So, here’s the deal. Animusic is almost objectively awesome.
Hopefully, you’ve already come across some of their work out on the wild web.
Here’s what’s probably their most famous piece, from their first DVD:
Known as “Pipe Dream,” this video became the subject of a viral hoax email which claimed the machine featured in the animated video was in fact, real, and had been mostly out of farm equipment at the University of Iowa.
And here’s my favorite from their second DVD:
Pretty cool, huh?
While it might seem like a “3D Fantasia,” there’s something else going on under the hood. In Fantasia, the music comes first, and the animation is built to suit.
Animusic operates differently. Each of the “instruments” that you see in the animation is built first, and then a file that represents music digitally is run through a program that tells the digital instruments what notes to play. They then play the songs of their own accord.
Much of the designers’ work goes into building the various instruments and making sure they can play complicated musical patterns fluidly. If they’ve done their job right then you could run any song containing the notes the instruments can play through the program and create a music video.
In fact, they proved this point by releasing a sequel to “Pipe Dream,” “Pipe Dream 2.”
So, when the two primary minds behind Animusic, Wayne Lytle and Dave Crognale, appeared on Kickstarter, asking for money to make Animusic 3 a reality, myself and around 3,300 others jumped at the chance. It must have seemed like a slam dunk: these guys had released two complete DVDs already, as well as a Japanese version and a Blu Ray remake of the original video, as shown in this graphic they created for their Kickstarter page:
So, why did they need the money in the first place?
In their own words, “each DVD took 3 years to complete. It shouldn’t be that arduous. So we said: ‘Ah! We shall rebuild our entire production studio from the ground up — a totally custom in-house software system!’ And we did. Its awesomeness grew over a 5-year period of time. . . [and] then [we] realized our “magical factory” came with some hefty utility bills, and our piggy bank was empty. Uh-oh.”
The goal, as listed on their Kickstarter page, was to raise money to hire more people, upgrade their work computers, upgrade the render farm that they used to create the animations, and pay for the studio they worked in.
On September 5th, 2012, the project was funded, raising $223,136, more than the requested $200,000.
Today is February 23rd, 2017. I still don’t have my copy of Animusic 3. As far as I know, Animusic 3 will never exist.
What went wrong?
Seemingly, a lot of things. I want to start with the big picture and work my way back down.
As time progressed, and more and more deadlines were missed, two things became apparent: Wayne and Dave are not businessmen, and they don’t like PR.
The first is a problem because it meant that they ended up spending a lot of time and money on stuff that didn’t help Animusic 3 get made. The Kickstarter campaign was just a one-time infusion of cash. If they wanted to make money in the future, they needed to get Animusic 3 done and on shelves so that people could purchase new copies.
Until they got that done, they would bring in no new income, and also held great liability to the people who backed them on Kickstarter, promising them, based on contribution, CDs, Posters, T-shirts, in addition to the DVD/Blu-ray with Animusic 3 on it. All of these products would have to be produced with the money they had already raised and would not bring in any additional income.
Which means they need to get it done fast. And they spent their money like they thought it would get done fast. Buying new computers and render farms has a chance to speed things up, but only if the people are ready to use them and produce.
Likewise, hiring new people might speed things up, but is only tenable for about a year. Hiring just two new employees for one year at the quite low sum of $30,000 per year would eat up more than a quarter of the money they raised. Keeping them on for two years would be impossible—unless they find a way to make more money.
It’s important to note that they might have known this. The original timeline promises delivery of Animusic 3, and all the other rewards, just 13 months after the Kickstarter ended.
But, something happened, and by the time those DVDs were supposed to be shipped, things were already far behind schedule. In fact, it would not be until August 2015 that the creators would confirm that all of the CDs and T-Shirts had been mailed out, if only to domestic backers, and even then, more than two years behind schedule.
Based on the limited information they communicated, it seems that two things happened: there was a degree of perfectionism related to the music. They didn’t ever feel it was ready to be shipped, and consequently, because Animusic is music-driven animation, they couldn’t start work on making the videos. When they did, they discovered that the pipeline they had built had problems. As late as 2015, they were switching engines to compensate.
Additionally, Wayne developed both Ball’s Palsy and Repetitive Strain Injury problems shortly into the process, which seems to have limited what he could do, even though they insisted he was working through the injuries on many occasions. So, if Wayne was never able to complete the music to his satisfaction, the rest of the process broke down. The new computers and render farms went to waste because they didn’t the critical heart of the project done before they ran out of money. Once they had spent it on technology and salaries, it was gone.
Looking back, were there any red flags?
I don’t know.
It’s unfortunate that they presented the project as “shovel-ready.” To most backers, it probably seemed like we were paying for a bit of final production and then the physical items themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Furthermore, we were backing people who were openly admitting that they had run out of money because they spent too much time tinkering with their production pipeline. At the time of the Kickstarter campaign, it had been more than seven years since the pair had produced an original work. They had never used the system they were about to build something new on. Even if they had built original works before, this one was going to have a learning curve.
Finally, they wasted a ton of money and time on projects that slowed them down, namely the T-shirts, Posters, and CDs.
I think this project was something of a race against time. Bad management exacerbated the scale of the problem, but it was the back luck of bad health that ultimately crippled it.
In the last post to his backers, hauntingly titled “Alive,” Wayne announced Dave’s departure from the team but promises that Animusic 3 will be finished. That post was put out on August 20th, 2015. Since then, the page has fallen silent.