Hi! I'm an academic in Australia. I teach English Education and my research interests include new literacies, digital fiction, fan fiction, blogging, identity, pop culture, computer games, systemic linguistics, feminism and young people online. Recently I have been teaching and researching in the virtual world of Second Life, where I am known as Anya Ixchel.
Larry Johnson from the New Media Consortium has invited me to participate in an online conference in March. I am thrilled that I will be presenting in any context with prolific writer and expert on all new media and culture phenomena, Henry Jenkins!
Here’s my title and abstract - comments welcome while I construct my talk over the next couple of weeks!
Evocative Spaces and Aesthetic Grabs: How youtube and video blogging are redefining self expression
I will begin this talk with a discussion of how youtube and video blogging have become a mediating space for what Sherry Turkle calls “evocative objects”: objects, or in this case spaces, that we use to think about ourselves. I argue that the act of viewing ones-self in public performances, and acknowledging public commentary on those acts, provides dual reflective lenses which serve to reconstruct, reinvent and redefine one’s identity. To demonstrate I discuss a number of examples in which the nature of the autobiographical is countered and transformed through the performance of self for the public.
Next I will draw on Senft’s notion of “the aesthetic of the grab” - a way of re-articulating the dynamics of spectatorship and participation in new video communities. I will discuss the notion of commodity fetishism and the ways in which “grabbing” bits and pieces of other people’s video performances is then being reconstituted into one’s own performances of identity. This includes but goes beyond one’s amusement at memes, desire for a shared cultural context and networked solidarity, in that it presents a “shopping for truth” about one’s place in the world. It also includes the notion that what is public and telepresent can be owned and manipulated for one’s own desires.
Finally I will raise the question about what it might mean for the millions of youth participants in youtube and videoblogging with respect to ethics, consequences and reputation management in an age where the personal is political.
Wanna watch an old movie that is now in the public domain? Here’s a film noir from the 40s! I knew there were sites you could register at to access movies online but I didn’t know you could go get them from google!!
I wrote this report about the machinima festival for another purpose but thought I would include it here as well, since I am beginning to get a lot of queries about my research into machinima.
This month’s film festival showcased a diverse variety of machinima from Second Life film makers. There were 16 films covering a range of genres: MTV style clips, reporting a la video blogging style clips, video gaming style quest clips, documentary style, and two narratives: one a comedy and one a film noir horror spoof. Some films were fun and loose and experimental, and others were tightly shot and very carefully edited with traditional film techniques. Yet all films revealed one important and significant fact: Second Life is a perfect venue for machinima whether you are a resident with no film making background, or an experienced real life film maker coming into Second Life expressly for that purpose.
The festival commenced with BuhBuhCuh Fairchild announcing that there will be a real life meetup and festival in San Francisco for machinima makers. Coming from Australia I was kind of ambivalent about this but clearly it’s a great opportunity for the people who can attend. The showing then began and for the next hour I was immersed in the wonderful and colourful worlds that I was invited into by each of the filmmakers.
The first film was by P Pierce, and had a fun experimental feel to it and told the story of discovering Second Life from an outsiders perspective – not with words but through images and sound.
The next film was Free Falling by Aces Spade and was a fun MTV style clip set to a Tom Petty song. It was very well edited, and had a lovely interweaving of real life / second life. I laughed out loud at the image of the boyfriend, found myself appreciating the particle effects of the parachute and wondering where I could get one myself, and thoroughly enjoying the artistry of the piece. Very impressive film making techniques.
Next was a very quick film called Home Run Derby, by Digi Vox, showing people playing baseball in Second Life. It was fun and received much applause by the audience. It flashed past so fast I missed getting a snapshot.
The fourth film was by RacerX Gullwing and was a fascinating “Quake” style film – I felt like I was inside a video game as the character played by RacerX raced through mazes in the temple trying to find the “snail dude”. The movement made us feel a little dizzy but I think that was a very clever way to metaphorically convey the sense of confusion when you become lost and are searching for your way. The fast movements made somebody on the audience call out “It’s like Spielberg on a Snail Trail” and I thought that was a fun way to think of it – fast paced action centred around the search for everybody’s favourite character the snail dude. Personally the film was a little long for me and I had to look away because it made me dizzy, but for game players with a stronger stomach I am sure it was perfectly paced.
Next was Moo Money’s report from the Pixels in Pink “Relay for Life” party. Just like a live reporter at an event, Moo exaplained the context of the party and then showed us some of the action and told us about the special moments in the vening, including how much money was raised to support the cancer foundation.
The sixth film was the very funny horror spoof by Angrybeth Shortbread, one of the leading machinima makers in Second Life and the winner of last months “Best Story” award. This film also delivered in a multiplicity of ways: from the very clever story with a great twist at the end, to the use of foley sound effects, and the black and white palette to create the type of shadows and atmosphere reminiscent of 1940s film noir.
