GREAT LEAP FORWARD

Today a great leap forward in the progress of BILL. I measured three 16-9-ish oblong holes in a piece of cardboard, cut them out, and used the card as a template to mark up eighty pages of my new sketchbook with three storyboard frames! So in this book I have 240 different angles to depict. Let’s see how many shots there’ll be in the film… I’m starting the storyboard with scene 3, where Bill wakes from a nightmare that is not a nightmare and begins his training.  Scenes 1 and 2, being animated in the finished film, will be the province of the animation department, style to be determined (though we have agreed that their work will be in black and white, like the rest of the film, rather than a colour intro and coda — a WIZARD OF OZ in reverse).

Travelling back from Boulder to Oregon we passed through Fruita, CO, and visited its Dinosaur Museum. There are animatronic dinosaurs there and I posted a brief DSLR video of them here.

Always seeking inspiration in our tale of war between reptiles and man!

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ADIOS RAY

So sorry to turn this new blog into an obituary site too (I gave up on my old blog at alexcox.com because it was becoming too much of an R.I.P. page). But given our current flurry of pre-pre-procution on BILL, a super-low-budget science fiction film with miniature animated reptiles, it’s obligatory and appropriate to say goodbye to Ray Harryhausen, who died today at 92 years.

I enjoyed all his films, starting as a little nipper with THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON. Ray was the student of Willis O’Brien (conincidentally, the first film I ever saw was GOLIATH VERSUS THE DRAGON, featuring Obie’s last dinosaur) and Phil Tippett and the other visual effects genii I’ve worked with were Ray’s students. Twenty years or so ago I was invited to a film festival in Manchester and had the pleasure of meeting Ray, then in his early seventies. He had become one of those expatriate Americans who left the US because they thought the taxes were too high and loved Margaret Thatcher (DING! DONG!). It didn’t matter: it was impossible not to admire him for his history and the quality of his work. And he was no worse than those despicable limeys who went to live in Spain for the cheap rent. low tax, and red wine. No one is innocent.

Let’s toast to Ray, and his amazing, innovative VFX: from the field of skeletons rising from the earth in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS to his resurrection of Obie’s cowboys versus dinosaurs Western VALLEY OF GWANGI (not a bad picture!). Today I learned that years ago, Ray, like Margaret Matheson and I, attempted to do an authentic film version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS – you can see the one test he shot here – only to be thwarted by the same invidious copyright regime which Spielberg found it so easy to buy his way around.

No matter. To the Skies Avaunt, Ray.

THE BELATED POST ABOUT BILL

If you were following the Kickstarter campaign – maybe you even backed it – you already know that BILL THE GALACTIC HERO reached its goal and a bit more. Officially 1,106 backers gave the production a total of $114,957.

Most of those funds were raised by “direct traffic” to our Kickstarter page: in other words, people who already knew about the project and sought it out. Facebook was comparatively useless, but Twitter brought in more than fifteen grand. All this was thanks to other people’s social media, for which I am truly grateful, having none of my own. A link on The Guardian website brought us more than a thousand bucks, and a mention on io9.com gave us almost a thousand. My own wretched website netted us fifteen hundred bucks. Backers gave us everything from a dollar to $10,000: the average contribution was $103.

The biggest surprise in terms of funding came from two mentions on Slashdot, the venerable technology and free software site: $4,000 all told. This was due to BILL partnering with OpenShot, the multi-platform free software editing system which also raised funding via Kickstarter. So at last those years I spent going to the GNU/Linux users’ group paid off! And I can proudly own to being a pretty clueless GNU/Linux geek who uses the free software operating system on a regular basis.

Most of these posts and the Kickstarter page and updates were written on a little netbook which I bought from a Berkeley company, ZaReason, for three hundred bucks. It came with Mint, a derivative of the Ubunto OS, installed and worked flawlessly out of the box – you know, doing things like finding the wireless network, writing, printing, and downloading software like OpenShot.

Free software desktops really work. They will do what you want. You can dig out that cranky old computer which you put in the used media repository and install a handsome, working GNU/Linux desktop on it today. If it’s a really old ‘un, or you have trouble getting rid of Windows (the pestilential thing likes to hang on sometimes), try a 32-bit installation of Fedora XFCE. That pup is tough and will install itself on anything, and find your wireless.

Why bother to do this? Don’t get my dear friend Richard Stallman started on that. There are many reasons, besides the fact that erasing the OS which came with your computer and installing a different one is mysteriously empowering. But the main thing is that Microsoft and Apple are deplorable companies. MS used to be the number one villain, but Apple, with its overpriced toys and the horrible working conditions of its Chinese slave camps, is surely worse. All MS does is make bad software and dominate the office suite world. Apple’s business policy involves factories where the air explodes and workers commit suicide.

The thing which keeps users tied to Microsoft and Apple is specialist software – in my case, Adobe products like Photoshop and its plug-ins, and editing software like Avid and Final Cut 7. If OpenShot’s Kickstarter upgrade succeeds, it will be a fully-featured editing suite which works across all platforms – MS, Apple, and GNU/Linux. We’ll be editing BILL on it, others will come on board, and maybe I can persuade the buyers in the groves of academe to give up all those Macs and instead purchase a raft of made-in-America Linux boxes!

What Mrs Thatcher (DING! DONG!) said about there being no alternative wasn’t true, and still isn’t. We have alternatives. And thanks to the world-wide interwebs, some of them are free, as in liberty, and also free, as in beer. Speaking of which I’m off tonight to Under The Sun to take advantage of my free pitcher of beer coupon. (That’s enough product placement for now.)

If you’re interested, we didn’t get the full $114,957 to shoot Bill. Kickstarter takes a five percent commission, which is fair, and Amazon, their credit card “processor” take a 4-5% cut for processing credit cards, which usually costs only 2% of the transaction. Add to those commissions some atrophy from people whose credit cards were declined (we pay Amazon for that, too), and the final sum deposited in the Galactic LLC bank account, this very morn, was $104,497.54. So that is the budget of BILL!

Update — I am not alone tapping away on my little GNU/Linux box. The International Space Station has officially abandoned MS WIndows — henceforth all its onboard computers will run Debian GNU/Linux. NASA has used Linux for ground operations for many years – but the conversion of its inflight laptops to Debian (which also runs an experimental humanoid robot aboard the ship) suggests that earthbound computer users have nothing to fear from trying out a free software OS.