Sunday, December 21, 2014

Simplicity of the Season

I recall the first stanza of a famous Robert Frost poem - Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My father had me memorize that poem over countless holiday trips from Long Island through upstate New York to Canada.  Needless to say, but I will, plenty of wintry scenery accompanied us during our drives.

The image above is not related to the poem but its imagery projects poetry.  To me, that is a critical element of a good machinima, especially one which captures your heart upon first view.

This holiday season I decided to keep this column simple.   In fact, as 2015 approaches, that is my personal and professional goal - to simplify my life so as to better enjoy it.    I think back to those road trips with my family as we took in the sights, those now etched in my memory.

Sometimes you come across a machinima that is not necessarily perfect, but even its flaws contribute to its charm.   That is true of Kawanishi Yana's short piece "Never Ending's Christmas @ Papillon" (Second Life).    The sim both contrasts and complements the character/filmmaker who leads our way.

The simplicity of color, music and the solitary nature of a lone avatar (albeit adorable) journeying across a winter wonderland was all I needed to muse on this dreary Midwestern day.   Simple and beautiful.

May your holiday season be joyous and simple, so that you might savor the beauty of life.  May you capture it on film, machinima, and at least in your mind's eye for keepsake.

Keep filming in 2015, and let your style and story shine through the downy flake.

-  Soni

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The Professional Machinima Artist Guild and Lowe Runo Productions graciously host Magnum: The Machinima Review.   Sonicity Fitzroy is author of Second Life, Media and the Other Society (2010) and Machinima: The Art and Practice of Virtual Filmmaking (with co-author Lowe Runo, 2012).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

This Was Halloween! Machinima

Now that all the treats have been consumed, and you are completely exhausted with costumes, horror movies, and Rocky Horror theatrics,  it is time to reflect on how machinima fared this year over the season.  Lots of treats, a few tricks, and a good time for all - producers and viewers.  

Just doing a quick web search should indicate some paranormal activity among machinima producers.  I particularly hunted for 2014 features.  I really anticipated much more machinima on topic, and there were only a handful that actually attempted storytelling of some sort.   Regardless, lots of people had fun doing random game machinima and commenting on the footage in real time - just not what I wanted this time around.   

So why Halloween - I mean it is after the fact, right?   For me, I like to see what stands up once the holiday is gone, when we are all worn out on the season - what is still worth watching.   From the dozen that surfaced online, I selected the following based on uniqueness, diversity, and the charm and efforts of some obvious newcomers to virtual filmmaking.  Among my finds were many Minecraft, a few World of Warcraft (only picked one), one Sims and three Second Life. 

Minecraft has inherent humor that works well for machinima.  For example, when the characters want to give someone something they sort of toss it off their body.   So in some of the films, you will notice pumpkins and candy being projected at them, rather than being placed in treat bags.   You will see that in two of the first machinima.   For some reason, Minecraft treaters are fun to watch and that seems appropriate given the platform's popularity among youth and young adult demographics.   For some reason, the issues and bugs that bother SL Machinima producers and viewers do not seems so problematic with Minecraft fans.   Does the platform really have to be "realistic" for it to make sense for us to like it?     

Machinima is not a designated path; it is a means towards communicating artistically or not-so-artistically - or however you define creativity and entertainment, whether it is for an audience of one or thousands.  The seasoned and amateur both have a right to utilize the tools, and that is how people improve along the way.   The skill level is varied among the featured Minecraft machinima. 

The Spooky House - Minecraft Halloween Machinima (OwlCrafted)

Happy Halloween! - Minecraft Kurzfilm #1 (MultiDudelSack)   

Bane of the Pumpkin Lord (Minecraft Halloween) (Deathwind31)

A World of Warcraft feature parodies all the so-called iconic warlords of Halloween in this short piece.  A fun film released in time for Halloween this year. 

Warlords of Halloween - World of Warcraft Machinima (ibeckman671)

The Sim3 featured machinima - Insomnia - is nearly 30 minutes, and it took quite a bit of effort to put this film together.   It was published on October 30th.  It is rough around the edges, but it has to be commended for some of the strikingly good scenes and overall commitment.   It has all the elements of a seasonal pop movie - rock singer, pretty girl, murder and twisted plot - what else do you need for Halloween?  

Insomnia ♠ Halloween Special (Sims 3 Machinima) (Mr. SW3D3)

As for Second Life machinima that caught my eye -  let's start with a machinima made to the song "Jump in the Line" by Harry Belafonte.  Aside from the blue balls that might have been derezzed, it works as a seasonal piece.  It was filmed in Halloween Town in Second Life. 
Jump in the line (Halloween Town - second life machinima) (Annomis DeVaux)

Another machinima that captures the beautiful settings possible in Second Life is the RMK Gothic Halloween short feature 

- an enjoyable piece with the filmmaker trying hard to capture the amazing seasonal magic in which she is immersed at the moment. 

