Blender for low budget short film production?

Hey Guys,
I’m new to this forum, and I’ve come here primarily to pick your much more knowledgeable brains on the subject of film production with Blender!

Basically, I’ve been producing low budget films in the UK for the last 2 years, and also develop TV programmes. Whilst I’m getting these features and TV projects produced, I’ve also been reading a lot of short and feature scripts to find some really worthy projects. Now, in the last few months, I’ve found and helped to develop a short film script that I believe has the potential to be really great. Generally speaking, short films don’t hold much excitement for me, but this script was really enjoyable and very interesting, and I felt that it would be worth producing if possible.
The problem is however, the film is ambitious. It’s basically a sort of psychological horror, and features 2 characters (a common thief and a court jester) seemingly trapped in a gigantic labyrinth of a castle, for a reason they do not fully understand. Naturally, the issue is, we don’t have access to any gigantic castles without a fairly big budget, and getting a short film financed is pretty difficult, especially when you’d need quite a decent amount of money to do it!
So, naturally I have been looking at alternative and interesting ways to shoot the film. Our first though was to shoot it similar to ‘300’ or ‘Sin City’ - against green screen with CG elements. We toyed with this idea for a while, but realised that even then the budget would probably be £150k+ (or $300k+) to shoot it properly, and that was a cost we simply could not afford.
So, we have recently begun looking at lower budget ways to try and film the idea. Since it’s such a visual film, just going out and shooting it on DV against some stone walls isn’t going to work. We toyed with the idea of rotoscoping, or using a programme like 3D Studio Artist to rotoscope - filming it against green screen still. We’re still toying with the idea of using this sort of method, but it still creates the problem of trying to merge live action and CG on a very low budget. We’re keen to make the film look as professional and coherent as possible, and having poor CG and rotoscoped DV footage probably won’t cut it. Some of the rotoscoping tests we’ve performed have looked decent, but it’s combining and compositing all the elements together that is going to be the tricky part.
So, I’ve started to look into doing the film 3D, and at whether that’s a possibility. The film is going to be black and white, quite high contrast imagery, and so we’re aiming for an interesting visual style that we feel 3D might be able to bring to the project. If any of you guys have watched a film called ‘Renaissance’, you’ll see how the CG was used to create a really stark, almost comic book like visual world. Something a bit like this, though probably with a little more tone and shading, would work excellently with our script and create a really interesting looking film.
I recently watched Elephant’s Dream, and I thought the visuals were excellent for an open source project. It led me to thinking, could we produce something similar with the volunteered skills of Blender/CG artists? Our film would look radically different, with a much more limited colour palette and wholly different visual style, but it would still be a great challenge to create a memorable and visually acceptable short film. I know very little about 3D, so I wanted to put the question you guys. Is it possible? On a very limited budget, with a team of volunteers or very (very) low paid artists? Is this the kind of project that could bring together a team of talented artists for a challenge, or is it a hopeless ambition?
I’m just looking for thoughts right now - positive and negative. You guys out there know more about working in 3D than I probably ever will. Is it just too much to ask, or is it possible to string together a talented enough team, and organise the project effectively enough to be completed?
Look forward to hearing from you guys!

It sounds like an interesting project. If you want to pattern it at all like Elephants Dream, you would want to at least be able to bring the artists to where you are and pay a stipend for them to eat and stay warm during the production.

There are a lot of attempts at volunteer-only online projects that pop up in these forums, and without meaning to be discouraging to any of them, most of them peter out before completion. In fact, all of them have so far, as far as I know, although there are a couple that are currently ongoing. By ordinary moviemaking standards, though, the most promising ones right now are still in the very early stages of pre-production. Somebody is bound to pull it off eventually, but it’s hard.

People have various opinions in here about “working for free” and such, and some people might come and bite your head off for even suggesting such a thing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with suggesting it, but I think that unless you can get a real personal, emotional commitment, then pretty much you get what you pay for in terms of artwork for hire. And a personal, emotional commitment from artists his hard to get unless you can commit something to them, such as flying them to your studio to work alongside you, etc.

