Completing Collab2021, Plans for Collab2022

Mar 8th 2022

CG Cookie Presents: "The Spice Vendor's House"

🎧 Headphones recommended 🎧

This short film is the result of a collaborative project between CG Cookie instructors and more than 130 Citizen members! After nearly a year of production, I could not be more proud of the final results and the team that made it all happen.

Our goal with the Collab format is to do a collaborative projects like this annually. They're unique opportunities to create something BIG together with Blender. You could be part of the next one! Keep reading for info about Collab2022.

More about Collab 2021

Raising the Bar

The first collab kicked off the format by accident and by the end, I think everyone involved could imagine bigger projects for the future. Collab2020’s focus was simple and straight-forward: hard surface modeling. So for 2021, a full-fledged environment meant several additional skills like sculpting, texturing, and even animation.

If that didn’t raise the bar enough, we also chose an outdoor environment. Sure we could have aimed for a contained indoor environment - I’m looking at you sci-fi hallways - but no, we decided to create a large outdoor world that makes you feel like hiking all the way to the mountains in the distance. Such a feat takes planning, consistent understanding of style, and tons of 3D assets to build including natural and man-made.

You can watch all stream recordings for insight into the process:

  1.  COLLAB2021 - Week 1 - Modeling
  2.  COLLAB 2021 - Week 1 - Casual Stream - Environment Interpretation Round Table
  3.  COLLAB2021 - Week 2  - Sculpting Accents
  4.  COLLAB2021 - Week 2 - Casual Stream
  5.  COLLAB2021 - Week 3 - Shading & Lighting
  6.  COLLAB2021 - Week 3 - Casual Stream - Cloth Simulation & Creating a Bush 
  7.  COLLAB2021 - Week 4 - Finalization
  8.  COLLAB2021 - Week 4 - Casual Stream - Asset Integration
  9. COLLAB2021 - Week 5 - Closing

Interpreting Concept Art

Thanks to the excellent concept art by Vadim Zaitsev we had a clear stylistic goal to achieve. But unlike the backhoe which was based on explicit real-world blueprints, translating 2D concept art into a cohesive 3D world is a very different task.

So many gaps need to be filled in and governed by a subjective interpretation of the art. In the end I’m extremely impressed with the way the Collab2021 team accomplished this! Through teamwork and meeting in the middle of each other’s interpretations, the house, the environment, and the interior look phenomenal from every angle. Just don’t mention the direction the creek flows. It’s too soon…we’re all still recovering from that debate.

Collabs are a breeding ground for ideas

Without a doubt, one of my favorite facets of this format is the creativity that naturally emerges from the team. The mutual excitement surrounding these projects leads to many grass-root ideas tossed around through the process. Some are just fun and wacky, but others significantly effect the trajectory of the project.

For 2021 we didn't have a clear idea of what the final result of the project would be. For example, would it just be model file to download? A sequence of environment shots? Some sort of mini short film?

Toward the end, it was suggested that we add a narration to our renders to inject story into the visuals. Like imagining the spice vendor was reminiscing about their home while traveling for business. Almost over night, Omar Domenech had written a script and Phil Osterbauer had recorded a demo. It blew everyone away and we could clearly envision the final incarnation of the project!

Another idea from the team was the interior. This was even suggested in the weeks before the collab officially began. Honestly I think the project would have turned out great if we just stuck to the exterior, as defined by the art, but that wasn't enough for this team! 

When the collab period ended, several contributors expressed interest in continuing with the interior. I had to exit the project to complete my HUMAN course and Omar Domenech took the lead, rallying the interior team in my absence. I think the final interior speaks for itself in terms of quality and authenticity to the spirit of Vadim’s art.

What's really neat is seeing the enthusiasm for the project continue after the Collab is officially over. Omar Domenech was inspired to relight the scene for a spooky night time vibe. He dropped our jaws with this one:

Realtime(ish) with Eevee

We aimed for the final environment .blend to be smoothly navigable in realtime with Eevee. Which meant low-poly models, texture baking, channel packed textures, and general optimizations across the board. In the end we fell a bit short on that goal however, given the scope of the project, I'm quite happy that the scene still navigates around 20 fps on my machine (with the interior collection turned off). I still have a lot to learn about optimizing for realtime. Also Eevee is kind of a beast for handling all these assets and textures as well as it does.

Some fun stats about the project:

  • Over 200 asset .blends (many of which contain more than one asset)
  • More than 600 textures
  • Nearly 7 GB of project files
  • 70,000 XP points earned by contributors

You can DOWNLOAD THE COMPLETE PROJECT and get lost in the fantastical world of the Spice Vendor!

A Bigger Team

With dreams of bigger projects comes the need for a bigger team. Registration was left open in 2021 to all interested Citizen members and 133 contributors signed up with about 80 sticking around till the end!

To accommodate such a large group of contributors I recruited Jonathan Lampel to split directing duties along with 9 team leaders. This was a very effective improvement for the format. Every team lead stepped up in a big way, even though we were all figuring out the pipeline out together in real time.

