Wednesday, 6 October 2010

How Not To Train Your Dragon

Sintel, a short film produced by the Blender Foundation. The purpose of these "open movie" projects is to drive forward the development of the Blender open-source animation software - new features are programmed in order to meet the needs of the filmmakers. Sintel has now appeared on io9 and several of my other favourite blogs - you've probably already seen it and commented elsewhere, but I still want to give it a place here. Sintel is also the cover girl for this month's 3D World Magazine, where you can also read more about the film's development.

I've followed the development of this film with interest as I rely heavily on Blender as a filmmaking tool. It's an awesome software suite if frustrating to learn. Watching the film demonstrates that Blender 2.5 is now capable of creating a film that is not only beautiful or technically impressive, but also deeply emotional. It seems many viewers at io9 agreed.

The same comment thread also refers to some weaknesses in animation of hair and eyes. Boosting Blender's built in hair simulation system was a major development target for Sintel, but despite this there was a constant struggle to avoid unexpected behaviours from the simulator. The end result is OK but hair movement has been restricted in many scenes to avoid difficulties, and this is one of the few areas where Sintel's animation does not compare well to commercially produced features.

Eyes are another matter. It's extremely difficult to animate them realistically - perhaps because they're under greater scrutiny than other features, and "dead eye" is a complaint levelled against animated films or CGI characters at all levels of animation. Even Avatar is not completely immune. There are so many different aspects to get right - the textures and transparencies, and the constant, tiny involuntary movements of the eyeballs and the surrounding skin. Sintel's eyes hold up well to scrutiny and certainly manage to convey a lot of humanity and emotion even if they're not always perfect.

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