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Blender VFX Project: Elysium


Mark Sniffen wrote:

My name is Mark Sniffen, I am a 4th year film student. I am co-directing and acting as vfx supervisor for a science fiction short film called Elysium. I am using blender exclusively for all the 3d modelling and animation in the film. I wanted to share the first full length trailer for the film since I figured the community here might be interested in seeing blender at work.

The film is a personal project with a small budget (about $3000). I have been using blender for about 7 or 8 years and finally have the chance to put it to work!

The film was shot last spring, and my co-director and I edited it over the summer. I animated the animatics along the way in Blender 2.49. Once I started to render shots out I switched over to Blender 2.5 and am enjoying the speedier raytracer. =)

My process for most shots is to render the different layers (planet, lasers, ships) with vector blur and composite them in After Effects.

I welcome any questions, comments, or critiques. I'm relatively quiet around the blenderartist forums, but I appreciate the community for what it is and what it does.


-Mark Sniffen


About the Author

Avatar image for Bart Veldhuizen
Bart Veldhuizen

I have a LONG history with Blender - I wrote some of the earliest Blender tutorials, worked for Not a Number and helped run the crowdfunding campaign that open sourced Blender (the first one on the internet!). I founded BlenderNation in 2006 and have been editing it every single day since then ;-) I also run the Blender Artists forum and I'm Head of Community at Sketchfab.


  1. Hi ,

    Two things that spotted my attention immediately, There are no shadows with the walking man at 0.58 witch makes it really look fake. The PC power supply and keyboards behind the pilots, made me smile no comment there they where just funny.

    For the rest of it, I think it looks good.


  2. SomeOtherFellow on

    Looks VERY good. The only thing that got in the way of the epicness was the not-so-good voice-over. For the rest it all looked like a serious Hollywood production! Like Farscape and sorts! I was immediately impressed by it and can't wait, if we will actually be able to, to see the final product.

    Thank you for sharing!

  3. That. Was. Awesome.

    I agree with what's said about the shadows. I'd also like to add that you should really find someone with a much lower voice to do the voice over instead. It doesn't have to be Don LaFontaine-like, but the current voice sounds much too young and unexperienced (not meant to be offensive, I mean the "character" of the voice).

    Can't wait to see the rest of the movie!

  4. so i like a few shots... and the 3d modelling part's no problem for you but you should take a serious look on compositing- some said it: shadows, highlights, lighting... there should be the detail and then it'll be great-
    about the voice thing.. don't worry.. the music sounds great epic so just pitch the voice over down XD

  5. I think one of the best thing of this project is it was made in Blender. This shows all the power of this tool.

    Great job!

    (sorry about my awful grammar)

  6. Wow! I knew that Blender had power, but I wasn't aware that's what it is capable of. I want to see this film now; it looks like it could be good. I hope that you stick with Blender through it, and good luck!

  7. looks awesome already:)..i love sci fi films so this is definetly my cup of tea!!!
    great news for the blender movie scene!
    definetly looking forward to this one!!!
    Thx for sharing this trailer!

  8. I agree with the other commentators: The animation and music is well done but the voice over... no.

    Either find someone with a low voice (FM radio tone) or just use the natural voice of the person doing the VO. Because right now it sounds fake. We know from the start that the person doing the VO try to lower the tone of his voice. I don't mind if the guy doing the VO have a young voice : the story could be narrated by a young soldier or a witness of the war, etc. No need for Christian Bale here...

    Apart from that, it looks great!

  9. It's look good, but I see some problems witch keying in some scenes. I think After Effects for compositing in big production aren't good idea. Much better will be Nuke, Shake, etc.

  10. Also agree about the voice, its way too young and very piercing (which immidiatly tells me: man this is some kids chooting a movie). But apart from that the video was quite cool. I loved the pilots in the planes but... they all made smart faces without any acting involved and no helmets. Would be great also to hear them (or least see them talking or being in action). You are talking about war in the introduction video, but there's no feeling of war in the video. No shooting, no explosions. Also if you don't mind me adding: The story you are telling the viewers is about the earth fighting intruders, but it does not say anything about the actual story of which squad or which people, heroes or anything are making it work so that the bloody intruders die the minute they pass the earth barrier :). So yeah, story is weak. (telling you this as a expirienced movie critic). But otherwise its really not bad and 50% is looking pretty professional.

