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By Shamus
on Saturday Oct 23, 2010
Filed under:


Four years ago, I wrote a tirade about Blender. I was bitter and angry that the thing was very much impossible to learn and the docs were very much not written yet. I gather it’s improved greatly since then. For example, it was used to make this movie:

Link (YouTube)

From the YouTube description:

“Sintel” is an independently produced short film, initiated by the Blender Foundation as a means to further improve and validate the free/open source 3D creation suite Blender. With initial funding provided by 1000s of donations via the internet community, it has again proven to be a viable development model for both open 3D technology as for independent animation film.
This 15 minute film has been realized in the studio of the Amsterdam Blender Institute, by an international team of artists and developers. In addition to that, several crucial technical and creative targets have been realized online, by developers and artists and teams all over the world.

Hats off. That’s some amazing work. I’m happy to see Blender thriving and helping people make cool stuff.

Comments (59)

  1. Novarum says:

    wow, that was fairly heart-wrenching

  2. Nick Bell says:

    That is a great example of good 3D design: you forget it’s 3D in the first minute, and simply enjoy the film. Well done.

  3. Amarsir says:

    Very impressive.

    I love that there are a lot of tools out there for animation, and that open source versions can apparently hang with the biggest. But as someone with a casual interest, I am totally lost by all the different programs and what each is for. (And it probably doesn’t help when things like Autodesk Maya merge and rename and all that.)

    I’ll never do 3D animation like that, but sometimes I wish I knew enough to do things like the animated graphics that TV shows use for credits and bumpers, or that commercials use to animate a background behind their logo. I’d like to think that wouldn’t be so hard. But just thinking about it I wouldn’t even know where to start learning.

  4. Blurr says:

    Amazing animation. They need to work on the dialogue, however.

  5. omicron says:

    The Blender team are doing a total interface rework for V2.54. And, true to form, I’ve grown so used to the old interface, so attached to it that the new one seems nonsensical and random…

    …after a while, you become experienced enough to churn out content at a rate that makes me happy. Plus, adding export scripts nowadays is rather easy, and if there’s a flaw in the existing ones (there often are) somebody’s probably made a better one.

    I used to have to export from Blender to the Half-Life 2 “SMD” file format – and to do that I had to take an interim step through a 3dsmax-offshoot called GMax. That was fun… The issue with it was, the SMD exporter (fan-built) for Blender was nigh-terminally broken; it didn’t export things right at all. Fortunately, I now use model formats Blender can actually export to.

    And that’s my reminiscing about Blender. I’ve probably built almost two thousand models with the thing, and for all its flaws I love it.

    • HeroOfHyla says:

      I definitely agree that I’m not looking forward to learning a new interface. And there won’t be decent tutorials in a looong time, considering it’s still hard to find stuff for 2.49 occasionally.

    • Corvus says:

      After spending years getting comfortable with, and eventually learning to love–the old interface, I had my trepidations about the new UI as well, but jumped in with both feet and have very quickly gotten up to speed. I like it SO much better than the old, to be honest.

  6. Nyaz says:

    I’m not crying… *SNRRFF* I’m just… leaking… *blows nose*… sooo saaad…!

  7. Mad Flavius says:

    To me, the most impressive part (beyond the generally high level of win throughout) was the environments and the particle effects. Ever since the first days of CG animation on film, I’ve watched with fascination how they’ve gone from shrugging away from trying to render fur, fire, and smoke to reveling in it, and that to me is one of the great achievements. *applause*

  8. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Shamus, why do you make us cry on a Saturday morning?


    Do you have any idea how much that movie took to produce? It’d be an interesting software to use if you want to include 3d animation movies in dev projects.

    The story was good. The dialogues were weak, but the story could have been done without any dialogues anyway. The visual narrative was simply that good. The reveal was a heartwrencher, amazingly done.

    The fact that you see the entire story from the protagonist’s perspective, and at the end, you realize that this perspective even extended on herself. She was always focused entirely on her quest, never turning her eye on herself, to see what she had became. When she finally did, we shared the same moment of horror she did.


  9. X2-Eliah says:

    Very impressive. As in, amazingly incredibly impressive.

    I’d love to know what DAW was used for the music, though. The guitar was most likely a plug-in actual one, but the orchestral instruments seemed quite good.

  10. Spluckor says:

    Why did that have to be soooooooo sad?!?!?!?!?

  11. MichaelG says:

    The movie looks great, but didn’t anyone else think the story was a bit lame? They’ve been writing fantasy stories more interesting than this for like 100 years.

