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Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Madness - a year of Moviestorm for £25!

It must be the summer heat. Madness has swept through Moviestorm Towers. Amos and Ben have been crying out in strange languages: “I-Paaaad! I-Paaaaad!” Dave and Andrew huddle in a corner, hatching ever more outlandish plots. Alex - he seems normal, but who knows what’s going on behind those enigmatic eyes? Fortunately, I’m safe here in Florida, where the heat can’t get to me…

We’d hoped to contain this outbreak of insanity without anyone finding out, but it seems that the first symptoms have spread beyond the building. They’ve cut the price of the a one-year licence to Moviestorm from £100 to just £25. That’s not a theme bundle. That’s the whole thing - Moviestorm itself, the Modder’s Workshop, and 39 content packs, covering drama, romance, horror, action, documentaries, cartoons, kids shows, and music.

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Go to the purchase page, and select the Annual License. Quickly, before the temperature drops and they all return to their senses…

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Monday, July 23, 2012

Teaching numeracy - an innovative approach

imageLast time we spoke with expatriate Scot John Herd, he was living and working in the tiny Pacific island of Vanuatu. Since then, he’s moved on, spent some time in East Timor, and is now living in Nelson, New Zealand.

His current project is to convert a 30-minute radio show about numeracy into an animated film. Unusually, the show, Bae Gel Blong Mi Hem i Mas Skul! (My Daughter Must Go To School!)
is performed in Bislama, the local language - most shows are in English - and was written by staff at the Wan Smolbag Theater. where John used to work.

The story focuses on an illiterate and innumerate single mother who gets a relation to sell her food at the local market. She isn’t aware that he’s cheating her - she’s simply happy that she doesn’t have to go to the market. Her teenage daughter, meanwhile, gets thrown out of school because they can’t pay the fees. The woman can’t understand why they’re broke, when she knows they have money. When the daughter realizes what’s going on, she shows her mum how important it is to understand money. They start making a decent living, and the daughter gets to go back to school.

“It may sound like a pretty silly story to people living in the developed world,” explains John, “but it has real meaning to people out here. It’s not just about learning to count. It’s about why education is important. It’s about women learning to think for themselves. It’s about being business savvy. All these things we take for granted, but they’re cultural values which have to be taught. Young people in Vanuatu are really learning the value of being educated, and stories like this are an important part of that. The fact that it’s in the language they speak makes a real difference too.”

John plans to distribute the movie via DVD. Online distribution isn’t really an option for him. There’s not enough bandwidth, and in many places, they don’t even have reliable power. However, most people in these island nations have DVD players, and young people in particular love to watch DVDs. His hope is that Wan Smolbag will take on the task of distribution. “They know more about how to get things out to people than anyone else,” he says. “If that works, maybe we can also put it out in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and other places where they speak Bislama.”

So far, John’s about half-way through the project. He’s a keen modder, and admits to getting distracted making specific content models that he needs, even if they’re only on screen for a short time. For example, he modelled the market in Port Vila, using a combination of custom content and the assets from the Indian pack. He also found that preparing the audio from the radio show took longer than expected. It took him three days to cut up the audio for the first scenes into individual snippets; once he’d mastered the technique, though, the second scene took just a couple of hours.

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He’s hoping to get the film finished in a couple of months, depending on other work commitments. “I’ve only managed to complete three movies in four years,” he grins. (I Bin Gat Wan Taem, For a’ that and Round the Corner)  “I’ve got over forty things posted on the Web site, but they’re nearly all just demos, me showing off what I’ve been playing with.”

John’s mostly treating this as a proof of concept. The original radio production was sponsored by donors from Japan, and John hopes he can get them interested in converting more of their radio shows to video if this one’s successful. “Young people especially relate to video,” he says. “They like watching animation. Radio’s great, don’t get me wrong, but this adds a sense of fun and gets people excited to watch. The ability to pause and play back sections could be useful, and the video version might also allow deaf people to participate more in the learning process. I’m not trying to replace the radio show, just to augment it. Older people will still listen to the radio while they’re working in their food gardens or whatever.” 

The WSB radio shows are accompanied by educational resource books for use in classrooms. After looking at some of the work done by people like Kate Fosk using Moviestorm to produce “comics”, John is thinking of doing the same for these study books using stills from the movie instead of hand drawn images. This would speed up production and also give them a consistent “look and feel” with the video.

“Education is the most important thing in the developing world,” concludes John.  “It changes communities. It changes lives. Moviestorm’s a great tool for enabling that.”

