Review: “Blender Compositing and Post Processing” by Mythravarun Vepakomma, ebook from Packt Publishing (2014)

March 17, 2014

*Disclaimer and Introduction*

1127OS_Cover_0.jpgI was asked by Packt Publishing to write a short, independent review for “Blender Compositing and Post Processing” in exchange for a free copy of the ebook.

Since the Blender Compositing Nodes (next to the Blender VSE, the Video Sequence Editor) are one of my absolute favourite feature in Blender I decided to go for it: I like to use them for post processing video footage/creating looks and love the fact that you can do this with Blender (a very powerful free and open-source 3D etc. solution) on all major platforms/can share your .blends across all those platforms!

So this is my personal, general impression of the “Blender Compositing and Post Processing” ebook while being someone with a more creative mind rather than a technical one:

*DRM free*

First thing I noticed is that the ebook comes without DRM (Digital Rights (or as some say “Restriction”)) management and you can download it in four different formats. I went for the .pdf version.

*Structure*

The ebook seems very well structured. It starts off with a condensed overview for all chapters and at the end of each chapter there is a brief summary of what you’ve just read. This allows you to quickly find/read what you are looking for when you need it/to just dive into those topics that you feel not so familiar with. At the end of the ebook there is an Index with the most important keywords/page numbers where to find those topics in the text.

*Target Audience*

The ebook probably requires some basic Blender knowledge or some familiarity with (3D, video) post production related technical terms/concepts. I think you could use it with not much prior know-how but would need to do some extra research (Wikipedia, Blender Wiki etc.) in order to really understand what it all means/find it useful. More to this at the end of *Content, Approach and Concept*.

*Content, Approach and Concept*

While I was very pleased with the ebook’s structure I was (a bit) disappointed by the fact that this is not what may be called a “workbook”. While there are many visual examples for e.g. how a particular Node works you won’t find more complex examples for Node set-ups to re-create.

For those new to Blender/Nodes a short introduction to the concept: basically compositing in Blender works via “Nodes”, individual sort of filters etc. that allow you to manipulate an image/a series of images in a very specific way while you can combine those filters etc./the order in which they are applied to your 3D renders or footage by connecting those Nodes via sort of wires called “Noodles” and this way create your own very complex set of filters etc. using a very flexible tree like structure. This concept is much more powerful as compared to what you can do in your average image manipulation or video editing programme where you usually only can lay one filter on top of another one and combinations therefore are limited…

My feeling is that a technical minded person or someone with a compositing background/coming from another 3D programme etc. would probably be able to quickly get started with compositing in Blender using this ebook. Someone with a more creative mind who likes/needs to play around with actual examples/set-ups in order to grasp the concepts on a visual or sort of holistic level might need to invest more time and would need to do extra research in order to be able to fully understand the concepts introduced in this ebook.

*Summary and Thoughts*

“Blender Compositing and Post Processing” seems to be a well structured, clearly written ebook that explains the basic concepts involved you need to know in order to get started with using the very powerful free and open-source 3D programme Blender (available for all major platforms, .blends can be shared across all platforms) for post processing either your 3D renders or video footage.

This ebook seems to either requires some prior related technical understanding or the will to research/experiment on your own if you start from scratch. It is not a “workbook” in the sense that you won’t find more complex example Node set-ups to re-create.

I think from a learning point of view (and for the purpose of having fun with the Blender Compositing Nodes/learning them while playing around with them) this ebook could be accessible to an even wider audience with either one or two extra chapters that show how-to re-create specific Node set-ups (like e.g. a toon look, that’s always lots of fun) or the introduction of a practical example section/project for those chapters where appropriate.

*Thanks!*

I hope this general, personal review was both helpful and describes the ebook in a meaningful and adequate way, thanks for reading, have fun with Blender, the very powerful Compositing Nodes and if you choose so with this ebook!

Valentin Spirik, March 2014


4th crowd-funded Blender movie: open-source VFX in Amsterdam

February 17, 2012

While unfortunately I just missed the deadline for getting a credit in the movie I still of course pre-ordered my Project Mango DVD, the Blender Institute’s new open-movie project! This one is about upgrading Blender in the visual effects (VFX) department.

