World Makers

Well-known machinima creator and virtual worlds enthusiast Draxtor Despres participated in the 5th New Media Film Festival with the second episode of his acclaimed series “The Drax Files: World Makers”, which I had covered back in March 2013. The episode’s subject was the 1920s Berlin Project and Jo Yardley, who created it as her personal labour of love.

Draxtor’s coverage of the 1920s Berlin Project featured a free-flowing interview with Jo; his approach eschews the typical interviewer-led “standard”. He happily takes the back seat, giving the floor to the interviewee. So, in this award-winning episode, Jo shares with us how she chose to experience Second Life, what her project is all about and how it evolved, and how SL mixes with her RL in Amsterdam.

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For the fifth episode of his “The Drax Files: World Makers” series, renowned machinima creator Draxtor Despres takes a small detour from the central theme of the series: instead of focusing on content creators, he turns his attention to Second Life’s live music scene. This detour does not detract from the series at all; instead, it only strengthens the argument that SL offers excellent opportunities for creative expression.

The subject matter of this episode is Engrama, a musical partnership in both Real Life (RL) and SL between Argentine-born Pupito Helstein and his Spanish girlfriend Lakua Arriaga. Engrama are not the first band to embrace SL; like many that came before them, they have found a worldwide audience that adds an extra dimension to their RL activity.

In describing the band’s live performances in SL, Pupito says “We have no backing tracks, it’s all live. We prefer to play original songs; in fact we improvise in Second Life, we sometimes create even original songs.”

Engrama’s RL base of operations is a mountain village that is also their home. They have shaped a distinctive style, based on the post-rock genre, performing covers of songs by acts like Radiohead and compositions of their own. To complement their musical style, they have also developed a presence that is entirely their own; they have even proceeded to make their own stage sets and instruments to achieve this. More recently, they have expanded their creative in-world activities to prefab homes, furniture and clothing. And Pupito has tried to get his musician friends to get into Second Life, even creating unique avatars for them.

Draxtor begins the interview in a very poignant way, noting that the duo doesn’t seem socially awkward at all; an indirect, but sharp critique of the common stereotype that surrounds Second Life and its users, a stereotype produced by basement-dwelling losers in the soft underbelly of the internet, propagated through the media and sadly reinforced by the idiotic and often paranoid ramblings of certain extremely vocal people within SL itself. I’m actually glad that Drax has taken the opportunity to take a pot shot, even in this indirect manner, at this ridiculous stereotype and those who propagate and proliferate it.

As the interview continues, Engrama share with the viewers how Second Life. In Lakua’s words: “There is one magic thing in Second Life, when people send us messages like, ‘Hey guys, I heard Engrama music at the Colorado [Grand] Canyon on a trip!’” Engrama point out that in Second Life they can have audiences encompassing people from all over the world – from USA to Japan and almost every country in between. One of the most important parts of the interview is Pupito’s statement: “It’s real. I’m looking at it, no matter if it’s a computer or if it’s my window; who says what is real and what is not real?”

It must be noted that neither Pupito nor Lakua are boasting; they comment and describe their SL activities with great delight, which shows that even they are surprised, amazed and pleased by how their music affects people that they probably could never reach otherwise. As the video comes to an end, Lakua says “this is real interaction, Second Life is a parallel life, they [Second Life and Real Life] can go together, and sometimes they can cross.”

This is exactly the essence and the power of Second Life; we can enter this virtual world, cutting free from the constraints of the physical realm and create, play, express ourselves in ways that we could never hope to manage in RL, have fun, spend time with others. But it goes further and deeper than that: the virtual world affords us the ability  to reach out to others: to touch them; to be touched by them; to feel them; to be felt by them; as Exotix (Inara Pey) says in Her coverage of this segment of The Drax Files, “to share, uplift and help others, and be a part  of lives, and make them a part of our own in ways which simply cannot be achieved in the physical world.”

Of all the people that have covered the fifth episode of The Drax Files, Exotix (Inara Pey) has added something unique and very welcome: an interview (actually, the first part of a conversation that will continue) with Draxtor Despres himself, providing us with some insight into the motivation behind The Drax Files. For this, and for Her excellent commentary, I highly recommend that you go and read Her relevant post.