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(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Moviestorm - the perfect tool for University Campus Suffolk

imageEddie Duggan is a Senior Teaching Practitioner at the School of Arts & Humanities in University Campus, Suffolk, in South-East England. He’s taught a variety of media courses, and now focuses on Game Design. Moviestorm forms a key part of the teaching method.

Early experiments with machinima as a teaching tool

“The best way to illustrate how Moviestorm fits in with the current curriculum is to explain how we got to where we are,” explains Eddie. “I had worked on several undergraduate courses before becoming a dedicated member of the Computer Games Design team. I introduced students to the concept of machinima for several years on a largely theoretical Media Studies course. It was interesting to me because it was an example of people using technology—computer games—to do something subversive. Games give users a cheap means of access to a networked, multiuser 3D environment which can be modified with custom content, and they also provide the means for players to record what they do in those environments and make those recordings available to others. Although users in the early days were capturing tournament play, speed runs, etc., and could only share recordings with others for playback as demos in the game engine, things began to evolve in interesting ways when users stopped simply playing the game as a game, but began to create what were effectively dramatic performance pieces which were recorded and made available for others. Making these pieces available as standalone works in the form of video files increased the audience reach, and when those rehearsed and scripted pieces were given post-production treatment with video editing tools, sound effects and even dialogue, a new media form was available: machinima.

“It didn’t take long before I realised that talking about the theory, and showing Diary of a Camper and other early works was a bit of a cop-out: while the concept of machinima seemed to suggest that a veritable Aladdin’s cave of potential was available for the cost of a game, the course actually stopped short of going into that cave and sharing the treasures. I started to think that we should have a practical machinima course. The only problem was, I was going to have to be the one do it, so I actually had to find out how to practice what I had been preaching.
I’d been doing some research into what machinima tools I could use and I had discovered Fountainhead’s Machinimation which existed in various forms back then. The demo release of version 1 included the Quake III engine and was, in fact, a Quake III mod that had been created by Fountainhead as a machinima production tool. 

“While I was getting to grips with this, with no support community and very little documentation, I heard about a machinima event in Norwich. This turned out to be Matt Kelland talking about machinima, and how he and a couple of others had developed Moviestorm. After meeting Matt, I participated in one of the Moviestorm testing events. The software seemed perfect for what I was trying to do: give students reasonably intuitive, easy-to-use, software that would let them make machinima. The icing on the cake was the fact that it had automatic lip synching! It could do so much more than Machinimation and was far less complicated than using Matinee in UT2004, so it was the perfect tool for the course.”

Eddie was one of the first people to adopt Moviestorm as a teaching tool, and University Campus Suffolk became the first institution to purchase a multi-user educational license. Moviestorm worked closely with Eddie to see how he used it, and on several occasions, we visited the campus to meet with the students and lecture to them on using machinima.

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Using animation in a games design course

Currently, Eddie introduces students to Moviestorm in the second year. In previous years, it formed part of a third year Machinima module, but this has now been replaced by a new second level module, called Anymation, in which students get to create 2D and 3D animation. The Anymation module provides a workshop environment that allows students to explore various animation techniques with a range of software applications. Anymation students now work on 2D animation in the first semester and machinima in the second.

By the time the games design students get to the end of the second year of their course, they will have gained experience with a wide range of tools and techniques, including, for example, games design theory, ActionScript, mobile development, 3D modelling with 3DS Max, development in Unity, working in UDK, scrum and agile project management techniques, as well as 2D animation and machinima in the Anymation module. This should ensure they are really well prepared to select the tool chain and techniques needed to undertake their final year work. 

Eddie is hoping to see some interesting work coming from this approach. “Hopefully, we’ll see some third year machinima projects emerging out of the curriculum changes, whether it’s in the form of a cut scene for a game created in UDK, or in the form of a free-standing narrative piece, created in a game engine or in Moviestorm.”

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Tony Braden & David Sullivan

Reactions to Moviestorm

Eddie notes that not all students responded well to Moviestorm. “There have been a few students with a hard-core focus on creating machinima with specific 3D game engines, or with high-end applications like 3DS Max and Mudbox, who see Moviestorm as a bit of a “toy” (which, of course, in the best definition of the term, is exactly what it is) and who don’t try to see beyond their initial prejudices to find out what kind of high end results can be obtained with sustained and focussed development work with custom assets in the form of textures and models and attention to lighting and audio design.”

