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Blender makes movies cheaper

I recently had one of those eye opening web surfing sessions where I find lots of new awesome stuff to explore. I was checking up on the progress of Raspberry Pi, itself a very exciting project to make and sell an ARM-based PC board for $35. They say:

We want to see cheap, accessible, programmable computers everywhere; we actively encourage other companies to clone what we’re doing. We want to break the paradigm where without spending hundreds of pounds on a PC, families can’t use the internet. We want owning a truly personal computer to be normal for children. We think that 2012 is going to be a very exciting year.

I saw a video of a demo of Raspberry Pi running XMBC, which is open source media centre software designed to run on a PC connected to your TV and display all your photos and videos and play your music. During the demo, a movie is played and I happened to catch the title “Peach Open Movie Project”, which caught my attention.

It turns out that this is a short animated film made by the Blender Institute. Blender is open source computer animation and 3D design software. The Blender Institute in Amsterdam funds Blender related projects. For the past few years they have been making a short film each year. Peach was the codename for what became Big Buck Bunny. The film is completely open, Creative Commons licensed, and you can buy the DVD with all the assets, 3D models, scripts and tutorial videos showing you how to do all this stuff yourself. It strikes me that if you are a motivated teenager who wants to get into 3D animation your life is vastly better than it would have been 5 years ago in terms of the wealth of information available to you.

So far there are three Blender Institute movies and a computer game. My favourite is Sintel, a bittersweet fantasy about a girl and her dragon. Currently the Blender people are working on a fourth movie: project Mango. This is a “VFX-based” movie, which I take to mean real actors and filmography composited with 3D computer graphics. Blender can do camera and object tracking, so you get things like digital makeup and augmented reality. One of the main aims of these projects is to improve the Blender software, so at the end of each one, Blender is better; the free tools for making movies are better.

One of the guys working on project Mango is Ian Hubert who makes the sort of SF art that I love. He made a short film called Dynamo in his spare time, and is working on another independent, no budget movie called Project London that is made by compositing 3D digital elements onto live action. His showreel is particularly impressive.

If you look at the quality of these projects as compared to a big Hollywood movie like Avatar you will find that the gap is not so wide; certainly it is less wide than the same gap measured a few years ago. All this is being done using freely available tools that are getting better all the time. These tools and these projects may be offshoots of commercial projects or spare time projects, but now they exist the next iteration of artwork done with them will be better. We are all richer as a result and none of this is going away. It is one small aspect of economic growth that is very visible.

It is possible to get a sense of a what a lot more growth would bring: an economy where the essentials are cheap enough to leave us with even more time to work on projects like these; whether making movies or developing circuit boards or designs to be 3D printed.

Now consider this comment left on Eric Raymond’s post about SOPA. Shenpen is talking about the problem of software and movie piracy and how the business models are flawed. The problem, he says, is that music is not scarce.

So the long-term answer is much more simple: selling non-scarce things is going to be stop being a for-profit business in any form whatsoever.

Take music. There will be no profits. There will be no music industry. And most musicians will not be able to make a living out of it. It will stop being a viable business model and a way to make a living altogether. Sure, some musicians will make a living out of fundraisings, advertisements and live performances, but it no longer will be a reliable way to make a living.

Is it wrong – how? The profit motive is great for a lot of things and not so great for a lot of other things. Some things – like sex – are best given for free. Take away the commercial motive and what you get is a lot better music. Sure, musicians will often have to work a day job and thus have less energy to invest in making music. This will reduce quantity – so what? As for quality, I think that will counterweighted by that then they won’t invest their energy into making plastic crap but genuinely good stuff, stuff they themselves would want to listen to, stuf they want to remembered for. When money gets out of the picture, artists often discover they have better tastes than formerly thought.

Why do we have to limit our imagination to the way these things are being done now? Record sales, movie sales etc. did not exist 150 years ago, why should they exist in 50 years from now? Time for some innovation.

This kind of innovation is just what we are seeing. Anyone can make a feature film or record an album and put it on the Internet. As the tools improve, so does the quality of the work done. It would be nice to make a living out of movies and music, but if the cost of living is low enough, and with freely available tools, high quality movies and music will be made even if it is not possible.

22 comments to Blender makes movies cheaper

  • steve

    As long as making music is still cool and gets you women there will be plenty of it.

