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Interview: Laurina Hawks, Making Films in Virtual Worlds

We speak with one of the most remarkable female avatar who works making movies in Second Life. Her machinima productions will let you without words. With a personal style, her “trade mark” is quality and good stories. Ready to enjoy and learn about machinima? let’s go on 😉
 
 Hello Laurina (Phoenix Embers). Let me ask you in this introduction a little about your real life, your portrait, and your avatar portrait. What differences and similarities do you find on both, please?
 
En Castellano AQUI

Hello Amaya, let me thank you first for this opportunity to talk about Machinima; I really appreciate this! 🙂
 
First of all I don’t like so much the terms “Real Life” and “Second Life or Virtual Life”, because I think that broad parts of the so called RL are completely virtual (like Money for example which consists of bits and bytes and social commitments) as well as the virtual worlds. I prefer to call it “my biological life” BL and “my digital life”.

In my BL I am a writer, I have published seven books so far, 2 novels, one non-fiction book, a play and some anthologies with stories. I write for magazines also and I am composing music. I play two instruments (Piano and Guitar) and I made my living with a lot of different jobs; I was a guitar teacher, stage musician, editor, game producer and webdesigner.
 
My Avatar is the protagonist of my actual novel I am working at since 3 years now, and which will be ready soon and hopefully published in the USA. I am German, but I am working in a team with 2 American co-authors on this epic novel called “The Simulacron”. Laurina Hawks is a former con-artist who seeks for her sister and comes into a strange world, where she meets her destiny. Of course she was not an “ordinary” thief, but a little like the “Leverage” Team (Leverage is a TV Series about a team of “robin hood” like thieves who help people in need without the restrictions of “law” , lol). Laurina gave the most of her “income” to the orphanage where she, her bro and her sis had grown up. Her offspring is a mystery but will be revealed in the further books. For the story it is not that important that she was a con-artist, but it characterizes her. There is not much told about those early times of her live. I am planning prequels on a much later stage to tell a bit more about Laurinas fascinating youth.
BTW: In her movie “No tomb of the arts” she plays a “con artist” again, and also here she shows a very human way of acting in this “profession”.

 
At the first sight we don’t have so much in common: Laurina is a heroine, I am not ^^
 
When I came to Second Life, I created her Avatar as an opportunity to raise an RP community based on this novel and this character came to life as any writer could dream only. Most of the times I am so much identifying with her that I hardly know, wether she is me or me is her… weird. I would not call it schizophrenia but “enhanced personality” because through her I learned a lot of things which could have not been done without her.
 
If Raymond Chandler would have had this opportunity in his life, he surely would have named his avatar “Philip Marlowe” and not Raymond ^^ Now imagine to “meet” Philip Marlowe in Second Life… would you say he is not the “real Marlowe”? Since Chandler “plays” it, it absolutely real, because Chandler IS Marlowe … But of course “Laurina Hawks” as a role in a novel, is not a Machinima Maker, or builder or componist or such. In her own world she is a leader and cares for a universe. But just pretend as if this Laurina Hawks is capable to interact with our world using Second Life as an interface… of course she would discover her “artistic” skills there and probably produce Machinimas. In that way this avatar is both: the avatar of an existing person from a different world, called the simulacron and the avatar of a writer from this world.
 
 
I think you began filming Machinima about 2006, isn’t it? How was that decision? anything involved about your real life activities or something more casual?
 
That’s right, I began with Machinima in 2006, when I was playing a game called “The Matrix Online”. My character name was Laurina. I founded a faction (guild) there called the Phoenix Embers – and my first attempts on making Machinima was simple: I filmed our adventures there just for the lulz and sake of the faction.
 
But the Megacity fascinated me so much, so I began to write little sketches and scenes and produced my first story driven Machinimas. The work in those times was much more simple. I had an idea, filmed it with my faction mates at once, and edited it all in one day… this has totally changed. Each new project has evolved to become a huge endeavour now.
 
 
For our readers who don’t use virtual worlds yet, what should you tell them to understand better the directing and producing films issues in platforms as Second Life? what prejudices do you think could they take out?
 
Lemme say for all readers to know: a lot of temporary directors, like Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas and James Cameron use virtual worlds and machinima for their story boards. They are filming their new movies using virtual worlds as a tool. Its much easier and faster than producing CGI movies. The camera work is exactly the same, editing is equal, and its much lesser expensive, since you don’t need actors or animation specialists. Once having this animated storyboard it’s much easier for them to plan the real movie, because they can experiment with camera angles, pace, momentum and all those issues.
 
So, in a nutshell: Machinima work is mostly identical to real life filming. You need a story to tell, the story has to be as good as possible, you need dialogues, you need voice actors. The directing is almost the same (I made real life movies too, so I know about the production process): you have to bring the actors to do exactly what you want them to do. Camera work is much easier in the making but you need the same “eye” as a director needs. And if you like special effects, you spent a lot of time with after effects or similar programs.
 
