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Open Source On the Big Screen 120

Posted by kdawson
from the ebb-and-flow dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Following the success of Elephants Dream, the Blender Foundation is developing a follow-on open movie called Peach, set for completion later this year. Computerworld has up an interesting interview with Matt Ebb, lead artist from Elephants Dream (the interview is split over 5 pages). Ebb talks about the making of the world's first open movie and offers some advice to others wanting to start such a project."
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Open Source On the Big Screen

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  • Apricot (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chubs730 (1095151) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @04:46PM (#22057794)
    As a blender/crystal space user I'm more interested in the development of Apricot [blender.org], the open game based on the movie. It'll be great to see improvements in the area of 3d Linux game development, and certainly make it a more attractive platform for developers in the future.
  • Success? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79 @ g m ail.com> on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @04:55PM (#22057960) Homepage
    I'm probably not alone in that I've never heard of this movie nor studio. Not saying that I alone am a good measure of a movie's success, but I'd like to know the criteria by which this is being judged a success.
  • by starseeker (141897) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @05:13PM (#22058238) Homepage
    I have no problem with making an artsy movie that has hidden meanings, and clearly the Elephant's Dream guys knew what they were doing. It would be interesting if some folks with a bit more mainstream focus would pick up the ball and try it - it might really help Blender too.

    Any movie is going to be judged by a combination of its technical achievements and its storytelling. A lot of the reviews I have read of Elephant's Dream are sort of "what was THAT about" and clearly that was an expected response. Fair enough. Now I'm curious to see if the ground breaking work can be used to create something with a bit more mainstream appeal, that the wider press could pick up and promote with the expectation that most viewers would be entertained. Are there free movie scripts being written anywhere? Maybe if there's a central forum with scripts being reviewed by a community a team could take one of the highly ranked ones and see what they can do with it.

    Maybe we can make some "stars" in the Open Movie world - script writers, voice actors, what have you.
  • Not Really Open... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @05:16PM (#22058278)
    The results of the process are released under an open license. However, the project itself - notably, the writing and direction of the film - were not really an "open" process.

    This is perhaps the biggest problem of Elephant's Dream. Has the script been under some sort of review, I don't think it would have passed.

    I think there's some irony to the fact that on virtually every level except as an good movies, Elephant's Dream is a huge success. As a demo reel for Blender, a way of making the workflow more usable, a means for enhancing the viability of Blender... a huge success.

    But as a film... Not so much. It doesn't really tell a story, and the plot (such that it is) doesn't make sense. If this is all being imagined on the part of one of the characters, there's really nothing to let us know, and the "real" world fails to intrude. Who is this other character, and why are they together in the first place? It just doesn't work.

    Project Peach takes a similar approach - while all the outputs of the project will eventually be open to the public, the actual process - plotting, character choices, storyboarding - are closed to the public. In theory, it's to prevent the "surprise" of the story from being spoiled. I'd argue that film experience something like "Cars" and "Toy Story" was just as good for the people who worked on the film as it was for those who didn't. In some cases, it was probably better, when they could finally see the fruits of their work come together.

    In contrast, have a look at Animation:Master's Tin Woodman of Oz [hash.com]. Although they're a commercial project, the model is much more open than Blender's. The discussions are open on their boards, the animatics have been posted, and there's constantly open discussion about the project. Any member of the community can join in and contribute, from design, rigging, voice acting, music and animating. There's no "secrets" to the project.

    Of course, you've got to be a paying customer to actually have a copy of Animation:Master in the first place, and their boards were notorious for banning people who complained about their products. It's also forbidden to discuss competing software in their forum.

    Still, I think it's a model worth looking at, especially as a counter example to these so called "open" projects that Blender embarks where the end result isn't revealed until the end.

    Yes, I'm aware that stuff is released on the blogs. Note that these often have censored bits, so particular bits of information about the film itself isn't leaked. Technical details are much more open.

    I'm not arguing that the results - other than perhaps the video itself - aren't great. But I have to disagree strongly with the use of "open" tag as applied to the process itself. And TWO shows that a more open model is certainly viable in some forms (which put other constraints on the project, like increasing the time to market).

