Author: Terry Hancock

After an additional year of production work, our free-film project “Lunatics!” is back up on Kickstarter. We have a lot more done – some “finished” animation, voice acting and soundtrack mixing, a lot more completed 3D models, including some of the toughest mech modeling, and several characters. We are still 100% free-culture, using CC By-SA license for everything we release, and we’re still open-source, making our models and other elements available to the commons. We use only music with By-SA compatible licenses, and we are working entirely with free-software, especially Blender, Kdenlive, and Audacity.

The Kickstarter video starts with our recently completed “teaser” demo video, which is meant to show at least one possible rendering and final animation style for the project (though we’re still experimenting). This version is toon-shaded, but lacks outlining — I’m actually pretty happy with the way that looks. The limited PoV/hyperreal concept for this trailer was originally conceived to minimize the number of 3D assets we’d use (originally it was all PoV and didn’t show even show the character). However, as the video goes on to show, we actually have quite a few other models, including the Soyuz exterior completed now.

As I outlined in my update on licensing and business models, “Lunatics!” is entirely under the same free CC By-SA 3.0 as Wikipedia and other bastions of free culture. Unlike several other “free” film projects, we’ve actually decided to be strict about the music licensing as well — every piece of music we use is under a By-SA compatible license so that we can release it to you under By-SA.

An important part of our business model — creator-endorsed post-release sales — is a concept born right here on

We’re also part of a growing group of projects relying on and promoting free-software tools like Blender, Kdenlive, Audacity, Inkscape, and Gimp to realize our concept.

The “Lunatics” project is coming very close to the end on our Kickstarter to fund the voice and audio production for Lunatics. We’re at 31% now, and have just 4 days left to raise just under $3000 to make our goal:

We had canceled an earlier attempt to fund the entire production of the pilot episode for our free-culture science-fiction series, but we immediately launched this replacement, which will just fund the next step in production (I’ve only just realized I never updated the link on!). We are all set up to record the voice actors and complete the soundtrack (including music, sound effects, and so on). We are also going to create an 2D animatic to go with it. This is a useful pre-visualization step in the production of the final animated episode, but it will also make for a more appealing presentation of the audio.

We’re offering viewable DVD copies of the animatic production, soundtracks, and also the recently-finished “Pre-Production Artbook & Writer’s Guide” among the rewards. Plus you can get your name in the credits as anything from a “Backer” ($10) to a “Corporate Logo Sponsor” ($1000) — and many steps in between).

“Lunatics” is a free-culture (CC By-SA 3.0 licensed) open-film (meaning the animation elements, 3D models, sound effects, voice tracks, and so on are or will be available under the same license on our site) project. We also make extensive use of free-software and insist on open data formats. After release, we’ll be using QuestionCopyright’s very own Creator Endorsed mark to promote products that fund us, and we’ll share what we earn with the artists who have contributed.

Terry Hancock is an editor at, a prolific writer about free software and free culture, and a driving force behind Lunatics, the crowd-funded and freely-licensed science fiction web TV series — about which he brings us an update:

We had a successful Kickstarter back in December to fund pre-production for Lunatics (mainly the character design), and now we’re running another much larger Kickstarter to fund the production of a pilot. This is probably the hardest step for the Lunatics Project: in order to get a sustainable cycle of support for a free-culture series (Lunatics will be released under the Creative Commons By-SA license), we first have to find people willing to risk a little on producing our very first episode. Fortunately, we’ve got a great team together already, and it’s clear that the pilot will be really good — but only we can get funded to pay the artists for the time they need to work on it.


UPDATE: Although this was canceled we are near the end of a replacement campaign to pay for just the next step, which is Voice and Audio Production with an Animatic

If we succeed, we’ll be breaking new ground in several areas with the Lunatics series:

  • This is already a larger project than most free-culture productions, and it will grow: we currently have about 20 people directly involved to a greater or lesser degree (and closer to 100, if you count all of the passive collaboration from appropriated free-culture materials such as music tracks and sound effects).

  • Part of our plan is to give back to the community, both in terms of the new assets created for the project (such as 3D models and graphics), but also by paying shares of our “Creator Endorsed” sales to actively-contributing artists as well as some passively-contributing artists (such as musical artists whose tracks are in our soundtrack).

