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.
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!
I'm used to thinking of region codes as an unmitigated evil, but they do serve one useful purpose: they divide DVD editions up so that any given regional edition has fewer languages to support. It's uncommon to find a DVD with more than just three or four languages in subtitles or audio tracks. Early on in the concept for Lib-Ray, though, I decided to do away with region-coding, and instead allow for broader localization in the design. This means there's just one edition worldwide, which is very helpful, but it does also mean that the subtitle menu in particular can become very cumbersome to navigate. How will we solve this user interface design problem?
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.
Today is the Free Software Foundation's "Day Against DRM" and it seems like an auspicious time to launch a Kickstarter campaign to support the completion of the Lib-Ray standard for publishing high-definition videos on fixed media. I've been posting my progress on the prototypes here in Free Software Magazine, and it's clear to me that this is now just a matter of being able to dedicate the time and resources to finish the job.
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.
In Spring 2011, I started a project to attempt to create a free-culture compatible / non-DRM alternative to Blu-Ray for high-definition video releases on fixed-media, and after about a year hiatus, I'm getting back to it with some new ideas. The first is that I've concluded that optical discs are a bust for this kind of application, and that the time has come to move on to Flash media, specifically SDHC/SDXC as the hardware medium. This is a more expensive choice of medium, and still not perfect, but it has enough advantages to make it a clear choice now.
This is the Blender 2.5 update to Mullen's very successful book on character animation. Since Blender 2.5 introduced a fairly dramatic change in interface design, this is a very useful update. This is a thick and extremely dense book that covers character animation from start to finish.
If you're wondering what machinima is, this book is a good starting point. If you're wondering what machinima is likely to be capable of and what its history has been like, then you'll likewise find it very useful. If you are looking for a how-to or tutorial on making your own machinima, then you'll find this book disappointing. It's basically a highly-illustrated "coffee table book" about the machinima artform.
Among the books I've read to get my head around the process of creating an animated film with Blender, this one is definitely the best. Nowadays you'll probably want to use Blender 2.5 or later, and this book is based on 2.49, but even with this problem, I'd still recommend it. The real win of this book is the way it deals with the synoptic view of the project: how to organize your project, how to break it down into manageable chunks, and even how to store it on disk. It's an excellent resource.
Not so much a software book as a book on theory and technique of sound processing, "Sound Effects, Tips and Tricks" is a concise look at what can be done with good signal processing software. I found the book interesting, occasionally frustrating, and enlightening. In the end, it mostly taught me to have a better understanding of what I didn't know -- but that's useful.
Modeling every single aspect of a scene in a 3D application like Blender is hard when details are very fine (as with hair, bubbles, smoke, or a field of grass), and so there are a variety of automated techniques for pseudo-random modeling. It's also hard to animate every behavior accurately and realistically, especially of complex deforming surfaces. Fortunately, Blender can work out the physics -- applying gravity, collisions, and flexible movement for you. This book is a guide to this difficult subject.
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.
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.
The OpenShot video editor was the easiest to get in Ubuntu Studio's "Oneric Ocelot" release, so we had a chance to try it out recently. It's pretty good -- much more capable than Kino. It provides similar capabilities to Blender's VSE, but without the burden of learning Blender. In fact, the learning curve is very gentle, because the interface is clean and simple.
Coming from Kino, Blender's "Video Sequence Editor" is a huge step up. Most people don't think of Blender when considering video editing tools, but in fact, Blender contains a very good one. This is not a separate application but an editing mode within the Blender application. It can work directly with animated scenes created within Blender or with video footage from other sources. Evaluating it is a little tricky because of this unique niche.
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.
The Blender Foundation has started a new "Open Movie" project called "Mango", and this one is of particular interest to me for Lunatics, because of the technical goal: motion tracking. Motion tracking is principally about putting animated 3D objects into real footage so that it matches the background "plate" (i.e. the original footage).