Which sites should you visit right now?

Here are some of my favorite websites

  1. GitHub Lab, for sharing your code
  2. Blender, for my favorite piece of software
  3. Sheep-It, for rendering you Blender animations
  4. Tim Beek, for finding the best free music
  5. Ubuntu, for my favorite Linux distribution

Here are some of the websites I have made

  1. squirrelwatching.com, for my squirrel photos

How do I make a short animated film about a robot using Blender?

This article will describe how I made “Maple,” a short animated film about a robot. If you are interested in using Blender to make your own animated film, look no further. Before I share my advice, please watch the film below.

Like editing, animation is a relatively technical area of film. However, while an editor would cut between recorded camera angles, animators have direct control over virtual camera placement. Unfortunately, while a camera may capture 30 frames per second, a rendering computer may consume 30+ seconds per frame. For this reason, it is necessary to plan ahead to avoid making mistakes that cost major amounts of time to re-render.

Animation has recently become one of my skills. In the majority of cases, animated films require a diverse set of expensive tools which have a major effect on the outcome. Fortunately, a free and open-source project exists, Blender, which combines the disciplines of modeling, animation, rendering, and editing is available on Linux, my operating system of choice. Although I won’t be the first, I want to demonstrate with my short films that free and open-source software such as Blender and Linux has film-making potential.

This clip, which constitutes the entirety of my animation reel, is a short film that I created individually. It depicts the escape of toy robot that was originally intended as a Christmas present. The first step in the production of the film, after creating the storyboard (Figure 1), was digitally modelling the film’s setting. For this, I employed Blender’s advanced modeling tools and a free architectural addon to create a living room scene, which takes 2 minutes to render (Figure 2). I chose to use a wide-angle, fish-eye lens to reveal more space.

Figure 1: First page of my storyboard

Figure 2: Test-render of living room scene

Next, I needed to create a bit of exposition so I modeled part of an adjacent room, the kitchen. I resolved to use various refrigerator magnets and notes to introduce the plot. Once I created the basic refrigerator, I tested a depth of field transition, using keyframes to animate the camera’s focus. At first, I focused the camera on the refrigerator (Figure 3) and then transitioned to focusing it into the room where the robot will reside (Figure 4).

Figure 3: Camera focused on note

Figure 4: Camera focused into living room

Whereas the low-key orange light is clearly visible and representative of morning, a less obvious change was animating the brightness of a light bulb that I modeled and placed in the kitchen room. This, which I accomplished by using an oscillating waveform in Blender’s graph editor, causes it to appear to flicker. The next order of business was modelling the robot. Again, I turned to Blender to model and rig the robot for animation, taking a screenshot a preliminary design without secondary features such as eyes (Figure 5). Animating the robot’s treads was a challenge and I had to devise a system to control each segment with a single keyframe.

Figure 5: Preliminary robot design

Figure 6: Robot’s terminal screen

Next, implemented two ways for the audience to gain an insight into the robot’s mind. First, I wrote a program to print terminal messages from the robot’s computer (Figure 6). Second, I positioned a second virtual camera in front of the robot to act as its vision and made a vignette effect to make that clear. Then, having created the setting and character, I began to animate and render the film. Using keyframes, I made the camera slide past the refrigerator elements, eventually moving into the living room (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Camera animated into room

Figure 8: Animated robot movement

Using consecutive keyframes, I added cuts between various camera positions. Ultimately, I made the camera follow the robot in its animated movement around the room (Figure 8). Using a glass shader built into Blender, I created realism with dynamic reflections (Figure 9). Here, through the use of a denoiser, I could render at only 30 seconds per frame.

Figure 9: Dynamic reflection

Figure 10: Physics simulation

Figure 11: Motor audio circuit

Another way I created realism was by animating the falling battery according to a Blender-based physics simulation of it falling off the shelf and hitting the robot (Figure 10). I created the cloth, that made an appearance at the start of the film, with another simulation. After rendering the video, my final tasks were audio and editing. Using a battery-operated audio recorded several devices including a camera, for beeping sounds, and a circuit I built, for servo motor sounds (Figure 11). For music, I sent my film to a composer that I’ve worked with previously. Though he delivered a long enough track, synchronized to my film, I made the decision to stop the music seconds before the end to foreshadow conclusion.

When I screened my film to friends and family, some issues were identified. As the robot’s motor sound was said to be too loud, I reduced its volume. Next, I fixed a continuity error by reducing my use of unclear, overlapping editing. Finally, I re-rendered the final scene with much darker trees, making it look much more realistic. Hopefully, the end result will act as evidence that Blender has film-making potential.