Lunatics Project History — Part 3: Launches & Misfires (2011-2012)

It’s been over ten years since our project launch on Kickstarter, which is probably as good a date as any to call the “beginning” of the “Lunatics!” Project, although its origins actually reach back in various ways as far as 2000 (the germ of the story) or 2009 (the idea that we might actually be able to produce it as an open movie) or 2010, when I posted the first essays into the project in my Free Software Magazine column.

So this seems like a very good time to reflect on what we hoped to achieve with this project, what we have achieved so far, what went wrong, what went right, and what we hope to achieve in the future.

This is Part 3, addressing the crowd-funding, Pre-Production, voice-casting, and the failed attempt to fund a “sprint” production model, ending with us recording the audio, and trying to continue on a volunteer basis.

(See also: PART 1, PART 2, …)

Setting Up the Project

Story & Screenplay

Rosalyn Hunter wrote the earliest incarnation of the story as a short-story called “The Landing”, which is included as an extra in the back of our Pre-Production Artbook & Writer’s Guide. This was based on a lot of brain-storming about the characters that we had been doing for several years. But the story was frankly over-packed with character introductions, since we were really working on a series, and so it doesn’t read so well as a short story.

I was afraid it would not be easy to find voice actors unless and until we had demonstrated some competence at creating the animation. So I wanted a “pilot” or “demo” episode that didn’t rely on dialogue — that would mostly be visuals and music. This way, if the voice-acting performances we could provide were weak, they wouldn’t bring down the production too much (and could be replaced later if we wanted). This would be my expectation, for example, if Rosalyn and I voiced all the characters ourselves.

This turned out to be a very unfounded fear. It was actually quite a bit easier to find actors than it was to find Blender modelers and animators who were willing to work on the project.

But in the earliest draft of the screenplay, Hiromi spoke only a little, and Georgiana said nothing at all until the very last scene. We had this notion that Georgiana was very withdrawn and anxious about moving to the colony. You can still see a little of this in the opening scenes of the current pilot.

The pilot episode was also planned to be an hour long, encompassing the entire trip from the Earth to the ISF-1 Colony on the Moon (what is now planned as three episodes).

After Paul Birchard contacted me about getting a part, I started to rethink my ideas about casting and the script, and we started adding more dialog. Eventually, Rosalyn did a re-write that added most of the dialog currently in the script.

Open Source & Free Culture

Based on my experiences described in the previous installments, I knew that I wanted the project to be under an appropriate free-culture license, which I decided would be the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike: the same license I had used for my Free Software Magazine articles.

I also wanted to create the film using, to what degree I could, all free-software tools in making it. Initially I was unsure that this would really be possible, so I considered allowing proprietary software to be used. Basically, I stated that we’d be “free culture” as our first priority and use “open source software” as a secondary goal.

In practice, however, this wasn’t as much of a limitation as I imagined. I did allow material created using proprietary software to be submitted to the project, although I did insist that it be in an editable open format.

Because he was used to it, Daniel Fu did his concept and modelsheet art using Adobe Illustrator, submitting the AI files. But I then converted those to Inkscape SVG format, and checked those versions into our source tree. Later, when we started collecting voice recordings, actors used a variety of different tools for recording, including Audacity, but also GarageBand, but these were subsequently converted to the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) for incorporation into our source files. This is a principle we applied throughout the production: it is okay to submit in a proprietary format if we can read it, but then it will be stored in a free file format: a generic one if practical, or a specific one for open source software authoring tools.

Asset Management

Following the lead of Morevna Project, our first “asset management system” was a MediaWiki instance. This was pretty good for developing the screenplay, storyboards, and other pre-production work.

However, it ultimately was too cumbersome for storing multimedia content.

So, following in the footsteps of open source projects and also the production workflow used on “Sintel”, I initially setup my sources in Subversion. For easier publication to the web, I chose Trac as a project front-end. However, I have to say that we barely used Trac, and ultimately, I’m not sure it contributed much to our process.


Because I already had a Zope/Plone based website setup, I used the same to create the initial site for Lunatics Project. This became increasingly difficult to maintain as Plone became a less popular platform, and eventually we switched to WordPress in 2014, with the help of Elsa Balderrama, who designed a custom WordPress theme for the project.

“Lunatics!” Project website, as created initially in 2011, to support the project launch.