  11. Since you're a film student and all, you really should improve on the entire trailer.
    As it looks now, several has pointed out, but I'll add - and point out for clarity:

    - Sounds are missing
    - The voice actor (narrators) voice is squeaky and "kiddy" like, it's like hearing a 14-year old from youtube trying to narrate a movie for fun. Follow the suggestions in here, and get someone who can do voiceovers.
    - The spaceships/fighters are too "light" and appears to be like "floating boxes".
    - The design of the fighters are too "sharp" and makes it look like miniature models, it doesn't have the "weight & grandness" over it thats needed to make it believable.
    - The actors are too "pretty", meaning they look like kids in a costume party, they need some heavy make up & effects to look like seasoned professionals, one of them sort of comes off like "Dough, from King-of-Queens" ;) no offense , but I was thinking "mall security rent-a-cops" ;)
    - Lastly, you really need much more sound effects, Boom! Bang! Heavy clipping, shifting, action! Something to get us excited, if you don't have a good story, at least make it look like it's filled with action!

    The planet is nice, good work, it's not easy to make a convincing "earth", but you've done it!

    I realize that may sound harsh, but it's real life - and I've attended film school too, albeit animation film school, but the scrutiny is no less than what I've just given you, this would be picked to shreds.

    Good luck.

  12. ghostface assasin on

    I would agree ditch the voice over sounds really bad and cheesy. A few of the shots look really nice. But over all the compositing is way off. the CG looks well "CG" and never really integrates well with the live footage. I would also work on the lighting. your lacking any kind of fill or bounce light its very contrasty witch is fine but the shadow areas are just black no information there. the shot with the guy sitting in the cockpit and the camera pulling out reveling the planet behind him, The guy looks way to big for that ship unless those ships are like mini cooper sized fighters.

    anyway hope that helps. nice work its getting there!

  13. That astroid field you are flying through looks lijke you're flying past some pebbles, much too smooth and shiny surface. These things bump into eachother! It is resource heavy, but put some bumpmap in there.
    Close-up of the ships looks like there made of plastic instead of rigid material.

    Thats my critics, but all in all it looks good, keep it up!

  14. Over all - really fantastic! Some of the best Blender work I've seen. I didn't notice the shadow problems etc. Two things I did notice: the V/O is not so great. Not that the guy has an annoying voice, it just doesn't fit the Don LaFontaine sound he's clearly trying to emulate.

    The other thing: the guy at 1:43 looks like he should be pitching Chili's potato skins.

  15. Note on lighting:

    People who require fill lights and all that crap just don't know what a realistically lit scene looks like.

    What you always want to do is account for all lights in the scene... If you want the stars to emit a lot of light to fill every nook and cranny, you can, but you wouldn't use a 'fill light' to do it... You would use skydome illumination of some sort, like Blender's global illumination.

    If you want the planet to reflect and 'emit' light, then put in a light at it's location (or use another renderer and have the actual model emit light).

    And so forth.

    In real space, I don't think it's realistic to have every bit of a model lit up, since 99.9% of space is darkness. I think you did a fairly good job at this so far, but I think there could be just a bit of improvement.

    If you feel brave, model a physical sun, put it out a crazy distance, make it physically emit lots of light, and have an entire solar system, to scale, for your scenes. Then the lighting and distances would look perfectly realistic if you used something like luxrender to fully simulate every lighting interaction.

    But that's just me.

  16. I have nothing to say about the animation using blender as I could not have it using my current skill and knowledge,
    As for the movie, there is just something wrong...
    Let me watch it again....
    of course...
    The girl with the red hair... her look on her face when she look at the guy in the beginning...
    she is really good as an actress.
    I think that is where the problem lies...
    The other actors do not make the story believable.
    Since you have been using blender for so long....
    Could you model them? in blender?
    Ah something else the voice which comment the movie is not suitable.... again just listening
    to the voice and you go ppfff...

    having said that, If you do the movie entirely in 3d, I will be your first costumer,
    mark my word.

