SL Machinima

Ged off ya horse…

Via Darien’s blog I found a great piece of SL Machinima on Eladrienne Laval’s blog about a mysterious stranger coming to town during the Wild West celebrations of Raglan Shire’s recent 2nd Birthday. Watch it and laugh like a loon!

Here’s the direct link to the You Tube vid – I don’t embed vids as the flash used chokes Opera Mobile on my phone.

Nova Albion 5th Anniversary – Photos!

Nova Albion LogoI made it with three minutes to spare and everywhere was full so it was, to put it mildly, hard work moving and seeing but that didn’t dampen the atmosphere any and the parade through Nova Albion was a huge laugh! This pic was taken at the border on Luna where the parade ended up – we were noisy, big and setting fireworks off with a vengeance 😀
Nova Albion's 5th Anniversary Parade (22nd March 09)

I went round on good old Frank because my dear old float was borked by lag…
Nova Albion's 5th Anniversary Parade (22nd March 09)

Other people had more luck with even magallen showing up… sort of 😀
Nova Albion's 5th Anniversary Parade (22nd March 09)

Nova Albion's 5th Anniversary Parade (22nd March 09)

Nova Albion's 5th Anniversary Parade (22nd March 09)

Nova Albion's 5th Anniversary Parade (22nd March 09)

Nova Albion's 5th Anniversary Parade (22nd March 09)

You can see all the photos on the Nova Albion flickr group here, and don’t miss Osprey’s fab video here.

Now – same time next year? 😀

When Free Does Not Mean Free

I’ve been working on the audio track for my flea circus act in TSMGO and it’s been a long, hard slog to get it finished. From learning new software (Audacity for voice recording and Sony Vegas 7 for editing it all together) to finding the right music and sound effects and making the time to get it done – it’s been hard work. Fun but hard. But yesterday I finished it. That is, I thought I had. An innocent comment from Osprey means I’ll have to re-do the whole music score – and I don’t mean shift around and remix, I mean delete and find new music.

Why? Good question.

It seems my understanding of the word ‘free’ in Freeplay Music is somewhat flawed. It is only free if I intend to listen to it at home, on my own and never ever let anyone else hear it in say, ooooo, a show in a virtual world for instance.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh piss.

SL Machinima: Starting The Second Project

My last (and first) film was, as I mentioned, not my first choice or idea. My first idea was very different but I only had snatches of it in my head – images, really. I toyed with them for a while, trying to find a hook, trying to expand it, but I was always held back by lack of technical know-how and the fact I was to be working entirely on my own. It was as I pondered this for the double plus umpteenth time that the film which was to become The Missing Saloon of Oak Grove popped into my head almost in its entirety. But I have made that one now. It is done and I need to move on. And so I find myself returning to my original idea.

I’m a little more knowledgeable now. I have a better handle on what can be done and what can’t be done. I have the tools in place and a slightly-better-than-basic grasp of them. It is time to move on to my second film.

I’m still aiming for a short run time – about 5 to 7 mins – and I still think I’ll be working alone so the story telling will have to be unambiguous, but really I’m going for visual impact anyhoo so I think I’ll be ok. This one will be gritty and urban, dark and fast. Again I have images, only this time there is a narrative stringing them together. In this way, this feels to me more like a music video than a film, but I see nothing wrong in that – sometimes the story leads, other times the visuals.

This time I’ll be editing on Sony Vegas 8 (basic Movie Studio edition rather than Platinum or Pro). I’ve downloaded the free 30 day trail to see if I like it. Why did I change from VideoSpin? Simple really – VideoSpin only gives 1 video track and 2 audio and I found that quite limiting even for a simple film like “The Missing Saloon…”. To be fair, that is not what the program is intended for and I still think it is a lovely, simple fun thing to use, but it is meant for stitching home movies together, or making fun videos for YouTube or mobile phones and not for making complex movies. OK, so why not upgrade it to Pinnacle’s Studio 12? Well, I so nearly did, but I couldn’t find anywhere how many video and audio tracks it supported until I stumbled across some gripes on a forum about it ‘still only having 2’. Sony Vegas Home has 4 (so does the Platinum whereas the Pro is unlimited but costs £400+). It was a no-brainer from then on really.

My first task has been to write down a brief outline of what is going to happen, but the idea is so simple that it was very, very brief. I tried to make some storyboard sketches but found I was blocked by not knowing what the filming location was going to be like. What to do? Why find my location, of course!