It was also intimidating to some. Eddie showed his students work such as something like IceAxe’s “Clockwork” or Chat Noir Studios’ “Death in Venice”. Although these films look extremely impressive, some students were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to develop the necessary skills in the time available for a project, or did not feel prepared to put in the effort required to achieve a particular effect. “When we do have problems,” he comments, “it’s usually something to do with the modding pipeline.”

However, the majority of students liked it. “Most of the students who choose to use Moviestorm tend to enjoy it, and are satisfied with its core out-of-the-box functionality. In terms of ease-of-use, I think it’s easy to get started with Moviestorm as a beginner. The interface is designed as metaphor for the film production process, so students can quickly get to grips with the overall process and readily get the hang of switching between different modes or views.  For those with more advanced skills, the options are available to bring in custom content, such as 3d models of simple static objects, or image files to use as textures, and while the possibilities for even more advanced customisation exists, the processes become much more complex (for example, creating a prop that a puppet can manipulate).  But Moviestorm is versatile enough to provide core machinima functionality for productions created by several people with a lot of experience in using the Moviestorm pipeline for modding, as well as being well suited for use in a solo project by someone who may have no previous experience of machinima or of working in a 3D environment at all.”

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Rob Hutton

Eddie is still very keen to continue using Moviestorm for his own work as well as teaching. “Moviestorm is great fun to use, and I enjoy using it for personal projects. Since I’ve been using Moviestorm, my interest in machinima and my knowledge of the medium have developed considerably. My interests and my tastes have always been quite broad and varied—I think “inclusive” is the term du jour—so I’m quite open to a wide range of texts and media. So much so that I was actually a bit taken aback when I found that one of my machinima pieces had been rejected from an film exhibition because it looked too much like a game! I’ve come a long way with machinima: from raising awareness of machinima as a concept to developing a practical machinima module. I also had to learn how to actually do it in order to teach the practical course, this led to me making a piece that was screened at the MaMachinima International Festival in Amsterdam (2011) and has also been shown at an Exploding Cinema event in London (2012). I couldn’t have done this without Moviestorm.”

Most importantly, though, Moviestorm provides an essential tool for his students. “I also think it’s great to be able to use it as part of the course. We need a tool with the functionality Moviestorm offers, but it’s also something of a luxury to have software that is simple to use and provides quick results.”

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Will Nash

More info

The Waterfront Games Channel: UCS student work on Vimeo
Like Bits And Stuff: Eddie’s blog
Eddie Duggan on Twitter
Moviestorm News: Using Moviestorm to teach Games Design in Ohio

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Friday, July 13, 2012

New rules of engagement

imageJamie Billingham isn’t your stereotpyical machinimator. At 50, she has two grown daughters and seven granddaughters, and works full time as a Health Manager for a group of four First Nations in the Fraser Canyon in British Columbia, Canada. She’s also a part time community manager for Thoughtstream, a small start up that has created a community engagement platform used in over a third of the school districts in BC and Alberta. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also a full time Masters student pursuing an Interdisciplinary stream that includes leadership, learning and technology.

As part of her MA, she is conducting a participatory action research project on community engagement sponsored by Thoughtstream and a local school district. “One of the premises my project is built on is that there is huge competition for attention,” Jamie explains. “School districts and the education sector overall are competing with local, provincial, and federal government, businesses, TV, internet… the list goes on. In order for school districts to get the attention of community members, especially parents, they need to compete “as if” they were marketing something. What they are marketing is the future health and wellness of their children and society as a whole. Education, public education especially, affects every aspect of our lives; from economics to health to our ability to innovate. School district leadership “get” that. Most community members don’t think about it that much and because they don’t think about it they don’t, at a high enough rate, engage with school districts. That has to change. As Margaret Wheatley says, ‘The simple fact is that we can’t design anything that works without the involvement of all those it affects.’”

Jamie decided to try using Moviestorm to see how much video would affect the way people respond to messages. “Most of us have grown up watching moving pictures with sound; TV, films, video and more recently YouTube and TED. In addition there is a whole generation that has grown up gaming, becoming familiar and then expecting great video graphics.  So the first part is familiarity, no learning curve, nothing to adapt to.  And don’t underestimate novelty. We humans love novelty as long as it’s not too far apart from what is familiar. We like safe novelty. When it comes to a school district engaging constituents the norm is a flyer, newsletter or invitation to a face-to-face community consultation. Video is not expected, making it novel in that context, yet it is not so far from what is familiar to be seen as threatening or inappropriate.”