Lets talk about Machinima. What is it and how it has evolved during the last 3 years? Machinima is nothing but the method. Real movies need a real camera, expensive and high tech. Animation movies need CGI sequences, rendering software and animation experts. Also very expensive. But the outcome is of course much different. Today we don’t have the game engines ,which let us produce in the same quality as a movie like “Toy Story” or “Final Fantasy” or even “Ghost in a Shell”. But give it a few more years and we will get this high level footage we need.
 
Machinima began as pure “gamer movies” or “geek clips” or “fragg strips”.

Hardcore gamers filmed how they killed (fragged) the monsters… interesting just for the gamer community.

But soon highly dedicated groups like the illclan began to tell stories. They modded the game engines, created their own sets, props and animations and began to produce short films, which used nearly any kind of virtual world they could achieve. Same time game producers began to develop tools like “The Movies” which offers a purely Machinima dedicated environment. I myself don’t like tools like that, for they make me a “puppeteer” instead of a director. I need “real people” behind avatars to interact with. But this is up to any producer – the outcome will hardly reveal the method.
 
Today Machinima is on the doorstep to fame and glamour. We can categorize a broad spectrum of movies: music clips, comedies, dialogue driven movies, action flics, experimental art movies, philosophical essay movies, dance movies.. the list is sheer endless. Since Machinimas can be produced by almost everybody we face a giant spectrum of art. Art which would never have seen the light of the world before.

Machinima made movie making democratic, an artform for the people, not just for some rich studios or universities or just business people.

Of course: to make a Machinima really popular you still need money! And talking about money: Machinina has entered the business level since years now – companies like IBM, Nokia, Intel are hiring Machinima Producers like Pixel Valley Studio to produce trailers, cut sequences or complete episodes. Remember the CSI: NY episode “The Venus Trap”? All animated parts took place in Second Life – a perfect Machinima!
 
To give newcomers some advice I would say: Play around with the pictures a bit, film your friends during a party or else, but never forget: if you want to fascinate an audience you need to work hard. Very hard. If you are not good work more. And even more when you are good. A good movie needs a good story. No one likes to watch a sequence of nice shots and may they be extremely nice. After one minute they bore like hell. Surprise them. Dare risks. Count with critics. Never blame your audience, always blame yourself when you produce crap. Make it better the next one.
 
Let´s talk now more deeply your machinima productions, please: can you show 3 of your movies-difficult to choose, but as example-, please. And explain us the difficulties on filming “that” scene you think are better (lights, shadows, animations, screenplay… etc.) in each one, please. Al that tech you need for a good film producing 😉
 
El Giafaron, No Tombs for the Arts and Simulacron Prologue, but I also like very much “Dancing with bullets” and I love my “Megacity Blues”.

But lets take Giafaron, Tombs and Simulacron.
 

El Giafaron

El Giafaron was my first attempt to bring real action into my Machinimas. I have some spectacular camera moves in it (like the 180 degree shot at 2.26) and I love the set, our own city, I used. Also it was my first real voice movie, so I needed voice actors. And I did it in two languages, german and English, which doubled the sound works.
 
In this movie I tried to create smooth cuts on walking and running sequences, cut into the right action and angle. It had not so big a team, I mostly worked alone with my partner. Only for one shooting sequence and a dialogue I had the entire group. The “doppelganger” sequences have been done with an alt avatar who looked exactly like my protagonist.
 
I had written a very brief screenplay, and I guess this was my misery: the story is weird, not very easy to understand. Without knowing a lot about the setting (Simulacron Novel) its very hard to catch the sense. So the audience did not really like it. I earned some respect for the technique and the huge editing works, but it wasn’t really a burner.

Simulacron Prologue

Now its getting difficult. Because I began Simulacron Prologue, then produced No Tomb for the Arts in between and then finished Simulacron Prologue. This prologue was my attempt to bring the Novel to Machinima, just the first pages, the intro. I had a huge set (entire sim) a huge team (about 20 people) and tons of effects in it. So it endured about half a year to make it. Some people wonder why I did such a glamorous opening gala, but you must imagine: those actors and staff members worked over months with me on this movie, they spent each weekend over a long time and had to bring up so much patience with me, I had to reward them. So I organized this huge event. They simply deserved this appreciation.

The Simulacron: Prologue is an attempt to bring the Simulacron Story to Machinima. This 15 minutes feature shows the ‘Zero Chapter’ of the novel, the prologue, in which Galicia and Sinza try to destroy the interface link between the carbon world and the light universe. An Aeternus Unit is send out to hinder them.“


 
Pre-Production: very comprehensive screenplay of course, in both languages for I had actors from America, Germany, Netherlands and GB. Then we did a storyboard drawing.

