I have been skeptical of the saying “you can do anything you set your mind to,” but seven weeks later, I have proven myself wrong.
Seven weeks ago, I knew nothing about animation, 3D modelling, character design, rigging, or operating Blender. Throughout this content creation journey, I wanted to teach myself a new skill that could be useful towards my future, and I believe I have done just that with the completion of my first Blender project, Found.
Watch Found right now!
By clicking the hyperlink above, you’ll be able to watch my short film animatic created entirely in Blender and edited in Final Cut Pro X. As you read below, you’ll get a full understanding of what this project is and how it came to life.
Found is a two-minute short film animatic that consists of 36 frames each laid out in order to tell the story of a young character named Arthur who falls into a cave and discovers magic desk lamps. This project was created in Blender and utilized numerous facets of 3D animation, including modelling, rendering, environment building, lighting, and rigging.
Found is unique because of its animatic form. Animatics are built after storyboards are drawn and are used to pre-visualize scenes before any modelling, texturing or animation commences. The extent of Found is an animatic, and the modelling, texturing and rigging were all done before the animatic was created, thus making the project truly unique in its method of storytelling. Planning out and executing this process was quite fascinating – allow me to discuss the process of creating Found, from script to animatic.
The first four weeks of the semester were spent doing the pre-production work. The script was written in three hours and is two pages long. This process was quite easy because all I needed to do to complete the script was to write action lines. There is no dialogue (not until post), which means I had to describe all of the environmental assets and details as I was writing the story and the character’s movements. Storyboards followed the script, adding another six hours to the production process. Because they consisted of only 36 frames, the storyboards were not that intense, and therefore took less time than I thought. These gave me an idea on what my environment was going to look like, how my protagonist would scale against the environment, and how to pose the character and each object in each frame.
The fourth week was spent learning Blender through online tutorials. I primarily followed Blender Guru‘s YouTube series Blender Beginner Tutorial. Through the tutorial, I modeled a coffee cup and created a fully textured donut in order to learn the basics of modelling and interacting with Blender.
These tutorials helped pave the way for me to breeze through the production process…or so I thought.
The last three weeks of the semester was spent building and rendering in Blender.
The first week was dedicated to building Arthur, my protagonist in Found. Arthur was a lot harder to build because I wanted to make him somewhat human-like. After realizing how complicated making a human in Blender was going to be, I decided to scratch the realism element and make him as cartoonish as possible, even going as far to give him four fingers. There were many elements included in Arthur’s design, including free downloadable assets from the internet (ears, eyes, nose and mouth).
I then was able to rig Arthur, which enabled him to move like a human. I used a built-in add-on in Blender called Rigify which allows me to add a human armature into the viewport. When you watch the animatic, you’ll realize that some of Arthur’s joints are contorted whenever he has to do any form of motion outside of his t-pose. This is due to the separable meshes that together make up Arthur. Conventionally, a character is built using a single mesh that just keeps getting extruded until the final design is built. Because of my lack of extruding experience, I chose to build each joint as their own mesh and connect them individually, which makes Arthur’s design better, despite not cooperating well with the rig.
The sixth week was spent building the environment. As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, it was mainly pretty simple, with the trees being the only real exception. I had to check a few boxes in order to make both the trees and the leaf particles into particles for the grassland itself. The cave was a cliff landscape extruded and orbited towards itself in order to make a circular space for it. Once the environment was finished, I was ready to start rendering.
The last week was spent rendering all 33 of my images (three frames are just black or white screens). It was a lot easier and a lot harder than I thought. The easy part was sitting and letting the computer render the image. Because it was only rendering one frame and not a full animation, I hardly had to wait 20 seconds for each image to pop up.
The hard part was having to set up each shot by moving my character, rigging him to make him mimic the movement I drew on the storyboard, and then changing the properties of not only each object, but the lights and camera.
The camera in particular, however, was really fun to play with because I got to mess a lot with the depth of field and focal lengths for every shot. Each frame has its own identity with what focal length it has and how small or large its aperture is.
It took all the way until the last day of the semester to finish rendering all of the frames. Once all of them were rendered, I checked them and realized I messed up on four frames (Arthur had more than one mouth visible, which was due to the other mouths not being disabled in the render when they should have), which meant I had to go back and reframe each of those four images and render them again, losing about an hour of work.
The last day of the semester was spent doing post-production. Yes, only one day was spent on post. Compared to live-action filmmaking, post-production is hardly necessary in an animatic that is as simple as Found. Because all of the frames in my project were rendered through Blender, I did not have any animated assets in my film (contrary to drawn animatics that use quite a bit of motion in their edits). All of my frames are stitched together like a slideshow, which meant most of the editing was focused on audio. I recorded a VoiceOver for Arthur with some added post effects, while using sound effects from Final Cut’s built-in sound effects library for every single effect needed to make this animatic come to life.
There are about 75 total audio effects and 19 VoiceOver effects. All of them are placed intentionally in order to give life to the animatic and to make it seem like there is motion on the screen when in reality, nothing is happening at all.
I also needed to add background images because any background image you import into Blender does not appear in the final render. I therefore exported each frame as a PNG and laid them on top of sky backgrounds so they can show behind the rendered image. Once I laid out all of the frames, I gave them a quick color grade.
After reviewing each image that Blender successfully rendered, I decided right away that these images were going to need to be color corrected. They looked good enough, but I wanted the colors to pop out a bit more, and since my style of art is darker shadows and higher saturation, that is exactly the changes I made to these frames. Comparing the two images to each other, I really like how blue the second image is, making it very clear that it is nighttime while also preserving the detail from inside the cave.
Final Thoughts and Future Plans
After looking at this video over and over again, I must say, I am quite happy with how this turned out. I was able to learn Blender over the course of seven weeks in order to create a 36-frame animatic that tells a 2 minute story while acquiring new skills in 3D design that I never previously had.
If I were to do this again, I would definitely take more time and do more research and practice on character building. While Arthur is a pretty decent model from someone who only had seven weeks to learn modelling, I do wish his body cooperated more with the rig in order to make his limbs function more human-like. Besides that, I am proud of what I was able to accomplish, including the little extra details such as rock randomness from inside the cave, light and shadow manipulation, and camera manipulation with position and depth of field.
The future of this project is free, public viewing on YouTube, where you can see the animatic in its entirety. My future with Blender, however, is uncertain. I’ve grown to enjoy using the program and plan on using it more as I continue pursuing my master’s degree. I’m really happy to have acquired a new skill in content creation, and I have a newfound respect for anyone who works with animation of any sort – this is a really challenging field.
Though using Blender and messing with 3D modelling may not be my preferable career choice, I still plan on continuing to learn the software and become better at designing more realistic characters and objects. My goal for the future is to one day make a full animation inside Blender, though as I’ve learned in this class, maybe all I need is a timeline and a deadline.