Lukas Fischer

Research Scientist @ MIT

Virtual poster presentations with blender

Posted at — Oct 25, 2020

Around eight months ago, I submitted a poster to a small conference that had been moved onto a virtual platform due to the pandemic. Participants were required to create a 60-second long video presentation of their submission with the simple instruction to “be creative”.

Making such a presentation in a polished way turned out to be a little more challenging than expected. I decided to use blender because it provides a powerful suite to implement almost any conceivable idea for a presentation. In my case, I wanted to move smoothly between parts of the poster, cue up the audio, and play videos where typically one would find static figure panels. However, blender also presented some challenges. For example, the way it handles lighting or renders textures in the distance is not made for this purpose, resulting in a blurry and washed out presentation. Therefore, I decided to write up a few tricks that I found particularly useful to get sharp text and crisp colors similar to what you would expect when you make your poster in a graphics editor. Some blender experience is necessary in order to follow this guidance, so I recommend checking out the many excellent videos out there that explain the basics of blender. Furthermore, I will not be providing step-by-step directions for methods that have existing instructional videos, but will instead provide links.

First off, here is the video I submitted:

Import your poster

The easiest way to get your poster into blender is to use the import image as plane plugin. You first have to activate it under Edit/Preferences then go to Add-ons and search for Import Images as Planes. Now you can go to File/Import/Images as Planes and get your poster imported as a plane object. Set up the camera up so that it faces your poster directly. Finally, put the light source behind the camera, switch it to an Area light (select the light source and go to Properties/Object Data Properties/Light and select Area) and point it directly at the poster. There are a view more details about the lighting in the next section.

When you render the scene now, you should see your poster. To see how changes in the settings affect your poster right away, set your viewport shading to rendered (button in the top right corner of the 3D viewport pane).

True colors and crisp textures

Lighting in blender can be frustratingly difficult if you just want to have your white poster background actually look white and the colors look like they should. However, there are few easy steps you can take to get true colors

With your poster plane selected change the following in the properties pane:

To test your colors, render the scene, save it the file format of your choice and load it in a graphics editor (GIMP or Photoshop for example). Use whichever tool tells you the color code (in Adobe Photoshop its called Eyedropper) and make sure white is #FFFFFF.

This video explains how to get a white scene background (which is not really what we are looking for) but it shows how to get to some of the settings I talk about above.

Smooth camera movement

Moving the camera around smoothly is perhaps one of the most helpful ways to make the presentation look polished. Pretty much everything you need to know about this is in this video . Fair warning: it took me a little bit of planning and quite a few attempts until I was happy with my camera movements.

Once you do this, you will realize that your presentation is turning into an animation rather than a static scene. This means that rendering will start to take longer because you will now render each frame of an animation, rather than one single frame.

Recording and cueing up audio

Well synced audio is a great way to make your presentation feel more professional. I recorded clips of myself explaining one figure at a time. In blender I added the clips to the appropriate place in the animation. By doing it this way, I could perfectly time the entire presentation without sounding rushed. Blender makes it easy add audio clips into your animation and align them. In terms of recording, I simply used my IPhone 11 in a quiet environment.

Here is a brief explanatory video .

Embedding videos

You can import videos with the same Import Images as Planes plugin. Simply move the video plane to the place in the poster where you want it.

Video output format

Rendering your animation will take some time, but this video does a great job explaining it. I’ve rendered the video at 60 frames per second to make it look nice and smooth.

Final thoughts

The amount of effort required to make a video presentation in blender may well be more compared to quicker alternatives (e.g. recording your screen while you move through PowerPoint slides for example), but there two great benefits. First, you can achieve much better quality for both your video and sound. Second, you have almost limitless freedom to be creative and learn new techniques and tricks in blender.