ZeMarmot work in progress: from animatics to animation

While production on the animation is still going full-steam, we thought we could show what exactly this is about. How do you go from static images to animated ones? Well this is all like progress layers, one step after another.

The Storyboard, then the Animatics

We have already talked about these at length so we won’t do it again. Feel free to check out our previous blog posts on the topic. These are the first 2 layers: comics-like static images (storyboard), and static images displayed in video (animatics).

Key Framing

In the digital world, “keyframes” is used with different meaning. On video formats, it is usually used to distinguish a standalone image in the stream with partial images which cannot be displayed by themselves. On 3D or vector animation software nowadays, it is usually used as extreme points in smooth transition which are computed by algorithm (interpolation). This is more or less the definition given by Wikipedia: “A key frame in animation and filmmaking is a drawing that defines the starting and ending points of any smooth transition.

This definition is a little too “mechanic” and tied to modern way of animating with vector or 3D (actually it is not entirely true even in 3D and vector but this is what one might think when discovering interpolation magic). Key frames are actually simply “important images” as determined by the animator in a purely judgemental way. Keyframing is part of the art of the animator, more than a science. It is true that they are often starting/ending points of movements, but this is not a necessity. Also called sometimes “key poses”, these are what the animator feels make the movement good or not, in one’s guts as an artist.

Pose to Pose vs Straight Ahead animation

When animating, there are 2 main techniques. The first method is to decompose the movement in key poses (keyframes) as a first step. Then later, when it looks good, you complete with intermediate frames (inbetweens). This is the pose to pose method and demonstrated a bit in the above video.

When you are a big studio, keyframes would usually be drawn by the main animators, and the inbetweens would be left to the assistants (less experienced animators). This allows to share the work with more multitasking. In ZeMarmot‘s case unfortunately, Aryeom does everything, since we don’t have the funds to hire more artists as of yet.

The other method is called “Straight Ahead” and consists on doing all frames one after another without prior decomposition. Timing is much harder to plan with such a technique and you may end wasting more drawing. On the other hand, some animators prefer the freedom it gives and by making movements less perfect, you can also avoid them being too mechanical (in other words, perfect movement are not always what you are looking for when you want to represent living being in their whole perfect imperfection).

Observing Aryeom, she uses both methods, depending on the cuts, as is the case for many animators.

Conclusion

Hopefully you appreciate this insight on the work behind animating life, and this small video where we display the same pieces of a scene at different steps in the work-in-progress, first one after another, then side by side.

You will notice that we mostly show always pieces of the same scene since we really want to try and avoid any spoiler as much as possible. 🙂

Have fun!

ZeMarmot team

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.

Release of the pilot episode of an old project: “Ouhlala”

2017 starts well for ZeMarmot, with many new contributors and joy of life!

We  recently found a former project, lost in old hard drives, dating from either end-of-2014, or early 2015 (before  ZeMarmot), when we were still searching for a fun project to keep us  busy. As you know, we haven’t chosen this project, called “Ouhlala“,  which explains this small 30-sec episode was getting forgotten somewhere  in a hard drive. A little sad; therefore we now release it.
Obviously  this serie is on indefinite standby since we now focus on ZeMarmot and this is the  first time we publicly release this episode (it was only shown once  during a very small talk, 2 years ago)!

The early concept of the serie was to illustrate various idioms from all over the world with short  animations (not necessarily in an intellectual way, more with funny  views). The pilot episode focused on the French idiom “Jamais 2 sans 3” (~ things always go in 3).

License of the movie: Creative Commons by-SA 4.0 international
As usual, all is drawn with GIMP, sound is recorded or edited in Ardour, except for a few CC 0 sounds found on the awesome freesound.org.

Have a fun viewing all!


Reminder: if you like what we do, you can fund our current project, ZeMarmot at Patreon (USD) or Tipeee (EUR).

ZeMarmot end-of-year report

Hi everyone!