  • Hmm

    Help! Information overload… Thanks for all the links to peruse Rob – you’ve included enough info for at least three ordinary posts there! 😀

  • mdc

    “Take music. There will be no profits. There will be no music industry. And most musicians will not be able to make a living out of it. It will stop being a viable business model and a way to make a living altogether. Sure, some musicians will make a living out of fundraisings, advertisements and live performances, but it no longer will be a reliable way to make a living.”

    I really dont see this as likely. Even if record sales are annihilated… music already isn’t a viable life style for the vast majority of people who want to do it, but the small percentage of top people will still be able to make at the very least their best likely salary in any other profession from concerts, book sales, merchandise, etc. Probably 10-100x more.

    But sure, if music was hobbyist-only I don’t see this as the end of the world either.

  • Grant Freedom

    Most of us, myself included, don’t buy music for its inherent qualities, but rather for its image, and for status (street cred). We want to belong, and it feeds that desire. Some people want to belong to a (superior in their minds) group, and others to the masses. There are still going to be a lot of people who want to buy a band’s music because it’s popular. In comparison, the perfume industry has not collapsed because of the ease with which one can concoct something similar to the professional brands.

  • RAB

    The original Hit parade or Top Twenty charts as it became, referred to sheet music, not music recorded by one specific artist. It was the composition that was being sold, not the artist. It was then taken home and played there on instruments that ordinary people possessed and were able to play (many more people than now were able to play instruments in the 1920s and earlier).

    So we are now returning to an earlier age. Talented people will still make music, they will put it on the net for free (or some of it) whet the public’s appetite for it, and then pick up their income from live performance or internet sales, even cds (they aint dead yet).

    I see no problem here, it just cuts out the middlemen leeches of the record industry, and encourages other “ordinary” people to make their own, especially as the technology to make it possible is easily accessable and cheap as chips.

  • Sam Duncan

    Blender’s one of the best advertisements for Free software and culture. It really is as good (in some ways, I’m told, better) than its proprietary counterparts… as are the results. Big Buck Bunny’s a hoot. Beautiful, too. Pity they only made one. But then, anyone can make a sequel: the models and textures are all there, waiting to be used again.

    As you can probably tell, I’ve known about it for years (even tinkered with it a bit), and I’m rather pleased that the first place I heard about the Mango project wasn’t some Free software site – as it was with Orange, Peach, Apricot, and Durian – but here. It’s getting known outside the open source ghetto. That’s good.

  • Laird

    People have made their living as musicians for all of recorded history. Bards and troubadors may not have lived well, but they survived and were respected. Great musicians will continue to thrive, as RAB said, even if the record industry dies. And to be truly great requires full-time dedication, which amateurs can’t devote. Even good amateur musicians will want to hear the very best, and will pay for the privilege (whether it’s via internet downloads or in live performances). The process may change, but mankind’s desire for great music won’t. And that requires professionals.

  • bobby b

    It’s been a good thing to see that theft and dishonesty no longer need to rely upon the relatively illiterate defenses and justifications of the house-burglars and the car thieves who once made up the bulk of their adherents. “Stealing other peoples’ stuff” got a complete bad reputation throughout society, simply because the thieves couldn’t properly convey to the world why it was an honorable impulse that had actually caused significant progress towards a freer, more civilized society.

    Now – finally! – we have actual English and Writing majors who have taken up the valiant efforts to defend theft’s place in proper society, and to educate us all as to how property rights truly stunt a society’s intellectual growth. These concepts, so utterly ridiculed for so long, are finally being advocated for by people with good communication skills, with the result that theft and involuntary servitude are no longer simply reflexively dismissed as being “bad.”

    At long last, we’re seeing clear and rational explanations as to why everyone else is entitled to take from you what you created, on their own terms and at their convenience. The music writers and performers, the book authors, the photographers – they’re all finally getting their comeuppance for arrogantly insisting that we had to bargain with them for their songs and stories and pictures. All of those things rightfully belong to The People! Those people who think they ought to be paid for such efforts simply fail to realize that their business model has broken down!

    I look forward to the next logical extension of this great progressive movement, which will make clear to all that the act of depriving other people of the use of your house is another holdover from less civilized times. Clearly, once we had invented key-cutting machines, and crowbars and window-smashing hammers, the old paradigm which held that you could lock your house to secure it from everyone else simply fell by the wayside. Once it became easy to steal your house from you, it was no longer a bad thing to do. Clearly, if you cannot secure your house from others, it’s not truly yours in a property-owning sense. That business model has failed, and homeowners who continue to deprive us of their nice homes need to realize this.

