Blender is an open source 3D package, very powerful for its price (free). The Blender Project premiered recently their 4th “open” movie (free source footage, project files etc), titled “Tears of Steel”. The Blender community has been very positive about it after seeing Blender’s abilities on a real movie, rather than in pure animation. The shot tracking is very good (an Achilles’ heel previously for Blender), but I personally did not like the quality of the VFX or the animation (let alone the acting/script/direction, but these are beside the point here).
The CGI still looks like VFX animation and not realistic. It looks fake. Camera tracking is good, modelling seems ok, but lighting and animation aren’t. There are no shadows to talk about, everything it’s too HDR-ish. If that’s what Blender can do in 2012, then color me unimpressed. That’s no Hollywood-worthy CGI. And let’s not forget that this movie was produced by the Blender guys themselves, with hand-picked Blender artists.
Unfortunately, that quality is not even good enough for TV anymore. Sure, there have been worse VFX on TV than what Blender can do, for example the re-imagined version of “V”, but thing is, there have been better ones too. Back in 2010, Stargate:Universe had some amazing VFX in some episodes, more realistic than anything I’ve seen on TV, before or after. An even more important point for TV is the time it takes to do things with the app (since their deadlines are extremely strict). Blender is not that easy to use, Maya can do better in almost half the time.
That doesn’t mean that Blender is useless. It’s not. You can’t beat its price and features in the advertising sector (which doesn’t require extreme realism, it mostly needs some animation tricks), schools (for obvious reasons), or as a hobbyist artist. Blender can also prove to be a life-saver for indie filmmakers who primarily have the time to deal with Blender (rather than the money to buy other packages). So it’s got its uses in the world.
It’s just that I don’t see it being able to compete for Hollywood movies and serious TV shows. It kind of echoes The Gimp, actually. Good-enough to doodle around, good-enough to do something worthwhile if you have the extra time, but if you’re really serious, you better get Photoshop.