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Blender conference 2017 highlights

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For a lot of Blender people (myself included), the end of October is a time of joy. This is when the annual Blender Conference takes place, in Amsterdam. It’s that moment of the year when friends meet again, to learn about the new things that happened in the Blender world and to hang out together in the evenings.

This year was no exception. The 3-day weekend started on Friday as usual in downtown Amsterdam at De Balie with a keynote from Ton Roosendaal. Then Daniel Lara talked about the new Hero movie, created with the new Grease Pencil feature in Blender 2.8.

After lunch, Gleb Alexandrov gave us some insight into shape distribution in image composition, as part of his artistic creation process (thumbs up, Gleb, for improving your presentation skills!). In the other room, Chris McFall demonstrated a rigging method for a challenging marine life project. Both presentations addressed very well issues that artists may bump into at some point in their career: how to improve the appeal of a scene and how to work with unconventional shapes and motions.

Chris McFall demonstrating rigging at BConf 2017

The afternoon continued with Hjalti talking about updating the classic animation principles to better adapt them to today’s 3D animation methods. And, as usual, he delivered the presentation with his natural charm. The stream followed after that with a making-of for the “Cinderella the Cat” movie.

Hjalti’s list of animation principles – at BConf 2017

The next two presentations I attended in the evening were the Metaballs revival with Alexander Mitzkus (Zuggamasta) and Sean Kennedy’s latest edition of ‘Gruntwork in VFX‘ series. Alexander talked about what you can achieve by using the ‘underdog’ feature, with several examples.

Zuggamasta flexing the metaballs muscle at BConf 2017

Sean mentioned some of the work he did in recent TV series and films and the places where Blender was used in a number of shots to deliver fast results. I always enjoy his presentations, both because I get to see some of the tricks of a highly skilled professional, and because he shows things that you (literally) don’t see on the big screen 🙂

Sean Kennedy boldly pointing to where Blender was used in the Orville TV series

The evening concluded with the screening for the Suzanne Awards. Then there was dinner time, preceded by the traditional quest for finding a place that can sit more than 20 people at a table.

On Saturday, Rainer Trummer showcased the lifelike renders Kiska did for KTM and went through some of the challenges they faced in creating them. Following was dr. Sybren A. Stüvel with a nice introduction to Blender Python scripting targeted at artists. Quite useful if you’re just starting now to look into scripting for your projects.

The presentations continued with an interesting process of reconstructing accident dynamics using Blender, presented by Dominic Agoro-Ombaka. In the next room, Pablo López Soriano shared some of the animation techniques he used, with direct application in his Suzanne Awards winner short.

Pablo López Soriano on animation technique at BConf 2017

After lunch, the conference continued with a sculpting workshop by Zacharias Reinhardt, followed by a number of talks about using Blender in education.

Zacharias Reinhardt talking about his sculpting workflow

In the evening, Ton talked about the Blender 2.8 development, followed by the lighting (open-stage) talks and the Suzanne Awards ceremony. The Blender 2.8 talk summed up very nicely the development status and where everything is going, in case you missed the regular posts on the subject. The lighting talks brought the usual heterogeneous and interesting presenter line-up, including yours truly’s 5 minutes of glory.

Ton Roosendaal talking about Blender 2.8 development

The last day, Sunday, started as usual with the talk about the featured open movie from the Institute: Agent 327 – operation Barbershop. Francesco, Hjalti and Andy talked about pretty much all the areas of the production, from scene composition to animation style and rendering. Very interesting evolution between the trailer and the actual short, in addition to the technical stuff.

Talking about Agent 327 barbershop

There were a few other interesting case studies as well about using Blender for longer films, VR works and for the game industry. Thomas Beck had a slot allocated to presenting the new things coming in Eevee, Blender’s new real-time (and highly expected) rendering engine from Blender 2.8.

In the afternoon, Jonathan Williamson opened the discussion about doing business in the Blender ecosystem. The discussion raised some valid points and it’s interesting to watch if you’re wondering what challenges and opportunities exist in this space.

Talking about doing business based on Blender

And there was, of course, the developer AMA slot, one of the few precious moments when we can directly interact with the Blender dev team for a peek under the hood. Another interesting moment was Stefan Werner’s presentation about the work they do in Blender. One of the topics he detailed was referring to render times improvements obtained by integrating Intel’s Embree engine into Blender. Looking forward to seeing it in action first-hand!

The conference closed in the evening, as tradition dictates, with a short speech from Ton. And then it was beer o’clock, and stuff happened.

Is that you?

For people that stayed over until Monday, the open doors at the Institute came with coffee, cookies, a more relaxed team and… board games.

Complicated stuff…

Closing thoughts.

The Blender Conference has evolved quite a bit since my first participation. It is now a mature event, with quality presentations and (most important) very warm people. (Also, the only conference I’ve attended where they serve milk. But that’s another discussion.)

This year’s edition went very smoothly on all levels – from presentation timing to posting the videos online (thumbs up to Francesco for the speed!). The only quibbles I had is that for some of the presentations the rooms were packed very quickly and it was difficult to watch the respective talks on an outside screen. I’m proud that RenderStreet has been able to support the conference as sponsor, and who knows, maybe next year we’ll get to see the new venue that’s being mentioned for some time now 🙂

Till next time!

Marius

Passionate about technology and constantly working on making a difference, Marius is RenderStreet’s CEO.