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Sebastian König, on his Blender tutoring passion

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We recently started the RenderStreet interviews section on our blog, setting out to find unique stories inside the Blender community. Many already know Sebastian König from his work at Blender Foundation’s Tears of Steel open movie and his Blender training activities. He is one of the first Blender Foundation Certified Trainers (BFTC) in Germany, with a solid experience in teaching Blender.

I wanted to know more about what’s it like to teach Blender, and find the secret to becoming a well recognised expert. Besides his practical advice and insights, Sebastian’s authenticity and openness show he’s a man with a true calling for his work.

Marius Iatan: You have a long experience Image of Sebastian König both with online tutorials and live training all over the world. What was the most inspiring training you did, and why?

Sebastian König: I would say personal training is always the most inspiring. Online training or DVDs are great to reach a lot of people, but recording tutorials can be, at least for me, rather tedious. When doing recordings it’s just too tempting to try to fix mistakes and do another take. I often find myself recording the same sentence over and over again until I get it “right”. Mostly that doesn’t even improve the first take.

That’s also why I enjoy personal teaching so much. It’s all live and it doesn’t matter if everything is perfectly pronounced, or if you do a mistake now and then. Live training has this special something. It’s exciting and that usually makes my brain work faster. Which then results in better training. :)

But most importantly it’s the direct contact with the students. Getting immediate feedback from the people you are teaching is awesome. Usually you can see it in their eyes  if they are able to follow along or if they are lost in the “WTF is he talking about” limbo. But the most rewarding thing is when you see the students suddenly become excited because they start to “get it”. Especially in beginners courses you can really see when they get over the hill, so to say. The first hours they all look very confused, but it’s usually during the first or second day of the training when there are more and more smiles on the faces because the students start to understand the concept of navigation and interaction in Blender and are able to do their first own steps. And on the third day of a beginner’s Blender course you walk around and see the weirdest, strangest and coolest things and creatures on the student’s monitors. It’s the most awesome thing to see.

From my experience, a Blender teacher just needs to push the students over this one steep hill. After that they can learn very quickly themselves because, in contrast to some popular opinions, I think Blender’s UI is actually quite consistent.

It’s very hard to pick a specific training though. Every course is different. Every student is different. They all have one thing in common though: Blender students tend to be the most awesome, enthusiastic, creative and inspiring bunch of people.

Marius: Your training materials are Amazon bestsellers – what is the key to being successful? Can you give away some of the secrets of reputation management? What is your advice to get distinguished as an expert?

Seb: I think part of the success of my Amazon bestsellers is just that they’re in German. You can find plenty of great English tutorials, but there are very few well produced German trainings. By the way, from my 3 German DVDs that I did for Galileo Press, it’s only one that really sells that good, and that’s the Blender 2.6 Complete Training, which is meant mostly for beginners. My publisher told me that it’s one of their most successful software trainings currently. So, there seems to be a really huge interest for Blender in Germany!

Judging from the comments on Amazon one reason for the success is that people seem to like the way the DVDs are structured. I think that for tutorials, or any kind of training, it is far more preferable to try to explain the software and the techniques, instead of just follow along tutorials. If someone understands why something works the way it does, and what the operators actually do, they can much easier apply the techniques to their own work, rather than just reproduce a project.

I really believe that Blender is a remarkable piece of software, and it’s a passion for me to try to explain to the people why Blender works the way it does and how to take advantage of that.

As for reputation management I don’t really know what to say. I don’t think I do that much of management there. Almost the only thing I do in that regard is to tweet a lot of Blender stuff. Sharing links, sharing thoughts, sharing small tips and tricks. But other than that? I think the only thing that matters is to try to produce really high quality work and share that on some visible places on the web.

Well, in my case it also did help a lot to be part of the team of one of the Blender Foundation’s Open Movie projects. Naturally that comes with a good amount of exposure and publicity. But not only was it a joy to work in and for the Blender Institute, it also helped me to get a bit more into Blender development. Being in constant and direct contact with the developers, giving feedback, testing features and reporting bugs is a great way to get some good Blender Karma, so to say.

To get distinguished as an expert, first of all you need to be an expert (duh..). But yeah, just make sure you actually know what you are talking about. Try to understand your topic well and thoroughly. The better you understand how something really works the better you will be able to explain it. That’s why usually the preparation for a tutorial or a DVD takes me way longer than recording it. It’s often that only when I try to explain something the first time I find that I don’t exactly know why I press a certain button in my daily work or why I use some specific option. And in tutorials I hate it when someone tells me to just use some weird setting without being able to explain why. So that’s where the research starts. And it’s research that brings you closer to being an expert.

