"Lunatics" - Pilot Episode - Voice Drama and Animatic
Voice cast performance of "Lunatics" pilot episode "No Children in Space", along with accompanying 2D animatic ("motion comic" style).
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?
In the background here is a moving animatic of the type we will be producing for the rewards on this Kickstarter, created by animator Timothée Giet as well as some sound production work by Terry Hancock. (The foreground gopher is a small example of the 3D animation we'll be doing later on).
About 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.
Audio performance featuring voice actors Karrie Shirou (Hiromi), Ariel Hancock (Georgiana), Sergei Oleinik (Maj. Sergei Titov), and Veronika Kurshinskaya (Here playing the Russian launch controller, though she will play Anya in the series). The visual is a "blocking animatic" which is part of our workflow for making 3D animation in which I'm setting camera positions and movements.
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". The voice-actors will be working over an animatic of similar "sketchy" quality to this. They'll be sketched by director Terry Hancock, with inserted elements like this plan view of the train.
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.
Voice Production and Animatic
This Kickstarter is intended to fund the production of the voice recording and sound production for the Lunatics pilot episode "No Children in Space" along with an animatic to accompany it. This is the next step in our production process -- we just need to be able to guarantee the payments to the voice actors and our animatic artist.
An "animatic" is a quickly-animated version of a story, based on storyboards and some other directing notes. It is not fully animated (no lip-sync, no finer body motions, no walk-cycles, etc), but has just enough information to convey what the final shot will look like. It is normally used as an intermediate step in producing an animated or live-action film, and that's exactly how we hope to use it in the future.
When produced as an end-product, this kind of animation is sometimes called a "motion comic", as it resembles a comic-art presentation of the story except that some of the elements move (some motion comics use more comic-book-like layouts, but in fact, our production will really be an animatic, so it will use cinematic layout styles).
This is an incremental step in producing the pilot episode for Lunatics. We have already completed a successful Kickstart to fund pre-production work, especially the character design, which we are just finishing our reward deliveries on. We had an unsuccessful Kickstarter attempting to fund the entire pilot episode production in one go (the "frontal assault", you might say), so we are now proceeding with a more incremental, lower-risk approach.
This is a much smaller step, but in terms of our production schedule, funding this Kickstart will keep us pretty much right on our original schedule. The main difference is that we will have to run a later campaign to fund the 3D animation production of the episode (so we are not promising that at this time and it's not required for any of the rewards we are offering).
Here's a peek at some of the rewards we're offering,
The soundtrack disk will look something like this:
And here is a sneak peek at the cover art for the "Pre-Production Artbook and Writer's Guide".
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 seven principal characters who will appear in the pilot (in alphabetical order!):
Paul Birchard is a character actor with considerable experience in Hollywood and in UK television. He has also shown a lot of enthusiasm for our free-culture project and has been a great resource for the project since well before we started voice auditions. His strong audition performance showed an excellent grasp of both the folksy and nerdy sides of Joshua Farmer's character.
Birchard's credits include some high-profile Hollywood movies like "The Dark Knight" as well as a number of television performances in both comic and dramatic roles. This year he has been filming for "Air Force One is Down" a television adaptation of the novel by Alistair Maclean.
Ariel Hancock is the daughter of series creators Rosalyn Hunter and Terry Hancock (so I can't pretend not to be a little biased here, sorry!). This ameliorates some of the legal issues surrounding child actors as well as making the remote collaboration problem much simpler (it's going to be much easier to couch my own daughter in the room with her than to work with a child actor remotely, even if they are very talented).
That said, she also did very well on the auditions (as you can hear in the video). We did audition a couple of adult actresses to play the role, but although they were very talented, we wanted a more authentic sound for Georgiana.
A native of Yaroslavl, Russia, Veronika Kurshinskaya has been living in Los Angeles, California since 2008. Her Russian is of course thoroughly authentic and she speaks English with the high level of proficiency needed for this demanding part. In her audition performance, she showed considerable subtlety and just the right amount of humor. I can't wait to see what she'll do with the real part.
