Monday, August 08, 2005


A new Second Life movie trailer showcases the potential of machinima as a documentary filmmaking tool...

Now that the world of machinima has fully penetrated the white-hot center of mainstream cultural awareness, it may be time for the medium to evolve. After all, despite so much promise-- and a few notable exceptions aside-- machinima is a vast repository of action montage, music videos, and in-jokes that appeal mostly (only?) to fans of the games that the video is captured in.

In that spirit, I've been following the SL machinima of Pierce Portocarrero for some time now. He began creating it not primarily as a gamer or a fan of the world, but as a seasoned filmmaker who saw it first and foremost as a new medium to hone his talents in. Since then, he's been using SL machinima to create a documentary. To be exact, a documentary set within Second Life; to be even more precise, a documentary featuring beloved fashion designer and in-world entrepeneur Nephilaine Protagonist, incorporating real life video interviews with the striking person behind the avatar.

The expanded trailer for the upcoming film, "The Ideal World", is now available in Quicktime here.

Since I have enough background in film to write about it pretentiously, I have to point out a few extraordinarily cool elements going on in there. For one thing, while it's a documentary about an avatar in Second Life, the in-game footage has been given a soft-focus, color-saturated treatment in post-production. (Not raw video capture from the in-game engine, in other words, but an idealized reworking of the footage.) For another, while Pierce illustrates the talking head interviews with Second Life-based complementary footage, he also uses SL elements to re-enact past in-world events, and visual metaphors for internal states. So as Nephilaine remembes what it was like for her avatar to first wear clothes, we see a re-enactment of that. And when Nephilaine describes the heroic self-conception of her avatar, we see Nephilaine painting a self-portrait as a samurai warrior, which then comes to life. Nephiliaine speculates out loud about what she's missing by not having a real life office job to go to-- and we see her avatar stuck in a traffic jam. Nephilaine describes the difficulty of running an in-world fashion design business-- and we see her using Photoshop and logging into SL from within SL itself. (If I was more pomo, I would go nuts on all that hyperreal-artifice-as-reality-simulacra- and-reality-
as-hyperreal-simulacra action, too.)

So while none of these shots are documentary footage of actual events that took place (let alone look that way, if they did) they still work in a documentary context, helping us to better understand the subject and her backstory. Taken together, then, this isn't just a giant advancement in sophistication for machinima-- it suggests a new avenue for the documenatry form itself. (Acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris often integrates old movie clips or dramatic re-enactments into the interview footage of his films, but I don't believe he's ever gone so far as animating the psychic states of his subjects.)

All this, of course, comes after arduous effort, with far more work to come, before completion. Some production notes from Pierece Portocarrero after the break...

On creating the visual effects for the film

Nephilaine and I have been utilizing a few of these methods to tell her story in Second Life. Most of these shots required a vast amount of planning upfront. In a few instances we still had to spend a few hours afterwards in a compositing program like After Effects to recreate a few of the more symbolic scenes.

On the real world interview footage

So far we've shot more than thirty hours of real world footage of [Nephilaine's owner.] During that time we've covered a diverse amount of topics. While the focus has been on the growth of [Nephilaine's fashion brand] Pixel Dolls, we occasionally venture out and get her views on other interesting topics as they come up, like Tringo.

On the in-world video footage that's been shot so far

We have more than a little. At the beginning of this endeavor I bought close to a terrabyte in storage. Six months later those disks are almost full.

On finding the soundtrack music for the trailer

While looking for a site which offered quality royalty-free music I stumbled upon productiontrax.com... The song is called “Scat” and was written and arranged by Shane McKenzie.

On the work that remains

We have another six months in our schedule left to film. Up until this point we have been focusing the documentary on Nephilaine. During the next portion we will begin interviewing other individuals involved in Second Life, whether they are active in the game or just knowledgeable on virtual worlds in general.

How Residents can get involved in production of "Ideal World"

We're planning two big trips one down the West Coast in August and then in October, another trip up the East Coast. If anyone is interested in telling us their Second Life stories they should contact me. I want to try and fit in as many of these interviews as possible.

Currently, we've set-up an [in-world] Ideal World group where film updates will be announced periodically. In the future we plan on inviting group members to test screenings of the material to gauge audience responses to the film at our pavilion in Chartreuse.

Posted at 01:46 PM | Permalink


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Wow, now that's a great trailer! Hits me sorta personally, too, since it was Nephilaine's fashion ad (I think) on BoingBoing.net that led me to Second Life in the first place. With a trail like that to follow, who needs lousy *breadcrumbs* to find their way home?

And Hamlet, shucks, if you're going to eschew the overly pomo route of exploration ... maybe you could sub-contract that to, say, David Foster Wallace? (Heh. Don't we wish!) Because the "hyperreal-artifice-as-reality-simulacra- and-reality-as-hyperreal-simulacra action" is something that really needs to be gone nuts over. At least, this is one avatar who'd find it fascinating ... (DFW covering Second Life for six or seven pages in Harper's ... be still, my beating cerebellum!)

Posted by: Memory Harker at Aug 9, 2005 8:48:12 AM

Wow! Fantastic trailer, I really want to see the film. The direction is awesome.

Posted by: Metahari at Aug 11, 2005 7:09:10 AM

Pierce does some real sharp stuff!

Posted by: HiroPendragon at Aug 18, 2005 8:51:15 PM

I just linked my album here....i saw you were looking for royalty free music ;)

I am free to make any tunes for anything, just send me a line and we can talk. I have been looking for a way to become more involved with SL and i knew it was always going to be through my music.



love the trailer =D

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