Tentacles: The Story Behind The Story

Dream Sheep

The story behind the story of “Tentacles, After The End” begins with a story about itself. In particular with my little pocket novella “Do Dream Sheep Bleat?

That story doesn’t contain any sheep, but it does contain a four foot tall talking penguin that escapes from the main character’s dreams by magically influencing his thoughts. It’s a fun and quick read, should only take you an hour or so. Go read it.

The Penguin book, as it tends to get called, was written in 2008 after I fell asleep while listening in bed to a comic book artist being interviewed on the radio.

He was talking about how he decided he wanted to be abducted by UFOs. He went about this task by writing down his desire, removing all the vowels, rearranging the remaining symbols into characters, then drawing comic-books based on those characters. As I remember it, he reported success at this endeavour. Not only in that his comic books were popular, influential and profitable, but also in that he did indeed get to experience being abducted by a UFO.

He called this Sigil magic, but given that it was supposed to work by reducing ideas like a cook reducing a sauce, I preferred to think of it as “Sidual” magic. A residual of the word residual.

It’s possible this was at least party a dream, either my dream or the comic-book artist’s dream..

Now I haven’t had much interest in being abducted by a UFO in years, but this did sound to me like an interesting way to produce some art work, by accessing subconscious Jungian archetypes from my brain. I’d been toying with some ideas which seemed to fit well into a small book for a while, so I decided to try it.

I wrote down a demand, a spell. I ditched all the vowels. I rearranged the remaining symbols until I found I had made the penguin from the book’s cover, then wrote the story about that penguin, and indeed about the process of making the penguin. The book is very much about itself.

And that worked. People liked it. Good stuff came out.

More surprisingly, the spell came true too. Sort of. Depending on how you read it. Frankly it was far too vague a demand to have any real way of judging. Not a good scientific test. I resolved to do better.


An important thing to note about the Penguin book, is the postscript at the end. The copyright agreement.

Most books would at that point impress upon you the importance of the author asserting their rights, demanding that there be no performance, copying, editing, distributing, or sharing of their work.

But to me, sharing books is good!

Sharing books has always enhanced my life and made the world a better place. Whenever I have loaned a book, it has improved the world. When what is loaned to me, my world is brighter.

Not only books, but all culture: Music, maths, photos, poems, science, literature. They all spread around the global human consciousness by sharing, copying, redistributing of the ideas in them. I suspect even consciousness itself is something we learn how to do by copying each other.

So the copyright agreement in the Penguin book is clear:

  • You have copied this book into your mind by reading it
  • The only thing which gives you the right to do so is this agreement.
  • In order to be allowed to keep your own head, you must do as this agreement asks.
  • This agreement demands you make another copy and share it.

If you do NOT share my book, then you are a pirate.

It seems to me that art is entirely about communication, about trying to change the course of culture, and that to deliberately restrict how much your fans can share your work is counter-productive to the entire point of that work. You should *want* your work to be copied and redistributed as much as possible, and deliberately limiting that just in the hope you can get more gold from it harms that engagement of the art with human culture, the mindsphere.

This does leave society with a conundrum though.

Art is more valuable to society if the art is free.

Yet artists are more valuable to society if they don’t have to have day-jobs. Your favourite painter is little use painting walls instead of pictures, your favourite musician isn’t practising while they’re flipping burgers, our Thespians won’t improve their craft by waiting tables.

So how can society go about funding freely distributable art? Copyright can’t do that since copyright works aren’t free, and the copyrightists keep bribing politicians to retroactively extend the terms till forever.

Commons Hostage

I decided to do some experiments to try and find some kind of solution, and started by trying to make as many mistakes as possible as quickly as I could. For this is how human beings learn.

I spent a year doing a new project every month. Maybe the first chapter of a novel, or the first track of an album, or the first level of a computer game, the first part of a film. I’d release those projects freely, for anyone to use for any purpose: to copy or sample or mash-up or broadcast or share or edit and improve. I’d also make clear that I only intended to make the next part if enough people chipped in to pay me to do it.

