Friday, November 20, 2009

Kick Start Using Open Source

Animating software are the tools that help graphics design community make their creation come to life.

However, most of these software cost too much for a lone ranger to work on a standalone project.

But, never fear as freeware which costs next to nothing is available and read about the story of the Suleiman brothers creating their work with just freeware.

Animating with open-source

UNIQUE: A still from the Suleiman Brothers short film, Rojak!. The brothers used open-source software to combine live action with computer graphics for their film.


IF YOU watched the 15Malaysia ( independent film collection, you would have noticed a unique entry called Rojak! that combined live action with computer graphics.

What is even cooler is that the filmmakers used open-source software to achieve this effect on the near-five-minute film. The fact is that the filmmakers — brothers Jordan, 29, and Mussadique Suleiman, 32 — are open-source software diehards.

The duo have been using open-source software for animation and editing TV commercials, documentaries and music videos for the past eight years.

Better known as the Suleiman Brothers, they specialise in hand-drawn animation, 3D and 2D motion graphics, video compositing as well as image processing.

Going open

Mussadique has been using open-source tools for more than a decade. He started in 1996 when he was software-code writer because he found writing code on the Windows platform frustrating.

“I had heard of the open-source movement a few years before that and found that it had really matured in the mid 90s, so I switched,” Mussadique recalled.

Today, Mussadique has Linux on everything — his computers, mobile phone and PDA.

His younger brother Jordan, shares his passion for open-source as it makes financial sense to use it in their filmmaking and animation endeavours.

Jordan, however, is not a software-coding geek like his brother. He is a self-taught computer graphics and animation artist.

“A copy of Maya (a 3D animation software) costs RM15,000 while open-source software costs nothing. Linux is also light years ahead of proprietary systems in terms of flexibility of use. It is the most powerful operating system based on our experience and we have been using it throughout our careers,” he said.

Tools for free

So when it came to their latest project — a short film for 15Malaysia, there was no question that the duo would still use open-source platforms that they have grown accustomed to.

The tools they used to create the animations include Blender (a 3D software package), Adobe After Effects (compositing) and Syntheyes — both for mixing virtual images with real footage. Blender and Syntheyes are Linux-based apps.

15Malaysia is a project by wireless broadband provider P1 and features a collection of 15 short films made by local independent filmmakers, including the late Yasmin Ahmad. The films feature local celebrities, actors, musicians and politicians.

“We wanted our submission to 15Malaysia be as surreal as possible as it dealt with the thoughts of a rojak seller and the multi-cultural background of Malaysia,” he said.

The Suleiman Brothers could not quantify the total time taken to make Rojak! as their studio was involved in a range of other commercial projects at the time.

The post-production and computer graphics work on Rojak! was done by five people. Two people did the 3D work — one of which was Mussadique — while Jordan was one of the two compositors, who mixed live footage with virtual images. The post-production process also involved a digital artist.

In the beginning

The Suleiman Brothers have enjoyed a creative partnership long before Rojak!. It began in their pre-teen years, explained Jordan.

They liked both the computer and art worlds and had undergone Basic computer programming training at the ages of six and eight.They also had a penchant for drawing and played musical instruments.

“When we were about 11, we tried to combine aspects of computer technology with aspects of art and creative design by designing ‘beat-em-up’ videogames like Streetfighter.

“We dabbled in everything from programming game logic to creating 16 x 32-pixel, frame-by-frame animation on old Atari 520ST CPUs,” Mussadique said.

However, later on, the partnership was put on hold temporarily as Mussadique branched out to focus on computing. He enrolled in a degree in artificial intelligence while Jordan went on to study business and information technology.

However, the brothers never stopped focusing on animation during their college years.

“I trained myself in all aspects of animation from hand-drawn cell work all the way to 3D character animation,” he said.

The brothers also found inspiration from Princess Mononoke, a popular anime movie from 1997.

After college, the brothers decided that animation was what they wanted to do. So in 1999, they formed a production company called Studio Voxel with their sister. Yasmin.

The company, which is based in Ampang, has been responsible for a wide range of artistic, commercial and corporate work — the most notable being the Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) award-winning music videos for artiste Pete Teo entitled Arms Of Marianne and Lost In America.

And yes, both videos mixed different types of animation with live footage. Just like Rojak!

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