Since I was still actively writing for Free Software Magazine during this time, and since these technical considerations were of particular interest to a Free Software focused audience, I wrote several short articles about the design of the site and the software I used for it. These are some of the articles I wrote during that process:

2008 FSM Article: Free software tools for designing productive community sites (Archive)

Here’s a guide to eight that you should consider making use of in building a community around an information commons project of any kind, from multimedia, to hardware, to software.

2010 FSM Article: Reflections on a page design (Archive)

The time has come for me to start making a real website for Lunatics.

2010 FSM Article: Private Collaboration and Digital Asset Management with MediaWiki (Archive)

It’s been pretty obvious that MediaWiki would be a good choice for opening our project up to the outside and letting people collaborate with us.

Screenshot of Wiki
Lunatics MediaWiki Wiki, circa 2011
2010 FSM Article: MediaWiki and Script Translation for the Morevna Project (Archive)

Workflow is unclear at the beginning, and has to be developed organically. That argues against putting too much structure into the software that you use.

2011 FSM Article: Migrating Multiple MediaWikis with Practically Perfect People Policies (Archive)

I am setting up five MediaWiki instances in three domains on one server with three different security configurations.

2011 FSM Article: Creating a Project Website for “Lunatics” with Apache, Zope, Plone, MediaWiki, Trac, Subversion, and the Cloud Too  (Archive)

Film is a very comprehensive art form, probably the most that we have available to us at the moment, so it should be no surprise that a free film project severely tests the limits of available free software, not only for authoring the film, but also for collaborating on its creation.

2011 FSM Article: Installing a Debian GNU/Linux test server with VirtualBox (Archive)

My website for the Lunatics project is hopelessly out of date, and I need to start doing something about it soon.

Character Designer – Daniel Fu

My first serious production decision was that I should not attempt to design the characters myself. I had played around with MakeHuman, but the results were really disappointing. I clearly needed to commission a designer. And that would be the first person beyond myself and my wife to get involved in the project, so it was a leaping off point. After that, we’d be a real start-up project, and I’d have to take things seriously after that, because there would be other people involved.

I gathered a number of different materials together to assist the character designer:

  • Silhouettes of the characters I had cobbled together from clipart
  • Descriptions (“character sketches”)
  • A “mood board” of photographs of people, clothes, hair, and accessories for ideas on each character.
  • A chart, based on art studies done in the Blender “Sintel” project, to characterize how “realistic” or “stylized” we wanted the characters to be.
Style Study Based on Blender Durian Project Art
A chart showing possible character styles, based on concept art produced for “Sintel” (Blender Durian Project).

I also made montages of art from commercial animation projects that I thought might be useful for inspiring design:

The silhouettes on the first Kickstarter poster image are the clipart-based versions that I made (although some of Daniel Fu’s concept sketches are also included:

Original Kickstarter Graphic, with Silhouette Characters Prior to Daniel Fu’s versions.
Collage of character art work from Daniel Fu’s 2011 portfolio. (Artwork (C) Daniel Fu / All Rights Reserved)

I knew Daniel Fu from our previous collaboration on “The Light Princess” project, and I had talked to him since then for a comic book project that did not succeed, so I had some doubts whether he’d be willing to do this project. But this project involved much less of a time commitment, and I had decided that we should raise the money to pay him for his work. This also would establish a model for how we might work in the future.

The money we’d pay him would technically be an “advance”, as is common in the publishing industry. It would be an unconditional payment on delivery of the work, which would then be charged against his share of future profits (if any).

That also meant that we’d need to raise the money to pay him, and that would be our first attempt at crowdfunding. After looking at market rates for commissions of this kind, we decided on a round number for what the job was worth at about $2000, which become the goal for our first Kickstarter campaign, after tacking on the costs of backer rewards and shipping.

Prior to the Kickstarter, Daniel Fu prepared a set of concept art pages for the main characters, which we used for promotion:

2011 KS Post: Welcome to Character Artist Daniel Fu

This week we’ve started working on initial character designs with character designer, Daniel Fu.

Kickstarter #1: Pre-Production

It was 2011, and the Age of Kickstarter was on. The site was really popular and a lot of new projects were getting funded. We did not really understand what was and was not possible with Kickstarter, yet. Many things that would probably be regarded as “common sense” were not understood yet — certainly not by me, anyway!

