Monday, June 25, 2012

Mind Body Spirit Artist Interview - Celestial Elf

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

From - King Arthur's Summer Solstice
MBS:  Can you tell us a little bit about your background.  How
did 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 and
painting, reading literature and writing poetry of a similar tone.
Following a stint at Art College many years ago however I had found
that the structured Arts seemed to be very restricted to mercantile
purposes such as advertising, the Fine Art's seemed to be more about
intellectual game playing rather than the Arts themselves. Whilst I do
enjoy both of these aspects to some extent, I have always felt that
Art may inspire and perhaps convey some more meaningful messages than
product sales, and could possibly be more accessible than intellectual
extrapolations. For these reasons I decided to follow my own intuition
and to explore paths of my own, believing as I do that part of the
higher purpose of Art is self exploration, the other part being to
share 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 currently
filming machinima largely by chance, perhaps I was guided by my Muse.
My first experience of these machinima films was to see them on you
tube, and to realize that they had been made on home computers with a
minimum of technology, hardware or software - this was a challenge
that I could approach even on my fairly limited home computer. I was
enthralled by the opportunity to repossess the media which informs our
lives, to re-purpose the cultural misrepresentations which in my view
are propagated by the International Film and Animation studios who
provide a lifetimes worth of constantly running  hot and cold
diversions to entertain us. To provide an alternative perspective to
such sentimentalizing sensationalism and simultaneous dumbing down of
any wider meaning or natural context for the stories we are drip fed
in 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 to
consume the fantasy of another. Via animated info-tainment then I hope
to re-empower the imaginations of the viewer with my short stories
that if ever so briefly portray a different set of attitudes, to
contribute towards a shift away from the nature neglecting world view.
I hope to begin in a small way to inspire others perhaps with greater
means to reclaim misdirected media, memes and mores by sharing the
simple life & nature respecting moral messages in folk and
fairy-tales, the meanings of traditional mythologies and more....

For my purposes then, a Virtual Reality 'game' environment where one
can fly, become a dragon or a cloud, create environments to film
within that would be far out of reach for any real world budget, other
than for media moguls perhaps, all these factors and the relative
simplicity of the operating system with which to film my stories on my
home computer propelled me with great enthusiasm and excitement along
the 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 exploring
what could be done with the software and being very excited to see the
first results. I carried on intermittently, but found the actual
process demanding and difficult to manage. By Spring 2010 overcoming
my reservations about how to manage the filming and editing, I began
to plan the films in a more organized way and it would be fair to say
that I got the bug, loved what I was doing and became a machinima
hobbyist. Whilst I currently have about 52 films uploaded and online,
I have made a few more than that but as my skills and editing have
improved over time, I have looked back at the earlier films - some
just had to go. A few more of the earlier films may be quietly
retiring soon, thus hopefully leaving my channel at a higher general
standard. In respect of the changes in standards over time, I think
that anyone who applies themselves to any practice should see
improvements over time, but in my case this was helped along by the
helpful insights and constructive criticism of fellow machinima makers
whom I met and shared films with at The Second Life Machinima Artists Guild
an online community of similar machinima hobbyists, and where I
am now one of the Moderators supporting newer arrivals in the field.



MBS:  The films seem very labor intensive.  There really is
quite a bit to them...the writing and research involved combined with
the 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 easy
answer, but the simple one is that varies. When I first began making
machinima, the planning process and subsequent time spent editing the
film footage was relatively short, I took an idea, found a location
and set about filming, all within a few days.

I have however learned that to spend more time planning ahead reduces
the levels of stress involved for me in making these films and allows
for a better organized film. For a brief example of the time scales
involved, if I am starting from scratch then I have to conceive of and
write an idea, story or poem and could spend a week or more over this
aspect alone. Alternately if I am adapting a film to an already
existing song or story as I did recently with Lynda Tallis' wonderful
short story The Tree Of Life, then this time outlay is not needed. It
may take a week to find or edit a musical soundtrack or arrange to use
a friends music such as that of World Tree Music, or The Dolmen. This
is a very central aspect to my own plotting of a films scenes, as I
try to coordinate the moods and views represented with the timing and
emotional timbre of the music. Up-to a further week may be needed to
plot locations, animations, costumes and props before I can complete
with a few blocks of filming and a day or two editing. I should
mention perhaps that I make these films in my free time at home and so
do 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 may
hope to complete a project within a month.



MBS:  Tell us a little bit more about the process you go
through to make a film.

Celestial Elf:  Once I have a story, next I research its links and associations and
write a blog post based on this research. This section sometimes gives
rise to new lines of thoughts, for example following my recent
research for my film The Elf Knight and The Faerie Queen, I proposed
that the song which I used in the film, Scarborough Fair by World Tree
Music, may have its origins in Spencer's book The Faerie Queen.

