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,

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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