  • Re:Blender (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ultranova (717540) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @06:39PM (#22059498)

    Because artists have no freakin' idea what a good UI is. The fact that all the major tools for modeling have completely horrid UIs is not a coincidence. 3d modeling apps are the proverbial kitchen sinks.

    That's partly because they try to combine modelling - with two or three different paradigms: polygons, NURBS and subdivision surfaces - texturing, rigging, animating, physics, particles, hair, etc. into a single program. Of course the end result is a horrible mess where it's impossible to find what you want. Which, I suppose, is a long-winded way to say that they're kitchen sinks ;).

    Ultimately, the problem is that 2D modeling - drawing - has traditionally been the domain of artists, while 3D modeling has been the domain of engineers and architechts. Artists don't have to know or care about mathemathics, while engineers and architechts have to. Their tools reflect this: brushes vs. millimeter paper. This division has been carried to the computer realm. It is straightforward to paint with Gimp - point and click a place in the screen, and color is added there - but the very first thing any 3D program manual starts talking about is polygons, and then goes on to explain the mathemathical foundation of NURBS. The limits of 2D screens and pointing devices don't exactly help, either.

    To top it all off, the popular OBJ format used to exchange 3D models completely fails to retain any of the all-important rigging or animation loop information. As a result, these models are fine if you want to do an image of Lot's wife but not otherwise. We desperately need a higher-level file format which captures rigging, animation cycles (such as walk cycle) and automatic things like blinking and breathing, as well as unconscious gestures, body language and such. In short, a file format to describe a digital actor. The current stuff is the equivalent of assembly, and about as efficient for large projects: good for the CPU, horrible to anyone who has to do anything with it.

    And, of course, all this is completely ignoring all the stupid little things like polygons caving into the model like the empty shells they are, NURBS models breaking at seams, the utter masslessness of any model unless the animator specifically goes over each frame and figures out how inertia and gravity affect things, inverse kinetics chains flip-flopping in certain situations, etc.

    I wonder when we'll get even the abstraction level equivalent of ANSI C for 3D; compared to the current stuff, it seems pure sci-fi.

  • Re:Success? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dbIII (701233) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @06:47PM (#22059620)

    but I'd like to know the criteria by which this is being judged a success.

    They succeeded in their goals perhaps?

  • by LetterRip (30937) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @07:14PM (#22059956)

    Now I'm curious to see if the ground breaking work can be used to create something with a bit more mainstream appeal, that the wider press could pick up and promote with the expectation that most viewers would be entertained.
    Peach http://peach.blender.org/ [blender.org] , the second open movie being done by the Blender Foundation is targeted at mass market appeal - it will be cute, funny, and furry.

    So I think it has a good chance of meeting your hopes and expectations.

    LetterRip
  • Re:Youtube (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @07:53PM (#22060336)

    If you understand the concept of 3d modeling already, a good UI should take no time to learn.. none. If you don't understand the concepts, sure, there may be some period of learning required, but the UI of your modeling app should aid that learning process.

    3d modeling tools are seen as technical products for a technical audience.. as such the UI is given no serious consideration.
    Your first statement is partly true, but not entirely. First, each app has a different philosophy behind its work flow. In that sense, no, understanding 3d modelling doesn't guarantee a '0 time to learn' by any stretch of the imagination. For example: Lightwave has a modeler app. You build your model in that app, then load it in Layout and animate it. The benefit is that the tools are designed around direct vertex manipulation. It's very easy to get a nice clean model with no extra invisible points etc. The added bonus is since LW's scene has to load the object in, then modify it, you can easily modify an object later and it won't rock the boat of what's going on in layout. (In other words, you can easily update a character's model after it has been animated. Though not impossible in other apps, it's typically less elegant.) Maya, however, has a different approach. Its idea of modeling involves piling on a series of modifiers/nodes onto some geometry. If you want to slice along the polys of a cube, for example, a 'split node' is attached to the object that modifies the geometry for that result. You can then go back and modify it.