A couple of those projects were funded to the end, a few just a couple of chapters, and the majority of them completely ignored.

So what were the major mistakes?

The most obvious flaws in that plan were that even if people donated towards a subsequent part, this give no guarantee that the total will be raised for that chapter, let alone that the work will be finished. Indeed, most of those work’s weren’t finished because they weren’t funded.

Also, anything which can be done in less than a month is most likely not all that good, not worth paying for. Which also make is embarrassing to ask for money, making promotion very hard.

I set out to fix these flaws.


Some of the Commons Hostage projects were computer games, and those games needed graphics, and the simplest way to get the sprites I needed was to learn to use Blender.

Blender is a 3d animation package, and it’s awesome. It loads fast, rarely crashes, does insanely complicated things but presents them through an efficient and discoverable user-interface (since version 2.5 at least), it’s a joy to use. Really fun.

And it’s free software.

Anyone can take the Blender source-code and share it with their friends, anyone can alter it, fix it, improve it and share those changes on with others. It’s written for humanity’s common good rather than for the profit of a single corporate entity. Like art should be.

I decided to make a 30 minute cartoon using Blender, and find a way to fund it to be released freely. I figured I could make a 30 minute movie in about six months.


I started as the Penguin would have anyone start: Sidual magic. Writing out some demands, ditching the vowels, rearranging the remaining symbols into characters, archetypes.

A segmented space-worm, with big trumpet ears. A robot with an LCD face, bendy arms and unicycle-style wheel.
A girl in high heels and a dress listening to headphones. And a tentacle monster, of course.

These seemed to fit together well, perhaps because I had each previous one in mind as I made the subsequent ones.

I wrote a screenplay to connect them all, had a friend add some jokes and improve it. We tossed the script back and forth a few times till it was actually pretty good.

My friend Inty Malcom let me into his studio one afternoon with a couple of voice-actors. The stars of the show: Kaye Conway and Will Seaward.

Then began the slow process of animation. Ppainstakingly matching lip-movements to voice-tracks, editing the position of limbs frame by frame.

Why do tentacle monsters have to have so many limbs!?

Also adjusting lighting, re-rendering, fiddling with hair! Oh my god hair!

If you ever do an animation make the characters bald. It’s the only sensible thing to do.

The six months I had hoped I could get it done in rushed by. As did the next six. And the six after that. And the six after that.

And even when all those images are complete, there is still the audio tracks to think of. Sound effects, music.

Luckily, some sound effects artists are willing to share the results of their labour for all to use freely. Freesound was a miracle. What could have been months of time trying to record sound effects became just a few days of searching the global human archive. Similarly for sound, think goodness royalty free music exists!

Because this film isn’t just my work. I put in a couple of thousand hours mostly at the end, but it only exists thanks to the hundreds of thousands of hours of work put in by people all over the globe sharing their work freely.

So it’d be nice to release the movie freely too, pay the favour forward.


But it exists as an experiment to find a way to fund free art. It has a goal built into the very fabric of the story.

When you look at those tentacle monsters on the screen, notice their big round eyes, their big round mouth, their big round heads. Like four big round digits, building up their face.

Notice also the antenna on the top of their head, like a number 1 flapping around on their skull.

Then look to their sides, to their legs, snaking off from the body like wiggly little pound-signs, or S shapes.

Visualise those symbols moving around in your mind’s eye, rearranging. A pound-sign, and a 1, and four zeros, and an S and some vowels and another S.

There is an explicit, quantifiable, falsifiable test built into this story. A test of Sidual magic, a test of a way to fund free culture, a dream built into the construction of the characters themselves:

£ 10 000 Sales

Tentacles: After The End is a four-act cartoon, and the first act has already been released freely thanks to the proceeds of ticket sales to the premier.

Act One is released Creative-Commons licensed, copyleft. You are free to share it, sample it, remix it, archive it, perform it, broadcast it, translate it, or do anything else you want with it. Even just watch and enjoy it!

But sales from the premier event’s tickets can only take it so far. If you want to see the rest of the film you will have to pay for a download.