A few months ago (maybe many – I am losing my sense of time as my RL-as-responsible-new-parent and SL-as-escaping-new-parent blend and merge) I entered Osprey’s photo contest called City Streets. I searched for ages and ages for a decent city to take some snaps in and it was hard work to locate one. Of course, you are reading this reeling of half-a-dozen names off at the screen but back then I was on the old laptop and it was hard to find nice places where I could see past 96 (or sometimes 64) meters so cities were often no-go areas for me. Anyhoo, I found one and even did quite well in the contest, but on my travels I came across the rather gorgeous build of Suffugium*, a futuristic dystopian build with some lovely touches of warmth and humour. So I’ve returned and it looks perfect for what I want. Dark streets, narrow alleys, high roofs… lovely…

I suppose I better get on with scouting for locations for shots so I can storyboard this thing 🙂

Yours,
Cecil B DeBurro 😉
**************

* IIRC, I had come across it once before after reading about it in NWN.

SL Machinima: Extras for The Missing Saloon of Oak Grove

I always like to make a record of my progession as I learn something new and I also like to pass on my lessons learnt, so in that spirit, I’d like to present to you the Extras! from my film, The Missing Saloon of Oak Grove. Enjoy and I hope they prove useful if you are looking at making films in here 🙂

SL Machinima: The Missing Saloon of Oak Grove

Oh joyous day! I have finished and uploaded my first ever machinima film. It has taken over a week of my life and kept me awake long past my healthy bedtime (sorry to the fam and my boss for being knackered all the time) but it is done and I have enjoyed it immensely 😀

The idea came to me quite suddenly. I originally planned my first film to be about a very different subject, but when this idea popped into my head pretty much complete and ‘as-you-now-see-it’ I just knew I had to do it. Ideas are funny like that – some take a long time to ferment and bob to the top of your consciousness, whilst others appear fully formed and *need* to get out as soon as possible. I am very, very glad this one is done and out of my head now as I haven’t been able to think about anything else for too long.

So, without further ado, may I present to you “The Missing Saloon of Oak Grove” – I hope this little effort makes more people explore the old, forgotten places of this world. I also hope it makes the Linden Moles fix this wee town and make it great again.

Edit (7th Jan 2010): Here is my previous post about Oak Grove and here is a film of extras & how I made this film.

SL Machinima: Lessons Learnt (3 in a series of many…)

I’ve been making my first film and by god it’s hard work! Hats off to the machinimists (wow – just when you thought a noun couldn’t get any uglier) in SL; you are stars! The film I’m doing is going to be a simple two minute piece about a man travelling to a building and then leaving (I know that doesn’t sound thrilling, but I don’t want to spoil the film for you) and so far the first 40 seconds have taken me all week! True, RL means I’m not on the computer as much as I’d like and SL means that often that time is spent doing other important stuff, but shewhomustbeobeyed gave me a pass this week and I was able to get on for about 2 to 4 hours at a stretch for 5 nights and in all that time I have still only just got the first 40 seconds done despite having film them three times so far! Anyhoo, in the spirit of my previous posts on this subject, here is what I have learnt so far:

Preparing the viewer
*****************
I’m lucky enough to have a PC that can run windlight on ultra so I did the following:
a) Set the viewer to run in a 1024 x 768 window (normally I play with this set to my screen size of 1440 x 900).
b) Played about with the sky editor to get a sky I liked and could use to guarantee similar lighting conditions every time I logged in to film.
c) Used the latest Release Candidate (RC) because, for some reason I can’t fathom out, I can’t find the Anti-Aliasing setting on the normal viewer.
d) Turned the anti-aliasing up to 4x (I tried 8x and 16x but both made the jagged edge lines worse – how is that possible?)

Setting up Fraps:
**************
I am using a combination of stills and movies in the film, so I used Fraps to take screen shots as well as recording the video. For the stills I used TGA files as the JPG quality was terrible -I convert them back to JPGs in the free XnView. As an aside, a fringe benefit of using Fraps for the stills is the ability to capture motion, by which I mean a foot in mid-air or some other animation mid-cycle, much easier than using the in-built snapshot facility. For the movies I set Fraps to 30FPS and full screen.

