Last March, metaverse artist Bryn Oh and her collaborators invited a select number of visitors to "4 Jetpacks", an interactive installation on her famed Immersiva island. A series of interlocking set pieces full of strange creatures and weird technology, Bryn and her colleagues played scientists, taking us (for I was one of the guests) on a tour of their facility. Unbeknownst to us (or at least me), a machinima filmmaker named Evo Szuyuan planned to capture the action, document what transpired, then turn the resulting footage into a kind of silent movie narrative. The result is above, and because the installation no longer exists, it's a kind of documentary archive of a notable interactive art piece; it also suggests a new genre of machinima: an unscripted event shot in-world as the action unfolds, then copiously edited into a story that stands on its own. The result is a unique mix of fiction and non-fiction; Bryn and the actors had dialog and a choreography of planned events, but their guests had no idea what was about to happen next, and responded naturally; Evo captured that collision.
"Essentially it comes down to getting as much footage as possible and then spend a lifetime in post, trying to make sense of it," she tells me. "Second Life often feels like live cinema to me in any case... just need to press record." As an involuntary actor in the machinima, I'm slightly biased, but I think her final product is spectacular and unique, BioShock meets Fritz Lang.
The hard part, however, was making it coherent. Ms. Szuyuan explains how she did that after the break. (Contains some spoilers, so see the movie first before reading on.)
PREPARATION AND SHOOTING
"Bryn gave me a briefing about what was going to happen, so I was able to prepare myself a little bit. I spent some time at the build to look around, find nice angles, and get some ideas for good opening shots, transitions etc. Some shots are obvious.. The work of the artists is amazing, and I try to do justice to that. Also I kept in mind what might be shot afterwards, like detail shots of the build, and close-ups of the scientists, so I tried to focus on the shots with the visitors.
"For the rest, the plan was to get immersed in the experience, and just see what would happen. I often find that the best shots are the spontaneous ones, where I am just exploring and looking around, and go for whatever is interesting in that moment. The ones I plan often don't work out for whatever reason. Camera hiccups, texture not being rendered, avatars falling down platforms.
"And sometimes I get lucky. Like Nonnatus [Korhonen} being taken by the tornado just in front of me. I'm quite happy about the fleeing sequence. I had a vague plan, of following the people on the walkway, but I was not prepared at all for Tryptofaa Sands' tornado, and all destruction that would happen! So that is pretty much all sponteous recording of being in the moment.
"But to finally end up with this video [footage] was endless puzzling in editing. Especially the first part in the visitors' area. Since it was the first performance, all kind of things didn't work... I used some tricks like putting video in reverse, changing the speed. Edit things in a way that makes it look natural. For example, the part when the jellyfish takes one of the visitors, in that sequence, it's actually four different avatars, edited in a way that I hope you don't notice.
"Some things were just solved by text. Because the performers were using text chat, I decided to take a silent movie approach. I admit, not the most original thing to do, but I think it fits with Bryn's steampunk style, and having the 'all knowing narrator' allowed me to fill in missing shots. A bit crude, but effective (I hope).
"If I were to reshoot this performance, I would try to get a colleague machinimatographer involved, and have my own avatar coming along on the tour, which would make it easier to shoot things afterwards. Maybe you'd say that is 'cheating' and not 'documentary', but I always try to make a video that is also interesting to watch on it's own. Something between registration and interpretation."
(High-res version here, with full credits at the link.)