Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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Five Ways to Make Second Life Machinima So Good It's Scary

If you haven't seen the fun, highly-polished Halloween machinima comedy from Running Lady Studios and Virtual Girl Productions' I blogged last week, Halloween's a good night to do so. (There it is, right above.) And if you make machinima, you'll want to take some tips from the production team, Gameela Wright, and Rob See and K. DaVette See, which I've crystallized below into five helpful tips:

TAKE GLOBAL LOCATION INTO ACCOUNT

"Just like traditional animation has its challenges, so does a new medium like machinima. Some they share, and some are unique to machinima. I'd say the first challenge is location of the participants. In traditional animation everything may be in-house. The final version of the project may be done in another country, but the principals are in the same place or close by: the writers, director, voice actors, techs, etc. In machinima, there's a VERY good chance that your cast and crew are scattered. Suzy and Gnu are either in California or Oklahoma. I'm in New York City. But right now I'm in Arkansas to do a play. Our puppetry actors are everywhere. So distance, time zone differences all play a major role." (Gameela Wright -- AvaJean Westland in SL)

Four more tips after the break:

Twilight sim SL machinima

MAKE METICULOUS SCHEDULES

"Scheduling the shoot takes time, patience and attention to detail. Earlier this year, Suzy and Gnu came to New York so we finally got to meet in person (yes it was our first time meeting in real life!). We had already decided to work together on our concept of ‘The Adventures of Virtual Girl’ the umbrella under which our animations will be showcased. They asked that I step up and be more than just the person that ‘writes these funny skits and short films and acts in them’ and become the show runner. for me to plan out the projects, the scheduling - the executive producing. A lot of my time is spent figuring out the details of what needs to be done, and to schedule it, try to get people on board to participate, etc. This way, Suzy and Gnu could do what they have to do, but I would keep them on track, push them when needed, decide what is useful and what isn't. Our Associate Producer Bella Begonia is vital to our work.

"The reason why you need this is either the project won't get done because of all the factors of real life like work and family not to mention other jobs. Then you've got distractions, distance and time differences with the participants - you name it. We realized that we have to conduct ourselves just like any other artistic/business endeavor. In fact, in many ways you have to do more to ensure that it gets done because of these factors." (Gameela Wright -- AvaJean Westland in SL)

INSIST ON PROFESSIONALISM FROM YOUR TEAM

“[I]n our first foray into machinima, four years ago now, we realized that you have to treat the project as if it is a real, traditional film shoot. I'd noticed that filmmaking in SL was typically less like a shoot and more like, ‘Hey my dad's got a barn, mom's got some old clothes in the attic, let's put on a show!’ Very little attention to roles such as production assistant, assistant director, costumer, set constructor etc. Or even a director. Actors typically were IM'd by a friend who said "Wanna be in a movie, TP over now." But having a background in theatre and having participated in film shoots, I knew that everyone needed a role and they needed to know their role was vital, especially the actors who a lot of machinimatographers treated like furniture. I think that attitude got over a big hurdle: getting participants to take film shoots seriously. It certainly worked to quickly get those actors and techs who really wanted to work towards a great result and stick around to the end of a long day of shooting." (DaVette and Rob See -- Suzy Yue and GnuEon Aeon in SL)

FACTOR FOR VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT CONTINGENCIES

"I always said that, in SL, we don't have to worry about the sun going down or rain, but we do have lag. Lag is our weather. So we have to figure out how to work around it. And we have to take into account RL interruptions like server crashes, PC or Mac crashes, family emergencies, etc. Well, in RL, planes are late, equipment fails, cars break down, traffic happens, and people have family emergencies. NO difference, so you take those things into account.

"Setting up the environment can be a challenge. Most machinima, like SL, can look deserted. Big spaces with one or two people in them. But when you are shooting,for instance, a busy street scene or a beach scene, you need bodies, movement, not a lot, but enough to give the impression the things are happening here. Well a lot of bodies in one place in SL create lag. You just have to figure out how to shoot it so that isn't obvious. RobGnu has a great eye. He takes my ideas for a shot and makes them work so much better that I could have with the camera in my hands." (DaVette and Rob See -- Suzy Yue and GnuEon Aeon in SL)

PLAN FOR EXTENSIVE POST-PRODUCTION FOR ANIMATION, FACIAL EXPRESSIONS, AND SOUND

SL machinima expression

"This form of animation is less like animation, where each nuance of expression environment, is carefully crafted down to the frame as it is happening. In our case, we work hard to get what we need in the real time shooting, like in live action film. But unlike in real life, we had much less control of the the character movements. So we are between an animation/live action rock and hard place. So in the edit, I have to spend a great deal of time manipulating the footage. We shoot a lot of footage, especially expressions and mouth movements, both close-ups and long shots, then examine and manipulate, sometimes frame by frame, the resulting shots.

"I think this is why Running Lady Studio films seem more "live" than some other machinima. Facial expression. I think some machinimatographers forget about expression, because if we've been in SL long enough, we get used to the neutral expression the avatar frequently sport ask we mentally provide it ourselves. I've had the comment over and over 'How do you get the facial expressions so realistic looking?' The answer is hours bent over my computer taking the basic facial animation-HUD available in SL and finding which expression looks right for which emotion. Taken out of context, they can look pretty nutty, but voice and situation behind them and suddenly you have something that looks 'right'.

"We also take a lot of time on Sound. Gnu is great at engineering the levels, finding good background music, and in this case, composing some himself. We work together to think in terms of foley. We are big foley fans! Footsteps, room noise, environmental sounds, crowd murmurs. Good sound can make a film ten times better that is is. Sound is one of the unsung heroes of film." (DaVette and Rob See -- Suzy Yue and GnuEon Aeon in SL)

Of course, that's just a start. I hope other machinima makers chime in below to share the 500-plus other ways to make great machinima.

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superflufee

...my tip? have a bunch of pros make consistent stuff and never ever stop once you started :) just like my show Drax and Pooky make: short, poignant and gooood solid writing! Oh and I forgot: try to appeal to a WIDER audience than just SL'ers hihihihi......

Douglas Story

The comment on sound design is spot-on. The nuances of the audio mix are frequently overlooked in SL machinima.

Pooky Amsterdam

Wonderful to see your in depth look at Machinima, certainly the medium for our time - Torely Linden whose was the first machinima I ever saw will be delivering the KeyNote for the Machinima-Expo the weekend of Nov 16 - 18th. Will Wright, the Lock Note. The 5th Annual Machinima Awards 2012 - Details here and it will be a truly momentous event. Download the program and read all about it - Celebrating the Craft & excellence of machinima! Thank you Hamlet for your timely article!

http://www.machinima-expo.com/

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