After the content and the meaning are resolved, I begin adapting for
screenplay and this entails breaking all the sections into scenes,
making notes over what each shall contain. This may be the lengthiest
aspect of planing a machinima film for me and I'm happy to say that it
can be managed with a good notebook from an easy chair over an
extended time period. I step into a visualization process to image the
environments and locations needed, the atmospheres and sky settings,
the times of day/night or other  each scene should be. I also consider
the key characters for each scene, the look, outfit and animations
they shall need for each section of the scene ( a finished scene of
one minute could have anywhere from five to twenty sub-scenes
involved). 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, wherever
possible I prefer to use relatively authentic props, for example The
Elf Knight dances a historically correct Renaissance dance, The
Wizards Treeing Exercise was filmed in a Virtual Wales, clothes and
other props used are often correct to the period such as those made by
Trasgo Beaumont of Le Grenier du Château and Laufey Markstein of
Trident Historical Designs.
The matter of supporting actors cannot be stressed to highly enough.
Whilst some films work well with only one or two characters, on
occasion more are needed onscreen all at once. It is therefore very
helpful to have a group of friends willing to step up and act at
agreed times, for which I owe many thanks to numerous friends. However
in the Virtual Reality environment of Second Life which I use for
filming, people are online from around the entire world and
coordinating time zones can be a mind boggling exercise. For example
Second Life uses one time zone, I am in another in UK (GMT) friends in
Germany are an hour ahead and friends on the East or West Coast of USA
are on others, so my 3pm in the afternoon maybe be 2am in the morning
for one actor and 10pm at night for another. In consequence I try to
restrict actors for any scene to a relatively close time zone.

Finally moving on to an agreed set of days/times for the actual
filming, this process also requires a fair amount of pre-planning for
example the camera angles and views to use, whether I shall have zoom
shots or panning from right to left and etc etc. Once all things are
in place, perhaps a general guideline might be that twenty minutes or
so to fine tune online settings will enable anywhere from twenty
minutes to two hours of running the camera off and on per scene in the
film. A film of five minutes length could easily entail perhaps five
to eight hours filming, spread over a number of days as the actors and
time zones allow. But filming is not the end of the process as we now
move on to editing the footage. As with the planning, when I started
making machinima I spent minimal time editing as I was excited to see
my story come to life, but have learned that to spend longer over this
results in a better presented film overall.

Beltane Blessing
MBS:  Many of your films that I have seen revolve around
various themes that take place during the Renaissance period.
(approximately) What is it about this particular period in history
that draws you in?

Celestial Elf:  Its true that recently a few of my films have been set in Renaissance
period, particularly The Elf Knight and The Faerie Queen, but in
general I wouldn't say that I'm attached to any specific period as
such. But I do like to present aspects of relatively recent history,
such as the medieval world and soon thereafter, for the simple reason
that these times before the Industrial Revolution and the rise of a
modern mechanized world, still worked hand in glove with nature and
her cycles, valued the older traditions and accepted the immanence of
spirit in all of life. People were still familiar with the association
of supernatural powers such as elves and spirits and respected them in
their daily life. Some even sought their guidance as may be seen in
the interesting life and works of John Dee, trusted adviser to Queen
Elizabeth Ist and one of the most learned men of his age, who
straddled the worlds of science and magic and devoted much effort
attempting to commune with angels and learn the universal language of
creation to bring about the pre-apocalyptic unity of mankind. Such
views are twice as relevant now that science has gifted us with the
ability to start such apocalypse on a moments notice and that our
chemical agro businesses and farming methods threaten to deprive
future generations not only of safe and wholesome sustenance, but of
the very environments that support our rich and diverse world of life
itself.

Whilst many traditional stories, legends and fairy-tales are thought
to contain encoded moral messages and spiritual guidance, perhaps the
clearest presentation of the rich spiritual perspectives that
flourished in our earlier North European heritage might be
E.M.W. Tillyard's book 'The Elizabethan World Picture'. This book
presents the medieval view of The Chain Of Being - the idea of a
hierarchical universe ordained by God and the interrelatedness of all
creation. 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, while
spiritual beings had greater capability than man. Whilst I prefer
terms like co-operate than rule and hold a more pantheistic than
monotheistic view, as I feel that divine energies imbue all of the
Universe, this book nevertheless provides a wonderful glimpse into the
prevailing earlier holistic spiritual perspective. It also shares a
great deal with even older cultural views and these earlier views are
now beginning to resurface in neo pagan theories such as of Lovelock's
Gaia hypothesis which proposes that all organisms and their inorganic
surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and
self-regulating complex system, that the planet itself is one unified
living organism. In a nutshell then, I believe that looking to earlier
times to inform the present enables people to identify with and act
upon deeper underlying principles which have been occluded in our rush
to scientific modernity, much as sight of the stars and a hushed
appreciation of our place within an astonishing Universe has been
clouded out from our night skies and heart minds by the dazzle of
street lights.



