Konstatin Dmitriev's Morevna Project is to 2-D animation what the Blender Foundation's Open movie projects have been for 3-D. The goal is to produce a production-quality, full-length animated feature, using only open source software, and license the source content and final product under free, re-use-friendly terms. Along the way, the work provides stress-testing, feedback, and development help to the open source software used, while raising awareness of the quality of the code.
Despite the popularity of 3-D animated features churned out by Pixar and its competitors, 2-D animation is not a has-been style — particularly when you consider the wildly popular world of anime. Dmitriev is an anime fan as well as an animator and open source contributor, and in mid-2008 decided to combine his interests in one project. The first product was a brief short created entirely with the Synfig Studio animation package.
Synfig Studio is an animation suite built for 2-D production. Like Blender, it was originally written in-house at a private animation studio as closed source software, but was later opened. Unlike traditional cell-based animation, in which each frame is individually drawn, Synfig uses vector graphics as its underlying elements. The animator needs only to draw key frames, and the software smoothly interpolates between them to create motion.
Production and workflow
Dmitriev is active in the Synfig Studio project and, since announcing the Morevna Project, has gathered a small team of like-minded contributors and artists. Their process reflects that of a traditional animated movie team: it starts with an idea, followed by a screenplay, storyboard, character designs and other creative work, well before animation itself gets underway. For its story, the project decided on the Russian folk tale "Marya Morevna" — but re-imagined in a futuristic setting befitting the anime style.
The script (in English and in Russian), character and production designs are all publicly available on the project's wiki — so don't look if you wish to avoid spoilers. The first portion of the screenplay has already been storyboarded and broken down into shots, and as the team completes work it has been posting demo videos to YouTube — completed animations and "animatics" — the wireframe, in-progress animations that bridge the gap between static storyboard and finished product.
For the actual production pipeline, Dmitriev and the other artists use a variety of open source tools. Animatics are made in Pencil, a cell-oriented "flipbook"-style animation tool. Rough sketches as well as backgrounds and other static imagery are produced in the raster editors Krita and Gimp. Vector-based character designs are drawn in Inkscape, while 3-D models for buildings, machines, and other non-character entities are produced in Blender. All of the content is stored in a Git repository, to allow the remote team members to coordinate their work.
When ready, the various layers of artwork are combined and converted
into key frames in Synfig, which is used to render the animation. Further compositing (such as special effects) is done in Blender for final output. The final movie will be rendered in 16:9 1080p resolution.
As with Blender's open movies, part of the Morevna Project's goals are to
improve Synfig and open source animation in general. The team documents
progress on the movie on its blog, and has posted several entries about new
Synfig features spawned along the way. For example, using Blender's IPO
(interpolation) drivers gives the animator more fine-grained control
over timing; the Morevna Project uses
the technique to suddenly send a scene into slow-motion — an effect
often seen in action movies these days — but which was not available in
Synfig Studio until the project implemented the technique. The project also
widget allowing the animator to manipulate the "camera view" in Synfig
Studio, adding easy-to-use pan and zoom functions.
The project is licensing its artwork under Creative Commons' Attribution license, so that it can be freely reused. The plan is to do the same for final product and sounds, although licensing for some of the music may dictate different terms. It has also released a character-animation template called Stickman under the no-copyright CC Zero license. Stickman is used by Morevna Project artists to produce animatics with Synfig Studio.
The members of the Morevna Project are taking the openness of the content itself to a new level. Not only is the entire screenplay available online, but the wiki captures the evolution of character and scene designs, not just the final product — including variants and experiments that will not make it to the final product. If you think 2-D animation is somehow simple, take a look at the Battlefield concept art page to see how much work goes into creating a scene.
Still to come
The Morevna Project is still a long way from its final product, does not have corporate or grant funding, and the team is only six people strong — but it is attracting a great deal of attention. Dmitriev writes on the project blog that the anime and open source communities seems to have a great deal of overlap, and the Ubuntu Massachusetts LoCo is planning to promote Morevna at an upcoming Boston anime convention. Anyone who is interesting in joining the creative team should read the Contributor's Guide on the project wiki.
In fact, anyone with an open source project that could use more contributors would do well to read the Morevna Contributor's Guide, because it is a remarkably complete, thorough, and well-written introduction to the project and how to get started joining it. That bodes well for its future success.
Regardless of whether you are an anime addict or not, Morevna —
like Blender's open movies — is a project everyone in the open source community should support. Large-scale creative projects like these do something that many other niches in open source cannot — they bring awareness of open source to the general public. Few people care what operating system runs on their mobile phones. The fact that an enterprise's ERP system and web infrastructure runs Linux, MySQL, and other open source components is nebulous at best to people who work outside the IT industry. A high-quality animated movie, on the other hand, anyone can see and appreciate.
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