Sep 232008

OK I had better blog this ‘press release‘ copied below which quotes me, but also as I am heavily involved in the creation of these courses and still running LAMP (the innovation unit at AFTRS). Frankly it is one of the best things to happen in Australian industry education for the last three years that I have been based in Sydney. AFTRS is renowned for its high production value filmmaking primarily with many students being nominated and going on to win Academy Awards, Oscars etc.

Via three years of LAMP I have had a key role in helping the internal AFTRS culture and curriculum adopt a new way of thinking about audiences and creating entertainment for them. This goes way beyond point and click, cross-media interactivity (very 90s) to experiential services and social media entertainment. So two key new courses below and a variety of ‘hybrid format’ workshops across the school will help create new thinkers – marrying dramatic story and immersive game, blending social with structured narrative and putting ‘play’ into areas where ‘playful interaction’ has previously dared to tread.

This press release from here and more about the courses here. There is already a high demand (Kotaku and Inside Film have more too) but pass this on to folk who want to play a part in the global development of the ‘gilm’ genre (thats mixing game, film, tv and virtual worlds to you and I) !

More on the wonderful world of Games and Film and Blended TV in an upcoming post with a Gary special, montage video 🙂

16Â September, 2008


15 September 2008

AFTRS_island_008Games and Virtual Worlds: a new frontier of experience

Can games have real story and rival the emotional pull of the cinema? Australia’s leading screen arts school thinks so as is introducing courses that prepare students for a future of filmic games and virtual story worlds.

The Australian Film TV and Radio School (AFTRS) has created two ground breaking Graduate Diploma courses specialising in Game Design and Virtual Worlds. These are two of the only courses in the world to explore the link between games or virtual worlds and cinematic story.

“There are already major Australasian filmmakers like George Miller and Peter Jackson working at the frontier between film and games and we know it is timely for AFTRS to integrate games into our screen directing program.” said Sandra Levy, CEO of AFTRS

James Cameron is currently creating games and social virtual worlds around his latest film Avatar and one of his most famous films, Titanic. He said at a virtual worlds conference last week “I’ve always wanted to let people see what it was like to sail aboard the Titanic, to really know the ship, the passengers and their place in history.”

The games industry is growing rapidly and now supports a vast diversity of content ranging from pure entertainment, online social gameplay through to educational simulations of real life and situations. Some of the leading practitioners in the world have helped to develop the AFTRS program including CTO of Relic Entertainment John Buchanan and Matt Costello who wrote the popular Pirates of the Caribbean games.

“Games are a key element of the global revolution in digital content” said Peter Giles Director of Digital Media at AFTRS. “We have built strong foundations for our games and virtual world courses at AFTRS over the past four years. Our expertise in computer animation and interactive writing has been coupled with our experience of rapidly prototyping digital content through our Laboratory of Advanced Media Production (LAMP).

Habbo Hotel, Second Life, and HiPiHi are among 50 social virtual worlds which now command more than 320 million users worldwide. Film and television producers have begun to extend their engagement with audiences by moving them into social virtual worlds and role playing games such as CSI creator Anthony Zuiker who said recently:

“In the gaming area, you want to give people tasks, to shoot things and upload pictures… You’re doing this because you want these people to be creating their own story and it will be part of the crime on the broadcast… Even if it’s not the actual thing I shot, I was part of that experience, that community, that narrative.”

Gary Hayes who has created the AFTRS Virtual Worlds course and led the LAMP initiative said, “It is important when designing any form of digital content that it facilitates active engagement by the audience so that, for example, they may become the protagonist in film-like games or the ability to create their own stories. Our courses will give students the tools to create this new type of experience”.

The courses will look at the cross-over areas such as previsualisation for films, virtual scenes that aid the filmmaking process, real life motion capture, cinematic writing, sound and music for game worlds and the role of artificial intelligence in creating rich game experiences.

AFTRS welcomes applications from all areas of the industry for these exciting cross-disciplinary courses. The courses are suitable for applicants from creative or technical backgrounds. So if you have highly tuned writing or directing skills we can help you to up-skill in games and virtual worlds. Conversely, if you have a games or virtual worlds background we can teach you the skills in leading and developing story-rich projects.

Visit for more info on how to apply.

For further information:

Karolina Lipiec
The Lantern Group
Ph: (02) 9383 4029 / 0415 985 058

Aug 252008

“Make Games and Virtual Worlds at Australian Film, TV and Radio School” – OK time to wear that other hat as Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production at AFTRS and plug some of the cool new courses we are delivering in 6 months time.


Discover new opportunities to express yourself in an exciting collaborative environment where film meets game worlds. Build your knowledge base on strong foundations of cinematic storytelling, gameplay and virtual environments.

