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Character and set design art and writers' guide for the free-culture animated web series about the first lunar settlers.

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?

Illustration by Daniel Fu

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, though I hope still funny.

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.

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 the 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.

Until not long ago, I feared that this approach would leave us with no way to pay for producing Lunatics and give us no income on which to live while we produced it. We still don't know realistically how much we'll make or if we can do this sustainably. However, I was inspired by the business models used by the Blender Foundation for its "Open Projects" and even more by Nina Paley's "Sita Sings the Blues" and the business model she worked out with the help of QuestionCopyright.org. Mike Masnick at Techdirt has also written considerably about this model of free culture business, which he describes as "Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy". A very similar idea is described by Kevin Kelly as the "1000 True Fans" approach.

Most of these approaches don't have much to say about how you get started, especially on something as large and collaborative as a film or video series project. For that, we do have the example of free and open source software, and the various kinds of projects that have grown from that. And I (Terry Hancock) have participated a little in Morevna Project, another animated film project, which is more in keeping with this volunteer collaborative approach.

In that way, Lunatics is an experiment in commercial free culture. To sustain the series, we will make money through a combination of regular pre-sale campaigns and "Creator Endorsed" sales of merchandise -- what Nina Paley dubs "selling containers".

This model actually favors series work over stand-alone movies, in my opinion (if you think about it, the rising complexity and budgets of the Blender Open Movies -- viewed as a single series -- validates this). People are more willing to contribute to a project that has shown it can produce good work. Of course, we haven't done that yet, and that's why the production roadmap for Lunatics is based on a "bootstrapping" model, with successively more complex hurdles to clear, each providing the credibility for the community-funding and community-sourcing on the next. We figure we owe you some evidence that we can do what we propose before we pass around the hat to actually finance it.

This model offers us the kind of independence that is needed to tell a story like this for what is most likely a niche audience, in a way that probably wouldn't be very easy to sell to the conventional film or television industry.

Phase I - Characters and Pre-Production Art

Although Rosalyn and I are willing to do quite a bit of work on speculation, we need to pay advances, especially on early work on Lunatics, when the perception of risk is a lot higher.

So, we've agreed to pay Daniel Fu $1600 for commissioned character design work which eliminates a lot of the risk for him, and justifies the amount of time we need for him to spend on creating good character design model sheets from which we can create 3D character models (having a good plan is an important part of getting a good model).

We've decided to let the minimum funding goal be just enough to ensure we can pay this advance, after the platform overheads and costs of producing and shipping the rewards. This will cover the costs of creating:

  • Full model sheets and plans for the eight colonists
  • Full model sheets and plans for four secondary characters
  • Model sheets for "extras" with mix-and-match elements we can use to fill in "extras" or "walk-on" characters
  • A "Character Line Up" sheet which shows the correct relative scaling of the characters to each other -- we'll also be using this for marketing purposes, as it will replace the current "silhouettes" logo we've been using

However, of course, we will be continuing our own work at the same time, and this will be reflected in the rewards from this Kickstart. Rosalyn Hunter has a full time job, so she's not able to spend as much time on this project yet, but she will be doing some important things nevertheless:

  • Finishing up the script (especially polishing some of the dialog) for "No Children in Space"
  • Voicing over several roles on the temporary track
  • Consulting on character design issues
Some of my directing and producing work is already done, although in most cases, I still have a lot of finishing work to do. Here's what I'm committing to finishing by April 2012:
  • Floorplans for the entire ISF-1 colony (for most of the series, we'll be on this one set, but it's a HUGE four-story set)
  • Plans and a 3D model for the "Lunar Transportation System" moon shuttle and associated components. This includes the "Space Station Alpha LTS Servicing Platform" as well as some of the ground facilities and vehicles on the Moon
  • A partial set of "Iridium Station" (the USAF-sponsored lunar base from which ISF-1 is supplied) including the "terminal" module.
  • Diagrams, maps, and some 3D models for the "Gagarin's Start" launch facility at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (this is a real place, updated to 2040)
  • Updated storyboards -- I need to fix a lot of inconsistencies that have crept in due to script revisions and design changes
  • The music selection for the soundtrack is nearly finished already
  • Complete soundmixes will need additional recorded dialog (at this stage, this will just be temporary voiceover done by us and drafted family members) as well as additional processed sound effects and foley work
  • With these elements, I will be able to cut together the first complete version of the pilot episode, using the temp sound, hand-drawn storyboards, and a few 3D animatics for moving shots

Extended Goals

What if we raise more than our minimum goal? Well, actually, we're sort of hoping to. It would be nice to be able to pay ourselves (Terry and Rosalyn) a little bit (we are talking about many hours of work), but even more importantly, we could:

  • Expand the number of characters developed (additional secondary or "walk-on" characters)
  • Fund music commissions (or pay advances to clear licensing problems)
  • Commission additional 3D modeling work (character models, detailing, rigging, textures, etc)
  • Pay for animation software development

Any one of these would reduce or eliminate the need for later fund-raising campaigns in the production phase and reducing the overall risk involved in our production.

Reward Products

Here's some details on the cool stuff we're going to be producing for our Kickstarter rewards:

Concept Art Rewards - Available in December!

For those who are impatient, there are a small number of items which will be available very soon after the Kickstart is finished: these are based on the "Character Concept" sheets that Daniel Fu has already produced for Lunatics, so these can be ready quickly. These are:

  • Original concept art sheets signed by Daniel Fu -- these are the eight sheets Daniel has already done as part of our initial commission on this project. There are of course, only eight of these. You can pay a little more to pick which character you'd like (actually you need to list three, just in case there's a conflict -- the first to pledge will get first pick)
Here's a scan of the concept art sheet for "Sarah Allison":
  • Mini-posters with eight main character portraits, based on the concept art by Daniel Fu, with inking and coloring by me

Here's my first go with "Rob Lerner". I'm probably going to re-do this with a higher-resolution scan of the original sketch -- but otherwise, this is what I expect the concept art portraits to look like. These are going to be featured on the "Characters" page on our website, as I finish them.

