Funding a Free/Libre animation: ZeMarmot

If you read this, you probably know ZeMarmot. If you don’t: ZeMarmot is an animation film, in digital 2D (“old” style, i.e. with hand drawings, but done digitally directly on a computer, instead of paper and paint), which we are producing (teaser visible on the webpage).

  • Story in 2 words: it tells about an Alpine Marmot who travels around the world.ZeMarmot logo
  • Artistically, Aryeom Han is the boss, film director, storyboarder, animator, designer, you name it! She is a trained animation director, graduated in Fine Arts from Samyeong university in South Korea, with animation film major. She worked several years as freelancer in Japan, Korea and New Zealand, taught and experienced with proprietary software, and now for a few years with free software.
  • Technically we use only Free Software, be it GIMP for all the drawing (everything digital is drawn with GIMP, which is an awesome software), Blender VSE for video editing, Ardour for sound editing, even GNOME as our desktop environment over the GNU/Linux Operating system. When we say “full-stack”, we mean it! Not easy every day, mind you, but the goal is also to improve the FOSS stack for graphics and video creation since I am myself a Free Software developer.
  • Released as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International, which basically means: do whatever you want, download, share, reuse… but keep the authorship and the license (similar to GPL license in software world), double licensed with Free Art.

A paid team

Right now, the team is basically Aryeom, me (Jehan) and musicians (AMMD) for original soundtracks (music also under CC by-sa/Free Art licenses).
Aryeom and I are working nearly full-time on ZeMarmot. AMMD is rather freelancing.

Originally we hoped to have more people (you can see this in our crowdfunding talks), but one of the goal of the project is to pay every contributor for their work. Now I have nothing against voluntary contribution. Hell, I do a lot myself in Free Software! And this can also be of awesome quality, sometimes better than many paid works. But for this project we really want to do a professional project in all points of view. So Aryeom and AMMD are paid. I am the only one who is not paid right now because we just don’t have the funds, and this project is dear to me.

With more funds, we wish to pay myself, better Aryeom and AMMD, and get more contributors, in particular at first probably an animator or painter to help Aryeom.

Funding the common way

Funding is the hard part. I have tried some private funding (company foundations), public ones, even a museum which has an “Art and Technology” grant. But competition is hard (hundreds of people go for the same grants), and maybe I’m just not a good pitch writer because we don’t have much success there.
Also it does take a lot of time to apply for grants, which is especially frustrating when you don’t get them.

On the other hand, several types of public grants for audiovisual and cinema works are out of reach because one of the criteria is often to be with a production company. Some things just cannot be done out of the normal process. And well actually a production company proposed us twice to discuss about funding our movie the proper way, i.e. through them. That’s good right? Well not entirely. The movie license itself, Creative Commons BY-SA, is an important piece of the project to us. And normal productions are not too fond of such “free” licensing. I know that it is possible to make quality Free/Libre Art (the kind of quality that we will go to festivals with, not only visual quality but also script and direction, i.e. all artistic qualities) and still make it professionally (paid artists and technicians). And I want to prove by doing.
This is why we are delaying any “going the usual way” change as much as possible.

Continuous crowdfunding…

Up to now, our main source of funding was the initial crowdfunding, as well as some donations from individuals (thanks everyone!), funding from the umbrella association (LILA) of the project, and personal savings.

For the last few months, we have been experimenting with periodic crowdfunding platforms, which are Patreon for USD ($) and Tipeee for EUR (€). Basically you subscribe for a monthly contribution (from which you can unsubscribe at any time). The Patreon has been stagnating at $16 a month (by 6 contributors), and the Tipeee funding is 42€ a month (by 12), which may be the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, but a meme does not feed you, right? 🙂
All the money is managed by the non-profit LILA and is used for the project. But there is barely enough to pretend being paid, right now.

What we want to do… and what we need for it…

We will anyway finish the pilote, and send everyone’s rewards (from the initial crowdfunding), even if we don’t get much more funds, because we committed on it. But if we want for the experiment to be more than just an experiment, we need to make a call here: if you can spare even 1 dollar/euro or 2 a month (or 10, 20, even why not 100 if you can afford! 😉 Yet if you can’t: 1 is better than 0), it would mean the world to us!

Also the more people are sponsoring ZeMarmot, the more it supports our idea that we are going in the right direction, but also it can help us secure some public or private grants (the kinds which won’t go against our ideals by asking re-licensing). Indeed if thousands of people are behind the project, it definitely increases the project’s credibility towards grants organizations.

