Just peachy: free software, free movies

Short URL: http://fsmsh.com/2501


Apparently I’ve been living under a rock, because I only recently found out about the Blender project’s free and open source short movie, Elephants Dream, when I happened across Terry Hancock’s review of it last year on this web site. The motivation behind Elephants Dream was to create a great movie short using only free and open source tools, while at the same time finding ways to improve the quality of those tools and free software projects in general.

Elephants Dream

The project primarily used the excellent 3D modeling and animation software, Blender, along with many other free software programs, including The GIMP, CinePaint, and Inkscape. The credits page notes, “An enormous amount of improvements in [Blender] were a direct consequence of the movie project taking place".

Figure 1: Elephants DreamFigure 1: Elephants Dream

Most of the movie content is freely available under the Creative Commons Attribution license, with some exceptions including the music which is CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs.

Well, I was impressed. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me as a “movie", but as a demonstration of the capabilities of free software and the possibilities for free 3D animation, it is stunning. As a statement in favor of free culture, and showing what a talented group of people can achieve in support of free culture, the movie and the project web page are loud and clear. With free tools like this already available today, I can imagine a future where small groups of people with limited budgets will be able to make Pixar-like movies.


Although my artistic talent is probably in the low one percentile, after watching the movie I went to the Blender web site to see what was there, and was thrilled to see another open movie in the works: Peach. And it’s just getting geared up for production. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link to pre-order the movie, and perhaps impulsively decided I wanted to support this new project.

Figure 2: Peach concept sketchFigure 2: Peach concept sketch

Now, I’m in no way affiliated with this project other than that I’ve spent my $40 U.S. on the DVD well in advance of the work being completed. I don’t want to make this post a big sales-pitch, and maybe I have a conflict of interest in that the more people send in money, the better chance I have of getting a good return on my investment, but I’d urge you to do the same if you want to support free software and free culture development models.

Eventually we’ll use other kinds of methods to hold our money in escrow until a project like this is successfully completed, but for now some additional trust is required. Their goal is to have 1000 pre-orders by the end of September, and they’re at 900 now. All orders paid before October 1 will get the buyer’s name on the movie credit roll. I know $40 is kind of steep, but it actually does take money to produce great work, so give it a thought. Not only will we get a great free movie, but this project will contribute to improvements in the free software tools for making even more great free stuff.

From the home planet

Please visit my web site, MovingToFreedom.org for more on free software and etcetera. Recent posts include "Celebrating Software Freedom Day: Check out some newly emancipated AI Java code" and "A Silly Post Brought to You by the Letters E and F." (Warning: it really is silly.)


Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License (CC-BY-SA-3.0). Reusable with this attribution (including hyperlinks): Copyright © Scott Carpenter, 2007. Originally published in Free Software Magazine.



Terry Hancock's picture

So far, it seems like the Blender projects are independent films, but I should like to point out an idea that I've been thinking of for some time: a free-content series could be quite reasonably developed, using the same basic principles (and would probably be more financially successful).

People buy "more in the same series" all the time, without necessarily having seen the result. They learn to trust that they will like "Season 2" if they liked "Season 1".

So it would be quite feasible for a small production company to work on a pre-sales basis. You start by producing one episode (or a mini-season, or some other teaser). This uses investment capital.

You then set a funding target for the next episode, and pre-sell copies of it. When you hit your target, you start production on episode two.

Or you set timed deadlines, and a minimum amount raised to avoid cancelling the series (this might work better if you were managing multiple series at once).

Of course, your earlier episodes will be "hyperdistributed" -- copied over and over again due to their free license. But this will serve as constant advertising for your later works. Fans will want to catch the work when it first comes out, and will be willing to pay for the privilege (not to mention because they want to support the project).

I think this kind of "series" model would work better than just producing one-off stories. The same basic model has already been used for various kinds of web-published serial media (e.g. web comics), and of course, the Blender movies are similar, so I think there is precedent for it to work.

The biggest obstacles are probably figuring out what the target funding should be and actually managing the escrow process (though there are some web services that specialize in the latter). If you develop enough trust in your fan base, though, the escrow may become a minor matter.

I'm nowhere talent or trained enough to try this yet, but it's something I'd like to try sometime.

Author information

Scott Carpenter's picture


Scott Carpenter has been lurking around the fringe of the free software movement since 1998 and in 2006 started a more concentrated effort to "move to freedom." (Chronicled at the Moving to Freedom blog: http://www.movingtofreedom.org/.)

He has worked as a professional software developer/analyst since 1997, currently in enterprise application integration.

(Views expressed here and at movingtofreedom.org are strictly his own and do not represent those of his employer. Nor of miscellaneous associates including friends and family. Nor of his dog. It's possible they're representative of his cats' opinions, but unlikely. Void where prohibited. Local sales tax applies.)