How are going your last days of 2016 so far? It’s been a strange year? Well let’s not diverge, and focus on ZeMarmot, then, shall we? First be aware that our dear Director, Aryeom Han, is getting a lot better. She was also really happy to get a few “get well” messages and say thanks. Her hand is still aching sometimes, in particular on straining or long activities, but on the whole, she says she can draw fine now.

Reminding the project

I will discuss below what was done in the last months, but first — because it is customary to do so at end of year — I remind that ZeMarmot is a project relying on the funding by willing individuals and companies, with 2 sides: art and software.

I am a GIMP developer, the second biggest contributor in term of number of commits in the last 4 years and I also develop a plugin for digital 2D animation with GIMP, which Aryeom is using on ZeMarmot. I want to get my plugin to a releasable state by GIMP 2.10.

Aryeom is using the software to fully animate, draw and paint a movie, based on an original story which I wrote a few years ago, about a marmot who travels the world for reasons you will know when the film will be released. 🙂 Oh and the movie will be Creative Commons by-SA of course!

Up to now, our initial crowdfunding (~ 14 000 €) has allowed to pay several months of salary to Aryeom. I have chosen to not earn anything for the time being (not because I don’t like being paid but because we cannot afford it with current funding). Some of it is remaining but is kept to pay the musicians.

Now we are mostly relying on the monthly crowdfunding through the Patreon (USD funding) and Tipeee (EUR funding) platforms. But all combined, that’s about 180 € a month, which amounts to barely more than a day of salary (and with non-wage labour costs, that’s not all of it for Aryeom). 1 day per month to make a movie, that’s far from enough, right?

My dream? I wish we could some day consider ourselves a real studio, with many paid artists, producing cool Libre Art movies going to the cinema (yes in my crazy dream, Creative Commons by-sa films are on the big screen!), and developers paid to improve Free Software so that our media-making ecosystem gets even better and for everybody to use!
But right now, that’s no more than an experiment mostly done voluntarily.

Do you like my dream? Do you want to help us make it real? You can by helping the project financially! It can be the symbolic coin as the bigger donation, any push is actually helping us to make things happen!

Click here to fund ZeMarmot in USD on Patreon »
Click here to fund ZeMarmot in EUR on Tipeee »

Not sure yet? Feel free to read more below and to pitch in at any time later on!

Note that not only the money but also the number of supporters is of great help since it shows supports to bigger funders; and for us that’s good for morale too! A good monthly crowdfunding can also help us find producers without having to abandon any of the social and idealistic aspects of the project (note that we have already been contacted by a production who were interested by the film after the crowdfunding but we refuse to compromise too much on the ideal).

The animation

We illustrated Aryeom’s work by 2 videos presenting extracts of her work-in-progress. In this first video, she shows different steps in animating a few cuts of the main character:

In this second video, we examine some cuts of another character, the Golden Eagle, main predator of the marmot:

There are a lot which can be said on these few minutes shown about the work of “animator”. Many pages of books on the art of animating life could be filled from such examples! We will probably detail these steps in longer blog posts but I will still explain the basics here.

Animating = giving life

Aryeom says it in the first video and you can see it in several examples in both videos. When your character moves from A to B, you are not just “moving” it. You have to give the impression that the character is acting on oneself, that it is alive, inhabited, in other words: animated.

This is no surprise one of the most famous book on animation is called “The illusion of life” (by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston), also the bedside book of Aryeom. Going this way has a lot of ramifications on the animator job.

Believable, not realistic

Before we continue, I have to make sure I am understood. Even though realistic animation is also a thing (Disney comes to mind), making a good animation is otherwise not necessarily about making it “realistic”, but instead about making it “believable”.

It is very common to exaggerate some movements for various reasons (often because it is funnier, but also sometimes because exaggerating it may sometimes look even more believable than the realistic version!), or the opposite (bypassing anatomically-correct movements). There are no bad reasons, only choices to achieve what you want.

