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The MachinimaCam HUD: A Primer

This past Saturday, Codie presented part 1 of the MachinimaCam HUD Workshop series.  I had hoped to come away from that class ready to share with you my very first, completely amazing machinima.  I’m not quite there yet, but I will be soon! (This is where I demonstrate how well my positive self-talk exercises are coming along!)

I did, however, walk out of the workshop with some great information about what is required to make machinima.  I learned that it takes more than a great camera, like the MachinimaCam; the video capture and editing software you use will greatly impact the quality of your machinima and your options for customizing the final product.

Let’s start, then, with a rundown of what you will need, from a system and software point of view, in order to make machinima.

The Basics:

  • A powerful machine.  This is pretty much mandatory if you want your final product to be smooth and seamless.  If you can run at 20-25 Frames Per Second (FPS), consistently, then you should have no issues.  If not, there are some tricks for bumping frame rate that I will be happy to share with you.  Just IM Codie or me in-world and we will gladly hand over the transcript of the workshop.
  • Loads of disk space.  Again, this is non-negotiable.  When you are filming, you will be capturing the video to your hard drive, and it needs somewhere to go.  Additionally, you will need to have some space for your cut editing.  A normal capture session can easily use 2-5GB of disk space, depending on how “trigger-happy” you are.
  • Capture software.  There are a few options.  FRAPS being the most common and widely used.  FRAPS is not free, but it is highly affordable, simple to use and performs flawlessly.  There are a couple of free capture software programs available, also: WeGame.com and CamStudio come to mind.  For Apple machines, the options are more limited, but SnapXPro is widely used and the upcoming Snow Leopard operating system will include a native video capture program.
  • Video editing software.  There are several options out there, so the choice should be based on your needs and personal preferences.  A few to consider: Sony Vegas, ULead and Avid for PC users; Final Cut Pro or Final Cut Express for Macs.  Stay away from: Adobe Premier, After Effects and Windows movie maker.  None of these have proven to be stable enough for machinima.
  • [ML] MachinimaCam HUD.  This is essential, of course!  It operates completely invisibly so that you never have to worry about the interface intruding on your video art.  Hot keys direct camera follow and movement effects, so you never have to worry about stopping to open a menu (though there is one if you want to use it) to change the style of filming.

So, we have our external software downloaded, we’ve maximized our framerate, and we have oodles of disk space to play with…what’s next?

Time to Play

First, you need to unpack your MachinimaCam HUD.  Just like any other package in SL, all you have to do is rez, right click, open and copy to your inventory.  Got it? Perfect! Let’s check out the cam.  Wait! Stop! I must tell you one very important thing…Never, ever, ever rez or drop your MachinimaCam on the ground. Ever. This will break every script, a giant hole will open in the sim and you will be sucked into oblivion.  Okay, so maybe that last part is a tiny bit of an exaggeration, but the scripts will break and you will need to find the transparent HUD that was dropped, take it back into your inventory, wear it and reset all of the scripts.  Instead, you need to wear the MachinimaCam, by default, it will attach to bottom center HUD position.  Once attached, you can read the cam’s start up messages in open chat.  You will be asked for, and must grant, permission for MachinimaCam to take over your camera view.  That’s it!

Next, we need to activate the hot keys.  The hot keys are simple gestures that allow the cam to operate without any visible interface.  They operate on the F2 through F7 keys, and on F11 and F12.  We need to make sure that there are no conflicting gestures assigned to these keys.  Take a moment to right click on your avatar, choose gestures, and note any gestures that are assigned to the above-mentioned keys.  Go into your inventory and make sure that any existing gestures on F2-7 and F11-12 are deactivated.  Alternatively, you can search for (Active) in your inventory and deactivate all of your gestures.  The choice is yours.  Once you’ve turned off conflicting gestures, open your MachinimaCam folder and activate the included gestures.

But, what do these hot keys do, exactly? Lets look at them individually:

  • F2 - Hide / Show camera HUD toggle: Pressing F2 will make the camera invisible or visible on your screen.
  • F3 - Previous effect selection: When you press F3, the name of the follow-cam or special effect will briefly appear above the HUD.  F3 advances through the list in reverse-alphabetical order
  • F4 - Next effect selection: Just like F3, but advances through the list in the forward alphabetical order.  More on the follow-cam and special effects in a moment.
  • F5 - Action / Repeat effect selection: Once you have selected your effect, press F5 to put it into action.  Remember to start your capture first!
  • F6 - Set Default Cam Position: Focus your camera in the position you want and press F6 to set the default camera position.
  • F7 - Reset Cam Position: Restores the camera to its original position.  The HUD will remember your last camera position and effect selection when you detach and reattach your MachinimaCam HUD.
  • F11 - Speed Up effect: Special effects, which I’ll tell you more about in a minute, are limited-motion effects.  This means they have a beginning and an end.  Speeding up the effect makes your camera move faster, but the effect will be shorter in duration.  Pressing F11 speeds up your camera incrementally.
  • F12 - Speed Down effect: When you press F12 you turn the speed down incrementally, slowing the effect, your camera will move more slowly and your effect will be longer in duration.

