History(Last updated June 5, 2007)
I'd discovered Jonathan Coulton's wonderful music a while back, and I read on his blog that the Ill Clan had done a machinima video for "Code Monkey" using footage from "The Movies" game. It had never occurred to me that a fan could just go ahead and do something like that. Coulton releases his songs under the Creative Commons license, so making videos for his songs was perfectly legal as long as you give him credit and don't make any money off of it. So over the next couple of weeks, as I listened to Coulton's music, little ideas for scenes would come to me, using the World of Warcraft game as the engine. I finally couldn't take it any longer and sat down to make the video.
Re: Your Brains was my first video, and it's actually the one I'm least happy with now. If I were to redo it now, I would tighten up the editing quite a bit so that the shots came at a quicker pace. But "Brains" has been one of my most popular videos so far, probably because Jonathan Coulton's song is so great and because it's the oldest and so has had the longest time to make it around the Internet.
Making "Brains" was so much fun that a week later, I made Just As Long As Me. The song is quicker-paced than "Brains", which forced my video to have quicker edits, and I really liked the outcome. For the longest time, "Just As Long As Me" was my favorite of my videos because it was short, sweet, and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, this one has proved to be the least popular of my videos with other people, not because people don't like it (I hope), but because (I think) it's not as flashy as the others.
Having had fun making "Just As Long As Me", and having gotten lots of positive feedback from other posters on Coulton's blog and on YouTube, I set out to make a third video, this time for Skullcrusher Mountain. This one was harder to make. "Skullcrusher" has lots of locations and character interactions, and after getting about halfway through, I was getting bored so I stopped.
Jonathan Coulton's Thing A Week podcast was still going strong though, where he put out a new song each week for an entire year. In July 2006, Coulton posted Creepy Doll, which was a wonderfully evocative song about a creepy doll and a spooky house in a horror movie setting. I began thinking of scenes I could shoot for the video, and eventually decided to go ahead and do it. So, even though "Skullcrusher" was the third video I started, "Creepy Doll" was my third completed video.
Now, up until this point, all my videos had been straight in-game footage deals. No special effects or anything, all I did was manipulate the camera in the World of Warcraft game and capture the footage. But I knew for "Creepy Doll" I would need slightly more firepower for a couple of the shots I wanted to do. For example, I wanted the protagonist to stand next to a bag of money at the beginning of the video, and since there aren't any bags of money laying around the decrepit house I wanted to use, I had to put it there myself. So, I taught myself to use Adobe After Effects (relatively easy to do since I worked for Adobe at the time). Using After Effects, I was able to composite in the bag of money and at the end of the video, I composited the bag and the box in the fireplace. For the rest of the shots I couldn't get in-game, like the fangs on the doll and the box on the table next to the undead store vendor, I used Photoshop. I wish now that I'd been better at After Effects back then, because I think the shots would have come out better (for example, the store vendor could have been animated rather than being a still shot).
After nearly finishing "Creepy Doll", I realized that I didn't have an ending. All my videos have had a twist at the end, and I didn't have one for "Creepy Doll". Let me give credit where credit is due -- my wife, walking up behind me as I sat at my computer complaining that I was screwed because I couldn't come up with a twist ending, said simply, "how about if that guy gets turned into a doll himself". Great idea! And the rest is history.
Just like after having finished "Brains", I was on a kind of a high after finishing "Creepy Doll", and I dusted off my old Skullcrusher Mountain video footage to finish it off. About this time, I got an email from a guy named "AiYume" who said he was working on a Skullcrusher Mountain video of his own. We got to talking and we sort of decided to spur each other on to finish our respective videos. As we neared the end, we showed each other our rough drafts, and I was very impressed by his use of special effects. He had great scene transitions and thought bubbles over characters heads, etc. When I took a critical look at my "Skullcrusher" video, I thought the video was funny and well-edited, but there was no denying that I didn't have much in the way of special effects. Most criminal of all, my half-pony half-monkey monster, the centerpiece of any good "Skullcrusher Mountain" video, was just a static Photoshopped image where I'd pasted together parts of apes from Stranglethorn Vale and riding horses from Elwynn Forest. The night before AiYume and I had agreed to both post our respective videos to the world, I cracked it back open to see if I could fix up at least the monster. The monster you see in the video is what I came up with -- pretty lame, but not as lame as it was going to be if I hadn't been spurred on by AiYume's video.
