Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Using Second Life to support Moving Image specialism on Design for Digital Media.

Moving Image specialism.
Moving image covers all time / screen based work, from live action Video production to 3D / traditional Animation. Projects could include title-sequence design, music videos, short drama and documentary productions.

The production of moving image work using Second Life, other MMO's or Video Game Engines is called Machinima. The practice of Machinima can help re-inforce the practice and theories of professional moving image production, could be used as a form of advanced animatics within a larger moving image production; as well as being a moving image medium in its own right.

A Whale of a Tale, - Angrybeth Shortbread 2006

Transferable skills that can be gained from creating Machinima

Storytelling and Structure
Without a story / narrative / structure / concept , as a starting point, then the machinima will have no co-herent sense or meaning. In the act of creating a machinima, the student's have to work out what they are trying to communicate to the audience, and develop appropriate scripts or storyboards. Dramatic structure and character development can be deeply explored with this technique. As Machinima has very little costs ( well once you have the kit that is ... ) a student can try alternative shot setups and sequences, and explore how they impact on storytelling and meaning.

Shot Compostion / Camera Movement
The camera controls within the Second Life client, are sophisticated enough to allow a student to explore shot framing techniques both moving image and also virtual photography. Lens effects ( field of vision) can be explored to a degree. Scripted objects allow tracking and craning sequences to be explored ( without the considerable cost and health and safety issues that happens in real life ). Focus, exposure techniques and smooth zooming effects are several areas that can't be explored with Second Life machinima at present in realtime.
With the recent addition of dynamic lighting, some exploration of lighting techniques can be applied, especially low-key / chiaroscuro
lighting effects. Though shadows at present can't be cast by objects or avatars.

I've slowly been building learning material for shot framing using machinima here. --- link

Post Production
Second Life has no inbuilt tools for editing shots and sequences created in Second Life. Footage will either be recorded directly to the hard-drive of the computer or onto video tape ( if using video-output from the computer to a video deck ).
Editing the footage would need to be done in programs like eg. Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, or Avid. This allows a student to engage with industry software whilst editing the machinima footage into a fine cut for presentation. Working with machinima footage captured via software, also allows students to explore quicktime compression.

Sound Design

The above example machinima 'whale of a tale' is entirely post-produced sound design, with sound effects synced in the post-production software. This technique, allows students to explore foley sound effects, added dialog replacement, and music compostion. Sound can be generated within Second Life, 10 second samples can be triggered, looped or synced with animation gestures. Streaming audio eg. Mp3 , can also be played into the land plot.
For students focusing more on traditional animation techniques, sound - especially dialog would be pre-recorded before animation would be generated. The mac client quicktime output is mute, so to record sync audio at the same time, the video deck option is the best solution. Alternatively using a piece of software like Soundflower can capture sound running through the sound card.

Art Direction / Production Design
Set design, costume design, props, location can be explored with Second Life. The content creation tools within Second Life can build all the assets required for machinima production, re-inforcing the students understanding of 3D modelling techniques ( that in themselves are cross-transferable to Games Design ). Combined with Shot compostion, genre styles can be explored. On a more management level, exploring Second life user created content for adequate assets, like clothes, props, and even locations, allows the students to explore the professionalism and responsiblites of roles like location manager, as well as co-ordinating a budget.

One distinction between machinima and 3D animation, are the characters ( avatars ) are controlled by other people online. This requires the machinima maker or team, to think of stratagies to co-ordinate a group of people in front of the camera synchronously. Also having to co-ordinate others, means the team have to break down the production into a schedule giving pragmatic experience of time-project management.

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