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SFM: The Ultimate Source Filmmaker Tutorial

Photograph of the blog post author, Craig Brown

Craig Brown


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Filmmaking is one of the biggest creative industries to date. It’s grown dramatically over the past years and earns billions in revenue. There are millions of people who are employed in the industry and millions more who pursue it as a hobby. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that there are tons of filmmaking software out there, and it can get a little daunting deciding where to start. In this article, we’ll be touching on how to use Source Filmmaker (SFM), how to install it and some other tips and tricks.

What is Source Filmmaker – SFM?

Source Filmmaker allows users to record and edit motion from real-time game-play. In essence, SFM is a movie-making platform built and utilized by Valve Corporation. Mainly used to create short animated films within the Source Game engine.

It’s clear that computer animations have come a long way since the days of post-hand-drawn animation. The majority of animation starts from scratch. If you’re an independent animator looking for a starting point to build from a pre-existing template to expand on your creative vision, SFM is for you.


At its core, Source Filmmaker is a creative piece of software that lets you record, capture and animate in-game footage. This is the same method in which they make their animation movies. Due to the fact that Source Filmmaker utilizes the same elements as a Source engine game, the components in the game can be used in the movie and vice versa. By utilizing the modern gaming PC, SFM allows creators to work within the pre-existing template. Therefore they can create an entire movie by reusing components and events from the video game world within the platform. As a result, it also presents in context, what it feels from the point of view of the audience. 

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How Much Does SFM Cost?

Valve’s Source Filmmaker is completely free! As long as you have a stable internet connection and a good enough computer, you’re all set. Keep in mind your computer will need to have the necessary specifications to run the software. SFM is available for download on Steam – a cloud-based gaming library that allows users to use any computer to play games. It also allows users to store a large collection of games without using too much memory. In order to access SFM, you’ll need a Steam Account and as mentioned before,  a good internet connection. Unfortunately, SFM is currently not supported on Mac.


How to Use SFM

You can think of Source Filmmaker as a master storyboard for a storyteller, where you can create a complete movie set on location within the video game space of Team Fortress. This platform is the ultimate virtual movie set consisting of light, camera, props and action.  Included is an added and convenient feature of SFM is the ability to share or upload your movies to the web just as you would any normal movie file. The application also gives users access to a “work camera” that allows them to preview creation without affecting the scene cameras. Including this, there are three main user interfaces for creating films. 


Another cool aspect of Source Filmmaker is the ability to get into the fundamentals of character rigging and keyframing. You will find numerous tools in the program for making automation as easy as possible. Capturing animation allows you to press the record button followed by running through an in-game draft using the WASD controls. Not the easiest process but this is something you can revisit and graduate to that level in time.

There is another tool that can automatically read WAV files and generate lip-sync animations for your character. Therefore you don’t have to reposition a single virtual cheek muscle. This is not the most accurate feature but this is still good enough and especially for a lower budget or free animation software program. Having experience in 3D animation definitely helps, but if you don’t, this definitely shouldn’t stop you from working your way around the program.


Source Filmmaker can also support a variety of cinematographic effects and techniques such as Tyndall effects and Motion blur. It also includes Dynamic Lighting and Depth Of Field. For the well-seasoned animators, it allows manual animation of facial features and bones, including allowing creators to design movements. It’s essential to remember that there’s much more to cinematography than just pretty effects. It’s an entire field in itself, and its probably to a good idea to read about it before you jump into the Source editor.

Source FilmMaker Workshop


If you are also looking for a community of artists and to learn more about SFM, there is a Source Filmmaker Workshop. This is a great workshop and space to share your models with other animators and filmmakers. Plus, you can even rate the work of others. You can also find more answers and solutions on creating Source FilmMaker models and sounds among countless other benefits. 

Soundtracks & Adding Music to Your Project

Assuming you’ve created a cinematic masterpiece you’ll eventually need to add some sound or music to your project. If there’s a specific track or song you’d like to include, you need to ensure you go about it the correct way.

It’s important to understand that there are various ways to license music and it can be a tricky field to navigate if you’re inexperienced. We have some of the best people in the industry available to assist you with this, along with a huge variety of different tracks for you to pick from.

When working on soundtracks or just sound in general, it’s important to ensure you have the appropriate gear. A solid pair of headphones will make a huge difference to your project.

SFM - audio for source film maker project

Extra Tips and Resources 

They’re tons of resources available to help you in case you get stuck. Once you’ve finished reading this article, here are some other resources you can tap into:

If you’re after a detailed Source Filmmaker tutorial, you can check out some awesome in-depth ones on Valves’ video playlist.

There’s another great playlist by a YouTuber called Jimer Lins and you can check out his tips of the day The main component and one of the most asked questions in respect to animation in Steam Source Filmmaker and other animation communities is how and where to find models.

Source Filmmaker is relatively easy to navigate. If you find yourself struggling, a few video tutorials should definitely help further your understanding.

If you’re looking for a bit of information and don’t feel like watching a long meandering video, Valve’s got a pretty good wiki.

With filmmaking being such a lucrative career and popular hobby, it’s no surprise that there are boat-loads of information available to you to help you along on your filmmaking journey! Sometimes it can be hard to choose from such a large selection of resources, so we recommend taking the time to research before you buy your materials to ensure you’re getting the best materials available.

SFM – Final Thoughts

After further exploration into SFM, it’s a fun application to use. The tools are quite powerful and easy to navigate. It also has a beautiful look to it. Its function meets form. There could be an issue. for serious creative types when it comes to creating within applications such as Maya or Blender because unlike Source Filmmaker, these other applications don’t need third-party hosting. But besides that one issue, SFM is an awesome piece of software that boasts loads of cool tools and it’s free! Therefore if you are an aspiring filmmaker or animator, Valve’s Source Filmmaker is the way to go. Just don’t forget to download via a free Steam account.

We all need to start somewhere and it seems like Source Filmmaker is the best path to take for those initial first steps. You can let your creativity run wild without committing to a subscription or payment. 

It’s important to remember that all the great directors started somewhere. Perhaps before you begin playing around on SFM It’s worth having a read about what truly makes a great filmmaker. Who knows, this could be where your career in cinematography begins! 

Music Gateway – Sync Opportunities 

Would you like to get in touch with Music Gateway to see how we can help you? Then please use this link to get in touch with us to discuss any opportunities such as Sync Licensing, Music Licensing, Music Clearance, Sync Libraries or Music Libraries, etc., you may want to take further. 

At Music Gateway, we are an established sync licensing agent working directly with music supervisors, broadcasters, TV production companies, advertising agents and games publishers worldwide licensing music and earning our rights holders revenue.

Our expansive catalogue of independent artists and tracks allows us to provide options for almost any brief and has given us the pleasure of licensing music to some of the most exciting productions across TV and Film.

You can book a call with Sam – Head of Sync Licensing – as a potential lead. We are always happy to talk to musicians like you. Please do get in touch.


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