The next film was a hilarious but kinda creepy MTV clip which featured a giant spider dancing to the Black Eyed Peas “Mama”. This spider sure shook her boom boom mama (can you tell I am not au fait with this music?) and the audience clapped with pleasure at the end.
The next film was the brief “The Trailer” by Kronos Kirkorian. This was just a fun interlude he captured in between takes of the set to his real machinima, which will be discussed shortly.
“An Avie Scorned” was the next film, another made in the MTV genre, setting Second Life scenes to a song with fast paced clever editing. It featured a very cool car crash, drama, revenge, and pathos. The special feature in this film that caught my eye was the shots of imaginary Second Life news papers with screaming headlines to complement the lyrics of the song, and the very very VERY cool Harry Potter style moving images on the newspaper. I loved this effect, well done!!
Tenth up was a Tao Takashi piece announcing a forthcoming event in Second Life to again support the real life cancer foundation. The tag line was “Make Cancer History” and the film took us through the sims which were supporting the event. I liked the front on view of an Arnie style av pointing a la Uncle Sam saying “We Need You” to help donate money. I like the way people are using old metaphors but reinventing them for new purposes – in this one a call for charity. I also loved the lilting violin music that underscored the announcement – it was a very emotive reminder about the real life effects cancer has on us. As a text of persuasion, this film included multiple semiotic triggers: the music, the direct request to the camera, and the appeal to you to help out. Very cleverly done!
“Living in Game Space” was the 11th film and this was a film made for the introduction to the Open Source podcast which was a fascinating podcast about life and identity in online worlds. The podcast featured one of the leading world experts on virtual identity, Sherry Turkle, and is a must listen to! The clip as a consequence takes us through the many scenes in Second Life which are mentioned in the podcast.
Next was Tumbleweed’s “Happy Birthday” – another MTV style clip shot to the music of Conway Twitty. As I watched this I found the characters to be too dark – I couldn’t make out their facial features. As a machinima actress myself I use an invisible light attached to my torso called a “Key Light” to ensure my face is properly lit. I think that this film maker could have used the lighting to help better, unless the darkness was a desired effect but if it was, I couldn’t quite determine why. Nevertheless the editing was well done and the message conveyed well.
Unlike last month, this month we only had one commercial clip and this was the next film, a demonstration type advertisement by Robbie Dingo featuring his Hyper Flute. I think it was meant to be more of a demonstration rather than a commercial. Either way, I have one of these flutes and adore it!
Film 14 was another MTV style movie again showcasing the clever filming and editing effects of the filmmaker. Set to a Johnny Cash song, the music seemed less important than the techniques, which were clearly visible. If you are a filmmaker wanting to advertise your skills in a more explicit way, this is how to do it! But although I was highly impressed with the editing techniques and composition used, I found my attention was so clearly focused on those that I don’t actually know what the story was from my first viewing.
The 15th film was another film by Tao Takashi, a clip in which he interviewed two actors about their machinima called “When we were robots”. I loved the clever dialogue of the two actors he interviewed, and once again, the issues they explored were all related to virtual identity, post-humanism and the worlds we inhabit in, around and between flesh and software. The funny outtake at the end left me laughing for real as well.
And finally… the last film to be shown was our very own Lip Flap, made by Kronos Kirkorian and starring myself and Dell Wilberg!! I actually felt a little nervous as it started up but was delighted for Kronos that it received great applause and positive comments. Kronos packed so much into the 3 minute film that it probably takes several viewings to see everything – the hallmark of a great film! People laughed throughout, and appreciated the clever “mirror” effects Kronos had created in post-production. Of course, Kronos and I had invited all of our friends over to the festival to see it, so they very kindly applauded loudly for us. The narrative was clever – using various features of Second Life to comic effect. I would love to see more narrative style machinimas being made!
So, that was it, the July festival. It also included a griefer who had to be banned for foul language, a painfully rude and thoughtless person who ranted on and on IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR VIEWING about his Linux issues, and somebody who was building things. Come on people, let’s have some festival etiquette here!
On a lighter note, do you like my Hollywood style Nonna Hedges gown?
All films can be viewed here tomorrow. Congratulations to Buhbuhcuh Fairchild and Moo Money for organising such a fabulous event! And… fingers crossed that Kronos wins an award for Lip Flap!!!!!
I have been working on this particular machinima with Kronos (the director) and Dell (the leading man) and above is a shot of us shooting at the set. Kronos teaches at a film and acting school in NY so has years of “real world” experience. Working with him has been a dream because I have learnt so much about the language and practice of filmmaking from all angles. (I could now tell you about way points, cycloramas, and infinity corners, for example!) I have also learnt a lot of neat tricks in SL about how to control the gaze and head movements of my avatar and so on.
So a few weeks ago, Kronos wrote a script - it is a short comedy called “Lip Flap”. We then started building the set. Well, Kronos built it, and I dressed and designed most of it. The action all takes place in a bedroom, though there might be some flashback sequences, depending on time constraints I believe. So I spent quite a lot of time hunting all over Second Life for some gorgeous bedroom furniture, right down to tiny details like tote bags, makeup boxes, jewelry boxes, hairbrushes, books and so on to place about on the furniture. Since some of my costumes were from Nonna Hedges, I also did a little subtle product placement with this gorgeous box from her store.
Then Kronos sent Dell and I a list of information we would need to know before the shoot. This included telling us that we had to keep idle chatter to a minimum (*grin*), and telling us that when the camera was rolling, he wouldn’t see our chat etc.. lots of technical stuff! He also sent us a shot sequence so we would know what order we would be doing things. (Kronos is extremely organised, so professional!).
The script involves me doing 8 costume changes. My costumes had to reflect variety and difference, so I spent a LONG time going through my hundreds of outfits to finally select my top 10 favourites. I made pre-shoot photos of each costume and sent the photos to Kronos for inspection, and he selected the 8 he thought would work best for the shoot. We ended up selecting clothing from: Nonna Hedges, Pixel Dolls, Rebel Hope, Simone, Luxe and Chaospire. The shoot starts out with me in my favourite Nonna Hedges outfit, and finishes with me in my favourite Luxe costume (this gothic gypsy one). Here’s the Chaospire gothic fairy costume that comes half way through:
So I pre-prepared the full costumes into folders so that I could drag and drop and do instant costume changes! While doing this preparation I finally realised (after 6 months of being in Second Life!!!) that I could make copies of my skin, hair, and manicure to add to each individual folder, to enable a complete avatar change in one move! The only difficulty I had was with my eyelashes, which were non-copyable, so I had to manually attach them every single costume change *groan* I also had key lights - like a spotlight - attached to my torso so that I would be adequately lit at all times, and these lights were also inside each invidual folder. In addition, Kronos had made folders for Dell and I with all of the animations we would need during the shoot. The preparation time actually took more time than the shoot itself!
So last night we began shooting. It was actually a kind of boring process when the cameras were rolling, but after each sequence of takes Kronos would go check the rushes to see if he’d got what he needed, and during those times Dell and I chatted and played games and amused ourselves with general silliness. We’re wrapping up shooting over next weekend, then Kronos will do the editing, and he and Linda (his wife) will be doing the voice overs and foley FX.
It’s a wonderful process to be involved in, and I have learnt an awful lot as I said. I could do this sort of thing all day long, its so stimulating. But alas, I must go back to marking 80 assignments on verbs and nouns :/
(PS: If you are one of my undergraduate students, never fear, I like your assignments, you did great work, but marking them is a tedious process!)
Yesterday I went to a fabulous research seminar by Betty Pun - the title of her presentation was:
Intersemiosis in Film: A metafunctional and multimodal exploration of colour and sound in the films of Wong Kar-wai.
I was so inspired by this presentation and loved working through the analysis of various film clips to uncover how the film maker underscored significant narrative moments using the interactions of various semiotic resources. I haven’t ever seen any of Wong Kar Wai’s films before but now I am going to borrow a whole heap of them from a friend to watch, as the techniques he uses are truly pushing and extending beyond audience expectations from the standard Hollywood fare. I love seeing innovative thinkers and creators of all art forms, but film is so rich with possibilities in terms of the semiotic resources it deploys.
I am deep in multimodal analysis of some films right now myself (getting ready for this conference presentation) and Betty’s talk crystallised a lot of issues I’d been thinking through and reading about in my preparations so it was incredibly fortuitous timing.
I am creating the backstory for my character in Thinkerer’s narrative - the lady in white first appears dressed in wedding garm, caught in a private moment of grief on the Hobo bridge. Thinkerer suggested that our appearance and clothes should be suggestive of narrative, provocative for the viewer. So here, dressed in black is my outfit for a future scene: clothed in Nonna Hedges’ “The Merry Widow” costume (isn’t she just the most divine fashion designer - my favourite on Second Life!!). Does this suggest narrative? I mean, a private moment of grief, a public show of strength, resilience, and even a little haughtiness to hide the scars that wound her soul. OK, the narrative is a good excuse for me to go and buy more outfits from Nonna Hedges, and to play with my modelling studio and modelling poses - but does this not perfectly suit my intriguing mysterious character? *grin*
My SL friend Rogue kindly introduced me today to Thinkerer Melville, whose movie “Interview with a Dragon” I blogged about earlier in the week. I was like a gushing fan - sooo excited to meet him after enjoying his SL movies so much! He is planning to make more and *drum roll* I vounteered to act in his next venture! *laughing*
Meanwhile, here is another one of his movies for your entertainment pleasure: