November 19, 2017

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Machinima Goes Mainstream | The Gaming Life

Digital filmmaking for the 21st century

What do a commercial for Toyota, TV programs such as CSI: New York and The Office, film festivals, and an organization that works with urban youth all have in common? They are at the forefront of machinima, a filmmaking genre that is helping to shape video for the 21st century. Machinima, a contraction of the words machine and cinema, is a genre of filmmaking that was originally created by gamers in the 1990s. Over the past decade, machinima has gone more mainstream, and creativity has entered a whole new dimension.

What is machinima?

Machinima (muh-sheen-eh-mah) is filmmaking within a real-time, 3-D virtual environment, including video games such as Halo (used to create 100 episodes of “Red versus Blue” machinima series) and Neverwinter Nights (used to create the machinima series “Neverending Nights), and platforms such as Second Life. It combines the technologies of filmmaking, animation, and 3-D video games. Essentially, machinima applies real-world filmmaking techniques within an interactive virtual environment where characters and events can be controlled by humans, scripts, or artificial intelligence.

Video games most often provide the settings, props, costumes, and characters (which can be modified) needed to tell an original story. Some platforms, such as MTV Central and video games like Sims 2, have in-game recording options enabling filmmakers to capture footage; a screen capture software program is needed to import game environments where there are no built-in machinima tools. Remixing audio and video content is also popular among budding machinimists.

Global Kids’ Virtual Video Project

Global Kids (globalkids.org), a nonprofit organization in New York City dedicated to educating students in underserved communities about international and public policy issues, has incorporated machinima into one of its after-school programs. The organization’s Online Leadership Program (OLP), now in its eighth year, integrates the use of the Internet into Global Kid’s programming. The OLP equips youth with the skills necessary to use the Internet as a tool for research and social change and develops online resources for educators and young people to promote civic engagement and global literacy. Global Kids has developed innovative online programs in two major areas: online dialogues to engage youth in discussions of policy issues and socially conscious online games that promote active and engaged citizenship. One of the areas the online program focuses on is virtual worlds, primarily Teen Second Life. Workshops are hosted in this environment to engag
e teens in globally relevant topics such as racism and genocide.

The Virtual Video Project is part of Global Kids’ Online Leadership Program, made possible with funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In September 2006, Global Kids launched the first Virtual Video Project after-school program as part of a collaboration with the Museum of the Moving Image (ammi.org). The program works with teens to teach them in a hands-on way about global issues, the role that digital media plays in their lives, and how to communicate in multiple formats. It combines film production skills and leadership development to empower the youth to become critical thinkers, media producers, and global citizens. The high school students chosen to participate in the project were selected by a competitive application process.

For eight months during the 2006-07 academic year, about 25 teens from seven New York high schools met at the museum for three hours a week. Skills such as storyboarding, script writing, and acting techniques were used by the teens to create socially conscious, original stories and produce their own machinima films within the virtual world of Teen Second Life (secondlife.com), an online community in which the residents are provided with the tools required to literally shape the world around them.

At the conclusion of the Virtual Video Project’s pilot year, teens distributed five 40-second Public Service Announcements on media credibility, media piracy, online discrimination, and more as well as a seven-minute year-end machinima film on the plight of child soldiers in Uganda, “A Child’s War” (youtube.com/watch?v=nK54WRu0jW4). The film “documents the fictional life experiences of a former child soldier who has come to the International Criminal Court to testify against the warlord who forced him to murder hundreds of people, including his own family members.” All of their films are accessible on the Internet (see below) and have been showcased at the museum, schools, and local communities, and most recently at the annual Second Life Community Convention in Chicago, IL, in August 2007. The second year of the program began on November 1, 2007; check out the Global Kids blog (holymeatballs.org) for announcements.

Global Kids’ Machinima Camp

From July 23 to August 23, 2007, Global Kids partnered with UNICEF to sponsor the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Machinima Camp. The camp ran in Second Life (SL), and the final project was for the 15 teen participants to each make a 1-minute machinima movie about a specific children’s right as identified by the Convention. Over the course of the program, campers spent a minimum of 70 hours online. The machinima videos were screened for teens within SL, at the Second Life Community Convention in Chicago, and were promoted by UNICEF as part of their efforts to bring attention to the 18th anniversary of the CRC. The videos were officially launched online in September 2007, and by December 1, 2007, over 2000 visitors on YouTube and bliptv.com had watched some or all of the machinima.