With your help, I could continue improving the FOSS graphics and video stack, which means continuous contribution to GIMP (already being done, but it would be great if I could get paid to do it, right?). I am also working on an absolutely cool animation plugin for GIMP. Aryeom will safely work on this awesome animation film. AMMD can compose and record more Libre/Free Music. We all definitely want more Free Art and Free Knowledge in the world with great artists being actually paid for doing the right thing.
And we want more people joining us. Maybe some day, we could have a big animation studio doing big jobs under Free License and with Free Software! Who knows?!

This is what you helping us could accomplish!

Help us fund ZeMarmot continuously!

So we need you! You can help us achieve all this by contributing a little and showing that you care for what we do. Do you? 🙂
If so, you can click one of the logos below, whether you prefer to contribute in euro or dollar ↴

Click to sponsor us on Patreon (USD)!

Click to sponsor us on Patreon (USD)!

Click to sponsor us on Tipeee (EUR)!

Click to sponsor us on Tipeee (EUR)!

Excerpt of ZeMarmot’s Animatic

We made the choice from the start about ZeMarmot animation film to not show too much during production process because we don’t want to totally spoil the fun. By the past, I already had the case where I saw a movie animatic before the finale movie, and it really spoiled some fun out of the finale artworks.

But since we realize that you’d all would like to see some of what is happening “behind the stage”, here is a small excerpt of our animatic for the pilote (about 30 secs off the first scene). As usually, whatever is digitally-drawn (some parts were pencil-drawn) was done with GIMP.

What is the animatic

So I think I may have already vaguely told about it. The animatic is basically the next step after the storyboard: you take all the images from the storyboard, and chain them with the right rhythm, as well as basic effects (pans, zooms…) to get a “feeling” of what your finale movie will look like. It still requires some imagination because that’s basically a few static image every second or so. Not enough to be called a proper animation yet!

But with the right mindset, this is enough to get an idea and also time your movie!

In animation-making, this is also the moment when you freeze your story, the script, the scene and many direction choice. Whereas feature films allow for last second camera or script changes, it would be much more costly in animation films, unless you feel OK asking your painter to redraw several times the same scenes with various perspectives and to throw away days, if not weeks of work. This is why at some point, you need to make choices and try to stick to it as much as possible (last minute changes may always happen, but you always have to weigh the pro and cons).

ZeMarmot’s animatic

We finished ours around April, and have 2 versions: one without sound, and one heavily commented by myself (in French) for the musicians to get an idea of what they have to work on. We are currently working with them on a few songs. I hope we can soon give you more feedbacks about this particular part of our production too.

Currently the full animatic for the pilote is about 7 minutes. But this is likely to change slightly.

Reminder: if you want to support our animation film, made with Free
Software, for which we also contribute back a lot of code, and
released under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international, you can
support it in USD on Patreon or in EUR on Tipeee.
The animatic excerpt above is drawn and edited by Aryeom and also
released under CC by-sa 4.0,

crossroad 0.6 released: cross-building GIMP as an example

Hello all!

TL;DR; if you don't care at all about how crossroad works,
and you just want to cross-build GIMP in a few commands,
see at the bottom of the article.

Over the years, I have written a tool to cross-compile software under a GNU/Linux OS for other targets: crossroad. Well to this day, the only supported targets are Windows 32/64-bit. I realized I never advertised this tool much which — even though it has been originally built to help me build and hack a specific project (GIMP) — ended up as a generic cross-compilation system for Linux.

“The crossroads” where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the Devil, by Joe Mazzola (CC by-sa 2.0)

So today, I will explain crossroad by giving a concrete example:

Cross-compiling GIMP on GNU/Linux for Windows system

The basics

The cool stuff about crossroad is that it allows to cross-build as easily as a native build. For instance f your build system were the autotools, you would run the famous triptych ./configure && make && make install, right? Well with crossroad, you only wrap the configure step but the rest is the same!
cmake is also fully supported, even though my examples below won’t show it (check out the manual for more).

All what crossroad does is preparing you a suitable environment, with the right environment variables, but also wrappers to various tools (for instance, you get the x86_64-w64-mingw32-pkg-config tool inside a crossroad environment, which is no more than a wrapper to detect packages inside the cross-built prefix only).

Enough chit-chat. Let’s install crossroad!

pip3 install crossroad

Running crossroad the first time

I will now go through a full cross-build of GIMP for Windows 64-bit, from a brand new crossroad install. It may be a little long and boring, but I want to show you a full process. So you can just run:

$ crossroad --list-targets
crossroad, version 0.6
Available targets:

Uninstalled targets:
w32 Windows 32-bit
w64 Windows 64-bit

See details about any target with `crossroad --help <TARGET>`.

Ok so at this point, you may have no cross-compilation compiler installed. Let’s see what I need for Windows 64-bit.

