There is no denying that hand-drawn animation is out of favour in the commercial cinema. The trend towards computer graphic (CG) animation started in 1995 with Toy Story from Pixar. This was followed by Toy Story 2 and 3. The DreamWorks studios jumped on the CG bandwagon with Shrek (2001) which was also very successful and led to sequels. The last hand drawn Disney feature film, The Princess and the Frog (2009), was a disappointment at the box office when compared with successful CG animation.
Where does this leave the home animator who may have ambitions to break into the animation business? CG animation is probably the best way to go. Unfortunately the kind of software used by the major studios would be very expensive for a young animation enthusiast to purchase, even in the student version. Fortunately the Blender Foundation have made CG animation software available free of charge. They rely on donations and volunteers to develop and improve the software.
One method the Blender Foundation has used to push the software forward is with their Open Movie projects. These are short movies funded by public donations. One remit of the movies is to push at the boundaries of the Blender software. During the production of a movie the software writers work with the animators to give them the tools they ask for. The work during the 3rd Open Movie project, Sintel (2010), enabled the release of Blender 2.5 with a completely re-written animation section.
The Sintel movie project led to at least one participant getting a big break in the movie industry. The director, Colin Levy, has landed a job at Pixar in the story visualisation department.
They are now raising funds for their 4th Open Movie with the working name Project Mango. Film production will take place at the Blender Institute studio in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Six artists and two software developers will be employed for 6-7 months to create a short VFX based sci-fi movie with Blender. As with the previous projects, the end result and all the production files will eventually be published under the Creative Commons, free to be reused and for everyone to learn from.
One of the ways they are raising funds is with pre-sales of the DVD box set at 34 Euros each. Orders paid for by 15 February 2012 can have a credit on the movie. As well as the actual movie the box set will include all studio data to recreate the film from scratch, tutorials, documentation and raw footage. More information can be found at blender.org.
The production process of the previous Open Movie project, Sintel, was shown in an hour long documentary. It includes sketches, layouts and early production sequences. The key production personnel talk about their roles in the project and explain some of the technical background.