To spread out the risk, I decided that the first Kickstarter would raise funds only for pre-production artwork, which would include:

  • Character Designs by Daniel Fu
  • Set & Mech Designs by Terry Hancock
  • Screenplay by Rosalyn Hunter & Terry Hancock
  • Storyboards sketched by Terry Hancock
  • Storyreel Animatic, edited/mastered by Terry Hancock

The rewards for backers were all derived directly from these assets, notably:

  • Poster with the new Character Line-Up art
  • Printed Artbook & Writer’s Guide
  • A DVD with the storyreel version of the pilot episode

I did every kind of promotion I could figure out for that first Kickstarter, beginning with friends and family, Facebook, direct email queries, and so on. I was probably pretty obnoxious! We quickly raised the first part of it, fought hard through the middle, then got a little wind at the end, mostly with existing backers increasing their support, and just barely made our total.

Our original pitch video for the Phase I (Pre-Production) Kickstarter campaign for Lunatics!  There was quite a bit of room for improvement, but it did what was required of it.

This covered the commission I had offered to Daniel, and all the expenses for delivering on our reward promises. So this fund-raiser was an all-around success!

The actual production of the artwork took a bit longer than we predicted, but we were able to deliver the static rewards before the Summer of 2012, so that was pretty satisfying!

After that we had the challenge of creating the DVD, and for that we needed voices, which brings us to the next part of the story!

And of course, I promoted the Kickstarter through my Free Software Magazine column (with the editor’s permission of course!):

2011 FSM Article: Raising money For “Lunatics” with Kickstarter (Archive)

We’re putting the finishing touches on our initial Kickstarter campaign for our free-culture science-fiction web series “Lunatics”.

For Pre-Production, Daniel created modelsheets for each of the main characters, additional modelsheets for secondary characters, and some generic “mix-and-match” sheets we could use for additional “walk-on” characters. And then, of course, produced the new “character line up” art, which we’ve been using ever since (it is also the basis for the silhouettes in the current “Lunatics!” medallion logo art):

Of course, I also contributed to the pre-production work.

I created floor plans for the ISF-1 colony, to be the plan for sets (still not working on that, yet in 2023, since it doesn’t show up until what is now “Episode 3”):


These floor plans are meant to be based on a combination of general-purpose modules, so I also drew plans for those:

And I also did extensive design work on the “Lunar Transportation System”, which is a key piece of infrastructure we assume for operating the colony, and which appears in episodes 2 & 3. Some of the work on that has been completed, but I’ll save that for later:

LTS Logistics Chart
Profile of the LTS “reference mission” for a typical Earth-Moon cargo transfer.

Kickstarter wasn’t the only fund-raising source we used at the time. We also had a PayPal donation button on the site, but it got very little use. Similarly we were trying out “Flattr”:

2010 FSM Article: Flattr: A Social Micropayment Platform for Financing Free Works (Archive)

The idea is pretty simple. Flattr functions very nearly like a social networking or social bookmarking site — but with money.

Music & Sound License Clearance

As I was getting serious about the soundtrack music, which was to be based on CC-By-SA compatible music from various sources, I spent some time in 2012 clearing up a few licensing questions. It was during this time that I sought and obtained licenses to release two non-free tracks under CC-By-SA with our project:

“Bellatrix” by J.T. Bruce

“Space Zine” by Elaine Walker

And also for one track under the “Free Art License“, which although essentially of the same type, was not legally compatible with CC-By-SA 3.0:

“Magic of Freedom” by Distemper

This re-license permission technically became unnecessary with the CC-By-SA 4.0, which incorporates an explicit compatibility with the FAL, so that the additional permission was not strictly necessary. But I’m still happy I asked.

Not everything went smoothly. Another FAL track resulted in a somewhat troubling response from the author, so I replaced that track, just to be safe. This would probably be legal now with the 4.0 version, but it’s probably safer that I’m not using it, and I like the replacement track.

2012 FSM Article: How and How NOT to Re-License your Work for Free Culture (Archive)

The last week has been terrific for “Lunatics”. We’ve cleared the licenses on almost all of the music — and certainly the most important pieces. However, for a moment, I want to focus on the little problem with the one minute of music we probably won’t get to use, and the right and wrong way to relicense your art if you are ever in that situation.