    One of my pet peeves in both movies and gaming is that we have the graphics to render anything you can imagine, but we are putting these stale old Fantasy and SF stories up again and again. This should be a golden age for strange dreams. I can’t think of a single movie that really surprised me with the style of it.

    The earlier Blender effort, The Elephants Dream, was more interesting than this one. And it also looked pretty good. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLkA0RELQ1g

    • Atarlost says:

      The reason for the story should be obvious.

      They got to show off a bunch of environments in a montage.

      It’s certainly a good proof for the software. The only thing they didn’t demonstrate that I’ve seen before is hair underwater, though I skipped the last couple Pixar movies because I thought the concepts weren’t good enough to overcome my not watching films anymore.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        I think it’s safe to recommend any Pixar movie.

        Up! actually made me cry. Within five minutes.
        The technology isn’t developing at a speed where you can spot something every time that wouldn’t have been possible a year ago, but that’s a good thing for me. It means the technology is now so rip that people can focus on story and telling thereof, and they do that in abundance in all Pixar movies. Depending on your physical and mental age, you may not be in the center of their traget group, though :)

        Apart from that, I support the notion that elephant’s dream was better in a lot of ways. Also better than Big Buck Bunny. Both BBB and Sintel have some technical stuff that wasn’t in Elephant’s dream, and they are more complex and difficult to do, but disregarding technical stuff, ED is way better. Although that again might depend on who is watching it :)

        • Shamus says:

          Oh my. The montage in Up! could wring great big weepy tears from a statue of John Wayne.

          • Bit says:

            It’s kinda surreal to read this and then see it on your twitter feed a second later.

          • Dude says:

            Everything after that montage is rather a letdown, though. But then the movie came after Wall-E. I think it’s nigh impossible to meet expectations after that one.

          • MichaelG says:

            Up! is a sweet film, but it makes no sense, even as fantasy. The things that ran through my mind:

            – in all those years with his wife, he never went anywhere? Not even to hike the Grand Canyon or something? He never got a better job than selling balloons? Am I supposed to admire that?

            – old folks homes don’t hunt people down like dog catchers. You have to pay to get into one, in fact.

            – the little kid can’t climb two feet up a rope, but when he has to he climbs all the way up and saves the day. The message is “don’t bother to get in shape or know how to do anything. If you want it badly enough, a miracle will happen.”

            – you can collect one of something (rare bird) without destroying the entire ecology. Why is the bad guy bad again? He’s inventive and determined. Stuff we used to call virtues.

            – can I see “A Bug’s Life” again please?

            • Irridium says:

              Keep in mind that even though it has adult themes, its still a kid’s movie.

            • SatansBestBuddy says:

              – in all those years with his wife, he never went anywhere? Not even to hike the Grand Canyon or something? He never got a better job than selling balloons? Am I supposed to admire that?

              Simplification for the sake of keeping a good pace; he may have gone to the Grand Canyon, but he wanted to go to Paradise Falls, and he never made that trip.

              – old folks homes don't hunt people down like dog catchers. You have to pay to get into one, in fact.

              I got the impression that the big business that wanted his house payed the home to take him in.

              – the little kid can't climb two feet up a rope, but when he has to he climbs all the way up and saves the day. The message is “don't bother to get in shape or know how to do anything. If you want it badly enough, a miracle will happen.”

              He was shown how to do it, he just didn’t think he could; mental barriers are pretty hard to overcome without some serious effort.

              – you can collect one of something (rare bird) without destroying the entire ecology. Why is the bad guy bad again? He's inventive and determined. Stuff we used to call virtues.

              He’s obsessed with the bird, to the point where he’s killed other people for trying to hunt it, and since he’s convinced that’s what the protagonists are doing…

              – can I see “A Bug's Life” again please?

              Yes, you can actually see it whenever you want! =D

            • Zak McKracken says:

              “can I see “A Bug's Life” again please?”
              … and that movie’s bottom line is that ants can talk?

              Seriously, this is a movie. It was done as an animated film for a reason, and that reason is not that they wanted to be as physically realistic as possible.
              I do know people who feel happy living a simple live in a simple home and never leave their town if they don’t have to.

              “you can collect one of something (rare bird) without destroying the entire ecology.”
              I just read through “a short history of almost everything”. Impressive how many hundreds of species got eradicated by collectors. Who were extremely proud of being able to get the last specimen of some bird. Dead of course. It was more a sport for these people than anything else. That bad guy is the prototype of these “explorers”.