  17. Reading the previous feedback...
    Nobody has noticed the girl with the red hair...
    you guys are weird...
    I am so not looking forward to become a blender Gik if that what it takes ...

  18. Wow. Overall visual impression is amazing. I did not know that internal blender engine was capable of this.

    All the parts that DO NOT have actors in it look amazing.
    The planets, space battles and all the effects look good.
    Some particle effects, such as explosions and ships falling apart look a bit fake, like star wars episode IV effects.

    Green screened scene with no shadow is what stood out the most. As well as acting and constant showing of pilots faces made the movie seem cheesy. Maybe this is just the preview but acting does look B-movie style.
    And I do not know the story, but it does seem over dramatized.

    This is a VERY good display of special effects, and has good music. But it does not seem to be a very story driven film. Maybe just an excerpt from bigger books like space battle from Ender's game or such would have been better to show off the same effects without trying to push a story that does seem to drag the movie in B or C category.

    But overall it is a very impressive cinematic show.

  19. pixnolve

    doing such a movie completly in 3D seems like a huge task for any group.
    Modeling is not the only hard part. Skin shading and hair creation alone would make the project a huge challenge.Internal blender engine does not do to well with skin shading just yet, another render may be needed .

    And animation of 3d realistic characters.. without motion capture would take a long time

    Just looke at the 3D movie "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children" it took years to render, and was so expensive that it almost bancrupted the Studio that made it

  20. Blender may not be able to rescue this film.

    Perhaps you will consider locking yourself in a room with the complete Starship Troopers trilogy ( aka I was a Teenage Space Nazi ). Apart from the skillful contributions to the first movie by director Paul Verhoeven and the talents of Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Dina Meyer and even Casper Van Dien, the sequel movies are pretty lame. So find the mistakes therein and learn by comparison. Then move on to your script ... I mean really! Did you listen to that flowery narration? Who talks like that? In the 21st century I would guess its someone trying to be something they aren't! I can't blame the narrator too much - Not even Billy Bob Thorton could rescue that monologue! - Some call it a Kaiser blade ... I call it a sling blade! - I like them fried taters umm-hmmm! In all seriousness, perhaps if you slapped you actors around to toughen them up or piss them off, it may help. Add a lot of color or get some more control over those lights! Sure, you only have $3K and a lot of hours invested in this, but you have your reputation to consider. Finally, f_rt me off if you will, but pay heed to what the other folks are saying in their criticisms. They all seem to be spot on as far as I can tell. P.S. You should be commended on all the hours you put into it but try not to sell yourself too short with amateur talent and a script that tries too hard.

  21. Lighting. It doesn't matter if its a 500 million dollar production or not if your lighting isn't done just right for the scene it'll look like you filmed it in your back yard with some flashlights. (Which you may have, which is fine but it can't look like that ;) ) Case in point, the character introduction shots seated in the ships. Understandably you want the characters to be identifiable and seen. That is not the place to do it. Your choice of location for an introduction shot while cool, was not a good choice for the sake of scene viability. I have some military experience so I will relate this in my opinion of the scene. If you are flying around space, or moving anywhere where the ambient lighting is extremely low, You DON'T turn on all your headlights, spotlights whatever you have and announce your presence to any and all enemy forces. Even friendly forces you have training to operate with low light so you can't be targeted. The lighting from the ships cockpits should be the only illumination on the characters in those scenes. Where did the freakishly bright and way to "white" light come from that illuminated them? It could not have come from neighboring stars or other light sources. Not even lights off from the other ships. You have no ozone protecting you in space from the massive radiation from raw stellar light sources. The canopies of the ships would have massive "tint" I'll call it. To block out a lot of this. In all honesty the canopy only exists to make it easier to land and manuever the vessel at close range or docking. Almost all combat and long distance flight is handled via computer and instrumentation just like a earth born jet fighter.

    Anyways in summation I loved the Vid and thought it was excellent. Lights, they make or break the best films through their ability to sustain the believability of a scene.

  22. I'm not going to repeat what other guys have said. The one thing that immediately caught my eye was the "shadows" of the fighters leaving earth between 1'02" and 1'05": they seem as if they cast a shadow above them as they move forward. This gives the impression of the fighters flying past a flat projection of earth in the background.

