Source-filmmaker-logo-224x71Computer animation has come a long way in the past 20 years -- to the point where hand-drawn animation is almost non-existent. Even most cartoons are digitally drawn and made to look like old fashioned paper drawings (how ironic -- or maybe nostalgic?). Most animation starts from scratch, with new models and textures needed for every animation. But what if you didn't have to start from scratch? What if you were an independent animator, and you could build off a world that has already been created for you? That's the idea behind Valve's Source Filmmaker. The tools they use to make cut-scenes and videos is being released completely free, along with the textures and models from Team Fortress 2. Here's a look at what's being released:

While the beta isn't open, there's a good chance you can get in on the action for free right now by signing up (you'll need to have Steam installed as well as Team Fortress 2). Here's a selection of the tutorials they've created to get you started and give you a taste of what's possible. You can head on over to the Source Filmmaker website from the link below to see the rest of the tutorials.

0. Basics:

1. Recording:

2. Editing:

3. Sound:

9. Lipsync:

11. Lighting:

You aren't just limited to what's available in the game, however, since Valve also openly supports a healthy community of modders and modding tools. Valve does not permit the use of their textures if you're going to potentially sell the videos, but you could theoretically make your own models within one of the modding tools and not use anything they've created. Either way, it's great to see Valve supporting the community and releasing the tools that they worked hard to build so that we can play around with them.

Hopefully at some point Source Filmmaker will be released in full with all of their games completely free. This could truly make for an explosion in indie animation, where modders could begin creating their own animations and videos without having to start from scratch. The tools seem easy enough to use (I haven't tried it myself), but the fact that the options are virtually limitless once you introduce modding could mean that someone with limited or no experience in animation can realize their vision and make terrific movies.

It's not going to replace a traditional education in animation (since these aren't the tools you'll find in real animation studios), but it's going to be interesting to see what kinds of videos people come up with and how far they can push the tool. Valve is making a smart move (even smarter if they release it for free for all of their games). While they can certainly give some Hollywood-like results with their tool, there's no telling where a community of enthusiastic animators could take it.

Link: Source Filmmaker