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Blender on the BBC


Producer/Director Nathan Williams informs us that his latest BBC documentary, Battle for North America, used Blender for all it's graphics!

Nathan writes:

I'm a producer director who also uses Blender. I've recently made a history documentary about the Battle of Quebec [...]; all of the graphics in the programme were created with Blender - half by me and half by animator and blender user Christian Krupa.

As you can see, we kept the graphics simple – avoiding any attempt at photo-reality and using lots of period source material such as maps (from the amazing David Rumsey collection). The results really helped bring the story alive and make the geography clear – crucial to understanding the battle.

I've produced many programmes with graphics but this was the first time I'd created any of the graphics myself. As a programme maker I found the experience liberating and hugely creative. I was able to experiment freely (we tried a number of different look including using freestyle to create a sketch style) and make changes right up to the last minute. For instance, in the last few days of editing we decided we needed a map to make the layout on the battlefield clear, and I was able to create something there and then in the editing room and create a new scene in just a couple of hours.

Click here to watch a trailer for the documentary, or here to see a compilation of some of the graphics from the programme.

If you are in the UK you can watch Battle for North America, presented by Dan Snow, on BBC2 this Tuesday 16th at 9pm


  1. comeinandburn on

    Great work.. it's very effective. I really love the style!

    Did you use camera tracking software to marry together the cg elements and the footage? if so which did you use?

  2. cool thats great news!
    also cool is that it runs tonight so theres few waiting to see the whole show :)
    yet another high quality bbc programme *thumbsup*

  3. If anyone misses it on the broadcast date, there should still a chance to catch up with it online via the BBC iPlayer for a week afterwards (only available within UK).

  4. that's what i love much, our beloved blender used for culture
    posse est scire
    if you can you understand
    ehm, sorry 4 my english...

  5. Good promotion for blender !
    Good work done with blender !
    If i remember correct there are many people working in or for BBC are suporting open source solutions!
    Nice to see that more and more profs are working with blender.

  6. I caught this on BBC's Breakfast show and they showed a piece of it. Looks nicely done and a worthy watch, even purely on the historical content of being a good subject matter. Now I'll be watching it looking for the freestyle work on air :)

    Well done!

  7. Nice. Some of the graphics look "Bleh!" (walking flat people, ships,) but if the flintlock and gunpowder smoke was created with Blender, I''m impressed (not the washed-out large smoke, just the plume that comes from the flint)

  8. Impressive. If the gunshot part is Blender, very impressive. I really like the map part (cannonballs and ships and such) and its transitions--very cool. And the reflections on the puddles look awesome.

    The thing that irritated me, though, was the distance between the globe and the marker lines. It very visibly floated some distance from the surface and it looked funny. The lack of the soldiers' shadows was slightly odd looking, but perfectly understandable. Compositing on that kind of terrain must be hard, and I'm willing to bet that added shadows would have looked far stranger than the lack thereof.

  9. Very nice. I like your style.
    The map parts looked great.
    The two issues I that irritated me were the floating lines (@Anon) and the flat nature of your soldiers / ships when looked at from the top (1:30 - 1:39 in your blender composition). First you don't see the soldiers, then the camera changes angle and you do. Then you move away and both armies turn flat again. It becomes really hard to compare their strength. Just a small issue though.
    Best regards, Christian

  10. Thanks for all the comments. Both the things you mention were deliberate creative decisions - not necessarily the right ones (at least not for everyone).

    I thought the lines would stand out more and look and more "magical" if they were raised up slightly - but I can see why to a CG person - when we're so often trying to bed things in - it might look like a mistake.

    The flat soldiers and boats were part of a consistent look we were going for. The idea was that these were contemporary drawings and paintings coming to life, either on the maps or at the actual locations. Clearly not for everyone, but I least I felt we created a distinctive style. Also I think its better to have clearly 2d elements than attempt full 3d and do it badly!

  11. As far as I'm concerned, I had no issues at all with the floating lines and flat soldiers.
    I immediately recognised them as intentional, and I would probably have done them the same if it I had been the one producing it.

    One thing I did have a gripe against was the semi-transparency of the soldiers walking in front of the bridge.
    Well, can't please everyone, I guess. :J

  12. @Nathan: Like I said I like your style. Watching your compilation I instantly understood your "alive from painting" idea. A slightly different camera angle at the above mentioned position would have been all. And I just watched the Trailer. Great show. Too bad I can't see it.

