Is S2FM for ME?

Half Life Alyx gave the release to the newest Source 2 Filmmaker (S2FM) that has more control and flexibility than its older brother: the Dota 2 version. Here we’re given access to all the HLA content in regards to maps, models and textures.

Best part is the new Hammer editor which is a revolutionary step in regards to mapmaking, which gives forth animation producers the tools of creation at arm’s reach.

Everything is new and better, but at the expense of more resources from the computer than the old SFM, which will easily work on a battery that’s 2 potatoes in parallel.

The problem is that you have to buy HLA in order to even test the software if it’d be up to your needs and system foundations. Well, let’s show you around and get you to make a decision.

Highlights – No more 4GB RAM cap, no more .QC hell, control over the light environment, modern assets

You think S2FM is for you, then learn how to port things from S1FM to S2FM –

Get Half Life: Alyx from Steam –

The Source Filmmaker, released by Valve: the game engine and animation studio which has fueled countless animation projects, and indeed this entire channel, abandoned for many years and never even taken out of beta, has recently been recreated and released with the brand new Half-Life: Alyx. With the original being built on the Source Engine, the new version has been made on Source 2.

But a question for you: is the Source 2 Filmmaker right for you?

Hopefully that’s what we will be answering today.

But how do you get this new Source Filmmaker for yourself, I hear you cry, screaming from the belfry for the knowledge. Well, sadly your only option is to go out and buy a copy of Half-Life: Alyx. It says you require a virtual reality headset. And to play the game you do, but to use the animation engine it’s not necessary. Once you buy the software and run it through Steam you’ll be granted the choice of launching Half-Life: Alyx or launching the workshop tools.

The path to true salvation is to launch the workshop tools and then simply create a new add-on. Name it whatever you want and launch the tools. You’ll be presented with the Asset Browser: one of the first things you see and definitely one of the biggest advantages the Source 2 Filmmaker has over Source 1.

The Source 1 Filmmaker’s asset browser is kind of trash. It’s not exactly that bad, but well, for one thing, you have to load in every single model every time you turn on or restart the software. This in itself can take its toll on your time, since if you close the menu it stops loading in the models.

So you just have to sit there and wait while it loads every single model, which can take longer and longer depending on how many assets you have. Furthermore, you can only preview assets one single asset at a time. No more no less.

It also has the issue that any object with even just partial transparency will be almost entirely invisible. It does have a mod filter which breaks down into whichever folders you have created in the folder paths of the game info file, which we’ll mention again later.

However, this doesn’t exactly make it easier to navigate when you have thousands of models, even just in one single mod filter. You have the text filter, which does work effectively, and yet, if you type something, perhaps dispenser and level 2… you open that and you come back and it only remembers the very first word you put in. It has only partial memory retention for what you’re searching for and you also lose your place.

Let’s say we’re searching through a large number of things and we find a group of pipes we like the look of. Either we note down their specific name or we just have to refind the location, since when we reopen this tab, it’ll reset us back to the top.

It also has the major downfall that every single model you open and preview, just to look at, adds more and more to your memory, which itself has a limit you will come to. This also makes quickly previewing multiple objects difficult since you can experience lag.

The Asset Browser in the Source 2 Filmmaker, however, is a marvel. Just like before, you have the window on the side to preview the various objects that you want to look at, and even better, you can view many models at once, plus it updates them pretty quickly as you scroll down. This doesn’t contribute to your cached files so it doesn’t mess up your save file with useless data.

It has many custom folder sets which you create yourself and can easily add to or remove from, by removing from working set, or create a new working set, or simply just drag and drop into whichever set you wish to see. It even includes a list of recently used assets and a set of filters to designate exactly what you’re looking for, whether it be materials, models, maps, png files…

Now, these assets also allow you to very easily drag and drop more than one object into your scene in the Source Filmmaker engine, and just like in the Source 1 Filmmaker, you can easily preview various animations and sequences which are available for the model, giving it a fullness of capacity with more features available than in the Source 1 Filmmaker, and yet with no significant disadvantages.

