Open Source Animated Movie Shows What Can Be Done Today

from the just-think-what-comes-next dept

I had another story planned for our new “case studies” series (see last week’s if you missed it), but with the release of Sintel late last week, it jumped the queue, and I put together this quick case study

For years, one of the points we’ve raised in answering the movie industry’s $200 million challenge to us (i.e., “how do you keep making $200 million movies?”) is that, in part, it’s asking the wrong question. No one asks “how do we keep making $10,000 computers?” Instead, they look for ways to make them cheaper (and better, at the same time). But in the world of Hollywood accounting, there’s little incentive to make cheaper movies (sometimes the incentive goes the other way). And, we keep showing how the world is reaching a place where it’s cheaper and cheaper to make good movies. We’ve pointed out nice examples of people making high quality movies for next to nothing. The idea is not that movies should be made for nothing, but that the technology is making it so that movies can be made for less. In fact, with two of the examples of cheap movie making we’ve highlighted, the makers later went on to score deals to do higher end movies for more reasonable budgets.

Now, lots of people are talking about the excellent new open source, partially crowd funded, computer-animated short-film Sintel:

There are so many important points to make here that relate to stuff we talk about:

  1. The technology keeps getting better and the cost to do such high quality work keeps decreasing. This movie did cost $550,000 to make — involving a 14-person team. But, that’s a hell of a lot less than it would have cost not so long ago for anything of this level of quality.
  2. The creators used some crowdfunding: They offered up a bunch of reasons to buy as a way to get people to preorder and pay up front. Note that they didn’t just say “please give us money,” but provided a bunch of benefits for doing so.
  3. The release is totally open source: They’re using a Creative Commons license that only requires attribution. That is, they have no problem with commercial uses.
  4. The movie itself is also promoting something else: The movie comes from the Blender Foundation, and helps promote their open source 3D content creation suite, which is helpful for their business. This is a point that we’ve tried to make many times in the past. All content advertises something, and it’s often important to figure out what that is. In this case, Sintel helps “advertise” Blender’s tools. It’s yet another example of content as advertising, and doing so in a way that’s not intrusive or seen as “product placement.” If you have content, it’s important to realize what that content is advertising.

Definitely a cool example of a variety of neat ideas all wrapped up into one… and producing a great movie as well.

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Companies: blender foundation

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Comments on “Open Source Animated Movie Shows What Can Be Done Today”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I loved this movie.

I bought the DVD after seeing Elephant’s Dream and Big Buck Bunny. It’s really exciting seeing you name in the credits and knowing that you had a hand in making the film. Being able to follow along on the blog and even having the option to contribute a small bit of modelling or animation have really made this the best $51 USD I ever spent.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: I loved this movie.

The best part is that this can simply be the beginning if people want to extend and create a longer series.

[Through all of that, the original authors (and greatest contributors) will get the most promotion and direct monetary contributions. It’s a pyramid kind of thing where a few people tend to get repeat thanks even several generations/forks/derivative works away from the original.]

Anyway, even if you don’t want to use the 3d models, feel free to cut scenes from the film and use on your own website, etc. [That’s what the copyright license allows.]

Anonymous Coward says:


I’ve not seen a good breakdown on the cost to make of the movie. A lot of the people who were working on it were also doing work for the next Blender release, so how you would proportion their time between “making blender cooler” and “making Sintel” is difficult. I think if you tried to do a similar movie again, but with just the modelling effort it would cost significantly less.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: costs

But making Blender better is one of the biggest reasons for making the movie. All the big animation studios have developers picking up the slack when their software can’t do what they need. That said, the improvements they made to Blender here are simply astounding, especially given that they had a 14 person team, which included multiple full-time software developers.

chronos (profile) says:


I think they should have made another, less expensive option available as well. As cool as it would be to have all of the production materials, many people just aren’t interested enough in that kind of thing enough to shell out $42 for it. There should be a movie-only price that includes the DVD and HD versions of the film.

While I’m all for supporting the proliferation of open-source projects, charging so much to support a 15-minute short film might deter many from pulling out their wallets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think the key is to avoid having each funder hold a stake in the legal ownership of the film. Even having funded Sintel, I don’t hold the copyright strictly speaking or have a percentage share in the film. This was made clear up front, and I’m happy with what I did get. I think the issue of stakeholders was also the issue for Kevin Smith.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think the key is to avoid having each funder hold a stake in the legal ownership of the film. Even having funded Sintel, I don’t hold the copyright strictly speaking or have a percentage share in the film. This was made clear up front, and I’m happy with what I did get. I think the issue of stakeholders was also the issue for Kevin Smith.

I tried suggesting that, such as having people sign a disclaimer when they donated their money and I was told that it still wouldn’t be possible and that the only way it could be done is if they were selling some kind of product rather than just asking for money to finance the movie(s).

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

And All Done With Free Software

You forgot to mention, this was done with the Blender 3D modelling package. And furthermore, not only is the finished movie available under a Creative Commons licence, but so are all the raw materials, models, characters, graphics etc. So you can use them in your own projects!

This is the fourth time (3 movies and one game) that the Blender Foundation has done something like this. Not only do they use Blender heavily, but the projects are also testing grounds for new features added to Blender, just to prove that they are robust enough for industrial-strength use.

SuperSparky (user link) says:

Re: Re:

I have to agree. What a depressing story. I’m really getting sick of depressing stories. What is with movie maker’s desire to be “dark” now days? How about something uplifting that doesn’t make me wish I hadn’t watched it in the first place. All it has done for me is to be added to my list of movie makers to avoid.

I can turn on the news and find a plethora of stories that are depressing. Why bother watching this?

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