Terry Hancock's articles

Flattr: A Social Micropayment Platform for Financing Free Works

People have been talking about "micropayments" since the early days of the world-wide-web, so I'm always skeptical of micropayment systems. Flattr is an interesting variation on the idea though. It's a voluntary system, without the overhead or chilling effects associated with "pay walls" and it puts donors in control of how much they spend, allowing them to split their donations among beneficiaries based on a monthly "pie" model. The greatest asset of Flattr is its simplicity of use -- similar in many ways to the various social networking services that abound on the web today. Flattr may well succeed, and it may fill a niche of financing small projects from free software to online videos.

The Jargon of Freedom: 60 Words and Phrases with Context

What exactly does it mean when Richard Stallman says that the Creative Commons' Attribution-ShareAlike license has a "Weak Copyleft"? Why exactly is it that "Freeware" and "Non-Free Software" mean the same thing, while "Free Software" is something else entirely? And what is this business with "Free Beer", and where can I get some? If you've asked yourself these questions, this column is for you.

Sky Over Baikonur Backdrop with Gimp

Often, when modelling in 3D, it's necessary to create a "backdrop" panoramic image. Typically this shows sky and distant land which should appear behind the foreground action. One place we'll need this for the pilot to Lunatics is for the sky in Baikonur, Kazakhstan on launch day at the beginning of the story. I had some very particular ideas about how this should look, and I want to create just the right look. Here's how I constructed it.

Finding Free Music for a Free Film with Jamendo, VLC, and K3B

One of the great advantages of using a free license for a work is that you can re-use a growing body of free-licensed source material to help you do it. But it can seem a little daunting to find the material that you both want and can legally use. Here's a little bit of my strategy, a few tips, and some sources, including Jamendo, which I found to be the most useful for finding music. I also touch upon some useful free software tools for listening and sorting tracks.

MediaWiki and Script Translation for the Morevna Project

We are getting very close to wrapping up the English translation of the script for "The Beautiful Queen Marya Morevna: Underground" (which is the working title of the film being produced by the Morevna Project). So it seems like a good time to talk about the software we've been using, which is MediaWiki.

Book Review: Foundation Blender Compositing by Roger Wickes

Hardly anyone realizes that Blender even is a video compositing and non-linear editing tool (in addition to its modeling, rendering, and animation capabilities). There are few, if any, books available on how to use it for that purpose, so Roger Wickes' book is much needed. It contains an enormous amount of very useful information.

Extracting and Using a Recorded Sound Effect with VLC and Audacity

I found a useful sound effect in an online video from NASA which replaces an earlier temporary sound I used in a scene soundtrack for the Lunatics pilot, "No Children in Space." I'm going to extract the sound from the video (with VLC), cut out the sound I need, clean it up, and insert it into an existing sound mix (all with Audacity). This should give you some insight into using Audacity and a VLC on a real project.

Soyuz Launch Vehicle in Blender: Part I, Modelling the Core Stage

For Lunatics, we need several space vehicles. For a few of them, we have existing free-licensed computer models that we can use, but others are not so easy, or need customizations. The Soyuz launch vehicle is one of these, and it was relatively easy to model, since launch vehicles are geometrically simple (basically a bunch of extruded cylinders and cones). In Part I, I'll demonstrate the basic modelling techniques I used to create the Core Stage.

Storyboards for a film with Flickr, OpenClipart, Inkscape, Gimp, and ImageMagick

How do you get a flurry of images in your head into a concrete description of a film so that you can produce it? One important step is to create storyboards. For the storyboards on Lunatics, I've used a variety of approaches, from rough sketches on index cards to found photos and collages. This has allowed me to collect my ideas and get them into a concrete form -- both as cards I can manipulate directly and as images on computer that I will later be able to turn into an animatic.

Making Movies with Free Software

Sometimes life is very circular. Once upon a time, I was a film major. Then I was an astronomer, then I was unemployed for quite awhile, during which time I discovered free software, and as a result of my various rantings about it, I started writing for Free Software Magazine. Now it seems that I've become a film-maker again. I'm working on not one, but two animated science-fiction films using free software tools, intended for a free-licensed release on the internet under new distribution models. And, being a writer, I'm going to write about it. I think it will be both entertaining and useful.

