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Interview with Bassam Kurdali (Director of Elephants Dream)

10

Bassam with Plumiferos TeamMy name is Bassam Kurdali. You may know me as the director of "Elephants Dream". I am a blender user for many years- since the 2.2x versions of the software, a bit before the Open Source Era.

Q .1 What do you think about the open-source movement and when did you start using open source tools?
Elephants Dream DVD A) The very 1st time I encountered open source software was around 1994, when I was using some unix based VLSI software at college. A professor suggested that I install Linux on my home computer to see if I could run the software on it. It was a Slackware install, but it was my first moment of familiarity with open source tools. And as the years went by and I learnt more about open source, I found that I really like the ideas and outlook of the people involved with open source software. I wanted to use open source software only, but unfortunately at that time I did not find any FLOSS 3D graphics applications that were really adequate to use for production, but I did want to switch to a mostly open source tools and so I picked Blender-It was not open source at that time but at least it ran on an open source Linux platform. As you know Blender has since become open source software so I achieved my goal in a roundabout way.

Q.2 What are some of the nifty and useful features in Blender?Bassam's Chicken Chair
A) The first features that interested me in the program were the animation tools and also the sub-division surfaces. Once it had those 2 features I thought it was good enough for me to start using it for animation and modelling. At that time my skills were not so advanced and as I saw that blender was developing at a very fast rate and so it would probably fill the gaps while I learnt the features it already had. Fast forward to the present, and Blender has become quite an impressive program with many features I don't even use (and many that I'm quite attached to) Even the old tools have become more refined and speedy with time; blender's modeling and animation are a far cry from where they were when I started.

Q.3 What are the features that Blender is missing?
A) Well, there are a lot of buzzword features that people are already asking for a lot- like renderpasses, GI, micropolies, SSS... the list goes on and on. Some are crucial, others are just nice, but not worth mentioning here since many already have. In contrast, when you're using software, you tend to need all sorts of subtle things that might have different names in different packages, or no real name at all. so there is a lot of little things and a few big things I would like to see in Blender. I'll focus on the some of the little, hard to describe things.

Finer grained transform constraining for bones: Currently if you lock a location down completely, the default transform that blender performs is the next one up, so it will rotate. If you lock rotation, it would scale. I would like that it more smarts here. So if you lock translation on X and Y, it would translate constrained to z as oppose to the current behaviour: initiating a general transform ( but being unable to move on z). That is a subtle distinction, but it can mean very strange- or no motion- depending on your view. Again it is something you won't notice unless you are animating a lot or you are trying make rigs useful. It might be interesting to explore smarter ways of driving on rotation. Rotation driving is hard to do right now, especially on joints with a lot of freedom. Action constraints are a little bit clunky- they work, but requires too much effort and could use some improvement/refinement.Other things that are kind of useful are to have multiple resolution messes or mesh modifiers ultimately so you can use low resolution cage as a deformer for a higher resolution mesh. This could make weight painting very fast and easy because you could always weight paint a proxy mesh that is a low resolution cage and than use that cage to deform high resolution mesh. As you can see, most of the features I have asked are animation related- I've got too many, but I'm not going to bore you with a long list.

Q.4) What other tools do you use for your production work?Bassam's Workd
A) Inkscape, which I use sometimes for doing certain textures that are easier to start out in vector format. Gimp to paint most my textures, and some postpro on stills. I use avidemux a lot just doing simple video things such as scaling / etc, or re-encoding/ changing file formats when I'm too lazy to learn the command line switches for mencoder (which is another application I use quite a bit). I use text editors/mailers/browsers etc. - all the mundane stuff. I use Blender for editing video typically. Though I might on occasion use Cinelerra or Kino for that. I look forward to seeing some of the other open source NLEs to mature to a production level.

Q.5 Which of the following are you most interested in (a)Modelling (b) Animation (c) Compositing (d) Rendering (e) Rigging (f) Game-Engine?
A) Well, with exception of game engine, I think all of those things are relevant to what I like to do. Because I like to make movies and so you cannot do that without models, or without rendering them (well you can make opengl movies but that's not what really what I want to do). And you if you have characters, you probably need to animate and rig them. Some things are more fun for me than others, For example, modeling is really fun, and so is Animation. Some things you basically have to do to get the job done (unfortunately those tend to be quite time consuming). Rigging is like that for me, and I tend to ask for a lot more rigging features because I really want it to go by faster. UV unwrapping was like that, it's gotten significantly faster- in fact it is really great right now.

