"Lunatics!" is an animated web series about the first settlers on the Moon. We are funding the pilot episode, "No Children in Space".
Lunatics is a story about the first permanent settlement off of the Earth, in a tiny colony on the Moon near Sinus Iridium. Politics are inevitable, physics is implacable, and the colonists are indomitable fanatics. After all, normal people don't really colonize new worlds, do they?
Producing the Pilot Episode
Thanks to the generous support of our Kickstarter backers on our Pre-Production Phase, we are now ready to begin production of the pilot episode of Lunatics. We have designs for characters, sets, and props. We have a completed script for the pilot episode (and in fact for the second episode as well, along with partially-complete scripts for episodes 3 to 5, comprising "Block 1" of the series). We have a confirmed principal cast for the pilot. We've selected a talented animation team. Now all we need is the money to pay for the production of the pilot.
"Somebody Has to Be Crazy Enough to Go First!"
The concept for Lunatics came to Rosalyn Hunter and I some years ago, as a result of a discussion about what a space settlement would really be like, considering that it would be settled by the same kind of people who we knew as space advocates then. The truth is, the first settlers will be fanatics about space, because no one else would be able to get that opportunity. And this is something we felt was missing from most of the science-fiction narratives on the subject.
We got kind of tired of "angsty everyman" characters "thrust into the thankless task of settling a new world" or some such nonsense. This just isn't true to the character of the people who'd actually wind up in that situation. They will have to be extraordinary people, not just in ability, but also in outlook. It takes an incredible optimist to take on a task like this seriously. And we knew those people. We'd met them in conferences, and to one degree or another, we'd been those people. So we could really get inside their heads, and that was the beginning of the characters -- and this is a story that starts with the characters.
The more we talked about these characters, the funnier the idea became, and we quickly worked our way towards a set of caricatures of "crazy space advocates". After a while, the characters mellowed a little as we added more depth to them. By now they're much more believable and engaging.
Then we added to that a realism of setting based on much more up-to-date ideas about settling on the Moon. There are real problems with making a habitable settlement on Luna, and we didn't want to magic them away by ignoring them and pretending that it would all "work out somehow". That's okay in some science fiction, especially in the far future, because we really don't know how "transporters" or "warp drive" would work (or if it would work), but what's the excuse here? We know how to solve the problems for a Moon settlement -- or at least we have a pretty good idea, so ignoring them would just be a cop out.
We also wanted to challenge some of the orthodoxy on space settlement, which we've often found to be lacking. There's a lot of people in the space community who are trying to fool themselves about their motives, and then trying to fool the public into following them for those false motives. I don't think it works. Telling people you're going to settle the Moon "for the money" is just absurd. There are far easier ways to make money that don't involve going into space at all. And I think it's valuable to address the nature of the spiritual pull that space development has for many of us in more honest terms -- to admit that really, we're doing it "because it's there". There's a little bit craziness there, and I want to embrace it.
There are also a lot of human issues that just haven't been addressed in prior science fiction about space settlement. Raising children in space is going to be a particular challenge not only in terms of time pressures and other basic parenting problems, but also in terms of ethics. Even our pilot episode will raise some of the issues that are likely to be raised about taking children out on this "greatest adventure".
Because adventures, as you know, are very dangerous. We've become a very risk-averse society over the decades -- are we ready to cope with the hazards of a frontier again?
Again, we were a little tired of seeing rather tired cliches of what a Moon settlement would look like -- especially designs that just didn't make any real sense on the real Moon. Every time we found ourselves falling back on cliche in developing the plot for Lunatics, we've challenged ourselves with the question, "Well, what would really happen?"
And the answer, though it sometimes took quite a bit of thinking to figure it out, was always much more interesting than the cliche. Finally, for some reason, space settlement and space exploration never seem to be a satisfactory subject for Hollywood. Big-budget science fiction movies about space can't seem to divorce themselves from the mythology of UFOs, ancient aliens, and other such nonsense. I don't mind such fantasies in fiction, but I think they detract from a story like ours. We don't need "magic" of this kind to make our plots go -- we think there's plenty of drama to be had in just living on a space frontier, and that's what we want to write about.
