So far we've covered everything you need to know about planning your machinima, recording the voices, and making storyboards or animatics. This week, I'll be walking you through the process of filming your Halo: Reach machinima.
First: the basics. I do all of the filming for Playtime in offline Halo: Reach custom games. I set up a custom game with the forge map and game settings that I need to film a scene. I then sit down with four controllers in front of me and act out the scene in splitscreen mode. After acting out each scene, I switch to Theater mode and record all the shots I need, upload them to my file share, and render the clips. I can then download all the clips to my computer. Of course, there is a wide variety of capture devices available for recording video from your Xbox to your computer.
Filming Playtime Season 2 is a logistical nightmare. Because I do all the body acting myself, I need to plan out every element of every single shot extremely carefully. The most obvious challenge is the physical task of manipulating multiple characters at the same time. This leads to some tricky controller juggling as I quickly swap back and forth between characters to act out a scene. As I described in Part 1 of this guide, I already have all the dialog for Playtime Season 2 recorded and edited into a rough mix. I use this audio file as a guide to follow when acting out each scene. I load the audio into my iPod, put my headphones on, and press play. I then move the characters on-screen in time to their voices. This ensures that the characters' movements and head bobs are very much in sync with their speech.
Some people will do the filming for their machinima first, and then record the voices afterwards. This is how I filmed Playtime Season 1. When making the first season, I would actually do all the filming at the beginning, then record the dialog and try to get it to sync up the character's movements through editing. This proved to be incredibly time-consuming, and the results were often not on the level I wanted them to be. When you compare Season 1 to Season 2, you will notice that every character's body and head movements are far more tightly in sync with their voices.
Here's an example of a shot that features a conversation between Warren and Cobra. Remember, this is the rendered video straight from the Halo: Reach theater mode, so you won't actually hear their voices.
As tricky as the body acting can be, it really is just the tip of the iceberg. For every single shot, I need to consider the following factors:
1. Spawning and respawning, and other map requirements.
2. Weapons, loadouts, and other custom game settings.
3. Armor configurations and character models (Elite characters, Spartan characters, or both).
For example, let's say I'm filming a scene that includes five characters. Split screen limits me to controlling four characters at a time, so the first thing I need to do is go through every single shot I have planned for the scene and work out which combination of characters appear in each shot. This is where the storyboards and animatics I made last week come to the rescue. I use those storyboards to create a list of all the different combinations of characters I will need for each scene.
I have four controllers in front of me, each logged in to a different gamer profile. One of these is my main online gamertag: CruelLEGACEY. The other three are silver accounts that I created just so I could save controller settings and armor customizations for some of the secondary characters. Once I've figured out which combination of characters to film with for a given shot or scene, I need to go into each of the four gamer profiles and make sure that their player settings, character models, and armor designs are configured properly.
In addition to all the player settings that I need to juggle, I constantly need to go into forge mode to make slight adjustments to my custom maps. I might need to move a couple spawn points around for a couple shots, or add in one of the special effect pieces to simulate a night time environment.
Once the custom map and player settings are configured the way I need them, I still might need to make more changes to the custom game options. After all of this setup work is finished, I start up the custom game and act out as many shots as I can with that particular combination of player, map, and game settings. I'll sometimes get as little as 10 seconds of usable footage before I need to back out to the main menu and make more changes to the players or game options.
But wait.... it gets worse.
Playtime Season 2 features 10 different characters. It was very important to me that each character has their own unique visual appearance, either through different armor combinations or color schemes. Halo: Reach offers a fantastic range of different ways to customize the appearance of your character. There's only one problem: most of these options need to be unlocked by earning and spending in-game credits. Lots of credits. This becomes a problem when I have multiple characters that I can only create using my main gamertag. For example, Warren and The General.
Both of these characters feature relatively high level armor sets. It would take me months to build up one of my secondary profiles to the point where I could unlock the required armor pieces. This means that I simply can't film a scene using both of these characters at the same time. The simple solution would be to write the script in a way that keeps both characters from being in the same place at the same time. But since when did I like to keep things simple?! Using a combination of clever editing and careful camera work, you will indeed see Warren and The General interact with each other. Movie Magic to the rescue!
Hopefully, you now have at least a basic understanding of how I go about filming my machinima series. It really is an incredibly complicated and time-consuming process. And yet, we're still only about half way through! Next week, I'll take you through the editing process, which is where the real fun begins. See you then!