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Interview with Ton Roosendaal

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With the official release of Sintel just days away, I decided to approach Ton Roosendaal for his thoughts on how the production went.

If you don’t already know, Ton Roosendaal is the head of the Blender foundation and producer of Sintel. When he’s not organizing blender updates, handling media enquiries or answering emails he’s working on open movies. He’s one of the few people that has worked on every open movie to date.

profile

I had the pleasure of meeting him at last year’s blender conference and I can attest to the fact that he’s an awesome down to earth bloke. Taking time out of his busy day to even talk to losers like me :)

When Ton agreed to the interview I asked my followers on Twitter and Facebook what questions they wanted me to ask Ton, and I got a bazillion responses! Well since I know that Ton is a busy man, I narrowed it down to the top 7 most asked questions. Here they are…

Interview

Q: As the producer of Sintel, what were your duties?

My main goal was just to bring it all together, to facilitate everyone, to have people well aligned, get a productive and inspired team, and ensure everything moves on as smooth as possible, with the highest quality possible as well. Certainly a complex job, also because I was bringing in experience and ideas from previous projects, which made it very hard to not sit on the seats of the director or art team!

I’ve been in the studio with everyone from the very first day until now, and being part of – and pushing! – a team that manages to get over initial struggles and limitations, learn great new things, and produce in the end this film is a deeply satisfying experience. I’m proud of this team, and everyone is for sure!

Q. Where did the original idea for Sintel come from?

Initially I approached Dutch fantasy comic legend Martin Lodewijk for the script. He provided a story around a Cinderella theme. His first treatment was really hilarious, about a Amazon (warrior) female-only village with an evil stepmom, her stupid daughters and our hero orphan girl. The girl had a little dragon-like sidekick. Unfortunately the story was far too big and complex for a short film, but in the next versions he kept her, now more as a lone gypsy traveler hunting for dragons. Martin named the girl Sintel, which is Dutch for “Cinder”.

With Martin having too little time, and no real experience with script structures, I approached Esther Wouda as a script doctor to consult us. The match with her and Colin was great, so soon I decided to let her write the whole script, based on substantial input from Colin, and inspired by concept art by David Revoy.

Concept art by David Revoy

Q. What major issues did the team encounter during the production?

‘Ambitions versus competences’ is always the biggest hurdle. You want people to feel confident we can survive it, but also sharp and eager to go for a great new challenge. Having again a nearly complete new team together, of mostly inexperienced artists, made it very hard to cope with everyone’s expectations to deliver something much better than the previous two open films. We were very lucky to get good support in DVD pre-sales, subsidies and sponsoring, which allowed us to hire experienced artists to help finishing it during the 2nd half of the project.

Obviously, having this new incomplete piece of Blender 2.5 software was also not very helpful here… :)

Director, Colin Levy

Q. If you had to do Sintel all over again, what would you do differently?

I don’t know really… for projects like this you fully depend on the people you can get, and I’m still convinced we made the best choice back then.
Ideally, it would have helped in the beginning to get more experienced designers in, especially trained in art. On the other hand, the way we managed to survive it is also beautiful. It’s a great gift if people can look back on a year where they’ve learned so much.

The magic of how to get a good script is also something I keep trying to improve. We had some bad luck in the beginning causing delays, but after two months we knew quite well what it would be.

For some people having this long period of uncertainty is killing, but it’s also a great asset to be around when the script gets written and tuned. Makes it truly “your film”!

Q. How has Blender improved as a result of the production?

The main achievement is on basic 2.5 usability level. Both Brecht and Campbell worked here nearly full-time supporting the team with their issues. Luckily Brecht could save enough time for a couple of great new additions, such as sculpting improvements, microdetail displacement and global illumination.

Ton and Jan Morgenstern discussing sound

Q. How are open movies financially feasible? What’s in it for the sponsors?

The simple fact that we produce content in an open way, without ugly license restrictions makes it incredibly attractive for many sponsors. They can also ask us to tailor content technically for their needs, like one of the sponsors who will receive a 4k rendered version of the film.

The benefits of jointly financing Open Content slowly begins to stick on with companies… and I hope we can use Sintel’s success to attract more next time.

Further we also have built a positive name to get involved with, having your company credited as sponsor is really good PR!

3dworldcover

Q: Are there any plans to make a fourth open blender movie?

No plans, only ideas :) The idea I’m playing with is code named Mango. It will have focus on visual effects for film, having good tracking tools for example, more realistic lighting and shading, and advanced grading tools.

On behalf of the Blender community, thank you for your efforts and taking the time to do this interview!

I think you’ll agree that there are some mighty exciting times ahead for Blender. Remember, the online release for Sintel is scheduled for Thursday September 30th which is just 3 days away! Follow the Durian blog for updates.

Join me next week for a phone interview with Director, Colin Levy :D

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