Sunday, May 17, 2009

Piet Voute—Blending Vision with Craft

Well…It’s been a while since I took anyone up on Vinny, my ship, for an interroga—er—interview. And Harry, my robot, was getting bored. So, I thought I’d interview my neighbor (since I AM the Alien Next Door), who happens to be a crack animator. He’s a high school student, his name is Piet Voute, and he taught himself how to use the super-cool free animation software, Blender.

Just like all his predecessors, Piet took to the crystal transporter with style and no ill effects…unlike yours truly, who emerged from the transported onboard Vinnie rather pale and weak and desperately needing a drink. My robot Harry gave Piet a Doctor Pepper then handed me an orange juice (not what I had in mind, but I didn’t complain.) We settled into some plush seats in the aft lounge and I began my interroga—er, interview.

“So, Piet, what IS Blender?”
“It’s a free 3-D modeling program/application used for animation and some games.”
“How did you find out about Blender?”
“From a friend at school. I’d seen a 3-D animation course at school on the course selection sheet. I’ve been interested in animation for quite a while and was looking for a program to use.”
“You just download it?”
“Cool.” He’s a young man of few words. “What’s it do?”
“It allows you to model and pretty much sculpt any shape, then render into a beautiful piece of art.”
“Is it easy to use?”
“Extremely … are you talking about the render or actually using the program?”
“Both.” I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about but I’m not about to admit it to a fifteen year old!
“Rendering is very easy to use. Like pressing a button. The program is fairly difficult to know but once you learn the basics it’s easy to make something quick.”
“So, what kind of stuff do you do?”
“Mostly games.”
“Like what?”
“I’ve made a couple of racing games and a side scroller jumping game.”
“A what?”
“A game like Mario.”
“Ok. Ok.” I wave my hand nonchalantly. “So, you’re saying that this thing is free and pretty much easy to learn… how come not everybody is doing it?”
“Because of more professional applications like Maya…”
“Maya? You mean like in South America?”
“Maya is a program much like Blender but made by Autodesk.”
“And Blender has a bad rep by being free? People would prefer to pay for their program…?”
“Yeah… it’s a common misconception. Because it’s free, and changeable it gets more like the user and designer wants it to be.”
“That’s pretty cool.”
“Maya is more professional and it can do more things. But it has a couple of major problems. One of them is that you can’t change how the user interface—the actual screen— looks. The other problem is that it doesn’t have a built in rendering engine.”
“Ok, you’ve mentioned rendering before. What is it?”
“Rendering is the process of the CPU calculating how the light moves around in the scene and it ‘renders’ the image and takes the data of where the object is and determines how it’s going to look.”
“How old are you?”
“What do you want to be when you grow up? An artist?”
“How come? No money in it?”
“I’d rather work on making games in a professional studio like EA.”
“Are they here?”
“They do have a location in Vancouver.”
“What kind of games would you make?”
“Any, really.”
“Cool. So, if they wanted you to make a game about an alien who comes to earth to spy on humankind and get rid of country music, would you do it?”
“Well, it would be very easy to do the plot because I’m talking to the plot right now.”
Much laughter.
“So…. Are you using Blender in school now?”
“What are you making?”
“Currently… I have no idea.”
“Really?.....” I’m thinking that this dude is either really good or… well, he must be an alien…like me…. “So, you are doing stuff on Blender at school but you don’t know what you’re doing…”
“Well, we make whatever the teacher asks us to make… but I finish it before everyone else so I have to wait…”
“Oh…!” The dawning of understanding hits me like a brick. “So, you’re in wait mode right now…”
“If you had a million dollars to spend on 3-d animation stuff what would you purchase?”
“HUH?” The dawning of understanding vanishes as quickly as it came.
“Why spend money on 3-d animation studios when there are such great ones that come free.”
OMG! He’s a walking commercial for shareware! “Okay….. what kind of food?”
He really IS an alien!

So, you might have been wondering what the big wave is all about. What’s it got to do with our young animator?... It’s the wave of the future, of course! Metaphor! {big silly grin}.

Photo credits:
Wave shots by Clark Little
Animations by Piet Voute

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Anonymous said...

Oh you naive denziens of the North Eastern Quadrants of the universe. Country music is the medium by which those of the South Western Quadrants encode their communications. You will never erradicate Country Music.

Cowie Pie

Anonymous said...

fanatuWhy do you spend money on highend software for the production of Video / Games / Music??? Quality and Flexibility and Consistency.

I have a home music studio with a collection of stuff that relatively cheap compared with a full on production studio.
I can create music, have fun and entertain people. But to be realistic, the stuff I produce is fine for running on a Home Computer and is good enough for that. But it wouldn't sound that great on a high end stereo, surround sound or a large venue PA system. Same for animation, the higher end tools are built to handle more objects, more actions, changing lighting and smoother transitions. They can include "engines" for calculating movement of hair at various wind speeds. Then to be able to render the images for use on large screen (movie theatre, home theatre) needs a dedicated rendering engine that can deal with IMAX to ipod and everything in between.

Blender is great to cut you teeth on, find out if animation is where you really want to go. It is a 75% or better solution and is perfect for the typical PC based delivery platform.

It is cool that Piet is able to express his creativity via a tool like Blender. That the entry point to Animation is easier today than 5 or 10 years ago. And it wouldn't surprise me if EA looks at work created using freeware like Blender as an artists demo just like a Sony might listen to a demo tape before signing an artist.

All the best to Piet and wishing him much success.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

I must admit, Piet lost me a little!

Baby Brie said...

Loved the photos! Bravo Piet!
I was hit by a few bricks myself while I was reading the post!
Sounding all rather otherwordly!

SF Girl said...

LOL! Is that a challenge, Cowie Pie??????? Well, if it is, I take you up on it! HAR!

Mark Chestnut, here we come! (I always thought he spoke funny)...

SF Girl said...

Yes, I know what you mean, Jean-Luc....and Babie Brie... bricks... I need to find some mortar...

blackburn1 said...

I'm trying to catch up, Nina, honest.

Good topic. A few years ago I was into the 3d programs, Lightwave in particular. It's quite involving, one can really lose track of the hours. All the best to Piet!

By the way, I was at Metrotown last night... and you weren't! I guess there was a change in plan? :P Next time.

SF Girl said...

LOL! Oh, Blackburn... sorry... at the last "minute" they had to reschedule the readings to the following week. But I'm out of town then, so I won't be back for a reading at Metrotown until June.

Yeah, this 3D stuff is really cool. I haven't heard of Lightwave. I'll have to ask Piet if he's familiar with it...

Catch ya later!

blackburn1 said...

No worries. A frappacino helped me deal with the situation. =D Will try again in June.

Lightwave and Maya both have a sharp learning curve, but the results can be stunning. Only problem is seeing a finished something looking better than real on the screen- and knowing that's where it's going to stay. On the screen, locked in 2 dimensions.

SF Girl said...

LOL! Ah... yes, perchance to dream, as Shakespeare once said... That ideal locked in our imagination and limited to our ability to express it...and release it...find it...give it life...