“Sintel” by Colin Levy

Sintel is an independently produced short film, initiated by the Amsterdam-based Blender Foundation, directed by Savannah College of Art and Design Student, Colin Levy. It is the third film produced by the foundation–the first two were Elephants Dream (2006) and Big Buck Bunny (2008).

With initial funding provided by thousands of donations via the internet, this fifteen minute film was produced in the studio of the Amsterdam Blender Institute, by an international team of artists and developers. Blender funds these films primarily to advance their software and improve their technology. For a small team with limited funds, I think this short is quite an accomplishment. For more behind-the-scenes information, check the Sintel production blog. But first, here’s the finished film:

(Thanks, Alex Curtis)


  • Karen

    AMAZING. Great film making, character animation, and composition. Reminds me of the great Nils Gaup film “Pathfinder.”

  • gillaxian

    I agree with you. Though the main character animation could have had more polish, everything else was really quite wonderful! Very clever editing, and great emotion!
    I forgot I was watching an animation for a most of it… great work!!

  • http://2dwannabe.blogspot.com robcat2075

    I found the flow a bit tedious, but lots of nice looking shots. Much of the action animation is not quite there yet.

    That’s not a “small team”, that’s a *LARGE* team especially for a short. The number of people doing actual production tasks is over a hundred.

    • http://2dwannabe.blogspot.com robcat2075

      After second look at the credits I realize I counted the numerous software developers as “production” which isn’t quite right.

      But noticed some others I missed previously.

      Revised count: about 90. Still a large force to apply to a short. Lucky them!

      • http://blendman.blogspot.com/ blendman

        Hi

        THe team was not big, but a small team, as we can see at this page :
        http://www.sintel.org/about/

        The team was composed of 12 or 15 members (2D & 3d artist, animator, script).
        The developpers were between 3 (in the “official” team) and 10.

        In the credits, the other people (90) are the people who have buy the dvd ;).

    • Nillin

      Gotta disagree with you about the pacing. I was really drawn in.

    • pappy d

      That’s not a big team when the crew is doing it mostly for a screen credit & working part-time. One production advantage to CG over drawn animation is that you don’t need character leads.

  • DonaldC

    I wish Blender was more popular. That way it would get more support from other programs.
    I mean it’s free for goodness sakes.

  • pheslaki

    Bog-standard story, and the baby dragon reminds me a bit too much of Baby on that old Jim Henson “Dinosaurs” show, but there’s a lot of very nice animation and production design.

  • http://ozcot.com/new Ken Cope

    A story-telling note: My nine year old son, who lives for dragons, was reduced to a puddle of angry tears, and demanded that I never make him watch anything that sad ever again. I suppose it’s one way to elicit an emotional response.

    • namekuseijin

      You should have shown him some hentai instead. Really, it’s a cartoon like any cartoon, so grab your popcorns and have some fun, kiddos!

      Plus, he will be a man — a tentacles-pervert man but a man — not a blood-fearing sissy when grown up…

      • http://ozcot.com/new Ken Cope

        I believe we’ve located the target demographic for this film.

      • namekuseijin

        whatever it is, it’s certainly not for kids. Take that as advice next time you choose them a “cartoon”.

      • http://ozcot.com/new Ken Cope

        If I wanted any advice from you on what constitutes suitable material for guiding my son into growing up to becoming a Ripping Friend who squirts suitable amounts of testosterone out of every pore each time he clenches the Kirk Douglas cleft in his manly chin, I’d ask for the address of your parents’ basement.

  • http://www.colinlevy.com Colin Levy

    Wow, it’s awesome to see this featured! I directed the film so I’m very curious to see what the animation community thinks. Throw your criticism at me!

    @robcat2075 – Regarding the size of the team, I just wanted to clarify a bit. Easily 90% of the film was done by a core group of 14 people.

    The credits suggest a bigger number- and this reflects a few external artists and two external teams (each working on two shots, respectively) as well as the two online modeling and animation “sprint” events we held with the Blender community to build a collection of assets.

    This external help was enormously helpful, but still the vast majority of what you see onscreen was created in-house by the team in Amsterdam.

    –Colin

    • Spencer

      Hey Colin,

      This is really an amazing piece and I love seeing how you’ve grown in the past 3 years. I remember your piece from the NFAA and funny enough since then have gotten into animation!

      I still think this is post-worthy. It was a great funny little film that I still enjoy gandering at every now and then!

      http://www.colinlevy.com/film/pages/SuburbanPlight.php

    • http://2dwannabe.blogspot.com robcat2075

      I’m sure the core people were absolutely key but the 14-did-90% figure suggests that less than 2 more core people would have eliminated the need for another 74.