Cameras
*******
I now have several machinima camera HUDs and devices, but so far I have only used a cheap little camera locking HUD that I found by accident on SL Exchange. Here’s my findings so far:
a) The lovely SpaceNavigator 3D I bought recently is almost useless for filming in the latest RC because of a bug that leaves the word “Flycam” on the screen and therefore in your film. Bah!
b) The Filming Path and Alt-Zoom kit can’t be used as they need building rights and the sim I’m filming in has building blocked. I’m glad Osprey pointed this fact out to me as it honestly never occurred to me until then. What a dope I can be.
c) The rather posh MachinimaCam HUD can be used, but I haven’t yet as I need to be in the shots (That’s right folks – I’m writer, director, star, editor and financier). This wee factoid is what led me to look for a system that allows me to ‘detach’ my camera and then lock it some place else and start recording. This is how I came to use the…
d) See Me HUD! which is a dirt cheap and dead simple little HUD that lets you lock your camera away from you. On the whole it’s amazing – why the expensive MachinimaCam HUD hasn’t thought of adding this feature is beyond me. It does have one minor limitation, though. When placing the camera you still need to focus it on you otherwise, when you click the LOCK button, it swings to find you and locks into that position thereby ruining your carefully planned shot. I had to pull a variety of tricks to get this right, usually involving setting up the shot, noting where the centre point was, moving my av there, re-setting up the shot and locking the camera. The fun you will have then trying to move your av back out of shot and into a starting position is something I will let you experience yourself, suffice to say it can be somewhat frustrating 🙂 (Ohhh! one other thing – draw distance is relative to your av, not your camera and if your camera is locked as the av walks away from you, more scenery may start to appear in shot).

Hiding the screen
***************
Ctrl-Alt-F1 hides the client, but don’t forget to un-check “Show HUD attachments” in the VIEW menu first – important if you are using the See Me HUD or have any other HUDs on.

Editing
******
I’m using VideoSpin by Pinnacle. I can’t find any support / user forums out there at the moment but there is a help page on the website which is OK but as bit basic. The opening segment of my film is a series of still shots with fades in between and I’ve found it very difficult to alter the amount of time between each still as the fade transition does not seem to want to vary. I *may* be doing something wrong or I may be misunderstanding the nature of transitions, but either way I feel like the process is slightly out of my control and that is not a good thing for an editor 😦

Making the video
**************
I bought the MP4 codec pack for VideoSpin (the program is free – the codec pack is not but only cost about £7 so no great shakes) after a friend of Ayumi’s suggested that MP4 was a good format to save in. So far so good! Small file sizes for good quality – thanks for the tip Daedalus!

Music
*****
A great place to get free music is Freeplay Music, here. Please drop any links you might have into the comments.

Sound Effects
***********
I still need to look into these – anyone have any good links?

Miscellaneous
***********
Lemme see, what else did I learn so far…
1) I drew a story board first to help plan out the shots and make notes. I used MS Publisher to print out a page of blank slide notes in a 3×3 grid of 9 boxes on a side of A4 and just photocopied it a few times. My artistic skills suck muchly, but even I can manage to draw a stick man on a stick horse 🙂
2) Time contracts when shooting and editing – 3 hours zooms by like 1.
3) The sheer number of retakes I needed is silly – from inexplicable jumps and glitches in SL to random people landing next to you to ask what you are doing when your viewer is hidden and your camera is dozens of meters away.

I think that is it for now. I hope this has been useful – maybe I should show the footage so far here as well, I’m not sure.

Anyhoo, goodbye until the next ‘lessons learnt’ post… 🙂

Flycaming with my SpaceNavigator

I couldn’t wait to get home and try my new SpaceNavigator and patience is not a virtue I’m blessed with. Still, wait I had to but it was worth it.

Setting it up is easy – plug the USB, insert the CD and away you go.

Getting it to work in SL is also easy – the RC (release candidate) version of SL has a default setting for it. I doubt it will be long before this gets into the main viewer (actually, it might be – I’m using the older 1.19 veiwer to ensure the best stability possible during shows with TSMGO).

Using it effectively is a different matter entirely – it feels odd and strange after a mouse yet somehow natural as it moves, something I think is due to its feeling of gentle resistance and springiness and its pleasing weight (I’m not hot on the two buttons, but hey, that’s a minor detail 🙂 ). The hardest bit to get right is the moving forward or backward and not tilting the camera over or under, but it will all just be a matter of practice, practice, practice 😀

I took it out for a spin at various locations and, as I tried for the umpteenth time to explain what it was and did, it occurred to me that a simple comparison video would be a good idea. So, dear readers, may I present to you the HBA Machinima Test Videos 2 & 3!

