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Thursday, October 3, 2013

A day with Textcavation - Piers Diesel reporting ....

Hypatia Pickens better known to the Machinima world as Textcavation has shown her films at the inCINEracion Festival in Brazil, at FILE in Spain, at the Machinima Expo (where "Wulf and Eadwacer won one of the four juried awards in Nov. 2012), at MMIF and at the LA NewMedia Filmfest. Textcavation has also won several prizes at MachinimUWA and Open This End Challenges.

After seeing Textcavation’s creations on youtube and reading about her success, it was only natural to track her down for an interview and find out more on how it all began.

Piers. How did you start creating machinima in Second Life?

Textcavation. I went to the 2009 Second Life Community Conference (SLCC) in San Francisco and attended a panel in which machinima was shown. I was particularly struck by a film by Cisko Vandeverre that was based on Goethe's poem "Der Erlkoenig" (The Elf-King), about a man riding through the night on horseback holding his sick child, who hears the seductive voice of the elf-king calling to him. Vandeverre modernized it, putting the father and child on a motorcycle set against a shifting background. It was in black and white and narrated in German. I said to myself, "That's what I want to do!". I wanted to involve myself in an easily made art form that could employ the visual, the musical and the poetic altogether. Up till then I had been writing poetry and short stories and I've had training as an artist when I was young. I sold a play to a television studio and it was produced, but I had never been an independent producer of my own films. To force me to start, I agreed to teach a class on machinima at my university in the Fall of 2010. There was no backing down after that!

Piers. I watched "Wulf and Eadwacer" and even though you say it has no English subtitles I was still able to understand and see the craftsmanship of the video so hence still enjoy it. 

Textcavation.  Thank you. You must have seen the second version of "Wulf and Eadwacer." The first was made with subtitles that translated the Old English. (It's one of the most famous Anglo-Saxon poems next to Beowulf and The Wanderer). I did the second one (without subtitles) upon request. It's always a compromise. Subtitles that translate a foreign language always compete with the attention you give to both the voice and the imagery in the film. You might watch a film in Finnish without the subtitles, but you would lose much of the meaning. I cared enough about the meaning of the Old English to supply the viewer with the subtitles, and that's the film that won the juried award at the 2012 Machinima Expo; not the one without. However, the interpretation of that poem is hotly debated. There is no one agreed-upon translation for it (many of the words and phrases being obscure or ambiguous), so any visual adaptation of the poem reduces its multivalence. I tried to retain its ambiguity by translating the repeated lines differently each time, and introducing sequences that were out of character with the principle players (like the monk writing it and the scholar studying it). I agree that the one without the translation puts less of a burden on the viewer.

Piers.  Do you feel that machinima goes beyond what language you speak and therefore is more on the creative side of machinima?

Textcavation. I would say it’s more "universal" because it is so easily made, it can speak to a global audience if it lets music and image alone convey its message. That way, people from all over the world could watch a machinima and be moved by it without having to struggle with subtitles. Yes, that's a goal I would gladly aim for. But I don't feel that non-verbal machinima is any more "creative" than machinima with language in it--written or spoken, any more than a film that is only visual is more "creative" than a film with dialogue. This is a rather trendy assumption of late: that in order to be different from "cinema," or at least from the popular and ubiquitous GAME machinima, "creative" machinima has to forgo narrative and dialogue and be a solely visual medium. Rose Borchovski uses voice in her highly acclaimed films "Why is There Something?" Tutsy Navarathna always narrates his prize-winning films in French. In my opinion, what makes machinima interesting is its multi-media possibilities. The effectiveness of any film depend on how well you adapt the voice or the writing to the images. And of course it depends, too, on the kind of film you want to make. No one should be told that a genre of film is more creative than another genre. It's all creative, you're creating something.

Piers. The video "Where do you see yourself?" has good music and is artistic. In fact one of my favourites. How did this video come about?

Textcavation. It was an experiment. A fellow machinimatographer showed us how to turn the Second Life sea water into a mirror by changing the colour of the normal map and making other adjustments. So I made a film that turned into a strange little story about illusion.

Piers. What top tips could you suggest to anyone starting out in machinima or top tips you use for your own work?

Textcavation. Watch a lot of machinima and experiment as much as you can. Get a good program that you sit down and learn to use well. Enter contests and don't get miffed if you don't win anything. Above all, be in dialogue with other machinimatographers (through Facebook or inworld) and be able to take constructive criticism. Ask as many questions as you can. Always experiment! Pick up a film book and read about composition and technique; look at experimental films on Vimeo and YouTube that aren't machinima.

Piers. When you are not busy working, do you like to do anything else in Second Life other than filming, and if yes what is that?

Textcavation. I like to go to open mic poetry readings and art shows. I like to build up island environments and bring my friends there. I would love to learn how to make mesh sculptures.

Piers.  What is next for you and the rest of 2013 with regards to your work?

Textcavation. I have NO idea! My fellow professor has asked me to make a machinima based on one of John Gower's Tale of the Two Travellers for his Gower conference in the spring, and I have a couple of machinima I have put on the back burner that I need to finish.


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