Q.6) As a well versed blender user and some with project experience using blender, what advice do you have someone who has just been introduced to Blender?
Bassam at Siggraph A) I am glad you did not use the term "noob" to refer to new users of Blender- it's a bit insulting, considering everyone has to start somewhere.
My primary advice to people is to keep on working and never give up- to know that the program is quite as capable as many of the proprietary packages, so not many things are "out of reach" to a blender user. Some things in 3D are just intrinsically hard ( rigging for instance) and you just have to go on learning and trying. The quick evolution and release cycle of open source software and of Blender means that even as they learn, interesting solutions to these problems might be just around the corner. So just keep on working because a- things become easier with practice, and b- they become easier because of the great work from Blender's developers.

Q.7) Can you talk a little about past, present and future projects? Bassam with Plumiferos Team
A) I worked on "The Elephants Dream" which was a lot of fun and it was a great project and really fantastic for the amount of freedom and creative control we had over making a short movie. It was an experience I will never forget. Soon I will be heading out to work for two months on the Plumiferos movie which is an independent film being developed in Argentina with open source software by the Studio Manos Digitales. After I come back from that I have several options open to me, I could take a job at some studio or some other job that is involved with graphics or animation or I could continue to work as a freelance and fulfill some of my dreams of making short movies and even longer movies both animated and live action. The next project I would love to do as a move is a short feature of about 5 to 6 minutes long that is based loosely on 1984- Fictional characters living in a completely totalitarian society which has been taken to extremes. As George Orwell work was a parody of dictatorship, this would be a parody of that parody, and could lend itself for some fun animation. I already have the script that (in fact I started working on it) but decided to redo my work because I have some new ideas about it. I have to redo everything which is great because it is opening lot of avenues in character and set design that I've been thinking about. I also have plans to do a live action film some time in the future with a friend of mine- we don't have script much less a starting date, so I don't know when it will happen. I won't talk about it much, except to say it's about two video buffs who try to make a story of their lives.

Q.8) Where do you see blender in 5 years?Bassam with the Blender Team
A) I would love for Blender to become standard for 3d graphics and animation used by big and small companies as well as individuals. The reason for this I feel is that, being an open source it inclines towards inclusion rather than exclusion- the opposite can happen even with good proprietary software both in terms of software freedom and cost. Especially in developing countries, artists would then be on an even playing field with those in more industrialized areas. Developers around the world would have access to the sources of an industry standard package, so that would be a huge thing. What would also be great is to have open standards for data exchange, so that one choice of software doesn't lock people into specific vendors or programs. That would help Blender enter the field and to inter operate with other programs, and it would help people use what they like to use, rather than what they are forced to use because employer X uses it or because that is the only thing that fits into a highly expensive pipeline. Many projects such as Collada and Verse which help create this kind of atmosphere where you have an open environment of different programs and different people collaborating rather than a closed on where you have to buy into a certain pipeline in order to do any kind of work.

10 Comments

  1. Bassam,

    please do 'bore us' - particularly Aligorith with a long list :) He would like to improve the tools but would like more direction on what needs to be done :)

    LetterRip

  2. Bassam,

    I wonder if you remember me? When we first exchanged mails, you had put up a link to a character you had made in Hash Animator that looked a lot like a mutual friend, Pete. I asked if you had ever used Blender and you said you had but it lacked a lot of things.
    I suggested you take another look as it had been improved in many ways. You did, and well the rest is history. :-)

  3. I met you on the Blender Conference 2006. We talked about animation, and the way to use IK's.
    I used Empties. And you said you used bones. There was also someone else, I think it wasn't Wybren.

  4. Good interview.
    I wish Bassam, Andy, Ton and the rest of the Elephants Dream team well... It was good meeting them all down at Siggraph06 this last year. Hopefully I'll be able to make it to Siggraph07 this year as well.
    Paul

  5. Bassam:

    Great interview! On the next orange project could you guys keep children in mind. ED was too creepy to show to young ones. I look forward to Plumiferos for that reason. It looks a lot less creepy that ED was.

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Well, we all know that Blender lacks some "features", but it´s better to think that creativity, can overcome any way of doing things, you won´t ever create a master piece if you can´t tell a story, Elephants Dream shows that, and there are so many animations around the world created with this piece of creativity, and such an embracement among "blenderheads" out there, that is what´s important ... share tools to share ideas... no boundaries, no colors.

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