Inspired and challenged in no small part by my friend Chris Krycho's announcement and progress log on his rewrite project, I have decided to finally, publicly announce my own long-term project: Lightbox.
The Lede: Lightbox is a mobile-first, full-featured, traditional (hand-drawn) animation production application/suite.
I discovered, during the past year, that there is another animation project called Lightbox! Full credit to them for releasing something usable first; I started my project many years ago, so I won't be renaming it at this time, but who knows what will happen before release.
That's it. That's the news. But if you care to read about motivations, history, and goals, then keep reading.
I have written a modest amount on animation, and it is the first of the subjects that this site's tagline proclaims to devote essays to. It is one of my foremost passions, and the thing I would most love to be able to do with all my time. Years ago I seriously considered pursuing illustration and animation as professional directions. I hedged, however, on the fact that the odds of significant financial success were low (and I like nice, expensive things), and opted for the much more immediately remunerative path of professional software development.
Passions tend not to let you rest, and a little idea I had experimented with during college kept gnawing at me. Paper and materials for physically animating drawings were expensive, bulky, and space-consuming, but the digital tools of the time left something to be desired. [RIP Plastic Animation Paper.] I was a software developer. I was an artist. Surely I could build a compelling animation package?
To increase my chances of success, I first sought out and joined an open source project, but when a completely separate project's dispute over licensing terms revealed the issues around, say, moving the application to Apple's iOS and then-nascent iPad, I realized that I needed to control every facet of my application's structure, so I resigned the open source project and struck out on my own. I made some early progress, particularly around a lightweight, fast, drawing engine:
And then Apple announced the iPad Pro, with the Pencil.
This product was a game changer. On the desktop I had to connect an external tablet digitizer like my Wacom Intuos, or a tablet display like the Wacom Cintiq (and its litany of challengers/pretenders). I had spent thousands of dollars on auxiliary equipment over the years, not counting the cost of my computers themselves. With the iPad Pro, I had computer, display, and digitizer, all in one. Apps like Pixelmator, Procreate and Affinity Photo showcased the levels of professional productivity capable on a mobile device. Could I build a professional-grade animation solution for the iPad, but one that was accessible to novices and hobbyists like myself?
The Plot Thickens
Okay, so mobile-first. I had created an LLC as a vehicle for these software ambitions. I started [re]building the app for iOS, redesigning its idioms and examining its performance implications. How fortunate for me that my day job was as an iOS developer for media organizations. Looking to better prepare myself to run this as a business, and to transition out of active software development in order to conserve my "coding juices" for my own project, I enrolled in the Cornell Tech MBA. So much amazing happened for me during that year, but one of the most relevant pieces is that I had time to really get to grips with machine learning, and to see some applications of it to animation. So there's an additional dimension to the product and business model that I'm super excited about.
The Cornell Tech studio model has every student participate in entrepreneurial programs in their final semester, and I used Lightbox as my lens, iterating on different strategies to build something I think is sustainable. My intent is to bootstrap the initial phases, and only consider venture when there is a need for rapid, though controlled, growth.
There is plenty more to come. I will be writing about my ambitions for Lightbox as a product, as a passion project, and as a business, and my observations and challenges relating to each of those. I am incredibly excited, and look forward to sharing this adventure with the world.