$ crossroad --help w64
w64: Setups a cross-compilation environment for Microsoft Windows operating systems (64-bit).

Not available. Some requirements are missing:
- x86_64-w64-mingw32-gcc [package "gcc-mingw-w64-x86-64"] (missing)
- x86_64-w64-mingw32-ld [package "binutils-mingw-w64-x86-64"] (missing)

The package name was actually based off a Mint or a Mageia, I think. If you use Fedora for instance, you will want to install mingw64-gcc and mingw64-binutils.  Just adapt to your case.

Let’s check the output of crossroad again:

$ crossroad --help w64
w64: Setups a cross-compilation environment for Microsoft Windows operating systems (64-bit).

Installed language list:
- C
Uninstalled language list:
- Ada Common package name providing the feature: gnat-mingw-w64-x86-64
- C++ Common package name providing the feature: g++-mingw-w64-x86-64
- OCaml Common package name providing the feature: mingw-ocaml
- Objective C Common package name providing the feature: gobjc++-mingw-w64-x86-64
- fortran Common package name providing the feature: gfortran-mingw-w64-x86-64

We could stop here, but I actually know some programs make use of the C++ compiler, so let’s also install `mingw64-gcc-c++`. And now we are good to go!
I create a Windows 64-bit cross-build environment, that I will call “gimp-build”:

$ crossroad w64 gimp-build
Creating project "gimp-build" for target w64...
You are now at the crossroads...
Your environment has been set to cross-compile the project 'gimp-build' on Windows 64-bit (w64).
Use `crossroad help` to list available commands and `man crossroad` to get a full documentation of crossroad capabilities.
To exit this cross-compilation environment, simply `exit` the current shell session.

Dependencies

babl

Now let’s cross-build babl! Very easy one to start with because it does not have any dependencies:

$ cd /path/to/src/of/babl/
$ crossroad configure && make && make install

Done! You’ll notice that you don’t even need to specify a prefix. crossroad is taking care of it.

GExiv2

$ cd /path/to/src/of/gexiv2
$ crossroad configure

The configure ends up with a pretty clear error:

checking for GLIB... no
configure: error: GLib is required. Please install it.

Well basically you have to install glib. And then you think: the hell is starting! Do I have to build every dependency by hand? Fortunately no! crossroad relies on the OpenSUSE cross platform builds and can automatically download many dependencies for you. The reason I don’t do it for for all dependencies (babl, GEGL, libmypaint and GExiv2 in this tutorial) is when packages are either too old or non available. Install glib with:

$ crossroad install glib2-devel

That’s all! Neat right? Well you also have to install Exiv2 (trying to run the configure again, you’d see another error. I spare you the wasted time). You can run a separate command, or could have installed them both at the same time:

$ crossroad install glib2-devel libexiv2-devel

Try again:

$ crossroad configure

In the configuration summary, you’ll see that introspection and python bindings won’t be built-in. But since they are not needed for GIMP, we don’t care.

$ make && make install

And now GExiv2 has been cross-built too!

gegl

Now for gegl:

$ cd /path/to/src/of/gegl
$ crossroad configure

Once again, you’ll get a few dependency errors. I spare you the try and fail process. Here are all the other mandatory libs to install:

$ crossroad install libjson-glib json-glib-devel libjpeg8-devel libpng-devel

And for a fuller list of optional dependencies:

$ crossroad install cairo-devel libtiff-devel librsvg-2-2 librsvg-devel pango-devel libwebp5 libwebp-devel libjasper-devel gdk-pixbuf-devel

Well there are actually more dependencies you could install or build yourself, but I don’t think they are really needed for GIMP. I’ll just leave it there. Now I build:

$ make

But then… a build error (I’ll admit: I left a dependency error on purpose!)!

In file included from /usr/include/SDL/SDL_main.h:26:0,
from /usr/include/SDL/SDL.h:30,
from /home/jehan/dev/src/gegl/operations/external/sdl-display.c:35:
/usr/include/SDL/SDL_stdinc.h:74:20: fatal error: iconv.h: No such file or directory
compilation terminated.
Makefile:1277: recipe for target 'sdl_display_la-sdl-display.lo' failed
make[4]: *** [sdl_display_la-sdl-display.lo] Error 1
make[4]: Leaving directory '/home/jehan/dev/crossbuild/w64/gegl/operations/external'[…]

Well that’s a good example to debug. Look well at the paths… /usr/include/[…], they are definitely for the native platform! So something is wrong.
Also I don’t even remember having installed SDL through crossroad anyway. Well if you were to check out the config.log, you would understand why the configure script found it:

configure:22069: checking for sdl-config
configure:22087: found /usr/bin/sdl-config
configure:22100: result: /usr/bin/sdl-config

Sometimes, some projects would use their own *-config script instead of relying on pkg-config (SDL seems to also have a pkg-config file, not sure why we’d prefer usind sdl-config, but well…). And while pkg-config allows to really separate the build and target environments, I can’t remove the current $PATH because a lot of native tools are needed in a cross-compilation. All this to say: you may encounter issues with software distributing custom *-config script. Be warned!

Anyway let’s install SDL, don’t forget to re-run configure (otherwise the native lib will still be used), then build again.

$ crossroad install libSDL-devel && crossroad configure && make && make install

Easy said, easy done.

libmypaint

Only a single dependency (json-c), then classical configure, make, make install:

$ crossroad install libjson-c2 libjson-c-devel && crossroad configure && make && make install

GIMP

And now for the main course! Once again, I spare you some of the search of dependencies. Here for mandatory deps:

$ crossroad install atk-devel gtk2-devel libbz2-1 libbz2-devel liblzma-devel liblcms2-2 liblcms2-devel

I’ll skip completely Python dependencies. This is the only major part of GIMP I’m still having issues with in my cross-builds so I will run configure with --disable-python.

As for optional dependencies:

crossroad install libgs8 libgs-devel libmng1 libmng-devel libpoppler-glib8 libpoppler-glib-devel poppler-data xpm-nox-devel headers iso-codes-devel libwmf-devel


Note 1: libwmf-devel has the same issue as SDL, thus the configure script would see it installed if you have it on your main system because of the libwmf-config in your $PATH.

Note 2: you can use crossroad search to discover package names. Even better, sometimes you know a file name that configure is looking for (after a dependency error, check out the configure.ac file or the config.log file for this info). For instance, I can’t find a libghostcript but I see that GIMP‘s configure is looking for the file ghostscript/iapi.h to detect ghostscript:

$ crossroad search --search-files iapi.h
"iapi.h" not found in any package name.
The following packages have files matching the search "iapi.h":
- headers
- libgs-devel

Then using crossroad list-files libgs-devel, I can confirm that this is the right package (crossroad info libgs-devel also confirms this is the package for Ghostscript development files).


Back to building GIMP:

$ crossroad configure --disable-python
$ make &&
make install

Note that I don’t built some options in, like the Ascii Art, the help browser, or OpenEXR because I could not find prebuilt dependencies, but it should not be hard for you to build the dependencies yourself as we did for babl/GEGL/…

Running under Windows!

And now you can for instance make a zip to put on a Windows, like this:

$ crossroad --compress=gimp-build.zip w64 gimp-build

This will just compress the whole target build, where GIMP for Windows is under bin/gimp-2.9.exe. Now this is *not* an installer or whatever finale. The target directory is full of files useful for building, yet completely useless for the finale installation. crossroad is *not* meant for making installers… to this day at least (saying that I would not be against if anyone wanted to implement something of the sort. Why not?! Send me a patch!).
Since I usually run Windows in a Virtualbox VM, rather than zipping a whole archive, I would simply share a directory and symlink the target directory like this:

$ cd /path/to/dir/shared/with/windows/vm/
$ crossroad --symlink w64 gimp

Note: in your Windows environment, you must update the PATH environment variable to add your build’s bin/ directory otherwise Windows won’t find your various built DLLs. You’ll find information on how to do so everywhere in the web.

I use crossroad as a developer, to test and sometimes patch directly GIMP for Windows, without ever getting out of my Linux OS. Well I still test under a Windows VM, which runs in Linux. But I develop and compile in my GNU/Linux shell.
Hopefully this tool can be useful to other people willing to test their program under Windows while hacking on GNU/Linux.

About having a good build system

If you followed good programming practice, and use a full-featured build system such as autotools and cmake, chances are that you can cross-build your program with barely any fix to the code. This is for instance what happened when I ported GExiv2 to autotools after we started using it in GIMP. GExiv2 maintainer would say in the blog post:

This in turn allows gexiv2 to build on Windows, something we’d not targeted at all when we began development but is obviously a hard requirement for GIMP.

Just having a good build system turn their Linux-only library into a multi-platform one. Pretty cool, no? And now libmypaint got the same fate, I autotooled it making it just so easy to cross-compile!

But if you have hand-made makefiles (like GExiv2 did), a scons build (like libmypaint did), or other build systems which don’t have a proper support for cross-building, this won’t be as easy. Think twice when you set up your software. The tool you use for builds is definitely not something to take lightly!

