Tears of Steel- Fourth Open Movie by Blender Foundation explores an Open VFX Pipeline

For over half a year an international team of 3D visual effects artists worked in the studio of the Amsterdam Blender Institute on the short film "Tears of Steel", written and directed by Seattle talent Ian Hubert. This independent production was financed by the online user community of the free program Blender and was supported by the Netherlands Film Fund, the Cinegrid consortium, and by corporate sponsors such as Google. Tears of Steel is 4th short film by Blender foundation for exploring an Open VFX Pipeline for making Blender more efficient and better opensource software.  


Most important aspects of this project was to help Blender further:

  • Stimulate development of advanced production-level features.
  • Validation of Blender by great artists
  • Use and improve an open source creation pipeline
  • Deliver good publicity and PR for Blender
  • Create useful presentation and educational material in Open Content
  • Last but not least, provide a fun and inspiring experience for the entire Blender community!

If you don't know about Blender!

Blender is well known 3D computer graphics Software by CG Community and hold its importance for creating animated films, visual effects, interactive 3D applications or video games. Blender's features include 3D modeling, UV unwrapping, texturing, rigging and skinning, fluid and smoke simulation, particle simulation, animating, match moving, camera tracking, rendering, video editing and compositing. It also features a built-in game engine.

Blender was developed as an in-house application by the Dutch animation studio Neo Geo and Not a Number Technologies (NaN). It was primarily authored by Ton Roosendaal, who had previously written a ray tracer called Traces for Amiga in 1989. The name "Blender" was inspired by a song by Yello, from the album Baby.

Today,Blender is free, open-source software which has been used for television commercials in several parts of the world. The first large professional project that used Blender was Spider-Man 2, where it was primarily used to create animatics and pre-visualizations for the storyboard department. Blender has also been used for shows on the History Channel, alongside many other professional 3D graphics programs.

Tomm Moore's The Secret of Kells, which was partly produced in Blender by the Belgian studio Digital Graphics, has been nominated for an Oscar in the category 'Best Animated Feature Film.

About Open Source Projects

In September 2005, some of the most notable Blender artists and developers began working on a short film using primarily free software, in an initiative known as the Orange Movie Project hosted by the Netherlands Media Art Institute (NIMk). The resulting film, Elephants Dream, premiered on March 24, 2006. In response to the success of Elephants Dream, the Blender Foundation founded the Blender Institute to do additional projects with two announced projects: Big Buck Bunny, also known as "Project Peach" (a 'furry and funny' short open animated film project) and Yo Frankie, also known as Project Apricot (an open game in collaboration with CrystalSpace which reused some of the assets created during Project Peach).                                    

After the short animation films "Elephants Dream" (2006), "Big Buck Bunny" (2008) and "Sintel" (2010) this is the 4th short created in the Amsterdam studio with crowd-funding support. For "Tears of Steel" the ambitions were set high again - using as a reference the international standard of visual effects, applied to a fun and witty science-fiction theme in the old city of Amsterdam.

About Tears of Steel 

About Tears of Steel Blender short movie

Producer Ton Roosendaal invited young Seattle talent Ian Hubert to come working in Amsterdam for 7 months to write and direct the film - assisted in Blender Institute's studio by an international team of 3d and vfx artists, and with a Dutch film crew and Dutch actors.

The film's premise is about a group of warriors and scientists, who gathered at the "Oude Kerk" in Amsterdam to stage a crucial event from the past, in a desperate attempt to rescue the world from destructive robots. The film itself -- as well as original footage and all the studio files -- will be released as free and open content; the Creative Commons Attribution license.

Duration: 12 minutes. Available also in HD and DCP 2.35:1, Dolby 5.1.

Age: Suitable for 12 years and older. 
Language: English spoken
Production: Blender Institute

Producer: Ton Roosendaal
Director & Writer: Ian Hubert
Director of Photography: Joris Kerbosch
Composer: Joram Letwory

Starring: Derek de Lint, Sergio Hasselbaink, Rogier Schippers, Vanja Rukavina, Denise Rebergen, Jody Bhe, Chris Haley

Crew: Andreas Goralczyk, David Revoy, Francesco Siddi, Jeremy Davidson, Kjartan Tysdal, Nicolo Zubbini, Rob Tuytel, Roman Volodin, Sebastian Koenig, Brecht van Lommel, Campbell Barton, Sergey Sharybin.

Project funding: Blender Foundation, 
Netherlands Film Fund, Cinegrid Amsterdam

Premium Sponsor: Google
Main Sponsors: NVIDIA, Hewlett-Packard Workstations, Camalot AV Services, BlenderGuru.

still from Tears of Steel Blender short movie

"The results are truly spectacular," said producer Ton Roosendaal, "It's a rare occasion to see your own city transformed with this level of visual effects and storytelling. Best is of course that we now have a complete open source pipeline for visual effect work in Blender - ranging from camera tracking and roto, all the way to color grading".