I’ll also mention for anyone interested, one of the filters is unreferenced by content. If you search only by objects, which are unreferenced by content then it shows you objects with no dependency on anything else, so you can search easily for materials, and find materials, which are not needed and can be deleted. Since there are no models or maps which are referencing these materials, it makes it easy to find unnecessary bloat and scour it from your files.

What even is this? What? Well, you can try using this, maybe it’s some kind of strange texture. It also of course comes fully stocked and loaded with all of the Half-Life Alyx models, textures and maps which can be freely and easily utilized for whatever purposes you require, while the Source 1 engine requires you to use only ports made by people on the workshop.

The Source 1 Filmmaker is also rather slow especially when it comes to loading in maps. You’ll see, if you try to load train_station_02 from Half-Life 2, the text changes to loading and you’re sat there waiting. Oh, you have an error… great.

The Source 2 engine on the other hand loads maps pretty much instantly if you press accept, and there’s a delay of a few seconds. Now of course, bear in mind that this is a very high resolution map you’re loading in, far more so than the Half-Life 2 maps would have been. And it’s all here pretty much instantly.

In Source 1 this would be a problem since it’s capped at 4GB of RAM. It would have crashed already if it tried to run this map even with nothing on it. This is because the Source 1 Filmmaker is built for a 32-bit system. The Source 2 however is built for a 64-bit, giving it more leeway of the RAM capacity it can take up, allowing you to pump it full of more assets and particles, and larger maps, more textures, and whatever else you would need without fearing it crashing and crumbling beneath you.

Another, and definitely very major advantage the Source 2 engine and the Source 2 Filmmaker have is the brand new Hammer Editor, which to be quite honest is a godsend. Now, I’ve had experience inside of Blender, inside of 3ds Max, Unreal Engine and also some experience with the Source 1 Hammer Editor, and I can say that, to be quite honest, this is the best mapping tool I’ve ever used.

It’s very simple and quick and intuitive to use. You have a lot of freedom and mobility with all the different tools it gives you. You have texture alignment tools to modify and scan and rotate. You have special tools for doing various functions you’d only expect to see inside of a model editor, such as the ability to make subdivisions which breaks down the model into smaller pieces, and bridges and merging and editing at the vertices, with cuts and bevels to allow you to do all sorts of fun things, definitely not available in the Source 1 Hammer.

Another advantage which i believe many old-school Hammer editors would be happy to hear is that you can easily just select a model and press F to turn it from an outside to an inside.

Applying textures is as easy as dragging and dropping in the correct tool onto a face or surface. Applying models from the Asset Browser is as easy as dragging and dropping, and seeing the model automatically snap to the floor or wall you attach it to. It compiles quicker. It looks better. The lighting engine is more refined.

All in all I would have to say the new Source 1 Hammer Editor is one of the best functions of the new Source Filmmaker because of course any map you make here can easily be built and exported to the Source Filmmaker engine. All you have to do is go to file and build map and you don’t even need to have baked lighting ticked.

You can create a somewhat accurate reincarnation of Kleiner’s Lab from Half-Life 2 in a relatively short amount of time using the Source 2 Hammer. Of course, ignore the wall of errors.

One of the next advantages is the lighting engine. The one inside of the Source 1 Filmmaker is definitely limited. You have poor choice of light, for example let’s say you select the one choice for a projected light. If you place the camera and control the motion of the light you can see that the projection light is simply a spotlight. You have a point in space which projects out light. That’s really the only choice you have.

It also has a volumetric setting for volumetrics, and it has a decent amount of settings for things like color and the strength of volumetrics, and various other aspects. Some of the sliders, I’m fairly sure, don’t actually do anything. As nice as it can look that’s the only choice you have.