    On the surface, you end up with a similar toolset. Both Maya and Lightwave have the split/slice polygon tools. However, the philosophies behind them really make that common toolset problematic. For example, Lightwave doesn't have a modifier based operation. It's like Photoshop in that respect. You mess with the vertices, blammo, you're done. This gives you tools like "Dragnet". That tool allows you to grab an area of verticies and pull, just like working with clay. Maya, however, can't do any operations on geometry without creating a modifier. So if you want to do a tool like I described, you have to create a 'dragnet' node, place its start point, then move it to the destination. That's a good deal slower than how Lightwave handles it.

    This is an over-simplification of what's involved, but it more or less illustrates the problem with your statement. I'd liken it to watercolors vs. oil paints. They both require paint and a paint brush, but the techniques involved are nearly inverses of each other. With Lightwave, you model by cutting a lot of pieces away. With Maya, you model bending pieces into shape since its work flow lends itself to doing lots of deformations. To put it another over-simplified way: Lightwave would be better suited to modeling something vehicular with rigid pieces. Maya, however, would totally kick Lightwave's ass when modelling something with a lot of hoses and other bendable things, like the Sentinels from the Matrix. The difference is in the workflow philosophies of these apps, not their toolsets. It's a lot harder to cross-train modelers between apps than you'd expect.

    3d modeling tools are seen as technical products for a technical audience.. as such the UI is given no serious consideration.
    I'm not sure how to read this statement. Either you're saying that the UI isn't developed for the mass audience (which is true, and I have no argument at all with) or you're saying that UI's are just tacked on and the artsts just deal with it, which does happen, but isn't generally true. UIs for 3D apps are developed around the philosophy of the app. If that philosophy isn't understood, then the UI makes no sense. Give a Photoshop guru a copy of Illustrator and tell him to do work in it, and he'll tell you the UI's bad. Different philosophy. A lot of work actually does go into the UI of 3D apps. The problem is you cannot take something as vast as '3D' and slim it down to a UI philosophy like you can with something like Photoshop. Yes, 3D apps aren't unituitive or psychic, but no, it isn't for lack of trying.
  • Re:Blender (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LetterRip (30937) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @08:26PM (#22060624)

    We desperately need a higher-level file format which captures rigging, animation cycles (such as walk cycle) and automatic things like blinking and breathing, as well as unconscious gestures, body language and such. In short, a file format to describe a digital actor. The current stuff is the equivalent of assembly, and about as efficient for large projects: good for the CPU, horrible to anyone who has to do anything with it.
    See the Collada and FBX formats which support all of that, Collada is an open exchange format, FBX is a closed exchange format.

    LetterRip
  • Re:A Swarm of Angels (Score:4, Interesting)

    by montyzooooma (853414) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @05:56AM (#22064642)
    A Swarm Of Angels has been a frustrating experience for me. I was initially very interested with it but it became apparent that there is a creative team in place who make the decisions and then these decisions are put to the vote. So you're voting on which of the creative teams visions you go for. I don't think there is any significant material input into the creative project by the swarm.

    Shares are being sold in the movie project but there is no chance to participate in profits, in the event that any profits are made. So while the project is on-going some people are being paid for their input and work (fair enough) while those "investing" have no hope of a return on investment over and above whatever entertainment they get from the forums and the opportunity to vote on what colour the poster will be (check it out if you don't believe me but last time I looked you needed to join to view the forums). To me this looks like an ideal investment plan for a potential film-maker - you get your money, you don't have to pay any of it back and individual investors are too small to have any control over you.

    There was an initial flurry of activity on the forums then a bit of a gap in official communications while people on the forums talked a load of bull about scripts. Then we heard that a tentative initial script outline was going to be debuted at an upcoming convention, without any creative input from the swarm. At that point I realized it was smoke and mirrors and haven't been back since. If it's turned into some democratic creative Utopia since then my apologies to them.

    Now I appreciate that a ship needs a captain and any project like this needs a creative vision but the implied promise was that that vision would be shaped by the members but I don't feel that was the case.

Economists state their GNP growth projections to the nearest tenth of a percentage point to prove they have a sense of humor. -- Edgar R. Fiedler

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