"Edit, Then Shoot"

If you adopt the title of this post as a mantra, it will make you a much better CG filmmaker. Your movies will look better and you will spend less time (and more-productive time) rendering them. The core idea is a simple one: “first, shoot lots of film, quickly,” then “leave most of it (who cares?) on the virtual cutting-room floor.”

(In this piece, I am only going to describe the workflow at a very high level. This is not a step-by-step “how to.”)

We’ve all seen amateur CG films which have “one long take.” The camera doesn’t move at all while the hero walks up to the door, tries the knob, finds it locked, peeks through the window and finally walks away. But you know from experience that a real movie-director would never film it that way: this action would instead be depicted as a tightly-cut series of shots, with a mixture of framing and camera angles.

When CG artists realize this, the next thing they often try is to still do “one long render,” but to animate the cuts during the rendering process. Not only does this take just as much time as before, but you can’t change it after it’s done.

A far superior process takes advantage of the OpenGL Preview feature of Blender, which uses your computer’s hardware to quickly generate frames, and the Stamp feature, which can stamp each frame with things like the file-name, camera and scene name, and frame number. Now you have the ability to “shoot footage quickly” – a minute’s worth of footage takes about a minute to produce – and the footage will exactly match a “final render” of the same thing.


A key to this technique is to make aggressive use of Blender’s library linking feature, both between files and within them. Each set, actor, and prop is a linked asset – as a named group. Each shot is a “linked scene” (prior to Blender 2.8; in that release, the data-structures are different but the ideas are still there). You need to be able to reproduce any shot at will. You need to be able to edit an asset only once, and see those changes in every shot where that asset appears.

Key Point: Although you are “quickly shooting footage” now, each shot-file – if it makes the cut – might become(!) the finished one! “Stand-in” props and other assets – if they survive – become the real ones. Sets, now properly-dressed, become the real ones. (That’s why these details matter.)

Another important consideration to establish at the start is physical scale. How many feet/meters tall is that actor? How long is that gun? How big is that set? How high and wide is that window or door-frame? Everything must be correct and consistent. Get out that tape-measure!

Finally, you want to defer every detail that you can, until you have to do it. For instance, actors and props can be made of simple geometric shapes (placed into individual Blender groups for linking purposes. These must be “to scale.” But why detail-build a gun or a wheelbarrow when you don’t yet know if, or how, it will appear in the show?


Once you’ve set things up as described, start creating scenes. Place several named cameras in the base scene from which to shoot the action. (Use “Scenes” to separate the outputs.) Film the actor stepping up to his marks, doing his action, then walking off, to give you “tails” for editing purposes. Now, shoot film with reckless abandon! If you “might” use it, go ahead and shoot it. (Unlike Waterworld, no producer is going to come down upon your ass for shooting too much plastic, and your virtual actors don’t get paid “union scale.”)

Remember: "if you want to change it, make another one, instead."


"Actual film-making" occurs now, when you take this footage to a video editor of your choice. (Blender includes one, but there are others, notably ShotCut and OpenShot, or iMovie, which comes with every Macintosh.) This is where you begin to assemble the footage that you’ve shot into your actual movie … and, once you begin to get the hang of it, you’ll discover that it takes a lot more time than you suppose! However, you can actually move your project all(!) the way to final(!!) cut in this way, with actors that are still “cone-heads” shooting with cardboard-box blasters at cylindrical bad-guys.

You can work out a scene in a game in exactly the same way.

You’ll find yourself “rolling” between two shots looking for just the right cut-point, considering the rhythm and the pace of the sequence, and making all kinds of decisions now that might never have occurred to you. However, because you can generate (and re-generate) the footage quickly, you can afford to do this, and to do it well. This is a key creative activity – the most-important one of all.

Plus – I gotta say this – "this is fun." :partying_face:

You’re not “on tenterhooks,” waiting for hours to see what your movie’s going to look like, wondering if you’ll just have to do it all over again. No, you’re assembling your masterpiece now, and if it suddenly occurs to you that a new shot is needed to (maybe) fill this-or-that gap, you can switch-gears and go make it. And if you’re not yet sure “which path that diverges in a snowy wood” will turn out to be the right one to take, you don’t have to decide yet. This is a liberating feeling: “you’re still the director, you’re still in charge of this thing.” (Oh, damn … what time is it?!)


