I recently had one of those eye opening web surfing sessions where I find lots of new awesome stuff to explore. I was checking up on the progress of Raspberry Pi, itself a very exciting project to make and sell an ARM-based PC board for $35. They say:
We want to see cheap, accessible, programmable computers everywhere; we actively encourage other companies to clone what we’re doing. We want to break the paradigm where without spending hundreds of pounds on a PC, families can’t use the internet. We want owning a truly personal computer to be normal for children. We think that 2012 is going to be a very exciting year.
I saw a video of a demo of Raspberry Pi running XMBC, which is open source media centre software designed to run on a PC connected to your TV and display all your photos and videos and play your music. During the demo, a movie is played and I happened to catch the title “Peach Open Movie Project”, which caught my attention.
It turns out that this is a short animated film made by the Blender Institute. Blender is open source computer animation and 3D design software. The Blender Institute in Amsterdam funds Blender related projects. For the past few years they have been making a short film each year. Peach was the codename for what became Big Buck Bunny. The film is completely open, Creative Commons licensed, and you can buy the DVD with all the assets, 3D models, scripts and tutorial videos showing you how to do all this stuff yourself. It strikes me that if you are a motivated teenager who wants to get into 3D animation your life is vastly better than it would have been 5 years ago in terms of the wealth of information available to you.
So far there are three Blender Institute movies and a computer game. My favourite is Sintel, a bittersweet fantasy about a girl and her dragon. Currently the Blender people are working on a fourth movie: project Mango. This is a “VFX-based” movie, which I take to mean real actors and filmography composited with 3D computer graphics. Blender can do camera and object tracking, so you get things like digital makeup and augmented reality. One of the main aims of these projects is to improve the Blender software, so at the end of each one, Blender is better; the free tools for making movies are better.
One of the guys working on project Mango is Ian Hubert who makes the sort of SF art that I love. He made a short film called Dynamo in his spare time, and is working on another independent, no budget movie called Project London that is made by compositing 3D digital elements onto live action. His showreel is particularly impressive.
If you look at the quality of these projects as compared to a big Hollywood movie like Avatar you will find that the gap is not so wide; certainly it is less wide than the same gap measured a few years ago. All this is being done using freely available tools that are getting better all the time. These tools and these projects may be offshoots of commercial projects or spare time projects, but now they exist the next iteration of artwork done with them will be better. We are all richer as a result and none of this is going away. It is one small aspect of economic growth that is very visible.
It is possible to get a sense of a what a lot more growth would bring: an economy where the essentials are cheap enough to leave us with even more time to work on projects like these; whether making movies or developing circuit boards or designs to be 3D printed.
Now consider this comment left on Eric Raymond’s post about SOPA. Shenpen is talking about the problem of software and movie piracy and how the business models are flawed. The problem, he says, is that music is not scarce.
So the long-term answer is much more simple: selling non-scarce things is going to be stop being a for-profit business in any form whatsoever.
Take music. There will be no profits. There will be no music industry. And most musicians will not be able to make a living out of it. It will stop being a viable business model and a way to make a living altogether. Sure, some musicians will make a living out of fundraisings, advertisements and live performances, but it no longer will be a reliable way to make a living.
Is it wrong – how? The profit motive is great for a lot of things and not so great for a lot of other things. Some things – like sex – are best given for free. Take away the commercial motive and what you get is a lot better music. Sure, musicians will often have to work a day job and thus have less energy to invest in making music. This will reduce quantity – so what? As for quality, I think that will counterweighted by that then they won’t invest their energy into making plastic crap but genuinely good stuff, stuff they themselves would want to listen to, stuf they want to remembered for. When money gets out of the picture, artists often discover they have better tastes than formerly thought.
Why do we have to limit our imagination to the way these things are being done now? Record sales, movie sales etc. did not exist 150 years ago, why should they exist in 50 years from now? Time for some innovation.
This kind of innovation is just what we are seeing. Anyone can make a feature film or record an album and put it on the Internet. As the tools improve, so does the quality of the work done. It would be nice to make a living out of movies and music, but if the cost of living is low enough, and with freely available tools, high quality movies and music will be made even if it is not possible.