Pretty soon we’ll be fund-raising for
the pilot for Lunatics, and we’d like to be able to offer both a
standard definition version on DVD and a DRM-free high-definition
version. Since Blu-Ray is a very, very closed format, we decided to try
to create a new option with “Lib-Ray”. We’re about 74% of the way to
funding that development on Kickstarter, but we’ve just got 5 days to
make our Kickstarter goal (or we won’t get any of that). So we could
really use help, either directly, or by telling anyone you know who
cares about free-culture, independent film, and/or user freedoms with
Support the Lib-Ray Kickstarter
What Lib-Ray is All About and What it Has to Do with Lunatics
When we looked for a good choice for releasing a free-culture film in
high-definition, we were really disappointed by the options. We could
release on Blu-Ray, of course, but there’s a whole raft of objections to
the DRM, region-coding, and closed/proprietary nature of that standard.
Everything about Blu-Ray is antithetical to our business model and way
of thinking about media.
On the other hand, just dropping a multimedia file on a flash drive
comes nowhere near the rich experience of a DVD or Blu-Ray disk.
But it’s not really that hard to create. There are multimedia codecs
which are free (Theora, VP8, and Dirac — with VP8 being a clear
technical leader in this area), and the web has given us HTML5, which
certainly has everything you need to create the sort of menu features
you’re used to on DVD and Blu-Ray disks.
There is a little bit of development work to make it happen, of course: we’ve got to
- write a standard in the sort of unambiguous (but highly technical) format that engineers use to check compatibility;
- build a reference implementation of a player that can play the
format back on computers, portable devices, or “Home Theater PCs”
(later, it might be possible to make a dedicated player);
- master a couple of test releases;
- and document it all with a formal spec and tutorials.
This can all be done on a tiny shoestring budget compared to what was
spent on Blu-Ray, because we’re doing everything in the open with open
source software and open standards. And we’re not wasting our time on
elaborate schemes of “copy-protection” or “region-coding” or “DRM” —
which are all about preventing playback, not enabling it.
Still, it’s more than I can afford to do in my spare time, especially
when I’m working on producing and directing “Lunatics”, and I did not
want to burden the Lunatics production budget with being the sole
sponsor of this project. If it came to that, we’d probably be better off
just dumping MKV files on a flash memory card, and releasing the high
definition video that way.
But that would really lack style — I don’t want to offer a technically inferior
product in order to keep it free. So I decided to run a separate Kickstarter
campaign for Lib-Ray to see if I could attract some interest in developing it as a standard.
And it has attracted quite a bit of interest: the project has been mentioned in
Linux Pro Magazine; I’ve been interviewed by Ars Technica; and I’ve been
supported enthusiastically by Question Copyright‘s Karl Fogel
(who actually suggested the name “Lib-Ray” for the standard). Nina Paley
(creator of “Sita Sings the Blues“) has been an enthusiastic supporter,
mainly because she wants to release her own movies in this format —
she’s also contributed her film, with her endorsement as one of the reward
releases we are offering in the Kickstart. Michael Tiemann, who you may
know as one of the founders of Red Hat, supported Lib-Ray with a generous
$5000 Corporate Sponsorship in the name of his current business, Manifold Recording.
Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation has said that it “sounds good” and has
offered design advice to meet our goals of preserving user freedoms with the format.
As a result, we’ve raised over $14,000 in pledges. But we won’t see any
of it unless we make the $19,000 that we’ve bid to do this project (there’s an
explanation of the costs on the Kickstarter page). That’s just how Kickstarter works.
To fund it, we are offering as backer rewards, two releases: Nina
Paley’s (creator endorsed) “Sita Sings the Blues” and a “Blender Open
Movies Collection” which will contain all three of the
currently-finished Blender Open Movies: “Elephants Dream”, “Big Buck
Bunny”, and “Sintel”. All will be in a very-high quality high-definition
format (1920×1080 or “1080P” resolution). Like any good movie release
these days, they’ll have extra features — information about the
filmmakers, extra features, alternate audio in some cases, and subtitle
tracks in many languages (“Sintel” has subtitles in 44 languages; “Sita
Sings the Blues” in at least 18).
If we can get it funded, then the Lib-Ray funding will take care of
the development costs for the standard, and the “Lunatics” budget will
only have to include the actual cost for mastering our Lib-Ray version
of the pilot. We’ll then be able to offer that as a reward when we do
our Kickstart for Lunatics, which I think will make it more
attractive and likely to succeed.
I haven’t done too much advertising of Lib-Ray through Lunatics
channels, because I was hoping that Lib-Ray would mostly find its
funding elsewhere. But with us at 74% and only 5 days left, I’m getting
that “so close and yet so far feeling” — it’d be a shame to get so
close and yet see it fail.
We might be able to regroup and try again, of course, but it’d likely not be in time for the Lunatics pilot episode campaign.
So, if you’re willing to pitch in a little on Lib-Ray, we’d really
appreciate it. What would really help, though, is if you can just tell
everybody you know who might care about a project like this — because
it’s really the number of supporters that counts at this point.
Lib-Ray Kickstarter Campaign
Lib-Ray Home Page
Lib-Ray Open Source Player Project
(Newly minted, there’s not a lot there yet)
Lib-Ray Google Group
(for discussing the design of the standard)