I have been in this LAMP role for over three years now (wow, that long!) and the changes I have seen taking place in AFTRS, a 30 year old establishment, with a new CEO and the move to a sparkling (read: still fixing the place up!) new building are utterly transformative. This new environment has had a positive effect on the desire for Australia’s leading linear ‘story production’ establishment to also become Australia and the world’s leading trainer in cross-over, game/film worlds, is a delight to see.

A range of traditional marketing initiatives will kick-in over the next few months with roadshows, open days and printed press but no doubt the blogosphere will start to reverberate with excitement as a few ‘web 2.0 friendly’ staff trickle the news out to ‘trusting’ recipients.

There are some useful details (also copied below) from the MakeIt prospectus site about the game and virtual worlds courses, and yours truly as a lead creator in virtual worlds and other game spaces, is heavily involved designing these and others. Also other emergent cross-media forms will continue as they have done over the past 2 years at AFTRS and these include Cross-Media Storytelling, Social Media Entertainment, Episodic Drama and Participatory TV. Rather than be ‘extra’ modules though, this time they will be embedded into the many ‘heritage’ areas of the curriculum such as Directing, Screen Studies, Sound and Writing making for a truly integrated cross-media development approach. Things are changing fast here and nice to be a part of positive ‘change’.

My favourite rag SMH 🙂 also covered this shift today in its item “Sharing the Stage” and featured Peter Giles talking about the courses…

“The first of these courses will show students how to work in the virtual environments that are creating films, video games and alternate realities such as the online Second Life. The school’s director of digital media, Peter Giles, says students will look at the creation of 3-D worlds that might be shared by a film and a game. “Eventually games are going to be designed in the same virtual space as the film will be,” he says, citing James Cameron’s sci-fi movie Avatar that will be released in 3-D next year. “They’re launching the massive multi-player game prior to the feature film,” Giles says. “People will get to inhabit that world before they see the film.”

The two hundred students starting here in February will be in for the ride of their lives! Oh I have been nudged, must use the agreed marketing phrases 🙂 Here are a selection “Do you have a story in you?”, “Create Entertainment Experiences of the Future”, “Do you have a passion and talent for screen storytelling?” or “In 2009 AFTRS will deliver learning programs that match the 21st Century needs of the Austrlian screen arts and broadcast community.”

OK some ‘new’ course detail. First, Virtual Worlds…there are no direct links on the micro-site as it is a flash movie but here is a link to the other ‘web 1.0’ site course description.


This multi-disciplinary course develops the skills and understandings necessary for constructing computer generated story worlds for use in a broad range of media industries. Project work will include pre-visualisation sequences for film or TV, virtual spaces for use in massively multiplayer online games and social virtual worlds and rich environments for CG animation or machinima.
By the end of this course students will have experience::

  • Creating a range of pre-visualizations of both real and fantasy spaces
  • Exploring the strong links between real set design and virtual world design from a production and cinematographic perspective
  • Using a wide range of environmental design tools, off-the shelf virtual worlds and the various advanced techniques required for high-end production
  • Exploring spaces and tools designed particularly for multiplayer quest-based game play
  • Creative worlds designed for low end browser-based social interaction through to 3D immersive social virtual worlds
  • Finding stories and locations in game engines and creating a wide range of Machinima

Throughout this 32 week course students will work on several practical projects including a real industry brief.

  • Through lectures, demonstrations, masterclasses, and industry guest speakers students will investigate areas such as Cinematography, 3D set and landscape creation, Voice Over Scripting and Production, Lighting, Team Production, Character Animation, Game Play and Sound and Music Design.
  • This course provides opportunities to develop creative ideas and projects in a multi-disciplinary environment.
  • Pre-requisites
    • Demonstrated proficiency in one or more of the following areas:
    • Filmmaking – Such as: Production, writing, animation, cinematography, sound or music design, digital visual effects
    • Interactive Programming and/or Design – Such as: Online Coding, Interactive Design, Installation Art, Social Web 2.0 Development, Offline Scripting, Interactive Production

Course Modules

Course Modules Include:

  • Story and Machinima
    • This module explores new opportunities for storytelling using machinima (a hybrid of ‘machine’ and ‘cinema’), a technique to create movies by using video games as virtual film set.

  • Audio Worlds
    • Sound and music are important aspects of developing sophisticated story worlds and help to and immerse the participant in any virtual environment. This course explores the potential of interactive sound.

  • The Live Virtual Camera (Pre-Visualization)
    • Pre-visualization serves two primary purposes — to sell a concept and save time and money. Also pre-visualization is becoming an end in itself and the cross-over with high production value machinima is investigated.

  • World as Character
    • Understanding virtual space as being heavily linked to story and also integrated with the film story or game and social characters within it followed by machinima workshop.

  • Social Worlds
    • Designing Social Spaces require cross-over skills between town planner, web designer and psychoanalyst. These particular worlds range from cartoon cut out grids on web sites through to fully immersive photo-realistic spaces.

