Blender Con: What’s Up with Project Gooseberry?

Blender Conference 2014 has officially come to a close…or has at least moved to the Blender studio, where today is tour day!

All Blender supporters are invited to tour the Amsterdam studio...and today a bunch of the conference attendees took advantage of being in Amsterdam to do so!

All Blender supporters are invited to tour the Amsterdam studio…and today a bunch of the conference attendees took advantage of being in Amsterdam to do so!

For those who couldn’t make the trip to the conference this time, here’s a quick look at what you missed:

Ton kicks off Blender Conference 2014

Ton kicks off Blender Conference 2014

The heart of the conference was definitely the inspiring feeling of community – in every corner of De Balie there were conversations between animators and coders, teachers and designers, etc., from literally every continent. (Watch Ton’s keynote speech for a better idea of who was there from where.) As a Blender Institute newbie, it was the perfect way to get to know the software users and film fans – a hearty thanks to those of you who came up to introduce yourself and share your ideas for this blog and other Gooseberry reporting!

As for the talks, you can still watch almost all of them on the Blender Foundation’s YouTube channel – including talks covering the use of Blender for everything from games to art and architecture, plus animation tips & tricks and rigging how-tos (by Gooseberry’s own Hjalti Hjálmarsson and Daniel Salazar respectively), and more.

However *most* importantly – for this blog ;-) – Sunday morning started with a comprehensive update on the Gooseberry project by director Mathieu Auvray with help from scriptwriter Esther Wouda, character designer Sarah Laufer, and man-behind-the-movie Ton himself.

You can watch the full talk here:

TL;DW? Here are the highlights:

  • Pilot: The ambition is still to make a full feature-length, open-source film in collaboration with 12 animation studios around the world; but for funding reasons (skip to 1:06:30 in the video to watch Ton break down the numbers) a 15-minute pilot will be released first. If all goes according to plan, in July 2015.
  • Title: Keeping with the Blender theme of naming projects after fruits, the feature-film project was given the code name Project Gooseberry. (Conference dinner attendees – did you enjoy your gooseberry pie? ;-) ) The finished film, however, will probably be called Cosmos Laundromat.
  • Audience: This is definitely not a kids movie. It’s not 100% for adults either, though. The rating will possibly be PG, likely PG-13. (Franck gets into real danger sometimes!)
  • Plot: *Spoiler alert* (duh) On a remote island, a depressed sheep named Franck wants to end it all and escape his miserable existence. However, before he can off himself, a mysterious man named Victor (actually a Cupid-like demi-god being punished for loving a human) offers him the opportunity of many lifetimes – literally. Spending about 5 minutes in each life, Franck the sheep gets to be a wolf, a robot, a dragon, a cup of tea, and many other things in at least a dozen different worlds. (Or, at least as many different worlds as there will be studios working on the film…ahem.)
    The pilot will cover Franck’s first meeting with Victor and his first transformation – into a caterpillar in a vibrant jungle world (description and images in the video at 42:20). There he meets a butterfly named Tara, his intended love interest and the lady with whom he’ll be sharing the next dozen or so lives. This is Victor’s matchmaking, but will it work? (Even the director and screenwriter aren’t completely sure yet!) Just as she gives Franck new reason to live, Tara disappears (her time in this world is up), startling Franck into falling into a hungry frog’s mouth – only to disappear to safety(?) at the last moment!
    At the end of the pilot you will glimpse Cosmos Laundromat itself, where each would-be world is built into the drum of a cosmic washing machine (where Franck and others hope to be “washed clean”). The pilot will close with a glimpse of Franck beginning his next life in a new world inside one of the drums. (You can see the full script to date in the Blender Cloud.)
  • Character evolution: Starting at 25:35 in the video above, Mathieu and Sarah talk about how and why Victor changed from a large black man to a skinny blond dude to the bearded, ginger-haired music fan you see today. In short, Victor needed to be both intriguing and pleasing as well as a bit used up. Like Franck, he’s also trapped in his existence.
    At 32:05 Mathieu and Sarah begin their explanation of how poor Franck, a prisoner of his island and his shaggy fur, became defined by his puppy dog/Bill Murray teardrop eyes that link his appearance in each world.  As Sarah explains, he needs to be both pathetic and proud.
    Tara (skip to 45:35), on the other hand, is described as an anxious, feminine adventurer always looking for the next new thing – she LOVES traveling the worlds! That’s why her first form is a white butterfly – graceful, ethereal, always moving. Her best line in the animatic shown (53:50) is: “So many lives, so little time…carpe fucking diem.”
    Mathieu and Sarah also explain the development of the main enemy in the first world, the hungry frog mentioned earlier. He was inspired by a Costa Rican frog – or at least his see-through belly was. Inside it you can see the caterpillars he’s digesting (there’s that PG-13)…and Franck definitely doesn’t want to join them. (Skip to 40:00 to hear more about this. Or sign into the Cloud to get access to all the concepts and test animations to date.)
  • Challenges: Even funding aside, it’s quite a project to create one coherent story that takes places across many different-looking worlds, as is needed when different studios are working on one film. The plot was born of this challenge. Additionally,  to make the best film possible, Blender tools need to be tweaked and further developed as the project moves forward (especially if everyone wants to see the pilot in July 2015). For this reason, more developers and animators will likely be needed, if the budget allows.
  • How you can help: The pilot and the eventual movie will by and large be funded by subscriptions to the Blender Cloud. Running at €10/month (€45 for the initial three months together), the Cloud is a backstage pass into the production of this and past films by the Institute. Have a subscription already? Please renew it! Don’t have one yet? Please sign up! This March blog post from Ton explains the thinking behind the Cloud, and everything it gives you access to – including animation tutorials, the assets for every Blender Institute movie, and the knowledge you’re sticking it to the system and showing the world that this open-source thing can actually work.