Now that this thing is clear, let’s continue.

You can’t just “move an arm”

The very classical example beginners will be given is often: “lift your right arm up”. That’s it? Did you only move your arm and the rest of the body stayed unchanged? Of course not. To stay in balance, your body shifted to the left as a counterweight; the right shoulder lifted whereas the left shoulder lowered; and so on.
A lot of things will change in your body with this simple action. Even your feet and legs may move to compensate the shift of the center of gravity. As a consequence, you don’t “move your arm”, you “move your whole body” (in a configuration where your arm is up).

This is one of the first reason why to just move a single part in a body, you cannot reuse previous drawings and change just this part. No, you will properly redraw the whole body because if you are to fake life, you may as well do it well.

Note: when you say “animation” to computer people, their brain usually immediately wires to “interpolation“, which is the mathematics to compute (among other things) intermediate positions. Because of what I said above, in reality, this mathematical technique is barely used in traditional (even when digital) animation. It is used a lot more in vector and 3D animation, but its role should definitely be minimized compared to the animator work even on these fields. In vector/3D, I would say that interpolation only replaced the inbetweener role (some kind of “assistant” who draw non-keyframe images) from the traditional animation world.

Timing, silence and acceleration

You often hear it from actors, poets, writers, singers, anyone who gives some kind of life: the silence is as important as the noise for their art. Well I would also add the acceleration and the symmetrical deceleration.

You can see this well on this first example of the video 1 (at 0’41). Aryeom was unhappy with her running marmot which was nearly of linear speed. Marmot arrived too fast on the flower. Well he slowed down, but barely. Her finale version, Marmot would arrive much faster with a much more visible slowdown, making the movement more “believable” (we get to the bases!).

The eagle flight in video 2 (at 1’09) is another good example of a difficult timing as Aryeom went through 2 stages before finding the right movements. With the wrong timing, her flying eagle feels heavy, like it has difficulty to lift itself into the air (what she called her “sick” eagle in the video); then she got the opposite with an eagle she felt more sparrow-like, too light and easy-lifted. She was quite happy with the last version (obtained after 8 attempts) though, and in particular of this very last bit in the cut, when the eagle gets in glider mode. Can you spot it? This is the kind of difference which just lasts for a few hundredth of seconds, barely noticed, yet on which an animator can spend a significant amount of time.

Living still images (aka “line boil”)

A common and interesting effects you find in a lot of animation is about a shaking still image. You can see it in the second video (at 0’33), first cut presenting the proud eagle still on his mountain. Sometimes you want to show a non-moving situation, but just sticking to a still image feels too weird because in real life, there is no perfect stillness. Even if you make all efforts to stay still for a few seconds, you will imperceptibly move, right? So how do you reproduce this? The attempt to stay perfectly still while this being impossible? Well commonly animators will just redraw the same image several times because as much as you can’t stay still, you can’t draw perfectly identical images twice either (you can get very close by trying hard though) and you loop them.

You usually don’t do this for everything. Typically, elements of the background, you accept them to be still much more easily. But this is common for your living character or sometimes to pull main elements which you want to tick out of the background.

Avoiding cycles

Now, loops are very usual in animation. But the higher quality you aim for, the less you have loops. Same as stillness does not exist in life, you never repeat exactly the same movement twice. So even though loops seems to be the first thing many animators will teach (the famous “walking cycles”), you don’t actually use these in your most beautiful animations. When your main character walks, you will likely re-animate every step.

Of course, it is up to you to decide where to stops. Maybe for this flock of birds in the background, far away, just looping (and even copy-pasting the birds to multiply them!) may be enough. Though this is all a matter of taste, time, and money ready to spent on animator-time obviously.

Camera work

This part has not really started yet, even though it has already been planned (from the storyboard step). But since Aryeom started (first video at 1’06), let’s give some more infos.

