Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Interviewing Ton Roosendaal: will it blend?

Yes, I could not resist to associate Blender with "will it blend" my favourite way to use an iPhone (check out this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_S8sxpK4_iA).

Some days ago, I asked some questions to Ton Roosendaal and he, really nicely, found the time to answer. As you all may know, he is the creator of Blender and the head of the Blender Institute. Anyway, for me, the most important idea he developed is the "open movie" project. It introduces a completely new concept of creating an artistic opera, where the public can be an active part during the production and expecially after it, possibly improving the opera itself or creating another version (if it's a movie, you can create your own final). Basically, it's the power of free open source software ported to art, expecially cinematographic art.

Tra l'altro: se siete italiani, potrete leggere una traduzione dell'intervista con presentazione nel prossimo numero di GNU/Linux Magazine Italia.

-So, this will be the first Blender "open movie" with real actors: is there a particular reason for which you decided this or it's just a director's choice?
Each time I've picked a main theme connected to technical targets for Blender. The whole concept of our open movies is to get focus for a longer period on bigger targets, and have these targets well tested and validated immediate. That mimics the process how most (bigger) animation studios work with their in-house software. If there's one thing we stand out among the competition it's Blender's open source nature, which really makes it your own in-house software!
After doing one game project and three animation films, doing a vfx based project was a very obvious choice. Modern film making happens with 3d software you know!

-Can you tell us, briefly, the plot of Mango (obiously without spoilering)?
In the distant future they find out that the nearing destruction of the World has been caused by a break-up in Amsterdam long ago. They then desperately send a fleet of space ships and robots back to the past to prevent this break-up to happen.
(Also see blog post about this on mango.blender.org + Ian's reaction)

-Since the open movie is also a way to let developers improve some Blender features, collaborating with the artists, the Mango team wrote some "development targets". Can you explain us, practically, what those targets are?
Just 2 days ago we posted a very long article on our blog about the development targets. It's actually quite a too long list now, we will need to narrow it down still.
Some techniques are impossible to avoid though; and the main one is camera tracking. That's an artist's tool in Blender that allows you to extract the 3D camera position, orientation and motion from shots. With that info you can then seamlessly merge artificial 3d rendered objects with the real footage. You can even take it steps further and use it to track bodies, faces or even do full motion capture of humans. All in Blender - without need of special equipment.
Basic but good quality camera tracking is Blender already, released last month.

-Now a technical question: do you use GNU/Linux distributions for producing this movie? Which free open source programs do you use, mainly, for the production?
In the studio we use Ubuntu for the workstations and Debian for the render farm nodes. Exclusively free/open source tools are being used for the complete visual pipeline here. Apart from Blender that's of course the GIMP, MyPaint, Krita and Inkscape.
An exception is for example the camera data itself - files from Red Epic cartridges require closed software to convert to regular readable image files. Also the sound editing and mix we don't do ourselves, we just accept the best offer from a composer or sound studio.

-Italy has been, from the beginning of the 20th century, a very active country in cinematographic art, and the public is really interested in new movie ideas. Do you think to present Mango also in Italy, for example at the Venice festival (september 2012, it's about when you plan to complete your movie)?
Yep, I'm a big fan of Italian cinema! But we make a humble short low-budget film, just 5-7 minutes, I don't think that would be a big event for the Venice festival. For sure I'll try to get it in of course :) We have two Italian artists working here on Mango, they would love to see this happen!

-Which features would you like to see in a future version of Blender?
For next year and later? I don't think we need so much new features specifically, what we need mostly is quality and good maintenance of features. With Blender being compared to the big commercial programs, we somehow have to organize our developer community to keep improving too. The only way to keep growing is to organize small/medium studios to get involved with development as well; to hire people to work on Blender and together work on a tool we all can use far more efficiently than any closed program.
Once that's done we obviously have to make a big feature film together. And then add loads of new features again!

Post Scriptum: If you don't know what camera tracking is, watch this:
Digital Makeup in Blender from Sebastian König on Vimeo.

Edit: Ton suggested me to put here some pictures from mango authors, so I have choosen these (click to see them  bigger):

1 comment:

  1. these are great deals! wonderful, im gonna try this and probably just add some maintenance software to retain quality.