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ANIMAT: Widgetless, On-Model Animation in Blender


Matt Heimlich is implementing Pixar's Presto technique in a new add-on for Blender.

So I've been working on this tool for a little while now, both conceptually and in actual coding, and I think it's time to get some feedback from the community before release.

The tool I've been working on is an animation tool based on the workflow in Presto, Pixar's animation suite. What that means is a method of animating your rigged and shape keyed models without the need for any viewport-cluttering widgets or digging around in the Shape Keys/N Panel to find the control that you need. Animation happens on model in a fast, intuitive way. Just click and drag on the mesh where you want things to move, and they move It is completely driverless as well, meaning that shape key and bone transform values aren't "locked" by their driving property, meaning that this tool allows for a combination of both artist friendly grab'n'pull, and technical by-the-numbers accuracy when necessary.

I've put together a little preview video to show off where things stand at the moment:

Read the full announcement of this addon on BlenderArtists.

About Author

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 ;-)


  1. Joseph Brandenburg on

    This is awesome! All it needs is a way of showing which zone is selected (like highlighting the wireframe) and a mouse-speed setting, to match the mouse speed with the deform speed.

    • Matthew Heimlich on

      Both are on the agenda! BGL highlighting is something that is just a matter of me figuring out the API. Tweak distance will be a setting in the add-on settings.

      • Hey! Will it be possible to assign 'all mouse directions' to trackball rotation of a given bone? And/or to specifiy local or global rotation for a given bone axis transform? The tool looks awesome with with shapes already, but I'm really interested in it's "bone capabilities"!

        You know, despite my opinion about this 'premium blender content' I love what you are doing here and want to help. Hope you don't mid :P

  2. This is the most interesting add-on since the 'contours' retopo add-on IMO.
    Anything thats both fairly easy/intuitive to set up and use is most welcome.
    It might be usefull for project gooseberry as well?

  3. very nice ! Though I wonder how you switch between a global tool (the all eybrow of mouth for exemple) to a detailed tool (external part of the eybrow)... This is not a specific question for this setup but also for the Pixar and Dreamworks workflow

    • Matthew Heimlich on

      It's just a matter of setting separate zones. For example, on my Sintel test rig, the middle of the lips moves the whole mouth, the sides of the top and bottom lips control those individual keys. Once highlighting is added it will be easier to see neighboring zones, but even as is, once you know where the zones are it's very easy to find the right place, provided your zone isn't a single face. Even more so with wire turned on.

      • Might be an idea to have different 'zone sets' - the user could make one for general common controls, and one for very specific tweaking (e.g. in the general set, they can drag anywhere on a finger to curl it, then in the detail zone set control the rotation of each phalanx)

  4. Matthew Heimlich on

    Nobody ever tells me when I get posted on BlenderNation anymore! I'm happy to answer any questions you guys might have here, as well as in the BA thread!

  5. Wow man, amazing!! I've been trying myself to figure out a way to do this and you just go and nail it :D This should be in trunk instead of an external addon :/

    Would you consider a funding campaign and a full free release instead of making it premium?

    • I would say, the simple reality is, funding campaigns seldom work. They're a bigger risk than any marketplace. They build up momentum at first, but then rapidly lose steam.

      What happens is that the majority of people who want the product rest on the next guy to contribute. People are generally all talk when it comes to suggesting a fundraiser campaign.

      A marketplace ensures continuous support from everyone who wants it enough to support the development. He said the premium won't be crazy expensive, and there's a free version. That's more than generous.

      This guy's got a lot of work ahead and a lot of good plans in store. He should have greater incentive in his life to spending a lot of time, effort and focus on developing this premium add-on, in his busy life.

      If the product's that important to someone, they'll buy it to ensure its development. I know we all want everything for free in life, but hey, we go without a few cups of coffee or burgers to save up and support a professional effort.

      • Hey Brian, good point :)

        But since Blender itself is free and promotes free, open-source software, I (and I suspect some others too) am afraid this whole market thing ends up making two Blenders: the free, campaign-funded one and the premium one, consisting of addons such as Contours or ANIMAT, which provide awesome new functionality, or BakeTool, which plainly enhaces the actual capabilities of the program to a more production-ready state, but explicitly paying money in exchange.

