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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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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, there.com 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 www.aftrs.edu.au/games for more info on how to apply.

For further information:

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

Sep 092008
 

A selection of mini posts I did in the last few weeks on the slightly 101 LAMP Watercooler blog

Will they Flock to Electric Sheep’s SVW Browser?

Interesting enterprise development from California based, Electric Sheep Company (notable for doing branded developments across virtual worlds like There.com and Second Life) as well as cross-over, mixed reality gigs like the CSI-virtual world mash-up last year. They have developed Webflock, a easy to implement solution for any company/organisation to brand and deploy, as if any website, a social virtual world (svw) to allow ‘avatorial’ interaction, out-of-the-box so to speak. I expect we will soon be seeing a whole raft of open source, wordpress-like virtual worlds like this for you to use as your home-page (or should that be home-space) in the coming months. Their business model, until the open source stuff comes along, pay the early adopter enterprise price of $100k + .

WebFlock can help you realize your goals for a social, fun and immersive web presence. A basic implementation, which includes the out-of-the-box feature set, custom 3D avatars and 3D space, and 12 months of the application services fees, is available for under $100,000.

Every WebFlock implementation is separate and customizable, which gives companies the ability to control such things as user registration, quality of art content, monetization including advertising or micro-transactions, integration to other Web content or profile systems, and the overall user experience. The front-end is built entirely in Flash, which is already installed on 98% of the world’s Web browsers. ESC made the critical decision to work with Flash because of the barriers inherent in asking mainstream users to download software, whether desktop applications or custom browser plug-ins.

The core WebFlock application includes key virtual world features, such as chat filtering and muting, emotes, load-balancing for massive scalability, and Web-based metrics to be able to track usage. WebFlock 1.0 also includes a bundled social game and a premium live customer support feature. WebFlock can be customized with unique avatars, branded 3D spaces, and new interactivity such as casual games or scripted objects. It can also be integrated to a company’s existing art or game content, registration systems and other Web applications. WebFlock can reside on a single Web page or be syndicated across the Web.

WebFlock supports detailed usage tracking and performance metrics. The default reporting interface is Google Analytics, which allows customers to access results from any location with Internet access. ESC charges a monthly application services fee based on concurrent users, which covers access to the software, hosting, technical support and maintenance. Customization services, such as art creation, game design, or systems integration, are priced separately.

FaceSpooks – Your the star, be IN the movie

A hat tip to Dan Taylor over at BBC for pointing out this lovely little viral that allows you the passive, sit-on-the-couch-and-munch-crisps viewer (well fiddle with laptop) to be the star of Spooks. FaceSpook is a personalized video tool where your face is mapped onto a character in an action scene – and all via the web where the processing took around 1 minute. Here is my first attempt at sneaking into the top secret facility as agent ‘Gary Haye’ (yes limited to 9 characters I found out too late), a leading part of this mini story vignette.

Seems all major films and TV landmarks shows need their viral (above) but also an ARG to surround the show and extend the narrative, the story universe/world/environment. Spook’s ARG is Liberty News, yet another ‘set-in-the-future yarn – go here and check out 2013 now.

Back to the present, below some more stills from the above video which will expire in 3 months – hmmm very Mission Impossible 🙂 First my original face image and then some shots of the ‘very personalized’ video – now imagine this working for a 2 hour feature film at HiDef – bring it on baby ! 🙂

Multiple Places in the Multiverse

Seems you can’t turn your back on Social Virtual World development nowadays. A couple of weeks after I put out this video which covers ‘most’ of the major players along comes Multiverse Places. I suspect that the slow take up of multiverse engine as a ‘tool’ needed a little Linden pzzazz to get things moving. I notice they are promoting the Times Square area which has been around in Multiverse for over a year – but now with added ‘Social Networkness’, or something like that.

A revolutionary 3D virtual world that brings together the best of massively multiplayer online games and social networking sites. The beta release of Multiverse Places enables you to socialize in a visually-stunning Times Square environment through customizable avatars and integrated voice chat. In addition, you can customize your own apartment with images, music, and videos. Like social networking sites, you can learn about a person’s real-world interests and tastes by visiting their place (their apartment). In addition, you can also interact in real-time together.