I do have a feeling that they could need one or the other new feature for post production/editing on the way and this can only be good for Blender’s VSE (Video Sequence Editor) –  my tool of choice for (video) editing, a wonderful minimal style – yet quite powerful – free and open-source solution that works on/across all platforms: share/edit your .blends across Linux, Windows or Mac – this simply just works!

Concept art: CC 3.0, Blender Foundation

From the press release:

The new short film – code named Mango – is a short story about a disastrous break-up that almost leads to the destruction of planet Earth. It will be filmed on several locations in Amsterdam. A team of six artists and three developers will be working for half a year on realising the visual effects for the film. As for previous short films, the online community will be able to assist on tasks as well. Premiere is being targeted at September 2012.

The 3D tool Blender – open source since 2002 – has steadily been growing to become a popular and serious 3D package for artists. This is thanks to the very active participation of its online community; 3D artists, 3D developers, studios and universities all over the world. A recent development is that also renowned Hollywood studios are opening up parts of their technology. Blender will be the first program to bring together work from ILM (OpenEXR, Alembic), Sony Pictures Imageworks (OpenShading, OpenColor, OpenImageIO) and Disney (PTex).

Check out the project’s blog, pre-order your own copy and support open-source VFX/video post production – as recent months have shown it is indeed a very good idea to have (open-source) alternatives ready: the apple that looked so fresh only a while ago now seems more and more rotten down to the core with every day going by…!

Update: I just saw that yesterday Blender 2.62 was released: see the release log, download Blender for your platform or read the announcement and discussion on Blendernation.


Blender 2.60 is here: open-source 3D, Compositing and Video Post are about to take off now…!

October 20, 2011

From Blender 2.5x to Blender 2.60

Yesterday the Blender Foundation released Blender 2.60:

Download for all platforms.

While the previous Blender 2.5x series was all about making Blender ready for a wider user base (switch to an intuitive User Interface, a new Animation System, Color Management/linear workflow and much more) the Blender 2.60 series now focuses on upgrading Blender in some key areas important for those looking for a free and open-source all in one video post, compositing, special effects/3D package:

VSE Proxy Support now and Motion/Camera Tracking coming soon…

Sequence editor proxy support (missing in 2.5x) is now restored:

“Proxies are lower resolution versions of image or video files, that can be used instead of the full resolution for faster editing. Additionally to the way Blender 2.49 worked where you could make proxies for individual strips, you can now select several strips at once and build proxies in the background.”

Basically this means that Blender 2.60 is not only a platform independent NLE (edit/share your .blends across Linux, Windows or Mac), but Blender 2.60 with Sequence Editor proxy support brings high-end free and open-source video editing to almost any PC you might be using: the Blender VSE (Video Sequence Editor) works quite well even on older hardware recycled with e.g. Linux Mint.

New Blender versions are coming out every two months now and while 2.60 is great news the truth is that there are many now waiting for Blender 2.61 – expected to be released mid-December: Motion/Camera tracking (!) as well as Cycles, the new render engine, will be added.

You can always check out unofficial builds and test/use the new features months ahead of a release via those builds available from GraphicAll.org.

Extend Blender, Mango and links for new users

Blender can be extended via Add-Ons (scripts), either write your own in Python or get those from the Blender 2.5 Scripts Catalog (learn how-to install an Add-On). For new users e.g. the Compositing Presets or for editors the Jump to Cut Add-On may be of interest…

The Blender Foundation’s current open-movie project (previously Elephant’s Dream, Big Buck Bunny, Sintel) is called Mango, a “Sci-fi in Amsterdam” and “with real actors, 3-5 minutes”. Basically this one is about upgrading Blender in the SFX department.

For documentation see the BlenderWiki.

For community support see the Blender Artists Forums.

For “Fresh Blender News, Every Day” see BlenderNation.

For “Developer musings on Blender” see the Blender developer Blog.

For more about Blender and video post production see the Blender’s VSE blog.

You can also still check out my old Blender 2.4x Presets for editing and 2D titles via my tutorials page. (Learn the basics using the old/classic Blender 2.49b and then switch to Blender 2.60.)

If you want to report a bug here is a good place to start.

