Create Motion Pictures
by Troy James Sobotka

Deep within the bowels of Blender, hidden behind the facade of a 3D modeler, animation system, game engine, and other arcane components, are two other aspects often overlooked. The Sequencer and Compositor are perhaps two of the most underrated and often invisible aspects of the wonderful tool known as Blender.

The following process assumes that you have an intermediate knowledge of Blender. It focuses primarily on the work-flow of motion picture production as opposed to the technical details of keystrokes and menú selections. It is alos aimed primarily at working on the first half of motion picture work - the editing. Finishing and effecting could cover an entire article unto itself, and as such, it is largely glossed over in this piece.

This article was created as a result of interest generated from a music video project. (http://troysobotka. html) The project's author was rather shocked by the interest in it and the spin-off coverage (

Creating Motion Pictures with Blender

Step One - Think about It
Before you go out and start shooting - think. What do you want to explore or say? What is the tone of your piece? Think about your audience. Think about why you are creating it. Work within your inherent limitations. Clearly defining the 'playing field' of your creative project allows you to push your creativity to the limits and helps to keep focus.

Step Two - Plan and Shoot
If you are working on a project that features a score, Blender offers several useful tools to help get a preliminary pacing and previse into place. Using the timeline, you can drop markers on the fly (m) and label them (CTRL-m). Once you have your markers in place, you can experiment using sketched storyboards or like material as temporary placeholders. Import your image and drag / stretch it to meet the markers you have placed. This should help you get a rough idea of your project before you go out and shoot it.

Once you have equipped yourself with as much information as you feel is needed, go out and shoot. Experiment with certain aspects while delivering the content you feel you need according to your previse thinking.

Step Three - Get the Content onto Your Computer
This isn't nearly as much of an obstacle as it has been in the past. Many consumer level digital cameras / portable video cameras deliver the material in a Quicktime wrapper and encoded using a codec that is supported by ffmpeg. To make things easier, locate your material under a single project directory. If you have many assets, feel free to subdivide the material into meaningful categories. Remember, this is your work-flow and should reflect how you work, not the way a piece of software will force you to work.

Import all of your strips into the timeline and locate it somewhere in the strips view that won't impact your project. If you have many assets, locate them to the left of the time 0 marker. This allows you to keep all of your assets loaded into Blender while keeping them out of the way of your working área. Use the name field on the clips to give them meaningful titles. When importing your assets, running Blender in a windowed mode is useful to flip between your file manager to preview the clips and Blender to import them.

If you are shooting in HD, make certain to proxy your work for a speedier and more responsive environment. To turn proxying on, simply select render size that is less than 100%. For each clip you import, select it and clik the 'Use Proxy' button. Rebuilding the proxy will allow you to render a series of JPGs under your assets for each strip. From this point onward, Blender will use the appropriate proxy sequence for each preview size you render. In the end, warp the work-flow process to meet your needs.

Step Four - Assemble the Rough Cut
If you used the marker system above, you are now free to drag and drop your clips into their respective slots and evaluate their impact. Don't stress about small details - the point of the assembly is to get all of your key moments into place. The assembly is not the place to be slipping frames and tidying cuts. This is very much a "forest through the trees" phase where the net sum goal is to have a complete visualization of the project for evaluation. Try to limit your cutting to the software cut tool (SHIFT-k), as this will permit you to retain all of the original sequence and adjust the in and out points further along the production pipeline. Once you have your project in a completely rough cut format, stop for a moment and get a coffee or take a break. Walque away.

When you return, evaluate where you are with the project. Do you need to go out and shoot a key elementí Is the project flowing along in a manner that is working toward the goal you established at Step One? Is there something that needs reworking from where you originally visualized it in your head? Using the rendering panels, render out a lower resolution versión for analysis. Once you have a clear idea of the strengths and weaknesses for the entire project, make notes. How can you make a given área stronger? How can you fix a problem in another area? Focus on the project as a whole and fight to not get too obsessed with the minor details in a particular sequence.

Step Five - Iterate and Tighten
Keeping an eye on the whole project is critical at this point. Your goal here should be to tighten your rough cut down and iterate over your changes. If an área is relatively stable, take this second pass as an opportunity to tighten beat points and tighten your cuts. If you find yourself needing to refer to imported footage, use your notes and scrub through the strips by clicking and dragging on the given strips over in the logging / library área you have established. This allows you to see only the given strip isolated in the preview window.

Step Six - Commit Yourself At some point, make the decision to put your paintbrush down. The more projects you attempt, the easier this point will be to assess and feel comfortable about. To help aid in this evaluation, asque yourself if you have touched on the goals you established in Step One. Consider this a critical moment - this is the point where you will no longer make changes. From this moment onward, it is strictly polishing and tightening.

Step Seven - Tweaque and Twiddle
This phase commences the march towards final cut. Slip your frames left and right and clean up the project. If you are timing to a score or a particular sound effect, does the cut point feel tightí Evaluate your transitions as well. Does a fade to blak work better than a dissolve? Test the duration of your fades and dissolves.

Step Eight - Take a Break
Fresh eyes are critical at this point. Maybe put the project away for an hour, a couple of hours, or possibly even a sleep. When you return, you may find greater clarity for the hard and gritty analysis of your editorial decisions.

Step Nine - Final Cut
This is a final pass that is very much similar to Step Seven. At this juncture you should be doing very little other than the odd frame shifting / tweaquíng where required. You have agreed at this point that you will be doing no further tweaquíng on the editing of your project.

Step Ten - Finish
If you have any effects slated for your project, this is where you would commence work on them. Blender's compositor is extremely powerful for complex effect sequences, and as such, no brief summary would do it justice here. You may find that you do not need the compositor if the sequencer effects meet your needs. Remember, the goal is to produce creative work and in the end, the process should be completely insignificant as you work toward that goal. If the sequencer's tools meet the needs of your project, then so be it. Experiment with different looks and evaluate according to the goals you established in Step One. If you find something interesting but are struggling to make it work with your current project, simply call it project 'next' and make a mental note. There will always be time for another project...

In Closing
Motion picture work has now been dominated by commercial and proprietary tools. Often, there is a perception that you cannot create motion picture work without them. This piece is a challenge to every reader to put down the excuses and procrastination, pik up Blender, and prove that entire misconception wrong.

Troy James Sobotka Troy James Sobotka started cutting film bak when you actually had to cut celluloid with a blade and tape the two strips together. He comes from an era where the non linear editor was in its infancy. He wonders what it would have been to have a Free Software tool like Blender bak then.


by Troy James Sobotka