Have a question about the development and current status of Gooseberry? Curious to explore any of the above in more detail? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Introducing Your New Gooseberry Reporter!

Last week, you might have seen an advertisement go by on the blog looking for an Amsterdam-based freelance writer and editor for Project Gooseberry. Well, I’m thrilled to say that this position has been filled… by me! American-born, Dutch-adopted copywriter and journalist Elysia Brenner.

That means for one-to-ten+ months I’ll be the new voice on the Gooseberry blog, etc., giving your a more in-depth look at the action taking place in the Blender Institute’s Amsterdam studio. From the day-to-day work that’s going into the Gooseberry pilot to the full development process behind the script, the look, characters, and more, it’s my job to share with you everything you want to know.

Which begs the question… What do you want to know??? Please tell me in the comments what kind of news you’d like to see more of and I will do everything I can to make that happen.

I’m also attending the Blender Conference, taking place at Amsterdam’s De Balie today and this weekend. (I’ve joined the team at the perfect moment for total immersion training.) I’m new to the Blender community, so if you’re here at the conference as well and you see me, please do come up and say hi. I look something like this:

Elysia Brenner, Blender Conference

Looking forward to getting to know the already very welcoming Blender family, and to sharing with you guys one of my personal fangirl passions: open-source 3D animation!

Weekly presentation, October 17, 2014

Here is my weekly quick grab from the weekly folder.

Good news is that our script now is FROZEN! Casting started as well, and there’s a new animatic in progress, which is WIP still – but already in Blender Cloud for our supporters. We reached the limits of where storyboard/animatic could be improved further, better is to now move to 3d layout. For that everyone is modeling basic characters, environments, and rigging them.

05_leaf_03_screenie 04_mushi_01 victor_07 victor_03 dragonfly_research_v03 Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 19.21.36

New arrival: Daniel “Zanqdo” Salazar

Fresh from the plane from “pura vida”  Costa Rica! Character rigger Daniel Salazar arrived today. He’ll be here for a  week of rigging preparations (and for Blender Conference!). He’ll be talking to the team about our animation requirements, to the devs about rigging improvements, and we’ll make sure his work from home next month will go pleasant and smooth.

