A Fresh Look At Machinima
Bridging the digital divide Community group projects Machinima 101 Moviemaking in the Classroom
Champagne Bay, Vanuatu Photo Stephen Roletto CC BY-NC-ND
Welcome to the second issue of Fallopian Magazine!
This quarter weâ€™re focusing on the use of machinima as an educational tool. So, whether youâ€™re a teacher looking for new resources, or interested in the way machinima is spreading as an accessible manner of self-expression, we hope you enjoy this special edition. Thank you to Ian Patterson, John Herd and Claus-Dieter Schulz for their wonderful articles.
Contents Machinima 101 - introducing machinima in the classroom
by Ian Patterson
Moviemaking in Vanuatu
Digital Matchstick Men - the Salford Project
Machnima Seminars in Germany
by John herd
by Ian Patterson
by Claus-Dieter Schulz
Magazine Editors Kate Fosk & Trace Sanderson http://www.voom-machine.com/fallopian/
Image by Lainy Voom CC BY-NC-ND
MACHINIMA 101 How to introduce machinima into the classroom
INTRODUCTION The development of machinima could provide education with a unique platform; capable of saving expense in teaching production through the use of avatars, virtual sets and props. The use of virtual production has the ability to democratize media in ways never envisaged in the halcyon days of television. In today’s fast changing digital landscape, machinima is a unique platform embracing interactivity, cost effective production, social media and digital inclusion. In this article I’m going to examine the problems associated with the development of educational machinima by briefly looking at the hardware, software, workflow and environment associated with the medium. Before I begin the article I’d just like to talk a little bit about my background. I began my career in television in the late 90s, just as non-linear editing was beginning to reshape the post-production landscape. It was a time when Avid Media Composer ruled over the edit community and Final Cut had yet to gain its Pro. I’d decided to undertake a Masters degree in Documentary (specialising in editing) and was fortunate to find a University that allowed students access to industry standard equipment. At this time the postgraduate facilities comprised of two offline and an online Avid Media Composer system; these three edit suites cost well over £100,000 pounds. A decade later the same system power can be purchased for a few thousand pounds. This shift has radically shaped how post-production is taught in higher-education. Getting to this stage though has proved a minefield for both educators and the technical staff engaged with purchasing. I see the development of educational machinima as having to overcome some of the same obstacles, as well as having unique problems associated with the medium itself. HARDWARE The hardware issue has always been a significant stumbling ground in education. In the past the capital outlay required for hardware often affected which techniques were practical to teach. In the case of nonlinear editing in the late 90s the outlay was so significant that it precluded many institutions from teaching such techniques. Since the cost of equipment has now dropped to a level where it’s practical for one edit station per student this doesn’t seem to pose much of an issue, or does it? In the case of machinima the hardware required is often designed around what you want to capture and what environment you want to capture in. If you’re creating machinima in a virtual world like Second Life then you could probably happily use a mid range PC with a good graphics card or an all-in-one system
Television editor and educator Ian Patterson shares his thoughts on using machinima in an educational environment.
like the Apple iMac. This is probably a good time to show my colours where computer technology is concerned. I’m an Apple fan boy and create all my machinima using this platforms hardware and software. These mid range systems are more than adequate for creating machinima in virtual worlds and utilising real-time 3D animation software like Moviestorm. Where these all-in-one systems fall down is if you want to add a specialised capture card like those distributed Black Magic Design1 or AJA Video Systems2 . These hardware cards allow you to capture footage from games consoles or to screen capture without the aid of software. To use these cards you need a large tower system like a Mac Pro, which costs significantly more than all-in-one units. This cost when purchasing multiple seats means that you can’t take advantage of the one unit per student. One way around this issue harks back to the old days of offline/editing where you had multiple stations to do your edit and one or two high powered machines to do your final conform3. This technique should alleviate the financial burden of having to purchase multiple tower systems, while still providing the necessary flexibility and power to teach machinima in complex virtual worlds and using games consoles. SOFTWARE At one time machinima was created using first person shooters on both PC and later games consoles. Then we slowly saw films created using footage from virtual worlds like ‘Second Life’ and massive multiplayer online games such as ‘World of Warcraft’. The machinimators just needing the correct hardware and capture software – FRAPS or Snapz Pro X – to create films