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Mona

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-bt

Renowned SL machinima creator Draxtor Despres continues his “The Drax Files: World Makers” series with a third instalment; his enthusiasm and drive is such that, whereas he had planned for the series to be monthly, he now presents us with a new episode every week. The show examines the people behind the avatars who, with their passion and persistence, continue to push Second Life forward. As is the style and tone of this series, Drax uses mixed reality, cutting between SL and Real Life (RL) to provide insight into aspects of the former and introduce the viewer to the persons behind the avatars and their creations in the virtual world.

Eshi Otawara's uniquely-styled shop in SL

Eshi Otawara’s uniquely-styled shop in SL

In this episode which went live on April 5th, Drax interviews Eshi Otawara. Eshi has been in Second Life since 2006, and she’s what one would call a veteran of this virtual world. She is well-known in-world for her unique SL fashion designs; there’s more to her than this, though: she’s a classically-trained RL artist and also provides support and input in other SL projects, such as Chakryn Forest, which has already been covered by Exotix (Inara Pey). Eshi’s motto, which pretty much defines her approach towards SL, is “Second Life is too beautiful a tool for us to only be used for plain simple reality.”

As I’ve already mentioned, Eshi is a veteran SL resident and she’s still going strong, investing time and talent on the platform; given her artistic education and her long experience within SL, one would expect her to provide an insightful view of Second Life – and she delivers just that in her interview, offering viewers not only an educated and insightful look on Second Life, but also a crystal-clear view of the augmentive and immersive capabilities of the platform.

Before I go any further, I must say that, within the SL community (and, perhaps, within the communities of other virtual worlds) there is a divide between “immersionists” and “augmentists” (Gwyneth Llewelyn had written an excellent post on this debate, as early as 2008); many users tend to treat it in a manichaean manner, treating and picturing it as either augmentive or immersionist, with an unbridgeable (at least to them) chasm gaping between the two. Linden Lab’s recent focus on the more immersive parts of the platform, perhaps at the expense of the augmentive ones, has contributed to a number of users (those who identify themselves as 100% “augmentists”) seeing it as a “failed project”.

Some of Eshi's unique creations

Some of Eshi’s unique creations

Through her words, Eshi reminds people that SL doesn’t have to be  either immersive or augmentive; it is, it has always been, and (hopefully) always will be a combination of both. Therefore, how we perceive the platform and interact with it is eventually a matter of our own preference, character, nature and approach.

Early on in the interview, Eshi says “at the beginning, I created my avatar to be everything that I was not. She was super, super tall, super, super skinny, [and] had super long hair. When I realised that my personality and my spirit continued to experience life no matter what kind of packaging I put myself into; nowadays I’ve just kind of become a complete shape-shifter…” This approach towards her own avatar reflects exactly the combination of immersion and augmentation: she immerses herself in the virtual world through the continuous transformations of her avatar and, at the same time, she augments her artistic talent and her love for art and design in ways that, as she notes in the interview, are not always possible in RL – so, SL acts as a liberating force, allowing much more of her personality, spirit and talent to come forward and shine than if she restricted herself into producing only RL works.

The way Eshi speaks about the creative powers of the platform also speaks volumes of the platform’s appeal: “It’s not a non-existent universe,” she says. “It’s there. It exists. If you just release yourself of that prejudice towards what’s virtual; that’s it’s not real, it will make you happy.”

I must say that this is another excellent piece of coverage of SL, which manages to speak both to those of us that have been involved in this virtual world for quite some time now and those who are new to it – or even skeptical about it. Draxtor’s videos also remind us oldbies what brought us here in the first place, while showing others that virtual worlds (and SL in particular) can offer a truly magical experience to their users. Once again, I must congratulate Draxtor for achieving exactly the perfect balance in editing this piece, allowing the interviewee room to shine – and I must congratulate and thank Eshi for her perspective of SL and her involvement in it, as well as her creativity.

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Mona (formerly slutrix)

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-82

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First posted at: http://wp.me/p2RycE-82

Moving somewhat ahead of schedule, renowned SL machinima creator Draxtor Despres aired the second episode of his monthly documentary series titled “The Drax Files: World Makers”. As I mentioned in my coverage of the first episode, this show examines the people behind the avatars who, with their passion and persistence, continue to push Second Life forward. Staying consistent to the first episode and the overall tone of the series, this episode uses mixed reality, cutting between SL and Real Life (RL) to provide insight into aspects of the former and introduce the viewer to the persons behind the avatars and their creations in the  virtual world.