You also for the most part are stuck with the map lighting, which in itself wouldn’t be an issue but the lighting it creates is baked onto the map. It’s as though it’s painted directly onto the textures without actually being a light source, meaning any object you place in the map isn’t going to cast shadows, and the lack of shadows looks bad.

So what you’ll usually have to do, if you really want to, is find a plug-in which removes the lights from a map and then go about repopulating the map with your own lighting, which of course gives a far better result since all of the lights are dynamic, meaning they are able to properly interact with the environment around them. But of course this takes time and it’s not a tool helped by the fact that the Source 1 Filmmaker is limited to only nine dynamic lights at once.

The limitation of having only a spotlight means, if you want to create some authentic effects, you need a spotlight to look out, then another to face back towards, adjust its parameters… it’s a lot of steps just to try and create some basic element of realism.

Now the Source 2 engine doesn’t have this heinous limitation. We now have a whole collection of lights. We have a projected light, which is similar to the Source 1.We have a spotlight, which is the one from Source 1, but we also have these new things. We have a point light which itself creates lights looking in all directions at once.

So, recreating the example we had for Source 1, we simply would have needed one-point lights to distribute light evenly in all directions. We also have a directional light which is a two-dimensional shape, a box. We also have a directional light which is a sunlight. It is the light for the entire map.

You will see that moving it makes no difference. Only rotating it, and rotating it changes everything on the entire map. And the largest benefit of this is, if you activate shadows, it actually overrides the lighting of the whole map itself. You will see with it turned off the lighting from the sun.

It’s hidden, and the lighting from the sun casts shadows in a yellow tint. With it turned on the lighting from the sun is disabled. As it uses the light from this which can now be rotated, get out of the shrubbery.

You will be able to rotate to give the impression of a different time of day. You can reduce the intensity. You can change the color. You can give the scene a whole different atmosphere with this one simple light, while also overriding the default lighting of the map.

This aside, there is also an orthographic light which is a two-dimensional shape. This box casts a shadow in a direct boxy shape, as you’d expect a box of light to do, in only one direction, as though looking from a two-dimensional flat surface, which can have its width and its height adjusted to suit whatever needs it needs to fill.

For example this computer screen: we want it to display light from its surface. We could easily stick it down to the correct size and now it’s glaring up light over there. I mean, it’s not exactly realistic but you get the idea.

The point is we have way more choices in different lighting we have available for us. We can override the sunlight of the map. We can have point lights and directional lights, and all the graphic lights; all the while the lighting engine looks and feels and behaves in a way far superior to Source 1.

Mix that with the superior rendering times and the ability to natively render in 4k. You can make the Source 1 Filmmaker render in 4k but you need to go to some settings and modify them. In Source 2 it’s natively accessible straight away with all of these features clustered together.

You can see many of the advantages of using the Source 2 Filmmaker over the Source 1.

Of course now we come to the issue of the disadvantages, one of which being that all of the assets are only belonging to Half-Life: Alyx. If you want to make use of Portal assets or Team Fortress 2, or so on, you’ll either have to find the various scripts, software and workarounds to convert these models yourself, or just wait long enough for someone to release them on the Half-Life: Alyx workshop.

Aside from the Hammer Editor there’s two other aspects of the Source 2 Filmmaker, or at least the Source 2 workshop tools, which are easily compatible with the Filmmaker, which should have to stand out from Source 1. For instance, for anyone who’s tried to make custom models or perhaps put over models from various games or other things into Source 1, you would have discovered how tedious it can be, having to write out a qc file or other documents, or such other components necessary to add models to the Source Filmmaker.

However, in Source 2 the model dock comes pre-made with a ton of different elements you can use to easily import your model. Most of these aren’t needed in most instances but there are a few which it relies on often.

All you need to do is import the model, add it, and you can work away adding animations and textures, and if you really want to: collision boxes, node graphs and anything else that the situation requires, all easily editable and built into the Source 2 engine itself, with the added advantage that it updates automatically whenever you restart the Source Filmmaker.

