Huck’s guide to making machinima in Second Life part four: working with alts

Meet Paper. Long-term readers of this blog might recall I created him back in 2016 as part of my review of the Firestorm SL orientation experience. He’s been pretty much mothballed since then, but I dug him out last year to play a non-speaking part in Stömol. As it turned out, however, his usefulness in the filming process went considerably further than that. In my learning about Second Life movie making, I had started to realise there were some shots I would have to use an alt for.

Of course the obvious use of an alt in a movie is to be used as an extra character. I’m not going to focus on this, however, since the filming principles for this are really no different from those we’ve already covered.

Using an alt ‘behind the scenes,’ however, can help you to manipulate your own avatar in ways you might not be able to when filming your avatar through its own viewer. Here are a few examples of this.

Example 1: using an alt as a camera operator. Say you want to film your avatar taking aim at a distant target and shooting a gun. Why couldn’t this be done without an alt? Typically, weapons in Second Life can only be fired when in mouselook mode, so if you want to capture the action from anything other than that first person perspective then you’re going to need an additional viewer window to film through.

The same essentially holds true for any action/animation you want your avatar to perform when the action cannot be performed through pressing a key on your keyboard (which could be done without an alt). Anything which requires you to click on a HUD button, for example, will need to be performed through a separate viewer window since you don’t want the HUD itself to appear in the clip.

In these cases, then, you are effectively using your alt as a camera operator. You will:

  1. set up the composition of your shot in the alt’s window,
  2. start recording,
  3. switch to your main avatar’s window,
  4. perform the action,
  5. switch back to your alt’s window,
  6. stop recording.

As I said in the first part of this series, I use Fraps to record video in SL: Fraps will continue to record from the viewer window it’s activated from when you switch to another. Top tip: don’t forget to push the graphics quality setting all the way down to low in your main avatar’s window to reduce the stress on your computer (of having two viewers running at the same time) as much as possible.

This is how I created the clip below, taken from Stömol.

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Example 2: using an alt to manipulate your avatar. Say you want to film your avatar reacting to something happening by turning its head to look at it. Why couldn’t this be done without an alt? Avatar heads turn when an object or avatar they are focused on moves (the avatar head turns to follow it). The simplest way of achieving this effect, then, is to create a prim cube, focus your avatar on it and then move the cube (so that your avatar follows the movement). But to move the cube you need to be in edit mode and to be able to see the cube. The solution is to move the cube in another viewer window. So:

  1. create the cube in your alt’s viewer,
  2. switch to your main avatar’s viewer,
  3. focus on the cube,
  4. compose your shot,
  5. start recording,
  6. switch to your alt’s viewer,
  7. move the cube,
  8. switch back to your main avatar’s viewer,
  9. stop recording.

In this case, you will want to push down graphics quality in your alt’s viewer rather than that of your main avatar viewer. Top tip: avatars will only track an object in this way if your ‘Lookat’ (the coloured cross-hairs that show where your avatar focus rests) is enabled. Also, you will need your avatar to be un-animated (ie, not in any animation pose or with its animation overrider active).

This is how I created the clip below, also from Stömol. This is a clip of co-star Caitlin Tobias, but I still used an alt to film it because I still needed two viewer windows: one for moving the prim and one for filming the shot.

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Example 3: using an alt to manipulate objects. The technique discussed in example 2 holds true for any clip in which you want to manipulate an object in edit mode. The clip below – you guessed it, from Stömol – is a special example of this. I wanted to create a sequence that showed a grappling hook and wire being fired across a space, then tightened against a pole. What you can see in the clip is three very short clips showing the hook moving through the air (each created in edit mode, moving the object with my mouse), a clip of the hook falling to the ground (I made the hook and wire physical and dropped it), a clip of it being dragged backwards (again, moving it in edit mode with my mouse) and finally a clip of it being pulled tight. Each of these shots were filmed with an alt do the requisite manipulations. The last clip is a little bit of editing magic, by the way: what I actually filmed was me holding the hook against the pole and then dropping it again – and in the edit I then reversed this to make it look like the hook was being pulled tight.

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In the next part of this series, I’ll be looking at working with other people as part of a machinima project. It’s worth pointing out now that pretty much everything described above could also be also achieved with another person in SL helping you out (for example, they could film you whilst you activate a HUD animation and then send you the clip). The reason you might want to use an alt instead isn’t a technical one, then, but rather one of convenience. Part of the challenge of working with others on a machinima project is communicating exactly what you want them to do. This can be a time consuming process, so by using an alt where possible you not only avoid having to do any of that communication, but you also respect the time of your collaborators (who probably have better things to do with their SL than sit around waiting for you to type precise instructions on what you want them to do). This is a good example of my primary rule in creating machinima: if you can do it by yourself, do it by yourself. Working with others consumes time (yours and theirs), so where you can avoid it, do so.

Until next time!

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