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.

Another demonstration of this work came in 2014, through  The Freedom Project. This offered artists suffering from a disability or chronic illness, or associated with those suffering from either, to use art as a means of expressing how virtual life has enabled them to engage in activities and interact with others in ways which may not be possible in the real world. Combining the UWA with Virtual Ability and The Centre for ME/CFS and Other Invisible Illnesses, the Freedom Project resulted in a series of narratives in both art and machinima which were both personal and moving, and which resulted in a fabulous book, produced by the UWA as part of their Studies in Virtual Arts e-journal (SiVA) series.

not only does the UWA, under Jayjay's guidance and FreeWee Ling's curation, promote and display art in Second Life through its various challenges, it also preserves that art in print through it SiVA titles
Not only does the UWA, under Jayjay’s guidance and FreeWee Ling’s curation, promote and display art in Second Life through its various challenges, it also preserves that art in print through its SiVA titles

Jayjay himself has been struck by the sheer power of virtual worlds, and this has been one of the motivating factors behind his continued promotion of such environments to the Dean and staff at the UWA and his drive to have the university continue to utilise and support virtual world activities.

Ahead of this segment of The Drax Files World Makers WAtoday.com published an article in which his and the UWA’s work in Second Life is also discussed, and which expands on how The Freedom Project came into being. The article, which focuses on Jay Jay’s first – and happenstance – in-world meeting with Dianne Birt, serves to further underline many of the elements of freedom and personal expression touched upon in this film, and makes excellent supporting reading.

Towards the end of the film, Jay Jay disarmingly refers himself as a facilitator through his work at UWA and in Second Life and in his home life, where he actively supports and encourages his two sons Rahul, a young man with a gift for sports, and Radheya, who at 15 is already well on his way to proving himself a gifted film-maker.


Jay Jay’s own son, Radheya, is also proving to be a superb film-maker

This is another outstanding documentary about Second Life which perfectly illustrates yet another facet of the platform and demonstrates the rich and diverse nature of opportunities and potential for personal expression encapsulated within it and virtual spaces like it. Jay Jay is an eloquent and excellent spokesperson and guide, and I personally think he undersells himself in the film.

Far from being without a special ability as he states towards the end of the segment, he has demonstrated time and again he very much does. His work through the UWA serves as a catalyst and inspiration for people to embrace the power of second Life for artistic expression. There is also great poignancy in the way he talks about the platform and its liberating abilities which cannot fail to touch others, and which is very much on display in this piece. Kudos, again, to him and to Drax.

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