During this time, I also moved on to collecting sound-effect and ambience tracks from other By-SA compatible sources, including

2012 FSM Article: Creative Commons and Phase Out Sampling Licenses (Archive)

It’s not a license for samples. It’s a license that allows sampling.

Voice Casting

It’s easy to dwell on the mistakes I made where something turned out to be much, much harder than I expected. This is so often the case! But voice casting turned out to be vastly easier than I expected. I really had figured that we’d be so fringe no actor would want anything to do with the project.

Which was why I had actually written the beginning of the show as a highly visual demo — the goal would be to impress potential contributors, including actors, with how good the show could look. And if the voices were just Rosalyn and myself (neither of us actors), then that would be okay, if the main attraction was the 3D animation in Blender. I was expecting to start with voices that were very unprofessional.

Ariel Hancock (“Georgiana Lerner”)

Ariel Hancock as Georgiana Lerner

When I was taking the homemade perspective, casting my own daughter as “Georgiana” was a no-brainer. She would have an authentic child’s voice, and while I couldn’t be sure of her acting ability, that would be equally true of any child actor that I cast for the part — there is no such thing as a really-experienced child actor. There’s talent, and at most, a couple of years of training.

As it happened, Ariel really did have a knack for acting, so she was able to do the part really well. I was keenly aware that as her father, I was probably very biased. But my experience with her was that she liked acting, was pretty talented at it, and took direction remarkably well for a grade-schooler. We’d raised a pretty secure little girl, and she didn’t take criticism of her delivery personally, but just tried to do it a different way. She also could really put feeling into it (the bawling scene in “Earth” still kind of freaks me out, to be honest — it’s scarily realistic).

There were two other considerations, though. With my own daughter, I could be in the room directing her with immediate feedback, which wouldn’t be possible for an actor I worked with remotely, as I planned to do for “Lunatics!” A professional voice actor can sort of ‘self-direct’, responding to remote direction over phone or even email. But this is going to be much harder with a child.

Alternatively, of course, I could give up on a child actor for the part and cast an adult woman who could just “do a child voice” for the part. This is really common in animation, though it’s never quite as authentic.

The kicker for me, though, was the problem of “stage parents”. If I worked with an underage actor other than my own kin, I’d have to deal with her parents, who might have very unrealistic expectations. I’d met some very over-the-top stage moms who might get overenthusiastic about “negotiating”. I worried a lot about any actor feeling exploited by the arrangement of working on a free project that very likely wouldn’t pay them anything, but being accused of exploiting a child would be the worst imaginable PR for the project.

Of course, if I cast a local child to work with in person, as I did with Ariel, there would also be the issue of either renting a commercial studio to record in (expensive), or needing to have both parent and child meet me in a shabby-looking ocean storage container in rural Texas to record.

Nevertheless, I did open the casting call for Georgiana as well. I considered at least one adult actor for the part from one of the voice sites (though she had actually responded to the call for ‘Hiromi’), and I got a response from a pair of twin girls in Texas who did voice acting for commercials. But in the end, none of them sounded as convincing to me for the part as Ariel did, and with the logistical concerns, I decided to stick with her in the part.

There is of course one serious reason NOT to cast a child to play a child, which is much more obvious now in 2023: production timescales can be very unpredictable. An adult might sound the same five or ten years on — or at least close enough. But a child’s voice will age out.  I can’t have Ariel record any pickups for the pilot arc now, and I’m keenly aware that if Ariel reprises the role of Georgiana for future episodes, she’ll be doing it as an adult actress (she’s 20 now), and that “authenticity” won’t be there anymore. She’s got a very different voice now. Alternatively, we can recast. I’ll make that decision after we get through the first four episodes that we’ve already recorded for.

Paul Birchard (“Joshua Farmer” / “Allen Emerson”)

It turned out that a professional film and television character actor, Paul Birchard, was among my readership for my Free Software Magazine column, and he wanted in on the project. I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of him before and had thought that a “real” actor wouldn’t be contacting me, so I took longer than I should’ve to respond. I eventually did look him up, though, and was a little chagrined to realize my mistake.

He’s a character actor who’s been in a lot of shows, ranging from parts in Hollywood action movies (he’s in “Batman Returns” and more recently, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) to larger parts in indy movies and British television (where he generally plays token Americans) and even a little part in the parody mockumentary series “Look Around You”, which is probably the best way to introduce him to you, as “Scott Nolan” who invents the new sport of “Gonnis”:

That was a pretty exciting development, and it spurred me to take casting much more seriously, to see if I could find other actors who’d have enthusiasm for this project.