One concern was whether animations would be perceived differently to live action video. This has so far turned out not to be a problem.  “The overall advantage of animation is that it is inherently more engaging. Even a talking head animation is more interesting, due to novelty, than a real talking head. When we move into anything more complex than a talking head type video then the advantages begin to grow exponentially. Sets, costumes, number of actors, and special effects are simply not something I can afford financially nor do I have the capacity to organize. Really, it would be completely beyond my abilities to even get a watchable five minutes that included multiple visual perspectives or any kind of dynamics. With animation (almost) anything is possible. The only time used is my time. All the equipment is in one place, my computer. I can shoot, reshoot, edit, do over, change sets and costumers and actors at will. Even the weather is not a consideration, because I can even control that in an animation.” Jamie laughs. “Maybe I have a God complex!”

The decision to use animation wasn’t completely clear-cut. “The disadvantages with animation are the extra steps in production and the learning curve. I can turn on my web cam, click record and upload the results to YouTube without any real need to learn anything difficult. The results would be video. Not particularly engaging video but it’s still a video.”

However, Jamie notes an interesting side-effect of using animation instead of video. “I can mitigate the bias that my particular real life talking head may cause. Bias happens. Positive bias increases engagement. Negative bias reduces it. Knowing that I can, using animation, control bias direction, at least to an extent. The best example I can think of is the Apple Mac vs. PC ads. I can’t afford to hire someone who looks, speaks, stands like the Mac guy. I can however, approximate that with Moviestorm. Animation levels the playing field of bias.”

Jamie opted to use Moviestorm after dabbling with a wide range of animation tools. “I have absolutely no formal film training,” she says, “but I have experimented with most of the media and transmedia applications available though. When I was first experimenting, a year or more ago, I connected with someone on Twitter who was in some way involved with a really cool Moviestorm for Oracle, David Christopher. He was great and shared a bunch of practical tips around storyboarding and scripting. I really like the esthetic possibilities of Moviestorm. I fell in love with Sims when they first came out and have experimented with some of the alternative animation applications. Moviestorm just has the look and feel I want. It also has the flexibility I need to really get creative. I especially like that I can embed a video clip into a Moviestorm shot and use my own voice in conjunction with text as subtitles.

She is looking forward to seeing the results of her project in a few months. “I hope they love it!” she says, cheerily. “I hope it engages them enough that they will not only watch (that’s the first step) but also respond to the questions I’ll be asking them. Engagement is a process that starts with getting people to pay attention.”

Jamie sees many other ways to use Moviestorm outside her own project. “I see this as having great potential in multiple sectors: education, business, or politics - imagine using it to educate constituents about issues. Really any area that you need to share complex information.”

We look forward to hearing more from Jamie later in the year.

More about Jamie
http://www.jamiebillingham.com
http://about.me/jamiebillingham
https://twitter.com/jamiebillingham
http://ca.linkedin.com/in/jamiebillingham

More info
Moviestorm Oracle project
Thoughtstream

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Friday, July 06, 2012

Screen Education

The next issue of prestigious Australian magazine Screen Education features an article by Moviestorm founder Matt Kelland about innovative ways to teach movie-making. Drawing on material from his series of books about using Moviestorm to develop film technique, as well as his experiences working with students and teachers on live action films in both the USA and the UK, he discusses how machinima tools such as Moviestorm act as a cheap, easy test-bed for practicing skills. These tools enable students to work solo on specific aspects of film-making, trying the same shot or scene in many different ways to compare the results. They also allow students to film things that would otherwise be impractical on a student budget. When used as a previz tool, they can save time on major shoots, which means that time on set is used much more effectively.

The Winter 2012 issue #66 of Screen Education will be available shortly via their Web site.

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Screen Education is a quarterly magazine written by and for teachers and students in primary and secondary schools in all curriculum areas, as well as some areas of tertiary study. The magazine also publishes articles by educators, scholars and critics. Published by Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM), the magazine builds on many decades of experience in delivering screen literacy programs for teachers and students. Firmly grounded in both theory and practice, the magazine brings more awareness about the diversity and complex character of the moving image, simultaneously promoting the joy of learning and an appreciation of screen culture. The magazine includes practical classroom ideas, lesson plans and activities along with essays, study guides, updates on new technology, and book and DVD reviews.

Download our FREE e-books:
Making Better Movies with Moviestorm Vol 1: Basic Camerawork
Making Better Movies with Moviestorm Vol 2: Staging
Making Better Movies with Moviestorm Vol 3: Sound and Light
Making Better Movies with Moviestorm Vol 4: Editing
The Moviestorm guide to previsualisation
Using Moviestorm to create storyboards

More about how Moviestorm can help film students

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Previsualizing a feature film with Moviestorm

Chris Bouchard is an independent filmmaker working in London, UK.  He learned his craft by participating in his student film-making society at York University while he was supposed to be studying engineering. He worked on a lot of low budget films in various roles before trying his hand at directing and producing. “It was all very informal,” he says. “Basically, learning on the job.”

Now 30 years old, his day job is visual effects engineer at Oscar-winning post-production company Framestore. They’re one of those companies you probably haven’t heard of unless you’re in the industry, but you’ve -undoubtedly seen their work, which includes high profile movies like Harry Potter, Avatar, Clash of the Titans, Sherlock Holmes, Chronicles of Narnia, Troy, X-Men and The Dark Knight, as well as the title sequence for Doctor Who and commercials for companies such as Coca-Cola. Chris spends his days researching and dealing with technical issues for these sorts of high-budget blockbuster projects.

To satisfy his creative urges, though, Chris continues to make his own ultra-low-budget movies. He hasn’t directed as many as he’d like, he admits, but the one he’s most proud of is a 40 minute unofficial Tolkien adaptation called The Hunt For Gollum he made in 2009 which was shot on a budget of £3000 and has now been seen by over 10 million people (watch it free on YouTube). He’s also created trailers for a post apocalytic movie called Human Residue, and shot a sci-fi short called Clone

He’s now working on his first feature film, Looking Over The Dragon, which has just finished shooting. It’s set in the London borough of Hackney, and it’s about a drug deal gone wrong. He used Moviestorm extensively in the planning stages of the film (the 4 months leading up to the shoot).

Chris discovered Moviestorm almost accidentally, and immediately realized its potential.  He explains, “I remember being in hospital and having a lot of time on my hands whilst finalising the script. I was using Celtx to write the script, and noticed on a banner ad from Celtx a link to Moviestorm. Previz has always been something I’d meant to look into but in the past I hadn’t really tried anything out. I had a good look at the website and immediately decided to try it out for myself. I was amazed at what it could do. The simplicity and ease with which you could theoretically build a sequence of shots with characters, dialog and camera moves, was brilliant. It was exactly the tool I needed to plan shots for a live action movie such as this, and it was also amazing that many of the props (cars and guns) were built into the package with ready made animations. I really enjoyed the process - it took time to get to grips with but all the building blocks of a scene were there from camera controls to lighting, and virtual actors. It was fantastic that it was easy to record in the lines and see how they sounded as well as visualising the blocking of where characters might be standing in the location when performing.”

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He used Moviestorm to previz ten key scenes from the movie. “Moviestorm was a really good help during my shot planning process,” he comments. “It’s a really powerful preproduction tool - not just to visualise shots, but to help tune the dialog and plan camera angles. I was able to tweak the script on the fly, by being able to ‘watch’ the script and make refinements by trial and error. This helped me give the actors a refined script that flowed better, or didn’t lose momentum.” 

Once Chris was happy with the scenes, he then put them onto a laptop which he took on set as a reference aid. “It was a really useful tool during the chaos of filming,” he says. “It’s also a good way to aid communication from director to crew. I could show the director of photography what shots I had in mind, and help him to plan his lighting accordingly.

Chris worked with the Moviestorm development team to add some features that made it more useful in a live filming environment. As he points out, “film sets can be so frantic that you need to be well organised with shots numbered and easy to identify. I pointed out the need to export storyboard frames, which they added in the next release. In future, I’d also love to see more professional features such as shot numbering and accurate film lens information.”

Moviestorm will definitely be part of Chris’s working methodology from here in. “Although it certainly takes time to master, it was very useful in helping plan shots to tell the story, and have confidence they will edit together to tell the story in an interesting way. It’s something more people should look into. Directors can benefit greatly, as can storyboard artists, VFX artists, set designers and even writers - the scope for experimentation is huge!”

We look forward to seeing his movie when it’s finished!

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More info:

The Hunt For Gollum: Web site | Wikipedia | IMDB | YouTube
Looking Over the Dragon: Web site | IMDB | Stills
Celtx: Web site | Twitter
Framestore: Web site | Wikipedia | Twitter
Chris Bouchard: IMDB

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

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