An Outside PerspectivePosted in Production, Random Fluff by Nathan
Hello all. A friend of mine, Aaron, from the USA came to visit the Peach project last week. He put together a video and a blog post for all of you:
The condensed version of a week in the life of the Peach project:
It’s a couple of months before the premier and there are lots of things to do. Not only the most obvious (finishing final animation) but also finishing scene construction and render preparation so that the first of the finished shots can be shipped off to the render farm. A simple calculation revealed that at the current animation pace the project won’t be finished in time, so four external animators have been found and hopefully with their help the timeline will become reasonable again.
It was in the midst of this commotion that I flew over to Amsterdam to visit my good friend Nathan (Cessen) on my Christmas break. The first day I was there the team had their weekly and, due to the pressure they’re under, I agreed to do a blog post this week: an outside perspective on the project. So over the course of the last week I stalked around with Andy’s video camera, looked over people’s shoulders, asked questions, and hung out with the team to put together a picture of where the project is, and what working on peach is like.
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January in Amsterdam is cold and rainy but even so its citizens put on rain coats and get on their bikes to get across town in the morning. The peach team is no different. At around ten they bike the mile north across canals to the Institute. It’s blender all day six or seven days a week. The blender sequencer is even the video editor of choice here at the institute: from the animatic to documentary films on the blog. They really live and breath Blender here. William, Nathan and Brecht discuss new paradigms for rigging and animation, part of the idea being to define IK chains on the fly during animation [editor's note: these were far-future discussions, not features for peach]. Ton shows William and Nathan the latest progress on the event refactor. We discussed the far reaching implications of this one the walk home. William talks to Ton about UI inspiration that could be gained from Modo. Lamenting the disorganization of the buttons window. Discussion at lunch or on a break is often centered on how to make Blender more usable. Since they have to work with it so much the Peach team is acutely aware of where working is a struggle against the UI and where it is a breeze.
In some ways it’s as if blender is currently reverted to its very origins: in-house software. I’m still amazed how when I asked Nathan if blender had a small feature (jumping between keyframes in the action editor), he said, “No, but I should request that,” and in twenty minutes he said, “Hey Aaron, svn up, it’s ctrl+pgdwn/pgup.” Wow! The turnaround was so quick I was astonished. Apparently Nathan asks for UI changes to the animation tools rather frequently and Aligorith often gets back with the feature in an hour or less, and of course Andy is always requesting nifty new render stuff that Brecht makes and things all of a sudden become very pretty. Blender is changing based on real work experience.
They may have a long way to go, but I have to say, it’s looking good. Andy’s environment renders are beautiful (even if he says he can do better), and the animation I’ve seen (from Nathan and William mostly) is looking quite nice. The story is fun, amusing, and clear. It short, I’m excited about the release and look forward to seeing its reception in the community.
One thing seems quite clear after spending a week with them in the middle of the animation schedule: Animation is slow. It requires patience to do well. A single shot could take an animator half a day, a full day, or a week depending on the complexity of the shot. Imagine spending sixteen hours on the same 135 frames. Setting the scene, blocking and re-blocking, feedback, overlapping action… it’s a very calculated and technical art. Getting both acting and physics right is hard. Animators try to find creative ways to break up the problem and work in layers, building up complexity bit by bit so at each point they can fit it in their minds. It can get frustrating obsessing over the same five second shot for sixteen hours. This is why Nathan has started working on two or three shots in parallel. When you get tired of one you can return to the other with fresh eyes. William has been playing around with a different workflow based on the “pop-through” methodology of stop motion animation. The idea is to do a first quick-and-dirty rough draft mostly for getting the feel and pace, and the layer the final animation on top of that. In William’s case he makes an new instance of the character and places it over the old one, with surfaces intersecting and everything. Just another way to try to break down the problem and make it manageable.
What is also clear is that the holy-grail of animation is an excellent rig. A rig that’s simple and pleasant to pose, one that you don’t have to fight with, will make the entire animation process easier, faster, and will produce better quality animation. It’s important to have a rig either built specifically or configured to fit the problem at hand. Use IK or FK where appropriate, even possibly switching mid-shot, etc.
There is a real sense of family that has developed as they’ve spent so much time working together. They have fights just like a family, but also work to collaborate and live with each other. People may have different views on how to solve a given problem, but in essence they’re all working for the same good. Each week after the weekly they go out to eat, often at this good Thai place, and have beer and just hang out. I really felt the family aspect there. It was a fun and welcoming place to be. That human side to it really helps hold it together even when things get rough.
Coming from the rather homogeneous culture of the States I find it fascinating to observe the culture of the Peach project. The diversity is quite amazing. How many languages are there? Dutch, Danish, English, German, Italian… Australian… ;) William will say to me and Nathan, “Hey America, come look at this…” And you can kind of tell that we all grew up in different cultures based on how we speak, our attitudes, and senses of humor…
Still amid the diversity everyone works from the same great philosophy: open software, open content… me and Nathan have always been very fond of the idea that content could be created in a way which allows free distribution, just like open source. We’re starting to see this in the music industry, and Peach is really cool because it’s pioneering the idea of open film content. Isn’t it absolutely heart-warming in a very geeky way?
As my stay here concluded, I reflected a bit on something Ton said earlier, “There are always going to be people who want to pick it apart and expect Pixar quality, but isn’t it just really cool that seven artists and developers can come to Amsterdam and work together like this?” The question I was thinking about is, “What is Peach about?” Well, I think it’s important to remember it’s about all the things that are happening right now. It’s about creating an amusing short movie licensed as open content. It’s about pulling the blender artist and developer communities together. It’s about giving seven talented people the chance to develop their talents, do the work they love, and further their careers. And it’s about making blender, the open source community’s 3d animation suite, as good as it can be.
From Amsterdam, best wishes,