      That sounds pretty far out.

      If a production like this could reliably done with just 16 people there would be many more of them out there.

      “Small” details like minor props or textures or whatever are enormous time eaters in CG even if they don’t get much screen time and having dozens of secondary artists on hand to do them is a luxury most short film projects don’t have.

      Minimize their contribution and they might not be there the next time you need them.

      There’s no shame in having a large crew unless they do bad work and it looks like a lot of good work got done!

      • Tim Schuit

        Rob, if you’re keen I suggest you take a look at the Durian site and browse through the old blog posts. It’s not that it took 74 people to complete the last 10% of the spot in some kind of logically necessary way, but instead there were instances where the Durian team requested assets from the community and many people chipped in.

        That was the draw to the project for many people. There were times when they asked for models/animations from the community and many people wanted to get their part in the film so they contributed. The credits reflect how many people joined in….not that it took 5 times as many people to do 10% of the work.

      • http://www.colinlevy.com Colin Levy

        Rob, thanks for your comment. I suppose it’s very hard to quantify, but the last thing I’d want to do is belittle the contributions of our external artists.

        Like Tim suggests, however, I feel that without external help we would have simply ended up with a movie that doesn’t look as good. Less detail in the set dressing throughout, fewer ‘extras’ in the market scene, for example.

        The volunteering artists did fantastic work for us, and we probably would’ve had to rethink some shots had we been without their help. Ultimately, their combined work made the film that much better, and I’m totally grateful for their contributions to the final film!

      • Bill

        If CGI takes so long why not just draw it?

  • Paul N

    This short is the cover story in the November issue of “3D World” magazine.

  • http://exitplanetwhom.blogspot.com doctorwhom

    Great pacing and storytelling, and attention to detail. I’d like something a little less gamey design-wise, particularly with the humans, but that’s just a personal aesthetic preference and didn’t hinder my involvement in the story at all. Impressed overall, and appreciate the immensity of work involved for a small team, regardless of how many extra assets were outsourced.

  • http://winged-elf-girl.deviantart.com Lauren Rasmussen

    Colin, so this is what you’ve been doing for the past two years!

    Being another SCAD student, I’ve been really miffed and sad about the lack of representation of such a good film/animation school on Cartoon Brew – Gobelins, yes. Calarts, of course. Ringling, quite a lot. But no SCAD. Thus, I am so, SO happy to finally see somebody from my school being talked about. And Mr. Beck, you couldn’t have picked a better person to start with. :)

    COLIN, YOU ARE THE BEE’S KNEES! You’ll always be my CAS President!!! :D

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    This is just a hell of a thing. Nice gut punch. It could be the launch of a franchise.

    It’s surprisingly good. The animation strikes me as stylized, not faulty. The look is halfway between a game engine render and SHREK background characters. It makes me wonder if Blender can do cloth and other dynamics “out of the box”. Scripting is such a pain. I suppose I should just download Blender and mess around with it…

  • http://www.colinlevy.com Colin Levy

    Gosh, thanks so much Lauren!

    I’ve been stunned by the attention the film is getting. I feel like I’m personally getting too much credit – it really was a team effort from beginning to end. I feel especially Ton Roosendaal, the producer of the film and lead developer of Blender, owns this film creatively as much as I do.

    Really appreciate all the comments guys!

    • http://winged-elf-girl.deviantart.com Lauren Rasmussen

      But you ARE an awesome director, Colin. You didn’t get so far in the Coca Cola contest a couple years ago for nothing. :)

      If you think the “balance of power” or whatever is getting misinterpreted (like above, all the comments about the amount of people doing what amount of work on the film) maybe you could write an over-arching recap on the Sintel blog about who did what when, maybe explaining about the Blender community vs. the core group and such? Because my eyes sure popped when I saw that huuuuuuuge credit crawl; probably because I haven’t been following the film blog to see exactly what’s going on.

      Oh, and I don’t care how busy I am, I’m going to catch “En Route” at the Sav. Film Fest if I have to uproot a Monty Citiq and bring it to the Trustees. :D

    • C. Stulz

      Colin,

      Being a former CAS President myself, I want to congratulate you on your well deserved success. “Sintel” was very well done from every point of view (Story, Direction, Animation, Cinematography, Detail, and most import Heart!). You can really feel for these characters which is one of the hardest things to do in any medium, make people care, which is exactly what you’ve done.

      I went to your site and saw your vlog trip to Savannah, didn’t recognize you though. I was there ’98-2002. What year did you graduate?

      • http://www.colinlevy.com Colin Levy

        Hey, cool! I actually got this opportunity near the end of my junior year, so I took a year off of school to go make the film. So now I find myself back in school trying to finish up my senior year!

