ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES, released on 22 July 2018, is a machinima* from CEH Productions – Caledonia Skytower of the Seanchai Library, Elrik Merlin of Virtual Community Radio and Designing Worlds, and Honey Heart of Elite Equestrian. The 15-minute film, shot in Second Life®, is based on a short story written by Caledonia and originally recorded for Fantasy Faire Radio as part of the 10th Fantasy Faire, the annual SL-based fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society.
The story was inspired by, and performed in, a superbly-imagined Steampunk-inspired spaceport created by leading virtual world creators The Looking Glass – Sharni Azalee and Marcus Inkpen – for Fantasy Faire 2018, and loaned for the shoot.
ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES presents a glimpse into two individual journeys that are brought together and shared for the last time. It is about the one who leaves, the one left behind, and the essential role of each. Though the word is never uttered in the film, it essentially addresses aspects of our attitude to death.
“He has accepted the journey on which he must now embark,” says real-life professional storyteller and theatrical designer Skytower. “His last act is to pass along that which has been most important in his life to someone who is remaining behind – requesting their commitment to carry on the work.”
“She is dropped without warning into loss, grief, and accepting his legacy with no warning or time to become accustomed to its inevitability,” Caledonia goes on. “She must choose to be present for him in this moment, accept the commitment with which he tasks her, and be prepared to continue on – while at the same time dealing with the shock and weight of it.”
ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES also highlights the vital importance of storytelling, harking back to an earlier time when tales were woven into a verbal tradition that was handed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next.
Technical Director Heart re-erected the spaceport as a film set, and used a range of in-world animations and path-scripting techniques including Metaharper Show Tools to realise the action, which was shot by Skytower and Merlin, who also performed the two lead roles. The footage was then edited conventionally by Merlin.
The project was a transatlantic collaboration, with Skytower in Washington State, Heart in Michigan and Merlin in Scotland. The soundtrack recording and production co-ordination was carried out in Skype, sharing screens while shooting, and ‘dailies’ were viewed via the cloud.
*In fact the term “machinima” is usually used for narratives created by editing video game sequences together. In these cases, the vast majority of the environment is created by the game-makers and all you can do is to carry out the range of actions available in the game, in the environment provided by the game, and edit sequences together to tell the story.
ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES, however, was created in the virtual world of Second Life, which is a completely user-created environment. The appearance and capabilities of everything, and everyone, you see in the film, right down to the clouds in the sky, was custom-designed and unique. There is no “game world” – it’s all created by the users. So we would prefer to think of videos created in Second Life and other virtual worlds like it as “real-time digital animation” or similar.