By now, I loved making the videos and people seemed to love watching them, so I kept going. I wanted to increase the challenge of each new one, and I found a huge challenge in Code Monkey. Ever since Ill Clan's video, I'd wanted to do my own version, but as I mention in the scrolling text at the end of my video, apes and Night Elf receptionists don't interact much in the World of Warcraft. So how to make the "Code Monkey" video I wanted to make? I needed to kick things up a notch. For "Code Monkey", I would not just use After Effects for a couple of lame "special" effects. I would use After Effects to create the entire video from the ground up. It was a huge undertaking. Every element in every shot had to be captured from the Model Viewer or the Map Viewer or from the game itself, and then had to be composited together by hand. I averaged about an hour of work for every three seconds of footage, but in the end, I was really excited by the result, and judging from people's reactions, it seems like they are too.
The original ending for "Code Monkey" was to have the receptionist come up on the roof with the ape and show that she was really in love with him so we could have a happy ending. But as I worked on the video, I realized that it didn't make much sense for her to spend the entire song blowing him off only to have her suddenly turn out to be in love with him at the end. So right as I started working on that ending scene, I decided to switch it up just a bit, having her still meet him on the roof with a basket of Fritos and Mountain Dew, but not necessarily be in love with him yet. To get the happy ending, I tossed in the cupid goblin (a visual element that I hadn't planned on including in the video but thought up about halfway through) to shoot her with the arrow, which had the satisfying effect of not only leaving the viewer with the possibility of love between the two characters (without breaking the fidelity of Jonathan Coulton's original song, I felt), but also being a "callback" to something earlier in the video, a trick I decided I liked and would use in my next video as well.
But what to do for my next video? Each video had raised the bar in terms of technical complexity, and I wasn't sure where to go next. But then, little scenes for a video started appearing in my head again. The problem was, they were scenes for First of May, a song about celebrating the coming of spring by screwing outside. It's a great song, but not a kid-friendly one. But that actually made the challenge of making a "First Of May" video too delicious to resist. I had no idea if I could even get the little WoW characters to look like they were doing it, much less do it in a way that was clever and hopefully not too crass. I had to try.
I dove into the project and immediately ran into a lucky break. I wasn't sure how I wanted to start the video off, though I knew it needed to start off kind of softly so that when the kinky stuff starts kicking in, it would be even more of a surprise. At the time, the Mac version of the map viewer was a little buggy, and as I used it to scout for locations for the video's scenes, I saw that it wasn't displaying the grass and ground covering in Teldrassil. It still displayed the rolling terrain of the ground, and all the trees and buildings and rocks looked normal, but the ground had no skin, it was stark white... just like snow. So, I decided to start the video off with snow on the ground and have it transition later to springtime.
As for the characters themselves, I scoured the Model Viewer for every possible animation the characters could do that I could make to look like sex. Particularly helpful were the animations for taking damage (most of them made the character rear back and then lean forward again, which looks great if you loop it over and over again. :) I tossed in every visual gag I could think of and still nearly ran out of different, funny ways to show WoW characters gettin' it on outdoors. By the end, I never wanted to see another naked WoW toon again.
Remember the "callback" cupid goblin from "Code Monkey"? In "First Of May", I used the sheep-chasing dwarf to help tie things together throughout the video. Even if people don't laugh at anything else in the video (which is rare), they always laugh at the dwarf. :)
Once I had finished though, I started to worry. I'd essentially just created the most graphic piece of WoW porn ever made. It was funny as hell, but there was no denying that it was graphic(ish). If I posted it to YouTube alongside my other videos, what would happen? I knew the video would get a great response once it was up, but I was a afraid that it would offend someone somewhere and they'd report me and I'd get banned or something. It turns out that YouTube did look at the video, and rather than banning me or making me take the video down, they just made it so that a viewer has to prove they were over 18 by registering with YouTube before they could watch it. That was a good solution in that it kept me from being banned from YouTube, but it's put a huge damper on the number of views/day "First Of May" gets since you have to be registered to see it, which is a bummer. Still, I'll take that over being banned any day.
