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    Epic fighting animation test (with blends)!

    on October 27th, 2009, by Lee

    Hi blender community and beyond!

    So this is my first blog post for the project and finally I have something to show! In the previous post you have seen the original first minute which took up a lot of my time in the second production week.

    Last week before Blender Conference I was experimenting with action animation, basically to get into the groove of what will be needed. Luckily I got enough done to show it at the conference, and now here!

    Sintel fighting animation test from Project Durian on Vimeo.

    I gave myself this task just to test out the pipeline I’ll have for final shots. You can Download The Progress Files to see iterative stages of the animation (if you don’t have a 2.5 build, head to to grab one), the step number of the blend file (and video below for those without 2.5) corresponds to the numbers below, which are a run down of the process:

    Progress: Sintel fighting animation test from Project Durian on Vimeo.

    • 1) First I plan. Since there was no actual shot storyboarded for this I was able to be quite creative in what I was to animate. I knew I wanted a staff weapon for the main character, and a poor henchman being taken out in a creative and almost hilariously brutal fashion. I know that the final film will have a more dramatic atmosphere, and also the animation style I’m going to use here may be way too much for the final film, but its much easier to tone things down than up. As fun ideas come to mind I write them down in a text file very fast with basically no grammar, just for my reference (sorry can’t find that file).
    • 2) Next I’ve loaded up two dummy characters to be main and henchman, and have begun with some of the initial poses. You’ll notice that the main dummy has no legs!? This is an interesting method I picked up from Shawn Kelly, Lead Animator at ILM who has a great e-book and blog. Here is a post on the subject. In my case I just took the leg bones, made them FK and scaled them right down, if you zoom in enough to see tiny legs =)
    • 3) I continue adding basic poses, I’ve got them all down now except for the final slam. I have left the character sliding during running parts, my plan is to use a separate run cycle and blend it in with the NLA editor.
    • 4) I’m happy with the body basically now, so I add the legs in.
    • 5) Working in video game animation for so long before this project I had to really force myself to start animating to camera a bit more, I experiment and begin adding runcycles into the NLA. I find out that the NLA in Blender 2.5 is still quite in need of testing. After many frustrated hours of NLA blending not working well and losing data when saving, I decide to use multiple cameras and hide as much running as possible ;). Animation is all smoke and mirrors! For finals we will have each shot its own file most likely which allows much more control of editing, but since I started this test all in the same file I just went with it.
    • 6) The final file (press alt+p in the text editor to activate a camera switching script as demonstrated in the video). Just went through and added polish so it looks nice from each particular camera angle. The right leg of the henchman has some bug where I can’t add keys or edit the curves, luckily the camera hides it! Check out the right foot as he is hit with the stick at the end ;). You’ll notice in the file that the weapon has a few versions, this is a work around until we have our better rigs but works nicely for quick tests. I have one staff parented to her hand control, and over one frame I size it to zero (still haven’t gotten the hang of layer switching yet in 2.5), and size another from zero to one, which is not parented to anything, and easily I can animate this new staff as if she just let go of it. I switch back and forth as needed using the same technique.

    Cool 2.5 stuff: Now we can use quaternion or euler rotation types for any bones, and what makes it so cool? You can animate *between* them! So to get the nice flipping at the end, I’ve actually gone from quaternion (no gimbal lock which causes weird rotations sometimes), to euler (rotate 360+ degrees, easier to visualize curves in graph editor) using an animated curve.

    There were a lot of problems and unforseen challenges during this test, and most of these will be fixed by the time we animate final shots, but there will constantly be challenges that will appear. This exercise shows that there is always a way to keep moving and end up with a result, just takes a little bit of compromise and illusion =)

    More blog posts on each of the team members conference demonstrations to come!


    65 Responses to “Epic fighting animation test (with blends)!”

    1. invertedNormal (brian) Says:

      those are INCREDIBLE, Lee! there’s great skill showing through in these. i can only imagine what they would look like with all the graphics in place… exciting!

      thanks for sharing πŸ˜‰

    2. Stephen Says:

      that is fantastic, love the speed, the flip, everything, great work.

    3. Virgilio Says:

      Great timing, dude! πŸ˜€

      Thanks for sharing!

    4. Stephen Says:

      Have you thought about making the moves non fatalistic, kicking a staff into the head, and knocking him unconscious on the downward swing, its always harder and more impressive to disable someone than kill him.

    5. Gianmichele Says:

      Great shot!
      I’m in the same boat as you. Working in video games I’ve lost the eye for animating to camera. Can’t wait to see the characters all animated and especially the dragon πŸ˜€


      PS: Don’t know how much of those tricks are visible in a 4k render though. You should check it out!