  • By doing so, we are encouraging a sustainable commercial free-culture industry to develop.

  • We will also be scaling up both fan-funding models and collaborative, open-source movie production.

  • We will also be pushing the envelope on free-software tools for creating film and video, with new technologies such as the Pyppet digital puppetry system.

  • Since our project is a series, it has the potential to grow beyond even that, providing more opportunities.

We deliberately chose an ambitious goal which would require a team effort to achieve. One of the gaols of the “Lunatics” project is to demonstrate that fan-funded free-culture projects of this size can be created (i.e. that there’s not some kind of practical ceiling beyond which a media project has to be proprietary in order to succeed). There’s no question that $100,000 is a lot of money to raise this way (though several game projects have done it).

On the other hand, it’s a very small budget for a film of this type. It’s actually only about 1/6th as much as what the Blender Foundation’s “Sintel” cost and a little bit less than what “Elephants Dream” cost — and with it we plan to make a movie about four-times longer (roughly an hour) with a fully-dramatized story, many 3D modeled virtual sets and characters, and a cast of speaking roles (seven principals and a dozen or so supporting parts). We have a few tricks in mind to make this possible, and it does involve people working for a lot less than industry-standard rates. The artists working on this project are working on it because they’re really excited about it. But they do need to pay bills while they do it, and the stipend we’ve budgeted for them will give them the freedom to work on this project.

For this pilot episode, we’ve already got a small team of six Blender modeling and rigging experts, a Synfig expert who will be doing animatics and also final animation for the show, and a cast of seven principal voice actors for the pilot episode (six series regulars and a guest).

This story is itself about a crowd-funded vision of the future of space settlement, since our fictional “International Space Foundation” is essentially a grass-roots crowd-funded operation.

Georgiana Lerner (age 7) on the first leg of her journey to the Moon, going up into orbit on a specially-modifiedy Soyuz (Couch model by Sathish Kumar, Character model by Andrew Pray) 

Georgiana Lerner (age 7) on the first leg of her journey to the Moon, going up into orbit on a specially-modifiedy Soyuz (Couch model by Sathish Kumar, Character model by Andrew Pray)

The pilot episode follows young Georgiana Lerner (age 7) on her way to the Moon with her mother to join the rest of the colonists. That’s because it’s really her arrival that turns “ISF-1” into a settlement instead of a mere “base” on the Moon. Along the way, we pick up most (not quite all) of the series regular cast, and we take a kind of “voyage into the future” where we start from the rather archaic (19th-century) technology of trains, pass through 20th century technologies up to and including spaceflight into orbit, and then depart into the science-fiction realm with the Moon Shuttle that takes us beyond the present. It’s a vision of the future, versy much tied to the present — a smoothly integrated future that always feels “just around the corner” from where we are now.

Sets and characters will be rendered using Blender (Model by Cosmin Planchon, Display graphics by Timothée Giet, Concept by Terry Hancock, based on existin Soyuz-TMA design by RosCosmos) 
Sets and characters will be rendered using Blender (Model by Cosmin Planchon, Display graphics by Timothée Giet, Concept by Terry Hancock, based on existin Soyuz-TMA design by RosCosmos)

If this sounds like your kind of fun, please help us make it happen by backing our Kickstarter or telling more people about it. We have less than 25 days left to raise about $100,000 to fund it — so we could really use your help!

Rewards include DVD and Lib-Ray editions of the video. The soundtrack on CD (you can also get a nice download package). There are also posters and other tie-ins. You can even buy the T-shirt.

As part of a project to create a non-DRM fixed media standard for high-definition video releases, Terry Hancock has launched a Kickstarter campaign which will produce two Lib-Ray video titles and player software to support them.

“Sita Sings the Blues” is the award-winning, feature-length animation by Question Copyright Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley, released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. This will be a Creator Endorsed release, with a portion of funds going to Nina Paley herself after the minimum needed for the project is raised. This will be a beautiful edition in 1920×1080 HD video with lossless stereo audio, and it will be subtitled in over a dozen languages. This is the first time this film has been available in high-definition, due to Paley’s reluctance to use Blu-Ray with its DRM issues.

