Blender 3D Animation

I didn’t write a post for a while now because I was very busy. I got my new workstation at home last week and had to configure it. It’s quiet a powerful set-up as I wanted to pick up one of my old hobbies which is photo/video editing. I installed the latest Adobe premiere on my 5 year old PC and that wasn’t to much fun to work with. The old PC got replaced with a quad core xeon W3550, 8Gb Ram and nvidea quadro 600 graphics. You might think why on earth he needs a machine with so much performance to edit some home made videos? The reason is that I also wanted to see if I was able to do 3D animation at home.

I studied art and media technology in the late 80’s and back than the whole 3D animation was still in the pioneering stage and I found the results of our first attempts rather disappointing. After all we where working with Amiga’s! Pixar was founded 3 years before and I remember that we had extensive colleges on the famous Luxo Jr. animation. Initially, Pixar was a high-end computer hardware company whose core product was the Pixar Image Computer, a system primarily sold to government agencies and the medical community.

One of the buyers of Pixar Image Computers was Disney Studios, which was using the device as part of their secretive CAPS project, using the machine and custom software to migrate the laborious ink and paint part of the 2-D animation process to a more automated and thus efficient method. The hardware was very expensive and out of reach for my universities budget so we never got close to the quality of the first Pixar animations.

There are free open source suites available now for 3d modelling and animation but if you want to do things like ray tracing and extensive shading you still would need a high end personal computer if you don’t want to wait two days to render a 10 sec. animation.

On my new system I’m able to render a 10 sec. animation in 10 min at 25fps. which is pretty fast. I’m using Sculptris Alpha 5 for the 3D modeling of my figures which I want to use in Blender 2.56b for making the animation.

Sculptris is the brainchild of programmer Tomas Pettersson, who developed as an unpaid hobby project and a work-in-progress sculpting tool since early December 2009. Users can pull, push, pinch, twist, and do just about anything that they could do with a regular piece of modelling clay. It is geared for character sculpting and “organic” models. 3D meshes (.obj) can be imported into the program for further detailing, generating normal and displacement maps. With Tomas Pettersson joining the Pixologic team (creators of ZBrush) in late July last year, Sculptris is now under development in Pixologic’s headquarters. Sculptris is an absolute gift to the creative mind as modelling becomes very intuitive and interactive, the interface is simple but very power full, you have all the tools to do clay like modelling and I created my first model in a couple of hours. There’s also a paint mode in which you can add colour texture once you finished the model. When you finished, you can save or export the model and texture to use in other programs. Next thing to do was to bring my Sculptris models into Blender for animation.

Blender was developed as an in-house application by the Dutch animation studio NeoGeo and Not a Number Technologies (NaN). It was primarily authored by Ton Roosendaal, who had previously written a ray tracer called Traces for Amiga in 1989. The name “Blender” was inspired by a song by Yello, from the album Baby. I’m using Blender now for one week and created my first 3D animation sequence of 40 sec. (see Project 1 below this post) which I think looks pretty good for a first attempt, the clip looks rather childish but my eldest daughter who’s 5 really likes it and I mostly used it to experiment with different shading and ray tracing settings.

In fact I was a bit inspired by the very first Pixar animation: The adventures of André and Wally B. I only discovered a fraction of the possibilities you have in Blender and I’m still a very beginner but find the results absolutely worth wile regarding the steep learning curve (you need to have some knowledge about animation and ray tracing). I also started of with version 2.4 and switched than to 2.56 where a lot has changed. It took me also some time to learn how to use the editing function and to create some kind of a world rather than using the build in world function of blender.

Next thing is to create some landscapes for which I found a good tutorial. There is a blender project available which is called mancandy which includes a rigged character to improve on your animation skills, which is what I’m doing at the moment. Blender and Sculptris definitely got my creative part of my brain going for a while.


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