Blender is a truly amazing piece of software. Blender means high-end 3D, video editing and compositing for everyone. On every platform. For free.

Blender is Power to the People.


Open-source 3D, compositing and video post upgraded: Blender 2.57 is here!

April 14, 2011

The wait is over – they did it:

Download Blender 2.57

More about this release on Blendernation.

I’ve been using/switching to the Blender 2.5x beta releases since around late last summer (my first test project “space visual – early period” done in 2.5 from last October) and found it more than usable while still being labeled “beta” for a coupe of months already…

Now that the transition from the classic Blender 2.49 with the old loved/feared interface is mostly done (I first feared it, then loved it) expect a quite significant addition of features to Blender for the next couple of releases.

Open-source animation and platform independent video post production have just been upgraded and there is so much more to come now…!


Editing with Blender, Ubuntu: Screenshots, workflow from my Notic Nastic live clip

January 21, 2009

“Sleep Tight” Notic Nastic Live Clip (1 min. 14 sec.)

*24.03.10*

As of today the Notic Nastic “Sleep Tight Live Clip” is no longer available. The act is now a member of their local equivalent to the American RIAA. Since I have nothing in written form that would give me reassurance that the deal I thought I had with them is still there (I make a video and get the right to show the video with the music on my blog), this is now simply what I need to do.

Every video I make is also a part of myself. In that context there is now a whole new meaning for me to the old saying that “The RIAA eats your babies.

I’ll be writing more about this on my blog in the days/weeks to come.

(Watch the Flash Video above or download (“Save Link As…”) the .mov.)

1: Selecting “the good stuff”

01_clips_in_top_row_selected_for_further_use

Click the image to see a larger version.

I load my whole footage into the Blender Video Sequence Editor (VSE) and start selecting “the good stuff”: with the mouse over the Image Preview window (see screenshot 3: Selecting “the really good stuff”) I use Space for start/stop and Right/Left Arrow for going back and forth. In the timeline (= Sequence): K for Cut and Shift S for snap editing (shortens/extends clip to the playhead when start/end is selected). The “good stuff” gets moved upwards a row (= Channel) with G for Grab and Y for Y-Axis. I keep the uncut original inside a (muted) Metastrip should I need it later since I am working without timecode. (You can use the Stamp render option for overlaying time information.) Then I make a back-up of the .blend.

2: Selected vs. original footage

02_selected_clips_moved_together

Click the image to see a larger version.

I move the selected clips together using Ctrl for snapping clip to clip. The white numbers on the right show the last frame of “the good stuff” (top), the music track (middle) and the not used clips etc. that are now also inside the muted Metastrip (bottom).

3: Selecting “the really good stuff”

03_further_selection_of_clips

Click the image to see a larger version.

Same procedure as above (1: Selecting “the good stuff”) with the mouse over the Image Preview window (top right) and Space for start/stop, Right/Left Arrow for going back and forth… Since I easily get realtime playback using DV footage (no effects applied) with Ubuntu 8.04 and Blender 2.48a on my PC (current Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of RAM and a reasonably fast 250 GB harddrive) this workflow allows me to find my in and out points while looking at moving images the way the audience will see it… Frame 6 067 is now the last one after “the really good stuff” is moved together (that’s down from 20 520 from the previous step). I use the Blender Text Editor for taking notes. Again I make a back-up of the .blend.

4: Sorting the clips

04_clips_get_sorted

Click the image to see a larger version.

I add a Text Editor window left of my Sequence and name/tag my tracks. I adjust the Sequence window with (Number Pad) Home and then use Middle Mouse Button and Ctrl to fit the Channels to my tagged tracks. Then I move “the really good stuff” clips in the appropriate track (for moving clips up or down without moving them in time I once again use G and Y, for selecting multiple clips I use B for Border Select…).

5: Editing the video

Click the image to see a larger version.

I use Markers for the points where the singing starts. Then I move the best of the previously sorted clips to roughly where I need them and work on the details again using Shift S for snap editing and also G for Grab to shorten/extend a clip’s start/end… The basic structure for the edited video: details/close-ups at the beginning, the artists performing in the middle and a longer zoom out close to the end. I move the unused clips into Metastrips on the left.