The one-step crossbuild script

This was all for you to see how crossroad is working. If you are only interested into building GIMP specifically, I compiled my whole tutorial below into a single build script that you are welcome to copy paste and run with crossroad like this:

crossroad install glib2-devel libexiv2-devel libjson-glib json-glib-devel \
  libjpeg8-devel libpng-devel cairo-devel libtiff-devel librsvg-2-2 \
  librsvg-devel pango-devel libwebp5 libwebp-devel libjasper-devel \
  gdk-pixbuf-devel libSDL-devel libjson-c2 libjson-c-devel atk-devel \
  gtk2-devel libbz2-1 libbz2-devel liblzma-devel liblcms2-2 \
  liblcms2-devel libgs8 libgs-devel libmng1 libmng-devel \
  libpoppler-glib8 libpoppler-glib-devel poppler-data \
  xpm-nox-devel headers iso-codes-devel libwmf-devel headers
git clone git://git.gnome.org/babl
cd babl && crossroad configure && make && make install && cd ..
git clone git://git.gnome.org/gegl
cd gegl && crossroad configure && make && make install && cd ..
git clone git://git.gnome.org/gexiv2
cd gexiv2 && crossroad configure && make && make install && cd ..
git clone https://github.com/mypaint/libmypaint.git
cd libmypaint && crossroad configure && make && make install && cd ..
git clone git://git.gnome.org/gimp
cd gimp && crossroad configure --disable-python && make && make install

If you copy these into a file, say build-gimp.sh, you can run it at once with:

$ crossroad w64 gimp-build --run build-gimp.sh -n

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on how to build GIMP with crossroad!

Note: if you like what I do, consider sponsoring our
animation film (CC by-sa), made with GIMP: ZeMarmot!
We fund it with Patreon (USD) and Tipeee (EUR).

ZeMarmot and GIMP at GNOME.Asia!

While Libre Graphics Meeting 2016 barely ended, we had to say Goodbye to London. But this is not over for us since we are leaving directly to India for GNOME.Asia Summit 2016. We will be presenting both ZeMarmot, our animation film project made with Free Software, under Libre Art licenses, and the software GIMP (in particular the work in progress, not current releases), as part of the team. See the » schedule « for accurate dates and times.

GNOME.Asia Summit 2016, April 21-24, Delhi, India

GNOME.Asia is hosted in Manav Rachna International University in Delhi, India, this year. If anyone is interested to meet us as well as other awesome projects around the Free Software and in particular GNOME desktop ecosystem, we’d be happy to see you there!

GNOME Foundation is sponsoring us to travel to the event. We are very grateful for this!

ZeMarmot sponsored by GNOME

P.S.: I will write a report of Libre Graphics Meeting in a few days. As you can imagine, we barely have the time to stop and breathe right now as we are taking the plane in a few hours!

“ZeMarmot” at Libre Graphics Meeting 2016 and London Gallery West

Hi all!

A short message to tell you that we will be present at Libre Graphics Meeting 2016, invited by the GIMP project as for the last 3 years.

We will showcase a small video on the workflow of ZeMarmot Open Movie in the “Libre Graphics Culture and Practice” exhibition hosted at London Gallery West, art gallery of the University of Westminster.

We will be present for the whole duration of the meeting from April 15 to 18, most often hanging out with other GIMP developers. If you spot us (here some photos of Aryeom, and the top left shot there is me, Jehan), do not hesitate to come and say hi!

Character design (2): clay models

Another aspect of character designing that we did was making the characters actual 3D. No I am not saying modeling them in a 3D software, like Blender. I really mean like “real world physical 3D“: you can touch it with your fingers and feel bumps here and there. I know, this is incredible technology! 😉

Doing clay (or other suited material) representation of characters, objects or even places is a pretty common tool in animation and film making, before actually making, filming, drawing, 3D-modeling (or whatever technology your film uses) the finale images. Such a technique is done in probably all animation schools and animation studios. Therefore this is not about doing props used in the movie, but really for the movie (i.e. not used on camera, and never seen in the actual film). This is a design tool, or a reference for 3D modelers, painters, animators, actors or directors.

As a side note, we saw some cool exhibits of this while visiting Weta studio in New Zealand (a famous studio which does props used in most big Hollywood movies). Amongst other cool stuff, they had this huge fake gorilla — actual size, like more than 2 meters high — in the visitable part of their workshop, which had not been used other than as a reference (I don’t remember which movie, or even if they told us).

So you remember when I was saying in an early post that character sheets are used as reference, right? What if instead of a turnaround character sheet, you had your real physical character you could really turn around? Well we don’t have the real marmot, but we can do clay models.