Our other rigger – Juan Pablo Bouza – will be starting in november as well, working from Argentina.

daniel-salazar

Looking for a Writer/Editor – in Amsterdam!

For the Gooseberry project we want to have our reporting organized very well – much better than in previous years. That includes lots of writing, interviews, making videos, report on meetings or activities, help on writing blog posts, tutorial videos, present artwork or software we make better, and make sure we’re reaching out well to the outside world in general (press, colleges, etc). Or in short – someone who loves to communicate!

Our plan requires one project manager / editor to be visiting us regularly, once or twice per week. That means we need someone who’s living here or close by. The project manager then can coordinate in a later stage writing/reporting from others as well – which can be done remotely via the web (for example by following our logs, artwork updates, software commits, and presenting this well once a while).

  • 5 to 10 full days per month, for a period of 10 months. Per immediate.
  • Salary or fee: on or above ‘modaal’ for Netherlands, depending experience.
  • Work at least one (or 2 half) days per week in Blender Institute Amsterdam
  • No travel expenses have been budgeted, we need someone who lives close by.
  • Proven experience in writing, reporting,with examples of a personal blog or professional blogs.
  • Affinity with – and some active knowledge of – Free/Open Source Software, Blender, 3D animation, technology and e-culture in general.
  • Students (part time job) welcome.

Applications can be sent via e-mail to me! ton at blender.org

Special thanks to the Netherlands Creative Industries Fund for making it possible!

-Ton-

 

Development targets for Gooseberry

whiteboard-targetsThis morning I had a first kick-off meeting with Campbell, Sergey, Lukas and Antony – to evaluate possible development targets for the film. We really hope to be able to tackle a number of issues that already are being postponed too long.