within their chosen environment. In the last few years we have also seen the development of a new way to create machinima in the form of animation simulators. Now what does all this mean for education? So we now have machinima created with games, virtual worlds and simulators. The first problem with first person shooters and games consoles is that any captured footage is the intellectual property of games companies. If you created a short film in ‘World of Warcraft’ the owners of the world – Blizzard Entertainment – required you to apply for a content use licence to show your feature at a film festival or on television4. This creates a fundamental problem in creating a curriculum; why choose an environment that requires you to seek permissions or could be legally pulled at any moment. So does this completely negate games based machinima? Well the law can be interpreted in many ways, education has some exemption where copyright is concerned, but we’re still in a grey area in regards to curriculum5. Now arguably you’d prefer not to en1 Black Magic Design Intensity Pro or DeckLink HD extreme 2 AJA Kona card for Mac or Xena card for PC 3 Conform is in relation to the final stage of an edit online when you replace the footage for uncompressed media 4 http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/community/machinima/letter.html 5 For more information of the legality of machinima listen to this podcast on Hugh Hancock’s site
gage with the problems associated with game or MMORPG based machinima and just opt for teaching in virtual worlds. So what do virtual worlds offer to an educator? The main benefit of teaching in an environment like Second Life is that it can be customised. The Linden Scripting Language allows you to shape the environment with terms of service that ensures users retain copyright on any content they create. So does this IP free environment have any problems? Yes, the main problem it requires you to have a good Internet connection and each month you have to pay out a subscription for premium accounts or to own land. One alternative to using the Linden Lab servers is to setup your own OpenSim server for teaching purposes.6 The use of an Open Simulator has many advantages that will be outlined in more details later in this article. The debate on whether animation simulators should be included under the banner of machinima is best left to another article. Since the development of Short Fuze’s Moviestorm and Reallusion’s iClone we are seeing the gentrification of the sub-culture that is machinima. The main problem with machinima in the past was that it relied on the ability to screen capture from either a game or virtual world. These new software engines give potential machinimators the tools to design, create, edit and output their work within one toolset. Script based machinima engines giving the director the freedom to revisit a scene and modify sequences until all creativity is exhausted and the work is perfected. This is something that’s hard to achieve with traditional machinima, where capture tends to be freeform with the participation of other avatars being almost mandatory element when multiple characters are involved. So what are the disadvantages of simulators? Well the main problem is the lack of interactivity; one interesting aspect of machinima creation is that it’s often participatory. You’re creating the film in a ‘fluid’ environment where actors don’t have to be in the same geographical location. Perhaps the next generation of Moviestorm will allow collaborative efforts, until then the creative direction will remain a solitary affair. One final comment must be made on the cost of the software; although Moviestorm is still in Beta I’d be surprised if it remains a free product for much longer. This opens up the issue of licences; each seat requiring a unique licence making the cost of teaching the software prohibitive. Given that education creates the next generation of users, software companies often offer significant discount on educational and bulk purchases. Hopefully, should Short Fuze, start charging they’ll offer significant academic discount like Reallusion’s iClone software.WORKFLOW Okay so you have the hardware and software required to teach machinima, now how do you create the correct workflow to go from capture to screening. Now those people who don’t have a working knowledge of a post-production environment are probably wondering about the term workflow. This encompasses the processes and techniques used in the creation of a project. In essence it’s the ability to capture your media 6
Editors note: Currently Moviestorm machinima software has a free base pack and charges for content packs.
from the working environment, adjust the media using editing techniques with graphics, effects, and sound design and then to transcode the media for distribution on tape, disc or web. This workflow often requires the manipulation of several software programmes to create the final body of work.
Editor’s Note: Outside educational circles, the machinima community is weighted towards PC use, but a significant number make their movies using Mac technology. The classic programming suite for pc users is Fraps, for screen capture and a version of Sony Vegas for editing purposes. Many PC users start out using the free Window Movie Maker program to edit footage.
In the case of machinima produced on an Apple based system7 this could be Snapz Pro X for capture, Final Cut Pro for editing, Motion for digital effects and graphics, and Sound Track Pro for sound design. Transcoding could require the use of Compressor and DVD Studio Pro for disc authoring, and either Compressor or Sorenson Squeeze for web encoding. The final upload to the web might also require skills in Dreamweaver and proficiency in using either YouTube or Vimeo. In total we might use up to a dozen programmes just to create and distribute our project. This isn’t a great problem for independent producers as they often have the advantage of time. But in a classroom environment it can create huge issues; how do you go about teaching the skills and techniques to use this software? Do you have twelve weeks of three hour lectures or do you have an intensive course covering two weeks with full teaching days. This all has implications on both the facilities and on the scheduling of students. Having some experience of teaching at both under and postgraduate level, I would opt for an intensive course with a series of fixed workflow techniques in capturing, creating, and distributing machinima. Another problem incurred in workflow can be software incompatibility; sometimes a codec used in capture doesn’t work with the editing software. This often requires another stage of transcoding before you can play the footage on a timeline in real-time. This problem will only be circumvented when developers unify codecs and import/export techniques8. As this isn’t going to happen anytime soon, it presents a significant hurdle to creating a practical way of teaching workflow to a student cohort. ENVIRONMENT The final section that we are going to look at is the environment in which machinima can be created. When you create machinima in a game engine the final film is limited to the sets and props within that environment. It would be very difficult to create a kitchen sink drama using Halo 3’s Forge Engine. Likewise you’re really only able to create sword and sorcery related films when using the World of Warcraft engine. Given the limitations of game engines it’s not surprising that virtual worlds have become popular environments for machinima creation. The customisation and the multifaceted environments of Second Life make it a perfect choice for machinima directors. What’s often the perfect environment for machinimators isn’t so clear-cut for educators. The virtual world’s main hurdle for education is the predominance of adult content. It’s very difficult to educate young adults 7 8
For PC based systems just replace the capture software with Fraps and post-production software with Adobe products. Even now there are problems moving a project from Media Composer to Final Cut Pro, from Final Cut Pro to Premier Pro.
in an environment where a virtual brothel could only be a mouse click away. One way around this issue is to use the teen grid where adults are allowed access for educational projects9. This alleviates the problem for 13-17 year old but still creates a problem for those students over 18 years old. The use of an OpenSim environment could solve this issue but this comes with the expense of setup and management of a server. The final environment is that of the specialised animation simulators. The development of both Moviestorm and iClone has seen the creation of a safe environment with none of the pitfalls associated with games or virtual worlds. So do these simulators have any problems? Well the main issue with the Moviestorm engine is the Americanisation of their sets and props. In the case of the law and order add-on pack the characters and props are both styled on the US police service10. Given the limited size of the UK machinima market it’s understandable that commercial decisions are made on making the add-ons universal.
CONCLUSION So having looked at hardware, software, workflow and environment we can see that machinima has some of the same hurdles that post-production went through in the late 90s and early 00s. I’d imagine like our Avid Media Composer example any major problems with introducing machinima into the classrooms can be circumvented with time. One final note is on the article itself, this is only meant to be a primer to stimulate discussion. I’m positive that all the hurdles in introducing machinima into the classroom haven’t been explored here. The future of machinima is linked to the development of technology and the community that evangelises about the medium. One thing is certain though, like post-production, once machinima is taught in the classroom on a regular basis the medium will expand beyond recognition. Out there now the machinima equivalent of Cameron, Spielberg, and Scorsese is just laying down their controller and wondering how they can tell a story with this game, world or simulator. It’s our job as the next generation of educators to nurture this talent, removing the technological boundaries and freeing their creativity.
Images by Lainy Voom Creative Commons BY-NC-SA
Francis, Fabiola, Serah and HervĂŠ, enjoying movie making in the WSB built community centre.
Movie Making in Vanuatu
by John Herd My name is John Herd and I am an expatriate Scot working as a New Zealand volunteer (VSA) IT adviser with Wan Smolbag Theatre in Port Vila in the Republic of Vanuatu. Before converting to IT in the mid eighties I had worked in various parts of Africa as a Seismic surveyor and got the travel bug which eventually led to me emigrating to New Zealand with my partner Alison in 1994. We volunteered to come to Vanuatu in 2002 where I worked as an IT trainer. Vanuatu is a Melanesian country, situated in the South West Pacific about 3 hours flight East of Brisbane and the same North of Auckland. It has a population of about 240,000 people scattered over 83 islands and speaking over 100 different languages with the lingua franca being a pidgin called Bislama. The two main towns of any size, are Luganville, with a population of approx 10,000 on the island of Espiritu Santo in the North, and Port Vila, the capital, with perhaps 50,000 inhabitants on Efate in central Vanuatu. Vanuatu is seen by many foreigners as a “tropical paradise” however it is still listed as one of the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and suffers from many of the social problems experienced by such nations. Wan Smolbag Theatre (WSB) was set up in 1989 as an Educational Drama group whose role was to travel around the country performing plays which highlighted areas such as hygiene, domestic violence, civil rights etc. Their modus operandi has always been to raise issues and then provide additional context so that the local community can discuss them openly from a more informed position than perhaps they would have had before. From being a small group of 15 people performing plays in villages, Smolbag now has it’s own theatre and Youth Centre build-
ings and has grown to employ around 100 local staff who produce everything from radio programmes and soap operas (along with their associated print-based educational resources) to movies and, more recently, the highly successful TV police drama “Love Patrol” which is now filming it’s third series. Vanuatu has one of the fastest growing populations in the world with the average age of the population now being around 15. Education is not free and many children leave school at an early age or indeed never go as their parents cannot pay their school fees so literacy rates are poor. Aware of the kinds of problems which can stem from having so many unemployed young people with lots of energy but no real job prospects, WSB and its various donors including NZAid and AUSAid set up a Youth Centre to provide a place for them to come and spend time learning useful skills such as carpentry, sewing, reading and writing, playing musical instruments and recording music as well as taking part in sports or just somewhere to come and watch a movie. More recently, computers were introduced and basic classes in their use were given. When I arrived at WSB in 2007, I was keen to explore the use of the computers as a creative outlet for the youth rather than just somewhere to learn Excel and Word etc. So I started to train people to use software such as Pivot Stickfigure Animator and Scratch as well as Google SketchUp and various other “fun” applications. However when I stumbled across a book on Machinima while on holiday in Australia I decided this might be the “Killer app “ I was looking for. The idea of producing plays on a computer meshed nicely with WSB’s main activities and I initially saw it as another vehicle for
The parts of Vanuatu the tourist brochures donâ€™t show.
reaching a younger audience with issues-based messages and also with you. Trying to translate that to a visual medium is an interesting exeras a way of drawing the youth into the live theatre by letting them cise. People do enjoy music and most of them can pick up a guitar or sing participate in the entire process electronically. As Machinima be- at the drop of a hat, They also enjoy mixing music tracks and drawing and painting so I am trying to leverage another local preference that is, of comcomes more mature however, my view is that it will become just munal rather than individual effort, to build groups who can work together another facet of “real theatre” and the fact that it requires relatively to produce the final work. little in the way of sophisticated resources means that there is no My focus is on using Moviestorm to stimulate the youths’ creative thinkreason why someone in Vanuatu should not produce work which ing and to produce movies that mean something to them. Whether they are issues-driven or just fun. The choice will be theirs. can compete with that coming out of developed countries. As a technology, it has the ability to be a great leveller and help bridge I am not a trained teacher so my advice should be weighted accordingly. But from my experience, people need to feel comfortable with the tools the much talked about Digital Divide. they are using so that they don’t get frustrated and lose the initial enthusiI still had a problem of exactly which tool to use, however the quesasm for the story they wish to tell. So the stages I have been adopting are:tion became moot when I discovered Moviestorm. The whole concept behind Show them all the basic mechanics of the software e.g. how to navigate the
its development, that is of giving everyone the chance to participate in movie screen and manipulate the props and “actors”. making, was so appealing and the tool itself so much fun to use that I rapidly Get them try to create a clip based on short scenario. Recording their own became a fan. Although the base packs are free I knew that, in order to prog- voices and inserting them with very basic sound editing. ress very far, I would need to find funding to buy several copies of each Add- I then go back to the importance of the story line. I hope soon to be able to on pack and it might have been a little difficult persuading the donors of the get our playwright Jo Dorras to do a few sessions on basic script writing benefits of such a new technology. techniques. But at the moment I send them away to think of a short story. I approached Matt Kelland and put our case to him and, like the genuinely Then I get them to think about how best we portray their story on the screen decent guy he is, he donated a whole bunch of Add-ons and gave us the green using a storyboard for camera angles. light. Then I get their ideas about set design and lighting to enhance the story, and I must admit to having made various bumbling attempts to introduce Mov- show them how to do that in Moviestorm. iestorm to the youth, however one of the stumbling blocks of teaching any- We will then move on to sound recording and editing, then post production thing here in Vanuatu is that people have been used to a very formal “rote” and things like creating title tracks and movie posters. learning environment where it was not the done thing to show initiative or We haven’t really reached the final stages of this work plan yet, partly independent thought. Also, traditionally in Vanuatu, a male’s opinion is given because many of the youth are called away at short notice to other islands far more respect than a female’s, an “old person’s” (anyone over the age of for family reasons e.g. funerals etc. So there is a bit of a turnover of attendabout 30!) more than that of a youth and a “waetman’s” (really any expatri- ees. But I hope that, as long as I keep turning up at the appointed time and ate) more than that of a local. So, as a white male in my early fifties, my word stick to the routine that the absentees will be able to slot back in next time is often taken as gospel, when what I am actually trying to do is get people around. to question it. This can make it hard to draw real responses from students. The only other suggestions I would make are :Actually one of my proudest moments since coming to Vanuatu in 2002 was Don’t aim too high to start. People get bored if you ask them to redo a to have one of my trainees in a Government department pipe up while I was scene for the 15th time. talking and say “No, that’s wrong”. I was even prouder when I found out that Never force people to “have fun”. In truth, I have no idea what is really he was right! It doesn’t pay to have too much of an ego in this game ;) important to a 15 year old Ni-Vanuatu and it is patronising to try and “get We are still in the very early stages of introducing the Moviestorm “club” at down with the kids”. So I try and help them learn the tools and techniques the Youth Centre but I am seeing one or two people (They vary in range from and let them decide how they use them. I believe that any new technology mid teens to early twenties.) who are showing a definite interest and ability e.g. Facebook suffers a fall-off in youth support as soon as “The Man” gets after the initial “wow!” factor has gone. However it does mean starting from too involved and tries to steer things. scratch in many ways. The oral traditions run deep here. Ni-Vanuatu are great Have fun yourself. If it gets to be a bore that will transfer itself to the kids, story tellers and like nothing better than to sit down and “storian” (or chat) let someone else take over!
Salford Reflections Austin Osuide
Creative Commons by-nc-nd
DIGITAL MATCHSTICK MEN
The Salford Foundation Machinima Project
by Ian Patterson ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This study was to take place at ‘The Beacon’, a young people’s resource centre covering the inner-city areas of Charlestown and KerBorn in Manchester, he received a BA Hons. Television & Radio in sal. Here we had access to a meeting room, but only limited Internet 1998 and an MA. Documentary in 2000, both from the University of access via a 3G card provided with a PC laptop. The feedback from Salford. Since 1998 he has worked as an editor on independent proBecky - the Young Volunteer Coordinator working with Salford ductions, commercial features and terrestrial/satellite television. DurFoundation - was that we’d have about a dozen participants for two ing this time he has worked on several programmes that have won sessions lasting three hours each. The number of volunteers, limited North West ‘Royal Television Society’ awards: of which ‘Best Factual’ access to technology and the session time meant that we were unable in 1998, ‘Best Newcomer’ in 2005 and ‘Best Regional Programme’ to use a ‘hands on’ approach when teaching the teenagers how to crein 2006 stand out as highlights. He has certification in Avid’s industry ate machinima. So how to you design a machinima pilot for a dozen standard editing software and is ‘Pro Certified’ in several Apple postyoung people with these restrictions? production applications. Since January 2008 he has been based at the Adelphi Research Institute, where he is undertaking a doctoral degree The Production Company and I decided that the pilot should introduce in the field of ‘Machinima’. the teenagers to machinima, and then design a film project in which they would have some form of creative involvement. Given the reINTRODUCTION strictions it ruled out drama in favour of some form of documentary project. As the teenagers were living in an urban area with some level How do you use machinima to teach film-making? This is a question I of deprivation we decided to examine how young people view this attempted to answer with the help of teenagers from inner-city Salford, environment and the implications of technology on their daily lives. Greater Manchester. The young adults were engaged in a summer Although we designed a number of questions we ultimately decided to school programme managed by Salford Foundation, a social inclusion adopt a ‘freeform’ approach to the session with the young volunteers organisation providing a range of support for young people in the area. brainstorming what would go into the documentary. This decision was I was given the opportunity to work with the teenagers through a local reached as a result of working with teenagers in other training sescompany, Eyecatcher Productions, who had just completed a training sions, where we discovered that when you design a series of restricted programme with the Foundation. The Production Company was inter- questions young people often fail to engage with both the idea and ested in developing youth orientated training programmes to encommore importantly the trainers. pass machinima and there was now opportunity to do a pilot study. The aim of the documentary was to allow the teenagers to talk about
life in Salford, engagement with technology and their place in society. These sessions would be recorded digitally, the resulting audio providing a voice track to bring their machinima avatars to life. It was decided that Moviestorm would be the perfect machinima engine for this project; as the software was easy to use and its timeline based workflow could produce a finished project within a few hours. So session one was pencilled in, with the second recording session two weeks later. TRAINING SESSION ONE In this initial session we needed to introduce the young people to the concept of machinima and provide a reference for the documentary idea. Having previously been a machinima short film curator at the ‘Movement on Screen’ film festival I didn’t expect this to pose too much of a problem. I wanted to reflect a broad spectrum of machinima, yet keep to a schedule where I could chat and engage with the young audience. The final presentation disc – mastered onto DVD – comprised of the following:Red vs. Blue (Rooster Teeth) – This was the episode entitled ‘PSA Fire Safety’ and featured machinima created using the Forge engine. The reasoning behind this was two fold: 1) it’s probably the world’s most well known machinima series; and 2) it utilises a popular game engine in the form of Halo 3. Introducing machinima with a Halo inspired short would bridge the gap of knowledge and introduce the medium with something instantly recognisable. Push (Lainy Voom) – This was chosen because it is a classic example of ‘art house’ machinima using the Second Life engine. Having introduced machinima with Red vs. Blue I wanted to show the teenagers that the medium was more than just game based. I felt that using this example showed you could create machinima using virtual worlds and the medium could be used to create art. Untitled – Prologue (Chemistry | Digital) – Like the Red vs. Blue example this short was chosen because of its similarity to the well known ‘Matrix’ movie franchise. I don’t want to digress too much from the main topic but it is interesting that this short is produced by a professional digital agency. It seems that Chemistry | Digital uses the
Charlestown Manchester Photo Gene Hunt Creative Commons BY
Moviestorm engine in their production process to create ‘pre-visualisation’ before moving onto more complex 3D engines. Eyecatcher Promo (Ars Machinima/Eyecatcher) – This was a machinima example produced in just under an hour. This short was created to show how the Moviestorm engine could be used to animate a series of complex shots in a short production time. The avatar in this case was modelled on Eyecatcher Production’s Managing Director and was created as a promo for his website. Creature Comforts (Aardman Animation) – This final short was chosen to give the teenagers an example of how you could animate recorded dialogue using avatars. In the case of Creature Comforts, Nick Park utilised the same ‘man on the street’ style of vox pops that we wanted to use with the young adults. Park utilised clay animation in the example where we were going to use machinima to create a similar style.
and so we moved onto the brainstorming session to see how we could shape a documentary with their input. The result of this session would formulate both the banner topics for the next stage and provide a guide to which of the teenagers actively engaged in the discussion. TRAINING SESSION TWO In order to give some form to the brainstorming we decided to create several banner topics. These consisted of the following: Salford and Me – This section covered how the young adults viewed life in Salford, Greater Manchester. This section primarily dealt with the urban environment, crime and negative stereotypes. Given that Salford has its fair share of inner city decay it was not surprising that some of the answers aired were negative.
Technology and Me – The second section covered the use of television, the Internet and mobile communication. Topics included the So having chosen the media to be used in the first session we prepared changes in the television landscape, viewpoints on the watershed and our crib notes and left for ‘The Beacon’. We were fortunate that eleven certification, file-sharing and downloading illegal content, and access teenagers turned up to the pilot, the break down was nine girls and to the web via mobiles. two boys aged 14-16 years old. Initially I had little knowledge of my audience, but given their ages I assumed that they would play or have Social Media and Me – This section covered the adoption of social some knowledge of videogames. I was therefore quite surprised that, media services such as Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube. It examon the whole, the group didn’t actually play games and their knowlined online privacy concerns, cyber bullying, emigration between edge of gaming was predominately related to playing on the Nintendo social media services and apathy in content provision. Wii for short periods. Their use of the Internet was also limited to using the popular brand sites: Facebook, MySpace, MSN and YouTube. MediaCity UK and Me – The final section covered the opportunities Nobody in the group had ever used Second Life and at this stage had provided by the new media complex being built at Salford Quays. This little interest in online virtual worlds. investment has the potential to provide hundreds of jobs to the local population, creating the largest media complex outside of London. It After introducing ourselves to the group and giving them a brief biog- was surprising that this development appeared to have had little imraphy of our past projects we proceeded to the machinima presentapact on children living less than a few miles away from the project. tion. Given the age group of the teenage audience I expected them to watch the first thirty seconds of the DVD then begin to fidget. I was Having established the banner topics the young adults were split into pleasantly surprised that the group was captivated by the shorts and three groups. Each group was interviewed separately in an adjacent reacted in a very positive manner to the medium. The group was inroom, while the other teenagers watched a compilation of Rooster terested in how games could be used to create films. The main critiTeeth’s ‘Strangerhood’ serial. The sessions were recorded on a FlipHD cism of machinima was that the graphics weren’t as good as the latest camera for video, and for audio a high-end digital recorder. From CGI offering from Pixar Animation. The level of enthusiasm was high experience, once a camera and boom microphone is place in front of
an interviewee they become self aware and awkward. These devices were used to remove the detrimental effect recording can have on an interviewee. In fact the equipment was so unobtrusive that on at least two occasions the teenagers asked how we were recording the session. The use this equipment helped us establish an environment that facilitated a frankness of answers, providing an interesting window into the thoughts, hopes and fears of our next generation. TRAINING SESSION THREE The third session in the series wasn’t originally planned, but came about after we reviewed our footage from session two. It was clear from the start that the group was heavily weighted towards the female gender. After the second recording session the only male participant left in the pilot was a fourteen year old boy. Unfortunately, although he answered the questions in a thoughtful and intelligent manner, his participation was knocking the project off-balance. It was concluded, with consultation with Salford Foundation, that the final documentary would become stronger if it conveyed just the viewpoint of the eight female participants. I’m sure many film-makers have been through a similar circumstance, where it is necessary to drop a contributor in order to benefit the project as a whole. But given the age of the participant the decision weigh heavily and it was decided that a tutorial would be arranged as a form of conciliation. This was arranged in coordination with Salford Foundation and would provide a primer into how to use the Moviestorm machinima software. Given the time restraints on this session we followed the basic software tutorial using the studio apartment set design. The teenager already had competent computer skills so the session comprised of a demonstration of each element followed by hands on experience. It was surprising the level of enthusiasm shown towards the software. Even the initial element of choosing the avatars clothing and appearance was pursued with relish. He particularly enjoyed adjusting the props on the set and the colour scheme of the environment. One unfortunate problem with this stage was that the software appeared to have a bug which caused the avatars headwear to appear and disappear1. 1 Editor’s note: All currently available machinima software should be considered ‘in development’. Software houses are generally small and approachable, and encourage users to get in touch for support if problems arise
We saved and rebooted the software but the error continued to plague the avatar. The next stage required us to move out of the machinima software and record some dialogue for our production. This was achieved with some additional freeware that created an audio file from the laptop’s internal microphone. Once the audio was adjusted we moved on to demonstrate camera angles and positions. It was amazing how quickly the teenager adapted to the software and engaged with directing the short film. Although the software tutorial is to a certain extent ‘on rails’ the result was a short film created by a young adult in under three hours. CONCLUSION It’s quite hard to write a conclusion to this article as the project is still ongoing with the documentary section still ‘work-in-progress’. But you can draw certain conclusions from these sessions; in our initial session it became quickly apparent that young adults are open to learning about new narrative mediums. On the negative side the medium is still seem as ‘amateurish’ when compared to the computer-generated imagery output from Blue Sky Studios, DreamWorks Animation or Pixar. The result of the one-on-one session was extremely positive and shows the potential of the medium for media training. Given the time we had for training it would be almost impossible for someone of this age group to be trained with traditional media applications and to achieve the same results. To conclude, this pilot has not fully answered my initial question, ‘how do you use machinima to teach film-making?’ I now understand that this question can only be fully answered with the use of further time and resources. However, it can be seen from the Salford Foundation pilot that machinima has great potential for teaching film-making. This won’t be the last machinima training session we do with young adults in Salford. The medium has an unparalleled potential for both media training and film-making, all I can say is – watch this space! Official Moviestorm Screenshots used with permission
The Movie Crew in WOW
Machinima Seminars in Germany by C.-D. Schulz
I was quite pleased when Kate told me she was planning a special issue on Education for the Fallopian Machinima magazine. Right from the beginning my interest in machinima filmmaking was closely connected with it’s possible use in an educational setting. My main interest in Machinima started around 2004, when I recognized that games can be useful for filmmaking. It took nearly 2 years of experimenting with several game engines until in 2006 I finally managed to release my first film “Desassossego”. To my surprise it was well received by some audiences and this encouraged me to stay with Machinima, although productivity never increased beyond releasing about one film per year. I have also been teaching filmmaking for over 20 years now and it was obvious for me to research how Machinima could fit into that work. This leads from basic Machinima introductions and workshops for my new media and film classes, to more advanced workshops for apprentice game developers using high-end game engines like Cryengine2. For sure there could be a lot told about those projects, but instead I want to present here in some detail another interesting project in an unusual educational setting. For 2 years now I have been running an educational science seminar on computer games at our local university (University of Applied Sciences, Esslingen). This course is for students at the Department of Social Work, Health and Nursing and entiltled “Creativity and Social Competence with Computer Games”. One focus of this seminar is to teach basic aspects of computer games that have practical implications for students in Social Pedagogy and Social Work. Topics cover violence in computer games and it’s relation to aggression and violence in society, as well as video game addiction. Positive aspects of video games and their implication and use for practical social work is covered as well, and machinima nicely fits in there. The seminar not only covers a theoretical and reasearch view on these topics, it actually allows students to play and discover some games on their own to gain some experience. Most of them to my surprise had little experience with video games before, but they were eager to learn. To get a better understanding of any media it’s always good to know how it is created. With computer games that leads onto learning how to make such a game. That might be an appropriate approach for computer science students, but is not the first choice for students of social work. That’s why machinima is used in this seminar as an example of creative use by combining computer games with a more well known media such as film.
Now I jump into the details on how we actually run that machinima project: The students ages range approximately between 20 and 30 and we have around 16 students attending the seminar. The course takes place once a week for 3 hours for 3-4 month. I run the seminar together with a colleague, which is very helpful for the hands-on computer work and especially for the Machinima film project. We choose World of Warcraft (WoW) as the machinima platform, mainly because Online Roleplaying Games are covered in the seminar in the context of gaming addiction. The students get an introduction to the game and have time to play and get used to it (approx. 3-6h). This part is important with any machinima project, the people participating have to know the game to some extent. The next step is to give them an introduction on what Machinima is and examples of a variety of films, including films by previous seminars (approx. 2h). After that I add a brief introduction on filmmaking in general (storyboard, scene, shot etc.) together with the basics on how to film in WoW (how to use the camera, how to record, how to act etc.) (approx. 3h). I’m not going into any details here on how to use WoW for filmmaking. An excellent introduction on how to use WoW for machinima and on machinima in general is the book “Machinima for Dummies” by Hugh Hancock, Johnnie Ingram. The film project starts with brainstorming and finding an idea for the film. I usually give them a week between the seminar to work out some ideas. The ideas are discussed and the group decides which one they like to most. The process is moderated by me and a colleague who both have some experience with the game and machinima to guide the discussion and help select an idea that could be done in the WoW environment. This leads to some advice when you want to run such a machinima project, you need to know the game and it’s machinima capabilities good enough to be able to decide which ideas can be realized. If not there is a high risk of the project failing, which is disappointing to everyone participating. The next step in the process of creating the machinima film is to write down the story. We never get to the stage where we produce a storyboard. Instead a very crude shot-list is the most we prepare. The process takes about another 3 hours, with a week in between so people have time to think about the film and collect bit’s and pieces for the film like music, original footage etc. Next we assign the roles for filmmaking. The big advantage of using a multi-user game for machinima is that a lot of people can participate. Students with more knowledge in filmmaking and/or gameplay are assigned to the director or camera role, others less versatile find their part as actor or stand-in. This shows another strength of this fimlmaking process because it allows every student to participate independently of the pre-knowledge on film or gameplay. Shooting the film is mostly done in a 6-8h session at a weekend. Almost all film ideas used were parodies of existing TV-series (casting show, home shopping, education series) so we didn’t have to record voice dialog and most of the time we use existing original footage for voice, sound and music. That’s maybe one of the main reasons we can shoot and finish the films on such a short timescale.
Actors at work
Editing is done outside the seminar by 2-3 students of the course who already had some experience in film editing. The final films were around 3-5 minutes long and I encouraged the students to publish them on YouTube to get some public feedback. We were pleased about the feedback we get from the students within the course evaluation. Almost everyone enjoyed the filmmaking and some even rated it as the highlight of the whole seminar. Some of them wanted to see more time spent on the film project. Having in mind that most of the students are mostly non-gamers that was a surprising result to us. Even more encouraging was the fact that they recognized the potential of machinima for their future job likely in youth work. Even some suprising fresh ideas came up during those projects. Since the seminar deals with video game addiction, which is usually related to games like WoW, machinima might be a way out of the vicious circle of addiction by shifting the focus from being controlled by the game into more gaining control of the game by using it in a creative way. That might be an interesting alternative compared to the â€˜stop using any videogame foreverâ€™ approach currently used as therapy. Of course that needs further studies and that then is a totally different story. To make a long story short, I like to encourage everyone to look at machinima as an educational tool. It has a huge potential and working on a film project is highly rewarding for everyone participating. Now itâ€™s up to you to explore and use Machinima for your purposes.
Camera and directors at work
Website: http://www.machinima-studios.com/ Blog: http://machinima-studios.blogspot.com/
Soul Window (close-up) Image by Gala Charon