Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On Writing, Blogging, and Machinimating

Is a blog supposed to be a diary? Like my handwritten one, this is full of stops and starts. What I learned all over again is that writing a long academic article is much harder than making a machinima, or.... I am not working as hard on my films as I am on my long academic articles. In an article you have a timeline and a deadline, just like a machinima, but instead of clips to be placed next to each other you have paragraphs. In writing there are no overlays; it's very hard to express two different ideas to be taken in at a glance, unless you play on words. Instead of looking for animations you comb research. It is far more difficult to "dissolve" from one idea to the next, or put them in a coherent order. Instead of story or visual effect you have argument and abstraction, and instead of music you have rhetoric that has to please the ear and the mind. It is hardly easier to write a poem--music and image have to be contained in few words. There are writers out there whose prose flows out like milk and honey on first try and it's good. It's agony for me; I average one article a year, and three books in twenty-one. I average about seven machinima a year (so far) and this different form of expression is a blessed relief. Perhaps I will get better at blogging, but I doubt it. Is it a form of journalism? I haven't uncovered its philosophy.

My best machinima in 2011 (best seen on vimeo):


What Isn't Underneath

Two Ways of Looking at You


Love Prayer

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On machinima and making it

I make machinima. Machinima is a portmanteau word for "machine cinema." If we are to get away from cinema, as Peter Greenaway counsels us to do in making it or finding a philosophy for it, we need to find a new word for it. For one thing, it's a stupid word, implying that ordinary "cinema" has nothing whatsoever to do with the machine (the camera? film-processing and editing? stop-motion animation? motion-capture? Maya? AVATAR?). But it's a better word than "Quake Film," which is where machinima originated... in a game called "Quake." Machinima is a film made in a virtual world, originally an on-line game environment, but it's shot in "real time" unlike conventional animation. You move your avatar around along with your point of view and "capture" the motion on the screen by means of a software engine. It's a huge learning curve, compounded by the learning curve needed to operate your avatar in any virtual world.

What I love about machinima: at last I can illustrate my poetic fairy worlds in one place, and with moving images as well as still ones. I can upload textures I make and put them in as backdrops, or inside objects. I can add my voice to this medium... singing or reciting (back to lessons, be mindful of pitch, breath-control, Sally!). I have to deal with irksome difficulties: the limitations of Second Life itself, which nevertheless is the richest virtual world we have--hundreds of shapes (animal, vegetable, mineral), costumes, props, animations, and an endless variety of faces.

Using the non-intuitive Adobe Creative Suite Premiere Pro 5, and still trying to figure out After Effects, I've managed to upload nine (read six... I've hidden my worst efforts) to YouTube:

On Second Life

To admit to being seriously involved in the social network of Second Life (which is essentially life) is to risk the derision of your colleagues. It feels like an unacademic jouissance, an awkward cinephilia where you put yourself front and center within the computer screen. But it has its strange advantages, and promises to be a fresh and original medium of artistic communication. Hypatia has wandered the Grid, now, for three years, two months, and two days. She started out with terrible hair, and ugly, painted on eyes. Her mover had a dreadful graphics card that didn't allow her to see the windlight in the sky or the ripples on the water. It was consequently an ugly world, full of that plastic Linden grass, the awful empty lots and advertisements, the boring malls, the confusing user interface. Hypatia was confounded, bored, compelled, unmoored, drifting, compelled, wandering, fascinated, saddened, lonely, weeping over things lost. But always compelled. She was Reginald Barclay in the Holodeck (see below), finding strengths she couldn't express otherwise. She soon got into building after she bought a little plot of land in a community devoted to the arts. Then she discovered the poetry world, and the very first poem she read at the Blue Angel Poets' Dive (headed by Persephone Phoenix) got published in the Blue Angel Landing (

"Rez Day"
by Hypatia Pickens

I am thin. I am hunched. I am a Middle Welsh poem.
I was active, I moved my legs. I had a plan.
She rezzed in March, she was happy she was in.
I am a middle aged woman, I am hunched and thin.

When she came into being as another name,
a blank who couldn’t speak, who had a plan,
I could trace the human features of a loving man
with mortal eyes. Her body flies, while I sit and spin

her spells for a pixie world. She cannot touch.
I used to sleep. I type too much, and hunger
for my memory. In shifting woods, that girl
brewed up a forest witch. I am a crutch

for her who never shows her need
to fuck, to breathe, to eat, to feel his fingers
on my hip. I feel his disapproving gaze.
I sit too much. Who knew it, when I came,

what it was to seethe within a virtual book,
a build, a script, a plot, a hook. I have
a house. She never eats, I never cook.
Who knew, that day, what I gained and what she took.

