Throw a stone at Kickstarter and you'll probably hit a cult videogame developer. With Peter Molyneux's 22cans raising over $500,000 for Project GODUS, and Tim Schafer's Double Fine raising $3.3 million for Broken Age, crowd funding has become big business for indie games.
So far, animation and VFX facilities have been slower to follow - at least for full-length features. One of the first to do so was Blur Studio, which recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the storyboard reel for The Goon, its proposed CG adaptation of Eric Powell's comic book series, for which Blur successfully raised over $440,000.
Its experiences pave the way for other ambitious crowd-funded animation projects - but also reveal why what works for games may not be so straightforward for other industries.
For a start, animated features cost a lot more than indie games. Feeling that it would be impossible to raise the film's entire $35 million production budget, Blur opted to crowd-fund only part of the development work. However this new approach to fund-raising created a new problem: it didn't have the all-important final product to use as an incentive to donate.
"Games projects are so successful because people want something for their money," notes Blur co-founder Tim Miller. "Some people donate out of love, but a lot of people do so out of love and the desire to get the game."
Moreover, as part of its pitch material to movie studios, Blur did not want to make hard copies of the story reel available to backers. "We simply have to keep the story under wraps, so we can’t have copies floating around," wrote Miller in response to a critical article on Cartoon Brew. Blur later added an invitation to a special one-night screening of the finished reel as an additional incentive to anyone donating $1 or more.
In addition, the studio also faced criticism that executive producer David Fincher should simply write a cheque for the work. "And of course, he could," says Miller. "And he did. So did we. [Blur estimates that its prior development work on the project cost over $500,000.] But there’s a limit to how much it's wise to put in without doing something to change the game."
According to Blur director Jeff Fowler, several other unexpected production issues that the team encountered ranged from the sheer number of man hours required to run a successful Kickstarter campaign - even now, one of the studio’s production co-ordinators works two days a week to deal with enquiries - to the fact that not everyone who pledges money actually has money to pledge in the first place.
"I think our $441,000 has ended up as $395,000," he says. "Fortunately, the amount we got in overfunding was almost exactly the amount people defaulted on." Blur admits that it had very little idea of what to expect when it launched The Goon on Kickstarter, and hopes that the campaign will serve as a model for future animation and visual effects projects.
"On day three, Fincher called me and said, 'Dude, what the fuck? I just got accosted at lunch by a reporter talking about this Kickstarter thing'," laughs Miller. "Like us, he was completely unprepared for the amount of attention it would get."
Words: Jim Thacker
This article first appeared in 3D World magazine issue 169.