Libraries and machinima

Since February 2007, a Machinima Institute has been located in Second Life (for those 18 and older) on the American Library Association Arts InfoIsland. The institute is run by librarians and educators and contains instructional resources for teaching machinima. Bernadette Daly Swanson, a librarian, is the founder of the Institute and also has a presence on Teen Second Life (TSL) where she has helped create machinima for Suffern Middle School in New York (youtube.com/watch?v=w3lqKHlKvKo) and the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County (PLCMC) in North Carolina (blip.tv/file/426496/). In July 2007, a machinima weekend was held on PLCMC’s island in Teen Second Life where teens learned storyboarding techniques as well as capturing, editing, and remixing with online tools. The University of Illinois, through a partnership with the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and t
he Illinois Alliance Library System, offers a series of courses about virtual worlds aimed at librarians. Swanson (lis.uiuc.edu/programs/cpd/VW/) teaches a course on machinima.

At the American Library Associations midwinter conference in Philadelphia this January, the third annual Video Gaming Extravaganza, sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), offered conference attendees the opportunity to play video games and learn about making machinima.

Get your library or school involved

While Teen Second Life (TSL) is only one of the platforms that can be used to make machinima, it’s a great option because users can create the scenes that they want to be in their film and the platform has a built-in browser for filming. There is no charge to open an account in TSL. Partnering with organizations that have purchased virtual land (which is necessary to build on) will hold costs down. For links to other resources, including screen capture software and other virtual worlds to film in, visit YALSA’s del.icio.us page: del.icio.us/yalsa/machinima.

Another way to get your library or school involved in machinima is to incorporate it into existing library programs, such as creating public service announcements or clips related to clubs that meet at the library. Also, you can partner with a teacher who is already familiar with machinima and create an after school program or club. During a film or gaming night at the library, talk to teens about forming a machinima club and find out if any of them already know how to create machinima. There are many machinima contests offered by virtual worlds and software capturing companies. Find out about them, offer your teens some instruction, and encourage them to enter. Consider having a machinima category for your library’s next film fest—you might be surprised at the terrific entries you will receive. Imagine the ways young people as well as libraries could promote programs, create stories, and teach engaging skills with this medium. The possibilities are endless.


Tabitha Tsai is the Second Life Educational Specialist at Global Kids Inc.; Kelly Czarnecki is the technology education librarian of ImaginOn, a collaborative venture between the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, NC.

Making Machinima

At first glance, machinima might seem like a daunting genre of filmmaking. However, there are numerous online video tutorials that explain how to record, film, capture, and store footage. You might also want to check out the following books: Machinima for Dummies (For Dummies, 2007) by Hugh Hancock and 3D Game-Based Filmmaking: The Art of Machinima (Paraglyph Press, 2004) by Paul Marino. The best way to learn how to make machinima is to play around with the tools and try to create a film on your own. Once you’ve recorded the images from a 3-D game engine, editing is all that has to be done. Here are some pointers.

Familiarize yourself with your avatar created in Second Life or any other 3-D gaming engine. In choosing a gaming engine, make sure that your computer meets the system requirements or you have permission to install the necessary software. Learn how to walk, move, build, and communicate within the gaming engine.

Determine if your gaming engine has built-in screen capture tools. If not, free trials are available for many of these programs: Fraps for Windows (fraps.com), Camtasia Studio for Windows (techsmith.com/camtasia.asp), and Snapz ProX for Macs (amrosiasw.com/utilities/snapzprox/). Take time to learn the program.

Become familiar with the usage rules of the game, such as what is copyrighted. Microsoft developed rules for which games can and cannot be filmed (tinyurl.com/22nvs7).

Seek out an online machinima community. Chances are there is a listserv, forum board, wiki, or other tool specific to the game engine you choose.

Create a storyboard/script. For free tutorials, visit movies.atomiclearning.com/k12/home.

Prepare sets, props, costumes, and other objects needed for filming.

Start filming, and then collect and transfer footage into an editing program such as iMovie, Final Cut Pro, or Windows Movie Maker.

Collect sounds, dialogue, and special effects, and then edit the film.

Upload the film onto the preferred sharing forum such as YouTube, JumpCut, or bliptv.com.

Examples Of Machinima

Machinima films made by Global Kids youth leaders:

“A Child’s War”: youtube.com/watch?v=nK54WRuOjW4.

Five 40-second Public Service Announcements: youtube.com/watch?v=7TlSGH9-IVM.

Series of ten one-minute films on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in collaboration with UNICEF: youtube.com/watch?v-FF1OSDexZo.

Other sites to check out:

machinima.com. Articles, game platforms, forums, and how-tos.

koinup.com. Share machinimas.

machinima.org. The Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences.

wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Machinima. The Second Life machinima wiki offers resources and FAQs.

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