As you get closer to final-cut, you can begin to see which props actually appear in the film and which didn’t make the cut. You can also see how important the asset is; how much time-and-attention needs to be devoted to it. (Remember: the “towns” in spaghetti Westerns were only skin-deep, but the horses were real.) As you replace the stand-in assets with the real things, keeping the Group-names the same, they magically appear in every shot due to the power of “linking.” As you place the real lights on the sets, they appear both in the 3D Window and in your previews.

The final step is almost an anticlimax: do final renders of the exact frames that you already know you need, and drop these one-by-one into the final-cut edit. Right before your eyes, your “mountains of footage” become your final picture … or, pictures? … one shot at a time.



The result of this process will be a much more realistic movie, cinematically much stronger, and you will feel very confident about the upcoming result long before you hit the “Render” button for the first :open_mouth: time.



2020 update by the author:
Some of the terminology used in this piece has changed yet again, and the “OpenGL Preview” rendering option has been replaced. But it is also much less important: the EEVEE renderer can run in near real-time while producing excellent results, and also now drives the modeling window. Also, the “Workbench” renderer operates in much the same way that “OpenGL Preview” used to. (But is also suitable for “real work,” and might be your choice depending on the project.) The workflow discussion remains the same.

11 Likes

Nice sharing.
I am actually preparing a scene to train in body animation and wanted to push linking concepts a bit forward, so your post comes at a right timing here :star_struck:

I modeled a global scenery (a room), linked a free rig, and linked a few assets, have to mention a storyboard was made (and i forced myself to keep camera changes the less possible hahaha).

My general idea was to use your approach, linking all things, and somewhere on the road i stumbled with a global scene that i whished to duplicate once a shot is done.

Reading your post refreshed the whole concept, so if i follow i should save that global scenery and link the whole thing in each shots (like rigs and other props of course).

One question though, is there a semi automated way to manage continuity ?
If for example i have an object into the room that change position or state beetween shots, let say a chair that fall at some point, linking the original room will result with that chair needed to be repositionned exactly.

When typing this i questionned myself : Does the next shot should link the previous one (chair is down the floor) instead of the original file ?

And then it leads to another question : Should the global room scene should be splitted on multiple files for objects affected by the story ?

Thanx for the insight into your methodology, i maybe didn’t pay much attention to :

Cheers.

Voppag, here are a few random thoughts . . .

(1) “Feel free” to do “camera changes,” because each camera’s “output of film” is necessarily “a different shot.”

(2) Within any shot-file, assets that can move around are represented by “proxies,” which lets us reposition them while retaining the links to most characteristics of the asset.

(3) When a particular object needs to make a series of motions, I try to do all of these in a single file. Otherwise, I define a set of Empty objects (all placed into a Group …) to mark each of the locations that the object needs to “hit.” Yes, if those locations change, the animations in the various files will need to be adjusted, but the animations are usually peculiar to that file anyway. (The only thing that’s common is the exact 3D-locations that they must “hit.”

(4) Don’t link shot-files to one another, if possible.

(5) Ordinarily, I do not link to “Scenes” between files, but rather only within them. If an external file defines, say, “a set,” then there will be a Group within that file which corresponds to the set, the lighting rig, maybe cameras. The base-Scene of any file which uses that “set” will link to these. Then, for each shot that will be taken, there’s a Scene within the same file which links to the base, but which defines different file-output locations and so forth.

These are simply the workflow particulars that I have developed so-far . . .

P.S.: With regard to these technical fine-points, I think that “the secret is, there is no secret.” Just pick an arrangement that works well for you and that you fully understand, then “make it gospel.” Do the same thing the same way every time from the beginning of the project to the end.

And – keep a “Captain’s Log.” (I actually use a paper notebook and a number-two pencil.) “What did you do today, and how did you do it?” You won’t remember, and it frankly sux to try to re-create in your mind the proper way to do something that you’ve already done in this or some other recent project. :exploding_head:

I think you make a very good point with this tutorial. You see thousands of renders (videos, short animations) and for some reason, I believe, many didn’t bother to much about blender’s library linking feature. (Like me. I’ve seen it once or twice, and never bothered to use it).

So by nature I suppose Blender has a lot of amazing features, but there were never that much attention from tutuorials on workflows creating a short movie.

I hope you or some-one else can make a short video showing this workflow. That will definitely help poping up more interesting animations by Blender on the Internet.

You should consider making a video of these concepts… I think it would help a lot as well as this informative break down…

I do plan to try to put something together soon.