Panning and tilting

In animation, where the movement is by essence 2D as well, these refers to respectively a horizontal and vertical camera movement. Why do I need to say “in 2D animation”? Because in more traditional cinema, these will rather correspond to a tracking shot done on rails, whereas panning and tilting refer to angle movements of a static camera. Different definitions for different references. Note that even though 3D animation could be using one or the others, they mostly kept the animation vocabulary.

This gives you a good hint on how characters and background are separately managed. If you have a character walking, you will usually create a single image of the background, much bigger than the screen size, and your camera will move on it, along with the character layers. With fully digital animation, this usually means working on image files of much higher sizes than the expected display size; in traditional physically-drawn animations, it means using very large papers (or often even sticking papers together). As an example, at a Ghibli exhibition, they would display the background for a flying cut of “Kiki’s delivery service” and it would take a full wall in a very large room.

Animation is a lot of drawing

I will conclude the section on animation by saying: that’s a bloody lot of drawing!

As you can see, Aryeom spends time redrawing the same cuts so many times to get the perfect movement that sometimes she becomes crazy and thinks that she is just drawing the wrong animal. The story about the pigeon is a true story and I am the one who told her to add it to the video because that was so funny. Some day, she comes to me and show me her cut she has been working on for days. Then she asks me: “doesn’t it look like a pigeon?”
Hadn’t I stopped her, she was ready to start over.

This is an art where you even draw again when you want to show stillness, and you forbid yourself from using too much shortcuts like using loops. So what do you want: you probably have to be a little crazy from the start, no? 😉

There are actually several “schools”, and some of them would go for simplicity, shortcut and reusage. Japan is well known for the studio Ghibli which goes the hard way as we do, but this is quite a contradiction in the country industry. The whole rest of Japan’s animation industry is based on animating as little as possible. Haven’t they proved so many times that it is possible to show a single still image for 30 seconds, add sounds and voices, then call it an animation?

Sometimes it is just a choice or a focus. Some animation films focus on design rather than believable movements, or scenario rather than wonderful images. For instance, I don’t think you can say that The Simpsons has a wonderful graphics appeal and realistic animation (they even regularly makes meta-jokes inside episodes about the quality of their animation!), but they have the most fantastic scripts, and that’s what makes their success.
So in the end, there is no right choice. Every one should just go the way they wish for a given project.

And this is the way we are going for ZeMarmot!

Music

Just a very short note on music. We have started working with the musicians, remotely and on a physical meeting on December 1st.  We have a few extracts of “first ideas” but they won’t do justice to the quality of the work.

I think this will have to wait for much later.

Software

I went so long about animation that I hope I have not lost half of the readers already! If you are still reading, I’ll say what I worked on these last months.

GIMP

I am trying to do my share on GIMP, to improve it globally, speed up the release of 2.10 and because I love GIMP. So I count 259 commit authorship in 2016 (60 in the last 3 months) + 48 as committers only (i.e. I am not the author, but the main reviewer of a patch which I pushed into our codebase). I commented on 352 bug reports in 2016, making it a habit to review patches when possible.

I have a lot of projects for GIMP, some of the grander being for instance a plugin management system (to install, uninstall and update them easily from within GIMP, and a backend side for plugin developpers to propose extensions), but also a lot of ideas about the evolution of the GUI (this should be discussed topic-per-topic on later blog posts).

Also I have been starting to experiment with Flatpak so that GIMP can provide an official release for GIMP.  For years, our official stance has always been to provide a Windows installer, a OSX package, and GNU/Linux… yeah grab the source and compile or use the outdated version from your package manager! I think this situation can be considerably improved with Flatpak and similar technologies which were born these years.

Animation in GIMP

As explained already, I took the path of writing it as a plugin rather than a core feature. Anyway GIMP is only missing a single feature which would make it nearly as powerful: bi-directional notification (basically currently plugins don’t get notified when pixels are updated, layers are renamed, moved or deleted, images closed…). That’s actually something I’d like to work on (I already have a stash somewhere with WIP code for this).

