Getting Started – Visual (Brief Overview)

 cross platform



This is intended as a bare bones getting started overview for someone very new to the idea of working on a basic visual studio setup powered mostly by quality free (or for next to nothing) software.

For more links and resources beyond this short breakdown here I recommend you check out this page.

NOTE :  The main idea is to try to gather deep knowledge on a few fully featured tools and also a general workable knowledge of the other peripheral supporting packages.

Quick Links





Where to start?

It’s easy to be confronted with too many ideas, not know where to start or what you need and then abandon the whole enterprise. The easiest place to start is with the hardware, a budget and intent. First of all I should imagine you wont be getting far without a computer…



The RAM, the processor and the Graphics Card are the key components of your computer to look out for here. These will be the elements that will make a difference to how fast it operates.

Tech Specs
2GB of RAM, a dual core processor and a graphics card with some onboard memory should serve in most simple projects. However, it is recommended more and more these days to have a 64 bit operating system so you can use 4GB of RAM, a quad core and an NVIDIA or ATI graphics card with about 1GB memory on board.

If you decide to get a laptop instead of a desktop then…

I would recommend getting one with a numberpad and a mouse with 3 buttons. Some of these applications by default rely heavily on these extra keys and buttons, however there are workarounds if you don’t have access to them.

Here are some technical recommendations for some of the key and most powerful free and open source software…



HD movie Camera/Stills Camera

If you’ll need to record some live footage whether to use as a backdrop for your 3D scene or as the main element then you’ll need a HD camera.

The Cannon 550D is especially popular right now amongst 3D artists for both movies and still images, although really many cameras including those found on iphones will do. In fact some music videos have been made using iphones exclusively.

Camera Considerations
200 to 300 quid (300 to 400 dollars) will pick up something very reasonable to get you started. One thing to note is you may need to be more careful with your camera selection if you intend to film in low light to avoid heavy grain/noise in the dark areas of the image.

A stills camera is good for textures, reference, or even to serve as the basis for which to create moving “camera mapping” or “3D Projection” shots – here is an example.

Graphics Tablet

When painting, drawing and sculpting comes into it, you might find you need a more intuitive interface than a mouse. This is what a graphics tablet and stylus is for. Beyond simply being more like a paper and pen they simulate elements of a real paper and pen relationship such as pen pressure and tilt.

Tablet Suggestions
Wacom Intuos are your standard and any size will do, an A5 tablet will do just fine. The cheaper Wacom Bamboo tablets work just fine too.


And that’s it! Well there are of course many other peripherals, gadgets, tools and bits and pieces that you might find handy like greenscreens and lights but that should get us started for now.




Key software at a glance…

RecommendedAlso Recommended
3D ModellingBlenderSketchup
Texture Painting
Blender (3D)
Gimp (2D)
Sculptris (3D)
Camera TrackerBlender
Realistic RenderingBlenderYafaray
Video SequencerBlenderLightworks
ConversionMPEG StreamclipSuper
Vector GraphicsInkscapeGimp

There are many aspects to a 3D production pipeline. I have laid out the key elements below with a brief description.

In general the powerful but yet free and open source software package Blender should be versatile enough for most requirements. If you haven’t already I highly encourage you to get to grips with this package. An application this large in scope would normally cost thousands.


3D Modelling












The basic starting place for creating any 3D objects is a 3D modelling package. Here you can start with primitive shapes and then manipulate them into as complex a shape as you’d like. Blender comes highly recommended for this.

recommended Blender

also recommended… Sketchup

Sculpting (high detail modelling)

Blender Sculpting











This is another style of modelling that resembles sculpting the surface of objects as you might in the real world. The drawback to this is that the models end up having very large filesizes. If these need to be part of a larger scene then the object will often times slow the 3D host application down so much as to be unusable. The way around this is to create a low resolution object that the sculpted object is then ‘projected’ or ‘baked’ onto. This ‘baking’ generates a texture that creates an illusion of the high resolution details.

