A little over a year ago we received a message posted on our FaceBook Fan Page for the Mind Body Spirit Marketplace from someone named Celestial Elf. He kindly extended an invitation to our readers to watch and enjoy one of his 'little machinima films'. The film was called Beltane Blessings and I was not familiar with Celestial Elf or his work, so I clicked on the link, sat back, and found myself transported through time to experience one of the most uplifting, enchanting, intelligently written and portrayed depictions of the historic, ceremonial celebration of Spring. I enjoyed it so much that over the next year I found myself watching more of Celestial Elf's machinima film work, and I wanted to know about it. What are these films? How does he make them? Where does he find the material for his research? Those are just a few of the questions that he answered for me during the course of our interview. I'm very pleased for the opportunity to interview Celestial Elf, and I hope you find his world and the art of machinima as fascinating and enjoyable as I do! ~ diane fergurson
MBS: Can you tell us a little bit about your background. Howdid you get started making films?
Celestial Elf: I have always taken great delight in exploring life, nature, art,philosophy and spirituality with an open mind, and in drawing andpainting, reading literature and writing poetry of a similar tone.Following a stint at Art College many years ago however I had foundthat the structured Arts seemed to be very restricted to mercantilepurposes such as advertising, the Fine Art's seemed to be more aboutintellectual game playing rather than the Arts themselves. Whilst I doenjoy both of these aspects to some extent, I have always felt thatArt may inspire and perhaps convey some more meaningful messages thanproduct sales, and could possibly be more accessible than intellectualextrapolations. For these reasons I decided to follow my own intuitionand to explore paths of my own, believing as I do that part of thehigher purpose of Art is self exploration, the other part being toshare that with others and thus present new perspectives,opportunities and examples to the community at large.
I came to find the Virtual World environment where I am currentlyfilming machinima largely by chance, perhaps I was guided by my Muse.My first experience of these machinima films was to see them on youtube, and to realize that they had been made on home computers with aminimum of technology, hardware or software - this was a challengethat I could approach even on my fairly limited home computer. I wasenthralled by the opportunity to repossess the media which informs ourlives, to re-purpose the cultural misrepresentations which in my vieware propagated by the International Film and Animation studios whoprovide a lifetimes worth of constantly running hot and colddiversions to entertain us. To provide an alternative perspective tosuch sentimentalizing sensationalism and simultaneous dumbing down ofany wider meaning or natural context for the stories we are drip fedin our daily media, I want to remind people that nature is awesome,that to take part and create ones own life is more rewarding than toconsume the fantasy of another. Via animated info-tainment then I hopeto re-empower the imaginations of the viewer with my short storiesthat if ever so briefly portray a different set of attitudes, tocontribute towards a shift away from the nature neglecting world view.I hope to begin in a small way to inspire others perhaps with greatermeans to reclaim misdirected media, memes and mores by sharing thesimple life & nature respecting moral messages in folk andfairy-tales, the meanings of traditional mythologies and more....
For my purposes then, a Virtual Reality 'game' environment where onecan fly, become a dragon or a cloud, create environments to filmwithin that would be far out of reach for any real world budget, otherthan for media moguls perhaps, all these factors and the relativesimplicity of the operating system with which to film my stories on myhome computer propelled me with great enthusiasm and excitement alongthe path of making machinima.
MBS: How long ago did you start making the machinima films?
Celestial Elf: I began making machinima films late Autumn 2009, tentatively exploringwhat could be done with the software and being very excited to see thefirst results. I carried on intermittently, but found the actualprocess demanding and difficult to manage. By Spring 2010 overcomingmy reservations about how to manage the filming and editing, I beganto plan the films in a more organized way and it would be fair to saythat I got the bug, loved what I was doing and became a machinimahobbyist. Whilst I currently have about 52 films uploaded and online,I have made a few more than that but as my skills and editing haveimproved over time, I have looked back at the earlier films - somejust had to go. A few more of the earlier films may be quietlyretiring soon, thus hopefully leaving my channel at a higher generalstandard. In respect of the changes in standards over time, I thinkthat anyone who applies themselves to any practice should seeimprovements over time, but in my case this was helped along by thehelpful insights and constructive criticism of fellow machinima makerswhom I met and shared films with at The Second Life Machinima Artists Guild
an online community of similar machinima hobbyists, and where Iam now one of the Moderators supporting newer arrivals in the field.
MBS: The films seem very labor intensive. There really isquite a bit to them...the writing and research involved combined withthe technical end of it. About how long does it take you to complete one?
Celestial Elf: In terms of how long these films take to make, there is no easyanswer, but the simple one is that varies. When I first began makingmachinima, the planning process and subsequent time spent editing thefilm footage was relatively short, I took an idea, found a locationand set about filming, all within a few days.