As before I use (Number Pad) Home for seeing everything that’s in the timeline. But since there are the unused clips on the left now I then select the music track and (Number Pad) Dot/Del (normally used for “zooming in” on a single clip) for focusing the Sequence window to the area that I actually want to see when editing…

I export the edited clip as a PNG Sequence (= series of .png images). (F10 (pressed multiple times) for switching between the Sequencer buttons when editing and the Render buttons when exporting.)

The annotations in the screenshot above show what’s important for exporting/rendering.

6: Through the Compositing Nodes

Click the image to see a larger version.

I load the previously exported PNG Sequence into the Compositing Nodes and let it run through a series of filters: DV video artefacts get smoothed out and my own graininess/structure and artefacts get added. The particular filters used here may be experimental and only make sense for this clip, but a couple of combinations can be useful for other projects (values would need to be adjusted): Gauss-Darken for a toon look, Screen-Overlay-Mix for optimising an image, Sharpen-Soften for focus related compositing tasks (high values for Sharpen may introduce artefacts).

The yellow and blue annotations in the screenshot above show what’s important for processing a series of PNGs with the Compositing Nodes: in this set-up navigation is possible by moving the Sequence playhead (the green line at frame 90 940) for previewing different parts (individual frames) of the Nodes processed video. I export the Nodes filtered PNGs once more as a Sequence of PNGs.

7: The final look

Click the image to see a larger version.

I load the Nodes processed PNGs into my VSE Sequence (Space to Add Image Sequence), add and finetune a Glow (with clip selected Space to Add Glow), make a Metastrip of both (with clips selected and M) and use Color Balance (with clip (Metastrip) selected: Filter tab > Use Color Balance) for creating the basis of the yellowish (but at this point rather dark) look. I then add a one step Strobe (Filter tab > Strobe: 2.00). With Shift D I duplicate the Metastrip, move it up one Channel and also move it one frame out of sync (see screenshot). The Glow for this FX 1 track gets removed (Tab to open/close a Metastrip) and in the Edit tab I select Blend Mode Add and Blend: 33.00. (31.01.09: And Use Color Balance – as can be seen in the screeshot above – gets also unselected for this FX 1 track.) I also duplicate the FX 1 track, move it up one Channel and also move this FX 2 track out of sync for yet another frame. There is one last step not shown in the screenshot: a final, subtle Glow is applied to all strips.

I once more export the clips as a Sequence of PNGs, import them one last time and change the export settings in the Render Buttons > Format tab to FFMpeg, make my selections for the video and audio format/codec and make sure that Multiplex audio is selected in the Audio tab before exporting the finished video clip with sound.

8: Credits

08_making_the_credits

Click the image to see a larger version.

This is actually done somewhere before finishing the editing (5: Editing the video) and using my own 2D Titles Preset .blend/tutorial. I adjust the text to the right size first. In order to have the Center where I need it for my title animation: Object > Convert Object Type… > Mesh. Then: Object > Transform > Center New.

Tutorials etc.

Download my Video Editing Preset .blend (Quick Start tutorial inside) for all the basics you need to get started with the Blender Video Sequence Editor.

Download my 2D Title Presets .blend (tutorial inside) for making “crystal clear” titles with Blender.

*Update* These presets are meant to be used with the old/classic stable Blender 2.49b: get it here!

Or get a recent version:

Download Blender for all major platforms.

Thanks to Paul for hosting these .blends on the Final BUG server!

See Using VSE (and Previous/Next pages) from the Blender Wiki for the official Blender Video Sequence Editor documentation.

See Using Nodes (Blender Wiki) for getting started with the Compositing Nodes.

Check out Ubuntu for getting started with GNU/Linux.

Notes for editors new to Ubuntu

While many to most things in Ubuntu will “just work” this is not the case for most things related to FireWire. Either plan some time for testing/research or get help from an experienced Linux user. It may be best not to rely on external FireWire drives for anything other than copying media to your internal drive as long as you are new to Ubuntu.

For help with all things related to Ubuntu and multimedia see also the Ubuntu Studio pages.

(26.04.09:) Ubuntu 9.04 users who experience problems with opening Blender 2.48a, exporting video with sound or audio playback in Blender see my comment below (April 26, 2009) for solutions!


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