recommended Blender

also recommended… Sculptris



Retopology is usually referring to the reduction of a high density sculpted object. There are a couple of methods to do this – One is creating a brand new mesh using the sculpted form as a guide. The other is taking the sculpted object and then running it through a reduction algorithm to automatically generate a low resolution object that conforms to the basic shape of the original high density mesh.

recommended Blender

also recommended Meshlab, & Sculptris



As mentioned earlier, in order to have the low detail emulate the high density details the information must be ‘baked’ or ‘projected’ onto a 2D texture. This is a fairly straightforward process and Blender or Xnormal (Xnormal is windows only) are both capable of producing great results.

recommended Blender 

also recommended… Xnormal


Texture Painting

Most likely any created 3D objects will need texturing. You can paint directly onto the model in 3D using Sculptris or Blender. Often times even more detailed and elaborate work can be carried out when working on the 2D texture itself by working in a 2D specific application like Gimp.

3D Texture painting

recommended Blender

also recommended… Sculptris

2D Texture painting



If you’ve got objects in your project then you might need those objects to be moving and/or dancing. Or perhaps simply the camera needs to move. Again Blender serves us well here.

recommended Blender

Camera Tracker

If those static or dancing objects in your project need to be merged with live recorded footage from your real world camera/s then you’re going to need to have an application that can analyse that footage and recreate the real world camera’s movements and assign them to a 3D camera. Currently Blender hosts the only free resource for this, and it also happens to be quite powerful.

recommended Blender

Realistic Renderer

If you’re going to need to have those 3D objects in your scene appear indistinguishable from the objects in the real world then you’ll need a realistic renderer that is compatible with your 3D application. Blender comes with it’s own called ‘Cycles’. There are also other very good renderers that also work with Blender (and other applications) called Yafaray and Luxrender

recommended Blender

also recommended Yafaray and Luxrender


Video Sequencing Editor













Once all your animations and renderings are done, you’ll need to edit them together in a sequencer. NOTE: see later down the page for Foley, sound effects and archive footage or music. This is where the magic happens! Blender is very capable, there is also a specifically purposed application that works well too called Lightworks.

recommended Blender

also recommended… Lightworks


Once you’ve got your movie file sequenced and rendered out, you might need to convert to various formats.

recommended MPEG Streamclip (for all)

Also recommended for windows… Super


Vector Graphics










Maybe you’ll need to then design some posters and you need some versatile vector graphics or infinite resolution.

recommended Inkscape

also recommended… Gimp


Foley/Sound FX/Archive Footage/Music

Of course to round it off you might find yourself in the need for some sound effects, archive footage or music to go along with your renders/live footage. Here are some helpful places to get started on that…

Foley/Sound Effects – Freesounds

Archive – Prelinger

Music – Jamendo


Legal bit…

If you’re planning on operating on any kind of world stage, and the internet is included in that then you should familiarise yourself with where you’re at legally. These days that has been made quite straightforward with the creative commons.


And that’s about the meat and bones of it! If you’re still looking for more stuff and info then check out this LINK here.

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  • Sarsour

    love the list…you should add or make an article about source filmmaker, really easy to animate and create whole films on

    • thanks! glad you liked it, your idea sounds good but I’m not sure I’ve understood you completely, do you mean an article that explores the organisational and financial elements of a typical open source project or case study so to speak?

      • Sarsour

        Sorry, i should’ve been clearer…There is a software made by valve called the Source Filmmaker. Its based on their game engine, and currently comes with models and textures and what not from their games, but you can use for importing your own creations and it contains a fully rendered 3D world using the models as actors in a scene, youtube: Introduction to source filmmaker, the video gets the general idea through…also an animation being made with it (professionally with custom models,not fan made game animation) is called Dome, and i know there is another one being made but i cant recall the name.

        • ah of course! valve’s recent filmmaker app as part of the source engine, I got confused thinking you meant open source!

          I haven’t had the pleasure of dabbling with it yet, but I’ll definitely keep your recommendation in mind to give it some more attention!

          Thanks again!

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