I’ve been pretty busy the last few months, so I haven’t been able to put together much in the way of projects or tutorials for those interested in the production arts. However, in the coming months, I have a bit more free time, and some energy to move forward, so I’m going to start with several projects that can help make an impressive production. At least, that’s my hope.
What I want to learn (and share) as I go involve creating an entirely virtual world for a real actor to interact with. Even if you just want to green-screen yourself onto a virtual table for talking to the camera, say as a news anchor or a talking head, it really helps the scene if you look like you’re really there.
Creating a Virtual Set
Filmmakers usually do what they can to make the scenery look good. However, sometimes, you just can’t get the kind of set you want for anything less than a significant investment. If you’re working from a budget, then this is probably not an issue, as you have the money to spare. However, for those of us who are working from our bedrooms/backyards/home studios, there comes a time when one needs a virtual set.The project I’ll be working on (and making tutorials as I can) is a somewhat architectural pursuit; between one of a number of free home blueprints, and some study in a homebuilding book, I’ll be making a complete virtual house, which will be modeled, textured, and laid out so that it can be used in a larger project, consisting of multiple consistent scenes. This project will use Cycles in order to ensure all components are usable for the forseeable future, even if the Blender Render engine is removed from the software, although some elements (such as a fireplace) will need to wait (or be pre-rendered in the Blender Render engine) until Cycles supports volumetric texturing. Considering the amount of time it will take to learn everything else, I can save that for last.
Tracking and Compositing
The point to having a virtual set is to allow real-world objects and subjects to be added into the set. To this end, it’s important to lock the virtual camera with the real-world camera, and using green-screen techniques, insert the real-world objects into the virtual set. With the new features added to Blender in version 2.64, this has become much easier, but doing so effectively still requires some understanding of the process in general.
One of the most important skills required for this to look realistic is compositing. Not just green-screening the person or object into the scene, but also color matching, so that there isn’t a jarring difference in lighting between the actor and the set. Additionally, having special green-screened props is important for ensuring that the actor can also interact with virtual objects in the scene.
Masking and Rotoscoping
Sometimes, the camera’s proportions are wider and taller than the available green screen allows for. In such a case, it helps to be able to mask out those areas where the green screen ends and the original room peeks through.
Sometimes, these areas will move on the screen if the camera itself is panning. For this purpose, it will also be important to know about rotoscoping in order to create an automated mask to follow a subject; this can be used to mask out the background not covered by a green screen, or to composite in a subject captured without a green screen.
While animating existing 3D text is easy enough once you have the Blender basics, and we’ve already covered the rolling text effect in the “Rolling Credits” series, there is the matter of shows/movies where each scene is preceded with a date/time/location stamp, such as just about every police procedural and military action movie ever. The standard style for this stamp is to appear as if it was being typed on an overlay. This is a pretty simple task, but it is a project that can help with familiarizing oneself with a 2D-animation program, such as Synfig Studio.
I’m not planning on going into lightsabers, laser pistols, and lightning bolts for the time being, but if you plan for any action to take place, it really can help to know the basics about muzzle flashes, explosions, and other “real-world” effects that simulate events too dangerous to try for real. Blender’s smoke and physics simulations can help bring the dangerous elements of the real world into your productions without risking the lives of your actors.
Keep in mind that these are all things I intend to learn. I am still a relative newbie when it comes to filmmaking. That being said, I am interested in getting input. What kind of projects would fit in the above categories that you would want to see? Any filmmakers out there that might want to point out any topics I’m missing?