I have however learned that to spend more time planning ahead reducesthe levels of stress involved for me in making these films and allowsfor a better organized film. For a brief example of the time scalesinvolved, if I am starting from scratch then I have to conceive of andwrite an idea, story or poem and could spend a week or more over thisaspect alone. Alternately if I am adapting a film to an alreadyexisting song or story as I did recently with Lynda Tallis' wonderfulshort story The Tree Of Life, then this time outlay is not needed. Itmay take a week to find or edit a musical soundtrack or arrange to usea friends music such as that of World Tree Music, or The Dolmen. Thisis a very central aspect to my own plotting of a films scenes, as Itry to coordinate the moods and views represented with the timing andemotional timbre of the music. Up-to a further week may be needed toplot locations, animations, costumes and props before I can completewith a few blocks of filming and a day or two editing. I shouldmention perhaps that I make these films in my free time at home and sodo not refer to a working week of time but rather all the mornings,evenings and weekends available to me. From start to finish then I mayhope to complete a project within a month.
MBS: Tell us a little bit more about the process you gothrough to make a film.
Celestial Elf: Once I have a story, next I research its links and associations andwrite a blog post based on this research. This section sometimes givesrise to new lines of thoughts, for example following my recentresearch for my film The Elf Knight and The Faerie Queen, I proposedthat the song which I used in the film, Scarborough Fair by World TreeMusic, may have its origins in Spencer's book The Faerie Queen.
After the content and the meaning are resolved, I begin adapting forscreenplay and this entails breaking all the sections into scenes,making notes over what each shall contain. This may be the lengthiestaspect of planing a machinima film for me and I'm happy to say that itcan be managed with a good notebook from an easy chair over anextended time period. I step into a visualization process to image theenvironments and locations needed, the atmospheres and sky settings,the times of day/night or other each scene should be. I also considerthe key characters for each scene, the look, outfit and animationsthey shall need for each section of the scene ( a finished scene ofone minute could have anywhere from five to twenty sub-scenesinvolved). Once I have a general outline of these factors then I find,make or edit them as needed.A further word on environments, costumes and animations, whereverpossible I prefer to use relatively authentic props, for example TheElf Knight dances a historically correct Renaissance dance, TheWizards Treeing Exercise was filmed in a Virtual Wales, clothes andother props used are often correct to the period such as those made byTrasgo Beaumont of Le Grenier du Château and Laufey Markstein ofTrident Historical Designs.The matter of supporting actors cannot be stressed to highly enough.Whilst some films work well with only one or two characters, onoccasion more are needed onscreen all at once. It is therefore veryhelpful to have a group of friends willing to step up and act atagreed times, for which I owe many thanks to numerous friends. Howeverin the Virtual Reality environment of Second Life which I use forfilming, people are online from around the entire world andcoordinating time zones can be a mind boggling exercise. For exampleSecond Life uses one time zone, I am in another in UK (GMT) friends inGermany are an hour ahead and friends on the East or West Coast of USAare on others, so my 3pm in the afternoon maybe be 2am in the morningfor one actor and 10pm at night for another. In consequence I try torestrict actors for any scene to a relatively close time zone.
Finally moving on to an agreed set of days/times for the actualfilming, this process also requires a fair amount of pre-planning forexample the camera angles and views to use, whether I shall have zoomshots or panning from right to left and etc etc. Once all things arein place, perhaps a general guideline might be that twenty minutes orso to fine tune online settings will enable anywhere from twentyminutes to two hours of running the camera off and on per scene in thefilm. A film of five minutes length could easily entail perhaps fiveto eight hours filming, spread over a number of days as the actors andtime zones allow. But filming is not the end of the process as we nowmove on to editing the footage. As with the planning, when I startedmaking machinima I spent minimal time editing as I was excited to seemy story come to life, but have learned that to spend longer over thisresults in a better presented film overall.
MBS: Many of your films that I have seen revolve aroundvarious themes that take place during the Renaissance period.(approximately) What is it about this particular period in historythat draws you in?
Celestial Elf: Its true that recently a few of my films have been set in Renaissanceperiod, particularly The Elf Knight and The Faerie Queen, but ingeneral I wouldn't say that I'm attached to any specific period assuch. But I do like to present aspects of relatively recent history,such as the medieval world and soon thereafter, for the simple reasonthat these times before the Industrial Revolution and the rise of amodern mechanized world, still worked hand in glove with nature andher cycles, valued the older traditions and accepted the immanence ofspirit in all of life. People were still familiar with the associationof supernatural powers such as elves and spirits and respected them intheir daily life. Some even sought their guidance as may be seen inthe interesting life and works of John Dee, trusted adviser to QueenElizabeth Ist and one of the most learned men of his age, whostraddled the worlds of science and magic and devoted much effortattempting to commune with angels and learn the universal language ofcreation to bring about the pre-apocalyptic unity of mankind. Suchviews are twice as relevant now that science has gifted us with theability to start such apocalypse on a moments notice and that ourchemical agro businesses and farming methods threaten to deprivefuture generations not only of safe and wholesome sustenance, but ofthe very environments that support our rich and diverse world of lifeitself.
Whilst many traditional stories, legends and fairy-tales are thoughtto contain encoded moral messages and spiritual guidance, perhaps theclearest presentation of the rich spiritual perspectives thatflourished in our earlier North European heritage might beE.M.W. Tillyard's book 'The Elizabethan World Picture'. This bookpresents the medieval view of The Chain Of Being - the idea of ahierarchical universe ordained by God and the interrelatedness of allcreation. Links higher on the Chain possessed greater intellect,mobility, and capability than those lower on the Chain. Accordingly,the higher links had more authority over the lower. For instance,plants only had authority and ability to rule over minerals, whilespiritual beings had greater capability than man. Whilst I preferterms like co-operate than rule and hold a more pantheistic thanmonotheistic view, as I feel that divine energies imbue all of theUniverse, this book nevertheless provides a wonderful glimpse into theprevailing earlier holistic spiritual perspective. It also shares agreat deal with even older cultural views and these earlier views arenow beginning to resurface in neo pagan theories such as of Lovelock'sGaia hypothesis which proposes that all organisms and their inorganicsurroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single andself-regulating complex system, that the planet itself is one unifiedliving organism. In a nutshell then, I believe that looking to earliertimes to inform the present enables people to identify with and actupon deeper underlying principles which have been occluded in our rushto scientific modernity, much as sight of the stars and a hushedappreciation of our place within an astonishing Universe has beenclouded out from our night skies and heart minds by the dazzle ofstreet lights.
MBS: The first machinima film of yours that I saw wasBeltane Blessing. I completely fell in love with it. Sobeautifully done, it really captured the joyous spirit of thatholiday. May 1st is Beltane and this interview will be posted sometime inMay. People in the US are probably more familiar with the holiday asMay Day instead of Beltane, although that's not really quite the same.Would you mind briefly explaining what Beltane is, and also why youchose to make one of your films about this celebration?
Celestial Elf: In the Northern Hemisphere May 1st or May Day was the traditionallythe first day of Summer, celebrated with rites and festivitiesincluding Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen and dancing around aMaypole. Ancient celebrations included the festival of Flora, theRoman goddess of flowers, Walpurgis Night celebrations in the Germaniccountries and the Gaelic Beltane. The name 'Beltane' originates fromthe Celtic god, Bel - the 'Bright One', and the Gaelic 'Teine' meaningfire, thus 'Bealtaine' means 'Bright Fire'. Because fire was believedto have purifying qualities, animals were driven between two Beltanefires set on the hills to cleanse them of evil spirits, bringfertility and ensure a good yield, before being placed in theirSummer-land pastures. Similarly the Celts themselves also leapt overthese fires for fertility, purification and blessing.
As the triple Goddess (Brigid) worshiped by the Ancient Britons movesthrough her various phases of the cycle of the year, Beltane sees thewomanly-aspect of the Summer Goddess banish the Old Crone aspect ofthe Winter Goddess in readiness for the maternal time and the fruitsof nature to follow. As The May Queen, Goddess of Spring and Queen ofthe Fairies, she symbolizes purity, growth and renewal.The May Queen’s male Consort, the May King dressed in spring leaves,ivy and evergreens, is ‘The Green Man’( a name coined by Lady Raglanin 1939). also called Jack-in-the-Green, Puck, Robin Goodfellow, inFrance- Father May, in Russia - the Little Leaf Man, at Beltane isreborn with a wild exhilarating dance that celebrates his youth andthis new summer.The Maypole represents this dance, the unwinding of the spiral of lifeand the union of the male and female energies of the Goddess and theGod. The red and white Maypole ribbons are intertwined and plaited asthe dancers weave amongst themselves around the pole, the dancers thenretrace their steps to unravel the ribbons, thus releasing theblessings of there conjoined energies into their lives andcommunities.
