A while back, independent animator and open culture advocate Nina Paley pined for an open source, 2-D vector animation program. Now her prayers have been answered; sort of. Tupi is a Kickstarter project whose goal is to create a fully functioning 2-D animation program that is also open source. But that’s not all, there’s also another Kickstarter project that aims to upend the ubiquituous animation GIF.
More week links!
Make Art, Not Law
Nina Paley has posted an interview she did recently where she discusses how she came to be a free culture advocate and why the concept plays an important role in our lives. She also touches on how some of the issues she faced while making her feature film Sita Sings the Blues forced her to make tough decisions.
Parka Blogs has a review of an intriguing book that offers an insight into something that isn’t normally on display for all to see; namely animator’s sketchbooks. The list of contributors is long and features many noted artists and at 320 pages is quite a substantial tome.
Why For does Disney think that “No Nudes is Good News”
Jim Hill delves into the delightful history behind the practice of slipping cels into animated films that would, well, not be considered appropriate. A must-read.
Tweets of the Week!
Nina Paley has blazed a bit of a trail in the animation world over the past few years with her near single-handedly produced feature film, Sita Sings the Blues. In a blog post today, she laments the various restrictions of Adobe Flash and the lack of any truly viable alternatives and wonders aloud whether or not a Kickstarter project could create an open source 2D animation software alternative.
Why Open Source Is Needed
Interestingly enough, it was Nina’s numerous struggles to get the film not made, but released (thanks to musical rights) that has placed her at the center of the nexus between animation and free and open source software. Her blog post highlights the fact that she runs an outdated version of Flash on a necessarily outdated machine; the result of not being able to run the software on a newer operating system, in this case Mac OSX.
As most graphics folks are aware of, many software companies (and both Apple and Adobe in particular) love to use technology and lock-in to force everyone to upgrade their software. (In the engineering world Autodesk earns many expletives for doing the same with AutoCAD). The gist is that newer versions use new filetypes that are not compatible with older versions. the result is that you either upgrade or get left behind.
Nina’s case is one that echos with many independent animators and small studios insofar that constant upgrading is not always viable or affordable. In such cases, the old version has to suffice until something absolutely has to be done.
Such a situation is far from ideal and wastes resources needlessly. Adobe charges thousands of dollars for the suites of programs that are utilised to create animation and from the sounds of things, every version of Flash gets worse and worse. (Heck, even I hate the Flash player that crashes my Firefox and all it’s doing is reading files; I can’t imagine what it’s like to make them.)
Why Open Source is the Solution
Amusingly enough, open source animation software is not completely unheard of and does in fact, play a large and vital role in many animation productions from the independent short all the way up to Hollywood blockbusters (check out Disney’s open source site for proof). Programs like Blender help create 3-D animation and have also become invaluable in graphic FX.
However all that work is 3D, not the more traditional 2D that has been around for more than a century. In the case of the latter, there are some alternatives but nothing coming close to encompassing all the features and capabilities that Flash offers. Nina discusses Synfig but notes her difficulty in getting around the user interface; a key hurdle for something that requires lots of user input.
What open source offers as an alternative is all the same benefits that the open source 3D programs do:
- Drastically lower purchase costs
- Interchangeable/compatible industry standards
- Backwards compatibility
- Cross-platform support (that’s Mac, Windows and Linux-friendly versions)
- A non-mandatory upgrade path (upgrade if and when you want to!)
Why it Has to Be Done
Nina arrives at the following conclusion:
Time alone has not made this elusive software come into being. Could money? How much would I have to raise to commission an excellent programmer or two to give me what I want? Should I try a Kickstarter? A project like this should have a million dollars; I would aim for one tenth of that. Would even $100,000 be possible?
The result would be excellent Free vector animation software for everyone in the world.
I tend to agree that open source software often contends with the issue of time. The projects are, after all, mostly done by volunteers in their spare time and God knows there’s never enough of that around. In Nina’s suggestion, a Kickstarter project would essentially fund a full time programmer or two to develop a user interface for Synfig that’s more user-friendly.
That’s a great way to get things going and offering people the opportunity to contribute with something they may have (money) in exchange for something they may not have (time/skills).
Would it benefit everyone? Absolutely! A program that could create 2D animation that doesn’t cost the earth would offer tremendous benefits to every animator and studio alike. Money saved from buying software can be spent on other things (like animators!) and could make areas where animation is currently quite expensive to produce (think North America) more appealing to producers.