So, to some degree, Lunatics will be "small cinema" about the drama and comedy of everyday life. In that way, it's almost a "sitcom", although I hope you'll find it's a little more than that. It's a story about confident, resourceful people facing serious problems with a sense of humor; it's about the fundamental dangers both of nature and of human nature; and it's about a truly realistic view of space colonization and settlement.
The Pilot Episode - "No Children in Space"
What's the difference between an "outpost" or a "base" and a "settlement"? In simplest terms, it's that there are children there. Without children or the capacity raise them, a colony has no long-term existence. It might be a place that people stay for awhile, but it's not a place people live, it's not a place you can be from.
Since our series is about settlement (and often the conflict between the personal goals of settlers, versus the scientific or political goals of other types of people in space), it makes the most sense to start with the the first child to arrive at the colony.
Hiromi and Rob Lerner had planned to have their first child on the Moon, but with budget cuts and setbacks and the biological clock ticking, they had their daughter Georgiana on Earth. Now she's seven years old. That's a very awkward age to get to the Moon.
Standard equipment won't fit a seven-year-old girl, and the International Space Foundation had to engage in this very symbolic mission of designing new equipment appropriate for children: including a modified acceleration couch to fit her height and weight, yet fit in a standard Soyuz-SF capsule and a spacesuit that can be used for intra-vehicular and extra-vehicular activity if needed. And of course, Georgiana had to be present in all of the training.
Blocking Animatic for the "Teaser Trailer" we're making to advertise the pilot when it comes out -- there's quite a bit of work remaining on the animation, although the sound is nearly complete.
Now she's ready, and the pilot episode follows her on this very unique and historic flight to the Moon as Georgiana becomes not only the first child on the Moon, but also the youngest person to ever fly into space.
"No Children in Space" was originally conceived as a dialog-light story, focused more on action, imagery, and sound. It follows a number of themes interlocked with the purposes of the series. It introduces on-going story conflicts. It sets up a lot of the premises on which the rest of the series is based.
Early animatic ("sketchy-matic") of a shot near the opening of "No Children in Space" -- there's a lot o imagery of "wheels in motion" in the pilot (a metaphor for the large amount of work and preparation that space missions involve as well as the inevitability of change and growth and of an understandable world) and a gradual progression of technology from the 19th to the 21st century as a "voyage from the past into the future"
Visually, it's a "voyage from the past into the future", starting with train travel (19th century technoloy); passing through early-20th century gas-powered cars and buses; to the late-20th century Soyuz launch vehicle; to the early 21st century space station; and on to the mid-21st century "Lunar Transportation System" (LTS), a kind of lunar analogue to the US Space Shuttle which serves as the primary link for supplies and travel to the Moon in the 2040-era world of Lunatics.
A Free‐Culture 3D Animated Web Series
Lunatics is being produced independently on a "free film" model -- that is to say, we are using a free-culture license (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0), and it will be mostly "open source" in that we will release as much of the source material as we are able to do. Releasing our work under a free-license means, among other things, that we have access to an enormous body of existing free-licensed art and music to use in our production.
Will this approach leave us with no way to pay for producing Lunatics and give us no income on which to live while we produce it? No. New ideas in fan-funded productions and crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter make collective patronage a reality. It's now feasible to both raise starting capital and continue to raise revenue from fans.
Lunatics brings together the crowd-sourcing sensibilities of open source software with the crowd-funding business models of free culture productions.
Lunatics is an experiment in commercial free culture. To sustain the series, we will make money through a combination of regular pre-sale campaigns (like this one) and "Creator Endorsed" sales of merchandise. We feel this model particularly favors series literature and film and that it works best for "niche" or "cult" works where there is a possibly small but very loyal following for the work. A production like this can happen because people like you want to see it happen, and the enabling technology to bring fans together with producers is now in place. This a brand new model that offers us the kind of independence that is needed to tell a story like this in a way that probably wouldn't be very easy to sell to the conventional film or television industry.
Above: Lo-Fidelity Model of the "Lunar Transportation System" created to support animatics.
Benefits of Free Culture and the Commons
Because Lunatics is being created under a free-license and with open source materials, we benefit from a certain amount of community goodwill, simply because we are contributing our work back into the commons for other people to use in the future. No one loses anything by contributing, and they gain the benefits of others' contributions as well.