  • Hair simulation
    Lukas summarized the progress with hair code so-far, the issues and the doubts. Main issue is that there’s complicated existing code that sortof works, main doubt is that there are designs already for a new particle/hair node system. When is work on the existing code a waste of time, and how feasible is it to make a new system from scratch?
    Decided was that Lukas keeps working on the existing system, and work with the artists here to create a final-film quality hair sim shot a.s.a.p.
  • Object Nodes for transform, constraints, drivers, modifiers.
    Well. Let’s add particle and hair nodes in the mix too! But it’s a too big project to expect results for within a few months. Lukas will work on this part time (half day per week or so) to make a prototype – if he has time and energy left!
  • Hair sim editing
    “The best sim is no sim” – this whole simulation feature should be nearly invisible and in perfect artistic control. So we need tools to manage stable contact-collisions, set keyframes for hair guides,  bake and edit caches. Or even some kind-of modifiers with hair-vertex-group weight control.
  • Dependency Graph
    Sergey already worked on threaded object-updates, and will further check on handling and solving dependencies between transform and modifier updates. Or even just solve the whole deps issue enitrely – including materials, nodes, point caches, and so on.
    He’ll be using work as done by Joshua Leung for GSoC last year. Joshua has accepted a Development Grant to work with us in Nov/Dec as well. We want this to be solved before final animation on shots start in January. Rather sooner though – riggers totally depend on this to work.
  • Cloth sim
    One of the main film characters is a person in a suit. Simulations for regular clothing are the hardest ones to get right, but can be incredibly rewarding and time saving for the animators. Issues here are similar to hair sim – Lukas will check on upgrading this as well, including good contact/collision handling and properly integrating Bullet physics.
  • Rigging and animation tools
    Antony started work on a “custom manipulator” system, which technically has been named “window manager Widget” now. The system will allow to directly hook up an event handler with a 2d or 3d item in a view. Everything can drive an operator then!
    Imagine controls in Blender for for anything (for example a lamp spot size widget, spin tool rotation widget, a scale widget for selection in dopesheet editor). Widgets can even be parts of an existing mesh model, so riggers can use it to make invisible input ‘widgets’ for posing.
    Sergey will check on the “Implicit Skinning” code – which should be available as GPL-compatible soon.
    Note: Daniel Salazar and Juan Pablo Bouza will be our riggers, they are in daily contact with us on features and design topics. (And check the bf-animsys list please!)
  • Viewport upgrade (OpenGL 3, 4)
    A good quality preview of characters and shot layouts is very helpful for a film project – a real time saver even, especially with real-time Subdivision Surfaces and real-time fur drawing. A side topic to look at is to work on improved (editing of) shaders in the viewport – for modeling as well as preview rendering and of course for the GE.
    Antony is already working on this, together with Jason Wilkins (GSoC Viewport project) and Alexander Kuznetsov.
  • Alembic support
    We should really work on unifying the use of animation caches in Blender – including support for entire characters, with particles, hair, fluid and smoke. Having such caches stream in real-time in Blender would be much faster and prevent issues with instancing, duplication and linking issues as well.
    Campbell will work on this further.
  • Cycles
    Well – basically we only have 1 real problem with Cycles rendering. Speed!
    Sergey has a couple of ideas he will be starting to work on first – especially for more efficient sample schemes. We also discussed a couple of ways to optimize renders using coherence better (or just simply bake things automatically).
    We have an offer from Nvidia to use a massive cluster (16 x 8 of their best gfx cards) to render the entire film with. Will be tested and checked as well.
  • Image Cache
    We had this feature working for the 2.5 render branch (for Sintel) already. It means that Blender (or our asset system) should manage automatically the resolution levels of image files we need, especially to handle the larger textures – which can easily go into 10k x 10k pixels. In many cases (like viewport work) you don’t need to load all the large files anyway. Campbell checks on this.
  • Pipeline
    Blender’s dynamic .blend linking feature has to get in control much better – with a UI to manage it, update things, split or merge, pack or unpack, etc. We need ways to define “assets” for fast re-use, for versioning and for ‘levels’ or resolutions (low res character, high res final characters). Linked data should also work with partial local overrides (called “Proxy” now in Blender) – so you can locally pose characers, or to change just 1 parameter of a shader system.
    Then there’s a need to define a “project” in Blender, to link Blender files together with a root path to work with – for example.
    Last but not least – we’ll check on coding a “.blend file compiler”. This is code that can split up .blend files (in assets) and re-assemble it again – for example based on an artist’s job description in a project. On submitting the job back, the compiler then simply splits up the job again and only stores the relevant piece. Probably – hopefully – this compiler can bypass a lot of problems we have with linking and proxy now.
    Campbell will start working on the pipeline with Francesco, next week.
  • Compositor
    The compositor still lacks a a good way to define and use coordinate spaces (placement of node images inside a canvas). Speed is always an issue too! Most likely Sergey will be working on this.
  • Sequencer
    Antony already has been fixing quite some issues here for Mathieu (who did the animatic storyboard edit). Aside of general usability issues, he’ll be working on bringing back threaded pre-fetch.
  • Modeling and sculpting
    Both Antony and Campbell love to keep tools work here in a perfect state – right after this meeting they shared progress on allowing to sculpt holes in meshes. That’s much needed by Pablo now, and he’ll get it in a few days.

So – this was just a 2 hour discussion summary. Are we really going to do all of this, or even more? Who knows :) The Mango development target list had quite some of the above topics as well. Time will learn! You’re welcome to help though. Our development project is open (go to blender.org, “get involved”), or support us directly by joining Blender Cloud.

Special thanks to the members of the Development Fund and the 1000s of people who already supported us during the Gooseberry campaign (and who are massively renewing their subscriptions now) – thanks to you we can afford to have a lot of developer and artist powers on tackling it all!

-Ton-