At the end of the day, a freely available, open source 2D program would open up doors for literally thousands of people who currently can’t get on the animation ladder thanks to the price of admission that Adobe and others charge. We should encourage this as a means of furthering the technique within the media landscape.
Is this a project you could get on board with or even use? Let us know in the comments!
On Sunday, Nora Lumiere posted a very passionate call to arms with a wonderful post that expounded the very many areas that we have yet to see in theatrical animated form. Far from a wistful wishlist, it’s a well thought out look at the various genres and styles that are rare or unheard of in animated form.
Hinting on the success of Tangled’s “painterly” style, Nora rattle off style after style that could easily be used on a theatrical scale today thanks to modern technology.
The only caveat with her post is that she is speaking for theatrical animation. We already see plenty of diversity in shorts for the simple reason that they are inherently more independent examples that are created at the whims of the animator themselves. Nora touches upon one reason why we don’t see more diverse animated films (emphasis mine):
It’s time to dare to push the animation envelope and break out of the children’s toy box. Forget about box-office profits for a minute, hire some innovative scientists and adventurous animators to research new artistic software.
Ah, therein lies the dilemma. As much as we like to think of theatrical animation as an artistic market where the dreams of the artist make it to the silver screen, that is the view that is presented to the great unwashed masses. who truly believe that Hollywood is a “dream factory”.
Not to say that Nora’s post does not acknowledge this, it does, however the fact remains that no matter how right she is, unless there is enough (notice I said enough, not any) money in it, the main studios won’t touch it.
The Big 6 will only ever play within a safe set of boundaries when it come to films because they are incredibly risk averse, and justifiably so. If you were coughing up in the region of $500-600 million (including promotion/marketing) you’d be making princess movies all the time too.
That’s the current problem with the way things are set up at the moment. Independent, inspiring and mould-breaking movies are well within arms reach. Sita Sings the Blues was done by one person, ONE! Why on earth don’t we see many more films like that? The simple answer in this case is that Nina Paley busted her butt and her bank account to get the film made and released. There aren’t too many people who are willing to make that kind of commitment, let alone do it regularly.
Since cost/risk is arguably the main problem when it comes to genre-defying films, there is a logical argument that subsidies could be a potential solution. This is true, certainly in the case of The Secret of Kells, which benefited from a few grants from the European Union and tax credits from the Irish government.
Such subsidies are the sad reality of the style of films that Nora calls for. They are too risky for mainstream, commercial studios, but they clearly have more than enough potential to succeed based on their many merits.
That is the reason why we don’t see more diverse animated films. The unholy mix of risk and cost which combine to make most films that are outside the mainstream too much of a hot potato. Hopefully in the future, as traditional distribution shenanigans break down, we will see more daring films that push the envelope.
Dave Levy recently posted a list of the animation websites he reads on a daily basis (and his blog should most definitely be in your bookmarks already). Seeing as he is a man of good taste, there is no need to amend his list. Indeed, you should check it out to make sure you are reading the same websites he does.
So, as an addition to those, here are 11 more that any self-respecting animation fan would readily admit to reading on a daily basis.
Industry standard-bearer and the home page of anyone who is anyone in animation. Guaranteed to either raise a smile or your ire, Jerry beck and Amid Amidi offer up a continuous stream of animated goodies. From the latest TV series to the weirdest merchandise known to man, no animation website is more respected.
The Animation Guild Local 839 is your one stop shop for all the labour news and views from the Golden Coast. Dishing out equal amounts of industry headlines and labour items of note. The TAG blog is a must for current affairs relating to working in the animation business. Sometimes trite, it is nonetheless peppered with commentary from workers and sage advice from union heads.
The website for all things Chuck Jones. Run by his grandson Craig Causen, Chuck Redux features everything from Oscar’s worldwide travels to the creations from the mind of the man himself. I wrote about it a while back and if you are in any doubt as to why you should read it, look no further than here.
The one and only John Kricfalusi. As if you needed a reason to read his blog, where he discusses techniques, characters and animation in general. Always controversial but guaranteed to advance your knowledge of this fantastic artform.
Floyd Norman remember Disney when it was run by Disney and then some. Every day he posts his thoughts on working then and now, sometimes throwing in a witty cartoon for good measure. Looking for insights on what it was like to work way back when? Floyd’s is the only website you need.
Writer and broadcaster from the UK, Brian has not one, but at least three blogs that are worthy of reading. Purveyor of tidbits that are absolutely not to be found anywhere else on the web, Brian’s blogs are a must read. Heck if Michael Sporn recommends them, you know they’re among the best to be found.