The animation plugin currently has 2 views:

Storyboard view

GIMP's animation plug-in: storyboard view
GIMP’s animation plug-in: storyboard view

This actually corresponds to the very basic animation logic of 1 layer = 1 frame, which is very common by people making animated GIF (or MNG/WebP now), except with a nice UI to set each image duration (instead of tagging the layer names, a very nasty user experience, feature hidden and found only on some forums or old tutorials), do basic compositing and even comments on vignettes if-need-be. All this with a nice preview in real-time!

Cel-Animation view

GIMP Animation plug-in: Cel-animation view
GIMP’s Animation plug-in: cel-animation view

This is the more powerful view where you can compose a frame from several images, often at least a background and a character. In the above example, the cut is made from 3 elements composed together: the background, the eagle and the marmot.

You may usually know more of the “timeline” style of view, which is basically the same thing except that frames are displayed as horizontal tracks. I tried this too, but quickly shifted to this much more traditional view in the animation world, which is usually called an x-sheet (eXposure sheet). I found it much more practical, allowing commenting more easily too, easy scroll, and especially more organized. There is a lot you don’t see in this screenshot, but this view is really targetting a professional and organized workflow. In particular with layers properly named, you can create animation loops and line tests of dozens of images, with various timings,  in a few clicks.

I am also working on keyframing for effects (using animated GEGL operations) and camera movements.

Well there is a lot done but definitely a lot more I am planning to do there, which takes time. I will post more detailed blog posts and will push the code on a branch very soon (probably before Libre Graphics Meeting this year).

That’s all, folks!

And so that’s it for this end-of year report from ZeMarmot team! I hope you appreciate the project. And if so and can spare the dime (or haven’t done so yet), I remind the project accepts any amount on the links given above. Some people just give 1 Euro, others 15 Euro per month. In the end, you are all giving life to ZeMarmot!

Thanks and have a great year 2017!

ZeMarmot monthly report for September 2016

The past month report will be short. Indeed Aryeom sprained the thumb from her drawing hand, as we already told a month ago. What we did not plan is that it would take that long to get better (the doctor initially said it should be better within 2 weeks… well she was wrong!). Aryeom actually tried to work again after 2-week rest (i.e. following doctor advice), but after a few days of work, the pain was pretty bad and she had to stop.

Later Aryeom has started working from the left hand. Below is her first drawing with her left hand:

Left-hand drawing by Aryeom for Simwoool magazine
Left-hand drawing by Aryeom for Simwoool magazine

I personally think it is very cool but she says it is not enough for professional work. Also she is a few times slower with this hand for the moment. Yet for ZeMarmot, she started animating again with the left hand (wouhou!), but not doing finale painting/render. She is waiting the right hand to get better for this.
In the meantime, she has regular sessions with a physiotherapist and Friday, she’ll do a radiograph of the hand to make sure everything is OK (since pain lasted longer than expected).

Because of this, the month was slow. We also decided to refuse a few conferences, and in particular the upcoming Capitole du Libre, quite a big event in France in November, because we wanted to focus on ZeMarmot instead, especially because of the lateness which this sprain generated on the schedule. We will likely participate to no public event until next year.

Probably now is a time when your support will matter more than ever because it has been pretty hard, on Aryeom in particular, as you can guess. When your hand is your main work tool, you can imagine how it feels to have such an issue. :-/
Do not hesitate to send her a few nice words through comments!
Next month, hopefully the news will be a lot better.

ZeMarmot talk livestream (GUADEC)

A small reminder that we are currently at GUADEC!

ZeMarmot's director at GUADEC 2016
ZeMarmot’s director at GUADEC 2016

As we said in our last post, tomorrow at 11:45 AM (Central European Time), we’ll have a talk about the status of ZeMarmot with some contents (i.e. few seconds of animation in progress) and our view on using GNOME and Free Software for media creation.

