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Applicants: Common Arts Arkipelago
Affiliation: Blender Foundation, Hampshire College, Bit Films, Licuadora Studio, Hand Turkey Studios, Animux
CC affiliated? No
Contact: Fateh Slavitsky, Bassam Kurdali
Coordinator: none
Project Start: 2009/06/01
Project End: 2011/06/01
Download budget Discussion

Describe the project you are proposing as clearly as possible in just five sentences.

Arkipelago is a free software-based 3D animation/film/arts studio developing a distributed production pipeline and a flagship commons-based business model.

It aims to create video arts ambitious in their own right, but also new tools and collaborative infrastructure to make more such works accessible to animators, filmmakers, and artists at large, enabling a new kind of independent cultural production.

Arkipelago's current project, the 3D animated short code-named Tube, takes up the Gilgamesh story (an artifact of the proto-commons) in a modern variation; it brings together a team of artists and allied studios representing more than eleven different countries.

As an open movie, Tube will be released under a permissive CC license, along with all of the tools, constituent data, and documentation for learning, remixing and re-use.

Because 3D filmmaking draws together so many different kinds of artists and software, and when allowed to travel freely also acts as a wide ambassador, we thereby galvanize the entire ecology and economy of the commons.

Detail the tangible project output (e.g., paper, blog post, written materials, video/film, etc.; this would be in addition to the final written report that successful grant recipients will be expected to deliver to CC at the conclusion of the project).

~10 minute 3D animated synthetic open video short, released by dvd and freely by download in formats from High-Definition to handheld.

Arkipelago asset library: Unlike live action film, every element of 3D video is independent. An estimated 10 gigabytes of illuminating and reusable CC licensed production files -- characters, rigs, sets, textures, props, lighting and rendering data, etc. thus grow a library of publicly accessible open video data

Field testing the Helga web-based project management interface for a free software pipeline, towards a new Blender-integrated revision (though Helga is itself open source, it previously integrated with only closed source software such as Maya)

New tools that will either eventually be added as Blender features or persist as modular projects, such as: - Rigamarule: 3d characters need control rigs to make them move, and rigging is an art form unto itself. Rigamarule is designed to automate the often complex process, and make existing rigs repurposable for different characters. It is a rule-based rig retargeting system that maintains spatial coherency based on joint positions, and complements the Etchaton sketch-based rig constructor in Blender. - Geppetto: a pipeline management tool that controls files and dependencies during preproduction, and allows creating a production edit seamlessly from an animatic. It has the ultimate goal of being a sort of movie studio in a box – just start a project and it auto-generates a viable file structure and pipeline.

Numerous scripts and refinements to the free software pipeline and toolset

Production process blog-documented toward an ultimate book form comprising the sum of project knowledge about F/LOSS pipeline moviemaking in the global commons

International making-of presentations and workshops offered at conferences, festivals, educational institutions, hackspaces, and artist groups

F/LOSS and commons-based studio model for globally networked, high value cultural production

Describe the community you are targeting. How would the project benefit the community?

Arkipelago aims to benefit those already working in free tools and culture but also those not yet acquainted. Open tools and standards have become an important global resource, but while One Laptop Per Child brings F/LOSS computing to little-developed communities, comparatively affluent areas where hardware + connectivity are already plentiful lag in adoption, especially in the field of media work. Developed countries promote increasingly restrictive, monopolistic 'Intellectual Property' standards, impoverishing the social discourse and capital of subject nations. Copyright and Patent, meant to feed inventors, but also experiment and the public domain, are today used in defense of a regressively feudal system from which neither cultural nor economic benefit can easily flow. Lofted by the most powerful elements of industry, such developments also lay the groundwork of a control society: important historical films cannot be shown because of permissions issues; Ian McEwan is charged with plagiarism for citing a WWII memoir -- or, referencing collective memory; and in the United States, we are not privy to the election software that institutes government, because it has been judged "Intellectual Property". Arkipelago implicitly critiques the role of IP in formulating the terms/structures of public discourse – because Property as applied to Speech creates vacancies in memory; its fantasy is criminalization and control. Almost perversely, it may be that no quarter has done more than the entertainment industry to promote dystopian technology (e.g. DRM, DMCA, ACTA).

