The Blender Foundation's second free-content movie, Big Buck Bunny, is the product of the foundation's "Peach Open Movie" project, and the results are impressive. Like the previous Elephants Dream movie, this film pushes the technical envelope for the "Blender" free software 3D rendering and animation application; unlike it, it succeeds as pure entertainment.
Big Buck Bunny's title character appreciates a butterfly (Screen capture: Blender Foundation / CC-By 3.0)
The legacy of Elephants Dream
There's no denying that Elephants Dream was a sensational film release, but the only reason for its success was that it was a free-licensed, open source computer-animated 3D film. From an artistic and directorial perspective, it was a bit wanting. Clearly it was trying to make some artistic point. Unfortunately no one seems to be really sure what that point was: the film comes off as artsy and contrived, and, most deadly of all, incomprehensible.
Which didn't bother me that much: I was watching for the gee whiz animation and the knowledge that it was all done with that application that I keep poking at on my own computer. I also felt a special something about the fact that once I could get myself past the learning curve on Blender, I would have these great rigged characters to play with (what an incentive!). I even have a project in mind for these two special guys and the various mechanical denizens of the machina they inhabit.
No doubt with some extra effort, a script, and some tough directing it could've become a much better film. It's even possible, given its free licensing and open source code, that it could yet become that film.
Big Buck Bunny
By contrast, BBB aims for a lower artistic mark—it is, with neither prentence nor shame, a cartoon. However, also unlike Elephants Dream, this film squarely hits that mark: the film is delightfully funny and cute, and (in my opinion) entirely appropriate for children.
The Peach Open Movie project had specific orders to strike a more populist chord: it had to be cute, furry, and funny. No doubt this was partly to compensate for the shortcomings of Elephants Dream, but it was also simply to stay diverse, so as to cover more technical territory for Blender. According to one of the Ton Roosendaal interviews on the BBB DVD, the next Blender movie (Durian) will go for a hard-hitting violent action genre, more appropriate for video game or anime audiences.
It was also self-consciously decided that the mark should not be set too high, lest the film never get made. After all, "best is the enemy of good enough", and all the people pre-ordering the DVDs would be more disappointed by a film that was never finished than by one that lacked a certain artistic edge. Once again this appears to be the result of learning from the Elephants Dream project.
Big Buck Bunny prepares to shoot an arrow: don't worry though, no one gets skewered—this is a family film (Screen capture: Blender Foundation / CC-By 3.0)
On the surface the film is just a cartoon. A few people have criticized it as "violent", but in my opinion, you'd have to be the sort of killjoy that would've criticized the slapstick humor of the Roadrunner or Bugs Bunny cartoons that I loved as a child to think this. After vetting the film, I decided it was entirely appropriate for my own children, and they all really enjoyed it. The biggest complaint was that it was too darned short (it's nearly the same length as Elephants Dream though: about 10 minutes).
Part of an animatic for the film, included in the special features videos (Screen capture: Blender Foundation / CC-By 3.0)
Certainly, if you look hard enough, you can find some deeper meaning percolating through the minds of the artists to find expression in the final result. But for the most part, it's just plain fun.
Conveniently, the film has no dialog at all, which increases its universal appeal, and eliminates the need for subtitles or internationalization efforts.
An open movie
Like Elephants Dream, of course, Big Buck Bunny is an open movie, which means that the rigs and scripts and other software used in making the film are all on the DVD. They're also available for download, the DVD is just a convenience. It also supports the open movie projects, though, so you should buy one anyway, in my opinion. Big Buck Bunny DVDs are still on sale.
"Making Of" documentaries are more fun when you know you can follow along! (Screen capture: Blender Foundation / CC-By 3.0)
Like many other DVDs, this one has a collection of "special features" documenting the making of the film. Unlike most, all the stuff you see on the monitors is available as free software, and/or as part of the distribution of the movie itself. All of the open movie source material is released under the Creative Commons Attribution, version 3.0 license, which will basically allow you to do anything you want with it. The only exception is the complete original soundtrack, which is under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial, version 3.0 (the bits of the tracks actually used in the film fall under the By license).
So what did the Blender Foundation get for its investment in new technology? Well, according to the producers, the principle innovations this film helped to push included:
- improved fur
- better rigging for fat characters
- envelopes combined with particle systems
The trees use abstract shapes as envelopes, filled by leaves using a particle system (Screen capture: Blender Foundation / CC-By 3.0)
These technical advances will provide increased capabilities for Blender users worldwide, and are the main objective for creating the Blender open movies, according to Ton Roosendaal, Blender's principle author. He felt that nothing would spur improvements better than the necessity driven by such artistic projects.
A couple of fat characters provided a rigging challenge, these are rigged using a distorting envelope shape, rather than straight skeletal animation (Screen capture: Blender Foundation / CC-By 3.0)
Hey, this works!
Big Buck Bunny really hits its mark (Screen capture: Blender Foundation / CC-By 3.0)
I'm looking forward to the next Blender Open Movie, and of course, the Apricot Open Game project, which will use the characters from Big Buck Bunny. The DVDs are more expensive than your typical DVD fare, especially considering how short the films are, but I felt it was worth every penny, both because I am an animation fan (for whom this is a "must have" collector's item in my opinion) and because I feel good about supporting this kind of open project. Maybe next time I'll pre-order early enough to get my name in the credits!
Copyright & Licensing
The text of this column may be reprinted under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike, version 3.0 license, with attribution to Terry Hancock. The images are all under the Creative Commons Attribution, version 3.0 license, with attribution to the Blender Foundation.