Clarifying the Idea

MCMTuesday, May 20, 2003
This post is from a version of my blog with inconsistent timestamps: evidently I was very good at defining 'modified' dates, but not 'created' dates. As such, I can't be sure when the content was actually written. Sorry!

I created an animated series a few years back that went from silly idea to on-the-verge-of-production very quickly. As I was dealing with production companies and broadcasters about the direction and shape of the show, I started to realize I didn't have much faith in the vision of the people who were calling the shots. So now that the show is back in my hands, I am going to do what I should have done all along: I'm going to let the web community call the shots. This is my idea for an open-source series production...

Open Content

The first and most important step in the process is the content. Characters, settings, concepts, vehicles... they all need to be freely available to the community. You (as a contributor) won't feel comfortable pouring your soul into something if you lose all rights to it the second you post it to a site. Likewise, you can't reasonably add to a project without the content your ideas are based on being freely re-usable too. To cover this part, all content related to the project needs to be released under a Creative Commons license. It guarantees that the community owns the project, and ensures that the only way the project can die is if no one cares to continue it.

Along those lines is the issue what the "real" project is. Although there may be a central "official" product that is being made by the community at large, the licensing allows other projects to flourish on their own: call them spin-offs or fanfic... they are productions that are just as valid, and whereas an entertainment company might see them as competition, I would see them as added texture to the world we're creating.

Direction Votes

Having a project like we do means that we have some already-developed content which gives us a predisposition to making an animated series. That is not necessarily the right thing to do. Under this system, there would be suggestions, ideas from the community, debate and voting to choose what path to take. In terms of an animated series, issues that come to mind are: how to release and sell? who to direct? casting decisions... and so on.

Letting a committee run a project, as was pointed out, is not always a good idea. Based on feedback here, I'd suggest that three key creative roles in the project be filled for renewable terms: creative director (deciding overall vision for the dramatic flow of the project), writer and director. This way the products won't suffer from the community's split opinions on tiny storyline issues, but if the quality of the project is continually suffering because of a particular creative lead, they can be replaced. This would seem to be a good way to uphold the ideals of the process while not putting the smooth running at risk.

The 'direction' aspect of the production is hardest to explain. In the case of my show, I have years of content assembled, ready to use. If the community decides that a comic book is a better outlet for the project, then I will dedicate whatever time and money I have to making a comic book. There will be things that I can't resolve on my own, and in those cases it will be up to the community to decide what to do to get to the next step. Not all the choices will be big, not all of them will be easy, but they'll all be important, and I'm interested in seeing where they lead us.


Probably the thorniest issue of the bunch is money. Assume the project gets put on DVD... the immediate question is "how much do we sell it for?". There are issues to take into account when pricing things: production costs, profits, and paying back the contributors who made it happen. The issue would be decided by the Direction Voting system, but it would also have to educate about the costs involved in making a project. Idealistically, I'd love to sell a DVD for $6... but I'd be ripping people off at that price. If you wanted to buy something and could have a say in its price, what would you choose? There is a lot of responsibility in making choices about a product like that, and while I'm sure there would be a lot of silliness floating around money issues, I also think the question of responsibility would help put the process in perspective.


And process, that is the other important issue. The rules and "laws" governing how to produce something in this way would evolve as we go. I can already see a lot of areas where flaws might emerge, but I think it's best to let them play out from here. There's the question of technology, and how we use it to promote and control the community-based aspect of the project. What are the rights and responsibilities of each person in this scheme? That's not something with an answer right now, but one that will emerge as time goes on.

Bottom Line

In the end, none of this could matter to you. This could be a crazy ideal that doesn't make sense to implement. But I think that given this foundation, something really useful can emerge from the project, and we can make a new way of producing creative works on the web --- and maybe a good show, too.

And for the cynics: you could just visit the website and grab some content to write your own shows if you wanted. But that's only half the point.

Real-Life Execution

How does this relate to the production I've already got going? To clarify a few things:

The content I have, be it character designs, ship designs, scripts, bibles or other information, is not a series. It's everything leading up to it, and a little bit beyond. If the show had been sold to a production company, they would have chosen what they'd like to work with, and developed the idea into whatever suited them. Scripts are just guidelines. If they're good enough, they'll get used. This is several years' worth of effort, but it's still just a start.

The thing is, this is an open-source work of art and an open-source production management project. They're independent, but also very connected. I can throw in a lot of creative effort (past, present and future), and a lot of experience running a show, but where I've left it is not where it will necessarily end up. The premise of the series leaves a lot of space for expansion (35 years in the future, asteroid mining, space economies and piracy), so in that way it would be great to have the community develop the world. But at the same time, that idea won't go anywhere without some direction, which is also how it could evolve.

Not that an animated series is absolutely where we should go, but from where we are, we would need to (in no particular order):

  • Clearly define the world of 2038
  • Revise and perfect character sketches (both drawings and personal history)
  • Hammer out the science and technology for ships
  • Get story ideas and turn them into scripts (story outlines first)
  • Storyboard the scripts
  • Record the dialogue (after casting)
  • Model ships, characters and locations in 3D (if we want to do 3D for characters and locations)
  • Animate the scenes
  • Music, mixing and editing
  • ... what then?

There's a lot to do, and the process may vary, but that's roughly how the project would progress. Not everyone can draw, write or animate, but that doesn't mean they don't have something to offer.

When the show was just our baby, we (the creative/admin team and I) had meetings to figure out where to bring it, how to sell it, what we should do in the story. It was really exciting, back then, expanding the world every afternoon, setting goals and meeting them with perfect regularity. That's what I want to replicate, on a bigger scale.

Note: The following is the story I submitted on kuro5hin earlier. It's been hidden, but I think the exercise was still very useful for helping to pinpoint the ideals of the project. Thanks to all who commented!

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