RMK Gothic Halloween 2014 in Second Life (Kawanishi Yana)

Kara Trapdoor (of Kara's Korner, Second Life Adventures) regularly features her machinima pieces that underscore the beauty or the fun of a sim.  In October, she showcased the magic of the Giano Estates, a 22-sim residential project of middle class community living.   Her machinima captures the magic of Halloween for SL children - the child in all of us who peeks through during the holidays.  

Giano Estates Children's Show Teaser (Kara Trapdoor)

Closing out with a Minecraft machinima produced in 2011 leaves us with a take on the tune "This is Halloween."  You might particularly enjoy the Minecraft Disney motion graphic in the opening.  I love such tricks and treats in machinima!

Minecraft Machinima: This is Halloween (ilikecutepeople)

You know what is really scary - it is Election Day in the USA! 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

It's Your Second Life - Capture it!

The Ides of August were upon us….

By now, you probably heard the news.  A hurricane blew through Second Life.  At one point, a series of tornadoes spun through Riel Estates.   High waves overcame the St. John Parish in New Orleans, thanks to the mastermind behind the project - sim owner, long time Radio Riel owner, Gabrielle Riel.    Storm Diane didn’t stop the rooftop parties , and people came out to tour the city via raft, boat and even by surf board.   The wind, rain, waves, and overflowing water gave proof through the night that the virtual spirit of Second Life is still here.  
YT link: Hurricane Pt2 (Second Life) - spoiler alert: Gabrielle is dancing on the roof at the end!

Anticipate lots of photos and machinima over the course of the next few days, as an attempt to archive this amazing event.   This is not the first time Gabi threw a great storm party (2010, 2011, 2012 and now 2014), and she was sensitive to those hurricane survivors of real life.   She was simply testing the waters of creativity in-world, and accomplished the fantastic feat.    She thanks her estate managers for their help to make this the best event so far.
Another quick virtual tour via machinima, as the storm overwhelms its SL residents.

For me, it was an epic movie unfolding across the grid, that my friends and I, and many others, had the opportunity to enjoy - playing in the rain, and getting our cameras all wet.  It was worth it.   Second Life has those moments you know - you just gotta archive them, even if it takes you off schedule from your real life.   Machinima is a fast, simple way to capture those times, especially when the event is a moving experience like this one.   So whatever is going on in your Second Life, remember lights, camera, action.    

Here's Witchy Woman (below), a quick fun machinima capture of the aftermath, with Kara Trapdoor as the tour guide through the now city swamps of St. John Parish in a typically quaint quarter of New Orleans.  

Second Life is a story unfolding before your eyes - and ears - every day.   We live in the greatest medium to date.    It is a bit like a mix of Jim Carey's movies The Truman Show and Bruce Almighty, and then some.    So whether it is your first virtual pet, or fifth SL marriage, hey, film it.   

I have never claimed to be the best machinima maker (and am far from it), but when I want to remember an event - I film it.  If you are the only one that thinks it is important, then it is important - at least to you.   It's your Second Life too.    You might have so much fun, that you will up your machinima skills, either intentionally or just from practice (via play).    Machinima, while an art form for some, is also fun as a tool for virtual home movies.  

Ira Glass' series This American Life explored the significance of home movies to our culture in his 2002 show that I recently came upon in the online archive.  Glass is one of the premier storytellers of our century, and he is still at it - entertaining the world by bringing to life the simple stories that we often overlook.   Here's the link I think you might enjoy on home movies -

Old home movies have become great sources for archiving our past - and one day,  machinima in the same way will be studied for its relevance to understanding the beginning of virtual life.  So not only make history - record it! 

Sometimes, we feel intimidated to try something new because we see so many better than us.   Yet sometimes, it is not about how good we are - it is the message that counts, be it personal or for the larger community in which we live.
I archived Hurricane Diane in Second Life because I was enthralled by the virtual experience, having lived through a few along the Gulf Coast in Texas.  (They were never fun, and I boarded up my house and stayed indoors.)   Here in SL, it was something different, unique, and provoked this typically non-role player to be consumed by the moment.    So dip your toe in the virtual waters of Second Life, and you might jump into it full body, letting the waves take you away for a while.   Cherish the moment.  Record it.   Share it.   Archive it.   
Kara Trapdoor, social machinima blogger/producer, of Kara's Korner

My teen daughter, looking over my shoulder, thought it was silly to create a hurricane in a virtual world.  And then for me to be so excited about recording it - living it, as I kick back on Kara's raft, Belinda's boat, and an acquaintance's floating umbrella, as well as prepare for the event by barricading my flat, then stocking up on pizza, doughnuts and beer.   My neighbor Kara (Trapdoor) braved it out, with only a few provisions in her home and a handful of sandbags around her back door - then again she is never in one place, but out and about taking pics and making films for her blog on the many events of SL.  

As for my response to my daughter, I laughed, and said, for me - it works.   And I know I am not alone….

Happy Machinima surfing!

From Sonicity

on behalf of Bel, Kara and Gabi and her gang, and the many others who participated in one way or another! 

For more pics and info,
Kara's Korner -
Riel Estate (Flickr) -

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bring on the New! Second Life, Big Data, Big Change, And That's Just The Beginning: What's Ahead for Machinima

Parlor Rooms of the Virtual Kind

 "Most Americans did not have televisions when Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, and those who did watched 7-inch screens in black and white. Interestingly, his book imagined a future of giant color sets — flat panels that hung on walls like moving paintings...." - Johnston, 2007, on Bradbury.

It's been awhile since I have written on this blog.   It is not that I have not thought about machinima;  in fact two days ago I finished a 10,000 word chapter on the subject, particularly focusing on virtual worlds - and particularly Second Life.   I still believe in Second Life as a creative medium.   Writing the chapter, I had some time to reflect on Peter Greenaway's vision of machinima (rewinding to his in-world keynote at the 2010 48Hour Film Project Screening for Machinima) -  the idea that we should consider SL machinima as a means to challenge conventions of filmmaking, television, and even machinima itself (as it has been thus known). 

One person who has done this repeatedly is "immersivist" artist-filmmaker Bryn Oh.  I am ever impressed of her talent, and how she is redefining what is possible in virtual worlds.   I don't need to reiterate her projects.   She discusses it well on her internationally renowned blog, and she is well blogged by others.    I have provided her link below, in the unlikely event that you don't already know it.    

 The Green Mire
 - Kara Trapdoor at the MadPea's Green Mire - 

With Oculus Rift, and a "new" Second Life, so to speak on the horizon, I am wondering what machinima will be like in the near future.   Let's think Bradbury's four parlor wall "television" screens, but the viewer is far more than that - not just a viewer, but a participant.    The living room is the virtual room.   So it goes.   I would hire Bryn to design it for me.    Lowe's Home Improvement now has a virtual room where you can literally "rez" your vision for your living room, kitchen or whatever.   Or what about this video from 2011 from University of Groningen - a sort of moving painting that one creates by touch. 

Think about buying your box office ticket at your local theater, heading down the aisle past the seats, then walking into the screen, and becoming part of the cast.   It's happening now in a sense.  A screening room takes on a new meaning, blurring reality and virtuality with you in the midst of the visual play.  Sounds like Second Life.

Another one to follow, along this line of contemplation, is Mad Pea's Mari Mitchell, founder and director.   Immersive storytelling.   Interactive Adventures.   Take an adventure with MadPea in Second Life.   But while you do - KNOW THIS IS THE FUTURE - NOW.    Every year, I know that I am experiencing a hint of the future, of art, entertainment and life -  as an active participant in Second Life.   I don't have to be a builder or creator (although I am in my own small way);  all I have to do is just be here, in Second Life.    Applaud the advancements that already surround me, and know that I am on the tip of a whole new world, still unfolding.    I am tasting a bit of the future, and my imagination can take me the rest of the way.  It helps when you have talented artists like Bryn and Mari's crew leading the way.  

Bryn and Mari are already on the cutting edge of cinematic experiences, with virtual worlds as the larger medium of which machinima is a part.   In a sense, it is walk-in machinima.    

Finishing my chapter made me think how amazingly talented these Second Life members continue to be, and how committed they remain to Second Life.  They are poised for the future, and as virtual worlds transition to allow for further interactivity, you bet they will be there for the adventure, leading the  way. 

Sometimes we have to be reminded that change can be exciting and not to be fearful of the edge.   Bryn's latest blog entry is a significant read, given the new emphasis on Big Data.   At this point in history, we are learning how to retrieve and interpret data creatively and visually.    How such data will ultimately "improve" creativity is a fascinating subject, and it is certainly worthy of consideration and in the news lately.   Media research has often been data driven, with mixed consequences.    It is not data that is the problem, it is how it is used.    If it is employed to improve creative practice and allow for further audience interaction,  that is something to be embraced - to complete the feedback loop (in that old communication model based on old technology and little say from the audience).    

Pre-Oculus Rift: A Blast From the Not-So-Distant SL Past

If that data is used to help us to create immersivity to a greater level - with the possibility and reality of audience participation at the forefront, then bring it on. 

For more info about these sites and exhibits, also check out Kara's Korner,

Johnston, A. E. B. (2007, May 30).   Ray Bradbury:  Fahrenheit 452 Misinterpreted.   LA Weekly.  Retrieved July 8, 2014, from