Making the World(s) a Better Place – Virtual Worlds at Congress

To show how Social 3D Worlds are permeating the real world the first ever Congressional hearing on Virtual Worlds was run in April of this year. The then CEO of Linden Lab (Second Life) Philip Rosedale, testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, basically telling them about the likely ‘influence’ that 3D Social Worlds will have moving forward. Here is a seven minute machinima that he presented as part of that talk – just released to the public from Blip.

To show how mixed reality is progressing too more about the simulcast in and out of second life below from America.Gov 🙂

The hearing was streamed live into a three-dimensional (3-D) model of the House hearing room in Second Life, and a gathering of in-world residents watched the proceedings from their seats. Massachusetts Democrat Representative Edward Markey, the subcommittee chairman, presided over both meetings — in person in Washington and as an avatar in Second Life.

“If we want to foster the best of what this medium has to offer,” Markey said, “we must consider the policies that will be conducive to such growth. These include upgrading our broadband infrastructure and speed, fostering openness and innovation in our Internet policies and ensuring that we bridge digital divides in our country so that all Americans can benefit.”

“The Second Life grid is the next step in the fulfillment of the Internet’s promise, where people create and consume content and interact with each other in a 3-D environment,” Rosedale, chief executive of Linden Lab, the company that runs Second Life, told the subcommittee.

“The potential for commerce, education, entertainment and other interaction in a 3-D environment filled with other people,” he added, “is far greater than in the flat and isolated two-dimensional world of the World Wide Web.”

What Mash-Ups are worth ‘Emailing’ About – Firefox Ubiquity

Found this great demo of a ‘semantically’ rich plug-in for Firefox which really suggest where we are headed when things ‘link’ together in a much more ‘human’ way. Enjoy.

Yes you can try it now, get the plug-in from this post…and a great get started tutorial from the Mozilla team.


Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

When Game Consoles Get Serious

I love my little black DS-Lite. It has made several global plane journey’s a lot more bearable with its cute ‘grind’ games, sims, racing, stories and good old brain trainer. I also do serious tech music too and of course have the full Logic/Reason/Live Macbook Pro rig as well as some cool ‘retro’ emulators like the ARP2600 that synch perfectly to the Logic master clock (ok too much detail). Back to the DS-lite. A toy right. Well no.

The guys at Korg and Nintendo got together with a couple of young Japanese design agencies and created something I had to have immediately – a fully featured Korg DS-10 emulator. It looks great on the black DS, a real in-your-pocket analog synth from the 80s – is that Tangerine Dream in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me? Not a toy a two oscillator, four drum track, 16 pattern sequencer and 21 song storage (thats basically 21 times 16 different 4/4 bar configurations) – complete with keyboard, kaos pad and more…so off to eBay, order from Japan and I wait patiently for the postman 🙂 After the embed XBox has some serious applications too..first check out this video and go here to VideoGamesBlogger, and click the video about half way down for a cool interview with its creators and a two DS live jam…

A lot of sites are reporting the new feature with XBox Live used for voting and recruitment around the world. BBC News reports in its item XBox Live in Youth Voting Drive about the online forums being used to garner views on politics from gamers as well as doing ‘test’ votes as part of the presidential ‘opinion polls’…

“To realise our goal of registering two million young Americans by this fall, we need to go where young Americans are,” said Heather Smith, executive director of Rock the Vote, in a statement. “There’s no doubt in our minds that many are on Xbox 360 and Xbox Live.”

Microsoft said that the Rock The Vote campaign to use Xbox Live would begin on 25 August.

In the past Rock The Vote has also worked with MySpace to encourage bands that promote their music via the social networking site to get fans to register to vote.

Through the partnership with Rock The Vote, Microsoft is also planning to have a presence at the Republican and Democrat party conventions to educate politicians about it and its members views.