“Libraries and linking” has been extensively covered in the past, but I haven’t seen many pieces that talk about editing and show-assembly in this context.

But Alfred Hitchcock liked to use the term, “assembly,” instead of “editing,” and I understand why.

1 Like

Thanks for the detailled reply,
i already have some simple linking workflow for static objects, and your answer will help to craft a better one for more complex projects.

After all the “Edit, Then Shoot” is the primary concept to keep in mind here, and it feels very valuable.

VSE can also be a super way to manage differents shots with previz if it’s a all in one project.

In 2.79b you don’t have to render the shots to assemble the shots into an edited sequence in another app. You an do it inside Blender with this app:

It lets you add your cameras directly to the sequencer as strips and in the sequencer you can do all the editing you want, and also see the edit in the 3D View, so from the sequencer you can edit the cameras models directly, without having to switch workspace.

oh. that looks cool. does it work in 2.8?

edit: nice thread. very useful for me right now. thanks

Tin2Tin, “yes, you can do everything that I describe exclusively in Blender,” but that’s not my key point.

If you knew in advance exactly what you wanted to do with a sequence, then there many ways to generate that sequence. But my point is that very often you really don’t. If you are like me – maybe you are, maybe you aren’t – “I’ll know it when I see it.” (I can’t draw.)

This is why I suggest this process which is firmly based in “conventional film-making.” You quickly generate more material than you need, just as a field unit captures a number of “takes” and with multiple cameras. Then you consider the low-res CG footage and edit it exactly as you would do with footage from any source. Furthermore, you do this – and, you finish this – before rendering commences.

A fundamental problem with CG is that it is slow and expensive. But “preview” renders in Blender bypass this problem. They are “much, much more than ‘previz’” because they are exact. You can systematically refine your shots by swapping linked assets until the file that you first considered to be a “maybe file” becomes the source of the final shot. You can make 100% of your show-assembly decisions before final-rendering a single frame. You can replace previews with finals precisely.

If Blender’s VSE is “your video editor of choice,” then it’s at your beck-and-call. If not, there are many excellent choices in both the open-source and the proprietary worlds.

In line to this I would like to add the following:

One of the most important thing is that an artist has first an idea and then use software to realize it.
Blender and many other software packages have so much interesting buttons, knobs, functions, whistle and bells that users tend to do the other way around: “Oh, thats nice if I use that slider, it’s cool.” The danger of this latter is that you will end up with a product that has not a strong focus. The idea in mind is what has to be realized.

So the workflow showed by @sundialsvc4 is a good thing. It invites you to work on the initial idea, rather than letting some knobs decide randomly what the product is.
(Tried my best to express in English, but I think one will get the grasp of it what I mean).
Playing with buttons, is a learning stage of how to use Blender, after that you have to turn back to your idea. (That is always my mistake, and that’s why I am the one who can write this :smile:)

Maybe it’s worth mentioning that one “side effect” of this workflow is that it helps to push your attention away from the grueling business of modeling, lighting and rendering – which is deemed to be premature – and towards “the show” that you are making. Whatever that show turns out to be.

You can actually pull a compelling performance out of a to-scale cone-headed actor with a cylindrical body who’s blasting bad guys with a to-scale cardboard box. (No US political snarks, please …) :wink:

When the show is “right and tight,” you will know. Many filmmakers have opined that it is in the editing suite that “story-telling” really takes place. So you drive to get there as soon as possible, and as cheaply as possible, with as many alternatives to consider as seems reasonable.

Believe it or not, you’ll find that you do “kill your darlings.” It looks like a great idea and the scene or the prop or even the character doesn’t make the cut. But, you didn’t invest a huge amount of time in it, yet, either, and you haven’t actually rendered(!) anything. So, you feel like “it’s okay” to make that kind of a decision in your project. You deliberately put yourself into a position where you can make that decision.

So far, this concept is really working for me… I never really thought of breaking it down in this way before…

What I am trying to do is animate a “photographing a mirror effect” idea. First shot is a snow globe on a table, in a room with a tree and what not (in the room)… the camera pulls back and goes out the room’s window to reveal that contents of the snow globe is now the scene… further pulling back reveals that the the camera pulls out of the snow globe to reveal it back in the room… and ends…

Inside the snow globe is a snow man, a tree and the house…

So, I put together the idea as simple cubes and cones and declared those as “assets” which are linked into the main project. As I have time, all I need to do is edit the assets and materials… etc…

At this point all I need to understand is rigging needed (for the snow man) and how to link that into the scene and line up the motion in the NLA editor with the music that I created… (That is really what I am best at, music composition…, hence my alias lol)

So, with that, I watch this thread… As for the idea of this animation, it is just for me to learn, so, anyone reading this and wanted to re-create this, I have no problem with the idea being used… Besides, I am sure it has been done before. I thought it would a great way to pull all the aspects of Blender into focus for me.