So, there are a number of things that we have been granted by artists who have been willing to collaborate freely with us, including our title track, "Space Zine" by Elaine Walker and Zia and some brilliant symphonic metal music by J. T. Bruce. We've also been able to use already free-licensed music from Butterfly Tea, Russian punk band Distemper and more than 20 other bands who have released their works under By-SA compatible public licenses on sites like Jamendo or libre.fm on the web.
We have likewise been able to benefit from location-recorded sound from all over the world and from the large collection of sound effects from FreeSound.org. We have also been able to use a lot of stock Blender 3D models from BlendSwap.org and other sharing sites.
And of course, we also benefit from the huge amount of free software that has been developed for creating 3d and 2d digital animation over the last decade -- most notably Blender and Synfig Studio, as well as software for online collaboration, sound production, and all of the other tasks we need to do in developing a film.
Of course, we are also very lucky in that nearly all NASA and most RosCosmos materials are freely usable in By-SA licensed projects. We've particularly benefited from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data, which has allowed us to get high-resolution imagery and terrain mapping data for the Sinus Iridium and LaPlace Promontory region on the Moon where the story is set.
This frees us to concentrate our resources on what is truly unique about our production.
Development and Design Team
Rosalyn Hunter has been writing science fiction for many years, although she has only recently started publishing her work. She has particular talents for character development and tightly-written dialog. She is also a botanist with an interest in closed-systems ecology and space agriculture and a Master's degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona.
Terry Hancock has been an ardent reader of science fiction and a film buff for decades. He studied both Aerospace Engineering and Film at the University of Texas in the 1980s, before ultimately graduating with a degree in Astronomy. He worked in several professional positions as a research assistant or technician in Astronomy before gradually moving into computer work and a freelance career writing about free software and studying free culture. Since 2005, he's been a frequent columnist for Free Software Magazine.
Rosalyn and Terry have been developing the concept for Lunatics since the early 2000s, and have been actively working on series development, stylistic considerations, world-building, and scripts since 2009.
Daniel Fu has been a comic artist at least since 2000. He worked together with Rosalyn and Terry on an earlier free-culture project in 2000, and so he was a natural choice for this project. He has created several graphic novels on his own, and is perhaps best known for his series The Retriever. In 2011 and early 2012, he completed design concepts and model sheets for the characters that will appear in Lunatics (our Pre-Production Kickstarter paid for his commission on this work).
Modeling, Rigging, and Animation Team
We now have commitments from a core team of seven Blender 3D artists who will be working on an contracted internship basis with us to develop the models and rigs we need to animate Lunatics. We hope to expand this team somewhat after the Kickstarter is finished (obviously how much money we raise will affect how many additional internships we can open up as well as whether we can afford additional help through targeted commissions).
Mechanical and Set Modeling (this is by far the largest part of the work we need to kick off the series -- we have to invest in a large number of props, sets, and vehicles forming the science-fictional worlds of the Earth and Moon in 2040):
- Andrew Pray
Rigging and Simulation
Animatics and Synfig (2D) Animation
We also have an informal arrangement to trade some effort with and possibly commission work from another free-culture animation team which is Morevna Project. They are primarily a Synfig 2D-animation project, so they have a lot of Synfig skills. They also speak Russian natively, so we've been able to trade some script translation skills.
We held online auditions in June and early July for voice actors, and I have to admit I was surprised at the number and quality of the auditions we received. Apparently a free-culture project like ours can be taken seriously by professional actors.
So far we have confirmed cast for the six principal series-regular characters who will appear in the pilot: William Roberts (Rob), Karrie Shirou (Hiromi), Ariel Hancock (Georgiana), Lex Quarterman (Tim), Paul Birchard (Josh), and Veronika Kurshinskaya (Anya). They are a very talented set of actors, as you can hear from these samples of their auditions:
We also have a number of actors confirmed for supporting roles in the pilot, and a collection of some very talented actors we may be able to contact for guest roles in future episodes.
At the time of this writing, we are still reviewing auditions for the characters "Allen" and "Sarah" who will appear in episodes 2 and 3, but are not needed for the pilot episode.
