Life is short. You find yourself having to absorb the work techniques of a lot of different software. And some of those divisions — between vector and pixels, 3D and 2D, motion and stills — look increasingly old-fashioned. Since the early 90s, we’ve seen a succession of software try to bridge those gaps. But for the first time, there’s an open-source entrant that promises to bring just about everything involving 3D and motion, minus audio, into a single tool. That means the ability to run on any OS, and a greater sense of a community that can hack the app itself.

The surprise: the app is a 3D tool, Blender.

Blender is already well-known for its 3D capabilities. Those features extend to motion graphics. That means rather than moving from tool to tool, you can do your modeling and motion in one tool in 3D, and even use the real-time game engine baked into the tool.

It’s video editing that’s the surprise. Blender also has a “Sequence” tool that lets you edit video. Now, reality check: that’s unlikely to be a Final Cut killer any time soon. But you can imagine the appeal would be greatest for three audiences:

1. Folks running Linux, who otherwise have some — sorry — pretty lousy choice in video editors. (Linux itself isn’t shabby in its video plumbing; the problem is that video editing apps are absurdly hard to build. Commercial tools have even had their share of stability challenges, at least relative to their cost.)

2. People wanting to do their video editing without leaving their 3D tool.

3. People wanting unique features not available in tools like Final Cut or Premiere — think nodal compositing, infinite bit depths, and the like.

#1 isn’t a terribly good argument. Blender runs on Mac and Windows, and many of its users are on those platforms. And if you need to do your editing, you use the OS that makes you productive.

But #2/#3 is where it gets interesting. Try to look at Blender as a Final Cut replacement and your head will probably short-circuit. But if you’ve been looking for a tool that’s something different, it starts to look far more appealing. As Luis de Bethancourt of the Ubuntu Studio project notes:

blender is tremendously powerful. a few reasons why:
1. operate on series of stills of infinite per-channel bit depth.
2. quickly generate proxies. for example, edit full hd footage on a netbook once your proxies are rendered.
3. openexr and other industry standard image formats. deep bitdepth and lossless.
4. nodal compositor built in. workflow similar to high end production flows.

The Phrygian Cap: will it blend?

This isn’t just an attempt to squeeze these features into a different tool. Everything in Blender is built around a single set of core functionality, and a single render pipeline. That may mean sacrificing some of the usability niceness to which you’re accustomed in other tools, but in exchange, you get a tool that won’t blink at lots of footage and integrating compositing. (And editing on a netbook?)

In fact, it made a lot of sense that the all open-source-toolchain movie Big Buck Bunny did its editing in Blender.

I’ve done some short experiments; I’m going to try more. It’s definitely a bit puzzling at first – this is a video editor inside an open source 3D app, after all. But there is some promise there, and I think the 3D and compositing integration could make this a whole lot more interesting to visualists, in particular.

For more resources:

It’s hyper-compressed, but the Blender 3D Wikibook is a good place to start:
Blender 3D: Noob to Pro/Sequencer Getting Started

I’m not going to recommend the screencast series, just because I think it doesn’t cover everything you may want to cover, and because I think sometimes screencasts take too long to watch. It’s a volunteer effort, so I’m not criticizing it — I just expect you may want a little more. Stay tuned.

Blender Features

Video editing has been stuck in a particular groove for so long, it’s refreshing to see an alternative approach. And since you may want to do more than just slice footage, it could be worth an investment of time. Video editing is still at its best on Linux, which has the best support for ffmpeg (and the best version of ffmpeg, arguably). But this could be an option on other platforms alongside existing tools.

Anyone out there using Blender for video or compositing? I’d love to hear how you’re working with it.

  • http://www.pixelkink.com Sebas van den Brink

    Wow, this is promising. Aside from it being Open Source (which is always good) this has potential! But there's so much going into a video editing utility I wonder if blending the too (pun intended) will ever really, you know, blend well. But hell I must be thick if I am not to give this a whirl! Excellent.

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  • http://www.tweakingknobs.com TweakingKnobs

    Blender rocks !!!

  • moongold

    Thanks as always for inspirational direction changing thoughts.
    Found this http://tinyurl.com/6s6jal which is based on an older build of Blender but gives an idea of the, convoluted, basics of Blender video editing! :-)

  • http://troy-sobotka.blogspot.com Troy James Sobotka

    Hey – thanks for the crosslink in your other post. I am extremely excited with all of the attention Blender is getting as a result of the simple 'quickie challenge' project.

    Blender is an amazing tool – and only really missing a few critical components to take it to the next level.

    I'd add that you might want to check out Richard Querin's work over at http://blog.rfquerin.org

    He has created a few extremely useful Blender tutorial screencasts for the fresh and uninitiated. As he progresses through the learning curve, he is documenting his progress.

    Interesting blog. Feed added!

  • Darren Landrum

    Well, I checked out the screencasts, and the video editing features of Blender do seem somewhat clumsy. That's okay, though. I first started doing NLE on a Video Flyer (the Toaster with NLE capabilities added) running on an Amiga 4000 tower with an amazingly HUGE 4GB hard disk array. That thing's editing system was very clumsy, but we thought it was way cool that we could edit non-linearly in digital now, having also done plenty of AB roll stuff. The Avid was around at the time, but was just as new.

    In short, we have a good start, and it will probably get better from here. After video editing gets sorted out, start on audio and being able to do huge mixdowns in 5/7.1. The result? 3D, compositing, editing, and audio all in one program from one consistent (if heavily criticized) interface.

    A pipe dream? Probably, but I've seen stranger things happen.

  • http://jim1000tongues.net sbn..

    Darren, you're forgetting there's a game engine in there as well ;)

    I'm very happy that I've taken the time to learn Blender. It's challenged my way of doing things and helped provide functionality that other apps are missing, as well as being a great tool for doing abstract VJ material in itself. Its unwrapping tool alone has long been the reason you need it installed even if your main app is Max.

    That said, some of the things I've tried, like dynamic masking, are really cumbersome. I've experimented with extending the functionality (or at least the interface) with the built-in Python, but for now it's simply too complicated.

    Look here: http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/BlenderDev/Blen

    for status on the Blender 2.5 project. This promises to turn the interface around and modernize it, as well as making interface scriping easier. I expect the app to be very much easier to learn afterwards. Alas, even if it's an unusually well managed OSS project, the ETA on 2.5 is still "sometime in 2009".

  • http://www.metamindvisual.com metamind-visual

    There is a pandora box engine in this Blender software, but I still think the interface may be improved, or maybe I need to work more time and get used to the Blender UI in order to have it as my very one solution. Actually, I think there is not needed just to have one solution in stead to have various tools handy to work.

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  • R.

    You must be joking? Did'n know Blender was *so* powerful!

  • Mikito Ohara

    Editing in 3D? COOL!

    Video Editor Perth