Also, if you want really professional, Elephants Dream-quality work, there are a number of Blender artists that can help you achieve that, but they are probably pretty busy people with lots of projects of their own, and they probably need some coaxing.

By the way, the green-screen/rotoscoping stuff can also be done in Blender, and would probably be easier to manage than all-CG, since a lot less modeling and animation would have to go into the character work.

For some inspiration, here’s an example of a movie with effects done in Blender:

And what was that Belgium film that used Blender and Pixie? It worked out quite well, and the visuals came out well. You couldn’t tell what was CG and what was life action. But it was not shot against a green screen right? It was mixing CG with life action and they used Icarus (I think) for tracking and camera stabilization. So yes, you can use Blender for your goals. It has been done successfully before.

And what was that Belgium film that used Blender and Pixie?

Which one was that?

it is possible to pull together a volunteer or low pay team but i think unlikely. you would need to find a group of people who find your movie idea awesome and are willing to put a lot of work into it. as well as people that do not have another project that they are working on. which i think many cg artists have there own agendas. i would consider helping you out but frankly i’m way to much of a beginner to even consider it (and purely a hobbyist at the moment).

i find the idea of using blender to create the cg for a green screened short film awesome though.

Corda1983: also… because none of the people here know you you’ll get a lot more responses if you show some of your previous work. The better your work, the better the artists that will want to work with you.

Also… show people great concept art… just showing up with a plan doesn’t work. If you can find someone who can draw really wel, let them hash out some good concepts and people will be a lot more enthusiastic.

Simply put, it’s nearly impossible to draw in visual people with a text only post :wink:

Hey Guys,

First off, thanks for all your comments. I know that, ultimately, trying to get a 3D movie made is difficult, but I’m also heartened that you think that theoretically it can be done, even if it’s unlikely.

I understand concern at the “working for free” aspect, and in reality it would be part of our plans to try and raise some money to pay a small team of artists (even if this was only a token payment, or even just expenses). The fundamental problem is that short films do not make money, and so raising money for them is very hard. There are grants and subsidies available, but asking for anything more than about £20k to make a short film is very difficult. There is more hope in getting completion funding once the basics of the film have been shot/produced (funding for sound mixing, voiceover talent etc.). What I’d like to do ideally is raise about £10-20k to produce the film (if we went the 3D option), and then raise another £10-20k once a rough cut with temp sound had been produced to finish the film (grade, sound mix, master and output etc.).

I understand we’d need talented, artistic people for the project, who were experts in their field, or at least extremely competent amateurs with a lot of passion and time. Just out of curiosity, however, would the use of fairly basic textures and an almost ‘comic book’ style of animation make the work a little easier? I know that modelling and texturing would still need to be top notch, but is it easier to create something stylised than it is something photorealistic?

Regarding the film itself, I’d be happy to show anybody who may be interested a copy of the script. I really think it’s a strong idea, with the potential to be a very successful short film. That’s why I’m reluctant to make it unless the visual style and production value are nothing short of great. It’s why I’ve been dubious about mixing live action with CG, because it’s very easy for that to end up looking decent, but not convincing. I thought at least having a fully 3d world would lend a consistency to the project, so that the style and tone were consistent.

I’m assume that Blender can also utilise motion capture data? I’m a real novice on this, I’m afraid, so I’m just shooting questions out. We may be able to use a motion capture rig through some contacts I have, so I’m considering this along with the “full 3D” concept for the film.

Thanks for all your input so far guys, I look forward to hearing more from you!

Taking the advice so far, I’ve decided to post up some early concept art for the project.

This is intended to be more a mockup of visual tone and style than a “plan” of any one room or location, but hopefully give you a sense of what we’re going for. The film will be black and white, with the imagery probably a little more stark and less detailed than the stuff we have here: