Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Machinima Musings, Part II

End of Year Thoughts - Machinima 2012, Part II

Belinda Barnes, my Lowe Runo Productions@ colleague, co-conspirator and partner, loves the holidays as much as she does entertaining her toddler cousin. Both loves converged this year through machinima.   A great outlet for her has been making machinima at her cousin's level of understanding.   With glee, Belinda reports that the precious tike wants to watch such kid-friendly machinima repeatedly.  So much so, Bel continues to make episodes for her.   She creates credible sets within Second Life with found objects and some she makes herself.  She has a knack for reorganizing the virtual world.  She has garnered quite an expertise and a reputation as a "handy" fix-it woman of the SL kind.  She spent hours helping fellow photographer/machinimist Kara Trapdoor set up a holiday room of her art gallery (which opens this weekend).  In RL, Belinda does more of the same with her computers and is a media junky.  She loves technology, although never forgets - the message must come first.  She mulls over an idea for days if not weeks, setting up her story and scenarios with painstaking detail.  It becomes more than plot;  it is passion.

Her holiday video is one of the little girl's favorites, and this amazingly often unorthodox filmmaker has just completed another episode.  Her series is made short and sweet, approximately 90 seconds intentionally.  It holds the attention of the child and conveys a short message.  The holiday one is a bit nostalgic for parents/grandparents as well as for those of pre-machinima days.  I would say that in this regard, machinima's audience might be thought as much broader than we realize (pending one's goals and aspirations) and not necessarily defined to hard-core guy game players.   It is all how we approach the technology.  

Timeless messages are not limited to technology.   As noted in my last blog, Celestial Elf's version of  "The Night Before Christmas" is inspired by legend and tradition.     In her own way, Hypatia Pickens' "Wulf and Eadwacer" (see Part I) retold the mysteries of the ancients in a language presumed dead.  It was screened as a top film at the Machinima Expo 2012.  This machinima seductress, a renowned Medieval scholar and artist, challenges her technology.   
Ideas never die - they become contextualized, reimagined and remain connected to the human spirit.   Technology is not core to the soul, and should not be the goal of any filmmaker/storyteller.     Machinima brings something unique to the equation - it is accessible overall to many, and allows many more of us to be filmmakers.   It is more than recreating Hollywood, Bollywood and a way to create cheap animation - it is a window into our increasingly cyber personas  projected through a camera lens.   Captured.  Archived.  Remixed.   Reimagined.  Reinvented.   
It is not the camera, but the person behind that camera that matters.   It is not post production;  it is the posthumous message that one leaves as human legacy, fragmented or whole.   One day, historians will review amateur and semi-professional machinima to understand this time in which we live - one of constant change and manipulation of image.    Truth is found somewhere between the frames.     It gives voice to those not yet heard in the larger film community, and to a generation who has shared its most precious hours with technology.    It is not the bells and whistles, nor impressing us with your fancy equipment and expensive programs.    Wizards and magicians need not apply.   Move beyond painting with machinima for the sake of pretty colors - and merely adding music as a filler or soundtrack is a band-aid approach, although fun of course for those flightly moments of fancy.  "Killing time" via "learning one's craft" becomes indeed a constructive way to advance the field.   Experimentation is good for anyone's artistic soul.  Alas know that reliance on expertise with tools may construct artificial boundaries to the message.  Forget that some filmmakers know more than you.  Forget that some say "machinima is dead;" ignore those who mock virtual worlds as passing fads.    They set limitations based on what they see now.  

Let's not get so fascinated with any technology, that we forget the significance of telling stories in ways that bring human drama to life, virtual or real.    And why are the characters on South Park "believable" to many, but human avatars in Second Life are dismissed readily in machinima.     Humans are not portrayed accurately in animations for the most part.   The old cartoons did well with facsimiles.   I have not met any game character that can mirror me or any of my friends to justifiably call them human, but I can still suspend belief if I am engaged.  Motion capture helps us to clone our emotional responses, as we project our humanity onto a computer for reinvention.   What is captured at best becomes an intuitive interpretation of ourselves to us and others as viewers, often redefined by our poetic spirits shaped by life experiences, individual and collective.  This intuitive connectivity to our souls is what brings film characters alive to us, no matter the genre be animation, machinima or any cinematic form.   

Why so many rules for machinima?  Tell the story the best way possible - if that is machinima on whatever platform, so be it.  If you add a few spices via post, that's okay too.   Second Life and future worlds to come offer accessible sites for cinematic experimentation, not necessarily exclusivity to any tool or genre - exploration as creators to new film frontiers bring forth vision yet as makers our ideas should be steeped in understanding humanity via history and cinematic projection. It's not about keeping up with technology.  A good story will find its audience.  It might be a page of a diary or a few lines scribbled on a paper.   You can bet it will be transformed in various ways through time.  It will be remade over and over, and sometimes for better or not.   