The “Blender Foundation Open Movie Collection” will be a single Lib-Ray release containing the three currently-complete Blender Foundation Open Movies: “Elephants Dream”, “Big Buck Bunny”, and “Sintel”. These will be in 1920×1080 HD video with lossless stereo and 5.1 surround soundtracks. These will also have a number of subtitle tracks and commentaries.

Unlike Blu-Ray, Lib-Ray releases do not support DRM, encryption, or region-coding options, and are intended for worldwide release. Thus the standard is designed with a highly-adaptable localization scheme, providing many more subtitles than are typically available on Blu-Ray or DVD regional releases.

The Lib-Ray standard will also incorporate metadata and cover art options to make them easier to cache in retrieval systems — an option intentionally blocked by the design of proprietary standards.

It is hoped that Lib-Ray will become a viable niche standard for free-culture and independent filmmakers to use for wider distribution of their films in high-definition format without the hassle, cost, and ethical issues surrounding proprietary DRM video standards.

Lib-Ray will be physically stored on high-capacity SD cards (SDHC media) which are more expensive than optical disks, but rapidly dropping in price. They are also a read-write medium, which allows for some additional features for producers, including easier short-run production and the possibility of publishing post-release patches (such as for additional subtitle tracks as they become available).

The funds will support the creation of these releases as well as player software to support Lib-Ray playback on computers, including Home Theater PCs. A manual will also be available, containing the full specification and tutorials on creating and using Lib-Ray releases.

Hancock says, “I recently realized that Lib-Ray will not get off the ground without developing player software and that all the pieces needed to create it were already available to me. I have the necessary coding experience for this (it will be written in Python, using the Gstreamer and Webkit library bindings), and so it’s really just a matter of time. It’s too much for me to do in my spare time, but if I can get the support to work on it full time for a short while, I should be able to make it all work smoothly.

“I’m a regular contributor to Free Software Magazine, and I’ve been documenting my progress on previous prototypes in my column there — ever since I discovered the DRM quagmire that is Blu-Ray publishing!

With our new free culture / free-licensed science-fiction project, Lunatics, we (Director Terry Hancock and Writer Rosalyn Hunter) are aiming to raise the stakes considerably on free culture media, as we are planning to produce an on-going animated web series, using 3D animation created using the free software Blender application. Come check out our Kickstarter page and support some free art!

This is our first Kickstarter campaign, with which we are hoping to raise the money to pay comics artist Daniel Fu to create the character designs. We’ll also be including a lot of the other pre-production artwork and design in our rewards. Is it enough “reason to buy”? We hope so, and we’re planning to find out…

The idea is to create an on-going animated web series about the first settlers on the Moon, in extraordinarily accurate scientific detail with piercingly comedic characterization of the people involved. After all, normal people don’t really colonize new worlds, do they? Our tagline is “Somebody has to be crazy enough to go first!” and while we might not be the first free culture video project of this type, we are certainly feeling some of the thrill of our characters in exploring new territory!

As I write this, we are at 21% with 16 days to go — our Kickstart ends December 18th.


Ivan Tsarevitch from Morevna Project

“Ivan Tsarevitch” from Morevna Project: I suppose you could call this “programmer art” since the artist is also one of the main developers of Synfig Studio (Konstantin Dmitriev | / CC-By-SA 3.0)

We need to change the words we use for serious free culture artists. I suggest “vocational“: “a vocational work”, “a vocational artist”, “artists who show vocationalism in their work”.

I thought about this as I was considering Nina Paley’s story about trying to submit some of her own (very much “vocational” and also “professional”) work to the Wikimedia Commons — only to be disbelieved on the basis that her work was of too high a quality! This concept of “professional” versus “amateur” work has bothered me for a long time. Partly this may be because I often seem to be stuck in between: am I a professional writer or an amateur one? I get paid to write for Free Software Magazine, but I don’t get paid very much, and I don’t get paid at all to write for Question Copyright. But both tasks are very much a part of my vocation as a writer and as a free culture advocate. I expect to be judged on the same scale as any professional.

Another objection is that the stigma of “amateurishness” is sometimes assigned to free culture art. People speak snidely of “programmer art” (though of course, a few programmers are quite good artists, and vice-versa). I honestly believe that some artists hold back from freeing their work not because they are really worried about remuneration, but because they fear that releasing it for free will somehow cheapen the work (or them) by making it “unprofessional” or “amateur”.

Of course, I’m bothered by that idea in itself. There’s something a little dirty about the fact that we have so elevated commerce that we now implicitly place professional work (made for money) above amateur work (made for love). Surely there ought to be something a little more holy about work gifted to the world out of an artist’s spiritual need than out of their need to pay the rent? (Not that paying the rent isn’t important, but there ought to be some respect for the long perspective).

“Professional” is often used incorrectly to imply a certain level of skill. But in fact, many works made for money lack such skill, and many skilled works are not done for money (some would say all the best works are done for love, and money is an afterthought).

“Amateur” is literally someone who works out of their love for the subject. And frequently amateur work is superior to professional work in the same field. But over time, perhaps due to some intentional marketing by vested interests, the term “amateur” has acquired a patina of disrespect as in “This work is amateurish”.

There is also another problem with “amateur” — it makes you feel like a total pig for criticizing the work seriously. Many people post amateur (and “amateurish”) work on the web hoping for encouragement. For them it’s just fun, and they want to have a peer group support them. They don’t want to take the work seriously, nor do they want to receive serious criticism (whether constructive or not). They don’t want to compete in the same league as professional artists, and that’s why they are publishing “amateur” work.

But then there are others, who do want to take their work seriously; who won’t get their feelings hurt by an honest appraisal; who are striving for their work to be just as good as any work out there — professional or amateur. What do we call that?

Some people — especially lawyers — like to refer to vocational (but amateur) work as “pro bono“. Which is fine, if you like Latin phrases, and of course I know that it really means “for the good” as in “for the public good”. But I have to confess it always makes me think “for the sake of [Sonny] Bono”, which, given that his name has become almost synonymous with the Copyright Term Extension Act always causes me some cognitive dissonance. Perhaps that’s silly. But a more reasonable objection is simply that most people who aren’t lawyers don’t know Latin very well. For me, it also carries the stigma of conditionalism: “pro bono” work is work that “ought” to be done for money, but is done for free under some special exemption — and I’d better be careful not to violate the terms of that exemption or they’re going to start charging.

“Semi-professional” and “serious amateur” are the terms I’ve used in the past, but I don’t like them. Both suggest some kind of fence-straddling incompleteness.



Priestess Sister from Morevna Project (Eleonora Pala | / CC By-SA 3.0)

Concept art (a “model sheet”) for a character from Morevna Project, created by Eleonora Pala. As far as I know, all of her contributions are so far unpaid (Eleonora Pala | / CC By-SA 3.0)

And both of these words are still putting the emphasis on whether you get paid and how much you get paid for doing the work. Many artists would say that is totally beside the point, and I agree.

“Vocational” is a term which is sometimes associated with professional work, but also with unpaid work. What it really means is that the work is central to your life — that you take it seriously and intend to excel at it. In other words, it truly puts the emphasis on your commitment, and not whether your interest is pecuniary or not.

I’m a little bothered by the association with “vocational school” which, when opposed to college, implies a kind of intellectual lowness which some might object to. But there is also the idea of “vocations” which is the term used when people are driven to a task by religious or charitable motivations, that imparts a kind of spiritual uplift — something I believe is a part of many free culture artists’ worldview (i.e. they do what they do, at least partly, because they believe the world will be better for it).

Of course many vocational artists are also professional artists. Many are amateurs. The idea is to stop splitting them up on the basis of whether they get paid, but instead on whether they apply themselves to the work seriously.

I’m thinking of adopting this word “vocational” as the proper term of art in my own writing for artists who contribute to free culture works on a serious level. Perhaps it’ll catch on.

The “Creator Endorsed” concept is a very robust way of monetizing creative works, and can be adapted to many different strategies. Here, I want to suggest an advertising-based model which resembles syndicated television.

CE Advertising Titlecard

Free culture videos could use an advertising model enabled by the Creator Endorsed mark, based on the same business models as have been used for decades for syndicated television.