“This was the Blender Institute's first foray into shooting live action,” director Ian Hubert said, “so every day we were covering new ground. Shooting with the state-of-the-art Sony F65 camera, and with such a talented production crew and actors, meant that we were able to not just to make a gorgeous film, but also provide filmmakers and developers around the world with optimal reference footage.”

Watch Complete Movie

Work Flow of Tears of steel


Storyboarding was done digitally for film in Krita 2.4  ( last version,  compiled from fresh sources ) as main tool.  Storyboarding artist deevad mentions "I decided to use this 2432×1024 weird format a bit arbitrary to keep the frame compatible with Mypaint ( who round each picture at saving to 64px , a known bug rooted in Mypaint engine ). Of course this size is a little ‘ off ‘ compare to the 2.39:1 ratio cinema standard, but for a storyboard it’s ok. PNG file format is used for the easy compatibility with other systems ; I want the team to be able to use the frame with any picture viewer and openraster ( *.ora , multilayer opensource file format )  still don’t allow it yet. The choice of having a large size over 2000px was lead to can reuse the brush preset I’ve done ;  mostly are designed to render good strokes on the scaling of a A4 300 ppi (   2480 x 3508 px ) , at around 35% zoom out of the viewport from the real pixel size."

storyboard still from Tears of Steel Blender short movie

Download complete storyboard pdf

Modeling texturing & arranging assets

still from Tears of Steel Blender short movie

Modeling was done in blender and an Overview of: dome models library, tileable and specific textures and the greeble kits was also recorded which is available in DVD. For the actual modelling and texturing there’s lot more to say, specific videos will follow, on individual areas and topics.This mainly is about the assets organization: naming, grouping and linking: split things into scenes, named objects and materials to sort them, grouped objects so that they could be used as detailing greeble or as set pieces to link the sets into the final shots. The whole assets management  pipeline is much bigger than what you see here Plus, things are still evolving and being optimized during production and creation of actual shots, other team members like Francesco Siddi and Sebastian Koenig have a better technical/organization overview and know the pipeline. This will be useful for modellers and texture artist looking for infos on how to sort and manage their assets. 


Shaders and Materials

It’s about materials in cycles, shaders-preset nodegroups in particular, while setting up textures for the dome it was necessary to organize them in a way that lighting and shading artists could make sense of it, tweak it or rearrange the material for the final shot .


Rigging Process

Jeremy Davidson shared Rigging process of character Pigeon modeled by Kjartan Tysdal.

A shortish video showing off a bit of the detail in the rig as it stands. Not complete but give idea about movements.


Jeremy Davidson shared few animation videos 

Work progress robots animation



Sebastian shares about Compositing and Production details-Here’s a little timelapse of the general workflow for our keying shots.

" First we track the camera and save that as a blendfile. From that file we generate a new file that is then used as base for masking and keying. The tracking markers can often be re-used as a way to mask out stuff from the footage. The cleaned footage is then saved as 4k openEXR files with premultiplied alpha channel. A third blendfile is created as a base for that layout, swapping the footage for the clean plates and setting up the final shot dimensions (1920×800). That file is then handed over to the person that is then doing the layout for it. The scene layout for this scene was originally done by Andy. Usually after the main composite is done I fix some alpha-blending issues that cannot be solved in the pre-key outside the main composite. The key that you see here is still a little but too harsh on the one side of the head, but for the demo I didn’t want to tweak it too long."


Tracking and Compositing the Captain's eyepatch

Compositing Breakdown (Work in Progress)

A quick and dirty breakdown of all the processing passes of a regular shot. Modeling and set dressing not entirely finished.

Rotoscope, Masking, Keying

Roman Volodin shows workflow video for cleaning footage for the Mango Open Movie project. All of this 100% done in Blender


Blender has release DVD for movie which includes VFX Breakdowns, movie sound tracks and files for use. Checkout VFX Breakdown video

Software and Hardware Pipeline for Tears of Steel

For the entire creation pipeline in the studio, team used free/open source softwares. For 3D graphics, compositing and video editing they obviously used Blender. The new ‘Cycles’ render engine is used, which includes open source projects like OpenShading, OpenColor and OpenImage. For Camera and Motion Tracking Blender uses Libmv. For imaging and drawing GIMP is used, MyPaint, Krita and Inkscape a lot. Render output and footage is done using the OpenEXR format. Scripting is done in Python. Studio Database storage is done in SVN. The workstations in the studio were equipped with 64 bits Ubuntu Linux with its owned render farm running on Debian and Ubuntu.

For more information about project, files and DVD visit : http://mango.blender.org

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.