        Rigify is a heavy addon, and it's free; and so are F2, BSurfaces, Freestyle and Cycles. I suppose my point is that this breaks a little this philosofy of collaborative work among all Blender users.
        I'm a BCloud subscriver myself, I don't mind others are not and I've started to learn python (paid a course myself) specially to be able to write scripts and addons. Mainly for my working needs, but I want to release every single one of them to the community, in exchange for it's constant support and dedication. Meaning NOT that Matthew's work isn't doing so, I hope my words aren't misinterpreted :/

        If I'm pretty much alone on this perspective I'll sure reconsider it. Correct me if I'm mistaken with any point.

        (and sorry for any bad english here)

        • For what it's worth, Rigify, F2, and BSurfaces were all financially backed by interested parties. They are all amazing tools but they're also pretty much stagnant now (although Rigify just got some cool new bone templates!).

        • Matthew Heimlich on

          Jonathan brings up the main reason why I choose a store model rather than a funding model. A funding model is great for getting a tool released, but support isn't something that should end at release, and a model of pre-funding without a method of having a continuing incentive to support that tool leads to situations where tools become stagnant, or even break as the developer moves on to new projects. In the case of things like Rigify and BSurfaces, that means that the onus of support falls onto the already-overflowing plates of the core Blender developers, meaning less time for them to develop cool new stuff. It's one of the reasons that there are so many cool patches sitting in limbo (for real, check out the patch tracker some time). The creators often can't commit to long term support because of the time commitment vs. paying work, and the folks at the Blender offices just can't take on any more outside work without Blender development becoming a 24/7 bugfixing/maintenance job. I'd much rather kick $20-40 towards a developer to say "hey, I like your tool, here's some money so that you can keep making it better" than have that same dev release a tool for free, I fall in love with the tool, and then have it become non-functional a short time later. Blender has a history paved with tools that have died like this, for people who can remember back to the pre-2.5 days.

          My goal here is to make everyone as happy as possible. There's a free version for people who want to see what it's all about, as well as for people who are hobbyists/can't afford to buy for whatever reason, and then the premium version is there for people making money with Blender, for whom the price of entry isn't money lost, but time gained, and therefore less money spent in the long run.

          • Well, thanks for dedicating time to answer, you've given me something to seriously think about :)

  6. Jaw dropping! I only saw it from Presto/Pixar a few days ago... Love the idea! Thanks for putting the time and effort in so far!

  7. You're absolutely right, $20 can buy a lot of things to keep a person and their family afloat while trying to make a living. However, you mustn't forget time. Time is money, and with many of these tools, what they do (or are intended to do) is save you time by enabling you to complete tasks faster, more efficiently, and hopefully better.

    A few hours of saved work can go an awful lot further than $20. Particularly if these hours keep adding up.

  8. Matthew Heimlich on

    No one is being forced to buy from the Market. These are tools intended for people making money with Blender to speed up their workflow. A faster turnaround time means that you can accept more jobs in a shorter amount of time, and therefore more money in the pocket of the artist in the long run. Tools to speed up workflow shouldn't be thought of as a purchase, they should be thought of as an investment. An investment both in one's own future production speed, and an investment in the coder as incentive to keep supporting that tool with the changes of Blender. Even Blender itself isn't developed for free. The difference is that most of us individual developers don't have the luxury of applying for grants and other sources of revenue that keep Blender as a whole moving forward.

    Opinions like the one you've put forth operate on the premise that without the Market, these addons would be free. Well, I know that at least in my case, if there were no opportunity to recoup the time I've spent coding this in the form of payment, I just wouldn't have created it at all, simply because I wouldn't have had the time. Having a place where we can make some money makes the idea of developing serious addons much more palatable to the average developer. Were I in a position where I could spend my days creating free tools for Blender while still being financially secure, I'd gladly do that. But until that day comes, a guy's gotta pay the bills.

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