On the other hand, media arts can be used to elucidate another creative mode and foster participatory culture. But reformulating Biko's observation that “the most powerful tool in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” in market terms gives us the problem known as 'mind-share'. A populace conditioned by unregulated industry will be slow to notice the freedoms it is losing, or to be aware of rich alternatives even when they are almost under its nose. Open tools and licensing standards have ripened; Ubuntu Linux has made it easy; BitTorrent/peer-to-peer and Miro are positioned as vital organs of grassroots media over open protocols. Yet a fork is in place between the collaborative and competitive systems: the closed culture is standard, perceived to be king. For students and professionals, working outside that standard can be fatally babelizing. For this reason, interest in open media far exceeds its present ecology. It needs [catalysts] creative leaders to capture the attention of a broad audience, demonstrating a model of production that capitalizes on commonwealth.

Despite numerous successful examples of permissive distribution, there is no other CG studio, apart from Blender's own, yet founded on the open model. Arkipelago presents its art and technology transparently, inviting the audience to take apart our work to advance its own. In addressing our community and audience as creators and not merely consumers, Arkipelago fosters a participatory international media. And by offering the full data of its production pipeline – usually a closely guarded asset -- in cooperation with programmers and artists who also benefit from ambitious work, Arkipelago engenders a new independent industry grounded in the />

What is your relationship with the community you are targeting? Why are you the best individual/organization to lead this project? Do you have prior experience in related projects?

Arkipelago is helmed by Bassam Kurdali, a 3D artist and filmmaker whose 2006 short, Elephants Dream, was the first ‘open movie’. It established the viability of open tools in a production environment and set precedent by offering its source data under a permissive license for learning, remixing and re-use. His character, ManCandy, began as an easily animatable test bed for rigging experiments. Multiple iterations have been released to the Public Domain, and Bassam demonstrates him in the animated tutorial video + short, The ManCandy FAQ. Under the aegis of Arkipelago, Bassam is continuing to explore a model of production that capitalizes on commonwealth. He teaches, writes and lectures around the world on open production and free software technique. Born in Aleppo, Syria, Bassam trained in the United States as an electrical and software engineer.

How will you measure and evaluate your project’s impact - on your main participants? Other contributors? On the larger community?

If Elephants Dream was the production that proved professional studio works to be possible in free software, Tube is conceived as the proof of a distributed, web-based studio production in free software.

The impact of Arkipelago's work is already evident within its own creative process, which has attracted volunteers from a global community of programmers and artists, contributing remotely and also joining the local studio from many corners of the world. Part of the Computer Graphics Incubator Program at Hampshire College, where Bassam is a visiting artist, Tube provides mentoring opportunities as a studio production in which students and other young artists can join a team of more seasoned professionals to gain practical experience. Arkipelago is developing a broadly accessible means of production, diminishing the more usual barrier between studio and public. For this to be useful to the larger community, we also seek to support and cultivate artists skilled in F/LOSS tools. We have determined that even advanced users accustomed to the workflows of proprietary tools can make the transition within a matter of days; only the incentive is lacking – a viable platform and engine for sustainable high-level work in the commons.

Arkipelago is working to disseminate its production knowledge, and is already in talks to establish an international workshop series beginning in the United States, Turkey, Syria and South Africa.

We will gage the film's reception at presentations, film festivals and in the media, and also estimate the number of production data downloads. We encourage the community to keep us informed about its repurposing; one benchmark is in the questions received from users working with our production data in new ways. After Elephants Dream we also began to hear from educators who were convinced by it to switch to free software in their instruction.

Of course the degree to which Tube builds public support to fund the next project is also a measure. Since the goal is a sustainable production model, and Tube is designed to advance our knowledge and assets in the direction of more complex, longer form projects, we can find useful feedback in evaluating our own ability to progress.

How many participants do you expect to be involved in your project? How will you seek and sustain their involvement?

The contributing team numbers 28 +, with production not yet fully underway, and we are recruiting all the time.

For this project 'participants' means, at minimum, contributing artists + the broader community of F/LOSS users and creative commons enthusiasts + the wider world interested in multimedia tools, animation, film and video arts.

Describe how your project will benefit Creative Commons' mission to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in "the commons".

Arkipelago considers that we must find ways to place high-value creative activity in the commons and make it a thriving, fertile ground; that – continuing the land metaphor – we must not abandon it as difficult terrain, a desert outside which the bulk of cultural activity transpires.

Arkipelago's principal goal is to discover how to produce high quality open video arts outside the matrix of the Blender Foundation, ensuring that we can continue adding work into the commons, and advancing the tools that enable our work and others'.

Through the triple efforts of filmmaking, education, and collaborative pipeline development, it fosters not only independent art but also expertise and a repository of publicly usable tools and data.

Arkipelago's model benefits from lower cost, spurs the vital development of f/loss software, and contributes to a body of production tools and knowledge in distributed international collaboration. As it releases production knowledge and new tools for this collaborative platform, Arkipelago places ambitious, large-scale projects within reach of independent studios and artists. Each new work drives an economy of development, creating a market for open artists and programmers; work also providing our own teams with invaluable technical, artistic and organizational experience to bring to longer projects planned.