Alongside of this is the material editor which allows you to access a full range of different functions. The majority of these are available to you in Source 1, however, they require you to know some amount of programming in order to properly use them. In here, it’s all displayed in a nice, easy to follow user interface.

Allow yourself to easily find whatever elements you require to use. Modify them, see them updated nearly in real time and streamline your workflow endlessly. It is far more intuitive to work this way than it is to rely on outside software for every little change you attempt to make, either to your materials or your models.

Taking a look at some of the disadvantages this engine and this software has: one of the main

complaints I’d have is that the software really hasn’t changed that much since the Source 1 engine. It still suffers some of the same glitches and problems, some of the bad lighting issues that are embedded into maps, and various other issues from the Source 1 Filmmaker, which I believe could have been easily fixed.

These issues are still in existence in the Source 2 engine simply because Valve do not appear to have much interest in really developing this software to be better than it was. Of course the Source 2 engine is still far from being a perfect piece of software. It has glitches of its own.

For one thing I’ve found that playing and pausing using the space bar, such as in Source 1, occasionally causes it to lag and glitch and be slow for a few moments: an issue which doesn’t occur if you use the play button itself to play and pause. There is also some small amount of lag sometimes when trying to switch quickly between types of gizmo.

Using the keyboard there’s an element of lag. Even if the lag is only for a small moment, it is enough to take you out of the flow of what you’re doing, and for long animation projects remaining in the flow is an important aspect of efficiency.

You see here when i press the spacebar to begin playing the scene, it plays for a moment, then freezes, then unfreezes. All I’m doing is pressing the spacebar once, and yet you can quite clearly see that there is a pause after initially moving, whereas if i use this button it smoothly moves without lag or delay.

Another issue this engine seems to have is that if you have one screen selected, hotkeys and so forth will not work on the other screen. In Source 1 it doesn’t have an issue with using these kinds of hotkeys even if the windows are separated.

The software’s newness is also one of its largest issues since, for one thing, the original Source engine has a long-standing and well-established workshop, with a huge variety of assets which can be ported over to the software. Even GMod assets, if you know the way. Furthermore, it shares compatibility with a great number of official Valve products, many of which have some content available as free DLC for the Source 1 Filmmaker. These are things which do not exist right now for Source 2.

It also suffers from a lack of documentation. Being brand new, there is a decided absence of tutorials available, either written or in video, for how to properly use all of the elements of this software: the Filmmaker, the Model editor the, Material editor and even the Asset browser itself.

A final advantage the Source 1 Filmmaker has over the Source 2 is the presence of a text-based editor which enables you to allow or disallow various folders from being used in the assets that are available. This is available simply by creating a folder structure with whatever assets you wish to use, sorted into their respective folders in the correct folder structure.

These folders then just have to be referenced inside of a text document found inside of SFM’s usermod directory. This, however, does not exist in the Source 2 engine. We are instead, forced to use the working sets which are a system of tags essentially, that have to be activated by going to view and ticking working sets.

While this does its job in separating the various assets out, it does have its own issues since if you want to, for instance, add a new folder of solely Portal content, then how are you supposed to select all of the Portal assets if you already have a great deal of assets already activated? You can’t choose to deactivate, for instance, the Half-Life 2 pack or the CSGO pack. They are all active at the same time and cannot be disabled or enabled at whim.

In a small summary we can come to see the various advantages and disadvantages of using Source 1 or Source 2. Both of them have their own functions, both have their own abilities and their drawbacks.

Me personally, I’d say that whether you are a beginner to animation, just starting out on this treacherous path of learning and development, or if you are an experienced animator looking to broaden your horizons, either way, I would recommend looking into Source 2, with its advantages in reduced lag and stability and the overall quality the engine can provide.

Source 2 has the better lighting engine, has the ability of accessing more RAM, has higher quality assets and an easier workflow for creating and adding your own custom assets. However of course, the Source 1 Filmmaker is completely free and comes with a great number of assets already created and ready to use, which in itself is a fair advantage.