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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Education for Leisure

The range of things Moviestorm is being used for never cease to amaze us.  This morning, as we arrived for work, this piece arrived on the Moviestorm site.  It’s a Moviestorm interpretation of a poem by the recently appointed Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. The poem caused controversy and was withdrawn from the GCSE curriculum for its alleged glorification of knife crime.

Here’s what the team had to say about it:

Today six North West film-makers have debuted online a short film using cutting-edge animation technology.  “Education for Leisure” is an animation interpretation of a poem by the recently appointed Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.  The poem caused controversy and was withdrawn from the GCSE curriculum for its alleged glorification of knife crime.  The film is produced using Moviestorm, a new software still in early release, which enables film-makers to produce ‘machinima’ - computer games technology to make animated films. 

The film uses Duffy’s poem to tell the story of the interweaving lives of two disenchantment characters: Michelle, a teenage girl who dreams of ‘X Factor’ stardom, and Mike, an Afro Caribbean man augmenting his dole money by working as a cleaner. Duffy said of her original poem and its subsequent media scandal:  “It’s a pro-education, anti-violence poem written in the mid-1980s when Thatcher was in power and there were rising social problems and crime. It was written as a plea for education. How, 20 years later, it had been turned on itself and presented to mean the opposite I don’t know. You can’t say that it celebrates knife crime. What it does is the opposite.” 

The film-makers are six gifted and experienced TV and film professionals with experiences as Directors, Editors and Producers whose production credits include Equinox and The One Show.  Machinima has previously been a medium dominated by games enthusiasts.  The group brings a unique Director’s visual approach to the emerging medium.  North West actors speak the characters’ voices and Manchester musician David Fox composed an original grime inspired electronic soundtrack. 

The group are joined by consultant Hugh Hancock, author of “Machinima For Dummies” and leading producer of machinima.  Machinima took off in the late ‘90s when 3D computer games were released and fans worked out ways to produce video from the game play.  Until now, machinima has remained a largely underground genre due to copyright issues in using games developer’s characters and sets.  Moviestorm was launched as a free download in 2008 to legitimise machinima so producers can own copyright on their films.  The software allows for new forms of character’s expressions and movements difficult to achieve using just computer games. 

The film came about as a result of an innovative media skills programme.  DMEX is a pilot project, funded by Northwest Vision and Media and delivered by Manchester consultancy The White Room, which up-skills media freelancers to work in digital production environments.  To date the programme has offered 20 freelancers paid placements in digital agencies and production companies in the North West, mentoring, an online social network and master-classes on subjects including social networking for business and interactive drama production.

“The ‘Education for Leisure’ project really encapsulates what we wanted to achieve from the DMEX project”, said The White Room’s Director Andy Lovatt, “The film represents a coming together of talent, traditional media sensibilities and exciting new digital technologies, and this is exactly the kind of collaboration needed to drive growth and excellence in the region’s creative and digital economy.”

The film was established as a collaborative project for producers to learn about digital production techniques and how to work in digital environments.  Unlike the typical location, set or office production environment, the group produced the film with just two workshops sessions and all other documentation and production was done with online team meetings using Skype and Huddle – a new project management web service.  With the support of Hugh Hancock, the group went from novice to pros in months, learning many new skills in the process.  Participant filmmaker Lee Emery said:
“I think everyone in the team felt a degree of trepidation about stepping out of their comfort zone and into an unknown field and wondered how well our skills would cross over into this world.  But by sharing experiences, and with a fair amount of trial and error, we managed to use our newly acquired skills and our collective experience of good old-fashioned story-telling to work around these limitations”. 

The film is released under a Creative Commons license and is available on,, and Vimeo for anyone to embed in their website, download or re-use non-commercially.

You can find out more from Phil Birchenall, The White Room Tel:  0161 446 2991 email: (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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