I chose to celebrate this great quarter day of the sacred year with amachinima film because whilst there are many Beltane festivals, theredoes not seem to be much by way of story or film that portrays quitethe intimate and personal aspect of magic and wonder that this timeonce held. Certainly the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill inEdinburgh provides a spectacular re-visioning of this ancient CelticFire Festival (on the night of the 30th April-morning of May 1st), andgatherings such as at Avebury stone circle (although not necessarilyon the day itself) provide a smaller occasion to mark the day. Iwanted to briefly indicate both aspects, the magickal night with itsfires of blessing and the joyful day to follow which leads to theSummerlands. I was very fortunate to have a piece of music for thisfilm provided by the pagan band The Dolmen which along with theincantatory blessing that I modeled after Druid Rhetorics from theancient Irish tales, convincingly conveys the Beltane Blessing.
MBS: What do you hope the viewer comes away with afterengaging with one of your films?
Celestial Elf: I would be very happy to think that a viewer has watched with enough interest to become involved in one of my films and would hope that they might make some connections between the vaguely Tolkien like imagery and music used with the films content, story and message. That these stories are based in our own traditional mythologies and legends rather than fascinating flights of fantasy, would ideally inspire in some among the viewers an interest in the themes represented, such as of pagan seasonal celebrations of nature, of environmental concerns over preserving and protecting biodiversity such as the bees and the trees, and over more personal matters such as how we show love in our lives....If any of these aspects inspires even one viewer to look further and find the magic in their own life, then I would consider that these films have succeeded in contributing to a brighter and more caring world.
The Song of Amergin
MBS: What's next for you? What are you currently working on?
Celestial Elf: I am reluctant to reveal what I am currently working on until such a time as so much preparation has been accomplished that the end is a mere matter of technical details. However I can promise that I am continuing with the exposition and reclamation of magic and mystery in our modern lives by representing of natures marginalized or neglected themes woven into an ongoing appeal to all viewers to celebrate the sacred in their own lives. I think it might be safe to say then that unexpected Elven and Spiritual spokespersons shall continue to set forth diverse enchantments with a view to inspire and delight.
MBS: What has your experience been with showing your films online?
Celestial Elf: I have been as delighted at the response to some of these films as Ihave been with the fun of making them. True I sometimes feel that as agenre Second Life machinima is somewhat under rated and has acomparatively small niche audience when compared with the popularityof for example Japanese Manga animation adventure films, or themachinima equivalent of a trans national enterprise, the Machinima.comchannel on you tube. Machinima.com accepts films from its contributingmembers and hosts them under its own identity, however the majority offilm content seem to be biased towards battle games and similar highaction escapades and whilst they do get good publicity and are widelyseen with he channel getting 70 Million views on you tube by 2011,personally I feel that it is time for machinima content to branch outand begin to make a place for itself in the semi serious film world.Increasingly the medium is becoming to be recognized throughcompetitions such as the annual 48 Hour Film Project MachinimaCompetition and with support of renowned film producers such as PeterGreenaway (director of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover withHelen Mirren, and The Pillow Book with Ewan McGregor, who has been ajudge on the 48 Hour Machinima Film Project ) who describes machinimaas “a very sophisticated tool that combines traditions of paintingwith cinema and the graphic arts in present tense terms that permitsvisual expression of language like never before.” and said that “Thefuture of film is in Second Life.” Whilst I do not take part in suchcompetitions myself, it is encouraging that this medium as a whole isgaining in public awareness.
Taliesins Battle of the Trees
MBS: What advice do you have for others who wish to make films or peruse some other artistic endeavor?
Celestial Elf: Firstly I have to state my belief that everyone is gifted in some way or another and that whilst others may fail to recognize ones creative endeavors to start with, particularly if they are in a less well recognized area of creativity, nevertheless one should have confidence in ones own vision, enjoy what they are doing and follow their own star. I saw this comment recently and I think it is a completely relevant to this question, 'Follow your dreams, they know the way'. The second hurdle for many of us may well be technical mastery of their chosen art and for this nothing but practice practice practice can improve the outcome, as well as perhaps joining a peer support group such as in my case The Second Life Machinima Artists Guild mentioned above, where you will be able to share your arts and hopefully get constructive criticism and supportive feedback over how to improve. Above all have fun, believe in what you are doing and keep on keeping on
MBS: Before we conclude, I know that there were some environmental related things that you would like to mention -
Celestial Elf: This might be a good moment to invite people to take action and signthe various E-Petitions that are linked under some of the videos andthen to share those videos so that others may easily find and sign thepetitions too. The Bee Myth has a link to The Friends Of The Earthpetition to save the Bees, Stonehenge Is Our Temple has one callingfor Return Of The Ancestors who were dug and removed from that site,and The Tree Of Life has a Save Our Ancient Forests petition for TheWoodland Trust.
~ thank you!
You can read more about Celestial Elf and his work on his blog.Many of his films are available on YouTube.