In “Lunatics!” of course, as the voices for both “Josh Farmer” and “Allen Emerson”, he’s definitely a principal actor. You can hear a lot of him playing both characters in our already-released audio drama, “Earth“.

Paul Birchard as both Josh Farmer and Allen Emerson

However, it turns out that actors are always looking for a gig and a chance to show their skills, so it wasn’t really that hard. In fact, when I went to advertise for cast, I found I got a LOT more responses than I needed, so that sorting through them all became the challenge.

The rest of the principle cast were recruited through a more conventional casting call, after I posted breakdowns and contacted individuals on voice-over casting sites online. I had zero experience with any of this — I had not even done community theater or even a school play before this, so I was learning the whole process by doing it.

For casting, I relied on sites that didn’t require me to be a Hollywood insider, or pay membership fees, so I wound up looking in two main places:

Voice123 [archive] is a site for voice acting and voice-over in particular.

NowCasting was a more-conventional film-casting site (that is, mostly for live-action films).

For the application process, we asked for a reel or sample work (which the profiles on Voice123 already included). On Now Casting, we had a breakdown with the various parts, and actors could sign up for each of them separately.

I had originally decided to cast “color blind”, on the theory that we were going to have such limited choices that we couldn’t avoid that, but as we got a lot of queries, I decided it would be a lot better if we could cast people who had similar enough backgrounds to our characters to get more authentic-sounding voices. And we really lucked out on that with “Hiromi”, voiced by Karrie Shirou, whose natural accent was already right, since she was from the city of Torrence, CA, which was our official choice for Hiromi’s home town — partly because we used to go to the Mitsuwa Marketplace there, and knew there were a lot of Japanese Americans there, and partly because there are aerospace contractors nearby, which made a good backstory for Hiromi’s father, David Aoki, founder of “Aoki Avionics”.

And then we were contacted by Veronika Kurshinskaya, based on the Now Casting listing. I had really only recently started to notice regional accent differences in Russian, but Veronika’s home turned out to be the same Yaroslavl Oblast that Valentina Tereshkova is from. It was a lot better fit than I had dared hope!

I was concerned about the Russian characters’ voices sounding authentic, because so many “Russians” in US media are basically Cold-War era parodies, and probably a bit offensive. I wanted humor, but I didn’t want the nationalities of the characters to be the source of the humor (not unless we were specifically satirizing their nations’ politics, which I consider fair game).

I do have to mention that, on Now Casting, there were only a handful of people who applied for Anya’s part, and only three for Hiromi. Of these, one I seriously considered was Miki Matsumoto, but she had a very noticeable Japanese accent, and the character was supposed to be a second-generation Japanese American, so that didn’t really make much sense. We’d have to rewrite the character a little. Miki plays the Japanese reporter in the pilot episode now, and also has a translation credit for Hiromi’s Japanese lines in the pilot (Karrie does speak Japanese, but not quite so fluently).

Karrie Shirou (“Hiromi Lerner”)

Karrie Shirou as “HIromi Lerner”
2013 KS Post: Meet the Team: Karrie Shirou as Hiromi Lerner

Veronika Kurshinskaya (“Anya Titova”)

2013 KS Post: Meet the Team: Veronika Kurshinskaya as Anya Titova-Farmer

Lex Quarterman was raised in Ukraine, is quite fluent in Russian, and originally applied for “Sergei” — the Cosmonaut-Pilot, who is also Anya’s brother in the story. However, we asked him to read for Tim, and he did a really excellent job with it, which I felt captured the humor better than actors who were closer to the character’s age (the part does require a bit of self-awareness on the “teen boy” angle). I had not expected to get an actor who spoke Russian in this role, but it has real potential, since we could have him drop into Russian when talking to his mother, Anya in the story.

Lex Quarterman (“Tim Farmer”)

2013 KS Post: Meet the Team: Lex Quarterman as Tim Farmer

The competition for “Rob” was the stiffest. We had about 150 applications to go through. I suppose there was an assumption that as the “spiritual leader” for the colony he would also be the main character of the series, though we did explicitly say this was going to be written as an ensemble work, rotating through the 8 main characters perspectives.

