Video: How Matias Made 1000+ Storyboard Images

Now that you have all seen the latest animatic (those of you on the Blender Cloud, anyway), Gooseberry director Mathieu Auvray has put together a video showing where the  more than 1,000 images used to make it came from. Matias Mendiola, Gooseberry’s storyboard artist based in Argentina, walks you through his process, from blue-pencil sketches to full digital drawings, in just 2½ minutes.

BAM! Building the Asset Manager

This is the first progress report on the asset manager project (originally known as Redcurrant). Going forward, though, the plan is to report all updates on a weekly basis.bam_preview_1

After Bart’s initial investigation at the beginning of the year, we spent the following months looking further into existing pipeline solutions and designs, still unsure whether to pursue our own project or adopt an existing one. This summer, in particular during SIGGRAPH 2014 in Vancouver, we had the chance to meet with a few pipeline architects, and also attend some relevant sessions on topics such as asset management and render management. We also got some demos from the TACTIC team as well as Damas software, Shotgun, and Thinkbox – with some of them extremely keen to support our project. But after these meetings and demos it was pretty clear that we had to develop our own solution. The main rationale behind this is that we need:

  • A system that we can easily understand and extend
  • Free & open software
  • Something that will fit into the current Blender workflow

Relating to the last point, our pipeline is a little peculiar compared to most film-production scenarios. In general, pipelines and pipeline tools focus on data flow across departments as well as consistent data representation (depending on the context in which the data is required).  In this production, we will mostly use the .blend file format (possibly with some Alembic for caching), so some of the main pipeline issues can be addressed later, although we are keeping them in the front of our minds as we design.

The Big Picture

Building a feature-film-ready pipeline is a massive task, which we will not attempt to solve in one go. Based on past film experience and early feedback, we believe the best solution is to subdivide the pipeline into 3 main components:

pipeline_tools_1

We could write several paragraphs about each one of the components (and we will, in future posts), but for the moment let’s just focus on asset management. This is the component we need most urgently. Also, starting here gives us several benefits:

  • Production is still in a very early stage
  • The team is small
  • Almost no migration is needed

The simplified design for our asset manager (BAM) looks like this:

pipeline_tools_2
The idea is to allow selective “checkout” of a large project structure, including time and bandwidth and efficiency. At the same time, we want to maintain compatibility with the existing SVN-based storage and versioning system (used in all our previous open movie projects). It’s reasonable to expect that SVN will not scale well to the feature film level, but for the moment it’s a valuable safety net for the pilot production. (More detailed documentation will be available here.)

The pipeline team

Currently the core team for this project is composed of Campbell Barton and yours truly (Francesco Siddi). We’ve received a lot of feedback and offers to help, which have been extremely valuable. At the moment there are no plans to expand the team inside the studio, but external contribution to the project will be seriously evaluated and possibly integrated. In order to make the project successful we need a number of experienced and motivated stakeholders, willing and interested in adopting the project in their own pipelines.

Timeline

We have already spent several weeks collecting feedback, investigating, designing, and discussing the big picture. We have also started work on a proof-of-concept implementation, which is working well and could be the foundation for future work on the asset management module.

During the past week we have wrapped up 80% of the prototype functionality, and we are confident that during this week we will be able to deliver a basic command-line utility, allowing communication with a remote server via HTTP, abstracting SVN checkouts and commit operations. During the week we plan structure this and formalize the timeline even further.

Feedback

If you’re interested to see the code and checkout the git repository, check the asset manager prototype here. (Keep in mind that this is a work in progress, not a production-ready tool.) More planning and design docs are available on wiki.blender.org.

We are still in the early development stage, but one of our top priorities (as highlighted in the time-line) is to have a working tool for the current production, allowing artists inside and outside the studio to work together. That being said, we are always open to feedback, suggestions, and the fixing of any issues you might encounter while working with the pipeline tools.

Let us know in the comments your early thoughts.

Gooseberry Tools: The New & Improved Sequencer

Campbell and Antony have been up to good things, for all you video editors out there. The sequencer has gotten a face lift! Mathieu’s made a before-and-after screenshot showing the most important changes (note that both are the exact same file!):

sequencer-compared

It looks a lot neater now! That’s because you no longer see the potential space remaining in each file on top of the space you’re actually using. One of the next steps will likely be to clean up the look even more by removing some of the vertical lines.

