Meet Agata, crowdsourced animated movie being created with Blender
The idea to make an animated film in 365 days, publicly, and in collaboration with community doesn't seem half as crazy as it used to. The Agata project team recently released the first teaser.
This project was established in late 2013 by Arthur Shamshadinov, director of a Russian Kazan-based Propellers studio. Shortly after the beginning, his project was supported by volunteers who started contributing concept art, making 3D models, writing the script and even composing music. Since then the discussion has been taking place on a public page at VK.com. Almost all of the decisions are made by voting, everyone can participate.
The plot is loosely based on a short story "Of missing persons" by Jack Finney. Initially, this project was meant to be the full screen adaptation, but as it turned out, the relevant rights had already been sold to an unknown third party.
The runtime of "Agata" is not fixed yet, but it will definitely last no longer than 12 minutes. The full screen adaptation means more time spent, more people involved, and thus, much higher budget. Currently the project is mostly supported by the community and partially financed by the Propellers studio which “donates” technical resources and artists.
Taking into account, that this project is, in fact, community-based, everyone makes use of whatever tools they know best, be it GIMP, MyPaint, Adobe Photoshop, Corel Paint, or other software. Inside the studio only free software, including Blender, is used.
We spoke to Arthur about the progress of the project and its perspective.
Arthur, how many people are involved with the project at this moment?
It’s a tough question, although quite an expectable one. Our project does not have a unit production manager, and people deliver sketches and models all the time, in a completely chaotic way.
But there is a restriction at vk.com for the number of people who can take part in the discussion. That is why there are no more than 25-30 people on average in one dialog. And there are 3 active dialogs now. I think, there are roughly 25 people who show the highest activity. There will be more of us later.
If I am not mistaken, you have even invited one of the participants to work in your studio in Kazan?
Two, actually. The second one ended up declining due to health issues. It’s easy to make this kind of a decision after you’ve seen someone in action. As our studio expands, we will invite more people. We just need to do some more work first.
This april, the first meeting of the working group took place in Moscow. What did you make of it?
We tend to implement decisions immediately and move on, so I already find it hard to recall what conclusions we arrived to in Moscow. But it wasn’t only the meeting — it was a brainstorm about many of the difficult questions we had, like the situation with screen adaptation rights that had dramatically changed the script.
And yet, to me the most important thing about the meeting was “getting” the team spirit. After the meeting I completely stopped feeling bothered about the amount of participants in the public group at VK. Even if we only had 20 people around, I would still appreciate the feeling of knowing each and every one of them. And this is priceless.
You are getting ready for the next meeting now, this time — in St.Petersburg. Any expectations?
To have fun, of course. What do we live then for? :) I know I will have a lot of questions to ask that are best discussed vis-à-vis. I do want to lay the laptop and the phone aside, and then just listen to people who help me getting closer to my goal every day, step by step. It’s a very special, wonderful feeling.
Why do you think all these perfect strangers got involved with your non-commercial project?
Oh, I don’t even completely understand why I did. I was just walking with my friend, talking about how cool would it be to make an animated film, and to do it publicly. People would get attached getting their daily dose of project news, and so you would be unable to drop it. We spoke about it, then I came home and just did it. And then it all went loose.
Why do they need it? My best guess — they want to take part in something this much interesting, entertaining, and sincere. I did not ask myself this question, really. It is so naturally and obviously — to want it and to do it.
Was the question of funding the project discussed? What are you up to?
It was actually one of the questions ee discussed during the meeting. We tried to decide, whether it would make our project worse. Because it is possible. Our final decision was that money will only help us. There are people who could have helped us to make it go faster. But they do not always have time because of their major freelance job.
There is a chance we will make an web page, where people can donate money to our project. When nobody gives money, it will mean that everyone is satisfied with the way our work goes. But the experience we had with our teaser shows us that some donations would help us. People need to eat. Even those who works on the animated films.
What's the story with screen adaptation rights in a nutshell?
It is bad. All the rights had already been sold to a company that decided to stay anonymous.
More than this, there was an non-commercial animated film called 'Escape to Verna'. It got public screening at a couple of festivals. Shortly after that the creators received a legal complaint and the request to delete it from the public access.
We do not want to get into the same trouble, that is why we changed many things. Now it is far from the original source.
You had already changed the plot a bit before you found out about screen adaptation rights. Now you need to change some more things. How much of the original story will be left?
Indeed, we've introduced changes here and there before and after the mishap. So far it looks like only the booklet describing the wonderful planet and some unimportant details will be kept. We are not even sure that the story will finish the same way or similarly. This question has no answers yet, but the whole base plot is ready, and you can find it on our public page.
From the group's discussions and sketches it looks like our heroine is going to visit Verna after all, which changes the whole concept of the story. Do you think you'd be able to honor the original ending of the short story by keeping the bar same high?
No, she will not go to Verna. I did not make a better story than the original one. But the only thing which makes it more powerful is the fact that it is based on literary devices, and our story — on pictures. I do really hope, that in the end we will have the story, which impresses as much as Finney's story does. But what we have now-the sketch without pictures and music, is still worse.
While the heroine's name was being discussed, you weren't exactly fond of the name Agata, but others were. So it ended up being promoted all the way to the animated movie's title. How do you feel about it?
I like this name. I loved Sophie — it sounds so warm, so shy and beautiful. But I did not want to use that name in the story, it was just for myself. And now everything has completely changed, and Agata sounds so bright, so sensible. So I am even happy about how it all turned out in the end.
Even the decision that it is going to be a woman instead of the man was made by participants. Many of the problems are solved by our subscribers. And this project is more their work, than my, so I can take their ideas as is and let them create almost everything.
Given the pace of creating the teaser, do you still believe you can manage to realize your plan and have everything done in 365 days?
I really hope we can. Of course, there is a lot of work, so we will not do it without donations. We also need more artists. Everything goes slowly without them. I would not definitely do it alone, but our public page, 365mult, is a place where miracles happen. And every subscriber is the miracle. So we will see how it will go.
English translation by Nastya Kucherina.
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