My DVD set for the Blender Foundation's latest open movie, "Sintel," arrived this month. Considering the size, expense, and duration of the production, it's a truly amazing short film. There's much more emotional weight here than in "Elephants Dream" or "Big Buck Bunny." More of interest here, though, is the huge amount of supplementary material included in the set. This is more than just the sources for the movie. There's also a lot of tutorial information for Blender users and of course, an array of personal commentaries on the production process.
There are lots of options for creating 3D characters for animation, and they are often made from scratch by mesh-modeling artists. But it's obviously a very often-needed task, using a lot of common elements, so you'd think someone would come up with a tool to make it easier. And you'd be right. The free-software tool of choice for this task is MakeHuman. I had looked into a much earlier version of the software before, but today it is rapidly approaching the first real release, version 1.0 (currently it's at 1.0-Alpha 5, with plans to go through several more alphas still). The progress is remarkable, and this is going to be a really important tool for 3D modeling in the future.
Often, when modelling in 3D, it's necessary to create a "backdrop" panoramic image. Typically this shows sky and distant land which should appear behind the foreground action. One place we'll need this for the pilot to Lunatics is for the sky in Baikonur, Kazakhstan on launch day at the beginning of the story. I had some very particular ideas about how this should look, and I want to create just the right look. Here's how I constructed it.
Hardly anyone realizes that Blender even is a video compositing and non-linear editing tool (in addition to its modeling, rendering, and animation capabilities). There are few, if any, books available on how to use it for that purpose, so Roger Wickes' book is much needed. It contains an enormous amount of very useful information.
For Lunatics, we need several space vehicles. For a few of them, we have existing free-licensed computer models that we can use, but others are not so easy, or need customizations. The Soyuz launch vehicle is one of these, and it was relatively easy to model, since launch vehicles are geometrically simple (basically a bunch of extruded cylinders and cones). In Part I, I'll demonstrate the basic modelling techniques I used to create the Core Stage.
The Morevna Project aims to create an animated film in a modern anime-style retelling a very old Russian folktale known as "Marya Morevna". It's a free culture production project pushing the envelope in several ways -- entirely using free software tools and releasing under the free Creative Commons Attribution license. The project is purely community-based, without any foundation funding, so they can probably use your help. Joining could be a terrific learning opportunity, whether your interest is in literature, music, animation, or software development.
One of my projects this fall is to take advantage of online "Open Courseware" classes, for personal and professional development. In setting up my own curriculum, I came across a very nice find: a class on 3D modelling based on the (free software) Blender 3D modelling application. This class, offered by Tufts University in Boston (USA) is one of the most professionally delivered collections of tutorials I have yet seen, and I think it may well be the easiest way to approach Blender if you have no prior 3D modelling experience.
Blender third open movie project, code-named "Durian" is ramping up to production, and time is running out for the pre-sale campaign if you want to get your spot in the credits. This time the project is focusing on an adolescent audience with an epic-fantasy setting and a female protagonist (my son aptly dubbed this the "Chicks in Chainmail" genre). The only art yet available from Durian itself is the series of banner ads (by concept artist, David Revoy), but an impressive creative team has already been announced.
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.
The bazaar development model turns out to be amazingly versatile: it seems that most software, even things you wouldn't think would be feasible, can be developed using such an approach. But there has to be some working core software before the community will have enough interest to contribute to a project, and there are some projects where that is really too much work for one person to do.
One such area is sophisticated 3D graphics applications, like Blender (and also Computer Aided Design applications, like BRL-CAD). Such projects typically need some sort of seed project in a "cathedral" mode in order to get started. Other projects, such as creative endeavors, are simply not going to be as successful in the committee atmosphere of a community-driven project.
In such cases, there's a need to simply accumulate capital and pay people for their work. But surely this is impractical for a loosely-bound group like the free culture community? Let's look for some counter-examples.
Achieving Impossible Things with Free Culture and Commons-Based Enterprise
The first completed book from Free Software Magazine Press, by longtime Free Software Magazine columnist Terry Hancock is now available!
This week I finally learned how to use Bit Torrent, and I downloaded two free-licensed open-source movies: Elephants Dream by the Orange Project and The Boy Who Never Slept by Solomon Rothmon (who is credited as Producer, Writer, Director, and who plays the title role). Both are interesting as first ventures into free-licensed open-source filmmaking, but the contrasts are more striking than the similarities, both technically and aesthetically.
The Boy Who Never Slept
Last time, I had found a quiet resting place in the
OOP menu which is, alas, not an undo menu. But one cannot hide forever. Time to reenter the dragon-filled wasteland called Blender.
After taking a few minutes to calm down, I decide to continue on my way. I’ve got to go back to the 3D interface. I steel myself, and click the grid icon to change back to 3D. I remember that the pictures in the tutorials had more than one 3D screen, so I decide that I am going to try to make the current screen into two screens.
One tutorial says...
Last time, my mind had become completely blank in the face of the Blender interface. Now, we shall dive on into the murky depths of the abyss known as Blender.
First, I do a search on Google and I find a tutorial with a reassuring sounding title.
That's a very reassuring title. It says to me, DON'T PANIC! I like that, so I switch screens and begin reading.
WARNING: The author of this tutorial takes no responsibility for you breaking your computer, initializing your harddrive, making a dumb-ugly image, or anything else that may happen if you take this blog too seriously. Remember what your mom said. “If everyone else jumped off of a cliff, would you?” If your answer was “Yes!”, then you deserve what you get.