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Kit for Creative Arts Teamwork

A continuing challenge for creative projects, particularly free-licensed community projects, but also independent commercial work, is the difficulty in scaling past the work of one or two people, without the associated platform and organization of a coordinated studio environment.

Scaling beyond this point requires organization. Existing organizational models for film and large multimedia projects are extremely biased towards the commercial-proprietary model of production, assumptions of physical proximity ("under one roof"), and strong hierarchy (a "chain of command" model of organization).

The emphasis on the commercial-proprietary corporate model of media production brings with it an obsession with money and copyright ownership, while providing few (if any) tools for public-licenses, volunteerism, community, and shared resources. This makes it difficult to simply look to the commercial production world for tools or techniques for free and open community film-making.

On the other hand, while the open-source software community provides excellent models for online remote collaboration on large projects in culture and concept, it often fails on specifics, simply because many of its critical production tools fail on multimedia content. These tools are all designed around the assumption that the central medium of collaboration is text (e.g. program source code, markup languages, etc).

Many of the attempts based on this culture have consisted of various attempts to somehow turn multimedia into text (such as tools that make technical diagrams from descriptions), or to somehow hide multimedia in some kind of "binary blobs". No really: as dismissive as it sounds, that's the actual term used! Nearly everything we make is nothing but an impenetrable "blob" of meaningless data to these systems! This has very limited applicability to real multimedia projects, where the "blobs" are what the project is really about, and the "text" is incidental (or even in game projects, where the two are more balanced).

In both cases, these biases are so ingrained that participants are often unable to even perceive the problem -- like fish, unable to see the water. I don't know how many times I've gotten advice to move from the outdated "Subversion" platform to "Git", because Git is SO much more advanced. And it is. But isn't really any closer to solving the problems associated with multimedia projects (except it's slightly better at "hiding the inconvenient blobs").

Likewise, any attempt I've made to figure things out from the "Hollywood" side have landed me in a mire of organizational misfits with community models of production. These systems might as well be designed to fail, which is self-serving in the end, as it reinforces industry insiders' deeply ingrained beliefs that community models are impractical and can't solve the problems their corporate systems can (there is a saying that it is very hard to get someone to understand a thing, if their income relies on them not understanding it).

This has led to some very frustrating conversations, as I have worked on the "Lunatics!" and "Film Freedom" projects. KitCAT is (or will be) an attempt to address these issues, based on our experiences with these (and other) internet-collaborative multimedia productions.

KitCAT Studio Project Components

While "Film Freedom" is envisioned as a documentation, review, and community project, KitCAT is a software project. Certainly many of our problems can't be solved with software, but some of them can, and KitCAT is targeting those issues.

As the name implies, KitCAT is envisioned as "kit" of tools, not a single monolithic project. The idea is to pick up the slack in making existing software work together better, so that it is easier to coordinate a project using it.

Since we are aiming for community projects, KitCAT will exclusively use free/open-source software. This is not to say that we will reject plugins and connectors for proprietary packages - if you want to develop them, we'll be happy to take note and list them. We are of course aware that many artists are attached to proprietary tools. But we will not be dedicating any effort to these. The main reason for this is that any license fee or restricted access is a barrier to entry for artists in5 the community, and we want to avoid those.

Although this is a project I've been ruminating on for the better part of a decade, there is not much actual code. We have a Qt-based mock-up of the "KitCAT" client concept, but it really is just a mock-up. It doesn't really do anything.

The project will encompass four basic parts:


The KitCAT application itself is a simple pop-up software client, designed to be integrated with creative applications, and to interface with collaborative back-ends on a project server to provide up-to-date collaborative context on projects and assets.

It's a utility program to tie a lot of separately-sourced components together, and it's main goal is communications and storing notes, direction, comments, and so on in an easy-to-access way. If implemented well, using KitCAT will avoid breaking the artists' "flow state" when they are working on a project, by eliminating a lot of overhead actions associated with most commercial project-management systems.

Our original plan was to tie this tool closely to TACTIC as a project server (still a good tool), but we've since realized that the tool could support multiple project servers, just as it can support multiple authoring tools.

In both cases, integration is achieved through plugins for KitCAT or KitCAT plugins for the applications, or both. So the KitCAT application also includes an associated collection of plugins or scripts.

Since we use them heavily and they do provide adequate scripting facilities, we intend to develop KitCAT authoring application plugins for:

And file-based plugins for:

We also intend to create backend plugins for:

KitCAT-Maintained Multimedia Packages

This will be a collection of multimedia authoring tools that may have never been packaged, or whose packages are out of date, where we pick up the slack by creating up-to-date Debian packages for existing multimedia distributions.

KitCAT Package Repository

This will be a collection of third-party multimedia packages we've found from various sources, collected into one place for easier access. These may be in various package formats, though we prefer to make Debian/APT packages available.

KitCAT Virtual Studio Platform

This will be some form of ready-made kit for deploying studio software on a server to support a collaborative project. It will not be a centralized Software-as-a-Service solution, but something that you can self-host on computers of your choice (or on "cloud" hosting).

We are currently exploring YunoHost for this, as we are using it for Lunatics Project, however, we have other possibilities in mind, and might support those in the future.

This might take the form of an Ansible script for deploying a YunoHost server, for example. Or of a docker container with a ready-made server.

Status and Funding (Or Lack Thereof)

At present there is no funding for this project, and no resources to dedicate to it, so progress will be strictly on an "when I can get around to it" basis for now. Some work in this direction is being done to support the "Lunatics!" Open Science-Fiction Animated Series project.

However, if the idea intrigues you and you have skills to spare for working on it (or better yet, grant money), feel free to contact Terry Hancock about it.