This holiday focus on life, not on technology.   And the story will find you.   All I want for Christmas is a good story to share with you all!  - and for Hanukkah (December 8-16th), I hope you received an idea for an eight-part webisode.  Of course, I am still holding out for a new computer from Santa, but it would be wasted without good ideas.  Not to say, I don't like to just play.   Play is a power means to creativity.   If you spend as much time in your game platform as I do in mine, surely your surroundings will inform you.   Machinima is simply a means toward sharing those stories that spring up as you experience life in a game, a virtual environment, and/or what's around you daily.   Consider anything you do as life experience.   There is no pause button in life.   If you spend time in the virtual, it is real time.  You cannot push a button, and get an idea.  If you do, it will be based on something that you have learned from that action.  Game time is real time. Watching a movie or machinima, as well as making one, is time spent.

I have to laugh when I remember Bill Murray in the movie Scrooged (1988).  Watch it if you haven't already.  The art of good storytelling is not dead,  neither is machinima a technology of a by-gone era.    It is a choice.  It is available to many of us, who will never visit Hollywood, let alone work there or any other major animation studio.   Create your own path, your own production company, or just make your three-year old daughter or cousin the audience or the producer.     When did machinima get so confined, confounded and  complicated?   It doesn't have to be created for a contest or public exhibition.   It might be a way to connect a community. Some of the best productions are accidental - ideas birthed from people having a good time together across the world online.   A good mentor will lead you to your dream, not to his or hers.    I am also pleased to see people across the film community coming together - Chantal Harvey and Tony Dyson have launched Scissores Productions;  they have so many ideas and projects that will definitely come to fruition.   Watch out for them.   And of course, Pooky Amsterdam was instrumental in the success of Machinima Expo, and her company continues to make huge strides in the machinima community, and beyond.   Many machinimatographers are noteworthy of mention, and I wish I could name them all.  

Go ahead and play this holiday.   Give yourself the gift of machinima, and watch it with your family, best friend, or lap dog.    Be a fan of your own fiction.   Because it is possible!


My Personal Special Thanks for 2012
Special thanks personally for a wonderful year from the machinima community.   So many things happened this year  for me and Lowe Runo Productions. 

Retropolitan Magazines's launch of our series The Steampunk Adventures of Bel & Soni  that began in February 2012 will continue to run in the coming year.  The ultimate goal is a book-length project that could serve as a Web series as well.  Even if nothing comes of it, it is a blast to work with virtual imagery and SL characters (especially when they are not alts).  The story begins with the Steampunk lasses as youth, and this year brings them to adulthood as explorers, inventors, and transcendentalists, you might say.   A quick book teaser via machinima was created to promote the magazine series.  Increasingly, we are seeing books being  promoted in similar ways.   So why not magazine features, we say?   Thanks to Belinda Barnes-Fitzroy and Lowe Runo Productions for their assistance on this on-going project.  Thanks Retropolitan's Phideaux Mayo and Echo Underwood for supporting our work in your online and inworld magazine!
Our book release in March of Machinima:  The Art & Practice of Virtual Filmmaking,  along with our presentation at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference that same month was nonetheless extremely exciting for Lowe Runo Productions.    We wanted a book to introduce would-be virtual filmmakers to machinima, as well as to help others improve upon their skills.   It was the ultimate way to mentor those wanting to know more about the art and practice of machinima.  You cannot imagine how many questions Lowe has fielded through the years, and this seemed one solution, aside from creating the Machinima Artist Guild (founded in 2008, now boasting over 700 members and a talented team of staff and reviewers that offer guidance on a daily basis).   
Our "Machinima" book and MAG was designed to be friendly to  the many "women" voices now present in machinima production.  Moreover, women have a lead role at Lowe Runo Productions.  Our goal was to affirm a larger community of media makers, including those working with machinima as an option outside of game capture.

The May book party at Asil Ares' NeoVictoria SkyClub, with Gabrielle Riel as DJ, was pleasantly memorable.   Ms. Riel interviewed us during the book party, and it is archived here.     I would like to thank all the contributors of our book project, those answering our open call to share thoughts.   Of course, no book can possibly mention all of the great filmmakers.   None before us, and none after us.   All we can do is try to be representative of the community.  My apologies if you felt left out, or one of your favorite producers was not included in our book.   It pangs me when I hear about another person that might have been added to the mix.  My publisher was growing weary already of our additions.

At the time of the book release,  BOSL Editor Persia Bravin graciously invited me to pen a machinima series, "Masters of Machinima," to be featured monthly through November 2012 in Best of SL Magazine.     That series kicked off in February with Rysan Fall, then Lowe Runo in the March edition, and so forth including Tutsy Navarathna, Emanuelle Courtois, Hypatia Pickens, Tony Dyson, Chantal Harvey, and JJCCC Coronet and most recently Machinima  Expo's Ricky Grove.  It will resume in February 2013.  I also invited Ricky to be the guest columnist for Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds (Intellect Press), where I serve as the Machinima Reviews Editor.  Ricky spotlights "Journey Into the Metaverse" and "Go West" in the essay, "Machinima as Personal Exploration:  Two Experimental Films from Tutsy Navarathna and Ping-Yao Chen."   As a side note, I am happy to accept reviews on any platform, and contact me for details.   

I was also excited to be interviewed by Ricky Grove and Kate Fosk, along with Lowe Runo, about our book and thoughts about machinima.   We had a blast, and here's the podcast.    Moreover, I was honored to serve as moderator on the "Machinima Sound & Music" panel with Ricky Grove, Phil Rice, Richard G. Roberto, and Claus Gahrn.  (I still own some of Claus' amazing sound sculptures from Second Life).   My true love has always been sound, and that is my teaching specialty, along with new media studies/practice.

A Wonderful Second Life

It's been a wonderful Second Life - that is my base of operation.    I am pleased to be part of the machinima community as an educator, author and journalist - and semi-professional machinimist.   Once again, this Spring I am teaching my Virtual Worlds semester class inside Second Life at Lowe Runo Productions.  Students will be introduced to a variety of artistic ventures inworld.   This summer, my Machinima course co-taught with Lowe, was a success, and the students were allowed to use any platform.  Here's some of their work.  The YT site is called Magnum Machinima.

One of those enrolled had started a student MAG chapter on my campus, and wants to connect in January to students interested in machinima across the world.    If you are interested in involving a campus, or know of some students that would like to work with us, let us now.  At our university, machinima is part of the larger gaming society, but it seems to get lost there.   The challenge is to see if student chapters will connect a new generation of filmmakers across the world.

I can hardly wait to see what's head.   New toys and wizardry to come in 2013 for virtual life and some of that will impact the virtual filmmaker.    Much success to all - and to all a good night!    And Mr. Runo and Belinda, and all of MAG & Machinima Expo - thanks for a great year and an amazing future around the corner!

And thanks to Celestial for the Happy Dance to close the year!  See you here in February 2013.    -  Season Greetings, Soni!

Chen, Pin-Yao (2012, October 24).  Go West.  Kaohsiung, Taiwan:  Ping-Yao Chen Productions. Accessed October 25, 2012, https://vimeo.com/3351362

Elf, Celestial. (2010, November 28). The Night Before Christmas.  Accessed,   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJLiLa7G5Ig&list=PL35566945865FF7C0&index=2&feature=plpp_video

Interview.  w/Gabrielle Riel.   Internet Archive.  Accessed, http://archive.org/details/Machinima-TheArtAndPracticeOfVirtualFilmmaking-RadioRielInterview

Interview.  w/Ricky Grove & Kate Fosk.  Podcast, August 5, 2012.   Accessed, http://soundcloud.com/rgrove-1/machinima-expocast-7-special

Machinima Expo Programming.  Available at Livestream.com.  Accessed, http://www.livestream.com/themachinimaexpo/video?clipId=flv_802b522e-fb47-46d3-9c59-8360cc1e4fbb&utm_source=lslibrary&utm_medium=ui-thumb
Machinima Expo Winners, http://www.machinima-expo.com/

Navarathna, Tutsy. (2011, April 28).   Journey into the Metaverse.  Pondicherry, India:  Navarathna Productions.   Accessed November 20, 2012,  http://vimeo.com/23139995

Sound & Music Panel.  Machinima Expo V.  Available at Livestream.com.  Accessed,

*    *   *
The Professional Machinima Artist Guild and Lowe Runo Productions graciously host Magnum:  The Machinima Review.  Sonicity Fitzroy, author of Second Life, Media and the Other Society (Peter Lang, 2010) and Machinima:  The Art and Practice of Virtual Filmmaking (with Lowe Runo, McFarland, 2012).  Amazon.com. See, author's page:  http://www.amazon.com/Phylis-Johnson/e/B001HOW4U2/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1354606175&sr=1-2-ent

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

End of Year Musings - Machinima 2012, Part I

The first of a two part series....musings on machinima

The year has passed by so quickly.   Machinima as a form of expression has been very good to many of us.  Some of us have created machinima communities in which we engaged in dialogue and collaborated on various projects.    I enjoyed revisiting the 2010 Yuletide production "TheNight Before Christmas..." by Celestial Elf, who rewrote Clement Moore's classic poem. Voicework by Cisko Vandeverre should be applauded, as well as Celestial's strong cast of performers and contributors.  

Two years have passed since then, and Cisko announced his plans to leave behind SL at the Machinima Expo.   We hope that he reconsiders, for the future has only begun for machinima in virtual worlds.  Marshall McLuhan would see such spaces as pathways of extension for the media maker and audiences.   It is the space within, and that space emerges from within our imagination, tapping into fears and fantasies, while elaborating notions of reality.    Media has always been iconic of human life.    It is somewhat representative at best.

For me, the art of virtual life is expressed through writing and the imagery that complements it, propels and projects it from one's imagination onto our computer screens.    Last year in December, I madly wrote and published a storybook photographed in Second Life (a sort of children's tale with an adult message regarding technology), with Lowe Runo, Belinda Barnes, and Kara Trapdoor helping to set up the shots with animations.   Live action was photographed, and the photos richly illustrated the words.   Words and images can be wonderful allies, neither should be dismissed as insignificant.    

This year's Machinima Expo showcased the beauty of imagination in all its forms and platforms.   The complete list is available at MachinimaExpo.com.   All worthy of review.  The Jury Prize Winners were "The Last Syllable of Recorded Time" and "MetaSex" by Tutsy Navarathna, "Unfinished Painting (Dreaming in New Orleans)" by Miron Lockett, "Wulf and Eadwacer" by Hypatia Pickens, with the grand prize winner being "The Chapelside Deception" by IceAxe  (Iian Friar).     The Audience Choice Award was  presented to Friar for "Unfinished Paintings."  

In "Wulf and Eadwacer," Hypatia explores the power behind words;  image and motion intensify  the audience's experience.    Ancient words and worlds can be relived in Second Life, and in the film world in general.     Imagination is not bound by time, set, or any sort of visual platform - or language for that matter.   

Machinima at its core goes back to the idea of using a machine to produce cinema.   Yes, it started with game play, but it could not be contained to that.  Machinima's beauty has evolved into an opportunity to freely create what we imagine, and to share it with others or merely ourselves (projecting our imagination outside of our being into our computer).    The "machine" has become a McLuhan extension to our goals, needs, wants, desires, and budget.     Ideas are captured.   Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.     Beauty is also disarming, and sometimes we forget the idea - the substance - the message - must go beneath the surface, to the depth of one's soul.    Can  machinima do that?   Well, ask yourself, can the cinema do that?   That is your choice.   Numerous books by film scholars have been written on the topic, and now machinima finds itself at the heart of such discussions.   

A book worthy of note along this regard is Dr. Jenna Ng's  (December 6th, Continuum) Understanding Machinima:  Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual WorldsHer edited collection begins with Dr. Henry Lowood's Preface, who had previously edited another collection called The Machinima Reader (with Dr. Michael Nitsche, MIT Press, 2011).  Nitsche contributes to Ng's book, and at least a couple of essays discuss Second Life in particular (based on titles).  The academic community furiously unravels machinima  as a critical form of expression(at least in long form, for trade essays and journal articles preceded these recent books); its significance to one's viewing experiences, as in how identity, society, and the very essence of storytelling become portrayed, provokes us further to elaborate on its role in contemporary media. 

Such books are well needed for critical discussion, especially at this juncture in machinima's evolution. The book  Machinima: The Art & Practice of Virtual Filmmaking (with Lowe Runo, my co-author and inspiration) - leans toward the practical matters of making machinima, with special emphasis on storyboarding, character development, sound, lighting, post production, copyright issues, exhibition, and education.   Knowing one's craft, understanding practice, is critical to the making of visual fabric. Practice and art inform one another. 

For a good summary of our book, read the review by Machinima Expo Co-Founder Ricky Grove's (M.A. Yale University/Hollywood actor/bookseller) at Renderosity.    We also appreciated the kind words of Dr. Sarah Higley, who reviewed our book in a forthcoming volume of Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds.   Moreover, look for her chapter in Ng's edited collection.   

As the year closes, it is appropriate to appreciate "Machinima" in its various conceptions  - as a metaphysical concept that bonds us on one level philosophically and at another level separates us technically.  To me, a partaker of Second Life, it is a means toward opening one's senses to virtual expression in all its diversity.   This avenue would seem to hint toward the need for balance between method and message, with the greater goal being the latter.  Most machinima films (and derivatives) appear online; the Internet has fostered an emerging community of independent producers. "A new story is beginning to emerge," stated Dr. Howard Rheingold in 2008 on Ted.com.  He spoke then, and continues to lecture, about the changing model of media making and communication, in which collaboration and participation are central.   Rheingold has long inspired me, and is one of the first to explore the collective undercurrent that drives the Web.   

Media Arts in the Virtual Life

I know machinima making and viewing has helped me appreciate the virtual world in which I work and reside - Second Life.   I have written two books related to virtual worlds;  the first one being solely dedicated to media's role in Second Life, and the second springing from Second Life's machinima community and extending to other virtual worlds and platforms that allow for innovative and interactive film experiences among in-world actors and filmmakers - and on the horizon audiences more participatory than thought possible. 

As 2012 departs, let us not forgot how education can help define and critique our craft, as we learn from one another in a distinct community of virtual filmmakers, where the novice and the professional showcase their work together.  Jay Jay Jegathesan is at the helm of the University of Western Australia's collaborative spirit in bringing together (and building) a large community of machinima (and virtual arts) enthusiasts. As Manager of the School of Physics, his art-science-technology triangulated perspective is actually indicative of Australia's pronounced move to become a leader in digital culture globally.  The University of Western Australia has its virtual base of operation in Second Life.  That might change in the future as new worlds emerge, but it has accepted the challenge of being on the forefront of the media arts - and thus UWA participates toward virtual development along this line and has done so since 2009.

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 tells of cinematic and theatrical living room experiences where an individual engages with the screen, role playing within the film or TV show with other characters. To me, that possibility exists within Second Life, as well as other virtual worlds in the near and distant future. If nothing else, science fiction authors have taught us - first we must imagine. Move beneath the surface, below the epidermis that protects us, to the depth of the message. Technology should follow, not lead. The story crafted in-world should not be bound by what some see as technological limitations - whereas others perceive them as challenges. The future of storytelling should hold promise for those daring to experiment. Failure leads to success. Success sometimes leads to the mundane and trite. Every good character actor knows that it is important to live the part, and in Second Life that is achievable. Cyber-cinema may influence and shape our messages to a certain extent. As we become more immersed in virtual experiences, the cinematic machine (think Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, 1988) - always present - will be seemingly invisible, be that good or bad.  I hope there will always be a strong community of independent media makers in the virtual realm. 

To be continued....Part II, next week.  


Elf, Celestial. (2010, November 28). The Night Before Christmas.  Accessed,   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJLiLa7G5Ig&list=PL35566945865FF7C0&index=2&feature=plpp_video

Grove, Ricky. (2012, July 30).  Book Review.   Renderosity.   Accessed, http://www.renderosity.com/book-review-i-machinima-the-art-and-practice-of-virtual-filmmaking-i--cms-16274 [also, http://www.rgrove.com/Renderosity/Machinimabook_Review_FinalDraft.pdf]

Machinima Expo Programming.  Available at Livestream.com.  Accessed, http://www.livestream.com/themachinimaexpo/video?clipId=flv_802b522e-fb47-46d3-9c59-8360cc1e4fbb&utm_source=lslibrary&utm_medium=ui-thumb

Machinima Expo.   Web.   Accessed November 20, 2012, http://www.MachinimaExpo.com

Machinima Expo Winners, http://www.machinima-expo.com/

The Professional Machinima Artist Guild and Lowe Runo Productions graciously host Magnum: The Machinima Review.  Sonicity Fitzroy (SL), author of Second Life, Machinima and the Other Society (Peter Lang, 2010), and Machinima: The Art and Practice of Virtual Filmmaking (with SL's Lowe Runo, McFarland, 2012).  Amazon.com. See, author's page:  http://www.amazon.com/Phylis-Johnson/e/B001HOW4U2/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1354606175&sr=1-2-ent

Thursday, November 1, 2012

GA-GO and The Machinima Expo

On November 16-18, The Machinima Expo will feature a number of talented machinima artists, and one of those videos were produced by Takuma ”Gago Gigamon.” G-Project 2012 “End of The War” was among the films nominated in the 2012 Machinima Expo. For this project, Takuma tapped filmmaker SL MAG’s umekobutya Beck, an extremely talented Japanese machinimatographer. Takuma edited the film, and did the sound design.

You can watch the video here:  [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl1mimqvn_c]. 

A Word About The Expo
The Machinima Expo was founded by RICKY GROVE, an amazing man himself.   He’s proudly an ex-Hollywood actor after a long successful “film/TV” career, and today he is on the most wanted list for machinima voice talent.   Ricky likes the independence that machinima provides the producer.  Now, a big part of Ricky’s life has been producing Machinima Expo, in its fifth year.   The 2012 expo producers were Ricky Grove, Pooky Amsterdam, and Kate Fosk.  The screening team was Sean “Armanus” Heimbuch, Damien Valentine (Darth Angelus), Ricky Grove, thebiz, Eddie Dugan, and Kate Fosk.   I was honored to be part of the juried panel, and in very good company (Joseph Farbrook, Frank Dellario, Susan Johnston, Phil Rice).    

See the Machinima Expo site for info on the upcoming festival, and who’s who and what’s what.   When you are there, check out Hypatia Picken’s commissioned trailer promoting the festival.   I also had the wonderful honor of interviewing Ricky for the November issue of Best of SL Magazine in the on-going series, Masters of Machinima.   Read the complete BOSL feature story online or in-world.   Pickens was featured in an earlier BOSL edition.

The thing about The Machinima Expo, especially for SL filmmakers, we get to see what others are doing in other platforms – and they get to see what we are doing inside Second Life.   There is a long tradition of live music in Second Life, and with talents like The Follow, Mankind Tracer, and many others – machinima seems to be a creative tool that has helped in the promotion of these bands.    In another sense, a good story told through music, with some good visuals, offers great potential for bringing together audio and visual elements in unique presentation.

Going GA-GO for Machinima

Music and Machinima go together like birds and feathers, hot dogs and baseball, apple pie and Mom, and so forth.    Sometimes you happen upon an event that sparks your interest.   This time, the spark for this column came from my interview with Ricky Grove, and began to evolve from there.   All the pieces – machinima and music and the Expo fell in place last Friday when I was teleported into an amazing event by Belinda, a.k.a. producer of Gangnam Furry Style SL machinima.  She makes no apologies for her love of music and machinima, and a heavy dose of post-production.   So, of course, she would bring me to the GA-GO concert.   It was part of a larger live music event that day, but what got our attention was - its founder Takuma “Gago Gigamon” calls his band – a machinima band.  He literally put on an explosive show, lots of lights and even GA-GO dancers! Pounding beats, lots of enthusiasm and a Westernized rock-n-roll high fashion sense were other ingredients.

One can trace the art of dance to the visual arts historically, and more recently contemporary media has illustrated the relationship between music and film through the birth of MTV (which is so far from its original mission, but that is a different story).    I could further point to the link between animation and music, and that too has had a long path.   Think Beatles.   Think Pink Floyd’s The Wall.   Full Metal Jacket – does that ring a bell?  That’s only a few examples.    Some producers have enhanced silence films with soundscapes and music-scapes transforming the meaning of the visuals.   I consider music machinima as an important aspect of our media culture, popular and alternative.    I wrote in depth about that in my book, Machinima (with L. Runo, McFarland, March 2012), and I credit much to R. Murray Schafer (Tuning of the World, 1977) and Paul Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky, MIT Press) for opening my ears to a whole new sonic world more than a decade ago.  

Add to that, I had an opportunity to study the influence of Japanese sound culture and music on Western culture; I found that an extraordinary learning experience.   Henry David Thoreau’s was inspired by Eastern philosophers and their ways of turning into the environment.   For Thoreau, he tapped also into the burgeoning industrial soundscape of modernity (a phrase coined by sound historian Emily Thompson).    Japan is both a visual and listening culture.   There is a respect for silence in public places, along with a continual appreciation of natural environments and their sonic persona.    It is a sense of knowing time and place, understanding the need for silence on one hand, but totally getting the need to push the envelope at times.  There is a time to totally let loose and let technology have its say.   The surge of creativity can be heard and seen through anime and other visual art forms.    Music is shared via those experiences.

Japan’s Visual Aesthetic 
In the book Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime (by Mark W. Macwilliams, 2008, M.E. Sharpe), there is a quote by Jean Marie Bouissou that makes note of the Japanese “aesthetic of excess, conflict, imbalance, and overt sensuality.” Some of that visual aesthetic is captured in GA-GO’s machinima, filmed by SL MAG’s umekobutya Beck. There is definitely a Western sensibility in the machinima, and plenty of James Bond-like action. Takuma is a RL rock singer, and he puts on a high intensity rock show in SL. That kind of feeling is captured in the well-produced machinima.

The band members, aside from lead singer Takuma, include Keyboardist Setsuna Infinity, Guitarist Ark Foden, and GA-GO Dancers Pyson Camel and Sizuku3.Vella. The band’s manager is the lovely Yumi Yumichan Allen.

Takuma told me, “the ‘possibility of new music’ can be pursued in the virtual world. ‘GA-GO SL Ver’ is a Japanese machinima rock band.”   The band is a virtual take of the RL band, and it’s based on the “hot 80's rock music scene, with a very heavy, loud sound and experience in entertainment,” and when you can hear Takuma “shout out and the audience responds in Second Life,” he says, “It's insane!”    He enjoys the diversity among his listeners/viewers, and hopes his music “resounds in the souls of young and old who find this an exciting dream in a chaotic age.”

The band members in SL differ from RL members.  The SL members are builders and creators, and help with the lighting, dance and overall production of the show.  Setsuna is a builder who has been involved in the creation of the Miss Virtual World stage and the sim build for the Ashraya Project.

Takuma feels fortunate to hear his songs in SL, for it has made possible what he thought to be an impossible expression.   To him “the place of expression is Second Life,” a virtual world that allows for new music and new ideas.

In RL, the band is simply known as "GA-GO" and they are very active in Kansai, Japan.

Special thanks to Sakurako Watanbe, owner of the Kumashon Shopping Mall, for hosting the SL event shown in some of the above photos (taken by S.F.).

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Official GA-GO Web Site (translated)

Machinima Expo

BEST OF SL Magazine

Bel and I will see you at the MACHINIMA EXPO.

The Professional Machinima Artist Guild and Lowe Runo Productions graciously host Magnum:  The Machinima Review. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bump in the Night

Things that go bump in the night! 

I'm back from a month hiatus to take on the Season of The Witch (2011), not the motion picture starring Nicholas Cage.  I was one that enjoyed it, but the critics and viewers were mixed in their reaction. A much larger issue is at hand, as the bewitching hour draws closer to us.  What is it about horror movies that give us tingles up our spine?  Good and bad scary movies have an effect, with some more subtle than others.  Whether we love them or hide from them, during the Halloween season, they surround us from movie trailers to costumes to fake spider webs.  The reality is - the images and storylines don't have to be that "real" to frighten us.  Think about all those "Jason" and Freddy" movies - and what about "The Candy Man" or today's generation's reincarnation of the ancient "Slender Man" - we suspend disbelief to believe in the dark side.  Even in the virtual world, the Wicked Witch of Second Life might get you, my pretties. 

The plots seem trite. The victims are paralyzed with fear, and we think we would do something differently;  we would run faster (and not trip on that tree branch) but then we think, would we, could we?  Horror movies tap into our wildest fears, even worse than any nightmares conceived within our mind - alas, it comes from the human mind, that writer who knows those little twists and turns to get us on edge.   The ghastly figure peering into our window, the doll under our bed that comes to life when we sleep, or even the creature that looms within the depths of the lake - all bring to mind familiar movie scenes.   If one believes in good, then surely there is evil.  If one believes in evil, then there must be some goodness in the world.   One or two characters escape from this horrid wrath, only to be faced with those demons again and again in sequels.

We laugh about some of these movies, and how silly they are, but we watch them - and jump at the appropriate times.  Our primal fears are aroused by sound and light, and some instinctual sense rooted deeply into our being.   Do you ever think - could I ever do such dastardly deeds, if pushed beyond my limits?  What are those human limits?  Do you ever know?   In comic books and films, there are supernatural transformations into superheroes  - and then there are those humans that become supernaturally evil and powerful, driven by revenge and psychosis.  Maybe there was something evil in them from conception.  Freud spoke of our id, the darkness closeted deep within our mind.  Is it that part of us that enjoys these movies?

Earlier this year, Time Out London published a list of the top 100 horror films, and the top ten are worthy of reflection this Halloween -  The Exorcist (1973), The Shining (1980), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Psycho (1960), Alien (1979), The Thing (1982), Rosemary's Baby (1968), Halloween (1978), Suspiria (1976), and Dawn of the Dead (1978).

Check out the whole list here: http://www.timeout.com/london/feature/2494/best-horror-films.

"Bad people don't come with warning labels." 

I heard that line today, as I wrote this column, watching a Lifetime movie!  That is a network full of movies that by its design asks us to put our critical sensors on hold!  LOL.  I have come to learn many men watch this network too, as well as its target audience of women of many ages.  Only those brave men admit to it!

What is it about horror movies that captivate our attention and scare us out of our mind.  EXACTLY.  A horror movie is a step into madness, a point were human weakness and strengths are exploited.  It is the pounding of the heart in Edgar Allen Poe's Tell Tale Heart.  [Here's a The Sims 2 adaption - a pantomime]  It is our humanity that allows us to fall prey to the supernatural.  It is more than the eerie music, whispers in the dark, the blood and writhing, flickering lights and shadows, or even the infamous Wilhelm scream.  In the world of horror, we can trust no one - not our lovers, children, or parents.  We are alone - and not alone.  We are sane - and perhaps insane.  We cannot even trust ourselves.  Vampires did not make the top 10, but Dawn of the Dead did.  Perhaps it is because what scares us most is ourselves, those of our own species. Vampires live eternally, and zombies are mindless, drooling creatures.  We hold life precious, fully rich with emotions and intelligence.  Those emotions include fear, and the absence of fear is to be a zombie. A vampire fears its second death.

Now let’s look at some horror machinima from the past few years.  The range of skills and content are quite diverse.   

Above, World of Warcraft's This is Halloween - a musical ditty that you will recognize.

Above, A Sims 2 Horror Movie
The windows scenes are worth the view.  Why did they leave the door open?

How about a couple of H.P. Lovecraft adaptations?  We start of course with the work of the wonderfully talented Lainy Voom, in particular her version of Dagon.  It is an artistically crafted voyage into the mind.  Or what about the award-winning series The Shadow of Innsmouth and its prequels screened at the Machinima Expo over multiple years.

And then one of my students, Patrick, this past summer experimented with a bit with horror, first using Minecraft to produce a music video (Skillet's Monster) and then Second Life to create a sci-fi mini thriller.   Realize that these were his first machinima projects.

Minecraft – Skillet's Monster
Second Life - Horror on the Bridge

Note the cameo by my co-instructor Lowe Runo in "Horror on the Bridge."  Lowe himself produced a machinima years ago called Bedtime, playing off our childhood fears. We all have at least one scary story in us - what is your story?   

We find reasons why to celebrate Halloween all year-round.   This November 30th, Black Friday, the biggest shopping day after Thanksgiving, The Collection will be debut in movie theaters.   And its logo is..."the real Black Friday."   

What can we learn from horror movies?  - techniques of foreshadowing, building suspense, tapping into fears, unique characterization, and how to take us on the emotional roller coaster ride of our lifetime.  That does not necessarily mean lots of action in the physical sense.  It means an exploration into the primeval nature that connects us all.   As we face our greatest fears, there is hope that the human race can rise above them all, to start again - until Part  II.

Be sure to attend Machinima Expo inside Second Life - November 16-18th, and visit the Web site at http://www.machinima-expo.com/

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 Thanks to Belinda Barnes-Fitzroy for posing in some of the photos.   By the way, here's a playlist of my students' projects from the summer, with most of them dabbling for the first time in machinima -  http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL00535DE7B042CF43&feature=plcp.  

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The Professional Machinima Artist Guild and Lowe Runo Productions graciously host Magnum:  The Machinima Review. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Many Masters of Machinima - continues

Summer is nearly to a close. The year is swiftly passing by.   I thought I might do a mid year check on the pulse of machinima.  I enjoyed the University of Western Australia's machinima competition once again - MachinimUWA V: Seek Wisdom exhibited more than 50 works.  Major applause to SL UWA Founder Jayjay Zifanwe for all his time and resources for creating a strong community of virtual artists and filmmakers.  One of the things I am personally proud of, is Best of SL Magazine's addition of a feature spotlight called, Masters of Machinima.   I don't always select the person who will be featured, but I have been pleased with the nominations and selections.  They represent a diverse group of seasoned, up-and-coming, and new talent.  It would be impossible to feature everyone, but I hope the series will continue for a long time. Just the idea of promoting the concept of machinima is refreshing, and it continues to be a goal of mine to promote the art and practice of this medium and its potential.  

The August BOSL featured the abstract music machinima of JJccc Coronet.  His love and talent for abstract art is projected in his moving images.  His work is also featured on Duran Duran's latest DVD Diamond in the Mind, as well as at its RL concerts.    JJccc, you might easily say, is the official machinimatographer for Duran Duran.   You can find him filming at nearly every Duran Duran Universe (DDU) event in Second Life.  The photos below are mine from Nick Rhodes' 50th Birthday Bash.  Rhodes is a key founder of the band Duran Duran.  JJ is the big red guy!  As you can see, these events get a bit wild.  Head to his channel here. 

In fact, DDU Community Manager Chrissy Welinder told me, “Nick is crazy for his videos and after every event the first thing he asks me is, 'Has JJccc made a video?'"   By the way, Nick Rhodes is the founding band member and responsible for bringing Duran Duran band members into Second Life and for the creation of the DDU, along with Chrissy.    