      • Irridium says:

        I wholeheartedly recommend any and every Pixar movie.

        Up had me crying withing the first 5 minutes.
        Toy Story 3 made me cry a happy/sad cry combination.
        Wall-E was just adorable and great.

        Yeah, Pixar movies are movies everyone can/should watch. Regardless of age.

    • SKD says:

      No, I didn’t think the story was lame. It was very interesting in my opinion, particularly for a story told in 15 minutes. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for building a plotline for a completely new concept which would need explanation. Have you ever heard the old saying”you can’t please everyone”? If you have all these ideas for what we should be making then do something about it instead of just complaining.

      And as a tech demo it makes me wish I had the time and the artistic talent to do that kind of stuff.

      • MichaelG says:

        I don’t have to come up with ideas — they are already out there. Pick up any “best of” fantasy or SF anthology full of short stories and you could find something better than this.

        I know it sounds like I’m just a hater, but really, there are better stories. Better by anyone’s definition.

        • Zukhramm says:

          Better how? The story is so simple I can’t think of it as bad or good. It’s not very original or complex, but does it have to be to be good?

          • MichaelG says:

            Do you really want to hear the same kinds of stories over and over again? Yet another action picture with a plucky hero who overcomes the odds, etc.? Another FPS with different guns and aliens?

            • Zukhramm says:

              I hear the same stories over and over regardless of if I want to or not. But to answer the question, yes, I do. I don’t think simple and unoriginal has to mean bad and boring.

            • Irridium says:

              It doesn’t matter if stories are the same. What matters is how they’re told.

              For example, Half Life 2 has a pretty basic and generic story. Aliens invade Earth, you must defeat them. Thats pretty much it. But its told in such a great way that many love it, regardless if the main story is generic.

            • Avilan says:

              No original story has been told since about 20 years after we evolved into Homo Sapiens. There. Are. No. Original. Stories.

              It only matters, as Irridium says, how they are told.

    • asterismW says:

      At least I understood Sintel. I had NO idea what was going on in Elephants Dream, and I foolishly watched until the end to see if it would start making sense. It didn’t.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        Oh boy, watch it again then :)
        It’s a bit like the sixth sense. If you understood the end and you watch it again, everything’s different.
        Anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, please do so before you read further. Twice. If you still don’t get it:

        Proog only imagines the machine
        Still doesn’t make sense? Watch again, then:
        Proog is showing Emo “his machine”. It’s a dangerous place and he tries to keep him save and still show him the beauty of everything. Emo doesn’t seem to get it or see the beauty nor the danger. In the end, when Emo says the machine doesn’t exist, it threatens Proog, and he knows no other way out than hitting Emo (which kills him). The point is that Proog is actually only imagining the machine. When they are thrown around in that barrel, he falls when they land, Emo doesn’t. Proog balances over the abyss on those small plattforms that shoot up, Emo just trots along and says it’s boring, before the end, a wall is moving to keep Proog’s imagination and Emo’s actions from contradicting each other. The truth, spoken by Emo is in danger of completely shattering Proog’s imagination — and people can become pretty agressive if you threaten to destroy their view of the world — so he either has to stand up to his inner deamon and face the truth or shut Emo up. Because he is much more afraid of the former, he commits the latter.
        I just rewatched the film, and I must admit that while I was smitten by the graphics at the time, one can see the difference between Blender then and Blender now. Also, the Charakter animations aren’t up to Sintel standards, alhtough I thought they could have been done better in Sintel, too, but then if you look at any of the Shrek movies … I think it’s really hard to do withou MoCap if it’s supposed to look real. Even Toy Story III isn’t quite there yet (if you look at actual humans, not the toys)

        Off topic: The “s” tag doesn’t seem to work here, it just produced clear text and was gone in edit mode … am I too stupid or is something wrong?

  12. Henebry says:

    My son would be devastated if he saw this.

  13. Sphore says:

    Oh wow, I saw this only a few days ago! It’s beautiful, fluid animation. I can’t wait to see where this kind of technology is going to be in a few years!

  14. JohnTomorrow says:

    Wow. That was brilliant. What commendable writing, acting and music. The graphics were top notch as well.

    Man…phew. I’m lost for words. What a way to reveal such an epic tale in such a short amount of time. I wouldn’t be surprised if some big-shot studio saw this, snapped it up, and made it into a sappy family movie with the characters all walking into the distance together holding hands.

    Wow…cynical. Yeesh…still rocked by that story. And the music on the credits was stunning. Gawd, why cant there be more stuff like this instead of the dross they churn out in the cinemas?!

