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Blender Institute premieres Agent 327 teaser

News & Features
Carrie Mok

Operation Barbershop is hoping to be a proof of concept for the Institute’s most ambitious open-source film yet

Blender Institute premieres Agent 327 teaser
Agent 327, Blender Animation Studio 2017, based on original work by Martin Lodewijk

Blender Institute has premiered a three-minute teaser animation for Agent 327, its much-anticipated feature film made entirely with open-source tools.

Agent 327: Operation Barbershop is a proof of concept for what the Institute hopes will become the first major international animated feature created entirely in open-source software.

Assets from the films are available to the public under a Creative Commons license on Blender Cloud, which was also used to raise the €300,000 budget for Agent 327: Operation Barbershop.

Operation Barbershop was created by a core team of ten artists and developers over the course of a year and sees the eponymous Agent 327 going undercover in an attempt to uncover a secret criminal lair.

One of the key artistic challenges on the project was translating the stylised look of the original 1970s comics by Martin Lodewijk into 3D. “Agent 327 doesn’t fit the American design template for animated characters,” says Blender Institute pipeline TD Francesco Siddi. “He has a gigantic nose, gigantic ears, and bags under his eyes. How many Disney movies do you see with characters like that?”

Blender Institute premieres Agent 327 teaser

The Institute’s modelling and design artists, led by Blender veteran Andy Goralczyk, carried out look development tests. Concept designs were created in open-source 2D painting software Krita, while test models were created in Blender and textured in GIMP.

As with all of the Institute’s open movies, technical development on the project feeds back into public builds of Blender. In the case of Operation Barbershop, the work done on Cycles, the software’s physically based render engine – which now renders scenes with hair and motion blur 10 times faster – was rolled out in Blender 2.78b in February. Work on Blender’s dependency graph, which controls the way a character rig acts upon the geometry of the model, will follow in the upcoming Blender 2.8. “For users, it’s going to mean much better performance, enabling much more complex animation set-ups than are possible now,” says Siddi.

Other development work focused on the Blender Institute’s open-source pipeline tools: render manager Flamenco and production-tracking system Attract. “The pipeline for making shorts in Blender is already super-solid, but we wanted to build a workflow that could be used on a feature film,” says Blender Institute pipeline TD Francesco Siddi. “Operation Barbershop was great for identifying areas for improvement, like the way we manage asset libraries.”

For the Agent 327 movie itself, the Blender Institute is establishing Blender Animation Studio, a separate department devoted to feature animation, for which it aims to recruit a team of 80 artists and developers from its international network.

Blender Animation Studio is devoted to producing feature animation with world-class visuals and storytelling, created entirely in free and open-source software,” says founder, original creator of Blender and producer Ton Roosendaal, “We’ve proved that Blender can create stunning short films. Now we aim to create stunning features, while building and sharing a free software production pipeline.”

“As an independent studio, we’re in the unique position of being in complete control of the tools we use in production,” says Roosendaal. “That’s a luxury enjoyed only by the world’s largest animation facilities. We intend to create movies that redefine the concept of independent animated feature production.”

Watch Agent 327: Operation Barbershop below: