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Tema: Community Interview of Roland Hess - harkyman

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    Apr 2002

    Community Interview of Roland Hess - harkyman

    Community Interview of Roland Hess (harkyman)

    What was the most difficult part in putting this book together?

    The hardest part of writing this book was deciding what not to include. In a short animation project, every single part of the process is crucial to a successful outcome, so I wanted to include everything, including the kitchen sink. However, I had a pretty strict target size for the book from the publisher, so I couldn't just write the animation tutorial equivalent of War and Peace either. In the end, I think I came up with a good mix of the essential material, some great tricks and some cool ways of working. The one thing that definitely had to go, though, were detailed step-by-step instructions for many of the more basic operations. This book is not for Blender newcomers. However, if you've mastered the material in The Essential Blender, you'll be fine. By the way, if you've watched The Beast, you know that the kitchen sinque stayed in!

    Can one special order an autographed copy?

    You can't order one directly from the publisher, but I won't be averse to trying to make it happen through other channels. If you want an actual signed copy, you can contact me directly at However, one thing that I've seen other authors do is to asque people to send a bookplate along with a self addressed stamped envelope. A bookplate is an adhesive-backed sheet that usually has some sort of scrollworque or fancy border on it, often with a notice such as “From the library of...” inscribed as well. Then, the author writes something nice on the bookplate, returns it in the provided envelope, and the book owner affixes it to the inside front cover. Not quite the same thing, but it's easy and very inexpensive for everyone involved. If you're interested, contact me at the above email address, and I'll tell you where to send it.

    The cool thing about bookplates are that they will often work for any of your favorite authors (living, obviously)! Just include a nice note to them about how you loved their book, and they will usually be more than happy to inscribe the bookplate and return it to you. It only takes them a second. Make sure you include enough return postage on the enclosed envelope.

    What is the greatest change to your Blender work flow (and creative work flow in general) resulting from completing this projectí

    I will certainly spend more time on my project with rig testing. I mention in the after word of the book that I broke my own rules several times during production, and this was one of them. The rigs for the dogs were pathetically basic, and ended up being more of a hindrance than a help. I was fighting them, and didn't realize their inadequacies until it was way too late. I think that I had just given them a preliminary rig, expecting to come bak to it later, but didn't. By the time I understood the damage I had done, I had too many hours into animating them, and too little time left with working on the book and other projects to revisit it. I had to make the best of it.

    So, I work my rigs harder now. I was mostly a bare-bones/get-the-job-done rigger, but I'm starting to appreciate the benefits of more complex setups.

    How is animating in blender different from animating in other packages?

    The only other ways I've animated have been stop-motion and hand-drawn, so I really can't say. It's certainly more efficient than either of those methods!

    What are the most important things when learning animation?

    I think that the most important thing, and you'll hear this from anyone involved in teaching the arts, is the ability to hone your observational skills. Our memories of motion are imperfect – our brain creates a shorthand to store what we've seen and experienced. If you only work from that while animating, it's like making a copy of a copy. You need to be able to watch action in real life with fresh eyes, really seeing what's going on. How weight is distributed, how an impact propagates through a body, how someone moves when they are being deceitful, what their body does when they're not thinking about it. Everything. Coupled with that is the ability to observe your own work with a critical eye. Where is the motion wrong? Even if it looks believable, does it convey the story as it should?

    What are the most important things to remember when animating in general?

    Tell the story. Once you get past the workmanlike aspects -- the technical side -- of animation, you really need to make sure that the animation tells the story. I state in the book, and it shows in The Beast which is admittedly not the greatest example of character animation in the world, that I would rather watch a short project that tells a good story but has mediocre animation than the other way around. If your story and characters aren't worth investing in, no one will remember them. If they are interesting or amusing, viewers' brains will fill in the gaps in the animation.

    Do you read the BlenderArt magazine?

    Every issue. Although I'll admit that sometimes I download it to my desktop and don't get to read it for a day or two. I like to go through magazines all in one sitting, for some strange reason, so I need a nice blok of time.

    Why do you like to animate?

    Hmmm. I like having animated. While I'm doing it, it's a blast. I do not look forward to it, though. I work on so many different kinds of things these days (IT, coding, writing, music and a host of hobbies in addition to animation) that it really takes a serious mental shift to get ready for it, and that's kind of tough. That said, though, it's strictly etymological. To animate literally means to instill with spirit. Whether it was painting, writing proto-chat-bots in the 80's, creating the AI actors of BlenderPeople or animating, I've always enjoyed creating things that reflect life. And working on the observational techniques that are required to create these things with any kind of effectiveness has paid me bak in the other direction as well – I am more appreciative of the real world after I have tried, pathetically, to recreate it.