  15. Mischa says:

    ‘Sintel’, by the way, is Dutch for ‘cinder’.

  16. KingODuckingham says:

    This movie reminded me of Fable 2 (or 3, I guess) in so many ways. The art style looks rather similar, the heartbreaking innocence gone wrong, the environments.

    The difference between the two is I actually enjoyed this video.

  17. Zak McKracken says:

    If you watch Elephant’s dream (www.elephantsdream.org), which was made in 2006, you’ll see that actually Blender was not much worse* back then, only the interface was just not made for beginners.

    By now, that has luckily changed a bit. I haven’t actually delved into the details of the new interface (has anyone here?) But I think I’m going to very soon. It should be easier to start using Blender for real with the new interface than with the old. But in the end, its main target group are probably not beginners but people who will use it for a lot more than I’ll ever have time for. Sad :(

    *yes, sure a lot of things were added in the last years, but it was also top notch back then, at least from a non-professional perspective

  18. agrey says:

    fairly heart-wrenching for a tech demo.

    particle effects were nice, hair as well, but some of the liquid effects (especially the spreading blood at the end) seemed a little off to me.

    same with the water in the bowl.

    anyway, nitpicking aside (and really, how could I not with a short designed to show off the program), this almost makes me want to fiddle around with 3d animating again.

  19. Warden says:

    Uh, thats…
    I dislike sad endings.

  20. Alan says:

    I saw this film about the same time as I saw the new Dragon Age trailer, so I was thinking of it in a ‘battle mode’ kind of way.

    In answer to some of the comments about why isn’t modern animated stuff more strange and dreamlike, I would say that the more odd something is, the smaller number of people that will enjoy it, because it will be more individual to you.

    You need to have someone in any motion picture to identify, and any story has to contain things that the audience can identify with, which means things which are similar to our own experience.

  21. Abnaxis says:

    Um….does a flashy demo really count if it comes from the company who made the software?

    I mean, yeah, sure, it can do great things in the hands of the people who designed the tools, but I know in my day I have thrown together tools that no-one in their right mind who isn’t me would ever want to attempt deciphering. To me, the power of these tools is measured solely by how well others can work with it, not with the bling the developers push out in a demo.

    In short, maybe they can make some sweet films there, but that doesn’t mean anyone else can easily

    Or am I missing the point?

    • Tesh says:

      Indeed. I had much the same reaction to Blender a few years ago as Shamus. I can make Maya and Max do my bidding as a college-trained end user, but Blender just makes me want to swear off open source software. It’s not the concepts that are the problem, it’s the blasted UI and inane workflow.

      If I can’t use the tools, I won’t care enough to make them work in bringing a vision to life.

  22. Specktre says:

    Awww……. what a great little movie.

  23. Skeeveti says:


  24. nehumanuscrede says:

    Some bad news man. There isn’t a 3D application out there that is easy to learn. None, nada, zip. They all have a learning curve that will hold it’s own against anything you can possibly throw at it in comparison.

    It is some of the most complicated software I have ever laid eyes upon. Even WITH good documentation ( which will encompass VOLUMES to explain it all ) AND video tutorials, it’s still damn difficult to learn. Let alone master.

    Over the years, I’ve purchased and utilized many of them, and while some are more intuitive than others, when it comes down to certain aspects of 3D animation, none of it is easy. My personal hatreds going to UV layout ( manually not the automated stuff ) and rigging. Want some real fun ? Do some hair or fur in 3D. It’s enough to drive one insane. . . . .

    Being a 3D artist is somewhat strange. You’re actually 75% artist and 25% software engineer. While you KNOW what you want the end product to look like, you have to understand the intricacies of the platform you’re using well enough to get there.

    I swear I’m gonna go back to crayons one day.

    • Tesh says:

      Yes, there’s a mastery curve, but once you’ve mastered the *concepts* of 3D computer art, you can take that knowledge anywhere. Blender does fine with the concepts, for the most part, it’s the UI and workflow that’s so awful.

  25. DW says:

    Having worked with Blender for a while, I agree that the UI definitely needs work. However, for a free software I was definitely impressed with this video, assuming it genuinely is Blender material. I did notice some clipping, and the animation did need a little more refinement, yet overall the film is deserving of my praise. Excellent work!

    What really strikes me though is not so much the detail (which in some ways surpasses some of the older movies from Pixar and Dreamworks), but the hardware needed to compile all this information without choking.

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