Finally, the Effects

This is the fun stuff!  The MachinimaCam HUD is preloaded with a set of follow-cam effects and special effects.  What is the difference?  Follow-Cam Effects position your camera in a specific place, and remain in effect until another effect is chosen.  Special Effects have a beginning and an end.  So the camera will stop in position once the effect has played out.  You can string Special Effects together as often as you’d like by using the F5 key to repeat the effect selection.  Here is a listing of the effects and their descriptions, separated by category.  In the HUD, when you use the F3 and F4 keys, the effects are displayed in alphabetical order, regardless the effect type.

Default - Resets to default follow cam, camera behind at hip level

Follow-Cams

  • Trap Cam Toggle:  Imagine the avatar is trapped by the camera. The camera follows the avatar wherever it goes, cutting the scene and regaining focus on the avatar. Press Action hot key to activate and deactivate.
  • Side Cam: The camera is siding the avatar. It follows every avatar runs and turns and is usually located at leg level. The avatar usually doesn’t show on the picture.
  • Drive Cam: The camera is located at the back of the avatar but with a slight upper angle, usually to film moving vehicles.
  • Front Cam:The camera is located a few meters in front of the avatar. Avatar usually doesnt show in the picture.
  • Overhead Cam: The camera is hovering the avatar from the top.
  • Worm Cam: The camera is under the avatar. Usually very cool for following flying avatars, or from underneath some translucent surface.
  • Drop Cam: Like the drivecam but following the avatar at feet level.

Special effect cams:

  • Spaz Cam: The camera randomly locates itself, always focusing on the avatar.
  • Earthquake Cam: An effect simulating an earthquake. The camera shakes up and down for a more dramatic effect.
  • Spin Cam: The camera focuses on the avatar and performs a few circular rotations around it.
  • Spiral Cam:  The camera focuses on the avatar and performs a few circular rotations around it with constant added distance.
  • Twister Cam: The camera focuses on the avatar and performs a few circular rotations around it with constant added distance, with incremental camera angle.
  • TravelIn Cam:  Zoom in camera effect.
  • TravelOut Cam: Zoom out camera effect.

Coming Up

Hopefully, you’ve got a good understanding of the basics of MachinimaCam operation.  This was just a synopsis of last week’s workshop, so if you would like a copy of the full transcript, please contact either Codie or me in-world and we will be happy to provide it.

This Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 10:00am SLT we will continue with part 2 of the MachinimaCam HUD workshop series.  Codie will share with you the ins and outs and more advanced tips and tricks for making machinima.  Time permitting, she will also demonstrate how the [ML] FilterCam HUD can be used in conjunction with MachinimaCam to create some spectacular effects in direct capture, minimizing, if not virtually eliminating, the need for spending hours upon hours in post-processing.

Spend a couple of hours with us this Saturday, learn more about the art of machinima, and meet some new friends.  I’ll bring the coffee!

Product Spotlight: FilterCam HUD

A few months ago, Codie taught me a very important lession: all scripting tasks take “just ten more minutes, I promise.” I learned this lesson while she was building, tweaking and refining the tool that would eventually become the FilterCam HUD.  For hours on end she would change this, add that, pass test version after test version to me, all the while she would chant, as though it was her personal mantra, “just ten more minutes, I promise.”

The original FilterCam HUD was good.  You could change the tint, frame and opacity of your snapshot area with just a few simple keystrokes, and eventually, with an on-screen menu.  We experimented alot in those early days, layering tints and adding glow to create some really nice photographs.  But Codie was never satisfied with “good” or “really nice.”

Enter Ryker Beck.  A very close, long-time friend of Codie’s and an extraordinary artist.  Her photographs have been featured in the Avatrait Gallery, on DeviantArt.com, in RL at the Festival della Creatività in Florence, Italy, and on-going in the Rinascimento Virtuale exhibit on the art of virtual worlds at the Florence Museum of Natural History.  Ryker and Codie collaborated to create a series of filters and masks that would further enhance the creative application of the FilterCam HUD.  Ryker designed various frames, scenes and overlays that Codie was able to incorporate with her existing design and suddenly the FilterCam was no longer a “good” tool…it was Great!

This photo of Quaintly was taken using the Frame filter.

This photo of Quaintly was taken using the Frame filter.

So, how does the FilterCam HUD work? It’s very simple.  You just wear it. Click on it to open the onscreen menu, choose your filter or mask, and watch the scene on your monitor transform into a work of art.  From there you can use your in-world snapshot tool to create unique and artistic snapshots without ever having to open Photoshop, The Gimp, or any other image editing software.  Just remember to check the “Show HUD Objects In Snapshot” option.

You can also use the FilterCam HUD to create machinima.  Take a look at the fantastic video work that Osiris Pfalz created using the FilterCam HUD:
Mechanized Life FilterCam from Osiris Pfalz on Vimeo

You will find the FilterCam HUD on Rouge in the MechanizedLife main store or on XstreetSL.  Just click the links in the right hand column.  Before I go, I have a small request, well, four requests, really.  Have fun. Be creative. Take some fantastic photos…then, share your works of art with the FilterCam Group on Flickr!  We can’t wait to see what you will create with FilterCam.

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