An up-to-date look at free software and its makers

Projects on the Move

© Tomas Del Amo, 123RF

© Tomas Del Amo, 123RF

Article from Issue 109/2009

Free software at the movies: Thanks to projects such as Blender and Synfig Studio, fans of animated movies now have the right choice of tool. The "Social Media Guide" suggests how to improve the marketing of free software projects on the web.

Take an old Russian fairy tale with a beautiful woman, a prince, a baddy, and a witch, add loads of action and technobabble, and – hey presto – you have a new cartoon for geeks. "Morevna" is the heroine's name and also the name of the project that has set itself the target of creating a full-length animated movie working only with open source software [1].

Open Source Anime

Implementing movie projects with free software is nothing new. Major production companies discovered the Linux operating system for themselves years ago, and the list of movies under free licenses is getting longer. "Big Buck Bunny" [2], "Elephants Dream" [3] and many other cartoons created with Blender [4] are a joy to behold and a convincing demonstration of the software's features.

The Morevna team has already released initial demos of the planned movie. The storyboard, characters, and score have already been posted on the project homepage and wiki (see Figure 1), and they are accompanied by a crop of tutorials and a whole bunch of illustrative material to help anybody interested in doing so to familiarize themselves with the tools the project uses.

Software in Flux

The project contributors use Synfig Studio [5] for 2D and Blender for 3D animations; images are created in GIMP and Krita. The creative minds behind the Morevna team state in their blog that they intend both to provide exhaustive feedback to the developers of the programs in question and to help improve the software through their tests.

The Morevna developers offer modified versions of Synfig Studio and Blender on their website, where you can find a variety of Debian and RPM packages for 32- and 64-bit systems, along with the source code. Besides the Morevna versions of the programs, the packages include required libraries and a note to the effect that security updates are not possible for all included libraries. Anybody interested in installing this bundle should consider setting up a test environment to do so. All of the libraries referred to are copied to the /opt/synfig/lib directory. This approach is not recommended: If every new program installed on Linux did this, we would soon have a crop of different versions of single libraries.

The team has made the development of the movie transparent to outsiders – a praiseworthy decision. The movie makers' blogs and wiki contain useful guides and a multitude of examples that people can follow and learn from (see Figures 2 and 3). If you are looking for more basic material, the tutorials on the Synfig Studio and Blender websites are good places to start. With much to see and learn, you have a perfect project for long, gray winter evenings.

Social Networking

Giving and taking, exchanging views and experience, establishing and maintaining contacts – networks are becoming increasingly important. Whether private or business related, social media are almost omnipresent. People twitter and blog; the web is full of video, photo, and music portals, and not just as a pleasant way of spending leisure time. Many companies are investing in "Social Media Marketing" to boost their popularity and the numbers of visitors to their websites and to attract new customers.

According to Lydia Pintscher, Community Manager with Amarok, free software projects should also exploit the popularity and advertising punch of social media. In her "Social Media Guide For Free Software Projects," she calls on free projects not to hide away in their developer labs, but to present the "human side of free software" [6]. Communication is the key to success: if developers encouraged typically inactive consumers to contribute to projects, rather than keeping to themselves, everybody would benefit.

In her guide, Pintscher suggests setting up news pages, microblogs, and networks. Very few of them are likely to thrill the fans of free software, and it is only to be expected that the comments on the blog entry contain some criticism [7]. On the other hand, the many positive reactions and words of encouragement also show that many people are prepared to think outside the box. The media Pintscher suggests attract millions of visitors every day, and there is nothing wrong with providing people with information on free software and generating more awareness for the subject.

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