Adapting to changes in the economics of media distribution, Tube (like Elephants Dream) will be released simultaneously in festivals, cinemas, direct dvd sale, and free download. Without closing traditional venues, its licensing status as an open movie is also its passport to new ones; because of this, Elephants Dream was the first High-Definition dvd that was pressed in Europe, and has been widely shown in demonstration.

Tube will engage a broad audience and, for many, act as a doorway to open tools and culture. Because this kind of work is so different to the dominant mode, people are intrigued by palpably different cultural system at play.

Its release will be followed by a set of educational materials, in the form of tutorials and a production guide. While Bassam and the production team teach and lecture widely on animation and open filmmaking, this educational toolkit can be used by anyone in personal learning, or to make guerilla screenings and open media presentations to their school, artist group, business or community center.

By creating a high profile model that invites participation, Arkipelago expands and redefines the contours of the cultural landscape, altering the fork between free and closed software, proprietary media and the commons.

Describe what technologies and tools your project will use. What kinds of technical skills and expertise do you bring to the project? What are your technical needs?

Our main production tools are Blender: A F/LOSS 3D animation, modeling and rendering suite, with a built in high bit depth nodal compositor, and a an integrated video editor. Gimp: A F/LOSS professional image editing application, and Mypaint: A natural media paint application. We also rely on many other F/LOSS graphics applications and libraries such as inkscape (vector graphics) and video libraries. Many of us are avid Python (and sometimes C ) coders, and we are fortunate in the fantastic Python integration in Blender 2.5, and the ubiquity and richness of Python bindings and modules. All of our in-house tools – in Blender, Gimp or standalone are Python code, and GPL. We use Helga – an asset and project management suite developed under GPL/v3 at Hampshire college by faculty and students, to track the project's progress shot by shot and model by model. Helga also is the platform for 'weeklies' where we review the movie-so-far, critique and plan for the next week.

Many on the team are experienced 3D artists who either freelance or work in studios, and the project is seeded with our knowledge of novel methods of production and distribution. The Blender and extended free software community has been very supportive of the project, and we have been working with various programmers either as advisors/ code reviewers, or as programmers for our software needs.

What challenges do you expect to face, and how do you plan to overcome them?

The particular challenge of this project is that there is not already a clear model for making independent 3D video art in the commons. For a time, during pre-poduction, we financed the project through commercial side-work, but that caused lengthy interruptions and at a certain point we decided to place our focus primarily into Arkipelago and its work. During the exploratory period of this production, the seed funding of grants and donors is crucial, and will be supplemented with fundraising through value-added dvd sales.

Elephants Dream had a 100,000 Euro budget supplied through European public funds and support from the Blender community. In the United States, where Arkipelago is based, we lack comparable public arts funding for this kind of production. And indeed, in the U.S., support is also lacking which in Europe subsidizes trainings in f/loss multimedia tools. In pursuing non-profit status, Arkipelago is seeking to address this lack, by securing funding to subsidize students and professionals in their learning of new tools.

Historically 3d filmmaking over the web has not had a great record of success; our pipeline is designed to provide a framework emulating the studio environment, providing for easy creative dialogue, weeklies, and asset tracking. It addresses the challenge of a distributed team and utilizes contributions from far-flung artists who are not always available to work locally or full-time.

How do you plan to sustain your project after the Creative Commons funding has ended? Detail specific plans. How do you plan to raise revenue to continue your efforts in the future?

CC-licensed dvds, tutorials, production guides, and international workshops can sustain Arkipelago into the next project, as well as sponsorship and voluntary patronage by people who like the art work, support the mission, want access to knowledge, and to see advances made in the toolset.

How can this project be scalable, or have a scalable impact?

Tube is conceived as the proof of a distributed, web-based studio production in free software. It is designed as the first in a series of modular short works that build on each other in growing complexity toward a longer form project. It thus scales 'vertically' toward more complex projects of our own undertaking, and through its full publicly available assets and collaborative filmmaking pipeline, also 'horizontally' toward the work of other artists, floss softwares, etc.

What resources and support do you expect Creative Commons to provide to your project to ensure its success (if any)?

Creative Commons can supply 10K of crucial seed funding, publicity, possibly legal advice, web hosting.

Describe how your organization currently communicates with its community members and network partners. (100 words)

Website + production blog, wiki, Helga project management interface, SVN, IRC, mailing list, identica, web networking; workshops, presentations to GLUGs, conferences, festivals and artist groups