Our 2D animation movie supported by a 3D artist

Henri Hebeisen is an awesome Blender artist (Blender Foundation certified trainer). The association LILA worked with him when he participated to the Libre Calendar 2015 printing project; and if ever we raise enough, he may work on ZeMarmot with us if we need support from a 3D expert.

As you all know, ZeMarmot is a 2D movie. So you may wonder why would a Blender artist participate.
Marmot travels
A 2D animation is indeed about drawing and painting for the most part. Nevertheless when you work with computers, it would be stupid to completely ignore all the technical advances brought by 3D technology.
For instance, if the film is long, on some complex scenes with a lot of changing perspective (moving vehicle with camera “inside”, etc.), it may be wise to help our animators with some 3D-rendered scenes to draw over. Lighting also is a complicated topic in painting and 3D technology made it a lot easier, especially dynamic lighting can make static art a lot more alive.

In a movie like ZeMarmot, we really want to keep the awesome feeling of hand drawing, this raw and warm sensation on the eyes, but we don’t exclude helping some scenes with 3D technics if needed. This is a shadow job since, when it’s well done, it has to be subtle and only support the 2D. You can give more life to a background for instance, but you still want people to see these as painting. Just a more lively one. Therefore we are happy to announce getting the help of Henri in our project!
Below one of his awesome full 3D artworks.

The Last Whales, by Henri Hebeisen (CC BY)
The Last Whales, by Henri Hebeisen (CC BY)

How long will be “ZeMarmot” movie? What is our business plan?

Since we started to publish information about “ZeMarmot” project, some of the questions which often came up have been about planning and budget: how long will it be, how much do we need, and so on.

Well to answer this, we need to answer first: who are we? The answer: nobody.
Right now, this project is fiercely and intensely led by 2 people: Aryeom and Jehan. We told you who we are, our backgrounds and such already. And that’s it. We are not multi-billionaires and would not be able to hire anyone by ourselves.
What it means is that we are entirely relying on the success of the upcoming crowdfunding, which can have 3 possible outcomes:
1/ A big failure. Nobody cares, we are all sad, and we leave for other adventures. Let’s knock on wood.
2/ A huge success beyond expectation. We all hope this, but we don’t want to get our hopes too high.
3/ Anything in-between. The most likely.

Of course we could try and do it the usual way: find producers, sign contracts. But when you do this, you lose a little of your soul. We would not be able to release under a Libre Art/Creative Commons license. Granted, I did not try to ask many producers about what they think of these kind of licenses; you can try and tell me how it went! If you find or are a producer who wants to fund us with millions, go to Hollywood with our movie, and in the end release it under a Creative Commons BY-SA, just contact us immediately! 🙂
Also another of our goals is to use and improve Free Software. Now let’s be honest a moment: a full stack animation studio using Free Software cannot be immediately as efficient as a full stack Proprietary-equipped studio (with Adobe suite and such). This is how it is, no need to lie. But as long as someone does not try it, it will stay this way. You need some people willing to make the step and try it, and accept a few caveats in exchange of freedom, but not saying “too bad, you can’t change how things are”, but instead: “let’s fix all the issues”. This is the bet on Free Software: they are not perfect, but you can make them so. Proprietary software are not perfect either, far from it, and they also have a lot of issues. But the bigger issue is this one: you can’t fix them! If you want something different, if you want to improve things, this is near to impossible. Your workflow has to adapt to the tools. I want the tools to adapt to our workflow!

So after this huge digression: if we were to go the financial-worthy way, with a producer and all, we could just go the easy way, pay huge license fees, and be like any other studio.
But this is not how we chose to do things: we want to release a Libre movie, we want to contribute back to Free Software, therefore we do this project with a non-profit organisation, without a normal producer, and we take the risk of it crashing, with the hope that it will fly in the sky instead!

taj mahal
Let’s get our movie fly in the sky!

Therefore, what about our business plan? How long will be the movie? How many people would we hire? This will all depend on the crowdfunding, i.e. on you.
If we get just 10 000 EUR, this would likely just allow us to do a small movie of a few minutes, without music composed especially for this movie (but we could still use existing Libre music). And this will be quite disappointing (but still funny) adventure. And most likely we won’t be able to hire anyone with such a low funding. If we get 100 000, now we are speaking! Then we really expect to be able to give back a lot to the community: improvements in Free Software, a nice movie, people hired to work on painting, lighting, animating and editing on Free Software (and therefore giving feedbacks and bug reports on problems, rather than just complaining, and fixes when possible!), documenting…
There is no max limit. We all know how much movies cost. And before all they cost human time! And I doubt that we would get millions anyway (unfortunately!). Even the Blender Foundation tried with the Gooseberry project, and they were not able to raise as much as expected. And who are we compared to the Blender Foundation?
But I knock on wood, and hope we can get enough to make a good movie. Yet only when we finish the founding will we be able to say for sure how long the movie will be.
What I can say is that my synopsis accounts for a story up to about 45 minutes. But that’s very long for a self-produced movie, so if we get low funding, we may change the scenario into a small episode (calling for more?), or a shorter story. We will see.

Finally let’s conclude on a note about quality: someone told us he was ready to do music without being paid for the “Open” side of our project. Well if we get nearly no funding and have not enough to pay for custom musics but we decided to still do a 2 min movie (to wrap the project with something at least), we would not say no to volunteers for one song. But if we get real good funding, it is important for us to pay people.
One of the things we promote here, and with the LILA association, is to reward properly professional work. There are cases when you can work for free (for very good causes without money), and other times where a work has to be paid properly. “ZeMarmot” is not meant to be a “hobbyist” movie, made with a few ropes and drawings from someone’s daughter. This is meant to be a professional-quality job. And we don’t want people to mix up Free Software and Libre Art with “amateurish” or “low quality”.
No, at the opposite, we want people to be able to acknowledge Free Software and Libre Art as possibly “professional” and “awesome”! 🙂

If you believe the same as us, I hope you will follow our adventures, and push the project forward!

ZeMarmot Project

We are working currently with the animation artist Aryeom Han on a 2D animation project, entirely made with Free Software. This is still the start, we are mostly defining the main and secondary characters, the graphics style and the synopsis…

This movie is based off an original idea from Jehan, who had started — years ago — to doodle a small marmot who liked to sleep and nap everywhere. He started to make it into a webcomic with the help of Aryeom. It has been quicly decided to make it a movie instead.


A marmot living quietly in his burrow, whose favorite activity is sleeping, discovers there would be unheard extraordinary things outside his mountains. The small rodent decides to leave in a trip around the world.

The main character

The Marmot, our key character, is a small rodent from the western European mountains. As a consequence it would be an Alpine marmot (scientific name: Marmota marmota).

We tried several graphical styles and are now indecisive on 2 styles. Here they are.

ZeMarmot, first version
ZeMarmot, first version

ZeMarmot, second version
ZeMarmot, second version

And here are some scans of illustrations and various research drawings.
ZeMarmot walking
ZeMarmot walking

Meets a hedgehog
Meets a hedgehog

The burrow, home sweet home
The burrow, home sweet home