Budget and Stretch Goals
In our "minimal funding" case, we are paying a small monthly stipend to the animation team (and to ourselves as writer and director), and the actors are receiving a very small fixed amount for equipment to make sure they don't actually have to spend money to participate. We also have a small amount of equipment expenses (field recording microphones, webcams, studio monitor equipment, and so on) which we will have to pay for. We also have some funds for commissioned work. This minimal funding case comes to $60,000 for the production of the pilot episode.
In my previous Kickstarter projects, I've glossed over the details of how the margins on rewards work out and the things we have to plan for, but I think it's important to explain it this time around, since it's going to have a significant effect on the outcome.
If we make our minimum Kickstarter goal of $100,000, then we are guaranteed to have this minimal funding, even in the "worst case" -- which means "even if the overheads on the rewards are at their maximum". Basically that would mean that we make all of our money by selling commodity items like the T-shirts or the DVDs and we have to ship them all to faraway foreign addresses where the postage is high. So that's not the most likely case. But it's obviously important that we can guarantee production even in this case.
On the other extreme, in the "best case" (where all of the money comes from "prestige" rewards like sponsorships which don't really cost us much in terms of cash to deliver on), then the overhead is just the Kickstarter overhead of about 10%, and our budget will be $90,000.
That's a big difference, and in fact, if we clear $90,000 in actual production budget, we will not only be able to pay the voice actors properly for their time on the production (in this case, we'll be paying them close to industry union rates), but we will be able to extend the internship program and improve the animation quality.
But at $90,000, we'd be able to do even more than that -- we'd be able to also animate the second episode, "Earth".
For a production budget of $120,000, we'll be able to finish three episodes, and for about $150,000, we'll be able to complete all FIVE of the episodes in the first block of the series. We'd love to be able to do that!
Now, what that translates to in terms of the top-line on Kickstarter is somewhat complicated, and it depends on how the rewards break down, as described above. The diagram below illustrates how this would play out:
The top-line is across the top of this diagram, and it shows the Kickstarter goals required to make each goal in the lowest-margin case. This low-margin case is along the bottom of the diagram. The highest-margin case is right below the notch which represents the overhead used by Kickstarter and Amazon Payments (which is unavoidable). The slope in between shows the possible real breakdowns of rewards (the most likely case is somewhere in the middle of this slope, as we'll probably sell a combination of "commodity" and "prestige" rewards) -- certainly that seems to be what happens on most Kickstarts.
Now, of course, you'll be wanting to know what we're offering as rewards for supporting our project. We've got a wide selection of options from paying $1 to be on our notification list up to $10,000 for placing a sponsorship spot in the actual episode.
Pre-ordered videos will be available in two packaging options: there is the "compact" "boxed set in the making" version and the tin-boxed "deluxe backer's edition".
The compact DVDs will arrive with a single DVD in a two-DVD case. This will be "volume 1" of the series, and it will have room to add "volume 2" later on (later, we will offer the "volume 2" DVD separately so you can add it to your case). This way, if you keep following our series, you'll wind up with all 17 episodes of season one in three double-disc cases. We'll also sell an outer tin box-set case for this edition. So in the end, it'll be just like buying a boxed-set.
The deluxe package will have the same DVD in a single DVD case, and will also include a program booklet and some other goodies. This set is exclusive to our Kickstarter backers! We do not plan to release this set after the series episodes are published.
In addition to these DVD copies, you have the option to also get the videos in high-definition "Lib-Ray" format. This is a free-culture-friendly alternative to proprietary formats like Blu-Ray that lock up the video with DRM, and it has some other features that make it handy for free-culture movies. This project is being developed by us in cooperation with other free-culture advocates. Lunatics will be one of the first few videos available in Lib-Ray format. Because we recognize that this format is experimental, we are currently not offering it separately, but only alongside our all-region DVD releases.
A few of the rewards -- the soundtrack, posters, T-shirts, and other items -- will be available before the episode comes out, because they are based on materials that are already developed. The rewards which include a video copy of the production and of course the premiere parties will all have to wait until we are ready to release.
The premiere parties listed here will be held in the Dallas, Texas area, near where we live. We may consider doing a Los Angeles, California area party (for the ANORTHOSITE or higher sponsorships) if there's enough interest, since this would be easier for most of our cast to attend.