Or maybe there were just a lot more men looking for work on Now Casting?

William Roberts (“Rob Lerner)

2013 KS Post: Meet the Team: William Roberts as Rob Lerner

I did list Sarah Allison in the project breakdown, but casting her voice was a lower priority for me, since she first appears in the end of what is now Episode 5 “Cyborg” and then is a main character in Episodes 6 “Rocks” and 7 “Death’s Door”. I didn’t get to hear from quite all of the applicants, I wasn’t settled on who to cast, and as things stretched out, I finally decided I would leave the part open.

One of my biggest regrets about this process was that I didn’t send out a general message about this decision to make that decision clear. It’s a little late to rectify now, but for what it’s worth, I’m sorry I dropped the ball there.

I do have a couple of people in mind for the part, who I will contact them privately if we ever get to production on episode 5. If that doesn’t work out, we’ll do another call (which might happen anyway: after all this time some of our cast might not be willing and able to come back).

Union/Non-Union Casting Issue

One thing that bothered me was that, in Hollywood, actors generally operate through their union (now SAG-AFTRA, though at the time these were two separate unions, and AFTRA applied to our project as an animated “TV series” concept). In reality, neither one really did — as a “new media” project, the unions exempted the kind of work we were doing, in any case (I believe this may have changed by the time I’m writing this in 2023).

In any case, we were definitely a “non-union” project.

I felt certain that whatever terms the union might have normally used would be a very poor fit for an Open Movie project, so this was something of a relief. Nevertheless, I had hoped that we’d be able to pay rates that would be comparable to union rates, somehow, and made our fund-raising plans including this.

Cast for Pilot Arc (Now 3 Episodes), including principal actors Paul Birchard, Veronika Kurshinskaya, Lex Quarterman, Ariel Hancock, Karrie Shirou, William Roberts, Sergei Oleinik (top row); and supporting actors Melodee M. Spevack, Jami Cullen, Karen Jagger, David Jordan, Kristina Ponomarenko, Sophie LeNeveu, and Miki Matsumoto (bottom row). Not picture: Nadezhda Dmitrieva, Shamil Aminov, Nicholas Hancock, Sylvan Hancock, Janet Hancock.

In addition to the series principals, we found a number of other actors through the two casting sites and some personal contacts. Perhaps the most noted actor in the project was Melodee M. Spevack, who voices the narration at the beginning of the episode. I kind of wished we’d had a bigger part for her, as she is a voice actor known for work in US import anime (the one I knew her best for was one of the “Ten Swords” in “Rurouni Kenshin” — “Kamatari”), other animation, and even did voiceover work for Star Trek: Enterprise as an Andorian. So, call it a “cameo” role. Other actors applied generally or for other parts, but have supporting/guest roles in this episode.

Nadezhda Dmitrieva and Shamil Aminov were actually recorded by Konstantin Dmitriev from Morevna Project. I don’t really know them, but I’m grateful for the contribution.

David Jordan was a student filmmaker, programmer, and engineer who was interested in the project from early on. And of course, my two sons and my mother also did some fill-in voices, as did I.

As an audition for the project, we had principals read from a choice of “sides” we wrote for “Lunatics!” These are collected in this cast video, which we used in our Production Kickstarter:

Production Kickstarter

My initial concept for proceeding with the project was a “sprint” model, with a number of artists brought together to make it happen — following the model of the Blender Open Movie projects, which at that time, meant Elephant’s Dream, Big Buck Bunny, and Sintel. I was in a number of Blender communities online, including BlendSwap and the Blender NPR3D group on Facebook. I found artists who’d be interested in contributing in what was planned as a paid gig, funded by a Kickstarter.

I set the budget at $100,000. I still think that was a pretty a realistic number, for the type of production I was planning at the time. This figure was based on the reported budgets for the Blender Open Movie projects, with adjustments for the differences in scale and production process.

Since then, the project has evolved considerably, which I will discuss in later installments. Had this project funded, the final appearance would probably be a lot simpler with more of a “naive 3D” look (that some would regard as “pre-viz”) combined with 2D animated elements (I had planned to use 2D almost entirely for animating the train and launch sequence, introducing 3D only when we go into space. This would’ve saved on some of the main assets we’ve spent time developing since, but also would not have looked quite as satisfying).