Big shout out to The Spice Barons

I truly couldn’t have done it without them. Here they are, immortalized in a caricature sketch by Matthew Ullrey during our first zoom call 👈

Team Members stepping up in big ways

Another thing that always impresses me is when members go above and beyond for the project. This was true all through 2020 and 2021. I'm not going to be able to remember them all but here's a list of key moments from Collab2021:

  • Before the collab officially started, Ingmar Franz took it upon himself to block out the entire house with laser-precision according to the art. It served as a perfect template that guided all house-related assets.

  • Several members who proved themselves skillful with their assigned assets answered my call to create additional assets that were lacking. Shout out to:
  • Shawn Blanch has served both collabs exceedingly well. He never ceases to go above and beyond. When communication overwhelmed the forums he initiated and managed a discord channel that seriously improved the team's situation. He also single-handedly figured out the mill machinery, from modeling to mechanics to looping animation.

  • Splat21 pitched me on an idea to carry on a blog-like forum thread that highlighted team member contributions, project progress, and tips n' tricks along the way. This added to the high morale of the team; everyone loved it!

  • Phil Osterbauer not only lent his sultry voice to the narration, he also obliged my last-minute idea to animate animals in four shots. Beyond doing a fantastic job he also did it in a short time window.

  • It was a big deal for Omar Domenech to assume leadership of the interior effort while I stepped away from the project. At the very end, I asked him to design a visual credits system that would allow me to render them thoroughly, efficiently and modify easily if needed. He executed this task brilliantly, complete with named markers, organized outliner, animated camera moves for each asset, and even custom lighting when needed. 120 asset renders spread across ~80 members is quite difficult to pull off comprehensively and accurately. Omar did me a HUGE favor here.

I fear that I'm forgetting other notable members stepping up for the project for which I apologize! Generally speaking there was a spirit of willingness on this team; to do whatever needed to be done. This spirit benefited the project in a countless ways. Thank you! 🙏

Lessons Learned

Though this project is a definitive success in my book, not everything went swimmingly. Here's a few major take-aways that I want to continue processing and improving for future collabs:

  • Format "infrastructure" is lacking: Since collabs organically originated by accident and not from internal planning, there's little-to-no actual site infrastructure to support them. Currently we use site features well enough but weren't designed to facilitate large collaborative projects. So I keep manual spreadsheets for grading and asset tracking, the forum for communication which became discord toward the end of the project, and Google Drive for managing and storing project files.

  • Teams can be too big: With a lack of dedicated infrastructure, many automatable tasks required one-by-one manual facilitation from leadership. Communication was fractured and confusing as well. The format needs infrastructure to accomplish complex projects for the future.

  • Pipelines are HARD to streamline: I learned quickly how little I know about realtime project protocols. It's one thing to create a single real time asset (like a character or prop) but it's a very different task to apply such protocols to hundreds of assets. What should texture resolutions be? Should we implement trim sheets? What about channel packing? Questions like this I simply didn't have answers for and the project suffered a bit as a result.

    I was also not strict enough about file naming conventions, project structure organization, .blend file organization and cleaning. All these things clogged the flow of the project. I need to work out much better protocols so it's easier on everyone.

  • 100% Commitment would be...nice: Collab2021 had over 130 registrations! But only about 80 of those people stuck with the project through to the end. Granted I know everyone has their own schedules to facilitate and real life does and should take precedent. Still I'd like to aim for a higher commitment from future collabs.

What’s next? Collab2022!

YES Collab2022 is happening! For the past few weeks we've been brainstorming about it on Discord and I must say, I'm very excited!

If you like BIG ROBOTS 🤖 please watch this "elevator pitch" video. Sorry, I know15 minutes makes this the longest elevator ride in history...1.75X speed is your friend.

August 1 - September 30

The Collab period will span 2 months in the summer (9 weeks) and will be divided into 3 stages:

  1. Pre-Production (Aug 1 - 14)
    • The first 2 weeks will primarily be me and the Team Leads working out details, plans, and protocols for the project. I suspect we may stream some/all of these meetings or any Contributors that want to be in the loop.
    • Also this is kind of an optional period for Contributors to be a fly-on-the wall of preproduction or they can wait until Aug 15 when production starts.

  2. Production (Aug 15- Sep 18)
    • These 5 weeks in the middle will be all-hands-on-deck! Everyone will be working together to create everything pertaining to the project.
    • Weekly livestreams, weekly homework submissions, weekly grading + feedback.

  3. Post-Production (Sep 19 - 30)
    • The last 2 weeks will be like the first, primarily me working with team leads to finalize loose ends of the production.
    • Contributors will be welcome to stay involved if they want! With collabs there's always a laundry list of left over tasks needed to finish these projects.

Apply Now to Join the Team!

You read that correctly: apply. This year I'm implementing an application process instead of open registration like in 2021. My goal is to develop a smaller, more committed and more refined team this time.

I'm looking for a 30-person team where each member:

  • Loves sci-fi robots and hard surface modeling!
  • is an active Citizen member (by the time the Collab starts)
  • is available for Aug 1 - Sep 30 or at least the Production perio (Aug 15 - Sep 18)
  • is able to commit 4+ hours each week during the Collab
  • has a Google account (free) or is willing to sign up for one (for Google Drive project syncing)

The team is open to all skill levels. There will be a certain number of spots available for beginners, intermediates, and advanced Blender artists.

Please fill out THE APPLICATION if you're interested in joining the revolution!


Kent Trammell
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