Creating an Animatic Using Audacity and Kino

An animatic is a kind of a rough sketch for a film. It's not really meant to be an artform in itself (although some reach that point), but it is rather intended to be enough information for the filmmaker to make intelligent production decisions. It also must be cheap and easy, since effort that goes into the animatic will not appear in the final film. I have not yet fully decided what tool is right for doing the animatics for Lunatics, so I'm doing some experiments with different tools in order to decide. In this column, I'll create an animatic for a short sequence from the pilot.

Painting Sound with ARSS and Gimp

As I was working on a sound track project for a science-fiction film I've been working on, I remembered reading an article in Free Software Magazine, by Gianluca Pignalberi, in which he described filtering using Gimp and a command-line program then called "ARSE" (version 0.1). The program is now called "The Analysis & Resynthesis Sound Spectrograph" ("ARSS", now version 0.2.3). Combined with an image editor of your choice (I also chose Gimp), it also turns out to be a very interesting way to make original sound effects -- by painting the sound spectrum.

An open letter to Victoria A. Espinel, US "IP Czar"

Earlier today (March 24th, 2010), I submitted this response to the IPEC call for public comment on future Intellectual Property enforcement policy. Given the short notice (only six days!), I was not able to come up with a more detailed response, but I did want to express my dismay at the way these policies are being framed.

An Easy and Inexpensive Quad-Core System for Debian or Ubuntu GNU/Linux

My son's hand-me-down motherboard recently gave up the ghost, and I decided that was a good excuse for an upgrade. Shopping around, I found that multi-core CPUs were finally in my price range, so I decided to build him a quad-core system. This build worked out extremely well, with almost no configuration problems, not even for accelerated 3D graphics or ALSA sound -- all using the latest Debian GNU/Linux (which means it'll also work with Ubuntu or other derivatives). This one has that "classic" feel -- everything just clicked into place. So I wanted to document it here. This also serves as a technology update to my earlier article on selecting hardware for a free-software-friendly system.

Making a copyright system that works

Free software exists in a kind of "special trade zone" within the existing copyright system, defined by free copyleft licenses like the GNU General Public License (GPL). Free culture has created similar zones with tools like the Creative Commons' licenses. We usually consider that to be sufficient. Yet we are often frustrated by the desire to interface with the rest of our culture, and sooner or later we'll all have to face the big bugbear that is reforming the copyright system. Aside from a few vested interests in the entertainment industry, nearly everyone hates the system we've got -- it's clearly overreaching and ill-adapted to the electronic world of the internet. But what sort of system would we like? That's much more contentious. Here's a synthesis of a few prominent ideas of what real copyright reform might look like.

Interview: Nina Paley (author of "Sita Sings the Blues" and the two "Minute Meme" animations)

In lieu of today's regular column, I've decided to present an edited transcript of a very informative interview of Nina Paley by Thomas Gideon of "The Commandline Podcast." Paley has been doing a lot of interviews since her free-licensed release of "Sita Sings the Blues" and her subsequent work with QuestionCopyright.org (specifically her two "Minute Meme" animations: "Copying Is Not Theft" and "All Creative Work is Derivative") -- reading them all would be quite a bit of work. But this interview is possibly the best -- covering all of the major issues she's been talking about in what I thought was a very insightful way. So: kudos to Nina Paley and to her interviewer, Thomas Gideon, and I hope you find this text version interesting.

Making a videoloop with Kino and Audacity

In my recent article on QDVDAuthor, I skipped over the task of making a videoloop for the main DVD menu. Here I'm going to show you how I did it. The goal is a short loop of video that smoothly transitions through five different video segments and back to the beginning again. The audio is shaped and lowered to make it more or less even and not so distracting (loud menus can be obnoxious if they are left running).

Book Review: Crafting Digital Media by Daniel James

Daniel James is the director of the Studio 64 GNU/Linux distribution, which serves as a basis for professional music studio mixing installations, as well as an experienced writer and editor. Thus it is not surprising that he should create an excellent book on music mixing. What did surprise me was how well he covered visual arts as well -- photography, drawing, animation, and video production.

Crafting Digital MediaCrafting Digital Media

The Morevna Project: Anime with Synfig and Blender

The Morevna Project aims to create an animated film in a modern anime-style retelling a very old Russian folktale known as "Marya Morevna". It's a free culture production project pushing the envelope in several ways -- entirely using free software tools and releasing under the free Creative Commons Attribution license. The project is purely community-based, without any foundation funding, so they can probably use your help. Joining could be a terrific learning opportunity, whether your interest is in literature, music, animation, or software development.

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