Kurshinskaya has been in a number of film, television, and online productions since her move to LA, most notably her principal role in the independent drama "Speak Now!" (2011), directed by Petra Haffter. She also appeared in her own one-woman-show "Maria Callas" at the Matrix Theatre in Hollywood, which she wrote as a thesis project.
Guest starring in the pilot episode is Sergei Oleinik, who will be playing the cosmonaut pilot who takes Hiromi and Georgiana into space aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, and then also serves his rotation flying the Lunar Transportation System moon shuttle to the Moon. Sergei has a special connection to the colonists, because he is Anya Titova's brother. This part requires a high level of proficiency in both Russian and English, which makes it even more challenging. Also, our "Sergei" needs to sound good next to "Anya" since they are supposed to be siblings.
Oleinik is an experienced voice-over artist based in Moscow. We liked both his enthusiasm for this part and his audition performance. I hope we can get him back for guest performances in the future as well.
To be honest, Lex Quarterman was not the voice we originally imagined for Tim (Anya and Josh's son). But he is an incredible stroke of luck for this project! His performance as Tim had both of us practically rolling on the floor laughing. He also, amazingly enough, is fluent in Russian, having spent a good part of his childhood in the Ukraine. This opens up new dramatic possibilities for us that we really had not dared to hope for previously.
Rob Lerner is a difficult part. This is a guy who is amazingly charismatic. He had to be convincing enough to organize the support for this Moon colony. But he does have just a tinge of the fanatic about him (without going overboard). An experienced character actor in both voice and on-screen roles, William Roberts sent us a fantastically compelling audition for Rob -- winning out over a lot of competition.
Raised in Oregon and Northern California, Roberts has been living in the UK since 1969 and has been in numerous film and television roles, including a role in the film "Cold Mountain" and a voice role in "Balto".
Hiromi is another challenging part. As a wife and mother, she could easily fall into a cliche. But Hiromi is the heart and soul of the colony and she is actually an incredibly self-motivated and canny woman. She's also fully bilingual in English and Japanese (but, actually being born in America, she really shouldn't have any Japanese accent in English). That's a hard set of requirements to meet, and we were afraid it might be impossible. But Karrie Shirou is an ideal fit for the part. She's even from Torrance, California, just like the character bio says for Hiromi.
Shirou describes herself as "a cosplayer, voice actress, performer, writer, gamer, and mega-nerd". She has worked in promotional campaigns for a number of US anime import/translation studios. Karrie has also performed as a singer with USA Musume, a Hello! Project cover group since 2002.
I honestly can't believe our luck in the casting for this production, and it would be an incredible shame if we somehow missed the opportunity to hear these very talented actors in "Lunatics".
Although "Lunatics" is an animated film, the acting will be very naturalistic -- more along the lines of a Disney or Studio Ghibli film than like typical "cartoon voices". This is more challenging than most character voice acting, because more naturalistic voices means less room for error (either over- or under-acting). This is every bit as challenging as a live-action performance, and with "Lunatics" we have the added dimension of the knife-edge between drama and comedy that characterizes most of the dialog. It's also an ensemble story, with none of the characters particularly "starring", so we need strong performances from all of these principals. And we have been blessed with the kind of talent who can do that!
Also, I think it has to be said that these folks are working for peanuts on this project. I am very, very grateful to all of them for their enthusiasm and willingness to accommodate our very low-budget project. In the base budget listed here, we are paying each of these principals just $200.00 to offset expenses (we can't actually pay for meals and studio space since we are working remotely). I'd like to pay them more than that, and if we get past our minimum goal we will give priority to paying them up to something near union rates (which for a broadcast TV performance similar to ours, would be just shy of $800 per recording day, based on SAG/AFTRA documents I've read).