    When I re-looked at it frame by frame, I got the impression you tried to show something (a fuzziness) in front of the laser beams. I'm not sure what the scientific explanation for that may be (lasers don't leave a smoking barrel), but when you play it an normal speed, it seems like a light is shining from below (in front) and casting the shadow against the flat earth projection in the back.

    Please don't take it as a negative crit, but as something to help improve what you have.

  23. those animations are awesome! :-DDD The ships remind me of X-Wings and Arwings (from Star Fox, though I've never played any of the games) at the same time :-) They're awesome!

    and the compositing(not sure how it's spelled) is really cool :-DDD

    great work :-D

    Blender is so cool...

  24. Hey all,

    Thanks to everyone for the comments and criticism--I appreciate them all.

    Here are some of my thoughts:

    The voiceover - basically has been the bane of my existence since we started editing the film. To quote one of my friends: "the voiceover makes me want to kill myself." Basically sums it up, it's going to get changed somehow, new voice actor, no VO, maybe the girl...

    For me this is honestly the first film I have directed that is over 10 minutes long (co-directed in this case) and it is truly the first time I have put my knowledge of blender to use on this scale. This fact in no way excuses any lack of quality as it is my goal to make it as perfect as I can make it. That said, I'm learning a LOT, about modeling, lighting, about efficiency and the pipeline of a project like this, etc. The sheer volume of shots (right now somewhere around 300 major vfx shots) unfortunately limits me in some ways (no GI sadly, too long to learn and render). As the sole vfx artist on this project, it definitely behooves me to take some advice.

    As soon as I get back to work on on this (probably right after christmas) I'll probably start up a blenderartists thread so I can post some stuff and some focused critique.

    Thanks again to all for responding!

    -Mark Sniffen

  25. ...also if some company here think you can do better - i like it ! Good job!
    Movie making is a very complex work and the most time you have to make some compromises to fit with the budget and/or an time line.The most important rule may the fact that you will tell a story,cgi and fx effect are only needed to tell the story otherwise it is a teaser or demo of your cgi skills. But it looks very well - hope we can see more soon.
    Greetings madturtle

  26. Look, there are always a bunch of things you could improve in any film. The compositing, the editing, the lighting. As much as it annoys artists, the average viewer quite happily misses where these things are done far worse than in this film. Really the only thing that is majorly distracting is both the script of the voiceover and it's narration. Get these right with some sound effects, and I think you'll find people will stop looking for "What's making me feel like it's wrong?..." and they won't look for problems, and will miss noticing 90% of the other things that people have pointed out here.

    As one of my teachers in film used to say "Sound is 50% of a film. Make sure that much of your attention goes into it."

    Personally I loved the visuals and am looking forward to seeing this. :)

  27. Hello all,

    Just a small "huge" point: color and sharpness.
    Why? Lighting after all is very personal. Maybe you want certain shots dark. Maybe not. But to blend (not just to composite, which obviously you can do) the real with the CG they have to appear under the same "influence".
    You can always add an extra layer to the whole thing and emphasize certain colors in EVERY shot and kill others. For example the blue force field is too blue (computerish looking) and saturated. You don't have to necessarily change the material but its looks. The stock footage has to blend a little more (explosions).
    Kill the sharpness somewhat in post (especially those parts you don't want us to focus much). It adds film quality, removes CG sharpness and it can do a hell of a lot in disguising little mistakes. If it kills your renders then fake DOF or defocus at least the edges.
    Yes, the voice over is "over-acted", but is also not blending: same problem. The music has an epic "reverb" the voice sounds like is just speaking into a mic. When the actor is recording, feed them their own voice back into headphones with reverb added: it does miracles for their acting!!! Trust me on that one. They sound good and they hear it making them give a better delivery. Even this guy can sound better with a little reverb and some EQ: cut the very high frequencies and add a little bottom.
    And keep at it. You can obviously model, animate and composite. AE is good enough.

    Every film has major faults, I personally think the CG in titanic was horrible (shots of the boat). Just about every space films shows explosions which are not possible: no oxygen in space for the kind of combustions they show, for example. So keeping it 100% real is also not fun to watch either.

    Have fun with your project.
    All the best.