Miss the seeing the unused leftovers? You can still turn this feature on using the “Slip Strip” (just press the S key while you move the line):

sequencer_slip-strip-tool

This screenshot also shows another modernization: note the boxes now have rounded edges instead of sharp square corners. (There’s talking of re-implementing the flat edge between files that cut directly from one to another, but this might be a little tricky to work out, so that’s TBD.)

In addition, the new sequencer also lets you view the wave forms for each of the files with a click on the bottom menu bar:

sequencer_waveforms-backdrop

You can also set this box to the former Strip option to view waveforms for only the files you’ve hand-selected, like in the previous sequencer, if you need to do that for any reason.

Plus, the new tool lets you turn on the backdrop, as in the compositing tool. Currently, you can only set this backdrop to full-screen format, but the guys are working on an option that will allow you to place it anywhere on the screen, like you can in compositing.

For now, the new sequencer is part of the Gooseberry branch; you can download the latest build for Linux here – thanks, Sergey! There are plans to incorporate this into the Master build as well, later…

Next week, Mathieu will make a video with the tips and tricks he’s picked up using the video editor for his own work. :-)

Video editors, what do you think of this new direction for the sequencer?

Welcome Manu to the Blender studio!

The Blender studio is another talent stronger since Manu Järvinen joined us this week from Helsinki, Finland!

Manu at Blender

Since studying 3D visualization at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Manu has worked with several studios – for the past 4 years entertainment company Rovio. (Yep, the “Angry Birds” people.) Luckily, they’ve been kind enough to lend him out to Blender for 9 months to work on Project Gooseberry.

Here, Manu’s first task is modelling – starting with Cosmos Laundromat itself:

Manu working 2

You can check out Manu’s skills for yourself on his website, which is full of his 3D images and animations.

Gooseberry Weekly Round-Up – October 31, 2014

After a week off for the conference, team Gooseberry gathered around the table again on Friday to catch up and show off the cool stuff they’ve been working on over the week. If you missed the livecast, you can watch the whole thing here (if you’re curious, I’m the one in red):

In a hurry? Here are the highlights:

Hjalti realizes part of the animatic in 3D: Franck struggling with his new caterpillar form. This sequence is now ready for Mathieu’s direction – what needs to change before moving forward?

Daniel’s got Victor fully rigged and ready to roam.

Frog model_31102014

Angela has modeled the scary frog who tries to eat Franck in the jungle world. The model is a spot-on interpretation of Sarah’s concept, but the animators say it will need some tweaking to make rigging feasible.

Lukas tests how force fields and smoke work together to test the building of the sheepnado that will suck Franck into the Cosmos Laundromat worlds.

Lukas also had some fun taming Franck’s hair this week… First, to get a sense of proportion, he used Angela’s “bald Franck” model as a base. But the “hair” still grows wild:

Franck gets a haircut, BEFORE

Franck gets a haircut, BEFORE

Using this, he could cut the hair to the mesh boundary:

07_shape_cut_AFTER

Franck gets a haircut, AFTER

However, the hair still needs to be taught to obey gravity!

If you’re following our director Mathieu on Instagram, you might have also caught this glimpse of Franck’s hair, full of fluff and wind:

Voice casting:

This week, 6 professional voice actors read for the roles of Franck, Victor, and Tara. There will soon be an official announcement about casting, but so far we can say that the characters have become more real than ever after seeing them brought to life by these pros!

The script:

There is a new final version of the script! This time the edits focused on fleshing out the relationship between Victor and Franck, which is really what sets the stage for the whole story. See the latest version (and the previous versions) on the Blender Cloud!

Up next:

  • Daniel will continue rigging the rest of the characters.
  • Sarah will finish her concept of a dragonfly creature Franck uses as winged transport in the jungle world so that Angela can model it.
  • Campbell and Francesco will continue to work on their pipeline project to improve documentation.
  • Sergey is working on predictive tracking.

What do you think of the development so far? What do you hope to see more of/learn more about?

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