Summer 2012 Production Sprint

Partly as a trial project and partly as a publicity draw for the Production Kickstarter, I recruited a group of Blender artists who were committed to the project if the Kickstarter succeed, and who would get $200 each, unconditionally, for doing a short sprint project in the Summer of 2012, while the Kickstarter was running. This added up to $1400, which I funded out-of-pocket to eliminate the risk factor for participants, who were:

  • Cosmin Planchon: mainly a mech 3D artist.
  • Gorka Mendieta: mainly a rigger.
  • Sathish Kumar: mech 3D and general 3D.
  • Timothee Giet: mainly a 2D animator.
  • Guillaume Cote: mainly a mech 3D Blender artist.Of course, we’d need additional artists before it was all over, but
  • Vyacheslav Ustrebcev: mainly a mech 3D Blender artist, associated with Morevna Project, and knowledgeable about Russian spaceflight.
  • Andrew Pray: mainly a character artist and modeler.

Of course, we’d need additional artists before it was all over, particularly for character animation, but this was a good starting group, and we set out to make a demo project within the period of the Production Kickstarter.

Production Kickstarter Pitch Video

Since we didn’t have character models and other assets ready, I decided to focus on a simple “teaser trailer” concept that mostly involved subjective views.

During the process, Andrew Pray, did create models for the spacesuits and the first version of Georgiana & Hiromi in spacesuits, which looked quite different from the model we settled on, and wasn’t not super-accurate to the concept art, but I was happy to let Andrew introduce his own style, thinking that it would be applied to all the characters, so they would be consistent.

Spacesuited Hiromi (Andrew Pray)
Andrew Pray’s version of Hiromi, created in 2012. We kept the spacesuit, but the model of Hiromi herself was replaced later.

This Kickstarter did not go as smoothly. First of all, the amount of pledges we got fell short even of the first Kickstarter, and was barely 1% of the amount the project was calling for. The end did not look feasible. I still want to see the result of the production sprint, of course, but it quickly became clear we weren’t going to make it.

At the same time, putting all the artistic work together proved harder than I had anticipated. I think a key error is that I had put a young and very inexperienced Blender artist in charge of assembling contributions from older and more experienced artists. It isn’t so easy to guess age, experience, or confidence when you meet people only online. This is something that a video conference might have helped me to avoid.

Another issue was that I was personally overloaded, with trying to manage this production team and promote a Kickstarter at the same time. Not a good idea. I was overwhelmed.

Aside from a few test clips, the planned teaser trailer did not get finished during the Kickstarter period.

However, during the sprint, a couple of gopher-related memes were trending on social media, including one of a ground-squirrel at the Baikonur Cosmodrome discovering a camera that had been placed to get a dramatic shot of a rocket being moved, and another shorter video of a camera zooming in on a gopher who has also noticed he’s being watched. These ideas were merged into a short teaser for the project, with a gopher (who Rosalyn named “Lubo”) modeled and rigged by Cosmin Planchon and pre-viz for the Soyuz rocket and transporter, animated by Timothee Giet.

Extra Promo Video for the 2012 Kickstarter, featuring “Lubo”

When it became clear that we were not going to reach our goal, I canceled this campaign, and replaced it with a second one for a much smaller goal: $4,235, which would basically just pay the voice actors:

This was much more frustrating, as we got to 73% of that goal! If I could’ve added the missing $1000, I might’ve just donated it myself! But alas, it was not to be.

Voice Recording

At the end of the Summer, we were in a pretty weak condition. I was still working on finishing the story reel animatic. The Teaser Trailer that I had hoped to finish during the Kickstarter was not finished, and the money had run out for the Summer 2012 Sprint group.

However, we had already done so much that the actors were willing to go ahead with the voice recording. So on September 8, 2012, we got together over a Skype teleconference call (because that’s what everyone had, even though that is not a free-software application). Then each of the actors separately recorded their lines, with the assistance of the practice read:

We also recorded the dialog for “Earth” (originally episode 2, now episode 4):

This was NOT the end of Lunatics Project!


See also: PART 2 and PART 1.

Avatar photo
Terry Hancock is the director and producer of "Lunatics!" and the founder for "Lunatics Project" and the associated "Film Freedom" Project. Misskey (Professional/Director Account) Mastodon (Personal Account)