Prologue-Storyboard---Sketched-by-Shara-Whitfield

I sketched it first, but since I have a terrible hand my partner made it a bit more precise, but also very funny. The entire crew laughed their asses off when they saw the blurry sketches first, but they loved it, and they worked!


 
Difficulties…whoa. A lot! Beginning with the troopers who had to act very precisely, also by driving cars and such. One who is not working in Second Life can hardly imagine how hard it is to drive a simple car correctly. We had to create invisible tunnels to bring them on the right path. Actions scenes: we filmed them 100 times, gigabytes of footage to get a clean shot. Dialogues: my voice actors had to act like real actors, showing emotions, anger, fear..etc also do foliage like breathing, coughing and such.
 

Prologue-Filmset---See the stripes who mark the vehicle paths

Blasting walls with explosives, the spectacular energy beam… all this had to be built before, prim for prim. Then in one second it all became physical and crashed. Lots of set building! Then the special effects made with after effects: light beams, energy flashes and such… overall it was a huge endeavour. Also very challenging: the sound track. I tried a lot of different themes, used famous soundtracks first to get a feeling for pace and temper, then composed several tracks and produced them with a virtual orchestra. I spent a quarter of the time on the music alone.

 

Directing was also very hard since we had so much scenes, angles, shots and such, that I had a hard time to keep it all in mind. When I was asked “and what are we doing now?” I always had to think hard to find the path through this comprehensive screenplay. It’s a big difference writing a scene or filming it! Both are complete different art forms and to master both can be a mess!

No tombs for the Arts

 

No tombs for the Arts was produced especially for the UWA The University of Western Australia in Second Life challenge. I never expected to make the first place! I knew that I had extremely reputed  competitors. But I had a very good story idea, and very good voice actors. Actually the voice actors have been a grace. The most difficult scene was the stealing of the statue. I knew I had to use very specific Second Life characteristics which amused the audience of course much. Insider gags… So I made my thief using a “copy bot” which was completely animated in the post production. The changing scene where the thief wizards herself into a toolbox was also a very special Second Life Gimmick.

 
When the grand finale began I came with no expectations… but hearing all my collegues earning all those prices and myself not a single one, was a bit disappointing. I never counted with the highest price…lol. Then at least my name came up “and the winner is…Laurina Hawks”. Wheee! This felt like Hollywood and getting the Oscar. My partner cried loud behind me and my eyes were blinded with tears when I stood up for the ovation. Surely one of the most exciting moments of my life….
 
 
How you define your machinima style? what cinema, book or aesthetic influences do you think you have? and How many people used to be envolved in each movie production you did?
 
My Machinima style: story driven, dramatic and some times funny. Overall I would say, realistic. I don’t like to produce sophisticated stuff with deeper meanings and such. I even don’t like to watch those movies, except they are damned good. Like “Club of dead poets” or such. I prefer “normal” films. I love SciFi, when good, like “Matrix” my favourite.
Actually I am a Matrix geek…lol, who is not? I love the deepness of this action movie, the overall existentialistic aspects… and I try to bring this into my Machinimas too.
From the aesthetics I would say: a mixture of Matrix, Once upon a time in the West and Ghost in a Shell.. I like dark sceneries, rain, clouds or dry deserts…I would love to make a movie where the audience trembles or cries, but I know this is hard to achieve with a Machinima.

talking to the team on the set


 
The number of people involved differs from project to project. Depends on the story. Dancing with bullets had almost 30 people involved because of the shootout scenes in the western town and the showgirls dancing… Simulacron had about 20 or more (I must count) and Tombs had about 7 or so.
 

 
I read something fun about you… You manage customized shows of Showcats, Matrix, and i read a flamenco show too! :)) Can you tell us about those performances, please?

PE-Showcats: Dancing with Bullets from Laurina Hawks on Vimeo.

 
Oooh yes! You are talking about the “Phoenix Embers Showcats” a dance ensemble I founded in 2008. We are about 9 girls who are hired for sim openings, events, fashion shows or else. I always loved to “conduct” dancers on parties with my huddles (a hud which allows to invite others to share your dances) and I had the idea to form a real ensemble.
 
So we have costumes, themed shows and our own soundtrack mixes. We have an expressive light show and stage effects too. You should see us live to believe what you see… For each show I have a huge set of dance animations ordered in a complex choreography which are triggered manually by myself with my hud – each show has their own notecard. I could do this with bots of course, but similar to Machinima I love the “live” feeling and the social aspects with the group. Also for the audience its much more a pleasure to know that these are real dancers
 
We have worked since years together now and became friends, also in BL partly… you may watch our movies on our homepage http://showcats.phoenixembers.com – but a movie is different and cannot express the live show!
 