  13. Frankly, the CG is not so good.
    The ideas are great, and the style is fine. But its not executed very well.

    For instance. When the boms are falling on the map they z-buffer drop through the floor. One can see that the balls are going into the 3d sphere. Very ugly.
    This "cut-off" is through out the production. It has nothing to do with choice of style, just not executed very well. Like the soldiers walking on the strand. Nice idea, cool graphics, but when the feet hit the ground their outline drops in the sand. And it doesnt drop in the sand according to the shape of the sand, there seems to be an imaginairy floor... The soldiers should have kept their outline. Maybe even a drawn "touch" of the sand.
    I'd could argue for the camera movements, most of them are not bad I guess. Some do look machinery, most of them don't feel handheld or driven by a cameramen. Then again most of the reallife footage dont feel like they are made by a cinematographer.

  14. This is disgraceful...
    There is positive feeling in this documentary and it about just colonisation of territory.
    Stupid war between American and British again the French and the Canadian.
    It is ashamed that Blender was used on this documentary. Blender a piecefull piece
    of software it should be design for advanced 3dCG Animation not for Plane soldier that move on the ground.
    After Effect has been design for that use it !!!

    ..a battle that should change the history of the world ....
    ...conquer vast area of the world and it led to the creation of modern
    So typical...

    This is truly disgusting..
    MODERATOOOR do something

  15. @pixolve: The 2D-style is sufficient to explain, besides a better contrast between the black-lined-maps and e.g. the black-bomb-and-paths, I think Nathan Williams got some of the thrill he got when he finished his first programme. So, you're anger must be the war... The war of 'what-is-aloud-to-be-made-with-Blender'...


  16. @Christian @Nathan: Honestly, I loved that bring-to-life-effect style. Looked great. I didn't really like the jumpy animation on the composited soldiers, but it wasn't so bad. I didn't really notice the flat-disappearing effect, so I don't think it was much of a problem.
    @pixnolve: Let people do whatever they want with Blender. Are you suggesting that some other 3D software should have been used because those are... more violent? Or that Blender is too advanced to be used for anything other than super-fancy graphics?
    @Bart: Best response ever.

  17. @pixnolve: ferme ta gueule tabernac.

    Would you prevent people from using blender to create scenes from sci-fi movies, or any kind of movie involving explosions, or is it just films relating to our conquering of Quebec that offend your Quebecois sensibilities?

    Watched it last night, and hadn't realised that the effects were made in Blender. Nice job considering you obviously did a lot of it on the fly and quite quickly. Well done, it really added a lot to the documentary.

  18. @pixnolve: You seem to be complaining and bashing in nearly all of your posts here. Is it that hard to take Blender and it's community for what they are?

    @Nathan: Great documentary! I loved the way the graphics looked; very stylised ineed! =)

  19. @pixnolve:
    Blender is for the community with various uses of it and for various purposes. We have different backgrounds, opinions and feelings towards things. You cannot impose what you think should be the right way of using Blender using your own ideas of whats good and wrong. It is Open Source and licensed in that regard, there is no statement in that license as regards its use in whatever production. That would cease to be open and also cease to declare the essence of community.

    And besides all that I have said. This is a documentary. This one in particular seeks to inform on history. And I cannot go through all the merits of illustrating or telling a story that actually happened to the general public or to students who may learn and remember better by visualising.

  20. I just linked to this article in my blog, which is dedicated to CAD on Linux. Pasted Mr. Williams' comment in whole, hope you won't mind. :-)

    I have to respond to pixnolve's preposterous remarks. This documentary is about an event which shaped North America's history. Whether you like the results of this battle or not is beyond the point. Whether it does not agree with your political values is not the point. Like it or not, this event is part of our history, and to imply that Blender shouldn't have been used in the documentary's making (or that After Effects was more suited) is at best obtuse and narrow-minded.

    BTW, I'm a French-speaking Quebecker living in the Quebec City area. Although I've obviously wondered quite a few times what would've happened had the results of this battle been different, no amount of wishful thinking will rewrite history. So why don't you get a grip on reality?

    I haven't watched the program (no BBC channel here), so I hope that it's broadcast here some time in the future.

    @ Charlie
    you spelled "tabernac" wrong. ;-) Although based on the French word "tabernacle", the way we say it, it's better spelled "tabarnac". :-P

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