Art of Machinima – Part 1 – Technical Software

I am no expert at making machinima, but after having collaborated with JellyBean Madison on over 30 machinima videos during a two year period, I do feel competent enough to at least put together a little advice for some of the up and comers who think they might like to try their luck directing their own machinima feature in SecondLife.   I think that the method of machinima can be divided into two segments:  technical and artistic.  This post is going to focus on the technical software requirements.

I am going to start by sharing the very first video I ever set up, filmed and edited in SL, which was done in November of 2007.   I remember being shocked when Sine Wave contacted me about wanting to use it on their website, and they also sent it on to a lot of the dancers which they recruited to do Mo-Cap for them as an example of what they were trying to accomplish.  I filmed this the first month that windlight became accessible so everybody was still ooo’ing and awww’ing over the sky and water.

My intention is to take you through my own personal evolution as a maker of machinima by showing some of our work over the last couple of years.   You can see from this first one I was still enamored with transitions and glowy fonts…   :p

In order to film basic machinima, you need the following three software components:

  1. A video capture program
  2. An audio editor
  3. A movie editor

So let’s start with the video capture program.   Jell and I both use Fraps.  Fraps is available for purchase at the price of $37 USD.   Luckily, it is the only purchase you have to make to be able to do machinima.   If you want to just practice with fraps, and not pay for it, then there is a free version you can use, but it will include a watermark over your film that reads http://www.fraps.com at the bottom.   Basically what fraps does is it records everything it sees on your screen from the point in time you hit record (F9), until you tell it stop (F9).   There a few basic settings that you want to check before you start recording.   First of all, make sure that the “No cursor” button is clicked, or else your mouse pointer will show up on your vid.   Secondly, I always make sure the record sound button is off because we typically set our videos to either a song or a backing track.   One cool feature of fraps is that you can turn the record sound button on, and then you will hear any audio that plays through your speakers when reviewing your playback.   This means you can use fraps to record SL voice if you want to do interviews, or create some sort of tutorial program.   There are other video capture programs available which allow you to create a box on your screen of exactly what video you want to capture, or that do some basic editing and effects while you are recording.   In my estimation, for the cheap price and ease of use, fraps is all you need.

Secondly, you are going to need an audio editor.   Technically you can get by without an audio editor, and just layer in a full length song, or not have any audio in your vid, but I think over time if you do machinima then you are going to want an audio editor.   I recommend using Audacity.  It is a free editor, that lets you easily trim music down, or add multiple tracks of audio.   You can record voice, and layer it against the audio all in a very simple to use format.   Most video editing programs, only allow one audio track to be layered against the video.   This means that if you want to combine music, dialogue, and any sound effects then you need to layer it together in Audacity, and then it will blend it into one track which can be input into your video editor.  There was one battle scene in Tank Girl we filmed where I had 15 layers of audio going at once, because every gun retort, reload, explosion, and breaking glass were all layered in against the backing music track.   I really can’t brag enough about Audacity for basic audio layering.

Third, and perhaps most importantly is that you need a video editor.   My personal favorite is Edit Studio 6.   However, there are numerous options out there, and I am not sure this one is necessarily the best, but it is the one I am most comfortable using.   Luckily for you, there is a fairly robust video editor provided free with modern versions of Windows called Windows Movie Maker.   Your editor is where all the magic happens.   It is where you end up taking a lot of video footage and weeding out the slow or weaker shots, to get at the kernels that make up the story line.  In the editor you arrange the clips in the order you want to see them, you work on timing the audio and visual together, and voila… you have your first machinima production!

This segment concludes the overview of some basic software requirements that you need, and in the next installment, I am going to cover the basics of camera movement, lighting, export settings, and other information that you need on the technical side of filming machinima.   Then I will follow that up with a post which gets more into the artistic side of thinking through a storyline, and selecting elements, etc.

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