So if you are around Karlsruhe (Germany), do not hesitate to come by (GUADEC is a free GNOME event) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Otherwise, you can see us on the live streaming of the event (direct link for live streaming) and the recording will remain viewable afterwards from the CCC streaming website.

See you there!

Timing your movie…

A big question when you write a scenario is: how do you time your movie?

CIMA museum's clock, by Rama (CC by-sa)
CIMA museum’s clock, by Rama (CC by-sa 2.0).

From the scenario

You can already do so from your written script. It is usually admitted that 1 page is roughly equivalent to 1 minute of movie. Of course to reach such a standard, you have to format your file appropriately. I have searched the web to find what were these format rules. What I gathered:

Format

  • Pages are A4.
  • Font is 12-point Courier.
  • Margins are 2.5 cm on every side but the left margin which is 3.5 cm.
  • Add 5,5 cm of margin before speaker names in dialogues.
  • Add 2,5 cm of margin before actual dialogue.
  • No justification (left-align).
  • No line indentation at start of paragraphs.

I won’t list more because there are dozen of resources out there which does it in details, with sometimes even examples. For instance, this page was helpful and for French-speaking reader, this one also (and it uses international metric system rather than imperial units), or even Wikipedia.
It would seem that the whole point of all these rules is to have a script with the less possible randomness. A movie script is not meant to be beautiful as an object, but to be as square as possible. Thus exits any kind of justification (which stretches or compresses spaces), as well as any line indentation (which does not happen every line) because they don’t have a behavior set in stone. They were made only so that your document “looks nice” which a script-writer cares less than in the end than being able to say how long will the movie last by just counting the pages.

Free Fonts

Some people may have noted that 12-point Courier is a Microsoft fonts. For GNU/Linux users out there, you can get these with a package called msttcorefonts. On Debian, or Ubuntu, the real package is “ttf-mscorefonts-installer” and it does not look like it is in Fedora repositories. That’s ok because I really don’t care. I use personally Liberation Mono (Liberation is a font family created by RedHat in 2007, under a Free license). FreeMono is also another alternative, but the Liberation fonts work well for me.

You may have noticed that these are all monospace fonts, which means that every character occupy the same horizontal space, i.e. ‘i’ and ‘W’ for instance uses up the same width (adding spaces around the ‘i’ for instance), which opposes to proportional fonts (more common on the web). Once again, proportional fonts are meant to be pretty whereas monospace fonts are meant to be consistent. It all comes back to consistent text-to-timing conversion.
Not sure why Courier ever became a standard in script-writing, but I don’t think that any other font would be much of a problem. Just use any metrically-compatible monospace font.

Side note: I read 3 scenarios in the last year (other than mine) and none of them were using Courier, nor actually most of the rules here. So really I am not sure how much this rule is enforced, at least in France. Maybe in other countries, this is more an hard-on rule?

Writing with LibreOffice

Right now, I simply write with LibreOffice. Now I am not going to make a tutorial about using LibreOffice, because this will diverge too much but my one advice is: use styles! Do not “hardcode” text formatting: don’t increase indents manually, don’t use bold, nor underline your titles…
Instead create styles for “Text body” (default texts), “Dialogue speaker”, “Dialogue”, “Scene title”… Then save a template and reuse it every time you write a new scenario.

While writing this post and looking for reference, I read weird stuff like “use a dedicated software because you don’t want scene titles ending a page”. Seriously? Of course, if you make scene titles by just making your text bold, that happens. But if you use styles, this won’t (option “Keep with next paragraph” in “Text flow” tab which is a default for any Header style). So once again, use styles.

Note: dedicated software are much more than just this basic issue, and they would have a lot more features making a scenarist life easier. I was also planning on developing such a software myself, so clearly I’m not telling you not to use one! I’m just saying that for now, if you can’t afford a dedicated software, LibreOffice is just fine, and styling issues like “scenes titles should not end a page” are just lack of knowledge on how to properly use a word processing software.