    The underpinnings of our new reality – the idea that our moral claim to ownership of property only survives until technology makes it easier to steal that property from us, and then it is extinguished – has the potential to clarify and democratize an area of the law that has suffered from overcomplexity and irrationality for ages. How can anyone claim some moral right to ownership of something if I can easily steal it from them? And, besides, they didn’t need such a big house anyway. We’ve helped them to simplify their lives! Dammit, I get shivers when I contemplate how very, very moral I have become!

    This new philosophy takes over more and more of the world with each passing day. I understand that the widely-read “Warlords and Despots Monthly” magazine is going to devote their entire March 2013 issue to these changing paradigms, with an emphasis on how outmoded ideas have been used to denigrate and disempower warlords in the past.

  • Bruce Hoult

    About Raspberry Pi, I hope the project succeeds and I’ll be among the first in line to buy one, but I really doubt that such a powerful ARM based computer can be sold in a sustainable way at $35.

    I say that as someone who owns and programs half a dozen different varieties of Arduino and Arduino clone boards.

    Arduino themselves announced an ARM board a few months ago but, as far as I know, haven’t yet revealed a shipping date or even price for it.

  • So bobby b, are you saying that vastly cheaper tools and distribution which place the hobbyist on a par with the professional is a sign that theft has been legitimised? Really?

  • Rob H

    I think it also shows why thare has been such a race for “attention” online.

    There will still be popular sites that will create popular movements/popular music/popular film.

    I imagine plenty of opportunity for making money for artists, especially as the software design becomes more and more accesible to non-tech people.

    The people who miss out are the record labels and people who own “intellectual property” but don’t produce any themselves.

    I wonder what will happen when software design becomes open to the masses as well. It’s bound to happen.

  • RAB

    In the old days, however talented a musician you were, if you wern’t signed by a record company, you were effectively shut out of the market, because unless the company were paying for that all important studio time, then it was eye wateringly expensive to pay for it yourself on spec, then you had pressing and distribution costs on top etc.

    A very old friend of mine is the violinist in the reformed Curved Air. At the end of last year he was over at the guitarist’s house here in Bristol writing and recording new material. He dropped in at my Gaff on his way home and played me what they had just been doing.

    He whipped out a Roland Boss digital recorder, 4 track playplayback with 32 overdub facility. The sound was pristine and crystal clear, easily broadcastable level (Sgt Pepper was only 4 track don’t forget). The machine cost £140 and is little bigger than an iPod.

    With machines like that, and at that price, I’m looking forward to more and better music, not less and worse myself.

  • Eddie Willers

    “As the tools improve, so does the quality of the work done”

    This may be so – but there is a counter-argument that the artistic merit (measured by whatever metric) of the output will decrease. As the cost of production falls, and there is a ‘democratization’ of production, one may well see quality decline as well.

    There will always be some folk who are only in it for the $$$

  • Sam Duncan

    I think you’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope, Eddie. Whatever tools exist, some people will be better at using them than others, and their work is the stuff we regard as having merit, simply because most of us couldn’t do it. 90% of everything is always junk, because making the most of the tools available to you is hard and we appreciate when somebody does it. There will be virtuoso Blender-jockeys, just as there are virtuoso violinists.

    If you had a time machine and took most of the records released today back to the 1950s, they’d be regarded as masterpieces: the sound quality is infinitely better, the (apparent) musicianship is better thanks to the ability to punch in retakes at will, even the singing is better because of tools like Autotune. But we regard them as junk, because it’s easy.

    The quality of the posts and comments here is higher than most letters written even 30 years ago, because we can cut & paste, rearrange our words, delete our mistakes (as best we can). Some people don’t bother, and they look like fools.

    The quality hasn’t declined; our perception of what’s good has risen.

    Bobby: The only thing I have to say about your rant is that as a proponent of free markets and property, I was sceptical at first too. But markets aren’t free if people can’t voluntarily waive their rights. And the truth of Cory Doctorow’s description of the Internet is inescapable: “a machine invented to copy things quickly and efficiently across continents”. Trying to stop it doing what it’s for – putting the genie back in the bottle – isn’t just crazy, it’s futile. CC and other similar licences are trying to live with that reality, going with the grain rather than across it: they’re not a free-for-all, and their terms are enforced vigorously. It’s either that or locking people up for using decryption keys the wrong way, operating second-hand markets, or tinkering with hardware they’ve bought. Doesn’t sound very libertarian to me.

