This year I attended the 2011 Blender Conference in Amsterdam and was able to catch a number of sessions and meet some really great people! It all started with a stressful beginning – because of financial reasons, we could not book our flight to Amsterdam until the morning of Wednesday Oct 26 and our flight departed from the Toronto airport that evening at 9pm! After a long flight with a four hour layover in London’s Heathrow airport (where there is no free wifi apparently!) we arrived in Schipol Airport outside of Amsterdam. Not knowing the area well enough, we had booked a room a the Holiday Express hotel. Not only was it not near the deBalie conference centre it wasn’t even close to downtown. More like out near the airport where all the buildings are corporate, industrial plazas or airport hotels like ours. At this point we (my wife, myself and our one year old baby) were exhausted and decided to stay the night anyway.
The next morning we tried to find a place closer to the deBalie online and lucked out with a room in a guesthouse that a couple in Amsterdam rent out (Adamgoodstay). Normally they would have been booked but had planned to be away that weekend and had not taken any bookings. They were able to rent it to us for a mere 85 euros a night (for all three of us), and it was literally 60 seconds walk from the deBalie conference building! Amazing location, we couldn’t have done any better for sure. It was also nice that there were tons of restaurants and shops right outside the door. The climb up the four flights of stairs was a little work, but definitely worth it!
Due to our last minute change of accommodations, I unfortunately missed Ton’s opening remarks, but was able to catch the last half of Brecht’s talk about the new Cycles rendering engine. Sounds like it will be pretty powerful when completed. Hopefully he can improve the rendering times and reduce the noise grain of the renders as well!
Then it was time for the lunch break, a quick sandwich provided by the conference and then on to meeting some people. Introduced myself to Jonathan Williamson of Blender Cookie, and had a good chat about fundraising for Blender projects as well as some interesting discussions about Blender education and new tutorial strategies and topics (Jason van Gumster and Daniel Houghton were in on the discussion as well).
After that I snuck back into the current session which was by Hannu Hoffrén and Mats Holmberg talking about some of there commercial work in which they re-used assets from the Big Buck Bunny project. Looking forward to their next piece which should be out soon from Studio Lumikuu.
Next was Gottfried Hofmann’s session on “Think like an engineer, Strategies for Coping with Simulations”. Honestly, I found this session very confusing. He basically spent the entire session trying to explain Diagrammatic Reasoning, which is basically using visual images and symbols to solve difficult problems. He, however really didn’t do a great job tying this back into Blender, so I felt a little disappointed in this session. I skipped his next session, which I heard was actually really good since he did some simulation demos.
That was it for me on Day 1, had to leave early and spend some time with the family. We grabbed some food and had a nice walk around Amsterdam.
Day 2 started bright and early at 10am with Sergey Sharybin and Sebastian Koenig talking about the Camera Tracking tools that Sergey implemented during Google’s Summer of Code program this year. Sergey went over some of the technical points of the addition, and the Sebastian did some demos for us. Honestly, the demos is really where these Blender sessions shine for me, much more than the technical/coding reports. Sebastian showed some demos using the Camera Tracker with some examples and even showed some tips for replacing a person on video with an animated character using a number of techniques including the UV Projection modifier which I had never seen used before!
After that session I stayed in the main roon to hear Elizabeth Mix present her “Blender in the Context of Art History and New Media”. I found this session very interesting, especially looking at how many artists over the years were able to achieve highly realistic results with the paint brushes, even including spherical reflections etc. I feel lucky that Blender takes care of so many of the issues that previous artists had to work really hard to solve like basic things such as linear perspective (horizon and a vanishing point), atmospheric perspective (change in colours and sharpness based on distance in the image), reflection of adjacent objects in shiny surfaces, and many more.
After that I ducked out of the conference for some family time, and then made it back later in the afternoon. I caught the tail end of Bassam’s animation masterclass which was over my head but still it’s already interesting to see how very skilled/experienced blender users think and organize their work, always something to be learned. I then jumped over to the main room to catch the session about the new upcoming OpenCL compositing project that is promising to really speed up Blender’s compositor and make it more production-ready as well. The main things I noticed was the the compositor preview image now renders in tiles which makes it a little faster. Jeroen also mentioned there were now ways to tweak the node trees to reduce the render times as well depending on your setup. He wasn’t able to present on a machine that really took advantage of GPU rendering, so I hoping there will be some big improvements to come still. It seems as though more work will be done on it before and during the next Open Movie project (Mango) which should really improve things and make it a more professional level compositor (with Masking, Masking, Masking, Masking!! – quote by Ton)
I then made the mistake of choosing the Dragon Love Story session over the Community/Website report from Jonathan Williamson and Bart Veldhuizen. I was hoping the Dragon session would be full of advice and tips for others who are attempting to produce their own short film with Blender, but instead the session was a confusing sales pitch for us to volunteer our time or 3D assets to help them with their film. Very frustrating for sure, what a waste of time.
That was the end of Day 2 for me, and so I took off early to spend some more time with the family. At this point in the conference I was a little disappointed in the overall quality of the presentations, many were certainly not worth flying to Amsterdam for. However the chance to meet many of the members of the Blender community certainly made up for a lot of those challenges. I really enjoyed getting to meet many of the people I had, up to that point, only interacted with online.
I had big hopes for the last day of the conference, and definitely was not disappointed! My top 2 sessions of the conference were on this day – Project London’s Ian Hubert, and Andy Goralczyk’s Omega project. The morning got off to a bang with Ian Hubert presenting some of his work from the Project London film that he’s been working on for the last number of years. We were amazed at the simplicity of his workflow compared to the quality of the final shots he was showing us. I spoke with him after his talk about posting some more in-depth compositing breakdowns and he said that he would (hope you get time to do that Ian!). I really hope the film is a success when it is finally released, and I also hope that some training materials will be made available after the production is completed!