  • Production Project
    • The Production Project is the means for students to apply the skills, understandings and ways of working they have acquired in undertaking other Graduate Diploma units in their area of specialisation. The Production Project Module may take the form of a group or individual project or industry attachment and is intended to enable students to utilise their creativity, imagination, skills and knowledge in their area of specialisation.

  • Content Incubator
    • This unit is designed to develop the skills of brainstorming and rapid creative project development. Flexibility and adaptability in creative teamwork are a focus of this unit. Students learn to work to a brief under time pressure and develop skills in the visual, written and oral presentation of ideas.

and of course Games Design – again a link to the main site details here.


This intensive one year course enables students to develop the practical skills necessary to design games.
Game Design offers a unique mixture of practice and theory developed and taught by industry experts, mixing classwork, workshops and production opportunities in a creative multi-disciplinary environment.
Students are encouraged to build a course that fits their passions, skills and needs through a structure that allows each student to create a unique specialist pathway by a combination of core and elective subjects, including subjects from new Graduate Diplomas in Virtual Worlds, Animation Directing, Directing (Fiction and non-Fiction), and then put that into practice.

By the end of this course students will have had the opportunity to:

  • Acquire skills in designing a wide range of games and experiences
  • Initiate and lead a creative project
  • Explore the role of gameplay and narrative in game design including conflict, goals and managing uncertainty
  • Design characters and environments that effectively support the player experience
  • Experience the dynamics of single player and online communal environments
  • Experience production focused learning in a creative multi-disciplinary environment
  • Learn to incorporate cinematic storytelling into the language of gameplay

Through lectures, demonstrations, masterclasses, and industry guest speakers, students will investigate areas such as narrative space, character, performance, fundamentals of gameplay, and creative leadership necessary to design games.
Pre-requisites: Demonstrated proficiency in one or more of the following areas:

  • Computer programming
  • Fine arts
  • Digital Arts (3D/2D)
  • Interactive Design
  • Animation
  • Creative Producing
  • Game design
  • Filmmaking

Directing Concepts and Skills:

  • A practical and theoretical exploration of the key conceptual knowledge and skills required to lead creative projects

Production Workshops:

  • Work in teams to develop a short production from idea to fine cut.
  • (Shared with students from other disciplines)

Major Project

  • Work individually or in teams to create an original work. Students are encouraged to form teams with students from other disciplines, depending on the needs of the project.

Students will be required to complete 8 electives. Elective topics include:

  • Character and Performance
  • Script and Narrative Structure
  • Level Design
  • Story, Space and Performance
  • Directing Voice Performances
  • Original Property Development
  • Character Design
  • Storyboarding and Pre-visualisation
  • Acting for Animators
  • Casting Techniques and Processes
  • Content Incubator
  • Emerging Media

Modules from the Graduate Diploma: Directing (Fiction and non-Fiction), the Graduate Diploma: Animation Directing and the Graduate Diploma: Virtual Worlds

In addition, students will share Screen Studies units with other disciplines, including genre studies.

Dec 142005

Realtime (and OnScreen) a journal looking at performance, dance, music, digital and the visual arts have published an interview my cohort from LAMP Peter Giles and I did a few weeks ago. Always interested in which bits Karen Pearlman decided to pull out of the ‘chat’. Anyway you can go to the article here or read the whole thing below.

Karen Pearlman on the LAMP initiative

What do Albert Einstein, Alan Greenspan, Robert Frost and Woody Allen have in common? They, and dozens of others, are all quoted in a floating banner across the top of the LAMP website, each in their own ways encouraging risk taking and adventurous innovation. LAMP (Laboratory for Advanced Media Production) is a new initiative to “provide a guiding light for the Australian Media Industry.” The floating quotes on their site focus on 2 key LAMP themes: bravery in the face of the unknown, and the galloping global engagement with new media.

Peter Giles, LAMP visionary and Head of Digital Media at the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS), which is host and home to LAMP, describes LAMP’s objective: “to stimulate production of compelling cross-media content in Australia.”

“Cross-media”, according to Giles, means “mobile, broadband, digital TV, digital set top boxes, games consoles etc, and these are increasingly linked by broadband. But emerging media are more important than the platforms. The most interesting examples are hybrid forms, which exist between the platforms. While many producers and broadcasters at the moment are looking at re-purposing linear content, the full potential of emerging media is in interactive services which are clearly different from what has come before them.”

A new narrative

Gary Hayes, founding director of LAMP, describes content that engages with this potential when he talks about the kinds of projects LAMP is keen to support. “We always look for narratives that carry people over platforms, that keep audiences engaged in a world where people are using multiple platforms.” So far, in Hayes’ experience of the first LAMP projects and his longer term experience working in a similar initiative in the UK, the “strongest version of this has a presenter within the project saying ‘go there now because you will get this reward for crossing to another platform to continue the journey.’ These projects keep the narrative engaging throughout and then drop in another call to action on another platform.”

