Blendrview

Streamline your 3d workflow! Blender integration for Adobe After Effects

2018-03-01 | software

Blendrview is a native plug-in for Adobe After Effects that allows to preview 3d scenes from Blender inside of After Effects compositions. I plan to release the plug-in soon.

Technologies: C++, Python, TCP/IP, Git, After Effects SDK

About Blendrview

Blender is a free open-source software for 3D content creation (i.a. 3D modeling and animation). Adobe After Effects is a very common proprietary animation and compositing software and available as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud.

Blendrview UI

I started working on Blendrview as part of my bachelor thesis in 2017. Having been both a Blender and After Effects user for several years, the effort incorporating Blender into professional motion graphics and visual effects pipelines struck me as the most frustrating part about the Blender workflow. Sure, there is node-based compositing, camera tracking and many more great features available right inside of Blender. But many users own other dedicated tools for different tasks and seek to use Blender only as a 3D tool that fits well into their existing pipeline. Instead of tiresome re-rendering and relinking of image sequences and exporting camera data between programs via python scripts, I thought there had to be a better way.

Adobe showed how After Effects users can benefit from a native 3D software integration by their cooperation with Maxon: A “lite” version of Cinema 4D has been shipping with After Effects since CC 2015, and C4D files can be loaded into AE via the plug-in CINEWARE. A similar workflow should be possible to implement for Blender!

So I began diving into the After Effects SDK and Blender’s Python API, learning about inter-process communication, measuring execution times, analyzing requirements and developing a process interface. When the basic plug-in had reached a usable state, I invited some of my designer/filmmaker friends to test it out and give some feedback. I finished the thesis with a working alpha version, as well as a basic roadmap for further development and a big bug report list.

Features and Roadmap

Alpha Features

  • Preview of 3D Blender scenes with final shading and lighting in After Effects
  • GPU-based Rendering through Cycles
  • Live-Update after changes
  • Well-known Cycles parameters
  • Transparent background and Motion Blur
  • Support for Color Management Add-on
  • Select a custom Blender version
  • Easy installation

Current Limitations

Blendrview is intended for fast previews of 3D elements while tweaking animation, lighting and basic compositing — iterative workflows taking place before the final compositing. It is not suited for final photorealistic rendering, complex scenes with huge poly-counts or Multipass Compositing. In those cases, rendering to TIFF/EXR sequences is the way to go.

Currently, the same Blender file is referenced in every instance of the Blendrview effect in one AE project. This is obviously limiting and can probably be solved by implementing effect instances as threads.

With the new Blender version 2.8, a lot of changes have been made to the Blender API. Blendrview only works with 2.79 and should be upgraded to work with Blender 2.8.

Roadmap

  • More and better Cycles parameters
  • Effect instances as new threads
  • Match Framerates automatically
  • Object Import/Export:

    • Active Camera Import: Import the active camera with animation data from a Blender scene into your composition – with just a simple button hit
    • Camera, Light and Object Import: 3D objects from Blender to AE, without a third-party script
    • Camera, Light and Object Export: vice versa: cameras, lights and null/empty objects including animation from AE to Blender
    • Live-Update of Shared Objects: Taking object import/export one step further! A live-link for certain objects that updates an object in the Blender scene when the referenced object in an AE comp is modified and vice versa. Think matchmove fine-tuning, interactive lighting, next-level motion graphics, …
  • Eevee Support: Using the Cycles engine in After Effects has one big drawback: It’s relatively slow. However Blender’s new realtime engine Eevee which came out with Blender 2.8 should enable a very powerful and fast production workflow.

Release

There are still some issues and bugs to fix before releasing the plug-in publicly.

You can check out the Blendrview landing page that I built. Once the alpha is released, it can be downloaded from there.