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An experimental animation about the pursuit of immortality; a love letter to free software and open culture
An experimental animation about the pursuit of immortality; a love letter to free software and open culture
1,031 backers pledged $40,233 to help bring this project to life.

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Greetings, gracious patrons and patient supporters


First, I want to apologize for the dearth of updates amidst a harrowing family illness. We may have prematurely announced the schedule of this crazy movie. But be assured that WE WILL FINISH IT. WE WILL FINISH IT GOOD.

We have a tendency to post unheralded micro-updates and releases in various corners of the internet -- like the 'Add-ons for Empathy' series on our production blog (Floating Sliders, Proxies and a Bonus), where Bassam has begun video-documentation of custom tools built for the Tube project. We've hesistated to release our tools until the film is done, when we'll have more time to maintain them and create supporting materials -- but for the adventurous and Blender-interested among you, we are releasing a selection of them as free/open source software.

Playing to his creature strengths, Tal Hershkovich recently finished animation on one of the most challenging shots of the movie -- a roach fight!

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We're also happy to have Henri Hebeisen back with us, doing great work using particle systems to develop the title animation.

In October the project had reached nearly 30,000 lines of code -- and the same weekend we noticed it, Bassam wrote 500 more to facilitate the timelapse animation. He's also written a wiki entry explaining it,

We move inexorably onward! All of your contributions are appreciated, and we wouldn't dream of squandering them. Most important, we've developed a funding plan for seeing the production all the way to the finish. Thanks for hanging in there =)

- Fateh

Tube Happenings


A lot has transpired in the Tube project since the fall, when factors beyond our control collapsed the finishing plan we’d been about to announce, and it was back to the drawing board. To be clear, Tube never sleeps. But it takes more than a few people to make this kind of movie, and without full funding in place, it’s an enormous challenge. From the beginning we’ve held Tube to the highest possible standard, because it’s not just some bottom line job or product — Wires for Empathy should be a piece of art that stands as a testament to the collective effort of its contributors, and a film that showcases what can be done with Free/Libre tools in a way that holds up with time. (People often ask how we get artists to join a project like this. The answer isn’t simple, but the first principle is this one.)

That also makes it expensive work, in terms of time, money, and even render power! There is an adage that among Fast, Cheap, and Good you can pick any two. Tube is a vastly underfunded experiment that we took on out of a crazy compulsion, because we wanted to see what kind of film we could make, and what we could learn, if we approached independent filmmaking in the mode of free software development, and threw commercial concerns into the canal.

Tube is a very particular entity that’s evolved and whispered its needs, which we obey because they are necessary, even when they’re a bit mad. Find a way to tell an epic poem as a short with no words?!! Give it stylish, hyper-realistic *humanoid* animation in 3D?! And an *army* of *sextopods* — when it’s hard enough to animate one creature with just two feet?! And complicated time-lapse VFX?! And a human *crowd* scene?! Add mayhem, decay and gore?! AND you need to figure out how to make it all, in Free Software, over the internet?!

So for the Tube project, often the first thing hasn’t been to go and make the movie, but actually to go and build the tools to make the movie. It’s incredibly challenging to make such ambitious work on a shoestring, but its curse is also its freedom: because it’s not a commercial work under the absolute rule of numbers (or any sort of properly funded work where you have a set schedule) we are able to be exacting. And we are getting closer all the time. Unlike in Free Software, you can’t release a film in versions. But even before it’s finished, Tube is already being published, in the Art of Blender and featured in the Gooseberry pitch book. It’s already feeding field expertise back into the community, and providing interesting production experience and kick-ass shots for the employment reels of its many wonderful artists. We are also collaborating with some of the most exciting Free Software projects like MediaGoblin and Pitivi to advance the libre media ecology in ways that we plan to talk more about soon.

Wires for Empathy may have started off as an intellectual, aesthetic exercise, but when war zones erupt around loved ones, or we are faced with illness and the transient mortality of those we hold dear, it’s taken on a profound reflexive feeling. Each time the film we’re making aligns in some new way with the most meaningful parts of our own lived experience, I remember again why we thought it was important, and why it’s a story people have been retelling for more than 5,000 years.

Your notes of support really keep us going. Thanks for being part of the adventure!

Wires for Empathy

At SIGGRAPH (the biggest computer graphics conference in the US, with a sizeable Blender presence), we have just premiered the spanking new trailer for the Tube Open Movie. And with its release, we also reveal the film's title: Wires for Empathy. Tube is a name we have gotten attached to, but it was only a provisional title and serves us still as the designation for the project (in the way that Elephants Dream is also known as Orange). We like that Wires for Empathy is a bit more evocative, hinting at the themes of this fairly abstract film.

During the weeks running up to SIGGRAPH, the local and remote crews were hard at work polishing these (and many more) shots and getting them rendered in time. Five of Tube's artists were able to be in attendance, and we'll try to assemble a SIGGRAPH report soon. But for now, we hope you enjoy our short trailer, and that our esteemed backers will be proud to be a part of it!