So that’s it? I just follow these rules and I get my timing?

Of course, real life hits back. First of all, every language may be more or less verbose. For instance German and French are more verbose than English, which in turn is more than Japanese. So using the same formatting, your page in French would be less than a minute on screen whereas a page in Japanese would be longer than a minute.

There is also the writer’s style. Not everyone writes as concisely and you may write the same scenario with a different timing than your colleague.

As a consequence, writers evaluate their scripts. You can try to act them out for instance. Try to see how long your text really lasts. And then I guess, you can either create a custom text-to-length conversion or adapt the text formatting to end up with the “1 page = 1 minute” approximation. If your scripts are usually going faster, then you need more text in one page. Make smaller margins or use a smaller font maybe?

Of course, it may also be that you use a much too verbose style. A scenario is not a novel: you should not try to make a beautiful text with carefully crafted metaphors and imaging. You are writing a text for actors to read and understand (and in our case, for painters and animators to draw).

ZeMarmot’s case

Moreover the 1 min = 1 page rule is not consistent in the same script either: a page with no dialogue could last several minutes (descriptions and actions are much more condensed than dialogues) whereas a page with only dialogue could be worth a few seconds of screen. But that’s ok, since this is all about average. The timing from scenario is not meant to be perfect. It gives us an approximation.

Yet ZeMarmot is particular since we have no dialogue at all. So are we going to have only 5-minute pages? That was a big question, especially since this is my first scenario. Aryeom helped a lot with her animation experience, and we tried to time several scenes by imagining them or acting them out. This is a good example which shows that no rule is ever made to be universal. And in our case, it took a longer time to accurately calibrate our own page-time rule.

Animatics

This is more animation-specifics: the next step after storyboarding (or before more accurate storyboarding starts) is creating an animatic, which is basically compiling all the storyboard’s images into a single video. From there, we can have a full video, and we will try to time each “image”. Should this action be faster or last longer? This requires some imagination since we may end up with some images lasting a few seconds and we have to imagine all in-between images to get the full idea. But in the end, this is the ultimate timing. We are able to tell quite accurately how long the movie will last once we agree on an animatic.

Should timing lead the writer?

The big question: should the timing lead us? You can get a different timing than you expect, and there are 2 cases: longer or shorter.

The shorter one is easy. Unless you are really really too short (and you don’t qualify anymore as a feature-length for instance), I don’t think it is a problem to have a shorter-than-average movie. I’d prefer 100 times a short but well timed and interesting movie than a boring long movie.

Longer is more difficult because the trend nowadays seem to have longer and longer movies. Now 2h30, sometimes up to 3h, seems to be a standard for big movies (and they manage to lengthen them in the “director cut” edition!). I have seen several movies these last years which were long and boring. I am not even talking of contemplative art movie, but about hard action-packed movies. No, superhero battling for 3 hours, this is just too much.
So my advice if your movie is longer than expected, ask yourself: is it really necessary? Won’t it be boring? Of course, I am not the one to make the rule. If you work in Hollywood, well first you probably don’t read me, and second you don’t care whatever I say. You will make a 2h30 movie and people will go and watch it anyway. Why not. I’m just saying this as a viewer. And since I think this is really not enjoyable, I don’t want to have our own viewer experience be boring (well at least by movie length!).

And so that’s it for my small insight about timing a movie. Of course, as I already told, I am mostly a beginner on the topic. Everything I say here is a mix of my searches these last months, my own experiments, Aryeom’s experience… So don’t take my word as is, and don’t hesitate to react in comments if you have better knowledge or just ideas on the topic.

By the way: ZeMarmot‘s pilote (not the finale movie) has been timed to be about 8 minutes long. 🙂

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.

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,

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. 🙂