Huck’s guide to making machinima in Second Life part two: framing your shot

Time to get filming. In part one, I went through the software and hardware I’ve used to record video for my movie, Stömol. I also threw in a couple of shortcuts for Firestorm viewer, namely derendering objects and people, and removing the user interface and HUDs. I’m going to pick up from that point now and take a more detailed look at some of the tools in Firestorm to help you get the shot you want. We start with a basic photography 101 and move from that to a couple of filming techniques.


There are two different ways of getting close to the subject of a photograph or film clip in SL, just as there are in real life. The first is to physically move your camera closer to the it. When you do this, the subject will get bigger and details in the distance behind your subject will stay about the same size (depending on how far away they are). Relative to your subject, however, they will be smaller. Camera movement has been used in the pictures below to get closer to the subject: as you can see from the purple lines, the size of the rock in the distance remains exactly the same, even though it becomes smaller compared to the subject.

cam move

In SL, we can move our camera towards (and away from) the subject using the mouse scroll wheel or just by moving the mouse forwards and backwards..

The second way of getting closer to the subject is to zoom in on it. When you do this, both the subject and the background details get larger. Zoom has been used in the pictures below. You can clearly see that the distant rock is much bigger in the second picture, and the purple line shows that its position relative to the subject is exactly the same in both shots. There is also considerably less of the background to see in the second picture: note that the trees are now out of frame, where the movement method above retained them.

cam zoom

In SL, we can zoom in on a subject by pressing Ctrl + 0 and zoom back out using Ctrl + 8. Ctrl + 9 will return us to the default view.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these methods. Pictures where the camera is placed closer to the subject show more of the background and convey a greater sense of depth, however since they replicate how we would look at things with our eyes in real life they can sometimes feel a little ‘everyday.’ Zoomed pictures can show us a much more dramatic depiction (eg, the hero walking into a huge setting sun), however they can feel a little flat as a result of the loss of depth and background detail.

It all depends on what you want to achieve. If you were filming your subject walking through a marketplace and wanted to convey how busy it is, you probably wouldn’t want to use too much zoom since this would deprive your viewers of the detail important for that impression. If, on the other hand, you wanted a close-up of your main character looking thoughtful about something, zoom would focus your viewer squarely on the subject and the background would become the canvas on which they are presented.

Depth of field

And a shallow depth of field would enhance that effect still further, by making that background blurred – as shown in the picture below.


To manipulate depth of field in Firestorm, you’ll need to go into preferences, select the ‘Graphics’ tab on the left hand side and then the ‘Depth of Field’ tab from the top. Click the ‘Enable Depth of Field’ box to turn this effect on or off. The key slider for then varying the amount of blur is titled ‘Camera F Number,’ with heavy blur to the left and low blur to the right. Of course, you will need to be in ‘Ultra’ graphics mode for depth of field to work (which you can turn on – if your machine will support it – from the ‘General’ tab of the graphics interface, using the ‘Quality and Speed’ slider).

SoF dialogue

Once depth of field is activated, whatever is in focus at that moment will remain in focus whilst the background goes blurred. There are a couple of things to be careful of when using this effect. First, some alpha (transparent) textures can un-blur the details behind them, creating little shapes of non-blurred background. You often see this on hair, particularly styles where there are stray wisps of hair. Second, any invisible objects between you and the subject – for example, a face light – can ‘steal’ the focus when you use alt-click to set it, resulting in your subject remaining blurred. To make these offending objects visible, activate ‘transparency mode’ by pressing ctrl + alt + t (this will turn transparent textures red so you can see them and avoid alt-clicking them).


As noted above, the object of focus is determined by whatever it is that’s been alt-clicked on via the usual SL ‘camming’ technique. The problem with this is that this places the object of focus right in the centre of the screen – and you might not want it there. To get around this, Firestorm provides us with some handy key combinations which allow us to shift the camera view without losing focus. The main combination we’re after here is Shift + Ctrl + Alt plus whichever of the arrow keys you want to use (so Shift + Ctrl + Alt + right arrow key will move your camera to the right – and your subject to the left). You can also rotate the camera around the centre point of view using the combination Ctrl + Alt plus an arrow key. If key combinations aren’t your thing, Firestorm provides clickable controls for this in the ‘Cam Controls 1’ tab of the ‘Cameratools’ dialogue box (accessible from the ‘World’ menu and then the ‘Photo and Video’ sub-menu). The circular direction pad to the left controls rotation whilst the square pad on the right moves your view left, right, up or down.


From a machinima point of view, however, all of this is only any good if you want to shoot a film clip in which your own avatar isn’t moving. As soon as you move yourself, all of this fiddling with the view gets lost and Firestorm goes back to the default view of looking at you from behind. This is no good if you want to film, for example, your avatar taking a walk from any perspective other than that default view of just behind them (and, as a general rule, you really don’t want to film from this perspective, since it looks far too ‘video game’). Luckily, the Firestorm Cameratools dialogue box has another tool for exactly this problem, this time under the ‘Cam Controls 2’ tab. Right at the bottom is an option called ‘Reset camera position on avatar movement’: uncheck this and your camera position will remain fixed when you start to move.


That is to say, your focal point will remain as whatever you alt-clicked on originally, before you started fiddling with your camera position. If this was your avatar then as your avatar moves then the camera will move with it. This might be exactly what you wanted: for example, if you wanted to film your avatar walking down a street from the front, then you would need to:

    1. position your avatar so it is facing in the right direction (ie, down the street);
    2. cam around your avatar to face it from the front (or rotate the camera using Ctrl + Alt and the left/right arrow key);
    3. apply whatever zoom you want and position your camera to get the composition just how you want it;
    4. untick the ‘Reset camera position…’ option on the Cameratools dialogue;
    5. start recording;
    6. press the forward arrow key to start walking.

Which should give you a clip something like this:

If you wanted to film your avatar from the side, you would do exactly the same but in step (2) alt-click on your avatar from the side.

But what if you wanted to film a clip where your avatar moves from left to right across a static view, so the camera is not moving with them? In this case, you’re going to need to abandon your avatar as a focus point. So:

    1. position your avatar so it is facing in the right direction (ie, down the street);
    2. cam away from your avatar to frame your scene how you want it (using zoom and shifting the camera as appropriate);
    3. untick the ‘Reset camera position…’ option on the Cameratools dialogue;
    4. start recording;
    5. press the forward arrow key to start walking.

Which should give you a clip something like this: (1)

Ok. That should give you enough to be getting on with. Next time, I’ll explore some of the workarounds I used to create some of the more challenging shots required of Stömol.

One thought on “Huck’s guide to making machinima in Second Life part two: framing your shot

  1. an important note: zooming with mouse wheel introduces a fisheye effect. This causes distortion. Can be fun but not recommended when filming people. Ctrl-8-9-0 does not

    Liked by 1 person

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