With syndicated television (e.g. “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) it was common to sell advertising on the syndication tape as well as to leave spots for local ads (this was one of the primary revenue sources for the studio). The local station would pay for the syndication tape, agreeing, among other things, to leave the syndication ads on the tape when playing the show, and possibly adding their own ads.

Personally, I think if one sold a 30-second to one-minute spot in a 30-minute show, no one would even bother to edit it out unless it was a really irritating ad — even without there being any repercussions to doing so. Furthermore, many viewers accept a “reasonable” level of ads as a positive thing, since they know they help pay for the show, and especially if the ads are well-targeted (for example, although I skip DVD advertisements on subsequent viewings, I frequently watch them on the first viewing out of curiosity for what’s being advertised).

Today, with internet distribution, it’s fairly common to put “wrap” ads on the beginning or end of a video, advertising the distributor or sold by the distributor, but it’s rare to put them into the middle of it. Either style will work for the model I’m describing here.

If we are to sell advertisements, however, the advertisers will want some kind of guarantee that their ads will be seen. This is the main reason this model has not been previously used for free culture videos, and so it’s the problem we have to solve

Why not just rely on the Creative Commons’ “Attribution” Clause?

The most common licenses for free culture works are of course, those promoted by the Creative Commons. Two particular licenses, the Creative Commons Attribution and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike are widely regarded as “free” licenses, and are the most widely used choices for free media.

All six of the core Creative Commons licenses start with the “Attribution” (By) module. This gives a partial, but not complete, solution to the problem of retaining advertisements.

Attribution is not quite as simple as it sounds, because it’s not always clear exactly who is the principle “creator” of a work (especially for larger, more collaborative works). For a film, the correct “attribution” might be understood simply to be the studio name or it might be interpreted to mean the entire credits roll at the end of the film.

It is actually up to the copyright owner to decide which of these is acceptable, so conscientious users of the license will specify what they expect.

Naively, you might think that this alone is sufficient to insist on advertisements, but this is not the case.

The detailed wording of the licenses is much more specific about what must be included, and it does not require anything to be included verbatim. Instead it simply says that notices “may be implemented in any reasonable manner.” It also specifically indicates what types of information must be kept:

  • “the name of the Original Author” or if provided, a pseudonym or the name of other “Attribution Parties”: “(e.g., a sponsor institute, publishing entity, journal)”
  • “the title of the Work if supplied”
  • “the URI, if any, that Licensor specifies” provided that the document at the URI specifies “the copyright notice or licensing information for the Work”
  • “a credit identifying the use of the Work in the Adaptation” (for adaptations only, of course, as opposed to verbatim copies)

In general, the Creative Commons “Attribution” clause has not been considered to include advertisements or sponsorship notices. However, you can insist on mentioning sponsors and legal notices in the credits. Even this kind of representation has some value (similar to sponsorship credits as used with Public Broadcasting).

In fact, although it’s perhaps early to call it a “convention”, the times I’ve seen a CC license used on a film or video, the attribution requirement for copying the whole film has been to “roll the entire credits”, which frequently does include sponsorship notices of some kind (e.g. the “Blender Foundation” is acknowledged in the Blender Open Movies). A much shorter attribution is usually specified for works which merely copy or remix the video (again referencing the Blender Open Movies, this credit is simply “Blender Foundation |”).

Enter the Creator Endorsed Mark

The “Creator Endorsed” mark, however, with its trademark protection allows a more direct requirement, however. A simple title block along the lines of this:

CE Advertising Titlecard

Titlecard for endorsement with notices about the advertising and how to license endorsement for variations (The text font is Dream Orphans, a free-licensed font included in Debian GNU/Linux. The URL is scaled “Courier 10-point”). The aspect ratio is for HDTV format (16:9). Obviously many variations are possible. I use a blue background to symbolize loyalty (though this is closer to indigo). Be sure to change the URL if you use this image!

This mark would be restricted to copies which carried the commercial break, just as with syndicated television. As part of the distribution terms, any removal of ads (as well as any other edit of the piece) would require removal of this CE mark unless permission was explicitly acquired (which is simply demanding truth in advertising — clearly if there are no commercials or the commercials are different, they do not benefit the artists and the mark would therefore be an improper use of the trademark).