Of course, we also have an excellent group of supporting actors, both in terms of their talent and their enthusiasm for the project. I will be posting more about them as we finish confirming our arrangements with them.
Animation - Timothée Giet
An experienced comic artist and 2D animator, Timothée Giet applied for the internship program we originally announced, which was mostly focused on 3D modeling, but also included some 2D animation skills. He is a particular expert with Synfig Studio and Krita, which he has used to create a number of elements for our production.
You've already seen some of his work in the "Lubo" video at the top of this page -- he created the Soyuz rollout animation you see in the background of this shot (Lubo himself is 3D animated work by Cosmin Planchon, who we hope will be back on the project next spring if and when we can fund the full 3D animated production in the Spring). He also created console animations that will eventually go into the 3D production and painted the Earth backdrop below, intended for the teaser trailer.
Budget - Where the Money will Go
We did make a previous attempt to fund the production of the pilot episode all in one go, but we're still a fairly low-profile project and we probably seem pretty risky for a full 3D production at this point. However, the next logical step in our production is simple stuff we are extremely confident about, so I hope you will have enough confidence in us to support it.
We are paying the principal voice actors just $200.00 for what will probably be either one or two Saturday recording sessions. This accounts for $1400 of our production budget.
We have budgeted just two months of half-time work for Timothée Giet to do the animatics, this amounts to $1600 total for essentially animating the entire episode, albeit in a fairly simple way.
We're also budgeting an additional $500.00 to cover equipment costs, including a portable USB microphone to be used for foley sound recording, and also as a potential "floater" to help recording supporting voice actors' performances if they don't have adequate equipment of their own. This will also pay for an inexpensive set of studio-quality monitoring headphones so we can get the mixing quality right over the whole spectrum. Of course, the software is all free software and does not cost us any money.
This gives a total minimum production budget for the animatic and voice performance phase of just $3500. To this we must add the overhead costs for producing and shipping the rewards, and of course the fees charged by Kickstarter and Amazon Payments for hosting the campaign and processing your pledges.
We've noticed a tendency for backers on Lunatics to be more interested in the "prestige" types of rewards -- which are mostly about showing your support rather than about getting stuff. As such, we have structured the rewards on this Kickstarter to be inexpensive to produce in small quantities so we can have a lower overhead cost. I'm estimating just 10% for production costs of the rewards on this Kickstarter, which covers the printing costs as well as shipping and handling.
Of course, Kickstarter and Amazon Payments together cost us about 10%.
Adding both of these overhead costs to the production budget yields our $4235.00 Kickstarter goal.
As you can see, there is really no fat in this budget! Any additional overheads will have to be paid out of our pockets.
At this minimum, Rosalyn Hunter and Terry Hancock will have to work for free. This does mean we will have to allow some extra time for the other projects we are doing to pay our bills, but we believe we can manage this for the short time it will take to produce this voiced animatic. The supporting actors will also be working for free, and we will not be paying any of the musical or graphic artists whose free-licensed work we are using. Hopefully, we will be able to pay them something from creator endorsed sales later on.
About "Lunatics" Creators - Rosalyn Hunter and Terry Hancock
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.
"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.
Kick it Forward
We support the Kick it Forward campaign!
You might notice from my profile that I'm already a bit of a Kickstarter junkie as a backer. I give particular deference to free culture works (things under Free Creative Commons licenses: CC0, CC By, or CC By-SA). So I'm happy to say I will spend 5% of post-release sales profits on Lunatics on other free-culture crowd-funded projects (it's a safe bet that I would anyway).
By the way, this does not mean 5% of the Kickstarter total from this campaign (i.e. it's not money from backers). In fact, 100% of this Kickstarter is going to expenses and commissions anyway, but the "Kick It Forward" concept is based on profits of sales after release. So that basically means that it's from profits on DVDs and ancillary "Creator Endorsed" merchandise when we start selling them -- we're promising to share some of that back with the community, which is very much in line with our project objectives.
- (23 days)