Life is short. You find yourself having to absorb the work techniques of a lot of different software. And some of those divisions — between vector and pixels, 3D and 2D, motion and stills — look increasingly old-fashioned. Since the early 90s, we’ve seen a succession of software try to bridge those gaps. But for the first time, there’s an open-source entrant that promises to bring just about everything involving 3D and motion, minus audio, into a single tool. That means the ability to run on any OS, and a greater sense of a community that can hack the app itself.

The surprise: the app is a 3D tool, Blender.

Blender is already well-known for its 3D capabilities. Those features extend to motion graphics. That means rather than moving from tool to tool, you can do your modeling and motion in one tool in 3D, and even use the real-time game engine baked into the tool.

It’s video editing that’s the surprise. Blender also has a “Sequence” tool that lets you edit video. Now, reality check: that’s unlikely to be a Final Cut killer any time soon. But you can imagine the appeal would be greatest for three audiences:

1. Folks running Linux, who otherwise have some — sorry — pretty lousy choice in video editors. (Linux itself isn’t shabby in its video plumbing; the problem is that video editing apps are absurdly hard to build. Commercial tools have even had their share of stability challenges, at least relative to their cost.)

2. People wanting to do their video editing without leaving their 3D tool.

3. People wanting unique features not available in tools like Final Cut or Premiere — think nodal compositing, infinite bit depths, and the like.

#1 isn’t a terribly good argument. Blender runs on Mac and Windows, and many of its users are on those platforms. And if you need to do your editing, you use the OS that makes you productive.

But #2/#3 is where it gets interesting. Try to look at Blender as a Final Cut replacement and your head will probably short-circuit. But if you’ve been looking for a tool that’s something different, it starts to look far more appealing. As Luis de Bethancourt of the Ubuntu Studio project notes:

blender is tremendously powerful. a few reasons why:
1. operate on series of stills of infinite per-channel bit depth.
2. quickly generate proxies. for example, edit full hd footage on a netbook once your proxies are rendered.
3. openexr and other industry standard image formats. deep bitdepth and lossless.
4. nodal compositor built in. workflow similar to high end production flows.

The Phrygian Cap: will it blend?

This isn’t just an attempt to squeeze these features into a different tool. Everything in Blender is built around a single set of core functionality, and a single render pipeline. That may mean sacrificing some of the usability niceness to which you’re accustomed in other tools, but in exchange, you get a tool that won’t blink at lots of footage and integrating compositing. (And editing on a netbook?)

In fact, it made a lot of sense that the all open-source-toolchain movie Big Buck Bunny did its editing in Blender.

I’ve done some short experiments; I’m going to try more. It’s definitely a bit puzzling at first – this is a video editor inside an open source 3D app, after all. But there is some promise there, and I think the 3D and compositing integration could make this a whole lot more interesting to visualists, in particular.

For more resources:

It’s hyper-compressed, but the Blender 3D Wikibook is a good place to start:
Blender 3D: Noob to Pro/Sequencer Getting Started

I’m not going to recommend the screencast series, just because I think it doesn’t cover everything you may want to cover, and because I think sometimes screencasts take too long to watch. It’s a volunteer effort, so I’m not criticizing it — I just expect you may want a little more. Stay tuned.

Blender Features

Video editing has been stuck in a particular groove for so long, it’s refreshing to see an alternative approach. And since you may want to do more than just slice footage, it could be worth an investment of time. Video editing is still at its best on Linux, which has the best support for ffmpeg (and the best version of ffmpeg, arguably). But this could be an option on other platforms alongside existing tools.

Anyone out there using Blender for video or compositing? I’d love to hear how you’re working with it.