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Opening Crawl in Blender
by J. Daniel Sawyer (Lokmer)

Fanfilms are everywhere, but the software costs too much. The perennial problem with making Star Wars Fan Films is that the vast majority of us who have the time, creativity, and desire to do it cannot afford the software required to do those nifty effects and space battles. And, while we are at it, how did they do that nifty opening crawl?

Well, in the first three films, they pasted yellow type on a bluescreen and ran a camera over it. In TPM, however, it was all done in a 3D suite.

This tutorial is written specifically for Blender, a Totally FREE 3D modeling and animation suite available at http://www.blender.nl, but it should be applicable to virtually any 3D suite (however, Blender has a nifty little shortcut that I’ll be letting you in on).

Note: This tutorial assumes a basic familiarity with the Blender interface. If this is your first time using Blender, have a read through the Brief tour of the Blender interface tutorial at http://www.blendermania.com/tutbook/interface.php3 then come back here and work thorough this tutorial.

Preparation:

Start Blender. Delete the plane in the middle of the screen by selecting it (right click) and hitting x.

Add a lamp and move it (select G) so that it’s right near your camera. Parent it to the camera by holding down shift, right clicking on the camera (so that they’re both selected), and hitting CTRL-P.

Switch to side view (Numpad3) and rotate the camera about 40 degrees (select the camera and hit R). When you get it there, click to secure it in its new place.

Part One: Main Title

Now, because of the way Star Wars title sequences are put together, you have to do them in two steps. One is the retreating Title, and Two is the crawl/pan down. Since Blender does not yet support TT Fonts, I have taken the liberty of creating a mesh of the opening title (you can get it by clicking the following two links STAR and WARS. These are two meshes you’ll need to import and join. Go to top view (Numpad7) and hit F1. Load the Star.dxf mesh. Select all of the letters by hitting B and drawing a box around them. Now type ctrl-J to join them into a single mesh. Now, load the Wars.dxf mesh. Do the same thing. Once it’s joined together, line the two up according to what looks best to you, and join both toeach other. You now have a STAR WARS title mesh in the proper font. Go to side view (3) and rotate it to the same attitude as your camera. Move it (select the mesh and hit G) right up against the lens of the camera. Now go into Camera View mode and adjust (select – S) size and position until you get the look you want for your opening frame. Hit I (insert key) -> Loc. You have just inserted a key frame for this mesh. Now, the Star Wars opening crawl music gives roughly five seconds for the Main Title to fade back and disappear. Do a little math and figure out how many frames you need. At 30FPS, you’re looking at 180 frames for five seconds (and since I always work at 30fps, this it what we will do in this tutorial).

Along the menu bar in the middle of the screen you’ll see a button with the number 1 on it. That is your frame position button. Click on it, hold down, and slide your mouse right until you reach 180. Now, go into side view and move your mesh all the way out to where you eventually want it to wind up (you can zoom in and out by hitting "+ or -" on the key pad). Now switch back to camera view and make sure the mesh is centered. Insert a new keyframe (If you want to see the flow without going through the hassle of rendering, Jump back to frame one and hit Alt-A and the animation will play in wireframe). Ok, we are almost done with the Title. We still need to apply the color to it. So, with the mesh still selected, hit F5 and add a new material (click on the little box with the – sign on it on the menu bar and click Add NEW). In the Material Buttons screen that appears, slide the color sliders until you get the desired code in the swatch box.

Now is a good time to save your project. Hit F2 and type in a filename, then hit enter.

Now, in the Edit Buttons (F9) window, toggle down the AutoSmooth button.

Okay, we need to create a world for this main title to retreat into. Hit the little button that looks like a globe and add a new world. Toggle the stars button down, and set the values to whatever you like (hit F12 to get a single frame render to check your work). Now, slide the frame indicator to 180 and make sure the Mist button is toggled down. Set the values so that when test rendering frame 180 you can barely see (i.e. you wouldn’t be able to see it if you weren’t looking for it) the Star Wars title way off in the distance. When you get that done, save your project. Now, it’s time to render thething and make sure it looks good. Depending on the speed of your computer (and how many other apps you’re running), it can take anywhere from 1-20 or more seconds per frame, so you’ll be rendering for a while. Here’s how you do it. Go to the RenderButtons window (hit that button that looks like a painting). On your right you will see controls for video format (you want AVI RAW, trust me) resolution. Set the res to whatever you like, keeping in mind that the higher it is, the longer the render will take. On the bottom right close to the middle (under the big ANIM button) you will see two little buttons with STA and END on them. Slide STA to 1 and END to 180. If you want to turn on Anti-Aliasing push the OSA button. Now, hit the ANIM button, and you begin rendering. When the render is done, you’ll find the movie in C:\render\0001_0180.avi. Play it to see how it looks (Note, because it is uncompressed it will be a little jumpy. If you like you can compress it before you view it). If you are satisfied with the results, move on to section 2. If you are not, go back and fine tune the positioning/size/attitude of the title (being sure to update the keyframes 1 and 180) until you are satisfied.

Save your work.

Section 2: The Opening Crawl

Since Blender does not support TTF, you have to use the native font (which is okay, because it is Arial and looks pretty close to Star Wars Font). A brief note on the title of your movie; if you want something for the title that uses a font that looks closer to the Star Wars Block type used in the crawl titles, download Elefont from here and use it to make a title with the IMPACT or similar true type font, then import the resulting .dxf meshes exactly as you did the STAR WARS main title, and join and size them accordingly. You can make the mesh flatter by switching to side view and hitting TAB, using B to select all the vertices along the bottom edge and moving them (G) up so they’re almost on top of the top edge. Hit TAB again to exit Edit mode.

Now you’ve got your titles, we need text. Hit SPACE, and select ADD > Text. Delete the default text and add in your own. Be careful with the shift key, as hitting SHIFT and BACKSPACE at the same time will delete all your text. The optimal text spread is about thirty or thirty five characters wide. Don’t worry about aligning the text yet, we’ll do that later. Hit Enter at the end of each line, then, when you’re done with your crawl, go to the EditButtons screen (F9) and hit the green FLUSH button in the middle near the top (the text has to be highlighted bright pink for this to work), your text should now be perfectly even down each side.

Now, line up the text with the title and parent the text to the title (CTRL-P) . Now, move yourself to frame 180. In top view, move the text so that it is just out of the FOV of the camera. Insert a LOC key. Scroll forward to frame 2800 (90 seconds – length of the main title theme – at 30fps. Adjust accordingly for your frame rate). And move the crawl up the screen to where you want it to end. Insert a LOC key.

Now, we are almost done. Insert a LOC key for the camera at frame 2700, the zip forward to 2800 and, in side few, move the camera down vertically to wherever you want it to end and inside a new key.

Now for the final element. We want the text to fade as it crawls, fading to nearly nothing at the end before the pan down. We need to adjust the mist values. Go back to frame 2700 (remember this is the last frame before the camera will start to move) and do a test render. Adjust the mist values so that the text looks very faint. Save your work.

Now you can render the whole thing. Set the Start frame to 180 and the end frame to 2800 . Hit Render and go take a walk or cook a meal. When it is done (it will be called 0180_2800.avi), use a program like Ulead Video Studio or Premiere to stitch the two films together with music, and watch to your heart’s content.

Here is a screenshot of the finished project with the RenderButtons screen across the bottom for reference (the ball under the text is the planet that I pan down to, for information on how to build beautiful planets in Blender check out this page.

You can find the BLEND for my opening crawl file here.It is a little more complicated than the one you will build with the tutorial, but you should find it educational.

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