The second episode in the series focuses on Jo Yardley’s 1920s Berlin Project and the woman who created this excellent sim. Jo has been working on this project since the time she first entered Second Life and her work on this project aptly demonstrates one of the platform’s main abilities: the ability to create immersive environments which, rather than being mere dioramas, static reproductions of a place and era, or a particular moment in time, bring the depicted place, era and – yes – world to life; in the case of the 1920s Berlin Project, visitors are given the opportunity to experience life as it was in Berlin of the inter-war years of the twentieth century.

Following the paradigm he set in the first episode of the series, Draxtor eschews the conventional interviewer-led approach and instead takes the back seat, allowing his interviewees to speak freely of their involvement in Second Life and their vision: the same is happening here – Jo presented to us the way she chose to experience Second Life, her creative project and the way Second Life overlaps with her RL in Amsterdam. The format chosen by Draxtor is highly successful, as it feels natural, free-flowing and draws the viewer in, giving an intimate view of Jo’s real life and passion for history.

Second Life has often been unfairly maligned as a pastime for people with “no life”; a pastime for people without any interests, friends or presence in the real world. The format chosen by Draxtor, in allowing the viewer to look into Jo’s RL and her SL work side-by-side, demonstrates the human heart and soul of Second Life, i.e. the ability of the platform to extend one’s hobbies, interests and passions through the opportunities it gives for the creation of immersive, engaging and informative worlds and, in so doing, allowing for acquaintance and friendship with people from all over the world, forming bonds, communities and connections that are perhaps stronger and deeper than what can be achieved in “conventional” social media like Facebook and meat markets like Hi5.

What the viewer sees in Draxtor’s “World Makers” series is a warm, endearing and informative picture of Second Life and the reasons its users care so much about it, as well as a clear and concise presentation of the opportunities it offers for exploration of the platform itself and other people’s creative work. Also, it is evident that Draxtor’s choice of the “mixed reality” format is ideal for showcasing and promoting Second Life. The projection of Jo’s RL activities on the silver screen of her 1920’s movie theatre in Second Life, with the audience seeing them is a brilliant example.

The care that Draxtor exhibits in the composition and editing of the show makes it a glowing example for all those who wish to promote Second Life to an audience unfamiliar with it (or even leery of it) through the use of machinima and mixed media. Draxtor clearly has an intuitive skill and is a highly talented artist, and spurred by his personal passion for Second Life, he produces a finely balanced show, with great attention to the very last detail and offers a unique insight into Second Life and its users, who are, in fact, the people that make it so unique.

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Mona (formerly slutrix)

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See also:

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-7B

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First posted at: http://wp.me/p2RycE-7B

“The Drax Files: World Makers”, which premiered on March 1, 2013, is a monthly documentary show on Youtube that examines the people behind the avatars who, with their passion and persistence, continue to push Second Life forward. The interviews are “mixed reality” and tell the stories of profile designers, game-makers, role-players and fashion aficionados, musicians, artists and social-issue activists. For these dedicated residents, their avatar is not merely a pixelated entity, cut off from their real-life selves, but an extension of their identities, which which they navigate the virtual world of Second Life. The people interviewed range from self-taught hobbyists to dedicated professionals from all walks of life, from all over the world and of all genders, ages and ethnicities.

What does “mixed reality” mean? The show combines real-life footage, Skype interviews and machinima from within SL, in order to provide the viewer with a narration that is as complete and engaging as possible.

In the first episode, Draxtor interviews the person behind the avatar named Kriss Lehmann, proprietor of the successful Botanical brand of landscaping decor (you can read Kriss’ blog HERE). In the interview, Kriss explains how he turned his passion into a viable business, designing and selling virtual goods. Kriss’ avatar is a wise, old Japanese gardener, always present at his serene shop, situated on an island that floats in the virtual ocean. Behind the avatar is a young man from Virginia who followed his love to her native Philippines, where they live just outside the capital Manila. Both are artists that have turned their passion into a viable business, designing and selling virtual goods. They are just one of the many examples of people who followed their own path in a digital universe that is as real as its residents want to make it.

Below you can watch the first episode of the series:

More episodes will follow suit. Feel free to visit Draxtor’s Youtube channel and his website and enjoy his creative work.

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Mona (formerly slutrix)

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-5G

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First posted at: http://wp.me/p2RycE-5G