Production News

Friends! Supporters! Please pardon the radio silence while we've been cranking frenetically to get the movie made. Conducting such an ambitious project with a tiny budget means that we all work on Tube with one hand while also keeping the lights on with the other. Our lovely crew is pushing hard to ready the trailer for release in time for the Siggraph conference next week, which five of Tube's artists (Bassam, Pablo, Hanny, Francesco, and Bing-Run) will take a few days out to attend. We look forward to seeing some of you there!

To whet the appetite, here are a few render tests from the work that's been in-progress, as well as a fast look at some of what's been happening:

Between inescapable bouts of his trademark rigging, Bassam's screens are full with a mix of directing, project management, shading tasks, time-lapse animation, pipeline coding, and more. As scenes develop and renders come off the farm, Bassam and Fateh, Tube's writer/producer, are also making the late day shot and edit decisions that bring all the pieces together. In the process, we're excited to be planning for things like sound design and distribution.

Art director Pablo Vazquez has rejoined us in Massachusetts for the northern summer, and is busy running the lighting and shading pipelines, compositing, and making gorgeous render tests that are extremely distracting to anyone trying to work while sitting next to him *cough*. By nights and weekends, he and Francesco turn the dining-and-laptopping room into a hotbed of furious industry as they've been developing and promoting Blender Network, refactoring, converting Caminandes to 4K, and building still another new project soon to make public.

Francesco Siddi, who many will remember from Tears of Steel, Caminandes, and this cool thing also joins our local crew this summer as awesome all around generalist/TD/project manager. He's been finishing up the last missing layouts, poking Bassam to make some helpful automations, and valiantly cleaning up the hairy library files that nobody else wants to touch. He's put Tube on the Attract management software in development since Mango/ToS, and in fact added some features Bassam requested to better track Tube's epic production.

A great group of super-talented artists and interns have joined our local crew both visiting from abroad and online.

We're very happy for the addition of lead environment artist Nicolò Zubbini (Tears of Steel), who is a real pleasure to work with, and has been cleverly applying his experience in architectural shading and Cycles rendering to the special challenge of designing animated textures suitable for time-lapse. He is producing materials for entire sets that have a single slider to control their 'aging', and he's published some thoughts on his approach to shading since Mango in this video.

Dimetrii Kalinin heads up organic modelling and texturing, working in high poly for some extremely challenging models that require design, sculpting and modeling chops, extensive anatomical detail, and an artist's eye. His work is incredibly impressive, and he somehow produces things in a weekend that would take anyone else ages to do.

Xiaohan "Hanny" Lu has been with us as an intern generalist since before her graduation from Hampshire College, where the Tube production is based. She has contributed a bit of rigging, modeling, and simulation but especially excels as a lighter, applying her technical skill and cinematic sensibility to several shots for the Tube project, which you can get a peek at in her demo reel.

We've had the benefit of amazing animators Gianmichele Mariani, Sarah Laufer, Beorn Leonard, Tal Hershkovich, Karen Webb, Jarred de Beer, Virgilio Vasconcelos, Nathan Vegdahl, Luciano Munoz, Matt Bugeja, and Chris Bishop -- who also acts as our invaluable animation supervisor -- about all of whom more should soon be said.

Participating artists and interns Hassan Yola, Christine Stuckart, Davide Maimone, Aislynn Kilgore, Samah Majadla, Connie Hildreth, Ike Aloe, Arindam Mondal, Jeenhye Kim, Lukas Zeichmann, Rachel Creemers, Jake Wisdom, Tim Carroll, Nora Jenny, Pere Balsach, Davide Maimone, Milan Stankovic and others have all made great contributions that we'll be talking about in future. This summer Jiang Bing-Run, a young animator visiting from Taiwan, is proving a great asset in tackling Tube's crowd sequence.

In the upcoming weeks we have a number of exciting announcements and releases planned, so keep an eye out for more!

Want to join Tube as an Artist or Intern?

We are thrilled by the "totally awesome" render tests coming off the farm, with supreme animatador / pixelero Pablo Vazquez (venomgfx) visiting our 'Nerdodrome' home base to head up lighting and look-dev, but there is juicy work still to do on the Tube production, so we invite interested artists to check out our open task list and internship positions announced below!

And if you are an artist with a bit of time who would like to get involved as a contributor, please contact us! [hello at URCHN dot org]

Calling all students, recent graduates and professionals wanting to ply their 3D skills in free/libre software:

Join Bassam and the URCHN crew this spring as a remote or local artist on the Tube Open Movie, hosted by the Bit Films animation incubator at Hampshire College, Massachusetts. Helmed by Chris Perry, formerly of Pixar and Rhythm & Hues, the program draws together a lot of talent, so although internships are unpaid, it promises to be a very stimulating and fruitful space. These positions offer an opportunity to improve your skills, develop your reel, and make useful contacts in the industry. The official internship period runs from Monday February 4 through Friday May 17, 2013. Applications are due (via email) by Friday February 1, 2013, at 5pm (EDT). Because the project is ongoing, the internship period is flexible; if in doubt, apply! Please read carefully the open positions announcement and FAQ. Have questions about internships? Email us! [internships at bitfilms dot com]