellas. 😉
P.P.S. By the way everyone, as I was writing this review they updated the course again with even more bonus footage. So I give up . . . it’s too much. I’d buy this thing now before they realize how much they’re giving away for free and decide to raise the price.