We will try to send these out as soon as possible, but it's looking like they won't arrive before Christmas.

All other materials should be available in April 2012, after our pre-production work is finished.

Digital Poster Prints

Both sets of digital prints (the concept-art portraits mentioned above and the signed character line-up poster in April) will be high-resolution color digital prints on high-quality 11"x17" (or larger) glossy paper, suitable for framing. The "character line-up" graphic is intended to be a replacement for the current "silhouettes against the moon", and will basically be the same concept, but with the characters in full color in place of the silhouettes (we'll continue to use the silhouette graphic in some places, though we'll update the outlines to match Daniel's character designs).

Datasets (DVD or USB drive)

All of the electronic fruits of our project will be included in our Pre-Production "dataset", and this will be what we include on the DVD or USB drive that you see in the rewards listings.

Pre-Production Art and Writers' Guide Books

Most of the drawings and text will be included in the "Pre-Production Art Book and Writer's Guide", which will be a book (8.5" x 11" format) summarizing all of the work we are doing in this phase. Some planned features of the book:

  • The final script for "No Children in Space"
  • A copy of the short story "The Arrival", by Rosalyn Hunter. This was one of the earlier incarnations of "Lunatics", and it helped us to see what we needed to do with the project
  • All of the character model sheets we produce for the project
  • The character line-up drawing that compares the dimensions between the characters
  • Plans for the colony sets
  • Plans and a presentation on the "Lunar Transportation System" moon shuttle
  • Information about Iridium Station
  • A writers' guide with important background information about the characters for anyone who wants to consider writing scripts in the future (we plan to open a few opportunities for this as the series progresses)

I will be updating the marketing graphics (currently the Moon with silhouetted characters) to incorporate Daniel Fu's character line-up graphics. This I will also ink and paint digitally. Then I will design a poster print based on this. Signed and unsigned versions are included in the rewards.

Original Character Model/Design Sheets (Final Character Art - In April 2012)

After we're finished scanning the original artwork pages that Daniel creates, we don't really need them anymore (we'll work from the scans). So the originals, signed by Daniel, are another obvious Kickstarter reward. There are two categories of these: the "Concept" pages are already drawn, so they will be available immediately The other category is the design/model sheets, which Daniel will be working on in early Spring of 2012. These will be available somewhat later (in April 2012), but they will be more definitive.

Colony Blueprints

My design work on the colony will not be on paper, so there's no "original" to provide as a reward, but I will be making a limited-edition series of "blueprints", not unlike science fiction "blueprints" that are a popular item at science fiction conventions.

I've loved these ever since I got a copy of the "plans" and "technical manual" for the U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek as a kid (I have a whole collection of fan-drawn plans by now), and I want to pass on the fun to the next generation. Unlike those plans, the plans for the colony in Lunatics will be based mainly on real science and technology, so we don't have to fudge quite as much.

These will be completely "in universe" with branding from the (fictitious) "International Space Foundation". This will be a collection of folded, large-format papers in black and white (or possibly blue and white if I can get that). I'm not sure how many sheets will be included, but there should be at least five, since there are four levels in the colony, and then I want to have some exterior elevations and stuff on an extra page. I promise something cool enough for your inner 10 year old (or your actual 10 year old, if you have one).

We'll probably have a commodity version of this among our store merchandise as the series progresses, but this limited-edition version (no more than 100 will be made!) will be specially labeled, numbered, and signed by me.

Shipping: USA ONLY / WORLD

For many of the rewards, we estimate it will cost an extra $10 for international shipping. To make this a little easier, I've created separate "USA ONLY" and "WORLD" versions of these rewards. The rewards themselves will be identical. 

There may still be a few places we can't ship -- if we run into problems, we'll try to contact you to make alternate arrangements. And of course, we can't be liable if there are customs fees or taxes you need to pay for importing these rewards into your country. So you'll want to check into that before signing up.

The Team So Far...

Terry Hancock (Director and Producer)

Terry is a regular columnist for Free Software Magazine where he has been writing about free software and free culture since the beginning of the publication in 2004. He has been a writer, a life-long space advocate, a professional astronomer, a computer programmer, and an amateur artist. He's also a fan of science fiction, anime, and computer animation. He earned a BA from the University of Texas, with a major in Astronomy, although he also did extensive coursework towards both Film and Engineering majors.

Rosalyn Hunter (Writer)

Rosalyn is currently teaching high school science. She has also taught at the community college level. She has an MS in Molecular Biology from the University of Arizona and a BS in Botany from the University of Texas. Also a life-long space advocate, she's had a particular interest in closed-systems biology and space agriculture for many years. She's an avid fan of science fiction, anime, and manga. She's been writing science fiction stories on the side for many years. She has also contributed to Free Software Magazine.

Daniel Fu (Character Designer)

Daniel has worked in the independent comic book industry for over 12 years. He has self published one book and has had several independent books published by Radio Comix in San Antonio (Love Bites: the Wedding, Love Bites: All's Fair, Fall Into the Sky). He made his first foray into web comics with his  series "The Retriever" which he finished in 2010. In all these books, he is the sole artist, writer and creator and has a true passion for the media. Daniel resides in Austin, Texas and frequently attends local conventions. Daniel loves cinematic storytelling in many forms and hopes to create for the rest of his life.
http://www.daystormproductions.com

http://daystorm.deviantart.com

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