See Emily Play – amazing CG ’emotional’ actress

At AFTRS LAMP we are very interested in Artificial Intelligence as the foundation of NPC or non player charaters. Once you have a good generative scripted character they can interact with ‘participants’ in cinematic games or virtual worlds and drive narrative by having real conversations. So students can also develop AI to automatically create emotional scenes on-the-fly, using generative scripts.

The only thing that would be missing therefore from a potentially completely self-generating film would be great text-to-speech and real time visual CG characters that had authent realism…Look at this and you tell me if you think we have come a long way from Polar Express in 3 or 4 years…Interestingly this is being sold as ‘a bridge across the uncanny valley’, in truth until this is real time we are just climbing up the other side, for now, See Emily Play…

and some background on the technology Image Metrics behind this…from a New York times article

The team at Image Metrics – which produced the animation for the Grand Theft Auto computer game – then recreated the gestures, movement by movement, in a model. The aim was to overcome the traditional difficulties of animating a human face, for instance that the skin looks too shiny, or that the movements are too symmetrical.

“Ninety per cent of the work is convincing people that the eyes are real,” Mike Starkenburg, chief operating officer of Image Metrics, said.

“The subtlety of the timing of eye movements is a big one. People also have a natural asymmetry – for instance, in the muscles in the side of their face. Those types of imperfections aren’t that significant but they are what makes people look real.”

and behind the scenes (sound is odd but visuals speak for themselves after 1.30 or so)

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.

CREATE ENTERTAINMENT EXPERIENCES OF THE FUTURE

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.

GRADUATE DIPLOMA VIRTUAL WORLDS

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.

GRADUATE DIPLOMA GAME DESIGN

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.

ELECTIVES
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.

Jun 132006
 

© Gary Hayes 2006Give people very simple and highly social tools for producing and creatively sharing content and truly inventive things will happen. In a growing ‘easy to publish’ movement the current user generated, digital personalized content explosion will continue indefinitely – the creative big bang. A digital stills or video camera and a computer in the right hands has already demonstrated wonderful things can happen. Give anyone a pen and paper and a thousand works can be produced, books, comics, sketches, screenplays, personal letters, song lyrics and so on. Give them a simple way (blogger, wordpress etc) to publish their thoughts, opinions and journals onto the interweb and we end up with 44 million blogs and rising. Give them a place like Flickr to store, tag and share their digital photos and as well as a billion images, covering the state of the planet, we also find something the creators never thought of or intended – endless mashups, games and interconnections between users content. In fact the simpler the tool set, the more people can play with it, create their own rules and more importantly extend the environment. Most so-called interactive services or console games suffer from the been-there-done-that moment when the ‘story world’ is exhausted as I mentioned a couple of posts ago. Even some of the RPG online games suffer from this in that you have rule sets, repetition and actions you ‘have’ to perform to continue or rise up the ranks, whatever is your preference – this constraint hinders creative production. So what do you do when you get given a completely new world where the narrative and rules are unlimited?

To answer that question here are some of my current, initial thoughts on being creative inside Second Life. A few have referred to this world now as the future of the internet – in that the 2D website will be replaced by a 3D space not disimilar to what is evolving here. That may well be true, in which case all the creativity we see on the web at the moment will morph into a cluster of shared 3D spaces. I will look in a moment though at photography, filming, creating games and original art inside SL but first what are the majority of the now quarter of a million residents up to? Most have unsurprisingly brought key elements of the real world with them – the three way street of money, socialising and sex. I differentiate the last two because there are only around 10-20 thousand involved in virtual sex – according to the purveyors of the various bits of ‘equipment’ you need to buy. I do feel most though use the world as a place to meet their peers or just as a ‘cute’ way to communicate (an alternative IM or chat room – see Tony’s comments a few posts ago). Of course there are those who are only after making a buck or two, selling clothes, gadgets, buildings and anything else that can be bought on the ‘outside’. For many, judging by the endless malls and classifieds, it is a place to hang and watch the tens of dollars trickle in, for a few it is a real income which means they really have given up the day job. Hats off to them, but not original.

