Make Your "Avatar" A Star! (pt 1)
Photo Credit: S & A

Make Your "Avatar" A Star! (pt 1)

We’ve talked about many aspects of film, from actors to directors and even fashion. However, what about filmmaking that’s happening outside the norm? With the recent advances in technology, nearly anyone with a camera, computer and an idea can make a film of any genre and style; yet, with the influx of these novice indie filmmakers on Youtube, Vimeo and other video hosting websites, there’s still one segment of this movie-making movement that barely gets any mention in the media—that’s Machinima, which has a massive audience (noted by the fact that the largest Machinima presence on the internet, gets 70 million unique hits per month).

Even with those numbers, this fairly new offspring of animated filmmaking barely gets any mass media attention. I, being a Machinimatographer in the virtual world known as Second Life®, sought to find out more about the artform, particularly in Second Life®: Defining what is Second Life, what is Machinima, who is making it, what the benefits and setbacks are to making these types of films and whether it has opened the door to bigger opportunities (if at all) for those involved in the process? I thought I would share what I learned with S&A.

I would first like to explain what Second Life® and Machinima is, especially to those of you who may be unfamiliar with the terms. Second Life® is an online virtual world (also known as a Metaverse) where users (residents) can interact with each other using Avatars. Some call it a game, others say it much more than that. This article is not meant to elaborate on what is and isn’t Second Life, only to present a community within it that is creating art relevant to what we discuss here at S&A. As for Machinima, it is defined as this: Filmmaking within a real-time, virtual 3D environment, which most often employs the use of video-game technology. A further definition is provided from the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences:

“…it [Machinima] is the convergence of filmmaking, animation and game development. It is real-world filmmaking techniques applied within an interactive virtual space where characters and events can be either controlled by humans, scripts or artificial intelligence.

By combining the techniques of filmmaking, animation production and the technology of real-time 3D game engines, Machinima makes for a very cost- and time-efficient way to produce films, with a large amount of creative control.”

The next question I had was why—why are some venturing into this form of filmmaking when they could use their resources for a live-action film, upload it to youtube and maybe find an audience there? Well, the obvious answer, these films are by and for gamers but then I found another answer which took me back to the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences. According to their website, Machinima can be:

“…live or scripted in real-time, it’s faster to produce than traditional animation.”

They also mention a bunch of techno jargon that may prove to confuse you, so I’ll add this: imagine in a few years being able to shoot a film, much like James Cameron’s Avatar, using motion capture and various other technologies at a fraction of the cost? Furthermore, imagine shooting a film at various angles using various techniques and NOT having to call back cast and crew for reshoots? Simply put, Machinima is the future of filmmaking ala Avatar and with the right visionaries, moving forward, it can be done at a price well below the former’s production cost—that’s something to think about.

Once I redefined what Machinima is and why people are making it, there were a couple questions that kept playing over and over in my head—but can this really be considered filmmaking and if so, are there any black directors involved in the making of it (besides myself)? I didn’t have to wait too long for an answer. The first stop on my journey to meet Second Life’s most sought after filmmakers led me to Rysan Fall, a 30-something Machinimatographer who resides in Connecticut and yes, he’s African-American! Actually, I was already acquainted with Rysan; he had been on my [in game] friend’s list for at least a couple of years and yet we had only spoken on two, maybe three occasions. When I reached out to him for this article he was very eager to talk with me and so, we arranged a meeting over Skype that same evening.

During our chat, Rysan was very forthcoming. He told me that his foray into Machinima came a few years back. At the time he was unemployed and looking for work, when one day he saw a salacious media report about the sordid sexual aspects of an online “game” called Second Life®. He said, his curiosity got the best of him and he decided to sign up. Once he became acclimated to the environment he realized it had great potential for him beyond the reported animated ‘thrills’. You see, offline, Rysan was an aspiring filmmaking and before entering Second Life, he had ventured into a documentary project that (due to various reasons) fell by the wayside. After he began participating in Second Life, he decided to use the virtual world as a practice ground for filmmaking and filmmaking techniques. The results: a continuous stream of income and a lucrative job offer.

Later, in part two of this article, I will introduce you to a working actress who also performs in Second Life and another Machinimatographer by the name of Suzy Yue, in addition I will share more of my conversation with Rysan Fall; I think you will find his story interesting but before we get to that, I would like to give you an example of his work…

Disclaimer: the following video is not work safe!!!

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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