That’s really cool, right? 🙂

These were actually made back in November, and at the time I only thought of making a small message on @ZeMarmot twitter account in December. Their first usage was helping designing the current version of the main character, by experimenting physically with various shapes. Later they may again be used, as said above for instance for perspective drawing, positioning (or 3D modeling if we ever needed a 3D marmot), and many other cases.

You may also have spotted a few of these statues in the video interview of Aryeom, on her desk. But then, I thought it deserved a blog post on its own, don’t you? 🙂

Note: originally a private post whose link was only given
to Patreon contributors over $10 on February 27, 2016, and made
publicly visible on March 3.
If you like, consider supporting ZeMarmot project on its Patreon page too!

Reuse: all photographs in this blog post are works by Jehan,
portraying Aryeom, under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international.

Launch of Patreon page for ZeMarmot and interview of Aryeom

Great news everyone!

Today we are launching a Patreon page for ZeMarmot project! If you don’t know what this is, Patreon is a crowdfunding platform with a recurring logics, therefore mostly used for continuous creative contents. As ZeMarmot pilote is currently being produced, sponsorship through Patreon will happen monthly. After all, Aryeom just works all the time (daily) for it! And I kind of do too, but differently.

Patreon is in English. Since our project is so international, we also updated the movie website: as usual you can also find French, Korean and Italian versions there. 🙂


To mark the event, I recorded a small semi-impromptu interview of Aryeom yesterday.

So if you like what you see, go and click the big button “Support ZeMarmot on Patreon” above. 🙂

Storyboarding (1)

Today, let’s talk about storyboarding. Often considered optional on feature films, in animation though, bypassing this very important step would be likely self-destruction (unless you go for random or glitch animation. There are a few concept movies in festivals that may have been done without clear storyboarding, I suppose).

Once your scenario is done, the director can set up the stage. The scenario will tells that “in this scene, character A does this, while B does that other thing“. But the director will decide where the camera will be, how it will move, where A will appear from, if maybe B is already in the camera field from the start, where each item and background elements are, and so on.

In feature films, the director choices are often bound to the filming set, and cameras as well. You cannot set your camera(s) anywhere (at least not easily. Prepping cameras on difficult conditions can sometimes take hours). This is probably why storyboards are often forsaken (unless 3D incrustation was planned, in which case more preparation is needed, I guess) because anyway what you imagined on your desk may not be possible once you arrive on the set. Limitations aside, the layout of the location can also give you cool ideas that you couldn’t have had before. For instance you spot a tree with a shape so strange that you think “I have to get this tree in the camera field“. Just because it is there.
Another reason is that many directors love the freedom of “last minute changes”. I guess it is in the creative process. In other words, flexibility is more important
Note: my experience is limited, and on French productions only. On big Hollywood movies with a lot of 3D, preparation steps would be a lot more detailed.

In animation films, on the other hand, flexibility is the root of all evil. No problem for changing the script back and forth. But when you ask your animators and painters to draw detailed scenes, 24 frames per second, you cannot just tell them a month later: “oh finally let’s get the character come from the right, rather than the left, and have the camera pan differently. Eh that’s only 2 minutes of movie (3072 frames) wasted!
Also animation cameras have absolutely no other limitations than the storyboarder and director’s minds. You can have a fixed camera, but also a camera falling from the sky if you wanted to. And you can have whatever you want on the screen: if you think a strangely-shaped tree is cool, just draw it in the background. So these cannot be a reason anymore to last-minute changes as they are in feature films.
These are the reason why you need to stop being flexible at some point and “freeze” your choices. This is done in the passage from script to storyboard, which is the last time where you are allowed flexibility.

Contents of a storyboard page

Storyboard - scene 2 page 2

Storyboard – scene 2 page 2

Here is an example of our storyboard for ZeMarmot. It has actually been modified since then, this is an older version, but this is for the sake of explanation.

Header

The header is important, it contains the scene number, and a page number, in order to keep your documents organized. As you can guess, Aryeom keeps these pages all well ordered in a ring binder.

Timeline

The timeline below contains key frames on the left with all main elements (main characters and important items) in their expected rough position, direction and doing the scripted action.
This gives a very good idea of what will appear on screen, while not being perfectly detailed and measured yet. You can notice that some images get out of the frame format (like the 3rd frame on the above page), and the small “Pan” arrow indicating that a camera panning will be done here. Therefore the finale background will be drawn bigger than the frame.
This is indication for the painter, animator and the editor.

The right part contains various indications of matter for the script, like specific moods, action details of the character which may not be clear on a static image, specific sound effects, rhythm sync (when you need perfect sync with a music)… Anything which needs precision. Indications are also spread on the images themselves on the left side, with arrows or various indicators when it makes understanding easier.

