June 14, 2005

Project Orange: Toward the first open source movie

Author: Rui Campos

The Netherlands Media Art Institute, Montevideo/Time Based Arts and The Blender Foundation have announced their Orange Project, which aims to produce a 3D animated movie short as the first fully open source movie.The idea behind the project is to show the power of open source software applications in a production environment. Several open source applications are already commonly used for video production, such as Blender, Yafray, Python, Verse, the GIMP, and Cinepaint.

Six in-house residents will be the project's core team, working at Montevideo's facilities in Amsterdam for six months, with a bigger team of online volunteers supporting them. Both teams will include artists and developers.

So far, only pre-production has started. Tasks scheduled for the first three months include choosing the teams and preparing scripts. Once the movie is finished, it's slated to be distributed with an open source license, along with all source files.

I talked with three leaders behind the Orange Project: Ton Roosendaal, the Blender Foundation CEO and Orange Project director and lead developer, Bassam Kurdali, winner of Blender's Suzanne Award for Best Animation and Orange Project animation director, and Andy Goralczyk, winner of Blender's Suzanne Award for Best Artwork and art director for the project.

NewsForge: Where did the idea to make an open source movie come from?

Roosendaal: Blender started as an in-house 3D animation tool. At that time, making animations and developing the software at the same time made working on Blender fun. I think we really missed this day-to-day feedback of working with developers and artists. However, I didn't think it was wise to build a traditional company around Blender. The Dutch Media and Art Institute Montevideo has a nice alternative. They initiate temporary projects, bringing together small teams of creative people and technicians, aimed at realizing creative content. That should be possible for open source and for Blender as well; that's why I contacted them with this open movie project proposal.

NF: What are the main goals of the Blender Foundation for this project?

Roosendaal: First, of course, to create an outstanding movie short. It's a cool experiment to initiate and organize a movie production this way. A secondary goal is to research efficient ways to increase the quality of open source projects in general. I look forward to testing Blender in a real production environment again. We need to do a substantial upgrade of our animation tools, and this project will make that work a bit more urgent and rewarding.

NF: Will you be creating some training material for Blender during the project?

Roosendaal: Yes. We not only need active artwork and coding support from our community, but also financial support to realize it. Some of it we hope to raise from pre-sale of the OpenMovie DVD. We also plan to have the movie team work on training videos, both for publishing on our Web site and for resale on DVD as well.

NF: According to the project's main Web site, you will be using Verse, Blender's network protocol, in developing the movie. Will this be the first real test of Verse? Will Blender feature the Verse integration upon the end of the Orange Project?

Roosendaal: We're working on a first Verse integration with Blender already, and it should be ready for test soon. I think Verse has great potential for online collaboration. Actual release schedules I cannot predict now.

NF: I heard you were looking for as many sponsors as you can get. How do you convince an interested person or company to support this project?

Roosendaal: This project really can give substantial co-marketing benefits for companies.

NF: Bassam Kurdali, as animation director, what will be your main purpose on the project?

Kurdali: Likely I will have more than one role in the project, but until the team is assembled I won't know exactly what the other roles will be. As animation director, my first task will be to re-evaluate the animation tools in Blender with an eye toward how they can fit in the production pipeline, which tools to use, when, and how. Also I'll be identifying what areas, if any, of the animation system need changing and what new features would be most beneficial to the project from the animation perspective. During the project I'll be deciding with the animators who gets which jobs and what can be done by external volunteers. I'll also be responsible for approving animations as they're finished. I'll help set the design criteria for the characters, and decide on the style of animation of the short. I hope I'll be doing a lot of animation as well.

NF: What do you expect will be the difficult areas this project will face?

Kurdali: The single biggest problem I think will be coordinating the various aspects of the production to finish within the six-month budget. I don't think it's impossible, but it is going to be a challenge. The team has not worked together before and many will probably not have much prior production experience; this will be trial by fire. We also have to create a production pipeline so tasks have to wait on each other as little as possible; the scheduling calls for rendering to start and continue throughout the project, so we don't have the luxury of waiting for all the animation to be done before texturing (for instance). Many tasks will have to happen simultaneously. Organizing this will be hard because core team members can have many roles; the director may turn out to be also a lead animator, or texture artist, and the art director may also be an animator or modeler.

NF: What do you say to encourage possible online volunteers?

Kurdali: The online volunteers will play a key role in making this difficult task possible. Working on 3D graphics is very time-consuming; even talented hobbyists sometimes do not get the chance to see their work come to fruition as a complete project. The deadline can be a great motivator; in six months, a volunteer can see her model, rig, or lighting setup live in a completed animation. That can be a great feeling. The big fear of most other Internet projects is that everyone will lose interest and the project will die. Having a core team working full-time might reassure the volunteers that the project has the momentum to succeed.

NF: Andy Goralczyk, as art director, what will be your main purpose on this project?

Goralczyk: It's my job to provide a consistent visual style for the entire movie. I'm responsible for the look and feel of the movie's backgrounds and props, and also taking an active role in character design. I do modeling, shading, texturing, lighting, animating. I help with staging, story development, and everything else that I can get into my hands.

NF: What do you expect will be the difficult areas this project will face?

Goralczyk: Both core team and online contributers will be inundated with work during the six months of active production. It's going to be quite a challenge to coordinate online and core people.

NF: What do you say to encourage possible online volunteers?

Goralczyk: Don't hesitate to submit! And if you're not sure whether your skills meet the demands of such a high-pressured production, work on it, practice. We all have to.

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