Work Warning: Brief profanity in the video.
From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.
Just as Azeroth prepares to explode in all its cataclysmic glory, films on gaming seem to be exploding onto the scene. There's the documentary from LFG Productions (many of you may have seen them filming at BlizzCon and our reader meetup last month) that will be following leading raiding guild <Blood Legion> in a full-court press into Cataclysm. There's The Raid, another take on raiding life that we also saw at BlizzCon, and the "zanier" take on gaming culture of Gamers.
In contrast to all those documentaries comes the short narrative film /afk. This live-action film, featuring extensive in-game footage produced by a whole host of well known machinimators -- Gigi, Teagen the Rogue, Baron Soosdon, the list goes on -- tells the tale of a WoW gamer whose psychiatrist informs him that he is gaming-addicted and should delete his character. Game over? Not quite. "The problem is that he always had this dream to solo Onyxia," explains creator Benjamin Dressler, "and he doesn't intend to leave without reaching that goal."
/afk debuts on YouTube later this week with a unique, in-game event that literally "unlocks" the premiere. On Nov. 19, Aventhor, the night elf character from the movie, will appear on Alleria (EU-A) at 7 p.m. GMT and Drenden (US-A) at 5 p.m. CST. Find him and unlock "/afk"! Players must find Aventhor on each server and perform his quests to unlock the movie on YouTube. For more details on the premiere event, see the video at the end of the article -- and join us after the break for a peek behind the scenes with creator Benjamin Dressler.
Main character Mowrig, level 80 shaman
Guild " Right now I'm not in a guild. I had to pause playing since the production of "/afk" really needed my full attention for the last couple of months."
Realm Alleria (EU)
15 Minutes of Fame: We hear you've got a whole cadre of machinimists working on the project. Who's doing what?
Benjamin Dressler: PvPGurl aka Gigi was my first contact and was the producer of the in-game scenes. By that, I mean she picked the members of the machinima crew, featured the project on her site, gave a lot of counsel and even got us into our first film festival. But she also helped in the actual filming of course.
Teagen the Rogue and Kam Uraki did everything to provide us with the technical fundamentals. They took care of creating and equipping all the characters, made sure the puppeteers knew where to meet and what to do and just spent huge amounts of time in making sure everything worked out so well.
WoPairs and Baron Soosdon did some actual machinimating. Since I wanted everything to look very real, we didn't use much machinimation, but what you'll see was done by those guys.
Last but not least there was Bloodvein, who did some very important special effects work. You probably won't even recognize what he did when you see the movie, but that's what makes really good special effects. They seem natural. He also designed our YouTube channel and animated the logo.
We also had a couple of puppeteers and great voice actors. I can't name all of them here, but I want to emphasize Darkpippi. He isn't very well known yet, but he also does parody songs and voice acting and did an outstanding job. I really think he should be on the radar of any machinimator or parody fan!
How did gaming lead you into machinima?
In fact, my interest in filmmaking started with machinimating. As far back as when StarCraft came out, I used to play around with the editor and always had most fun in scripting little scenes within the missions. I then did three machinimas in Warcraft 3. And while doing the last one of these, an adaption of "The Curse of Feanor," I consciously developed an interest in filmmaking.
So I started applying at film schools, read books about storytelling, bought a camcorder, all that stuff that you try when you really have no idea how to start a career like this. That was about six or seven years ago. So what really paid in the end was working at different film sets as a production driver, because it helped me in meeting a lot of experienced people who eventually became friends, helped on my films and taught me lots of stuff. I also read about 40 books on filmmaking. That kinda helped in terms of getting a theoretical background. And I watched a lot of films, listened to the audio commentaries, read interviews.
Actually, I didn't make enough films along the way. I really should've gotten my scripts more on the road and just made them with no budget and all. That's the only way you really see what works and what doesn't and the best way to learn. So that would clearly be an advice as to what to do different.
What's been the most challenging and enjoyable parts of this particular project? Were there aspects you'd never had to tackle in previous projects?
The most exciting thing about "/afk" for me is and was that I don't really know any project that went so far in mixing machinima and real film footage. There is a fantastic Dutch movie called BenX that used footage from Archlord, and there is of course that awesome South Park episode. But I would dare to say that we pushed that concept way further since about 30 percent of the action and the plot is really in game. And, as opposed to South Park, we tried to tell a story that could actually happen in game. We spent days and weeks to make every action in the game as believable as we could. In this movie, you won't see anyone get to level cap by killing level 1 boars.
I think this is so important because not only online games but the whole online world will eventually become a fundamental part of human life. And the reason why there isn't really a decent movie about gaming yet is because filmmakers haven't tried to find ways to translate gaming into film (haven't seen Scott Pilgrim yet, though). We wanted to make a movie that gamers could watch while not constantly thinking, "Well, you'd never see that in the real game" but that people who don't play WoW could also watch and kinda get the idea of what gaming means to people that do it.
This was very hard because we had to find ways how to picture in-game action so people without a WoW background could understand what's going on. In the same instance, we couldn't explain the concept of raiding or being AFK forever because that would have bored gamers to death. This went down to things like the question of how long to show an in-game shot so that everyone could understand what was going on and no one would get bored -- not an easy thing to do, because we had no reference at all. But on the other hand, it was the most exciting thing about this because we this wasn't done a lot of times before.
How on earth did you fund such a critter?
/afk basically has no funding. Since we use Blizzard copyright, we can't make any profit with this. So we invested as little money as possible. We had to buy food, fuel for our cars, rent some lighting equipment and we bought some props (the murloc from the Blizzard shop did a great job in keeping the crew entertained!). Everything else was done without spending money. Everyone was working for free, we got to use most of the equipment for free, and the locations were just the places from people attached to the project.
On the one hand, it is really not fair that all those great people spent their time without getting paid. On the other hand, running low on money really makes you think more creatively. And you get people who are fueled by real motivation, not just some dollars.
What's next on your creative plate?
Oh, I wish I knew that for sure! At the moment, /afk is the only thing on my mind, but when it's out and finished, there are several projects I'd like to try and get made. Obviously, I'd love to revisit Piet and his world, maybe on a larger scale. But that depends on how well /afk will be received and if a certain game company we all love and worship will think that it's a good idea.
Visit /afk: The Movie on the web and on its Facebook page.
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.