David OReilly’s 2011 short, The External World (above) is an utterly dark blend of 1920s animation tropes, anime cuteness and retro video-game aesthetics. The piece has been OReilly's crowning film in a series of short works that are tied together by his artfully lo-fi, perversely hilarious point of view. The External World undoubtedly helped OReilly widen his fanbase, as it has deservedly racked up an impressive amount of honors and awards.
The filmmaker announced over Twitter that he was releasing all 65 characters rigs from The External World as a free download from his site. This isn't the first time he's given away assets for free, but it certainly is the biggest and most personal gift to his audience to date. Though he's not about to start making tutorials on how the rigs work, he's giving his files away with few strings attached.
On his site he writes, "You can use and modify them in any way you like as long as it's for a non-commercial purpose. Showreels, short films, indie games, all that stuff is cool – just give credit. If it's web based – include a link to my site." Animators have already started experimenting and posting their External World remixes.
We caught up with OReilly to ask him about his decision to give away the rigs, fan art, and the future of short films on the web.
The Creators Project:What was your intent in sharing the rigs? Do you have any secret hopes as to what people might use your characters for?
David OReily:I initially fought to have copyright over the film and all the assets we created, and I had a choice to either protect them or share them with the community. I chose the latter because I feel they are now more use to others than myself. 3D has the huge advantage of having assets that can be reused infinitely by anyone, but the independent scene is tiny and very few individuals own their work or are willing to share it. There’s also a huge demand for well-designed, lightweight characters that people can animate with. The few free rigs that are available tend to be Pixar-Dreamworks hybrids that are harder to learn from because they’re so complex. I also generally feel that Creative Commons is a force for good in the world. Copyright law is useful but only up to a degree. I’ve said this before but I would not be doing what I do if I wasn’t able to pirate films and software liberally when I started out.
You said the rigs cost upwards of $18k to produce—mind lending us any insight into how they were made?
Our production budget on the film was small but a lot of it went into these characters. I designed and modeled each one myself over a period of three months. The rigging setup was done by Amy Hay who I collaborated with via Skype. When we went into production it was back and forth, as inevitably there are new features and fixes needed for animation.
I see you repost and encourage fan art. Any favorite pieces? Anything you’ve gained from other people reflecting your work back to you?
What’s amazing is what people choose to get behind. The biggest response with fan art so far has been of the character Octocat, there’s over 1000 drawings of him—mainly bizarre variations of him coming out of Russia. It all mostly happened a few years ago, since then Github gave their version of the character a big marketing push and mine has died off somewhat. Another interesting thing happened with a 3D model of Walt Disney’s head I modeled and released on Creative Commons. I didn’t expect anyone to use it but it’s ended up being a standard test model for 3D printers and other things.
There’s been renewed talk over whether or not short films could become more financially viable given new services like Vimeo Tip Jar and VHX—and whether festivals are really worth it given the restrictions they may place on releasing a film. What’s your take on the future of the short?
I was selling DRM-Free copies of my work years ago using file-transfer sites and it was a nightmare, so I’m really glad these services are starting to exist, but there’s an inherent problem nobody seems to be discussing: there is no market for short films. Again: there is no market for short films. Unfortunately, the majority of people do not distinguish between a finely crafted animated short and a cartoon they get for free on TV. The fact there is no market is also the great advantage of short films: because they are not tasked with making money, they are not beholden to genre or audience expectation. I believe short films are the most progressive form of filmmaking on earth, but they do not function well as a commodity because they are more of an unknown quantity to the viewer. Despite this, short films will always exist because people have stories to tell and ideas to express, and they’ll find ways of doing it no matter what, so I don’t feel the medium will ever be in danger. Whether they get the respect they deserve on a wider scale is yet to be seen.
NB: You'll need a copy of Maya to open and play around with the models.
h/t Cartoon Brew