Actually it is not uncommon to have vertical panning drawn on several boxes of the storyboard, or horizontal panning eating the “comments” part. In the below example, panning was as big as 3 frames, so Aryeom would stick an additional piece of paper with scotch tape to the left, and fully draw on the comment box to the right:

Storyboard - Scene 2, page 3

Storyboard – Scene 2, page 3

This is where we see that perfectly organized boxes and field are not always adapted to all situations and that it is good to improvise. 🙂

Paper and Digital

Well we are also quite technological people, right? Aryeom uses both medium. She often writes on paper storyboard when not in the studio, or when she wants to have the analog feel. But she also uses the computer to prepare the storyboard.

It is much easier to “add” boxes, or change some of the layout ideas with a tablet pen, right? Here for a sneak peek of the storyboard in progress by Aryeom, drawn on GIMP, as usual:

Storyboard - scene 2 WIP

Storyboard – scene 2 WIP

Well I hope you enjoyed the update and the storyboarding information. We will probably post more on this topic, so here again, I add a small (1) in the title. 🙂


Note: as often, all the photographs and images in this blog post are
works by Aryeom,under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international.

Main character design (1)

Today let’s discuss character design! This is a complex topic, and I can foresee several other blog posts to be done on this topic. What we call character design is often called “study”, because this is what it is: the “study” of a character. It is more than just a graphics style as you could do for a standalone artwork. And as such, it involves many attempts and experiments.

About character sheets

With Aryeom, we have discussed and reviewed a lot Marmot’s design. This is the main character after all. So she did and redid him a few times. You may remember some of the early designs, which we posted exactly a year ago, and you will likely recognize the design we used in our teaser.

These types of design sheet are called “turnaround” sheets, since they show the character on various angles, usually at least front, back and one side (or both sides if the character or one’s clothing are not really symmetric). Sometimes you may have more angles, or even specific sheets with smaller angle rotations, focusing on a particular side of the body (like a few angles on the back, etc.).

There were actually a lot other versions of Marmot, for instance one of the early conceptualization was very cute, and I still like it very much.

Marmot research

As you can see, this is a different style of character sheet. You often find these under the name of “rough” character sheet since these are quick sketches (which is what a rough is) of the character in various poses or situations. These different kinds of character sheets are complementary and in the end, you have many of these for the same design. Rough ones are usually earlier in the concept design, though it may depend on the artist.

So what are these for? They have multiple purposes. Of course a main goal is collaborative work: if several artists have to draw the same character, one has to make sure everyone doesn’t draw a personal variation. Consistency is important. But even if you were to work alone, you need consistency with yourself! With time, memory and your previous work as only reference, you lose the chosen style and the character attributes. You cannot even use your own scenes as reference because you would slowly diverge, from scene to scene. Indeed maybe the character in scene 30 looks like in scene 29. Same for scene 29 and 28. But what if you were making slight changes while barely noticing, or letting them slip since these may be seen as minor glitches, which would add up, so that the styles between scene 1 and scene 30 are actually quite different in a very noticeable way?
This is why you need a stable reference fixed in time, always the same. So you prepare your reference for various cases, on all angles, and plan a whole bunch of possible poses and actions to refer to later. These references are the character sheets.

Note that even (more?) for 3D films, you need character sheets as a detailed reference for the 3D modeler.

Finally another good purpose is to build a solid character. When you draw and redraw, you get to understand him/her, to grasp one’s purpose and behavior, one’s particular attribute. Why is he wearing this? How did one get this scar? Should one have a birthmark here? What kind of action is one likely to do? Is it a character who runs? Who cries often? Who is happy? Without this, you end up building up the character in the same time as you produce the film, and create irregularities, or changes which don’t add up. How many times have I read webcomics where a character would be right handed or left handed on different scenes, or attributes as important as scars would be forgotten sometimes. Why? Likely because these attributes had no real meaning for the creator (of course mistakes happen to anyone, with or without character design. This is not a perfect fail-safe tool. But it helps).
Once again, this is about consistency, but also about a deep character that people will love or hate, and in any case in who they will believe in.

Note also that this is all just “common knowledge”, and there are “styles” where detailed character sheets (or even character sheets at all) might not be necessary, or — why not — even undesirable (that would be rare though, but why not!). Rules are here to be broken, as long as you do it on purpose while knowing what it entails. In the end, use your common sense.