        Thanks so much for your kind words about the film. :D

  • Cole

    Great piece. You’re asking for specific comments, thought I’d drill down a little.

    From character design, character animation, and story, the piece really works.

    Character design: the traditional dragon look carries smoothly from the infant to the adult. The eyes could have been a little less human in style, but overall it works. The translucence of the flesh-tone within the female lead is very impressive – there is real depth that would pop on a theater screen. It is a nice combination of the texture and lighting artists. Would like to hear more about this if possible.

    Character animation: facial animation and general physical animation worked very well.
    Question: was any aspect of the animation motion capture or tweaked loops?
    All facial animations appeared to be very clean and hit every note.
    The infant dragon walk and run, with the wings seeming to drag the ground, really worked and made the dragon character(s) extremely vulnerable – points to whoever designed that look.

    Story: very much an Old Yeller story… or possibly more similar to Turner & Hooch and as Tom Hanks said on David Letterman – “never kill the dog”. Not my favorite but the story was done very well and carried the viewer quickly to the sorrowful ending.

  • http://belfrydotinfo.blogspot.com Martin Bell

    I don’t think this would normally be my “bag”, but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t normally tend to get through 10+ minute shorts without getting bored or distracted but this was totally engaging.

    I’ve had a look at Blender before but couldn’t get into it. Maybe I should give it another go. Do the Foundation have plans to make more films?

  • NY animator

    Let me get this straight:

    A super-hot anime girl in tomb raider clothing is forced to live her live in isolation, picking through trash, and finds her only true friend: a baby dragon. Uh….I’m not buying it.

    The shaman is good addition to the story, but the man jumping out of nowhere to kill the heroine is unexplained. Why? The whole film is cushioned with pointlessly epic shots. A few add to the story, but some of these panning landscapes are overkill.

    I’m an adult (thirties), so perhaps I’m not the chosen audience for this film. I think “Sintel” is visually sophisticated, but the story plays out like a 12 year old boy’s fantasy. I hope your next project challenges the medium intellectually, as well it does visually.

    • namekuseijin

      “The whole film is cushioned with pointlessly epic shots.”

      Here’s my *VERY SPOILED* take: the movie ridicules the whole “lone hero on an epic journey” genre.

      As such, the epic setting, game-like character designs and overall youth inconsequential actions are all spot-on. They are there just to be smashed to pieces by a script that questions the very nature of heroism: Sintel is no heroine, just a homeless, lone bum who obsesses over a lost pet and goes on a hard and long egoistical quest to kill the mother dragon to have it back, twistedly reasoning that Scales was captured and she should really be freeing it from evil.

      Like any person obsessed over old lost loves, Sintel doesn’t realize life getting past her and doesn’t even recognize the aged original recipient of such obsession. Time has frozen and all she cares for is memories, cinders from the past.

      The movie still suggests for redeeming for Sintel as Scale’s offspring follows her…

      • http://www.colinlevy.com Colin Levy

        I love these two very different readings of the film. :)

        I’m gonna say that on a scale between cliché and measured ironic film criticism, our film certainly tips more toward the cliché.

        It’s true, this story would not have interested me in the least were it not for the statement at the end of the film. And yes, for me it forgives a lot of our ‘transgressions’ in the execution of the rest of the story.

        But at the end of the day, the ‘epic’ shots, the unexplained fight scenes, the ‘hot’ factor of the character design… these things were the subject of contentious debate, and the decisions that were finally made were made without any intention of dramatic irony. But I’d love to claim that. :)

        –Colin

  • james madison

    GREAT WORK!!

  • http://www.ovinedelcu.com ovi

    nice job. i liked it.

    i agree with some of the critics here on some points.

    my crit would be that i would have liked to see scales give more meaning to the girls obsession to find him/her.

    maybe if scales somehow saved her life at the start of the film would have given the girl a more believable motive to seek out and find scales, and save its life in return.

    but i still enjoyed the film.

    >oVi

  • pappy d

    Good job! I especially like the design. Very clean & simple. (What doesn’t add will tend to detract.)

    I feel a bit ambivalent about the story. The plucky heroine kills her pet & the mother of her new pet, but it’s a happy ending because Sintel gets what she wanted in the end.

  • Bill

    The beginning landscape looked great, but thewhole short itself has too many quick cuts, looks blobby in some areas (like almost all modern CGI) and the fight didn’t seem to have much of a point to the whole effect of the short.

  • http://cafegraphique.blogspot.com Miss-Shell

    That was pretty impressive. Kinda wish it wasn’t a short that way we would get a chance to get to know the main protagonist and her little companion.