This has been a very busy year for our "Lunatics" project (a free-film/free-culture animated web series about the first settlers on the Moon). As with many software projects, we keep our assets in a version-control system -- specifically "Subversion". In principle, Subversion does everything we need. The command line interface, however, does not make the right things easy for us (it's far too obsessed with parsing text files, which are incidental to our project, and it balks when given binary data files (which are essential). To keep a handle on the file tree, we need something a little smarter, and I've recently adopted "kdesvn" to do that job. This seems to solve the biggest annoyances.
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.
If you've been following my column for the last year or two, you already know that "Lunatics" is the free-culture animated science-fiction series that we are creating with free-software applications like Blender, Synfig, Audacity, Inkscape, Gimp, and Krita. We are finally crowd-funding for our pilot episode "No Children in Space" on Kickstarter. If we get funded, this will be a major step forward for free-culture and free-software in the media industry. Come check it out, tell everybody you know, and/or get a copy on DVD or other cool stuff from the project!
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.
We use a common extension for MediaWiki for managing our script-development process on "Lunatics". It works quite well, and it might not be obvious, so I thought I'd explain it here. The idea is to make it possible for the writer to work on the script in a single page while allowing the director to add shooting notes, storyboards, and other material to each scene -- and to keep everything synchronized so that we don't have two versions of the script.
Blender has a useful set of constraint-based animation tools which make it fairly simple to animate motion of objects or of the camera along controlled paths. I expect to use this a lot, so I want to make sure I understand how it works. Here I'm going to work out a simple example using the "Suzanne" monkey meshes in Blender 2.49 to demonstrate simple path and tracking constraints with a mesh and with the camera. Because everything is better with monkeys.
So far, my favorite video editing app is Kdenlive. I found that it provided a relatively shallow learning curve and a familiar multi-track interface, but it also didn't make it hard to get to the kinds of controls I need for the precise control I want to have on vocational editing jobs.
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.
Home recording is not that hard or expensive to do, and Audacity provides a great tool for recording and editing dialog. I recently got the equipment together to do decent voice recording for our "Lunatics" video project. Total cost was under $150.00 for a condenser USB microphone system, and the sound is a tremendous improvement over my previous attempts. Now our biggest challenge is the room acoustics. So far, we're having a lot of fun recording dialog.
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.
In planning the production of the Lunatics series, the most obvious challenge is simply how to do that much animation on such a low budget. Conventional "key frame" animation (which is what Blender excels at and is what familiar 3D movie studios like Pixar use to create their blockbuster films) is beautiful, but it's also painstakingly slow work. Animators live for this stuff, but for me, it's a mountain that just might crush my project. Fortunately, it's not the only way. There are methods for making animation more like acting -- creating a performance in real-time and capturing it in a simulated world. These can be broken down into three basic methods (although they can be used together, creating many overlapping variations): "machinima", "digital puppetry", and "motion capture". Each is a "bleeding edge" area for free software development, but tools do exist.
Unless you've been hiding in a cave for the last few years, you probably know about the free multimedia codecs with the fishy-sounding names from Xiph.org: Ogg Vorbis (for sound) and Ogg Theora (for video). You might be less familiar with other family and friends, including FLAC (lossless audio), Skeleton (metadata stream), and Kate (subtitles). However, together this collection of codecs can be used with the Ogg container format to provide all of the functionality of a DVD video file -- multiple soundtracks, full surround sound, high definition, and selectable subtitles. Having created the various streams for a prototype release of "Sintel" in my last few columns, I'm now going to integrate them into a single video file and test it with some players.
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.
I am setting up five MediaWiki instances in three domains on one server with three different security configurations. Each has its own MySQL database backend and its own separate home on the filesystem. All share the same MediaWiki code (from the standard Debian GNU/Linux 6.0 "Squeeze" package installation). All share the same extensions, including the Debian packaged extensions, and some others installed from source. And of course, I'm migrating content from my home LAN server to the web server. In this column, I'll explain how I'm doing this in 10 "easy" (okay, actually quite hard) steps.
Some of us want to be able to release high-definition video (possibly even 3D) without evil copy protection schemes. I've been avoiding Blu-Ray as a consumer since it came out, mostly because Richard Stallman said it has an evil and oppressive DRM scheme. After my first serious investigation, I can confirm his opinion, and frankly, it's a pretty bleak situation. What can we do about it? Here's five ideas for how we might release high definition video.
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.
There are a number of good reasons for installing a virtual machine on your computer -- as a way to run software that isn't compatible with your primary operating system, as a sandbox for development, or as a place to test package installations, new distributions, or new server configurations. Setting one up with VirtualBox OSE is quite easy.
Previously, I demonstrated creating an animatic using Kino. That was an interesting exercise, but Kino is not really up to that kind of job. Blender, on the other hand, has a very nice "video sequence editor" built into it, and it turns out to be very well adapted for this kind of task.
There's a reason they're called "movies." They're supposed to move. Your eyes are keyed to follow motion, and the constant revelation of new information in a moving shot holds your interest longer. Thus, while four seconds might be about the maximum comfortable length for a static shot, shots in which the camera or subject are moving extensively can often last more than a minute without feeling slow at all. Storyboards made entirely from static images make it hard to judge active shots. It's useful, therefore, to be able to insert some movement at the storyboard phase by panning and zooming a drawing. Here I'm going to demonstrate such an animated storyboard using Inkscape and Blender.
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.