Machinima

Machinima is the art of movie making in virtual worlds. An immersive environment like Second Life allows users to create extravagant sets and characters and to move the camera and actors with fairly simple scripts. This is a fairly interesting new artform that is just beginning to get serious attention. The National Endowment for the Arts has recently opened its grant programs to creative work in virtual “game” environments. (The use of the term “game” is for purposes of public understanding, even though the kinds of activities that go on are generally not at all game-like.)

I have barely dabbled in the technology for machinima. It’s not much different in many ways from any other cinematic art form as far as storyboarding and editing. But the actual video production in virtual worlds is quite different. You have complete control over the appearance of your environment, from land forms to the color of the sky to the density of water. You can freeze the time of day and set the sun wherever you want. You can have complete control over camera position and movement, either my scripting or using a joystick device. The structures and props used can be found or bought or specially created. The avatar actors can be made any reasonable size, gender, or species and their costuming and makeup are unlimited. You can have a 60 meter tall dragon or a small anthropomorphic possum. All this at minimal or no cost.

There are limits, of course. The size of the set is usually limited, the animations for the actors are fairly crude (especially the mouth when speaking), the range of facial gestures is limited, etc. But the advantages of being able to produce fairly sophisticated cinema on a budget is compelling.

As users learn new techniques and become more adept with the art form, more and more impressive work is emerging. A prime example of this is the MachinimUWA III competition currently in judging at the University of Western Australia’s presence in Second Life. There are no less than 50 entries being considered for a top prize of about $400 US. You may think this doesn’t sound like much and you’d be correct. But in the context of virtual worlds, this is one of the top prizes ever awarded.  (In SL, the prizes are awarded in Linden dollars at an exchange rate of approximately 250 to the dollar. The top prize is 100k Lindens and the total prize pool is 66ok Lindens.) Rather that think of this as a paltry sum, it is wiser to understand how much creative work can be generated with very little in resources. With a mere $2500 US or so, UWA has provided the incentive to produce 50 pretty decent works of art. I’d say this was a heck of an investment.

A recent development in the competition has been the engaged involvement of world-famous director Peter Greenaway as one of the judges.  He and (especially) his wife have been involved in the art scene in SL for some time. UWA honcho Jay Jay Jegathesan (JayJay Zifanwe in SL) managed to get an important interview with Greenaway (from which the title of this post is taken) about virtual cinema which is compelling reading. I hope all the judges considers what he has to say when assessing the entries. It could make for some very interesting results.

The complete list of entries for MachinimUWA III is on the UWA website. The awards ceremony will be held at the BOSL Amphitheatre at UWA, 6AM SLT (GMT-7) Sunday May 22.

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