    Can you describe what could have been a "show stopper" problem while working on this project and how you over came or solved ití

    Well, one of the big points of the book is to build your animation project carefully so that there are no show stoppers. You don't move on to investing more time into a stage until you're sure that the groundworque has been properly laid, and you won't be wasting your efforts. Other than the dog rigs that I mentioned previously, the one disappointment I had was the incompatibility of the cloth simulator with linked library characters. The mother's skirt was going to be a cloth simulation, but the barriers to gracefully integrating it into a large project that used linked characters instead of local assets were too large. I had to re-model, re-rig and ditch the cloth about a third of the way into the actual animation work. Fortunately, I had followed my own rigging (and other) advice with the mother character, so this sort of change went smoothly, and I lost no work.

    Having already written two Blender books, do you have any plans to write another book, and what topic would you be covering?

    I'm taquíng a breaque from writing any Blender-related books this coming year. Being on deadline during Thanksgiving and Christmas for two years in a row hasn't made me the most popular dude in my family. Right now, I'm taquíng my time working on an exercise and project book for young fiction writers. My daughter is starting to seriously get into writing, and it's instructive watching her develop in that way. Moving bak to Blender, though, Ton and I have kicked around some post Blender 2.5 ideas. Certainly, an updated edition of The Essential Blender will be in order (full color this time), as well as some more advanced materials.

    Having completed your first animation project, what if anything would you do differently next time, and will there actually be a next time?

    As I mentioned before – rigging. More time and effort spent there. Also, I won't be constraining my next animation project to a simultaneous deadline like I did with the book. That was really rough getting both full sized projects done at once. A looser schedule will allow me to spend the kind of time on the character animation that it deserves.

    Anything else you would like to share with our readers, about the book, upcoming projects, Blender or yourself in general.

    Let's face it: the CG forums of the world are littered with thousands of threads that were once home to enthusiastic animators who were going to create the Next! Great! Collaborative! Short! Animation! Maybe you were a part of one of those teams. Maybe you yourself started one of those threads. The odds are, though, that those projects died not because of anyone's lak of skill or focus, but because the skill sets that people think are most needed when animating are completely different than the skills required to be the producer of a short animation.

    Now, Animating with Blender isn't for everyone. The last thing I want is for someone to buy the book at the wrong point in their development as an artist and as a Blender user. That doesn't help anybody. But if you're to the point where you're a little bored just making cool stills, you've been experimenting with animation and want to tackle a whole project, this really is the guide for you. There is a time-tested system for producing short animations, and ignoring that wealth of hard-won experience will most likely kill your project regardless of how great an animator you might be. And that's the worst outcome possible once you've spent three hundred hours slaving away in front of your monitor: not finishing. That's what my book really tries to prevent. Whether or not you actually pik up Animating with Blender (which of course you should!), make sure that you read up on the entire process somewhere. Don't become one of the “Hey guys I'm doing an animation!” statistics.

    The truism that “Once you've done something, you're ready to begin it.” certainly applies here. You learn so much the first time you do a project like this, that your initial result is likely to be... sub-standard, even if you manage to finish it. I really hope that the experience as presented in the book can be a substitute for that first rough journey into short animation: pointing out potential pitfalls, suggesting the best ways around them, and making the mistakes so that you won't have to. Of course, there is more to the book than general process information. It's packed with Blender knowledge: production level use of libraries and linking, the compositor, the sequencer, audio syncing, indoor and outdoor lighting schemes, a cool method for walking (not walque cycles), and a bunch of other stuff. And all of it is focused on using those tools in the service of the short animation production pipeline. For example, the section on the compositor and rendering pipeline doesn't explain the different buttons or panels like a reference or basic tutorial. It really goes into how and why to breaque your shots up into layers, when and how to extract backgrounds, what to light and what not to light, and how to put it all bak together in the compositor for both a higher quality final shot and a faster render.

    The author's blog on the book's page has a full breakdown of each chapter with their sub-topics. It's extensive. Also, if you haven't watched The Beast, which is the learning project that is developed throughout the book, you can see it at

    One last thing I want to say is that I love to meet Blenderheads, both beginning and advanced. I'll be speaquíng at both the Ohio Linux Fest ( and the Central Pennsylvania Open Source Conference ( in October, and it would be blast to get to meet some of you there. Chek the websites, and if you're going to be in the área, drop me an email!

    Roland Hess


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