Andreas Deja, famed animator with a sense of humour, recently started his blog. The guy’s one of the best animators about, so expect plenty of technique analysis from the Nine Old Men and more. What more can I say, I look forward to every post.
If you’re looking for various bits and bobs from the history of Disney, look no further than Didier Ghez’s blog, self-described as:“Interesting discoveries about Disney history, vintage Disneyana, Disney artwork, the Walt’s People book series, and new books about Disney.” Do you need any more reasons to visit? I think not!
Creator of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo, Joe Murray has been around the circuit more than once, and he’s learned a thing or two in the process. On his blog, he offers updates on his studio, news on KaboingTV, anecdotes from the past and advice on how to make it in a fiercely competitive industry. One that should absolutely not be overlooked.
Independent animator, free thinker and open-culture advocate, Nina Palely uses her blog to document the latest in her working life, spread thoughts on free and open culture and to advocate changes in the way the entertainment industry works.
Do you even remotely like old Hanna-Barbera stuff? Good, Yowp has you covered for just about anything and everything to do with early Hanna-Barbera. From the animators to the writers to contemporary media coverage, this blog has it all.
This is the second in a series of posts that take a look at just some of the many legal aspects of the animation industry.
While it is not the be all and end all of the profession, copyright is employed fairly heavily by industry players both large and small and it does affect an animator’s work in some very real ways.
Copyright is defined as:
The exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same. Via: Google
The very first thing to understand about copyright is what is covered and what is not. Furthermore, it is important to note that copyright is not a ‘right’, it is a legal privilege extended to creators by the US Constitution.
US Federal copyright law: The Facts
- Covers anything considered “original works of authorship” (authorship is defined as being the written word, lyrics, melodies, visual works and, for some reason, software)
- Granted the moment something is put in “fixated form”, no registration with the Copyright Office is necessary.
- Terms last for 70 years beyond the death of the author or if done under “corporate authorship” terms are 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation (whichever is shorter).
- Places responsibility on the copyright holder to actively enforce their copyright.
- Applicable in the US only!
As an animator, how does copyright affect you?
First of all, it depends on the work created. Is it your own idea done on your own time*? If so, then copyright will rest with you. If it is work done “for hire” then it does not.
“For hire” is an exception to the rule that the creator of the work is considered the author or owner of the copyright. It is also called “corporate authorship”. A good example of this is anything you create for a studio. While you created the actual content, you were paid by way of compensation for it and thus the studio retains the copyright for themselves.
As mentioned in the ideas post, copyright only covers actual creations only. So get those ideas down on paper!
Copyright may also affect you when it comes to your personal works. While you are free to use copyrighted material for influence, direction and inspiration, you cannot create works that could be considered as infringing on the original piece. An example would be you creating a CGI panda who is learning the ways of kung fu and calling him Bo; Jeffrey Katzenburg may want to have a word with you about that.
Do My Works Have To Be Covered By Copyright?
No. As important as copyright is, it is also worthwhile knowing that submitting works under copyright is not mandatory. While it is an automatically granted legal privilege, you are quite free (at least in the US) to publish your work under a multitude of alternative methods if you so wish. Alternatives such as the public domain and the various Creative Commons licenses.
Nina Paley is well known in the animation community for the copyright issues that she had to deal with in order to get her self-animated feature film Sita Sings the Blues released. The gist of it is that she wanted to use a particular jazz song from the 1920s but whose copyright holder was demanding $250,000 in exchange for the necessary licenses.
As a result, she has become an advocate for the ideals of copyleft and permitting people to copy, modify and redistribute works without restriction. Sita Sings the Blues has become immensely popular since it was made available online and its popularity has brought Nina worldwide fame, accolades and work.
The post you are reading right now is published under a Creative Commons license with the only restrictions being that you provide attribution and publish any alterations to the post under the same CC license.
If you would like to learn more about copyright, please consult the following websites:
*your own time is defined as being that outside of the office/studio. Creations made on company time can (and have) been considered the property of the company not the individual, so create your personal stuff at home!
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at pay and cost as the relate to animation production.
So if I embed the video, is that copyright infringement?
I’m going to say no, although it is an area where the law is not exactly clear and why the video above has a some pretty serious limitations. Besides, the video preaches to the choir (and I’m sure Google knows this) and it’s quite likely to have been put out as a result of pressure from the content companies.