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Meeting with a marmot

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ZeMarmot is a Libre Movie made with Free Software - including Blender. They're currently in their last days of their effort to crowdfund €9,000 for the production. Nicolas Priniotakis met with the team behind ZeMarmot in Paris and interviewed them.

Last Friday, I was quietly sipping a delicious beverage, seated in a Parisian high society boozer. I was trying to dodge the romantic advances of a Norwegian tourist when I heard the distinctive yelp of a marmot. Being sensitive to animal welfare, I looked around the small room, searching for the fur in turmoil. And there it was. The nose pressed to the glass, an adorable (yet creepy, see the pic), hairy ball was staring at me. What the hell ? It looked like something the cat dragged in! As soon as I approached, it took my hand. As we walked, it told me its story...

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Aryeom and Jehan are two brilliant and sparkling artists. They have embarked upon a crowdfunded animated film project under a free license. This project will be created using only free softwares (mainly GIMP, Blender and Ardour) and will tackle a double challenge : writing new features to GIMP and Blender in order to suit their needs ; and above all making a beautiful film. “Not a technical demo. A beautiful film that speaks about the simple and basic freedom, without any philosophical bullshit. We are telling the incredible story of a marmot in search of a better place to sleep. A message to the world ? No. It's just a story. An enjoyable and beautiful animated story.”

At the time of writing, the project has already raised 75% of the required funds. Only a few days to gather the remaining 25% !

Aryeom: Our project speaks about a marmot, living in the Alps. He enjoys a quiet life... but maybe too quiet. Sleeping, eating, sleeping, eating... that's what he does. One day, he meets a migratory bird. It tells him how beautiful and vast is the world beyond his mountain. He figures immediately all the good sleeping places he was missing. A sufficient motivation to pack his bags and travel the world.

Jehan: I am a developer who loves to travel… or to wander, to be precise. I crossed the continent, from Paris to Japan on a motorcycle. It took months. Then, after having worked in Japan for a year, as a developer, I went to Korea... and that’s how I met Aryeom. At that time, she was doing some really cool stuff : drawing mangas, working on a graduation animation film - which won some prizes and participated to a lot of festivals.

Aryeom: Yeah, I was working on several projects and a japanese friend asked me to help a strange french guy, traveling with a motorcycle and a plush marmot. I thought that was very cute!

Jehan: Then we traveled together. First in japan for a year and then in New Zealand.

That's how the adventure began?

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Yeah, we heard about a Mozilla contest and decided to participate, just for fun. At that time, Aryeom was still using proprietary softwares like Photoshop and AfterEffects. And we actually won the first price in “New Technology” category of the [Asia - Africa - Oceania] region. It's a big zone. There is the european zone, the american zone and... "the rest of the world" zone. We made an animation with a javascripted open-street map embedded into the canvas of the video. So, at some point, there is the Firefox character that calls for people and there's a map of the world that appears displaying all the pictures uploaded by the visitors. So the map looked like it is inlaid inside the video. The year after, we have been asked to make an other animation and this time we went 100% free software : GIMP for the drawings and Blender for the video editing. That's how I became a GIMP contributor. At first, fixing bugs and committing patches until they got bored to receive my dozens of reports and gave me the authoring credential. I also made two commits for Blender.

Blender is mainly a 3D software. Why didn't you pick a dedicated video editing tool?

Well.. How can I put it... I know that some are nice and under heavy development but... after few trials, I came to the conclusion that Blender was the only one really stable. You know, when the simple fact of importing a video makes the whole software crash, you are like "Oh... I don't want to go further". And most of the time they are missing basic features, like compositing, transparency, layers, nested sequences... that are all needed for animation. And Blender offers all these and much more. Nearly everything can be keyframed, so it's really nice for us. Of course it's not perfect, especially in the UI area. Blender VSE can do almost everything but a lot of things that could be easy are not easily done, like adding a text layer for instance.

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Why did you choose free software?

As I said, the Free Software ecosystem is not perfect, and if everything can be done... it's often harder. This is the kind of situation we want to improve.

I think that's the right way to go, for a lot of reasons. Not just the price. The example of linux speaks for itself in favor of free software. More features, more developers, more everything than any proprietary OS. On the long term, the Free way is much more efficient, for everybody. I am amazed to see how many artists still crack adobe softwares to avoid to pay. They shouldn't have to do it. It's so much better when everybody contributes and feels like you are really a part of it. And I think you get a much better software this way and I know that Blender and GIMP have both many features that others don't. Let's take the scripting framework for instance. Now, numbers of proprietary softwares start to have it but it took them years to understand. You can script pretty much everything in all free software like Blender and GIMP.

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Free... but that does not mean free labor, right?

At least, we hope so ! It is really important for me to give the project a professional context. Not that I disconsider amateurism. On the contrary. I met amateurs who could easily be pros and pros that really make a crappy job. However, for this particular project, I want to prove that we can do a real job. We hope to contribute in giving free software a better image.

For me (Aryeom speaking), this animation will show people that it is possible to use only free software to make a professional-standard quality film. My teachers, during my graduation, tried to discourage me from using open-source applications. I not only want people to realize it is possible but also help them taking the same step forward.

The free license seems a natural for the collaborative funding?

Yes, it is natural for me to give back to the community what it has funded. How could it be otherwise? Could you imagine a public museum keeping you from taking pictures of artworks belonging to the public domain since hundreds of years? Knowing that this museum is entirely paid by your taxes? Oh wait...

... and the discussion took a turn when the three of us raised the subject of the sacrosanct copyright. The unenviable plight of artists in France, intimidated, looted and deprived of their own production by the mob-like so-called copyright association (SACEM)... Then:

Someone wants to use our work? Very good! A theatre wants to show our film? Why not? We would have already been paid for our job. Now it belongs to the world. This is also why it is important to pay people (ourselves and others). A long and difficult project is created ; months and months of labour, producing tens of thousands of pictures! It is normal to be paid, and well-paid if possible. But after that, artists can move on. After its birth, the artwork can live its own life.

For my part, I wish zis marmot a long and peaceful life of wander. Only few days to reach the goal. Helping this project is not only helping the birth of a beautiful animation story. It is also making blender VSE new improvements possible! Such opportunity is rare!

To support the project, visit their Indiegogo campaign page and read the team's blog.

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Marmot is a simple character who likes to eat and sleep. But the world is big with so many wonders. So our little rodent will go for a trip of discovery. This is a call to travel and freedom. Isn't it necessary sometimes to stop and rest in our hyperactive and over-stressful lives? Just breath a little. Contemplate. This is what we want to give to the world.

Aryeom
Young South Korean independent animation film director and artist. Her first co-directed short animation, “Grandma Ocean” got screened in more than a dozen festivals and won 2 prices.
Aryeom is ZeMarmot's director and script consultant.

Jehan
Actor for a dozen of years, especially movie dubbings, he also won an “Outstanding Youth Actor in a Foreign Film” award. Nowadays he spends time as a software developer (GIMP…), and wandered the world for a few years on a motorcycle (from France to Japan, and much more). Jehan is ZeMarmot's main author and developer.

photo credit : Patrick David (CC)

About Author

Nicolas Priniotakis

Hi! I am in charge of the graphic design dpt in a University in France where I teach 3D (Blender of course). I am also a Unity3D trainer at "Les Gobelins" CG school in Paris. I was working in the game industry in a previous life (Ubisoft) and directed the post-production of TV programs in China for several years. I'm now involved in game and CG animation projects and I design 3D commercial images for a German car constructor.

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