Interview with Christopher Burton of “The Light at The End”

Christopher Burton’s film “The Light at The End”, which utilized Blender and Freestyle, won Best Animated Film at the 2011 International Filmmaker Festival. It has also been featured on blogs like Cartoon Brew and BlenderNation. More recently, Chris’s one-man show, Icebox Studios, has teamed up with Wadjet Eye Games to release a new adventure game called “Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass”. Blender NPR community member Ike AhLoe has taken the time to ask Chris a few questions about his methods and his thoughts on NPR style.

Ike: Was your idea for “The Light at The End” intertwined with the freestyle renderer? Were freestyle not an option in Blender, would you have come up with/made the project in a different style. Would you have sought alternative software to make the short. Would you have come up with the idea at all. Multiple questions I know, but I think they all fit into one answer.

CB: I don’t really tend to think about the look of a film until the idea and story are in place, but I started off assuming it would just be traditionally-rendered – mainly for not being too aware of other options. Honestly, I put off thinking about how I was going to deal with the ocean waves splashing on the rocks – this was before ocean sim and dynamic paint. I soon realised just how difficult it was going to be to pull off realistically, and I didn’t want technical flaws in the rendering to distract the audience from my real effort, which was the animation. So, I looked to Freestyle as a way of giving the film a heavily stylised look that took away the need for perfect simulation (even the grass was made using a displacement node and blurring it upwards). I think had Freestyle not been available, I would have tried to go for realistic, and not done that good a job.

Ike: I know after having worked on Clocked In, and now seeing some of the features and changes in freestyle, I am jealous of the people making freestyle art/animations now. Do you have that feeling too? If so, what is(are) your favorite new feature(s) that you would have used if you had the chance at the time.

CB: I definitely could have done with the new edge marking feature, especially to add rings around the eyes. I’m glad “infinite straight lines” are now much less common now – I had to doctor too many frames in Gimp after rendering. Luckily doing the film in flat colours at least made that not too painful. I recently filmed a short animation for my videogame in Freestyle, and it’s noticeably faster now. I’m impressed by the sketchy chaining option, too, I’d like to play with that in the future.

Ike: Besides Freestyle, what one other Blender feature/system do you think would help Blender NPR works the most?

CB: I’m not too wised up on NPR methods other than toon-shading, which I’m not that big a fan of, as it tends too look sterile and not very organic. I tried to stay away from two-colour shading on Light, and just stick to shadeless materials.

Ike: Do you have any projects lined up that plan to use freestyle?

CB: I did experiment with Freestyle on my latest film, but it’s much more moody than my last, and has a lot of strong shadows, so I didn’t feel it was right. I do miss how quickly Freestyle frames are to render though, so I’m sure I’ll come running back with a future one!

Ike: I mentioned the BlenderNPR website to you earlier. What would you like to see in such a site?

CB: Showcases of work and tutorials, I think. It’d to great to see different styles and options available, and then have guides on how to achieve them. An NPR “cookbook” 🙂

Thank you Ike and Chris for the great Q and A session!

You can learn more about Chris and his works on his blog: