Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stories From The Machine Presents: Machinima 101

In approaching this column, I can't possibly explain how excited I was at the opportunity to officially set some of my time aside to watch all sorts of great Machinima from worlds around the Metaverse! I was surprised to find that the community of passionate, independent Machinimatographers was actually quite small in size, and those that seem to get the most attention are often ones that have significant funding behind them or were produced by professional filmmakers with access to premium tools that you or I could never afford. Sure, those are the ones that focuses on pretty much entirely. While those aren't without their artistic merit, I know from experience that many storytellers just want to use what resources are available to them at little or no cost to simply do what what a storyteller does, and that is film something that expresses their perspective, their voice, and their talents!

Many budding machinimatographers get immediately discouraged by those pristine, super-polished Machinimas at Given the name, the website has incredible gravity when regular folks like you or I go searching for something to indicate what we're capable of accomplishing. In my opinion, those are not a realistic standard of expectation without megabucks and a well networked team behind you.

Telling your story shouldn't require that. Nor should it send you back to school for a four year degree in filmmaking and/or require an agent with William Morris.

And it doesn't.

I've been making machinima with just myself, a few friends and some modest software for years and have achieved great success and you can too! The first obstacle in this adventure in virtual filmmaking is determining what your needs are, and I'm going to try to be as specific as possible.

To film anything that takes place on your screen you need image capturing software. Something that records the action taking place on your screen.

FRAPS does this for you. It's an amazing product and the price is unsurpassed. It's also extremely simple to use. By simply designating a hotkey, you can begin recording your efforts immediately without excessive configurations or being thwarted by a huge time sink. As storytellers we can be impatient, and the fewer obstacles between us and our goal the better!

FRAPS is currently available ONLY for the PC. But if you have a MAC, a fantastic sister product can be found in SNAPZ, which serves exactly the same purpose! Both products can also record sound, and you can customize your hotkeys and your filming resolution. You can also hide your mouse curser so it doesn't record your activity! These are, essentially, your virtual camera.

Now that you have your camera, what next?

That's up to you! There are many platforms you can use to tell your story; World of Warcraft, Second Life, Halo, The Sims. There even products out there made explicitly for filming machinima! iClone3d and Moviestorm are two of the ones that most use when wanting more customization than a preset virtual world offers. Even better? Moviestorm has a free version - not simply a trial - but a free version that will allow you to play with the software and film whatever you like at no cost to you! That's a step above iClone which will incur a significant cost and has a steeper learning curve.

If neither of these are for you and you want to start out with something simpler, go with one of your preferred virtual environments. Film your Night Elf swatting at a Murloc. Take your Second Life Avatar dancing at a club. The only expense you will incur is your subscription fee to your preferred game... and you're already paying that!

So after you get some footage tucked away onto your hard drive, what do you do with it? Both a PC and a MAC come prepackaged with adequate editing software for your film clips, and are as simple as dragging them onto a timeline and cutting out what you don't want. Drag and Drop mechanics are about as simple as you can get, and for the beginner just wanting to learn the mechanism, the most affordable and convenient way to get your feet wet!

If you're a PC user, Windows Movie Maker is your new best editing friend. MAC users will find that iMovie will usher them into the world of simple film editing with great ease.

Once you've pieced together your clips in Windows Movie Maker or iMovie from all that footage you took earlier with Fraps or SNAPZ, now it's time to save it! Sounds simple enough, but saving (or rendering) a video can be quite tricky! Windows Movie Maker will only render a video as a .wmv (Windows Media Video) which is absolutely fine. Later on, when you are more comfortable, I suggest graduating to Sony Vegas Pro, which is a similar drag and drop system, but you can incorporate so much more!

Now that you have your first video, you can upload it using one of the websites you're probably already familiar with such as YouTube or Blip. Share the link with friends, embed it on your website and be proud of your first creation.

After you've acclimated yourself to those programs, you will find that you are soon wanting even more tools at your fingertips with which to tell your stories. It is the evolution of an artist. You will surprise yourself with how quickly you learn and adapt, and once you know one program you find the mechanics across them are all very similar.

Making virtual films is not hard, nor does it have to be expensive. In fact, you can do a great amount for no cost at all. The worst thing people do is sabotage themselves by thinking "That looks too hard, I could never do that." It's not, you can, all you need is the time and the resources mentioned above.

I can't tell you how many people have come to me and said "I like your film. That would be fun to do, but I could never learn all that."

Let me tell you a short story.

Several years ago, I didn't know a machinima from a washing machine. The realization of it came from necessity when I had to film a short production for a program I had organized in Second Life. I didn't know where to start, what I needed, or how to begin. I googled like crazy; read forums and blogs, and once I had the software to film and my editing software that was already in my system, I made my first film in 3 days. Granted, it wasn't a beautifully manicured production. You can see my errors quite blatantly; but it was a story. A story with a beginning, middle and an end, and I was proud of the achievement.

In this article you will find exactly what you need to set out on the same path that took me hours to collect via random websites, so you're already ahead in the game. Koinup is a wonderful resource, as it has established several Machinima groups full of members willing to help you!

The one thing that can't be provided to you is the passion and the desire to try. You have to truly want to tell a filmed story. That element will take you further than any technical software ever can. And with that, nothing can deter you from accomplishing your goal.

Phaylen Fairchild

Phaylen's Official Blog
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Toxic Menges said...

Great piece Phaylen! I'd love to see loads more machinima at koinup - there are some great groups for showcasing your work, and everyone that I know in Second Life who makes machinima almost without exception is lovely, and more than willing to help those new to it. The more the merrier I say!

André L said...

interesting Phaylen, that is all what starting machinima is about, nothing more nothing less. U told all. I'm just an observer :)

Nova Dyszel said...

Great intro, I'm a very new machinima maker myself and I can attest it is easy to get going and I love the video editing, so much fun, piecing things together, and putting them to music.

Couple extra tips:
Wegame is a free recording software that works quite well to start.

Sony Vegas Pro has free 30 day trials of a few versions, so you can go a few months on freebies of this great editing software.

My filming is jerky, using a laptop I find when I run a recording program sl slows down, and I can't record smooth movements, but I'm working around that as much as possible, and still having some success and lots of fun.

Looking for ideas to start? Try doing a short film of a favourite song, poem, or tour a location.

And thank you to the machinima artists on koinup who inspired me to start, especially RockerFaerie.

Nova Dyszel

MirrorWorld said...

And please Machinimators!
So many of you make cool and great machinima, but forget to cut them down.
I know you have done a lot of work, and know you want share every single awesome frame.
But I have seen examples machinima, that could have been cut shorter much shorter. The pace gets slow, The spectator get bored and you loose the audience.
Why tell a story in 10 mins, when you could have done it in 3.
Of course, how you cut depends on your project.

Speedmaster Bing

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