After going to the Dark Side with "First Of May", I figured it was time for something a little more family-friendly, so I made Podsafe Christmas Song. I'd actually been wanting to make this video for almost a year, but I had to wait until the holiday decorations went back up in the World of Warcraft game before I could get the background shots I needed, so the ideas were stuck in my head for quite some time.
In 2006, Jonathan Coulton and Quick Stop Entertainment held a contest to see who could make the best remix of Code Monkey. One of the winners was Ken Wagman's Speed Monkey, a sped up, hyper-guitar slammin' version that I really loved, so I decided to make a video for it. My first idea was to just take my original Code Monkey video and speed it up, but that was unsatisfying. Then I got the idea of just uncoupling the lyrics from the video's action, something I hadn't done before. Since I didn't have to slavishly narrate the lyrics anymore, I could visually show any story I wanted as long as it was tied to the original Code Monkey somehow. So I came up with the idea of having the video be a daydream where Rob is a giant Godzilla-style monster who kidnaps the receptionist and Code Monkey has to go save her. This was my first attempt at animating fight scenes, and it was just about as difficult as I'd imagined -- lots of figures moving around doing a lot of action that interacts with other figures. I probably won't aim for as much action in future videos, but I'm glad I got a chance to experiment with it this time. Here's a link to .mp3s of all the Code Monkey remix contest winners.
February 2007, Viacom decided they'd send YouTube a "take-down order" to make YouTube remove videos that were infringing on Viacom's properties. The problem was, they were too lazy to actually look for videos that actually infringed on their properties. Instead, they just did blanket searches for any video that was somehow associated with some keyword that might have something to do with a Viacom property, and they took that list of 100,000 videos and demanded that YouTube take them all down. YouTube complied, and lots of videos that had nothing to do with Viacom were taken down, Re: Your Brains included. So, for a couple of days, I was a victim of The Man and was caught up in an upswelling of indignation on the part of hundreds of Little Guys to stop The Man from imposing his corporate will on others. But then YouTube put my video back up after I filled out the proper paperwork explaining that it was all a mistake, and everything went back to normal.
April 2007, YouTube finally decided they'd had enough of my First of May video, and they took it down due to its "inappropriate nature". Some user had flagged it as inappropriate (duh). At first I tried to work myself up to be upset, but really what was I going to do? It does have an inappropriate nature (deliciously so), and they can take it down if they want. Ah well.
I made my ninth video, Betty and Me in May 2007. Each video up until then has been an increase in technical difficulty for me. There was nothing particularly difficult about making Betty and Me, which was actually kind of a nice break. :)
I've noticed that other people on YouTube have begun re-posting my videos as if they were their own, First of May included. I suppose this should be flattering to me, although it's kind of annoying that these people are stealing my stuff. Still, the purpose of the videos is to spread the word about Jonathan Coulton's music, so I suppose it may ultimately be a good thing.
I wasn't going to make I Feel Fantastic. It's a great song, but not one I would have thought would make a good WoW video (it's all about drugs, which isn't something that's easily expressed in the game). But then PopSci Magazine announced they were holding a contest to see who could make the best video for "I Feel Fantastic", and they even posted a couple of my videos on their blog as examples of what would make good entries. So I had to do it. The fact that the grand prize was an 80gb iPod with Jonathan Coulton's signature laser-etched into the back may have had something to do with my decision too. :)
Of course, since I hadn't been planning on making the video at all, I had no idea for the video. PopSci gave a reasonable amount of time before the entries were due, but I had a vacation planned and would have to have my entry ready a full week before the due date. So even though most of my videos have had months for the ideas to roll around in my head before they ever get turned into pixels, I had to cram hard for an idea for "I Feel Fantastic", and then had to cram hard to get it done in time. The toughest part of it turned out to be wrangling all those darned pill icons. They took forever to make (there are 77 of them) and they all had to be turned on in the right sequence from shot to shot. I had to constantly check to make sure that I didn't have a pill showing in one shot and then missing in the next or that a certain pill was in one position at one time but another position later. If you find any places I messed up, don't bother telling me. It's too late to change anything. ;)
Update: I didn't win the PopSci contest. I wasn't even in the top five. Ah well. Back to making videos for fun rather than cash and prizes. ;)
Now I'm dying to work on the video I was going to work on before PopSci announced their contest, so I'll try to get to that one some time after I return from vacation. Thank you all for the great feedback, and I'm glad you like the videos as much as I like making them.