A blogroll on our efforts to create an 8 min (OPEN MOVIE) animation short on the absolutely free Animux pipeline.

Paula Decanini is one of the animators on the PH2PC project and she has written an article on her experience using Blender on a the preview project, a program she had never used or trained in her education as an animator.
My Experience in a New World of Blender
by Paula Decanini

In May of 2009, I was at the Kalamazoo animation festival in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  This is where I first heard about Prince Harming to Prince Charming.  Prince Harming to Prince Charming is an animation project led by Mark Puttnam, with the goal of creating an animated short using a completely open-source pipeline called Animux.  I met Mark at the festival and afterwards began to exchange e-mails with him. He asked me if I would like to participate in the project.  He had seen my animation demo-reel which features birds, and since Prince Harming to Prince Charming was about a turkey in a town of peacocks, it seemed like a good match.  I read the script and thought it to be quite endearing, kind of a reverse Cinderella story.  I agreed to lend my animation skills, with one hitch, it was to be animated all in Blender, a program I was totally unfamiliar with.
I had gone to college for fine arts and afterwards gone to animation school where I learned to animate in Maya and SoftImage XSI.  Blender was a program I had heard about only a few times in passing.  Nobody I knew had ever used it.  Kalamazoo was the first place where I met people who worked with it and where I started to learn more about it.  I was intrigued to find it was a 3D animation program available on the web that cost nothing to download.  Anyone who had a computer and an internet connection could have it.
Several questions arose in my mind, the first was ‘How good can this program be?’.  Maya is the program I use predominately, and even the student version is very expensive.  Maya is also an industry standard in film and television for animation and visual effects.  In the right hands, Maya is a very powerful tool.  How would Blender compare?  I started looking into work that had been done in Blender on the internet, and was very impressed at the quality of work that could be achieved.  A great example is the Big Buck Bunny short, which is comparable to anything that can be completed in Maya.
Then came my next question, ‘How is easy is it to use?’.  That was something I was about to find out.  In July, Mark told me about a 20 second short he wanted to put together for the SIGGRAPH convention in New Orleans taking place in August.  This was going to be tricky to accomplish.  The first difficulty, and the biggest, was that everyone working on the project was spread out all over the world.  Mark was in Detroit, I myself was in Austin, Texas, and we had team members as far as Costa Rica, Brasil and Russia pitching in.  What this meant is that we would have to rely on long distance communications, mostly through e-mails and chat room meetings, to make sure everyone was up to speed and on task.
The second difficulty was that I had about a month to try and learn Blender so that when the model and rig were completed I could start animating with it.  The great thing I found out about Blender, is that because it’s something of an under-dog program in an industry dominated by Maya and Studio Max, there is a large underground community of Blender aficionados all over the internet who collaborate and share with each other.  Anything you want to learn about Blender is free to read or watch in a video tutorial at one of the many Blender websites like Wiki.blender or Blender Underground.  Luckily for me I also had the Animux chat room to ask the people I was working with on the project any specific questions I had.
So I buckled down to start studying Blender and how to animate with it.  Right away I noticed that Blender was very unique from other programs I had used.  The user interface was different and relies on a lot of hot-key controls to navigate around.  Learning  various hot-key controls can be quite a learning curve.  But as I came to be familiar with the viewports and menu screens I found that while it was different, I did like the way it was all set up.  I tried my hand at some modeling, which I felt was in some ways easier to do than in Maya.  I also found the file linking and file saving systems to be very convenient.  My biggest problem however was with the IPO editor, which is similar to the Graph Editor in Maya.  This is where the animator can actually see the animation curves for translation/rotation/scale, and various other attributes.  In Maya, this editor is where I do most of my animating.  In Blender I found that it didn’t quite give the fine-tuned controls over the key frames that Maya does.  I would like to note though that in the new version of Blender that I tried out at SIGGRAPH the following month, these problems had been addressed and the IPO editor was greatly improved.
The time came when my rig was ready for me to animate with.  I was to be in charge of the peacock character, who I thought would be really fun to put some snobby attitude into.  For this short, he was to walk across a stage, behind our hero, Turkey, and give him a “look”, then suddenly jump to the front and center and begin his ‘I’m so sexy’ model poses.  Great stuff for an animator to play with.  But by this time, we were cutting it pretty close with our schedule.
I received the rig on Sunday and had to be finished animating on Friday morning so we would have enough time to render.  Twenty seconds may not sound like a lot of work to complete in a week, but for animation it can be.  And if you’re working in a program that’s new to you, it can be downright harrowing.  Working with an armature in Blender took some getting used to, but by the end of the week, I felt I had a firm grasp on the animation aspect of Blender.  Furthermore, I came to really enjoy working with it, as problematic as it was sometimes.
The peacock was completed on time, as was the whole short.  The following week I was able to see it played in front of a group of people at SIGGRAPH, which was very exciting for me.  That whole week I got to meet face to face some of the people in the Blender community, including the creator and head of the Blender Foundation, Ton Roosendaal, who was a very cool guy I might add.  I hung out with these people all that week in New Orleans, having a great time, and learning about other projects artists are working on with Blender and how they’re using it to accomplish some really great things.
I was happy to participate in this project and hope to continue to collaborate more in the future.  For me the best part about the experience was meeting fellow artists from all around the world and coming together to share a creative goal.  I had never done an internet project like this before and it was an interesting challenge.  I also got to learn a new program that I plan on further exploring.  Who knows what the future of technology will be like, or the future of art and entertainment for that matter?  I expect there will be some remarkable things coming from open-source software soon.

Leave a Reply