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Thursday, December 23, 2010

D.L. Watson - filmmaker, modder and entrepreneur

Oh darn, video crashed!D.L. Watson, from Eugene, Oregon, is one of those real “characters” who epitomise the independent artist and who form the backbone of every community. He’s one of the most outspoken critics of Moviestorm, and at the same time one of its most vocal and active supporters.

He’s been making movies since 2005. He couldn’t afford to go to film school, so he started by teaching himself to edit. He took the whole of the first series of Lost from the DVD box set, and edited it down into a feature-length movie, adding his own sound effects and score. He then found himself inundated with requests to do the same to other TV series. “It was fun at first,” he laughs, “but I really wanted to do my own stuff. And I didn’t want to get sued either!”  In 2006, he bought his first camera, a small Panasonic which he still uses, and started to shoot live action films under the banner of Leefilm Productions. He soon began to find it frustrating as he couldn’t yet do what he wanted. Then in 2007, he discovered The Movies and realised that he could do a lot in animation that he couldn’t afford to do any other way.  Around this time, he and a friend had an idea for a science fiction movie, The Grey People, which he’s been working on ever since.

Two years ago, D.L. suffered a serious injury while working out in the gym, and had to give up his job as a Radio Shack salesman. He’s been using his time to practice his film-making skills, and is planning to go back to school in January to study film-making properly. He’s tried many different tools and techniques, including iClone and Moviestorm, and for one recent film, Graphic: A Risky Business, he used a unique blend of Moviestorm and live action. His latest film, The Letter, was shot live action and storyboarded using Moviestorm. “It’s all about finding the right tools for the job,” he says. “Moviestorm is great for storyboards, even if you don’t use it in the film.  When I saw Saving Grace, by Sisch, I pretty much fell in love with Moviestorm and knew it was what I needed for The Grey People. It’s affordable too at only $250. Just a camera will cost you at least $300. When you’re in my situation, that’s important.”

Shortly after starting with Moviestorm, he became very aware of its limitations. “I’m probably the biggest pain in your ass,” he admits cheerfully. However, rather than give up, he decided to see what he could do to make Moviestorm do what he wanted. The first thing he made was the nav mesh, a free add-on that allows characters to be raised off the ground and effectively create multi-level sets. “In one of the beta versions, there was a bug that allowed you to put characters in mid-air. I was using that, and then you fixed it, so I had to make the nav mesh to get the shots I wanted. I then realised that the only way to get the rest of the sets for The Grey People was to build them myself. I started with the sci-fi corridor, and then the cave, and there are more in production.”

D.L. took the controversial decision to charge for some of his mods, which a lot of people in the machinima community took offense to. “They’re pretty cheap, particularly compared to what you have to pay for addons for some other tools,” he says. “I’m just asking people to pay a small amount to use the sets from my movie. And the nav mesh, my most popular mod, is still free.” He’s also starting up a line of free mods for non-commercial use. He’s taking free models from TurboSquid and other sources and converting them for use in Moviestorm. “As long as you credit the original creator, and don’t use them for commercial projects, there aren’t any copyright issues,” he notes. “It’s a fast, easy way to create free mods than everyone can use.”

As well as starting shooting on The Grey People in 2011, D.L. has several Web ventures going. He runs TMU Theater (shortly to be renamed IndyTheater), an online venue for streaming high quality machinima and independent movie premieres. He’s also partnered with Moviestorm pioneers Phil “Overman” Rice and Tree to launch MSCopilot. He was inspired by Video Copilot, a key site for After Effects users, and realised that Moviestorm could use something similar. He sees MSCopilot as a central site for mods and modders. It will host a store where people can submit their mods. The MSCopilot team will check the mods and ensure they work, and provide sales and payment services. They’ll also have a load of tutorials to help modders. “The Moviestorm wiki never really took off, so we decided to do this instead. It’s something the community needs.”

D.L. is very conscious of the community. “I’d love to help out more when people ask for mods, but it’s always a race with Lucinda,” he grins. “And she always wins.” He has one last surprise up his sleeve. When he finishes The Grey People, he’s going to release the Moviestorm files as an open source movie. He’ll be including all the props, dialogue, and even save files. The idea is that people will get a unique insight into how a movie is created, from the early test footage to the final scenes. They’ll be able to mash up and remix the movie, just as D.L. did with Lost when he was starting off.

Read More:
D.L. Watson: Moviestorm | Facebook | Flickr
Leefilm Productions: Home Page | Facebook | TurboSquid | Vimeo | Twitter
The Grey People: Facebook
TMU Theater / IndyTheater: Home Page | Facebook
MSCopilot: Home page | Facebook

(6) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

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