Blender for Dream?

A Beautiful Dream was pushed so far back on the stove that I considered it effectively dead.  Which was sad, but I felt the required production values (much if it takes place in a high-end mansion) were too much to consider with the budget (basically, food and maybe help with gas) I felt I could winkle out of my wife.

Then I started to research matte paintings for use in my horror concept.  Why?  Well, there’s a scene I feel is important where the characters drive up to a large, imposing mansion on a hill, except my budget only allowed me to use our rather pedestrian house.  I remembered the technique used to extend sets and thought that’d be a perfect solution to my problem.  I reached out to a number of artists and while the prices I was getting back are eminently feasible for any standard Hollywood production, the quotes were too much for my tiny little budget.  And I believe I came up with a way to edit around the issue while still preserving what I felt was important to the scene.

But a seed was planted and Dream slid slightly forward on the stove.  If I could get a series of inexpensive matte paintings, perhaps I could shoot it the way I envisioned on a vastly smaller budget using greenscreen.  But I totally lack any sort of artistic ability, so struggled with how to work around my non-existent budget.  It simmered slightly for while, then I recalled ‘architectural rendering‘ as a concept.  Some of this stuff is so photorealistic that it takes a trained eye to search for the little tiny mistakes that reveal the synthetic origin.  So I invested some time seeing what the learning curve looked like for such things, focused on what would work on Linux, since I’m anti Windows and Mac.

Interestingly, most of the links pointed toward Blender.  Blender is a general-purpose animation tool that’s free (open source), actively maintained and is used by some of the big animation studios for their paid commercial work.  I’ve heard there’s a steep learning curve to Blender (well, this is largely true of animation (or CAD) programs in general) and had made abortive attempts in the past to learn about it.  What was more interesting was during this process I learned about architectural animations, which was even more the ideal to satisfy the production needs of Dream.  Years ago I researched the notion of doing motion/face capture for animation (in Blender!) for a scifi adaptation I have in mind, so that meant there was potential I didn’t need to deal with the vagaries of greenscreen and could do the whole thing via CGI.  The price of motion capture has cratered since Avatar and it’s possible to do for thousands (even hundreds, if you have the patience/interest to create your own motion capture suit) what use to take 10’s of millions.

This brought Dream mid stove and the simmer started.  I still hesitated, though, because I find steep learning curves painful (boy, did learning to edit Treasure Hunt cause agony!).  Sure, it would be nice to get Dream done the way I envisioned, and I could see further potential to produce a proof-of-concept for the scifi adaptation I had in mind, but it looked like a huge effort for essentially no reasonable chance at financial reward.  While my decisions are not entirely driven by money, working for a living means I value my free time quite a bit, so I have to have a strong desire/interest in the goals that soak up my free time and was finding it challenging to come down on the side of investing months (or longer!) to become minimally competent using Blender.  That could wait for retirement (in 4 years, 5 months – but who’s counting).

And there it might have stayed until I happened to think to research how much animators, particularly 3D animators using Blender, can get paid.  Lo and behold, the potential exists to get paid more than my already inflated govt. salaries!  That put a totally different complexion on it.  Now the reward for powering through the learning curve could be an earlier still ‘retirement,’ not to mention the potential of getting paid very well once ‘retired,’ such that our retirement money could continue to grow rather than be strip mined for day-to-day existence.

My thoughts moved much faster since then, since the notion of being paid back in actual dollars for my investment of effort was quite enticing.  But I still struggled with motivation issues – which I choose to blame on my mysterious illness, though I know that’s at least partly a cop out – so didn’t get much more done than reading some tutorials.  But last Saturday I finally parked my ass in the chair and started using the software.

Yep, as painful as I thought.  It seems like every single key on the keyboard has at least one use, and most have several, depending on context.  So. Many. Things. To. Learn.  I spent around two hours trying to get the virtual camera to pan past the virtual cube lit by the virtual sun and render into a movie.  No such luck, though later in the day I do believe I figured out what I might be doing wrong.  Circumstances have meant I haven’t actually got back to it, but I do think I might have got to the point I’ll continue and, hopefully, get to the point I can put the computer to work doing the actual rendering.

I’ve started a new category on my blog called, cleverly, ‘Blender,’ where I will post on my learning process, along with the likely painfully crude and boring to watch renders.  Dream is still a long way off, but if I can get the architectural animations going, then I’m going to look into a DIY motion capture suit and then attempt to rope in an actor to see if I can make something people might actually find interesting to watch.  I think there’s a much more realistic chance I can get paid to make 3D animated shorts – such as commercials – since I have education and experience as a producer, writer and director, coupled with, I hope, my skills as an animator.  A different kind of dream…

Author: mitusents

Biochemist, MBA, then programmer. Now novelist, screenplay writer and hopefully director. What a strange trip it's been.