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.
The final step (and probably most interesting) step in creating my Lib-Ray prototype (for releasing high-definition video without DRM or other anti-features) is to make a disk menu system to access the video data that I've already prepared. This column will actually document my second prototype design, as opposed to the first prototype which I presented at Texas Linux Fest in April 2011. This second is a big improvement and conforms much better to the draft HTML5 standard from the WHAT Working Group, and is much more functional in the existing Chromium browser, although improvements are still needed.
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.
One of the more interesting aspects of Ogg Video is that it allows an essentially unlimited number of subtitle tracks to be included. This is especially useful for free-culture videos, since they are generally released globally, and there are often contributed subtitles. In fact, for "Sintel", I was able to find 44 subtitle files. I will be including them all as Ogg Kate streams in my prototype "Lib-Ray" version of "Sintel", and in this column I will demonstrate the use of several command line utilities useful for this, especially the
kateenc tool for creating the streams.
Ogg Theora is the codec of choice for free-licensed, patent-free video, and so that is the one I'll be using in my experiment in creating an alternative format for distributing high definition video. The original, full-quality animation for "Sintel" is provided as a series of PNG images representing each frame, and so I'll need to turn that into a high-quality Theora video stream for my prototype "Lib-Ray" version of "Sintel". In this column, I'll show how I do that.
Ogg Vorbis and Ogg FLAC (the Ogg stream version of the Free Lossless Audio Codec) are popular free-licensed and patent-free codecs for handling sound. These are the formats I'll be using in a complex Ogg Theora video file that I am creating as part of my "Lib-Ray" experiment in creating an alternative format for distributing high definition video. In order to do this, I'll need to solve several technical challenges using the FLAC command line tools, Audacity, and VLC, which I'll demonstrate here.
Film soundtracks are usually made available in either "Stereo" or "5.1 Surround" sound, although other possibilities exist. Quite a few of the source sound recordings I've been using are "binaural" recordings, which sound eerily realistic over earphones, but often less impressive when played back on speakers. What does this stuff mean, and how can I use free software tools to make the most of it? This will be an ongoing learning experience, but I want to start with a brief description of these most common technologies, and how they are supported by the file formats we have available to us: Vorbis, FLAC, and WAV.
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.
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.
My DVD set for the Blender Foundation's latest open movie, "Sintel," arrived this month. Considering the size, expense, and duration of the production, it's a truly amazing short film. There's much more emotional weight here than in "Elephants Dream" or "Big Buck Bunny." More of interest here, though, is the huge amount of supplementary material included in the set. This is more than just the sources for the movie. There's also a lot of tutorial information for Blender users and of course, an array of personal commentaries on the production process.
There are lots of options for creating 3D characters for animation, and they are often made from scratch by mesh-modeling artists. But it's obviously a very often-needed task, using a lot of common elements, so you'd think someone would come up with a tool to make it easier. And you'd be right. The free-software tool of choice for this task is MakeHuman. I had looked into a much earlier version of the software before, but today it is rapidly approaching the first real release, version 1.0 (currently it's at 1.0-Alpha 5, with plans to go through several more alphas still). The progress is remarkable, and this is going to be a really important tool for 3D modeling in the future.
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.
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.