    6. Allan Brito Says:

      Is it only a test? Well, it’s already great! Can’t wait to see the final result.

    7. Tharyan Says:

      Amazing work Lee! The Blender team has a lot of talent! It’s also a tremendous idea to blog about Durian on a regular base. Please continue doing so in the future.

      Keep up the great work!

    8. Stephen Says:

      edit: it will also be funny to see the bad guy stagger backwards with a round circle in the middle of his forehead where the staff hits

    9. massile Says:

      You are AMAZING !!!! I always wanted this result wow! I’m very impatient πŸ˜€

    10. Takeshi Says:

      Damn, loved it, waiting to see this implemented in the film =)

      Keep up the good work ^^

    11. Steven Says:

      this move of the camera is good.

    12. MeshWeaver Says:

      reminds me of Super Smash Bros Brawl for some reason… maybe the weapon tossing/twirling πŸ˜€

      anyway, it’s well done, nice work!

    13. MeshWeaver Says:

      oh, just noticed the second video… lol

      it’s cool to see the different steps, thanks for that! πŸ˜€

    14. Cris Polecat Says:

      Wooo fantastic! I downloaded the files but I can’t see the dummyrig, I see only the weapon animated, only that in all the layers, maybe I use a wrong build?
      Congrats guys!

    15. Limvot Says:

      Hmm, Mabye I got a bad download, but there are no biped rigs included in my back, just some empties. Seems that some links are broken.

      Looks great though, I’m expecting some big things! It’ll be super!

    16. Limvot Says:

      Sorry for double post, just wanted to make sure, I do have a blender 2.5 build. (recent)

    17. Sly Says:

      Great ! Thanks for sharing, although I cannot see the bodies either. Seems that file bipede_rig_big.blend is missing. Could you update the download ? Can’t wait to see Sintel in action !

    18. Lee Says:

      Hey guys, thanks all for the kind words!! I’ll fix up those files tomorrow morning, Sly and others are in fact right, the linked biped rigs need to be put in that zip, hold tight and I’ll have the problem fixed soon! I’ll let you know when they are ready to re-download.

      Thanks again all =)


    19. nikola Says:

      I hope there will be no halos and sparkles like in the japanese action cartoons and final fantasy, but instead You will stick to realistic conveying of attacks – no trailing halo after the fast moving weapon.



    20. Jos Says:

      The problem is that the files that are available right now do not include the rig and some other stuff, so that’s why we can’t see the character. Let’s hope they notice this and put all the files available for download. I want to see Blender 2.5 animation system in action!

    21. Jared Spurbeck Says:

      Oh, come on. >.< Bladed polearms have their advantages, but if you outclass someone by that much you don’t need to stab him to take him out of the fight.

      I hope the full movie isn’t going to be so “brutal”.

    22. Lee Says:

      Hi guys thanks for comments =)

      nikola: there’s a 101% chance they will not be in the film.

      Jos: yep i noticed! unfortunately its quite late at night so I can’t do anything until tomorrow morning. The video shows a preview of the files so hopefully they can be a backup until I fix the blend file package. The 2.5 animation system is very different (and very cool!) so I can’t wait for everyone to check it out.

      Jared: I get a little carried away when I’m just testing animation. If Sintel has this weapon in the movie (still not concrete), I will be working with a fight choreographer and we plan to make sure that we stay within the land of ‘believability’. Check out the previous blog post where we have a video of the original first minute in animatic form. This may put you a little more at ease, she needs that staff to survive =)

    23. maqndon Says:

      Simplemente espectacular, felicitaciones por su trabajo. Saludos…

    24. J.B. Nicholson-Owens Says:

      I hope the full movie will adhere as closely to your artistic sensibilities as your budget will allow. Best wishes.

    25. D Says:

      Again, great-looking moves you made, Lee!

      Although the last few steps leading up to the throw might look somewhat feeble? You could try exaggerating the poses and fully extend those legs when it comes to animating them. Give it a try it when it comes to animating the legs.

    26. CasV Says:

      I think it’s not a “hilarious brutal” scene, it gives you a kind of nice roller-coaster-excitement type of laugh. The excitement after something espectacular catches you by surprise.

      Thanks for the detailed explanation of your workflow.

      And that quaternions to euler transition sounds really sweet!

    27. ZanQdo Says:

      Lee thats very good!

    28. MacSlow Says:

      Very nice animation, Lee. If you want/need further reference footage of top-of-the-line stick- or sword-fighting (or just to get more inspiration) check out

      Best regards …


    29. kernond Says:

      Excellent test, Lee! And, please don’t water the action down to make it a “nice” little animation that doesn’t “offend” anyone. Let the story and action unfold as it should. Some will love it, some will like, and some won’t. Good luck, and thanks for the updates.