Marmot’s current design

Something we heard a few times with our teaser was: «this cat is so cute!». Now we don’t want to do a scientific documentary, but we still want that people recognize which animal we are drawing (ok it wasn’t that bad. Many people still directly recognized a marmot; also it turns out that in many countries, marmots are quite an unknown animal, which explains failure to recognize). On the other hand, we don’t want too much of anthropomorphism in our movie, but this is still an animation about a marmot traveling with a swag on the shoulder, so there is a good share of anthropomorphism anyway, right? So this makes it OK to leave some scientific aberration for the purpose of a fun movie. Let’s just make a good compromise between scientific rigor and fun.

After seeing and photographing a lot of marmots in the Alps, Aryeom tried a whole new bunch of designs. For reference, here is a real Alpine marmot:

Alpine Marmot in Saint Veran (2015-09-21)

Alpine Marmot in Saint Veran (2015-09-21)

To cut to the chase, here is the current design for our main character.

Marmot: character design 3

Marmot: character design 3

Note that we still allow ourselves to change the design before actual production (i.e. finale drawing) begins, but we thought it may be worth updating you with this new design. which you may already have noticed in our new year drawing.

What to say about it? First it obviously looks a lot more like a marmot while still keeping its share of anthropomorphism. In particular the feet look shorter than most our other designs, the snout is closer to the real deal, eyes are on the side rather than in the front, and the ears are lower than the teaser version (ears in particular were probably the attribute which made people believe it was a cat). Fingers also properly follow marmot’s anatomy with 4 fingers on the arms and 5 on the feet.

The color scheme has also been updated, brighter, brownish. The grey color was making it too close to a mouse (even though many marmots are really grey-ish). On this topic, you can notice how Aryeom places the character color palette directly on the design to easily pick from it later (because a colorized character sheet would not only be about painting consistency but also color consistency).

I think this is all for now. Soon more on character design and other topics!


Note: as often, all the photographs and images in this blog post are
works by Aryeom,under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international.

ZeMarmot in 2015: research, script finalization and character design

ZeMarmot is slowly coming to shape… well not in animated images yet, but hopefully soon. A small summary of what happened in 2015 and early 2016:

Research

As you know, we have been to the Alps (as well as 1 day to the Massif Central) in September.
We got more than 100 GB of data (for 4 days of research, considering we lost most of the first day data), consisting mostly of photos, videos and sounds. We will share the full raw data with you under a Libre license (likely CC by-sa) at the end.

As a side note, we are also now in contact with a scientist, specialist on marmots (yes it does exist!). Not that ZeMarmot is any kind of scientifically-accurate film, but it is always nice to get some scientific background as a basis, even if it means later breaking the rules of nature (which is ok when done on purpose). We’ll tell more about this if the contact evolves into a real cooperation. 🙂

Music

October was rather slow since we were planning to go to the Creative Commons Summit, which we unfortunately failed to attend to, very sadly for uncontrolled reasons. Then Aryeom has been absent for a week for a trip to Italy (not ZeMarmot-related, but it ended up with some resources that we may use).

In between though, we met the musicians of the AMMD cooperative during the 15th birthday party of their founding music band. This was a cool and very enjoyable first meeting.

Redesigning

In November and December, we have worked quite a bit on a redesign of the main and secondary characters. We will post later details in a dedicated news.

Script

November and December were quite eventful on the scenario side as well.

First of all the format of ZeMarmot: for quite a long time, I hesitated on the exact format that ZeMarmot should have. Heading for a short, we would definitely not have the time to do anything close to what I envisioned for the story. A featurette on the other hand, we can do something cool, but will we manage to ever finish it? We just don’t have the funds. A series is a cool idea, but I was really looking forward a film in the end. Series are a cool format, with their own good points, but also bad ones. Yet in our situation, we may not have much of a choice.

Working on the script, with Wikipedia on!

Working on the script, with Wikipedia on!

So already since October, we decided to release ZeMarmot in the form of a series, but with the actual goal of having a feature film in the end. This is actually quite a hard gamble and I seriously hope we will manage to make every episode interesting, while also making sense as one movie. This is similar to the planning of Cosmos Laundromat from the Blender Foundation.
The funding is used to finalize the first episode (the “pilot“), which hopefully will trigger people interest to fund the rest! 🙂

Pilot treatment is over

And now we finished the treatment of our pilot on January 20!
I am quite happy with it and think you will all find it very cool too. But I don’t want to spoil the fun and reveal details. This said, we are working transparently since it is a Libre movie. So we will look for ways to share script details to people who don’t care about auto-spoiling themselves (if you are such a person, just contact us). 🙂

Working on ZeMarmot treatment

Working on ZeMarmot treatment

Next Steps

And now? Aryeom is working hard on the pilot storyboard (as you may guess on the above image, this is already work in progress), which should result into a first animatic. In the same time, we will start working with AMMD for the few scenes of the pilote which require music.

Stay tuned!