Blue Angel Landing, 1 (2009): 41

I think that says enough about my early days there. Things change. But it's owing to Second Life that I'm writing poetry again, even though I'm into a new kind of visual poetry... one that moves: machinima. And it's owing to machinima that I'm becoming a film-critic again.

On Hearing Hildegard's Orzchis Ecclesia

I first heard Hildegard's music. In one of her antiphon's called "O Orzchis Ecclesia" she incorporates five of her "unknown words," and then I learned about her Lingua ignota: "unknown language." So I spent two years researching that, translating it, and publishing it as a book under my "real" name. She fascinates me. She sublimates everything that I know and understand as creative endeavor under the rubric of "vision" (a marvelous film, by the way, directed by von Trotta and starring Barbara Sukowa):

Music came to her divinely. Language came to her from the Living Light. Intellect, which she claimed not to have, came to her from God's command. Her visions that she saw day and night were from on high. For her to claim that her unknown language was a product of her imagination would be to suggest that the Devil gave it to her. We live in a different era now where we can imagine and not be possessed. To be possessed and not be evil. To be a woman and not have to reference one's fragility and submission in order to be heard.

On Virtual Realities

I inhabit a virtual reality, Second Life. All four words have contestible meaning.

Reality is already contestible. My "reality" in the physical universe is differently "real" from yours, as I see things differently from you. I can never look at the world through your eyes, and I construct what I see and do minute by minute.

So how can something be "virtually" real, as though there is an almost reality? We are already almost. We are almost grown up, we are almost happy, we are almost experienced, we are never complete.

Life is a contestible concept. "Second Life" assumes we have a first one, but that first life already has so many subdivisions: the life you wear at work, at home, on your best behavior, in your blog entries, in your nightly dreams, and in that part of your brain you can't access easily.

I have a passion for the virtual, nonetheless. Twenty years ago I was fascinated by the Holodeck and Data-- mechanical constructs that imitated a "real" environment, a "real" man. There was a pathos in both, which is why I guess I wrote and sold "Hollow Pursuits," which put Reginald Barclay, neurotic and imaginative, into the holodeck along with Data, whom he made a virtual muskateer. He made himself into a storybook hero. It was all virtual; he was played by Dwight Schultz, whom I don't know as a person at all. Fifty years ago I was fascinated by virtual language, and I've spent most of my life creating Teonaht, the imaginary tongue of a virtual nation. Perhaps more about that later. I joined the Conlang Listserv, spoke at the Language Creation Society conference in Berkeley, and discovered Hildegard's Lingua Ignota. She deserves a blog entry all on her own. I tend to valorize my passions by turning them into academic publications. Ten years ago, for instance, I published an essay in Camera Obscura about miniature cities made for movies (to incorporate my passion for dolls and miniatures into an academic venue). Perhaps even my fascination with the medieval is an extension of my passion for the virtual, in ways that I still can't quite understand. I'm trying to access it.

So here I am, as Hypatia the avatar in Second Life, and as Sally the conlanger and science fiction writer. I've put myself back in the holodeck and become addicted to it. In the meantime, I've framed that computer frame by learning how to make "machinima." Perhaps it accesses that part of my brain that I need to set free. See above. ;)

On Not Writing

It's been a long time since my last post. I have some catching up to do. Maintaining a blog adds one more ball I have to juggle besides Face Book (dead), teaching (obligatory), critical writing (recommended in my profession), creative writing (longed for), diary (neglected but necessary for memory), Second Life (expensive), machinima (a passionate pursuit), drawing and painting (sublimated in the above). Today I am embarrassed by a richness of ideas. My comments here come in great gusts, like a monsoon after a drought (where I am doing other things elsewhere). Unfortunately, this blog runs in reverse chronology. So everything I write prefaces what comes before it. "See above" means "see below." The latest idea, no matter what it follows, is the privileged one.

Friday, June 11, 2010

On Hypatia Pickens

Hypatia is a flower, a female mathematician who was martyred by a mob of early Christians, a city in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, a movie that is always about to come out in my town but not quite, and the name of my avatar on Second Life. Hypatia is younger than I am (only two years and some months old--I suppose I could say the same), prettier, more robust (she doesn't hurt if she falls), she never wearies (although she wearies me), she is a builder of impossible things, a book-maker, a terrible clothes-horse, and she has an inventory that is more disorganized than my closet. She resides on a laptop; she is subject to the whims of the now unstable Linden Labs. She is costing me money. She forces me to think outside the box, to draw, paint, scan, upload. She has made me obsessive. She has forced me to become a poet, and a careful one, for which she takes all the credit. Sometimes when I walk around in her skin, I wonder if we are the same. I hope she is kinder, more elegant, funnier, more even-tempered, but the line between myself and herself blurs a bit. I pour so much into her, and she demands, demands, demands things of me--like wakefulness--that is hard to keep up with. I hope to show some of her (and my) artwork here.