    30. Hubberthus Says:

      Hi! Great animation! If it’s just a test, I can’t imagine the quality of the final movie.. O_O

      Did you think of including magic in fights? For example a magician throwing flaming balls, transforming into a huge high-detailed monster, or summoning some creatures made out of simulated material (fire/smoke/fluid). Animating things like these could be interesting πŸ™‚

    31. rogper Says:

      It’s awesome! The technique of animating without the legs at a early stage it’s pretty interesting, I’ll have to give it a try, thanks for let us know about it πŸ˜‰

      Like your relative Bruce used to say fighting is all about “emotional content” πŸ˜›

    32. clintgun Says:

      Excellent work Lee! πŸ™‚

    33. R2D2 Says:

      Just AMAZING !!!

    34. Craigsnedeker Says:

      EPIC man, epic πŸ˜€

    35. Saverio Says:

      the clip is absolutely awesome!!!
      thanks for the blend file…

    36. Robbie Losee Says:

      I really enjoyed this post for two reasons: (1) I read Shawn Kelly’s animation ebooks back when they were posted on Blender Nation, and yes, they were awesome. As I recall, he said he animated Yoda using that hide-the-legs technique. (2) I thought I was the only one who played the trick of having one object disappear and another take it’s place. (Though “Scale=0” never occurred to me – I have been using Z Alpha or instantly moving the object to an unseen area of the 3d space, both of which have serious limitations.)

    37. Bramkaandorp Says:

      Are those the definitive screen dimentions?

      If so: It looks like I’m watching it through a letterbox. Not really appealing.

      I do agree that nonlethal actions might be better, since it would show that the hero has the skil to knock someone out, without killing. That she shows mercy.

      Keep up the good work.

    38. D Says:

      The aspect ratio is going to be pretty close to the above vimeo animatic for the movie, at 2.35:1. I believe such a wide frame is actually very appealing for a cinematic experience, though understandable may not look as flattering as a tiny video on your browser.

    39. Bramkaandorp Says:


      It is not even appealing on a 15″ full screen. I have the reflex to look “over the edges” to see what happens above and below the frame.

      I have to note that I am one of those guys who has not fallen for cinematic fads such as widescreen.

    40. Jean-SΓ©bastien Guillemette Says:

      @Bramkaandorp: Welcome to the 21st century, and the 4k world πŸ˜‰

      Very nice anim Lee!

    41. Bramkaandorp Says:

      I guess it’s just the way people work. Also named the bandwagon effect.

      As long as the dimensions will be 16:9 and not narrower (yes, I refer to it as narrower in stead of “wider”) I ain’t complaining anymore.

      (fyi: Widescreen was introduced to draw people back to cinema when TV became more important=marketing, not science)


    42. ChicO Says:

      From this angle I just can’t get why the spear (alabard?) moves (rotates) backwards at the falling moment… πŸ˜•

    43. Colin Says:

      I feel that you can more easily create aesthetically pleasing compositions in 2.35:1, and I’ve spoken to and worked with several DP’s who feel this way as well.

      But it’s true that the “epic” and “cinematic” feel that one associates with widescreen is indeed just an association. There may not be a real reason to go with widescreen, just as there is not a real reason to stick with 24 frames per second. 60 fps is technically better than 24, right?

      But… not if you’re considering the aesthetics of it, and what the general audience responds to.


    44. Bramkaandorp Says:


      I agree with you completely. Association is everything in our world.

      Guess it’s just that I have a bad experience with widescreen Western-films.

      However, 16:9 is wide enough, isn’t it? My screen will not become getting bigger just because the films are in another aspect ratio, so why make the movie in a “stripe”?

      Me is anxiously awaiting more material. πŸ™‚

    45. Lee Says:

      Hi everyone! I can’t say thankyou enough for all the support and helpful comments/critiques, I really did miss sharing with the community.

      I agree with some of the comments about animation with final renders, I can’t wait to see what the others in the team create in terms of rendering quality, the stuff I’ve already seen (and you’ll see soon in upcoming blog posts) is amazing.

      CasV: yes I think i used the wrong words there, maybe slightly amusing because of its ‘over-the-top’ness is more appropriate, I completely agree with you. Rotation swithcing has been fantastic, and works really well, you just have curves in the graph editor for quats and eulers and a curve similar to the 2.49 layer ipo allows you to switch back and forth =) has recent builds of 2.5, theres lots of fun stuff to mess around with.

