Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: 'Sintel' by the Blender Institute

One of the biggest boons in democratizing the creative process has been the advent of free and open-source software over the years.  Everything from audio tools to office suites to image editors have alternatives that won't cost an arm and a leg and will still output an extremely high level, professional-looking project.  Blender is one of those tools; as a 3D graphics program, it allows animators to create great computer-generated films without shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars for the appropriate software.  But Blender doesn't just claim its product is great, it shows it.  Every now and then the Blender Foundation releases a short film to showcase the power of Blender.  We've gotten great things like the adorable Big Buck Bunny and the surreal Elephant Dream.  One their most epic projects, though, has been Sintel, which takes viewers on an intense fantasy ride in only fifteen minutes.

Sintel is the story of a girl and her dragon, which is a lot like a story about a boy and his dog but with a lot more fire and dead chickens.  When Sintel's baby dragon Scales gets dragon-napped she, of course, takes off after him.  If it sounds like a simple premise, it is, but it's what's needed to get in and out in a quarter of an hour.

Sintel could be dismissed as only a technical showing for the Blender software.  I judged it as such when I started my first viewing.  Make no mistake, it looks amazing.  There are fight scenes, chase scenes, and great effects.  But when we're shown a montage of Sintel going through a jungle, a desert, a canyon, and finally a snowy peak, you might begin to think a) what kind of world is this where these places are so close together?, and b) this isn't so much a film as it is a demo.  The whole thing comes together at the end, though, using classic storytelling techniques like flashbacks and unreliable narrators.  It becomes clear soon enough that yes, this is a proper film, and warrants repeat viewings to pick up on the details.

Sintel works great on two fronts.  First, it's just a wonderful film that's exciting, engaging, beautiful, and short enough that you can watch it when you have some free time.  However, it also serves as an inspiration to anyone thinking of using Blender for their own animation.  When a creator out there watches Sintel and sees how great it performs and how professional it looks, all for free, they'll hopefully disregard any perceived barriers and be called to get started on their own work to share with the world.  Art should always inspire you to do something, anything, and Sintel rises to the challenge easily.

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