In July, the BOSL focus was on Star Wars' fame Tony Dyson and MaMachinima's Chantal Harvey, and I blogged about their new adventures with the BobbeKins (see prior blog).  

June brought us a focus on MAG Founder/Filmmaker Lowe Runo, co-author of Machinima: The Art & Practice of Virtual Filmmaking (McFarland, 2012).   Ricky Grove and Kate Fosk interviewed us recently for their Machinima ExpoCast (podcast) series on SoundCloud and posted on their Web site. The duo are extremely well versed in the going-ons of machinima so definitely make plans for Machinima Expo 2012.  It's the fifth anniversary, and this year events will be still held in SL, but also streamed live across the Web.   Submission of machinima continues through September 30th, midnight.   And the expo is scheduled typically in November.  Check their Web site for details.  Psst. Ricky Grove's voice was featured in last year's grand prize machinima - BiggsTrek's The Haunter of the Dark, and an exceptionally well done nearly 30 minute story based on Lovecraft's work.

And you gotta love the Expo's 2012 promo - The Moon - by machinimatographer Tom Jantol.  He has been a big part of the events in the past.

Then in May, we had Emanuelle (Ema) Courtois (above), an amazing young woman filmmaker who brings new perspective to machinima.   Her fashion machinima has brought her real life opportunities and kudos.
She has had a long relationship with music and imagery, and machinima allows her new creativity. 

April focused on Hypatia Pickens, known for her stunning machinimatography, rich storylines, and intriguing voice.  She crafts her machinima well, and it is her attention to the details that underscores her talent.

March, of course, started the series with Rysan Fall, one of the first and active members of MAG.   He rarely has time to surface for public events.   He is very engaged in his machinima craft and business.  He is definitely a professional machinima maker, and has worked years perfecting his talent - and as he would say, learning from others in the machinima community.

Coming in September, BOSL's Masters in Machinima features Tutsy Navarathna.  He is a three time winner in the University of Western Australia's series of machinima challenges.  His winning work was The Last Syllable of Recorded Time in the MachinimUWA: V Seek Wisdom competition, and this coming issue will explore his philosophy of machinima and vision for virtual worlds in general.   
 Think of him as the Jim Morrison of machinima - more in the full-length feature.
There are so many more talented machinima makers, and machinima creativity can be defined and conceptualized in so many ways.   The future remains open with potential, and no matter the platform, be it a virtual world or not, machinima will continue to evolve.   

The SL Coming to Steam
With the Linden Lab's move to add Second Life to Steam, and with anticipated requirements for computers to handle higher resolution graphics, there may be some challenges as well as opportunities in the near future.   But the point remains, machinima will evolve regardless of a particular platform.   There are some opportunities for freedom and creativity that would be lost if the nature of Second Life moved away from the virtual world as we know it - and the Lindens considered Second Life merely another game platform.

Alas, much thanks should go to the Lindens for allowing machinima to flourish in this immersive environment.   It has given us a glimpse of things to come or at least possible.   Let's hope that the Lindens truly understand that Second Life is both a social and artistic world that brings us together internationally, in a way that machinima.com and Steam in and of itself cannot do.   The Lindens are truly ahead of their time, and in the coming years, Second Life will be appreciated as the first successful experiment in virtual worlds.

SL is nearly a decade old.   That is quite an accomplishment:  let the experiment continue to flourish so that many can be involved. Every medium needs an audience. Let's not merely be another machinima.com that targets a specific demographic, although they are an important part of the machinima population and marketing equation.  As Ricky Grove would tell us (see the SL Enquirer interview with Ricky, Kate Fosk and Pooky Amsterdam) there is much more out there for creative artists and filmmakers who use machinima for storytelling and communicating to a larger audience outside the gaming community.   Perhaps machinima might go for that television audience who has found its way to the Web.  There will always be programmnig that appeals to certain demographics, but let's make content that reaches beyond the members of our platform, whatever it is, especially at a time when viewers are drawn to quality animated features.

I would have to say, when I was growing up, I never really thought about existing - working and playing - in a virtual world.  But here I am.   I have written two books related to media usage in Second Life, and I feel that history has been made here.  I teach students here;  I interview wonderful musicians and media makers in avatar form as well as connect with their audiences.   I think one of the key moments for me in Second Life was CBS' CSI: NY, for broadcast television had extended its programming reach into an immersive environment, where viewers could not only watch the program but participate in it.   Now maybe it did not revolutionize broadcasting.  But once again, we were offered a glimpse of the future.  Tracing back the history of broadcast media, it takes quite awhile for adoption of new technologies for both economic and political reasons.

There is so much more ahead for us, and understanding that our own particular virtual sky is not the limit is a good start.   Saying that, Second Life is where many have us have put our time and energy - including me.  The caution is, technology always evolves.  I hope the Lindens realize what a jewel they have, and the gems include those creative people who have invested much time and resources so far.   It is a wonderful machinima playground that brings Tony Dyson, Nick Rhodes, and Ricky Grove - and so many other professionals and amateurs - to such an environment. Nevertheless, you can bet on technological and creative evolution; there's more to come....

The Professional Machinima Artist Guild and Lowe Runo Productions graciously host Magnum:  The Machinima Review.