The T-shirts will be based on our logo graphics for the series, similar to the graphic below:
We'll will update this space with more details about the rewards, soon!
We are really psyched about being able to launch this series, and I hope you are as excited as we are. Check out the rewards, and please support us if you can!
TL;DR: "NO" and "PROBABLY, but with some qualifications"
I get this question a lot. Apparently in the USA, animation still has the stigma of being targeted at children. "Lunatics" is NOT "just for kids" nor even primarily for kids. The main target audience is adults, and some of the humor (and drama) will probably require an adult perspective to fully understand.
However, this is not to say that it's not appropriate for kids -- we'd like the show to be accessible to all ages. We won't dumb down any plots for this purpose, but there will be plenty of material that kids will understand as well as anyone else, and of course we do present Georgiana Lerner's point of view along with the others in order to put things into a child's perspective. And a lot of what we're talking about is pretty universal.
So hopefully the stories won't go "over the heads" of children so much that they can't enjoy it.
As for whether it is appropriate for children in terms of "mature content", that's likely to be a matter of some debate. Some parents are very sensitive to things that I don't consider important (or appropriate) to shelter children from. So let me be a little more detailed:
* VIOLENCE: Almost NONE. This is primarily a story about family life and so there's really very low "body count", especially for the science-fiction genre. We do have some instances of people not being very nice to each other and there is just ONE violent, accidental death in Season 1, although it's not a main character who dies.
* SEXUALITY: We have adult characters who act like adults. No. REALLY like adults. There are two stable marriages here with people who never cheat on their spouses and remain in love with each other. We also have some single people -- one who dates and one who doesn't. Some of the minor characters are divorced or living separately from spouses ("military marriages") and other situations. Adults have sexual relationships, and we're not hiding that.
* IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR: Sorry. There's probably a lot of this. Some of the things Tim gets up to are probably not good things to emulate. Hopefully this will be clear to most audiences, but we're not censoring it.
* ALCOHOL & DRUGS: Again, we have adults. Adults do some of these things. Our principal characters don't use drugs most people consider "illicit". They do consume some alcohol, though not to excess. Other characters may have different sensibilities, and we won't be censoring this to "protect" the audience.
* LANGUAGE: Adults cuss sometimes. In our show, the main adults are parents themselves and have the habit of trying not to cuss in front of their children. However, they may do so when they think their children aren't listening or when they are very stressed. We're not going to censor this, either, because we feel it would detract from the realism (and sometimes the humor). However, these are not the kind of people who use harsh language all the time. Other characters may be less careful, according to their personality and environment. (Okay, look: there's an occasional "F-bomb" in the dialog in later episodes, but this doesn't happen often).
Also, regarding the language specifically, there is a neat solution, which we are probably going to use:
The original soundtrack for "Lunatics" will be "true language". This means, for example, that if a Russian character speaks to another Russian character, that dialog will be voiced in Russian and we'll add subtitles for English-speaking viewers. This already creates a problem for some younger viewers (and dyslexic adults) who may be uncomfortable keeping up with subtitles. So, we are probably going to also record "English-only" versions of those scenes. These will be included on a second soundtrack. And while we're at it, we'll probably tone down any offensive language on that track so that it's truly "all audiences". I'm hoping this will satisfy any parents who are uncomfortable with their kids hearing this kind of language.
Adults who don't want to have the dialog "watered down" can listen to the "true language" track -- I think this is a neat way to serve both audiences.
Other language dubs should be similarly "single-language", and I'd recommend they follow the same pattern. There's probably going to be one in Spanish, contributed as a "fan dub" by an allied project that we're already in contact with. I don't know about other languages yet.
With the possible exception of language, there won't be anything here that wouldn't have been aired on network TV over the last 20 years or so, and certainly nothing that would violate cable TV standards. If you let your kids watch "Star Trek" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" then they've probably already seen worse than they'll see in "Lunatics". So, IN MY OPINION, it's pretty kid safe.
No! But I couldn't edit the project to add a link after I canceled. See the replacement Kickstarter here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2144275086/lunatics-pilot-episode-voice-drama-and-animatic
The goal now is to just fund the audio production and a 2D animatic. We'll then use that as an intermediate step towards getting the fully 3D-animated version finished.