  • Alisa

    So the long-term answer is much more simple: selling non-scarce things is going to be stop being a for-profit business in any form whatsoever.

    Since when is talent non-scarce? Isn’t talent scarce by definition?

    Is it wrong – how? The profit motive is great for a lot of things and not so great for a lot of other things. Some things – like sex – are best given for free. Take away the commercial motive and what you get is a lot better music.

    The guy is a frigging socialist. What bobby b. said.

  • Alisa

    And BTW, nothing is ever given for free, you spoiled brat, not even sex. There’s always an exchange – even when there’s no medium of exchange involved.

  • bobby b

    Perry and Sam:

    My rant above would have impressed you both with its clarity and impact had I only managed to post it to the correct blog.


    As a response to a blogger and his commenters who all agreed that piracy is moral, it was an acceptable rant. When I mistakenly paste it into the comment form of a blog post having nothing to do with that subject, it loses a bit of coherence. Okay, a BIG bit. Sorry.

  • Alisa: the non scarcity refers to the copy-ability of recordings. This is the argument that copying a piece of music from the web is not the same as theft because what you are doing is copying information, not depriving anyone of something physical.

    Information is not scarce because it is copy-able. The ability to create or discover new information is scarce.

    Whether or not copying things other people don’t want you to copy is wrong, is another argument. But Shenpen is arguing that you can’t make money from it if it is not scarce.

    Well you can, but you need either 1) government violence, 2) good DRM or 3) people to voluntarily hand over their money even though they could copy the information for free.

    (1) seems to involve things like SOPA, (2) is unpopular with users (though I think it is a technology and user interface problem that could be solved) and (3) does actually happen but it’s unclear how much is fear of (1).

    As for taking away the commercial motive to get better music… yeah, that does sound like the sort of thing a socialist would say.

    What I take from the comment is that *if* it turns out that you can’t make money from distributing music, that’s not an excuse for the government to step in with all sorts of authoritarian measures. Good music will continue to be made anyway.

  • Alisa

    Yes, Rob, I understood the argument, and (unfortunately) I am well familiar with it. My point was that what creative people sell is precisely “pieces” of their talent, not information. The information (the ones and the zeroes, arranged in a particular manner) is worthless without the talent, it is a mere non-physical medium that carries those “pieces” of talent, just like a plastic CD or the silicon-made flash memory is the physical medium that carries that particular information.

    What I take from the comment is that *if* it turns out that you can’t make money from distributing music, that’s not an excuse for the government to step in with all sorts of authoritarian measures.

    Oh, I absolutely agree with that point, only I by no means took it from the quote in your post. The guy walks and quacks like a socialist, but sure, there’s always a remote possibility that he’s actually just a duck.

  • lucklucky

    The problem with Blender and other so called “free” things is that we don’t know its price, so we have much less information. It is a market with less information.
    Now of course we should discuss how much important is the price information…

    Btw Blender is worse than all proprietary packages until it will have a reliable and good render engine. Until they have Cycles in good form it is subpar compared to vray, arnold, mentalray, finalrender.

  • RAB

    This is how the future of music and the internet will progress in my humble opinion…


    And Our National Treasure (sic) has got it right for once, Wow!

    And Neil Young, he of Crosby Still Nash and Young, has no problem with the Internet either. He calls it 21st Century Radio. What he is most concerned with is sound quality, and he has a point there too.

  • Alisa

    I, for one, am not saying that the current business model is good or worth preserving – it may well be that it’s not, and should be changed, for the benefit of everyone concerned. I also don’t have a problem with anyone speculating as to what alternative model may take its place – eventually, technology and markets will tell anyway. What I’m having a big problem with are people who only constitute one side of the market (i.e. consumers) telling the other half (producers and suppliers) that the current model is doomed, and that the only alternative model just happens to be the one that allows them (the consumers) to get something for nothing. And if the other side (producers and suppliers) do not get on with the program – well then, too bad, because the program is coming regardless. It’s the future, man. Sorry, but that’s not how free market works.