It might be worth noting that the Creative Commons licenses specifically acknowledge this kind of separate endorsement agreement.

Of course, people could still exercise their right of modified distribution under a Creative Commons license. This would include the case of simply stripping out the advertisements — provided they also remove the CE mark. But really, who’s going to do that? Retaining the endorsement mark (and the ads) has a definite goodwill value to the distributor at little to no cost (provided the ads are not onerously long or disruptive to the work).

Also, while the advertisement could be legally stripped out, notices included in the video credits would not be. And it would be possible to include an educational notice indicating that official releases contain the “Creator Endorsed” mark, along with a link for additional information (this is probably covered by the legal-notices). Also, if you follow usual film conventions, cutting out the credits would also mean cutting out the end credits music, which is another disincentive to doing it.

What this creates is a revenue model very similar to syndicated television, with most of the same players. However, the copyright regulation is replaced by the simple signaling mechanism of the “creator endorsed” mark.

Fan Remixes

Another value to this endorsement mark would be that it would establish the “canonicity” of the video — distinguishing it from “fan fiction” remixes.

Fans, of course, would be entitled to remix and adapt the work to their hearts’ content. The only requirement would be that they must remove the endorsement mark. As a positive nod to such remixes, it might even be fun to provide (on your release site, pointed to by the URI in the credits) an alternative title-card for fan remixes. Using it would be entirely voluntary, of course, but it might catch on as a fan-to-fan signal:

Fan Remix Titlecard

Fan remix titlecard designed to fit in the same place as the endorsement titlecard, but clearly distinguishable. I use green to symbolize total freedom, as use of this card is voluntary and places no requirements at all on the work.

The Aesthetics of Advertising

For some, of course, the idea of “polluting” their work with advertisements is appalling. You might think, “Isn’t this why I’m doing free culture — so I don’t have to resort to such crass commercialism?” Well, if you feel that way, this is probably not for you!

However, free culture artists have the same sustainability concerns as anyone else, and this is another potential revenue stream. Also, we do have a number of video formats in which advertisements have already become part of the landscape. In television series, for example, it’s common to use commercial breaks as natural punctuation to the story, separating the acts. There are also artistic elements such as the five to ten second “eye catch” animations that are used in anime productions to delimit the commercials. These are so much a part of Japanese animation that they are included even in most direct-to-video releases of Japanese anime (“OVAs”), even though there are no commercials between them.

There’s obviously a higher premium on having good quality ads: memorable, well-targeted, and if possible, topical to the show. If they are the right ads, your audience will want to see them. So the challenge will be to hold the ads up to that standard, and the voluntary nature of the medium naturally encourages that.

Can We Actually Sell These Ads?

This is a tougher question, and I’m no advertising executive, so I can’t really answer it myself (though I would love to discuss this with someone in the business of selling commercial advertising).

I can observe, however, that advertisers have generally been eager to join the bandwagon on any opportunity that has become available, even if it does take them a little time. I remember when the idea of an advertisement on an internet website was just as bizarre a concept — and look at us now.

So the problem is really a conventional start-up problem. How to get the ball rolling? The biggest questions at the outset are:

  1. Will (re-)distributors actually leave the ads in?
  2. Will fans prefer the official releases or stripped ones?
  3. Will advertisers believe enough in the system to pay reasonable advertising rates for inclusion?
  4. Will any advertising agency work with free culture video producers to sell this kind of advertising?

Each of these represents a small leap of faith: the ad agency has to believe advertisers will bite; advertisers will have to trust the fans; and fans will have to support those sites that keep the ads.

One argument in favor is that this isn’t really very different from the situation with existing copyright-enforced ads, because copyright enforcement on that level is nearly impossible. So in practice, it’s more of a voluntary system too. There are already many television shows copied onto YouTube and other places with the ads stripped.

But copyright doesn’t have the effect of making only these stripped versions illegal. It makes videos with ads just as illegal. So there’s actually no incentive for posters to leave the ads in.

With an endorsement model, there is. Leave the ads in, and you get the filmmakers’ blessing! Far from rebelling, fans are likely to revel in that kind of freedom. So everybody wins: the artist, the advertisers, and the fans.