After an additional year of production work, our free-film project "Lunatics!" is back up on Kickstarter. We have a lot more done - some "finished" animation, voice acting and soundtrack mixing, a lot more completed 3D models, including some of the toughest mech modeling, and several characters. We are still 100% free-culture, using CC By-SA license for everything we release, and we're still open-source, making our models and other elements available to the commons. We use only music with By-SA compatible licenses, and we are working entirely with free-software, especially Blender, Kdenlive, and Audacity.
The "Lunatics" project is moving on to the next stage, which is audio production -- recording voices, mixing sound effects and music, and putting it to an animatic which will be used later in creating fully-animated scenes. But we have a couple of problems for which we need free software help. We're also trying to meet a Kickstarter goal to get just this part of the project completed.
The last week has been terrific for "Lunatics". We've cleared the licenses on almost all of the music -- and certainly the most important pieces. However, for a moment, I want to focus on the little problem with the one minute of music we probably won't get to use, and the right and wrong way to relicense your art if you are ever in that situation.
This week I discovered some new resources for texture graphics to use in 3D modeling. Textures are essential for most 3D modeling projects of any complexity, and good textures can sometimes make very simple "low-poly" models look much better.
By now you'll have heard and experienced the anti-SOPA protest. Wikipedia, Wired, Wordpress, Google, Twitpic and even this very tome were joined by probably thousands of smaller sites as large sections of the web went black to demonstrate what the web might end up like should SOPA be passed. As a Brit I joined in - even though the bill is a US one - because the effects of this nefarious piece of "leglislation" would most certainly be felt on the fair green isles that make up my homeland. The good news is both SOPA and PIPA were shelved after the protest - which proves if nothing else the power of protest. Yes they may wel return in some other form so the fight may not be over but the protest itself (for me) raised another question: is the [English-speaking] web too US-centric?
The torrent site, Pirate Bay has introduced a new category of downloads -- for physical designs of 3D-printable objects. This is an interesting step forward for Open Hardware as this will make designs available to a broader audience. There is already a proprietary distribution channel via Shapeways, but making the designs publicly downloadable means they can be printed by local suppliers or on your own 3D printer.
In the United States, Nielsen has long been the main source of data for evaluating television shows and stations for advertisers. It's considered a very reliable source. So their inclusion of data on web video watching habits in their 2011 report on the "The U.S. Media Universe" is a real boon to anyone planning to enter this field. It's interesting to ask what are the consequences to free culture productions and the free software used for creation and consumption of video arts.
A few years ago, I discovered a site called "FreeSound.org" which sounded quite exciting, but turned out to be rather disappointing because the content was released under the Creative Commons "Sampling+" license, which is not a free license. This made all of the content incompatible with use on free software or free culture projects, and was very frustrating, especially given the name. Last month, though, Creative Commons decided to retire the Sampling+ licenses, and FreeSound.org is rolling out a new site with a license chooser that favors the "CC 0" public domain declaration and the "CC By" attribution licenses -- both compatible with free projects. This will be a big help for free-culture multimedia projects.
You've probably heard of "Last FM", a music playlist site that allows users to track their favorite bands and listen to music streamed over their mobile devices. But you may not have heard of Libre FM, a recent free software project and free culture web application intended to serve this purpose exclusively for free-licensed musical works.
We're putting the finishing touches on our initial Kickstarter campaign for our free-culture science-fiction web series "Lunatics", which is being made with free software tools in a process very similar to free software development. This is an experiment in commercial free culture, using the platform that has quickly come to be the standard for this kind of project fund-raising. Is Kickstarter all it's cracked up to be? I think it is, and for this installment in my "making free movies with free software" series, I'd like to explain why.
Digging through "free" sites to sort the "free beer" from the "free speech" content is quite a chore. Many of the sites are not useful for free culture projects, and many make it very difficult to tell. Fortunately for you, I took notes! Here you will find 8 sites with free-licensed content, 8 more with licenses that you'll probably find acceptable for many projects, and 20 others that might be useful on some projects if you're not a purist. There are also 22 sites I have to warn you away from, because their terms are incompatible with use in free-licensed productions.
One of the most exciting technological trends in recent years has been the rise of "3D printing" technologies for rapid prototyping of arbitrary shapes. I've written about this before for Free Software Magazine, but this month I finally got to try the technology out for myself -- in order to create "study models" (a fancy name for "toys") for my video project, Lunatics. In this column, I'm going to walk through the complete process, from creating 3D models to receiving the final product in the mail.
You might think that a good program is all about good programming. But for a number of applications, the barrier to success isn't programming at all. Some of the most interesting projects nowadays -- speech recognition, for example -- rely on machine-learning from databases of information. It's not enough to write free software for these applications, we have to also provide that software with the right data. Contributing to these projects is needed from a much larger group of people, but it also can be very easy to do.
Classical music itself, by virtue of being old, is mostly public domain, but recordings of performances are usually under copyright, and not many are available for use in free culture works. An emerging new resource, aiming to resolve this problem is MusOpen -- a repository of public domain recordings of public domain music, available in Ogg Vorbis and FLAC formats.
Can artists actually make money on a free software driven free culture project? Having established the motivations and the basic principles in the first two parts, I'm going to look at the big picture here: how money would be distributed among major parts of the project (drawing partly on knowledge accumulated from the proprietary film and television industry -- taking into account the differences), where the money would come from, and what sort of income might be realistic based on the few projects that have gone before us.
Having established the motivations for fair payment on a "commercial free culture project" in the previous column, I'm still left with the question of what exactly "fair" means. The problem is that there's more than one way to determine fair shares on a project like this. The organization is necessarily loose, and so there's no really clear and unambiguous way to determine fairness. Nevertheless, some plan has to be chosen, and in a way that is at least defensible.
In a recent blog, Nina Paley, the animator behind the free-licensed animated film, "Sita Sings the Blues", complained of the enormous confusion caused by poor differentiation of the Creative Commons licenses. In particular, there's a great deal of confusion over the difference between "NonCommercial" and "ShareAlike" licenses. Maybe the Creative Commons licensing system is still too complex? I'd suggest that only three licenses are really needed: "Attribution" (CC By), "ShareAlike" (CC By-SA), and "NonCommercial" (CC By-NC), and that the others are essentially deadweight that's holding the movement back.
I've been trying to zip together what I know about free online collaborative projects (like free software) and commercial free culture projects (like the just-released "Sintel" from the Blender Foundation or "Sita Sings the Blues" from Nina Paley). It's easy to get lost in the logistics of such a production. One of the questions I'm bound to be asked is "How do I know I'm going to get paid?" Artists have a strong fear against being "exploited", though they're often less clear on exactly what that means. A little bit of examination, though, shows this may be a strength of the "Creator Endorsed" free culture approach to marketing a work -- it makes fair payment a matter of personal financial interest to the publisher, as I hope to explain here.
Counting your blessings is good for the soul -- not to mention for convincing yourself and any investors that your project will succeed. Free culture is highly conservative, because it's possible to simply reuse ideas (and sometimes actual artifacts) with little to no cost. Here's seven things I'm really glad I don't have to worry about in designing the production model for our free culture animated series Lunatics.
Free software can be viewed as sort of a public good — everyone can benefit from it. Instead of paying for complete applications, buyers may wish to only pay for specific program elements they want, which the software lacks. Therein lies an opportunity to make money on free software, instead of around it.