And you are more than welcome to use this idea as a premise for your video… :wink:

One thing that I would invite you to do now, MusicAmg, is to explore … “how many ways might I show this story?” You describe a certain set of camera moves, but what else could you shoot? Your show is based on the essential gag (take no offense …) that the audience is repeatedly surprised to re-discover what the “actual” situation truly is. Well, there are lots of ways to shoot that story.

People are somewhat pre-conditioned as to what to expect since they are accustomed to watching movies that are, of course, physically filmed. “Long, continuous takes,” camera flights, somehow passing through objects – these are difficult or impossible to do. Look very closely at existing films that depict similar ideas, and break them down shot-by-shot. The “cuts” might be imperceptible, but they are there.

“what? didn’t you notice that the edits, in all of the movies that you loved, were sometimes “cut’” in fractions of a second?”

Stick cameras – each one named – in lots of places, and, literally, goof around(!) with this great idea. As you experimentally cut the shots together, look for every way to “tighten” the storytelling and cinematography. Feel free to throw footage onto the digital cutting-room floor.

Storyboarding can be a great and easy way to bring your project into some sort of manifested form before the rendering/modeling phase. You can then turn it into an animatic and add sounds if you need a greater visualization of your project.

And I agree, knowing exactly what scenes, characters, and props are needed in the final project can be a time saver. Though that can be hard, because sometimes you just can’t help but jump straight into the work.

But I don’t see that as a bad thing either, I think having some sort of idea of what your project looks like in final form can be helpful and motivating. Especially if your an artist like me who likes to play with different styles.
For instance, before I even decided what the story to my film was going to be, I modeled my characters already so I could get an idea of what they would look like in the final film ( they’re toon styled ), and once I saw the finished render, I became very excited about the project and where I could take it!

Great topic by the way! Not just a good tutorial/workflow, but also a good thought process when making films and animation.

How would such a workflow look like practically in Blender? I tried to play around first with scenes, but cannot get the hang out of it. When I make a new scene I have the options:

  • New
  • Copy Settings
  • Link Object
  • Link Object Data
  • Full Copy.

What, how and why would you use?
Can’t really get the hang out of it having a worklow for it in the compositor as well. Seems it doesn’t really render two scenes (in one go).
I hope some could give a practical example, otherwise I will dive into it and come with something.

Oh I fully understand what you mean, i.e., “gag” as a concept… The only thing really holding me back right now is the functionality of 2.8. Very great ideas so far.

One movie that I noticed and I think I saw it discussed somewhere on another forum was in the movie “Contact”, with Jodie Foster. Early in the movie there is a scene from inside the house and the camera backs out through a door and it was a seamless transition. It is exactly the effect I working towards.

So far, I have a the ideas worked out and a few of the scenes started. I am just waiting on the stuff to be added and worked out in 2.8…

The work flow I am using is building the objects that will be used in the actual scene in separate blend files, although you could put them in one file with many objects. My reasoning to do it this way is that it is easier to locate an asset based on the name of that asset. For example, I put a “house” in one file, etc, so, all I have to do is look for a blend file names house.

From there, I use link from file to add them to a scene. If it needs to be edited in that scene, then I convert it to a proxy. For armatures, you need to do this. I was reading there may be a few bumps right now, but, the problems are being addressed.

Using link from file enables you to create a mock up pretty quickly and you can edit the original file and see the changes were it links to. The only draw back is if you need the same object more than once in the scene, you can only link one at a time per scene. But, there are ways around that, like duplicates, etc.

As I stated, just waiting on more functionality of 2.8. I will be dependent on using audio and therefore Animation Nodes, which was just made to work (somewhat) with 2.8. Also waiting on more curve addon support, etc… The little things that made 2.79b so cool… :wink:

@MusicAmg. Thanks. At the moment I don’t see the benefit of seperate blend files. (I can find them in the outliner is what I think). But I will try it out and pretty sure I experience news things. Will come back to that.