Sunday, June 15, 2008

calling anyone and everyone

In the last few days I've had many thoughts related to distributed production. The biggest most productive phases in Tower 37's production were of course when a class's worth of students (and, when available, alums and others) were cranking away on the project. Anyone following the history of this film should know by now that my advanced animation courses at Hampshire are built around the idea of collaborative production, with students in the course becoming contributing creative crew members on a substantial film project.

This is a great model for bringing to life independent animation work that lies beyond the capabilities of an individual, and I have argued elsewhere for its merits as a pedagogical strategy as well. But this began as a single-class endeavor with my first film in 2002, and has obviously grown way beyond that.

Over the course of this production there have been four periods during which the crew was greater than, say, 5 or 6 people: the fall of 2005, spring of 2006, January of 2007, and fall of 2007. In other words, we've had to adapt frequently to crew changes. This means bringing folks up to speed quickly and ramping them off the production quickly as well. There's been much more of that than I hoped for, and it's taught me a few big lessons.

I can't get into them all here, but a clear vision for the production (as in theme, story, etc) coupled with easy-to-follow standards and protocols equals a fairly low "crew change" cost. These of course are coupled with a set of tools that permits remote work at odd times of day on multiple platforms, which HELGA already offers us.

Where this is all going comes from answering this question: what if the crew was ever-changing, with perhaps people coming on for single production tasks instead of long stretches of time?

Check out the Open Source Cinema manifesto. I wouldn't say that I'm adhering to every point in the manifesto, but I've enjoyed watching The Basement Tapes grow and evolve as a project and I think there's a lot to learn from this approach.

Anyway, I'm thinking that my next production should be structured so that anyone can jump onto the film's site, grab one of the many production tasks that are available, and contribute. This would require some new HELGA infrastructure to better encapsulate bits of the film into easily download-/upload-able archives. It would also help to use the most ubiquitous production tools possible, with Open Source being perhaps the most desirable.

What's nice about this is that it doesn't preclude the same semester-based approach to production, it simply opens up the project to a larger, more distributed crew. Details would have to be worked out, obviously, such as how people can find assets that are available, get them, work on them, get feedback on their work, and ultimately get their finished assets back into the project.

Perhaps I will be able to explore this approach in more detail during my upcoming Animating Fast class in the spring.


Stephen Sues said...

Certainly an interesting idea; this could definitely broaden the arguable "animation community" we have at Hampshire, or at least strengthen the one that already exists. I'm just curious, would this mean the end of Anim III as we know it?

I think what I like most is simply the idea of doing an extracurricular animation project, like something on par with a theater production or student film, where the students join and participate purely out of their own motivation.

I'm also intrigued by this Animating Fast class; I'm already running through my mind all the ways that title could be interpreted. And it would be a nice change from the glacially paced project I'm working on now.

Chris Perry said...

I don't see this approach ending Animation III as it has been taught; in fact, it's more an admission that Anim III (recently, at least) has benefited greatly from a larger more geographically-distributed crew.

There is still great value (GREAT value) in bringing a room full of people together who are working on the same project. You get so much more efficiency and a ton of new ideas too. You can speak and gesticulate instead of type, etc. But I'm talking more about opening the door for a broader crew, beyond Hampshire and Massachusetts and even the USA. People with particular skills who are interested in working on a large animation project. I want it to be easy for them to just jump in, do something from wherever they are, and exit the project without a hitch.

My opinion of the "extracurricular" animation projects you discuss is a bit different from yours. I think that a good chunk of the motivation of many participants in student theater and/or film productions is the fact that, at Hampshire at least, they get "credit" for their efforts. It may be community service credit, it may be Division II credit, who knows. Basically, I see our curriculum and academic structure supporting this kind of work which, in turn, allows it to get done as a high-priority project (and not 5th behind 4 classes worth of homework). The most successful collaborations I've seen have had more support than simply student interest; there has been some degree of institutional support as well.

Animating Fast can certainly be interpreted in lots of ways, can't it? I wasn't originally pleased with the title but I like the suggestiveness of it now that I've sat with it for a while. It should be fun to work out the details this fall and I'd value your opinions as the ideas start coming up. I will probably be blogging about it.