The first video shows me caming around in a sim called Murray. In this one I am using the mouse and ctrl / alt buttons to move. You’ll see how jerky it is, how I have to stop when my mouse movement maximum is reached, how I have to use the curser to continually grab and hold a focus point for the camera to move to or around. Also note how I get that odd ‘snapping away’ effect when I try to grab the moving leaves or myself at the end. All in all, not something you’d want to watch 🙂

This second video replicates (roughly) the camera path of the first but this time I’m using the 3D SpaceNavigator – it is smooth, I can sail around through the trees with ease, shift my focus on the fly. And all this with hardly any physical movement on my part and no keyboard use at all. My right hand is on the SN and just gently pressing in the directions I want the camera to travel or move – it felt like I could have done this for hours whereas mouse-moving gets tiring quickly. You can see how I sometimes lose focus and the camera moves in a way that feels wrong, well rest assured that these things are down to me still trying to make the movement of the SN-to-screen as natural as years of first person shooters have made my mouse-to-screen skills.

So there you have it – the next instalment in my SL Machinima guide. Again the capture was done using Fraps and the editing on VideoSpin. I need to look into how to improve the end screen quality, but that is for another day 🙂

SpaceNavigate Me!

It’s come* – yay! Gawd bless ‘er Maj’s Royal Mail!

* As recommended by Osprey, Morris and Torley.

Lights Camera Action – My Adventures With SL Machinima

I’ve been a very busy bee of late (sorry to the friends I’ve not seen or spoken to for a while) both with rehearsals for The Show Must Go ON and building sets for various acts, but that is not all. Oh no, to compound my lack of time issues, I’ve finally taken up the gauntlet of learning to make movies in SL. I’m a fool to myself.

Why now? God knows.

Why making movies? Looks like fun.

Why the questions-per-line? Looks important. Grabs attention.

You blog cheat! Yes. Now carry on reading*

Let me start by saying that making films in SL (machinima is too ugly and awkward a word) is a lot harder than I thought. But, logically, if it weren’t lots more folk would be doing it. From setting up a scene, to recording it, to editing it and uploading it, nothing is simple. Well, not if you want to do it right. The learning curve for various bits of in-world kit or external software can be steep. The constant re-running of scenes to get the movement right is tiring. The editing is long and laborious. The final result is often of disappointing quality. But don’t let me put you off (I’m looking at you Miss Bracken) as it is great fun and you can always learn from my mistakes first so hopefully you experiences will be better and your learning curve faster. So let me break down what I’ve learnt and how I did it… are we sitting comfortably?

1) Seeing with the in-world camera.
This is what you see on the screen, not recording what is on the screen (not yet – that is the next step). If you record the standard view then your recorded images would show whatever you see on the screen – your av from behind, the menu bars of SL, chat and IM boxes that pop up, even the Windows start bar (I can’t speak about Macs as I’ve never used one and don’t really know what their screen stuff looks like). To record for training vids, this may well be what you want, but for films and the like the UI (user interface) should be hidden and you shouldn’t be in the shot.

To hide the UI just hit Ctrl-Alt-F1 to toggles it on and off. You may even want to set SL to NOT run in a window, but I found the changes the program had to do between window and no-window gave my poor computer a headache so didn’t bother. If you do, the option box for this is somewhere in the preferences (Ctrl-P).

So assuming that you have hidden the UI, you’ll see that you are still stuck with a shot of you from behind – not what you want. To fix this, you can either go into mouselook (but this is can be a jerky and difficult way to move a camera) or wear a clever doodah that shifts your camera view to one other than the standard behind-you-boo!-point of view. Several of these devices exist, you be glad to hear – ranging from free to moderately expensive. Naturally, for starting out and experimenting, you will want to try free ones Torley Linden offers in his office. Once you want more flexibility, you can look into the non-free systems. I used Filming Path to make my wee film, others use Machinima Cam HUD and my friend Osprey uses her bare, neked hand sat atop a fancy 3D mouse thingy.

Filming Path is a HUD system that marks the path you walk or fly with little yellow balls (called waypoints) and then rezes a seat at the start. Once you sit on the seat, it hides the UI, goes to mouselook and moves along the path at the speed you set. You can alter the path as much as you like, add a focus object that the camera will ‘look at’ as you move and all manner of other useful things. This was how I filmed the long flying, swooping pass over of my jungle. The big drawback is that it can’t be used in no build and no script areas. Difficulty and learning curve: 4/10 and 15 mins

The Alt-Zoom free kit, made by the clever bods at Alt-Zoom, is a free camera path making kit. I have tried it but it needs practice to get good quality results from. This also can’t be used in no build and no script areas. Difficulty and learning curve: 5/10 and 20 mins