      MacSlow: thanks for the reference!!

      kernond: even though I may need to change the animation style a little to match the design of the film, we all agree and will make sure it is still even 100 times more awesome than this clip =D We know we cannot make everyone happy but will aim to make something we really feel happy with and enjoy and hopefully the audience share the same feeling.

      Hubberthus: Possibly =) I will match my animation to whatever the needs of the film are, so if there is magic in the film, it’ll be there for a reason and there will be a lot of it ;). I agree they will be very interesting to animate too! a lot is effects and simulation as well though. We have been doing hair and cloth tests this week and I also find this interesting work. At least we’ll have those!

      Thanks again!

    46. Kirado Says:

      obligatory ogg and youtube version of vid request πŸ˜‰

    47. D Says:

      The site design upgrade looks great. I think, just make the title graphic larger and resize void.png to the new dimensions. πŸ˜€

    48. jhultgre Says:

      Lee can you give a time estimate on how long it took you to do each phase? I’m curious

    49. be200fx Says:

      ChicO: The staff bounces off the guys head and starts spinning in the reverse direction.

    50. kemaru Says:

      This is awesome !!!
      Great congratulations !

      Viva blender foundation and durian’s team !

    51. Lopsy Says:

      Just do the modeling in Lightwave and the animation in Maya.

    52. Chad Says:

      Lee, there is an anime series that is focused around a female spear-wielder called Seirei no Moribito (Guardian of the Spirit). I’ve only seen a little bit of it but it looks well done and could perhaps be used for some fight choreography ideas.

    53. Bailey Says:

      Nice. Great rhythm and cool idea. Love the stuff I’ve seen so far on this promising project!

    54. Foinix Says:

      If this is a test shot i can’t imagine how epic the actual fight shots will be!!

    55. Sebastian Erler Says:

      Hey, nice new Website header by the way. Looks fantastic. What about releasing the concept image of Sintel as Desktop Wallpaper? πŸ˜‰

    56. Ovidiu Says:

      Hi Lee, first of all I’ll like yo thank you for your refreshing news, this is I think the first consistent glipse we have on the movie outcome.

      I like very much the fact that we have a spear, and not the classic swords πŸ˜‰ and it kind of reminding me of ‘Seirei no Moribito’ series, which I’ve enjoyed a lot… in case you miss it, here are some fight scenes:

      In the clip below notice the twrowing thing at minute 3:28 πŸ˜‰

      Keep up the good work guys!

    57. Sebastian Erler Says:

      Ok, forgot my last post. 3mins later David made a new blogpost.

    58. Cyrr Says:

      I’m sure you have seen it already, but just to mention it – the movie Forbidden Kingdom uses the staff weapon a lot, which should give a lot of reference material.

    59. Lee Says:

      Hi again! Many thanks for all the comments and enjoy the wallpapers in the latest post!

      jhultgre: there was a lot of redoing work and playing around since it was my first time animating in 2.5, in the end it was about 20 hours of animating I estimate, over a few days and other tasks. I assume I can get that speed faster and also have better quality animation as I get more practice and a pipeline setup so i can flow easily from blocking to polish =)

      Lopsy: I’ll definitely consider it! *headdesk*

      Chad: you are made of absolute awesome, I had no idea of this anime, I’m finding an anime store here in Amsterdam and getting the series for us all to watch in the evenings. Thanks very much!

      Ovidiu: you are also made of absolute awesome! we enjoyed the clips and as i mentioned above we’re going to try and get our hands on the series =)

      Thanks all. I hope I have given a little confidence in the community that we will be able to handle some of the tougher shots that are required in this movie. That was my hope, that you guys arn’t too worried πŸ˜‰

      I will be posting more quite soon, we will have some acting tests soon, as we want a character that rivals a hollywood star (who has a lot of acting skill haha) in drawing an audience in and feeling empathy. Ofcourse much more fighting too =)


    60. Chad Says:

      Glad I could help Lee. Keep up the good work, I cant wait to see the final product.

    61. Connor Says:

      Hey do you think you could create a Project Durian YouTube channel for those of us who don’t have Flash 10 capable machines?

    62. Ovidiu Says:

      I glad I could be of some use Lee, although I was the second πŸ˜‰ Credits must go to Chad for being the first to recommend the series, ehehe

      And I’ve noticed something else: the main character is left-handed! I like this since I’m too! Do you plan to keep her like that?

    63. Biggles Says:

      That is one hell of a legitimate take-down. Looking excellent.

    64. Stephen Says:

      I saw this and thought it would be a nice reference for you:

      Oli Lemieux training trampoline wall Dralion Cirque du Soleil;

    65. young_voter Says:


      It seems these action blend files do not work with the Blender 2.5 Alpha. Is that correct? If so, can someone fix them to work with the latest Blender 2.5.