You can pay whatever you’d like. If you pay more than two pounds then you’ll get the hi-definition version. If you pay less than 50p then I’ll just give you the advert-spoiled version for free, it’s not worth the banking fees.

If you have a business and you want to place an advert to sponsor some downloads, check out http://tentacles.org.uk/ads

The proceeds from those sold downloads, and from any sponsored advert-ridden downloads, and the profit from any DVDs, tee-shirts or other merch sold will go towards that final goal, the dream built into the tentacle monster’s very body: £10 000.

  • After 100 pounds was raised, Act One was released freely.
  • When 1000 pounds is raised, Act Two will be released freely.
  • When 5000 pounds is raised, Act Three will be released freely.
  • When 10000 pounds is raised, Act Four will be released freely.

Help The Tentacle Dream Come True

Because we all want that, right? We want to live in a world where our culture belongs to humanity in common, rather than being bottled up, restricted and sold back to us. We want to live in a world where artists are paid for their work without having to lock it up in legal chains. We want the tentacle monster’s dream to come true!

Well. Not the one where they fry us all with giraffe horn and serve us on tiger-bread. The other one. The one that underlies their very existence, makes them the shape that they are.

Convincing 20,000 people to pay 50p or more each to see the end of this film won’t be easy. Convincing 20,000 people to even spend the time to watch the free beginning of this film won’t be easy.

But you can help!

I’m going to spend at least a year or so making yet more tentacle monster related stuff and giving it away. Topical, celebrity-based cartoons and comics, mostly. Prequel shorts. And to make them I will need Your Help.

Voice Actors

To donate your voice as a bit-part in a prequel short, you will need to be able to find somewhere quiet, speak the lines you are given and record them into a file, then email that file to us. You can probably do all this with your smart-phone. If you’d like to help that way, Visit the help out page

Writers / Comedians

I kick ideas for scripts and screenplays for the prequel shorts before they’re made in an email-list. If you’re interested in chipping in to try and make the scripts better, add more jokes, Visit the help out page.

Blender Animators

Blender is free software, and youtube is full of tutorials on how to use it. If you’re a quick learner, and given that my 3d models can be made available to you, you could probably be actively helping get more prequel toons out faster within a month. If you fancy trying your hand at learning to do that (or indeed have already learned and want to help out) Visit the help out page

Musicians / Sound-Editors

If you’d like to let us use your tunes, or edit sound effects etc. into a film and know your way around Ardour (or some less free sound editing systems I guess) we can use your help too. Visit the help out page

Share And Enjoy

Finally of course, everyone can help by sharing and copying the stuff itself! Give it to your friends. Like the pages on Facebook, G+, Twitter etc. Share and retweet the stories, write about it in your blog, post it to your favourite reddits and +1 it on Google Plus.

Increasing Power

There is a reason why everyone is always asking you to do that, all your artist friends and the local bar and the florist up the road and even soft drinks companies and brands of shoes.

Human culture has always spread from mind to mind, from person to person, copying ideas and changing them and passing them on to the others they come into contact with.

But a few hundred years ago the Printing Press was invented, and it was awesome. It allowed us to copy ideas and spread them around more efficiently, with more fidelity. But it also concentrated power over human culture into the hands of those who owned printing presses.

As broadcast technology continued to improve, this concentration of influence increased. Those who own photocopiers, radio stations, cable television shows and global television networks have had a steadily increasing influence on our culture.

But broadcast technology hasn’t stagnated, it’s continued to improve, until these days it’s possible for almost anyone to broadcast to almost everyon else. Your public tweet can reach as many people as Channel Four, or Rupert Murdoch, or Justin Beebier. Even every idle thought you put on Facebook is read by a hundred of your friends.

I don’t think people in general have yet realized that they are taking over from the massive broadcast networks of old. Most people don’t think about the fact they rarely hear news first from a media spokesman now. They hear it from their friends.

Those buttons share and like buttons are only going to become more powerful the more they are used. So use that share button wisely. Not just for my stuff (though you should certainly do that) but for all the art you find interesting or challenging or useful. Just not for Candy Crush invites for heaven’s sake!

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