I think many in the world also use Second Life as a means to live the life they never will be able to – the nice house, alternate (sometimes deviant) lifestyle and all the trappings in a nice, like-minded neighbourhood. But what else apart from money, socialising and sex? Is there anything really unique being created rather than cute representations of the real world – sure there are wonderful themed gardens and coastal scenes – but like the scene in the film Contact where Jodie Foster was told (I paraphrase) – “we did it this way so as not to scare you” when referring to how a higher race may communicate with us, by taking us to a familiar, pleasant environment. But what about the unqiue and higher art forms, photography, film, games, sculpture, art, literature, mash-ups and music? I talk about the first four here from a ‘producing-it’ perspective but will get to the last four in a future post.

I have been dabbling, like a few others, with ‘finer art’ photography, filming (machinima) and attending a few lectures. I have also been playing with scripting music and ai type 3D graphics motion but early days yet. I have seen some very nice original art pieces that are enabled by the very basic 3D tools you get as standard but only a handful of people are creating the truly original works. But what about photography? Well it is relatively straightforward to screen capture the world in second life, a what- you-see-is-what-you-get digital photography equivalent. But to produce anything of a higher standard, like real photography, you need to spend time. Not as much as filming of course, but devote time and effort. I have done a few trial shoots (images scattered in this post – Anya above) and found that all the same rules apply as to a real shoot – I have done quite a few professional real life photo shoots on and off over the years. You have to find willing subjects who take direction, you need good clothes, you need to use special lighting and find great locations with suitable environmental elements. Then there are the unlimited poses for the avatars (yes it is sometimes easy to forget when you are in the middle of shoot that these are just 3D graphic models). Then there are the endless expressions and props you have to manage.

©Gary Hayes 2006Finally your photographic sensibility and aesthetic have to be utilised. Composition is critical in a world of unlimited depth of field – the angle of view, elements in the scene and overall colour ranges. These things apply to filming but then you have consider many more things such as animation, moving camera and filmic narrative which complicates things even further – more later. Photography is a very social thing in this world as to achieve good results the communication between avatars (and their puppet masters) is crucial. Just using chat or IM slows things down, one where you are in control of the subject is obviously better but most social, would be to use voice or skype during the session. The key point I am trying to make here is that to produce anything of aesthetic value you need to put in the hours – like the real world it requires dedication. The real world of CG animation likewise requires true dedication shuffling those millions of pixels around, you have full control, but also unlimited variables and possibility – an major effort in filtering and selection.

©Gary Hayes 2006This leads onto making machinima in Second Life – but which applies to any games engine filming. Firstly the story. OK this goes without saying but many machinima narratives have often been constrained or certainly curtailed due to the limitations of the medium. The best stories are the ones that play to the strengths of this medium and like my earlier post on ARGs in Second Life, use narratives that are rooted in the environment. There is a group in second life called alt-zoom that are pioneering filmmaking in this environment and a few friends are also pushing the envelope. Kronos (aka David) is, like me, learning the tricks of the tools and I will do a post later about the more craft/tech side of lighting, frame rates, colour balance, capture settings etc:. The technical side of capturing the real time ‘play’ is relatively straightforward as is the set building (which is a breeze and pleasure here). What is not so easy is the cinematography and the quality of the character animation and facial expression. Using a locked off or auto tracking camera is not so bad but to try and create scripted camera motion takes a serious amount of time especially when trying to achieve synchronicity with the actors – I will call avatars, actors from now on.

©GAry Hayes 2006There are limited sets of animations for the actors and the facial expressions have a long way to go (many are garish) so for now I tend to favour a more subtle approach and use head motion rather than theatrical, comedic standard actions. You can of course create your own poses and anims in tools like poser and import them and that is the only way for bespoke filmmaking in this environment. I am also trying to pioneer live filming in second life. Using a games controller it is feasible (still working on it) to have full 360 degree control over the positioning of the camera in real time, making slow crane shots or unique tracking shots much easier. This then makes the whole process more realistic, especially if your actors are improvising and are in control in real time of each of their animation suite. In fact this really gives second life an advantage over CG produced or games console based machinima in that the whole process starts to match a real shoot. I have included a couple of stills from a test shoot I have just done on this page also. A final ambitious goal for me at least is to try to do a multi camera shoot of the real time scenes – in otherwords you could have ten or more people logged in with three doing a real time three camera shoot while the other seven take the directorial, set design and acting roles. Check posts for updates on this.

As a slight tangent and following on from my earlier post on ARG’s in the world it was interesting pick up on a range of intitiatives set-up by Linden Labs (the world creators) to try to stimulate more, social games in the environment. The SecondCast podcast crew talked about a few on a recent episode called “To the Zoo”. It was no surprise that they also agreed that the less technology in the game, and the more that it involves social interplay and uses the worlds grammar, the more compelling it was. So they reviewed the in-game, games The Collective, SLictionary, Tech Warfare, Boogie Board, Danger Zone, Dark Life, Castle Wars and Blocks SL. The Collective went someway to using the world for the core of its game play narrative in that it required you to ‘experience’ as much as possible to accrue points towards a final play-off – so just saying hi to new people or going to new places was enough to take part in the game and it encouraged more than what most people do in the world. The one that garnered most social interplay was SLictionary. Yes more or less Pictionary, but in SL you a required to build (using tools that most experienced SL’ers are familiar with) objects and everyone has to guess what it is. Sounds simple and yes it was, but most time was spent on it. OK not quite an ARG but I will be playing it soon as it sounded like great fun. In the almost ARG domain there was also Mata Hari that has been covered by Anya, which really was a word puzzle game wrapped in a thinly veiled historial narrative. Not really an ARG, which should really be rooted in the story world of the one you are in and have a much deeper narrative structure, but by all accounts got people interested in more of the same. There are a few more on-going that I will post about later.

Finally onto true originality. There seems to be a lack of uniqueness in second life at the moment. I suppose the time it takes to become fluent in the environment means that only a diehard few will have the time to invent new things. Sure some new fashions have appeared but what does this environment provide us as raw materials to make the unique. Well a few are playing with the fact that in a world of ‘suppressed gravity’ and extended physics, where particle and layers animation is relatively straightforward combined with simple scripting, texturing and easily distorted primitive shapes – quite a few unique things are possible. Anya (again) introduced me to (aka) Clames Clanger (a professional music producer and filmmaker) who has his own special island where he creates unique, out of this world, but no so out of that world, pieces. They are all moving in very fluid ways and few reminded me forcibly of, getting back to the film I mentioned earlier, the transporter from Contact. All are truly innovative and pushing the imaginative envelope of a bio-mechanical future but retaining a naturalistic purity. Then there are his ‘nature’ pieces that exhibit a level of artificial intelligence many using particle physics. All great fun, profound and firmly rooted in what SL should be about.

Clames shows how the tools in the right hands can produce something special, sublime and unique. There are a handful of others ‘playing’ in this space so I am excited to see what evolves. It is was also great meeting up with him as he demonstrated something I had spent a few days creating from my real world panoramic photos, surround cycloramas for the film I am doing. So it was wonderful for Clames to show that SL has its own holodeck (thanks to Nightspy). Yes a box that contains a range of computer controlled, full surround imagery exactly meeting my needs – complete with Star Trek speech commands. More on that experience and how we work with it in a later post.

The speed at which information moves here really promotes creative thinking. The next thing is to move some real world media management thinking inside to provide a strong foundation and to allow the creatives to flourish.

To summarise then. In an immersive enviroment with a unique but simple set of tools anything is possible. I suspect the majority of the potentially one million by the end of the year (if the growth statistics hold up) will be doing what they always have done. A few though will pioneer, do what is impossible in the real world and create totally unique user generated content. It goes without saying that the late 2003 policy of Linden Labs on advice from the forward thinking Lawrence Lessig and his in-world talks helped a great deal in promoting creative thinking here – remove the barriers to unlimited innovation, these include a sense of ownership of the work but with that needs to be very accessible and easy to use tools, and SL has some of the best.

Post and photography by Gary Hayes ©2006