  28. Nathan Sniffen's music is fantastic - makes the trailer for me.

    The shots vary in quality - some need more work, others are absolutely gorgeous. Keep working on it - looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

    ~ J

  29. Hey mark I left a comment at your personal page through a blog. I do not want to publish my email where everyone can see. If you are unable to contact me in the next few days I will try something else.

  30. I'd say that you could colour grade it like Gattaca with a tone to dminish colours and give it a more consistent look. I think some vfx shots look very good, and others need some more work to convince me. I would aim at the same level of quality throughout the whole film.

  31. Great Job in my opinion. I am keeping in mind as I watch that these are students with a limited amount of time and basically no budget. Most importantly the guy is learning as he goes. A real film project would have experienced "professionals" working on various aspects of a project for which they have expertise.....not to imply that this isn't a real project. I also see real value in many of the critiques thus far. I can't say that i can add any real constructive criticisms here. The voice overs need more flavor. The cockpits need work as do the uniforms / helmets. Give your pilots some military hair cuts and some more intent in their gazes. I would like to have seen compositing done in Blender too, but I realize this is not necessarily an exclusive "Blender" project. As far as vfx....again considering the context of this can be proud. You have done a good job. Yeah...take advantage of the community and get some advice. I would also suggest that I'm not really getting the plot solidly from the trailer. Could the trailer be reworked to more effectively communicate the plot more concisely...more dialogue perhaps. My overall feeling after watching the trailer for a second time is....stunning and convincing clips interlaced with totally lame segments. Those lame segments just kill the really excellent parts. You should really strive to bring those areas up to par with the rest. It seems to me that the lame parts are often your particle effects. Focus on improving the live action segments and the particle effects for more realism.

    You can see by the amount of comments you are getting that your project is definitely worthy of the community's interest.

  32. Lucas da Costa Dantas on

    That scenario are too obviously,
    the actors have no expressions,
    space is good but looks its is a videogame cutscene not a movie(tip for you).
    nice too learn and very good as what can be see at least must have
    a really good story to tell just like the "Amazing Histories" kind.

    But the trailer parts selections,
    must have a better storyline to tell at the trailer.
    01.30 and forward ,its a war at space going on,
    the guy just looks back like hes not at the same trailler.
    but its good so far, i myself not able to do it with no inspiration at all,
    keep goind the nice art for your movies.

    i myself are very inspirational to focus hate on me,
    but not really get enough of this.
    Whats wrong with the world?

  33. Great work!
    Special effects remind me the modern russian movies which cost much more then $3k :)
    The best scene is the huge spacecraft flying above the city!

  34. Subhashani & Vinimay on

    Amazing work... Good to see blender being used in such a project.

    Scene 01:39 is Amazing!

    some things we thought could be fixed:

    definitely missing shadow at 0:58! The voiceover needs to have more heavy bass to create impact.. you know like.. typical.. Theatrical trailers.

    At 00:33 and 01:09 scenes.. The flying asteroids/rocks have too smooth edges, which makes it look fake/plasticky.

    at 00:37, since the sun is on the right side.. the portion of the aircraft on the left or away from the sun [mostly lower area and left side of the tail] should come out dark like a silhouette, but it seems evenly lit.

    The motion blur needs more sampling. It is creating multiple copies with different opacity levels than a blur.

    the scenes beginning 01:17. The lighting doesn't look too real as the aircrafts look evenly lit, or too less contrast between dark and bright areas and almost no change in lighting when explosions happen. the lack of good motion blur is causing a missing feeling of Speed.

    Great work guys!!!

  35. Some very impressive visuals, guys. But a incredibly lame voiceover. Man, get a professional for VOs, they help define if it's a college wrap-up or a professional job.

  36. Great job!

    My comment would be about the ships being too in focus, and that especially during on earth shots they need to feel like they interact more with their environment (Sound effects, camera effects as if the immense speed shook it on the way by, distortion of the background from the exhaust - those sorts of things). I also agree with the idea that they do barrel rolls instead of such extreme manoeuvres as the ship doesn't look like it has the engines to do such tight turns, not to mention the G's pulled would kill a real pilot, at least on Earth ;)

    Keep at it!

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