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Moriash Moreau: My Second Life
Monday, November 07, 2005
SL Webcomic Tips, Part 3
As promised previously, today we're going to talk about actor wrangling.

One of the main problems with SL, at least for our purposes here, is the lack of fine control. It is virtually impossible for an avatar to do many things the average human takes for granted. I'm talking about things like "take half a step to the left," or "hold that prop a little higher." To make matters worse, minor changes in rotation are often not conveyed to the servers. So an avatar may think he's facing properly, when in fact he appears 20 degrees off to someone else.

So how do we get around this? We take the control out of the hands of the actor and put them into the hands of the camera man/director. The easiest way I've found to do this is to make poser objects. These can be any normal pose ball, as long as it's big enough to easily edit once it's in use. Here is the script that I use. Usually, I just put it in a cube, because it's easier to eyeball rotations on a square object. (Mine are usually blue, but it can be useful to color each one differently for ease in stage directions, such as "Bill, sit on the green cube.") This script is virtually identical to every other sit pose script out there. Simply edit the script to use the proper pose animation (we'll talk more about poses and animations in a future installment), tell the actor to sit on it, and you're good to go.

Once the actor is in place, the director (who should also be the camera man, since he's the only one who can see the correct angles) can then edit the cubes to move the actor to the correct positions. This is will save a lot of headaches in the long run. (Just remember to keep their feet on the ground.) If the scene director (or his partner) has access to all the avatars for the various characters involved, he can also block out the scene as his own stand-in. This is very handy for scenes with large casts, as it saves quite a bit of boring fiddling with positions once your volunteers have arrived.

This one technique did more to make our lives easier than any other trick we've found. It's absolutely maddening to have a whole scene wrecked because one actor has a spot of lag and ends up pushing everyone out of place while trying to carefully take a step to the right. The downside is it's boring for the actors. Their entire job is to stand still while some guy fusses about taking snapshots. That's why having someone (usually my partner, in my case) act as cast coordinator is so useful, just to keep everyone in line and ready while the camera man twiddles with his camera controls. When we have large shots (more than we can get using our two avatars on our main machines, and the two ancient machines I have cobbled together to run alts), she finds the volunteers, explains the scene, and generally keeps them entertained while I muck about in complete silence and curse at my screen as I set up the shots.

Still, setting up a complex shot can be boring for everyone but the camera man. (The latter is usually surly and stressed out as he tries to figure out where everyone goes, then get his camera setup before the cast gets sick of standing around and/or otherwise has to bow out. I've come to the conclusion that it's better for all concerned if I don't even try to speak socially during this process. Oy.) There isn't much you can do about that. Just plan ahead as much as possible, explain their part in this hopefully-knee-slappingly hilarious comic, and work efficiently when the time comes. Consider uploading a copy of the raw shots and sharing it with everyone, if it's a particularly amusing scene. And, of course, use stock footage (start taking pictures of crowd scenes and nifty scenery ASAP) and bluescreen Photoshop tricks when you can get away with it, to minimize the live casting required.

One good thing about photo shoots in this venue is the models can talk amongst themselves, even while the camera's eye is upon them. Just be sure to (nicely) tell them to hit the "/" key to bring up their chat bar (as in "/Hey guys!"), as opposed to hitting enter or clicking Chat. The slash key will bring up the chat bar without triggering the typing animation, so everyone can talk as much as they like without disturbing the shot. (They can also use IM without outward signs, of course.) And if they forget, well, don't stress about it. This is supposed to be fun, remember?

Well, that's about all I know about working with the cast in a screenshot based webcomic. Next time, I'll talk about working with poses and animations.
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