Machinima Cam HUD is system that with a simple click moves the camera around you in interesting and creative ways so that you can set and compile interesting shots. This can’t be used in no script areas. Difficulty and learning curve: 4/10 and 10 mins

3D Mouse: I’ve never seen one, let alone used one but they can be used everywhere 🙂

2) Recording stuff
Right, so you have the camera set up in SL. The UI is hidden, the scene is set – you are all ready to go. But how do you record what is on the screen? Well here things ramp up a little in terms of difficulty and learning curve. Once upon a back in the day, there was a movie capture feature built into SL itself, but it wasn’t very good and has gone the way of sideburns and trilby hats. These days you have to use a third-party external program and I tried three:

FRAPS – This is probably the best known of these programs. Very simple to use and the basic, limited version is free (the full version costs a one-off payment of around 30$US / £20). Once downloaded and installed you just choose a few settings and then, when in-world, press a pre-set key to start and stop recording. It’s that easy. There are some settings I really don’t know much about yet (FPS rate and full screen vs half screen being two) but there is plenty of help on the web. The files it records are large (very large) AVI format files. Difficulty and learning curve: 4/10 and 20 mins

CamStudio – This free program looks easy enough but I couldn’t get it to give me good results – just sort of jerky, flickery pictures. Also it buggered up my in-world FPS like you wouldn’t believe! Difficulty and learning curve: 5/10 and 30 mins

TAKSI – I simply didn’t understand this one and couldn’t make it work. It is free though. Maybe I was doing something wrong. Difficulty and learning curve: 7/10 and ? mins

As far as I can tell, you need a program that has very little CPU usage so that it doesn’t reduce your in-world frames per second, and pumps out the best quality files it can. FRAPS seems the best for this task.

3) Editing stuff
Once you have recorded several scenes, what to do with them? You need to edit them together you fool! What kind of damn silly question is that? Errr, sorry. It’s been a long day. Anyhoo, as I was saying, you’ll need to edit the scenes together, add sound effects and music, fades and transitions, text and credits. This is the bit where it can start to get daunting. Up until now, using various cameras in SL and pressing a button to start or stop Fraps recording has been easy, but here you need to switch SL off and start learning a new skill – video editing.

Don’t be scared though. I was and I need a new seat now, so don’t make the same mistake as me. There are some great and easy to use editing tools out there – and the two I downloaded are free! The first is Windows Movie Maker and the second is VideoSpin (Osprey also told me about Avid’s free version of their world famous editing software, but I’ve not tried that yet).

Windows Movie Maker: I liked this – dead easy to use (actually harder to find, download and install) but I got confused about video formats and stopped using it when I discovered it only made WMV files. I thought that videos had to be uploaded to SL and WMV isn’t supported by Quicktime I think… I’m not sure. Anyhoo, the long and short is I downloaded VideoSpin instead. But I’ll try Windows MM again – watch this space. Difficulty and learning curve: 4/10 and 30 mins

VideoSpin: This is a nifty free program designed to take the pain out of editing with a simple drag and drop style interface. Actually the interface is its worst point as it’s not very intuitive, but there is a help file and tutorial video so I got there in the end. My film of the jungle was edited on this, the text and fading transitions were added with this and I saved it from the huge AVI format to a compressed MJPEG with this. Difficulty and learning curve: 5/10 and 50 mins

Now we get into Dark and Murky Waters. Compression, Codecs and file types. I *really* don’t know enough about this stuff to advise anyone on what to use as I’ve no idea. I will be experimenting, but for now you’ll have to google and read up like I will 🙂

4) Uploading the bugger
Welllllll, I use Blip.TV as I read they had a better quality uploads than You Tube, but I think it all depends on what you need to do with the result. I’ve not looked into how to get the videos in-world, but I’ll let you know about that when I do.

So, there you have it. My potted guide to how I’ve taken my first faltering steps into the world of SL machinima 🙂

Here are some useful links for you:
SL Machinima Tips
Eric Linden’s Machinima Tips
Torley Linden’s Video Tutorial Guide
SL’s Guide to Video Making Software
Wikipedia list of Video Software

EDIT: D’oh! I forget to put a link to Ayumi Cassini’s great machinima work! Here you go 🙂

HBA
*****

* Carry On Reading, a great film in which Sid James takes down Babs Windsor’s particulars over the late loans counter whilst Jim Dale and Bernard Breslow examine Fanny’s Hill. Happy daze.