The next session was Ton and Ian presenting new info on the Mango project. Still a lot decision up in the air, but they will be accepting artist applications beginning this month (Nov) so it will fun to see who makes the cut for the final team. Sebastian Koenig and Andy Goralczyk are already named to the team so I pumped about their contributions to the production.
Next was Bartek Skorupa with “Professional Uses of Blender”. Again, this session wasn’t really what I expected. It was not a poor presentation, but I guess I was expecting something a little different. I was hoping it was more about advice or experience in how to use Blender in more professional ways. That is something I would be very interested in since I’m always looking for more ways to use Blender in more of my commercial projects. His presentation was mostly on how their company uses Blender for post work on the TV commercials they produce. It was good to see how they are doing it, and it was also good to hear about how they use render passes to cut down on having to re-render footage due to client requests. All in all not a bad session, just a little different than what I thought. Also, since he is the author of the Blender to AfterEffects exporter script I thought he might have spent some more time explaining that.
After that I grabbed some lunch and the headed back to the main room to hear about the “Acquisition and Virtual Rebuild of Victor Horta’s Hotel Aubecq”. This was an interesting presentation about a project where they had to scan all of the stone from a hotel’s facade, and the create a virtual reconstruction of the facade in Blender. Their main challenge was that the scans were extremely high poly counts (in the millions of polys per stone range) so they had to create a more workable proxy system to make progress in the project. They demonstrated some scripts they wrote to be able to change the resolutions of each individual stone in the project file (they had 3 proxy levels -high, medium and low) at any time, really smart stuff for making the work more efficient.
Following that session I spent more time chatting with various people and getting to learn what others were working on. I caught a little of the Renderfarm.fi session and some of Benjy Cook’s motion capture session which was also interesting if not immediately useable as far as production work goes.
Next was JW’s session on low poly modelling for game work. As always JW is well prepared and informative. His tips on setting up UV’s with directional fabric in order to quickly swap clothing textures and colour for replicating game characters was quite interesting.
Lukas Toenne’s session on the new node-based particle system was good as well. At one point in the session as he was demoing the new particle system in action, the audience actually started cheering! Now that’s exciting stuff! After that I caught a bit from Dennis Ferreira’s session on some games he has done in Blender. I missed the first half of the session, but the rabbit motorcycle game was hilarious (and a little bloody, the rabbit’s arms and legs fall off if the bike landed too hard or on dangerous objects) and everyone was in stitches (no pun intended) by the end of the session!
The next and last session was the one we were all waiting for. Andy Goralczyk’s presentation on his Omega film project. This is an amazing film project that is mixing stop-motion animation with CG animation in some really organic ways. He was able to play the teaser for us (twice!) and as a short film maker myself it was truly awe-inspiring!! It was really interesting to see how some of the stop motion stuff was produced using real sets and props and of course the poseable characters for the movie. Andy then walked us through the compositing node setup for one of the shots in the movie, talk about a huge node tree! It’s really amazing to see how some of the shots are put together to achieve
the visuals that he has done. I also really enjoyed the one part where he explained his technique for using fluid particles and volumetic material to create smoke in the shot instead of using the much slower (but perhaps more accurate) smoke simulation tools that Blender has. Always great to see how talented people accomplish their creative goals. At the end of the session he showed the Omega teaser again and we all cheered wildly!
Then came the sad part, where Ton made his closing remarks, thanking us all for coming, for all the volunteers who helped make the conference a success, etc. I was able to stick around for some conversations, and then it was time for to go. What a conference! Even though there were a few disappointing things this time around, I would definitely attend another Blender conference in the future (maybe next year! we’ll see!).
News about the Ocean Sim Project
One of the great things about the conference is being able to talk to a number of key people about blender related topics. For me this was the Ocean Sim project as that was what I was involved with most recently. We had been waiting for the Ocean Sim patch to be reviewed and approved in order to get it into trunk. Lukas Toenne was the developer who reviewed the patch, and so I was able to talk to him directly about a number things, not the least of all was the status of the trunk inclusion request.
I am happy to say that he said it was good to go and should be included in the big 2.61 release!!! Woohoo! finally the Ocean Sim tools will be making it into trunk!! I also spoke to him regarding his node particles work and asked him if it would be possible to use the ocean sim data to generate dynamic framed-based particle emission for spray of of the wave peaks and said it should definitely be possible although it’s still unclear how the ocean sim data would get input into the particle system (ie, would we need a new Ocean Node, or perhaps we could just use the image sequence that is already being baked from the Ocean Modifier?) The important thing is that it should be possible once the node particle system is completed and added to trunk. Can’t wait. Once that is done we should have everything we need for some great ocean shot production (the combination of the wave displacement from the Ocean Sim, the object-water interaction from the Dynamic Paint module, and the peak spray made possible by the new particle node system should really up the quality we can achieve on ocean water shots).
Well that concludes my report of my experience at this year’s Blender Conference.
The highlights included:
- Getting to meet a ton of people with similar interests and some who I already knew online but had never met
- Ian Hubert’s Project London and workflow presentation
- Andy Goralcyzk’s Omega project presentation
(oh, and the free Sintal posters were a nice touch too!)
Some things I would like to see for the next conference I attend:
- More artists presenting their work, and showing us how they accomplish the shots that they produce
- Larger conference rooms (I had to sit on the floor for a number of sessions)
- More demos and applications from the coders who present their work (perhaps working in conjunction with another artist would be helpful like in the camera tracking session with Sergey and Sebastian)
Okay, I think that’s all for my report. Thanks to all those who attended this year’s conference and again it was really great to meet those of you who I was able to speak with!