Calling this kind of journey a “narrative” represents a major paradigm shift for filmmakers and film watchers. It gives the word ‘story’, the bastion of the narrative film industry, a new slant. But Hayes says, ‘story’ “does not necessarily mean drama but a good user journey through content.”

Erasing borders

As the definition shifts, the geographical boundaries that define story consumption also loosen. This prospect terrifies some and thrills others. The slippage takes away control by distributors, for example, while for a creative artist it takes the stigma out of geography. No more is there art house versus mainstream for the cinema, nor television versus cinema for that matter. A project that spreads across platforms doesn’t have the imprimatur of one or the other, it is inherently both experimental and commercial at this crucial moment in development of the media.

One of Hayes’ areas of expertise and personal fascination within the shifting definitions of ‘story’ and ‘audience’ is what he calls “personalisation.” “Personalisation is taking part in a play-along quiz with 2 million other people watching TV. The end result is personal to you. Personalisation goes all the way to who you are and what you do with a service that alters and resonates with it. Everything—narrative, interface, the meter, the visuals, the music—may all change. In a completely personal world, you get things that are relevant to you; it is insider service, it morphs.”

Demonstration quality

“Unfortunately,” Hayes says, “we are now seeing media being put out in the same version in every platform. This is a problem because it may kill audiences off; they may say cross-platform doesn’t work—‘why watch mobile video because it’s the same as broadband and I prefer TV.’” The way that LAMP is addressing this problem, according to Hayes, is to “let people see what the future will be. LAMP is about building things and putting them in front of people so they can see and experience the possibilities.”

The LAMP process

The process of building things takes place in LAMP residentials, week-long immersive periods of workshopping content. Giles reports that, “The residential labs are a pretty intensive experience for both participants and mentors.” In the first residential, held in October, Christy Dena, ‘transmedia storyteller’ was the guardian mentor for Insect Men a game/film (gilm they called it) targeting broadband PC, Mobile and Locative media platforms. Hit It TV, “a cross platform participatory musical drama for teenagers” worked closely with interactive designer Catherine Gleeson as a mentor, and Georgina Molloy, a docu-drama hybrid bound for TV and broadband PC, had the guidance of Sohail Dahdal, filmmaker and new media artist. Five other luminary cross-media thinkers and creatives worked closely with the other projects in a process in which “teams pitch and re-pitch their ideas with feedback from mentors and their peers, then create a prototype under the guidance of mentors and with the help of a team of developers. Teams work towards a final project pitch and presentation on the final day of the lab—and we put a VIP audience together to provide feedback.”

The next LAMP residential, coming up in December, will develop 8 new projects specifically for and with the ABC. “A very strong consideration in choosing projects for LAMP is that they have a designated stakeholder”, says Hayes. “Once workshopped at LAMP, they have to go back to their ‘home’ and pitch to their organization which could pick it up and develop it. Then LAMP has done its work, mentored and pushed it into a direction that will be good.” “The ideal outcomes”, according Giles, for the residentials and for LAMP, are “to incubate compelling projects with global prospects and nurture them to fruition. It’s also about developing talent and switching creative people on to the opportunities in this new area.”

In putting together the teams for LAMP residentials, Giles says, “We are generally targeting film and television creative teams rather than technical people.” This is where the LAMP theme of courage in the face of the unknown comes in. The kinds of fears that film industry people have are of technology or of being left behind or, even worse, Hayes says, “a deep paranoia that ‘I think I’m already left behind so I’ll keep doing what I’m dong because I’ll never catch up.’”

A LAMP residential manages these fears by providing “a strong team of mentors who can guide the technical direction of projects” and with the reassurance that LAMP is, as Hayes says, “a place for people to play and make mistakes without major consequences. Mistakes can kill markets off. So it is a sandbox in which to look at a hybrid model. If mistakes are made it’s just a week’s work, and they are a help to identification of other mistakes.”

Giles and Hayes are both upbeat about the progress LAMP has made so far in allaying fears and inspiring adventurous play. As Giles says, “It’s a process of education and I think we’ve made a good start. Developments in the global landscape provide widespread incentive for media producers to find out more. No one knows all the answers but if we can create a forum for discussion and incubation of ideas we are moving in the right direction.” Hayes adds, “Providing a guiding light to anything requires you to keep putting fuel in to keep the light burning brightly, making sure we have a local pool of expertise, people who can carry the flame if one of us falters. We want to avoid putting in overseas expertise all the time, so we need a group of people who can gradually make the light spread across the industry, already lots of media companies are feeling the warmth.”

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005