The Drax Files 32: facilitating art and machinima in Second Life

Jay Jay Jegathesan (Jayjay Zifanwe in SL) patron to the arts in Second Life and founder of the University of Western Australia's presence in Second Life
Jay Jay Jegathesan (Jayjay Zifanwe in SL) patron to the arts in Second Life and founder of the University of Western Australia’s presence in Second Life

With machinima, you are getting a glimpse into the soul of the artist. They’re not making this film so they can sell tickets at the movies. They are making this to show you who they are.

– Jayjay Jegathesan

The above statement comes at the start of The Drax Files World Makers episode 32, and perhaps perfectly encapsulates a good part of the message offered within it. It also encompasses much of what Second Life is for so many of us: a means of expressing ourselves fully and freely and without the burdens we often face in the physical world – a point Jay Jay also makes later in the film.

This segment is a slight departure from previous episodes, in that it could be said to cover two different, if related, themes. On the one hand, it offers insight into the amazing world of Second Life machinima and the ways in which the platform  offers many unique ways of artistic freedom for film-makers. On the other it is a personal look at Jay Jay’s own role within the platform, both at founder and manager of the University of Western Australia’s presence in-world and through it  a patron and champion of the arts and machinima through his in-world alter-ego, Jayjay Zifanwe.

Natascha Randt and Karima Hoisan are two of the featured machinima-makers in segment #32 of The Drax Files, their work helping to illustrate both the rich diversity of machinima films made in SL and the unique opportunities for collaboration across the world offered by the platform
Natascha Randt and Karima Hoisan are two of the featured machinima-makers in segment #32 of The Drax Files, their work helping to illustrate both the rich diversity of machinima films made in SL and the unique opportunities for collaboration across the world offered by the platform

These two threads, woven together through the UWA’s ongoing series of art and machinima challenges, make for one of the most complex pieces yet produced by Drax as a part of the World Maker series. In it, he precisely balances insight and understanding into the appeal of machinima and the creative potential Second Life offers the medium with a clearly understandable examination of Jay Jay’s and the UWA’s work in-world, presenting audiences not necessarily well-versed in Second Life with a narrative flow combining both elements into a cohesive whole.

UWA's Winthrop Clock Tower & Reflection Pond as reproduced in Second Life and a landmark frequenctly featured in UWA machinima contest entries
UWA’s Winthrop Clock Tower & Reflection Pond as reproduced in Second Life and a landmark frequently featured in UWA machinima contest entries

From Jay Jay’s opening comment, we see machinima initially framed through the UWA’s ongoing series of art and machinima competitions (such as Pursue Impossible, which is currently underway), and which serves also to underline the fact that just about every kind of film genre and type known in the physical world can be produced within the virtual – and to extremely high standards.

This richness of opportunity is further underlined with brief statements on their art by some of second Life’s top machinima makers such as Rysan Fall (long a personal favourite), with clips from films by others such as Tutsy Navarathna (ditto). Through this comments, albeit  individually brief, the audience gains a well-rounded view of machinima and its creative power and value, as well as into way so many find it so personally satisfying.

And just in case there are any doubts over machinima’s position as a genuine form or artistic and creative expression, I’d at least point to Rysan Fall’s short film Invisible City. This not only topped-out the machinima category for the Project Homeless competition sponsored by the City of Parramatta, new South Wales, it took second position overall in the competition, beating many films made solely in the physical world with its context, narrative and production quality.


Rysan Fall’s brilliant Invisible City

Art and machinima serve many purposes in Second Life, just as they do in the real world, and it is to the UWA’s credit that they have sought to embrace this as much as possible through their promotion of virtual arts – such as with their involvement in Project Homeless, as mentioned above.

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A little bit of Junk in Second Life

Junk; Inara Pey, September 2015, on FlickrJunk September 2015 (Flickr)

I’ve written a few times about some of the advantages shopping in-world can have, quite aside from the benefits of easy browsing, sharing time with friends, etc., simply because many content creators with land of their own put as much care and effort into providing a place people will want to visit as much for itself as for the shopping experience.

Tab Tatham is one such creator. Her region, called simply Junk, the name of her store, is wonderfully atmospheric in design and execution. So much so that not only does it provide an eye-catching place to visit as well as to spend time shopping, for me it is also mindful of another region design I always enjoyed and admired: Jordan Giant’s The Colder Water, which makes it doubly attractive.

Junk; Inara Pey, September 2015, on FlickrJunk September 2015 (Flickr)

Like The Colder Water, Junk offers a crescent island with a landing area atop a broad, rocky plateau at one end, which sweeps down and around to rocky “tail”. It is also cast within a twilight world which suits it admirably, watched over by the slender finger of a tall lighthouse sitting just off the coast of the main island, something which again carries an echo of The Colder Water, although this lighthouse is very much still functional.

Which is not to say the one is in any way modelled on the other, there is also much which stands the two designs apart and make them entirely unique and individually attractive. My comparison is purely a means of showing how my memories of one had me feeling a comforting warmth of familiarity on my arrival at the other.

Junk; Inara Pey, September 2015, on FlickrJunk September 2015 (Flickr)

From the arrival area, which also forms the store’s information area, the visitor can wander the length of the island, Tab’s store being laid out as a series of sheds (Tab’s own designs) and awning-draped flat-bed trucks either side of the island’s sandy ribbon. Between these winds a board walk of loose-laid planks, enticing the visitor onwards in exploration.

At the far end of the island’s curve sits a live events area, built out over the water, with seating areas both on and near it, and the stage provisioned by another awning-hung truck. Braziers made from old oil drums, glowing with the heat of the fires burning inside them offer warmth should the sea breeze turn cold,  while the seating – whether made by Tab or by others – is wonderfully home-spun in styling, adding enormously to the overall ambience of the place.

Junk; Inara Pey, September 2015, on FlickrJunk September 2015 (Flickr)

Just off the main island, and sitting within its curve, are two little islands. On the first, barely more than a rocky outcrop, sits what appears to be the last remnants of an old factory. Further out, and reached via a set of stone flagstones which allow visitors to keep their feet dry, is a little warehouse area which offers cosy places to sit as well.

For those who like spending time meandering around market stalls or poking through little stores of bric-a-brac and suchlike, then a wander through Junk is liable to delight; it evokes such feelings perfectly, quite aside from any real or imagined sense of familiarity the region design may evoke. There is also a whimsical quirkiness present as well, which adds to a visit enormously, be it through spotting Nessie sitting in the water or smiling at the lantern carrying crane lighting the board walk, or any one of a dozen or more little touches which bring a smile to the lips.

Junk; Inara Pey, September 2015, on FlickrJunk September 2015 (Flickr)

Whether you are shopping for something that’s a little unusual and pleasing to the eye design-wise, or just out to see what you can find when it comes to furnishings and decor, be sure to take a look at Junk – you’re liable to find it is anything but.

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