 
You are producer for Metaworlds Machinima, and editor for Virtual World Info. You have a blogger site too! But, Lets talk about the sharing information from second life to the www. What kind of feedback had you about your machinima producing from outside secondlife places- sites? is a game like SecondLife a handicap for had more recognition on filming -production or a help for sharing better, more far we can imagine?
 
To be honest, there is not that much recognition from outside of Second Life. I would guess at least less than 20%. And its interesting, that my sentimental “goodbye” Machinima about Matrix Online has the most views by now.

I am logged into several Machinima Websites, some of them are not familiar with Second Life. When I post the movie there I often hear compliments like “very well done, considering the limitations of Second Life”.

But its often hard to explain, what possibilities are offered to a Machinima director in Second Life. The utmost number of Machinima Directors use Online Games for their movies, like WoW, Halo, Battlefield, Counterstrike, Call of Duty. A lot use also GTA, because this game offers perfect conditions and filming tools.
 
The huge difference to Second Life are the building possibilities. In all other games you are bound to the offered game stuff – sure you can modd them, but its hardly possible to create a complete unique set or style. You have to use, what is part of the game or could be part of the particular game. SL offers the possibility to create nearly anything you have in mind. Even cartoon-like characters, medieval themes, sci-fi, modern urban city, deep forest, deserts, abstract environments…. there are no limits. The prize we pay for this flexibility is an old fashioned game engine which does not even offer dynamic shadows. There are shadows in a beta version, but they are only for people with a top notch mega super computer. Otherwise the FPS are down to no-move state.
 
So, for people outside of Second Life its hard to understand what they see. Most of them consider SL a “game” and wonder about tbe “bad quality” the “rough animations” and “wooden face expressions”. When you explain them they still refuse to take SL serious, they simply don’t understand, what’s the difference to a game.
 
This means: my footages will be measured with other wellknown Machinima Productions and I have a hard stand then. You have to convince with a good story, brilliant dialogues or kick ass action to get their applause.
 
I hope very much that the expected enhancements of SL will cover this handicap.
 
 
Can you share with us few SLUrls interesting to visit inworld, diferent experiences, you like to live in your “secondlife” please?
 
Sure – first of all my own sim “Sub Lupina”, which is a marvellous urban city environment with alleys, skyscrapers, a cinema and a huge parc.
 
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Sub%20Lupina/12/244/40
 
Then I like very much:
 
Marrowstone – very nice grunge city with lots of funny animations
Cap Estel – natural resort, lakeside, mountains
Titan – The ordo imperialis
 
I love racing in SL, so here are some good racetracks:
 
Babylon Grand Prix, Sub Lupina
Racers Island
Corse GP, Prefabrica Race
 
 
About your next machinima production… any news?
 
The very next project will be a “relax project” a brief comedy about a GPS System going mad, lol. I had this idea, when I watched a TV CSI episode where a GPS system has been manipulated to guide the driver at the wrong place. This brought me to a very funny and amusing idea for a short funny bone.
 
But my next “major” project will be based on a bible stuff. No, don’t expect a passion play. I am a confessing “bright” and sympathize much with the theories of Richard Dawkins. This does not make me a complete atheist – I believe in some kind of “source” but surely not a personal “god” or even “intelligent designer”, although this is an idea my entire novel is based upon, lol.
 
So the next big movie will be around some bible basics – I hope very much that I will not be threatened by christian fundamentalists! I will not insult any believer, just show my point of view.
 
By the way, in real  life, actors are very important, as famous as directors making movies. How works that in virtual worlds? Who are you favorite Sl actors- actresses?
 
Hm, what should I say: my actors of course, especially my voice actors like 1angelcares Writer, Alley McNally, Vijay Fragilis and Idril Amat. But I admire some directors from SL like Chantal Harvey, Cisko Vandeverre, Toxic Menges. The top director at this time in my opinion is Phaylen Fairchild, who’s last movie “Harbinger” took my breath away. She really has the potential for Hollywood. Of course I admire all the actors and actresses who work with these brilliant directors, they always have good casts.
 

Real life identity wont be shown till Laurina Hawk’s character novel is finished and published. Ask you to understand is a work-in-progress yet. In that moment we will show you few interesting details more. Till then enjoy the machinimas, this avatar experiences and the Laurina’s RP sim in Second Life. Thank You for your time reading this interview

 
Links:
 
http://www.youtube.com/user/PhoenixEmbers
http://www.youtube.com/user/metaworlds
http://www.dailymotion.com/Laurina_Hawks
http://www.flickr.com/photos/30785404@N04/
http://www.virtual-world.info/
http://www.metaworlds.de/
http://phoenixembers.com
http://showcats.phoenixembers.com
 
SLUrl http://slurl.com/secondlife/Sub%20Lupina/12/244/40

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3 Comments

  1. Shelley A

    hi all, First time poster and excited to be a part of the threaded.

So, what do you think ?