MBS: The first machinima film of yours that I saw was
Beltane Blessing.  I completely fell in love with it. So
beautifully done, it really captured the joyous spirit of that
holiday.  May 1st is Beltane and this interview will be posted sometime in
May. People in the US are probably more familiar with the holiday as
May Day instead of Beltane, although that's not really quite the same.
Would you mind briefly explaining what Beltane is, and also why you
chose to make one of your films about this celebration?

Celestial Elf:  In the Northern Hemisphere May 1st or May Day was the traditionally
the first day of Summer, celebrated with rites and festivities
including Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen and dancing around a
Maypole. Ancient celebrations included the festival of Flora, the
Roman goddess of flowers, Walpurgis Night celebrations in the Germanic
countries and the Gaelic Beltane. The name 'Beltane' originates from
the Celtic god, Bel - the 'Bright One', and the Gaelic 'Teine' meaning
fire, thus 'Bealtaine' means 'Bright Fire'.  Because fire was believed
to have purifying qualities, animals were driven between two Beltane
fires set on the hills to cleanse them of evil spirits, bring
fertility and ensure a good yield, before being placed in their
Summer-land pastures. Similarly the Celts themselves also leapt over
these fires for fertility, purification and blessing.

As the triple Goddess (Brigid) worshiped by the Ancient Britons moves
through her various phases of the cycle of the year, Beltane sees the
womanly-aspect of the Summer Goddess banish the Old Crone aspect of
the Winter Goddess in readiness for the maternal time and the fruits
of nature to follow. As The May Queen, Goddess of Spring and Queen of
the 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 Raglan
in 1939). also called Jack-in-the-Green, Puck, Robin Goodfellow, in
France- Father May, in Russia - the Little Leaf Man, at Beltane is
reborn with a wild exhilarating dance that celebrates his youth and
this new summer.
The Maypole represents this dance, the unwinding of the spiral of life
and the union of the male and female energies of the Goddess and the
God. The red and white Maypole ribbons are intertwined and plaited as
the dancers weave amongst themselves around the pole, the dancers then
retrace their steps to unravel the ribbons, thus releasing the
blessings of there conjoined energies into their lives and
communities.

I chose to celebrate this great quarter day of the sacred year with a
machinima film because whilst there are many Beltane festivals, there
does not seem to be much by way of story or film that portrays quite
the intimate and personal aspect of magic and wonder that this time
once held. Certainly the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill in
Edinburgh provides a spectacular re-visioning of this ancient Celtic
Fire Festival (on the night of the 30th April-morning of May 1st), and
gatherings such as at Avebury stone circle (although not necessarily
on the day itself) provide a smaller occasion to mark the day. I
wanted to briefly indicate both aspects, the magickal night with its
fires of blessing and the joyful day to follow which leads to the
Summerlands. I was very fortunate to have a piece of music for this
film provided by the pagan band The Dolmen which along with the
incantatory blessing that I modeled after Druid Rhetorics from the
ancient Irish tales, convincingly conveys the Beltane Blessing.
The Night Before Christmas
MBS:  What do you hope the viewer comes away with after
engaging 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 I
have been with the fun of making them. True I sometimes feel that as a
genre Second Life machinima is somewhat under rated and has a
comparatively small niche audience when compared with the popularity
of for example Japanese Manga animation adventure films, or the
machinima equivalent of a trans national enterprise, the Machinima.com
channel on you tube. Machinima.com accepts films from its contributing
members and hosts them under its own identity, however the majority of
film content seem to be biased towards battle games and similar high
action escapades and whilst they do get good publicity and are widely
seen with he channel getting 70 Million views on you tube by 2011,
personally I feel that it is time for machinima content to branch out
and begin to make a place for itself in the semi serious film world.
Increasingly the medium is becoming to be recognized through
competitions such as the annual 48 Hour Film Project Machinima
Competition and with support of renowned film producers such as Peter
Helen Mirren, and The Pillow Book with Ewan McGregor, who has been a
judge on the 48 Hour Machinima Film Project ) who describes machinima
as “a very sophisticated tool that combines traditions of painting
with cinema and the graphic arts in present tense terms that permits
visual expression of language like never before.” and said that “The
future of film is in Second Life.” Whilst I do not take part in such
competitions myself, it is encouraging that this medium as a whole is
gaining 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 sign
the various E-Petitions that are linked under some of the videos and
then to share those videos so that others may easily find and sign the
petitions too. The Bee Myth has a link to The Friends Of The Earth
petition to save the Bees, Stonehenge Is Our Temple has one calling
for 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 The
Woodland Trust.


~ thank you!


You can read more about Celestial Elf and his work on his blog.
Many of his films are available on YouTube.



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