Marius: Does being a Blender Foundation Certified Trainer (BFCT) make a difference in this business? Would you be where you are today without the certification?

Seb: Yes, I would say it does make a difference. I did get some training requests just because I am one of the few German trainers that are listed as BFCT on blender.org. Especially when it comes to company training it is important that the client knows he can trust the trainer to really know what he’s talking about. Having the approval of the Blender Foundation certainly helps with that. Nowadays it might be a little bit different, thanks to the Blender Network which makes finding trainers and viewing their resumes a lot easier, but when I started doing trainings and courses the BFCT page was the only kind of official page where you could search for trusted Blender trainers. But even now having some kind of certification definitely is a nice selling point for a trainer.

Marius: How do you divide your time between educational materials and 3D modeling and what’s on this year’s bucket list?

Seb: Oh that just happens as it goes. If there are lots of 3D jobs I do these, if there are training requests I do those. There is quite a good balance though. After a long and tiring DVD production I rarely have a big interest in doing yet another tutorial, so naturally I am glad if I can jump into any kind of 3D job. During a project I often learn a lot and am eager to share the techniques with others, which then results in tutorials or DVDs again. The third part of my income is from company training and live courses, which are always very fun, very exhausting but also rather good money.

On the bucket list for this year is an update of my previous Blender Foundation training DVD Track Match Blend. Well nowadays I shouldn’t speak of DVD though, since this update will most likely only be available in the Blender Cloud. I’ll start with updating videos of the most important tracking techniques step by step and then add tutorials for new VFX techniques in Blender. So there won’t be a second DVD, but rather several updates to the existing Track Match Blend course on Blender Cloud.

I’ll also record another German Blender DVD for Galileo Press soon, this time a brand new Complete Training for Blender 2.7 for beginners and intermediates.

In terms of 3D production there is still a VFX project for a German movie waiting in the pipeline, and a few other projects that might come. But we’ll see. There is certainly enough to do.

Marius: BlendFX.com went online earlier this year. Tell us a bit about the team and what the project is all about.

Seb: BlendFX is a small 3D and VFX studio in Leipzig. We’re three guys who work mainly with Blender and wanted to combine their blending forces a bit more. I would consider myself as Blender generalist with special focus in VFX and tracking, Simeon and Falk are CG artists with great experiences in editing, motiongraphics and 3D. They have been doing lots of projects for several TV stations here in Germany, including VFX for Tatort, one of the main German crime TV series. So for a team that’s a nice blend of talents. Since a few years we have been meeting regularly for some Blender beers and wanted to expand our capabilities for bigger projects and be more flexible when it comes to handling more jobs. After doing a little animation project last year to test workflow, pipeline and collaboration we decided to team up and start blendFX.com. We’re still freelancers and have our own clients and projects, but with shared resources and combined Blender powers we can also handle larger projects. And it’s much more fun to work together! So far we have been doing VFX, 3D, motiongraphics and animation for various TV shows and movies, and since a few months we have also started with game and app development. Simeon is having lots of fun with Unity and Blender. The brand new cycles baking definitely comes in handy there!

Image of the studio

We have our studio in an office building here in Leipzig with lots of small design, film and graphics startups. We share the entire second floor with several other guys who work in similar areas as well, such as architectural visualization, integrated media development, motiongraphics, film editing, sound design and color grading, so there are a lot of opportunities to work together. It’s a super nice atmosphere and a joy to work there. Having a pingpong table in the office certainly helps with that!

Marius: You are also part of Blender Support. How was the platform received by users?

Seb: Blender Support was born with the idea that there should be a professional service for online help and Blender training. Not for tutorials, but for one-on-one training, remote support, on-site courses, production support and consulting. I have been doing occasional remote support for a few years already and the clients are always very happy to get quick and professional help. Most of the team members have been doing the same. We all know that it is one of the main criticisms of Blender that it lacks professional support. So we thought it would be great to fill that gap. Blender Support got some great reactions after the launch, but unfortunately we kind of got stuck before it could take off. Not everything was finished and some issues still needed to be ironed out, but then some other projects got in the way, like Gooseberry, Caminandes, the Blender Conference etc., and so we didn’t do as much advertising as we should have. So the last months there wasn’t really that much going on with Blender Support. But now we fixed the last bits of the site and we’re good to go. So if anyone needs support – we’re there for you!

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