I’ve used After Effects a lot in the past, for animating still images and masking / enhancing post processing. It’s a nice program, but pricey. I think Blender, with the recent progress on compositing etc. could fill almost the same role. I’d much prefer Blender, plus, I probably won’t have access to After Effects much longer.
The thing is, Blender is a big and complex 3D program, and the functions I want in these cases are primarily for 2D animation. Getting at the appropriate settings etc. often involves a lot of clicking around, changing button pages, scrolling etc.
So I’ve started writing a small script for doing a tedious task that I’ve done many a time. This script can import images as normalized planes (fit in window), set the uv’s, texface, and some material settings. Point it at an image file, and you get a correctly scaled version, with preview, in you viewport. It works, for what I use it for, but some options aren’t scripted yet, and I’ve begun thinking that maybe I should expand the scope of it.
See, I have a friend who’s not a Blender user but is missing an app for doing cut-out animation. Precisely what I want as well. I’m mostly doing just a few layers now, due to the hassle, but making simple cut-out figures could be fun.
I’m thinking about doing a swiss-army knife script of sorts, that would have shortcuts for the most widely used functions. Import, select layers / group, set passe-partout alpha (which I’m doing a lot), render preview. Probably some more, like showing material IPOs easily.
My question is this: What would you think of this? An alternate interface add-on that goes against the grain of the Blender thought process might be controversial. You could accuse it of being a crutch and discouraging users from learning things the proper way etc. On the other hand, it might be a gateway for people that are intimidated by the full Blender. What do you think?
What I’d do, if I had all the time in the world to work on it, would consist of a .blend file with a default layout. This layout would consist of a timeline, an ortho camera view, an IPO or NLA window, and two script windows. One for utility functions like the import, render preview etc. The other for “layers”, stacked on top of each other like in AE. These are really just shorthand for selecting the various images you import, without leaving the camera view to see what’s behind the top layer. Also for ordering them (the script would sort them, Z-wise). Maybe even groups of “layers”, so you could do cut-outs with parenting and pivots etc, and have them appear as one “layer”.
One problem with this is that the IPO window is quite complicated. In After Effects, you can see all keyframes in a layer in the same view, including opacity, masks and effects. It’s really easy timing things that way. I’ve not worked much with the NLA editor, but the keyframes show up there, just not separated into rotation, location, etc. Is there a way to see all animated settings simultaneously, and with grab-able keyframes?
Blender seems to be able to do most of what AE does, but it’s spread out between the sequence editor, composite nodes, and the animation system. That’s why I’ll spare you my thoughts on masking, effects, etc for now and just concentrate on animating static images. But I still think that a unified - and more user-friendly - approach to this would be great.
I’ll stop before this post gets too long (it already is). Any suggestions are appreciated.