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WoW Insider chats with Oxhorn


Never heard of Oxhorn? Then I'm not sure where you've been hiding for the past couple of years! Oxhorn, known out in the real world as Brandon M. Dennis, is a machinima-maker who's won prizes in both of Xfire's Summer Movie Contests. If you want to catch up on what we're talking about, I recommend checking out WoW Insider's featured Oxhorn videos and Oxhorn's own YouTube page, which features even more entertaining machinima. He also maintains a homepage with information on all his projects (updated every Monday); a myspace page focusing on his videos and music; is co-hosting (with Eriyanna) "Tails from Thunder Bluff," a weekly radio show from WoW Radio (you can snag a copy of the first episode from File Front); and has been hired to produce a short machinima movie that promotes "awareness" on college campuses.

This makes Oxhorn a very busy guy -- especially considering he attends college in his off-time. WoW Insider was lucky to catch up with the famous tauren and get him to answer a few questions. So if you're interested in the life and times of this talented machinima-maker, read on!

WoW Insider: When did you start playing WoW? And who or what got you started playing WoW?

Oxhorn: I started playing WoW when it first came out. Before that, I had played Dark Age of Camelot pretty religiously. A bunch of friends from the server I was on at the time (Percival) had a get-together and I attended. One of them was enjoying the beta test of WoW, and I watched him play nearly all night. I was instantly hooked, and as soon as WoW came out, I switched. I never played WoW as much as I played DAoC, which is a good thing, for there should be a healthy balance between WoW and Life.

WI: Why Tauren? (Or, "What's with the kodo fixation?")

O: Well, tauren are just the best! They have massive horns, rings in their noses, mighty hooves and, best of all, tails. Honestly, tauren are the only reason I play horde. I've always been partial to dwarves, and would play a dwarf if not for the tauren, but I sort of have a bias. I think Tolkien reinvented elves and dwarves into the popular form they take today, but they are used so often in so much fantasy that they have become rather cliché. Tauren, on the other hand, are familiar (because we can always compare them to the Minotaur) and yet unique enough to be an icon of the Warcraft universe. Kodos are simply the best mount. Seriously, it has been proven scientifically. If you type in "best" plus "mount" in any calculator, you always get "kodo" as a result. The only thing that can compare is that turtle mount that you get from the card game. Even so, kodos still win.

WI: What inspired you to start making machinima films in World of Warcraft?

O: I've always liked telling stories. I'm a writer first and foremost, and am trying to get a novel published. We live in a visual age, however, and one of the best ways to tell a story is with film. I made a few fan flash movies for Dark Age of Camelot, when I used to play it, because I didn't know how to make machinima back then. Once I started playing WoW, I saw all these WoW movies start coming out, but they always had to do with one ubar l33t d00d pwning some other ubar l33t d00d. I figured I could tell a story using the same tools, and so I learned how to make machinima, before I had even heard the term "machinima". I didn't really know that it was this big genre until the first Xfire contest. I still think novels are the best way to communicate a good story, but film is still a very powerful medium.

WI: Have you ever made machinima in other games?

O: I've only made a machinima movie for one other game, and that is for Dark Age of Camelot. Axe and Xfire teamed up to host a contest last year. The only problem was that WoW was not one of the games we were free to choose from in order to make a movie. Dark Age of Camelot, however, was on the list, and so I used this contest as an opportunity to renew my old account. It was nearly a year and a half since I had played the game, and I was amazed at how much of the world I remembered. I visited a few old haunts and shot some footage, and ended up with a movie I called "Courting a Celt". The theme of the Axe/Xfire contest dealt with dating (which was not a theme I would have ever picked on my own) but I kept within the contest guidelines and made a movie about a firbolg who goes on a blind date with a Celt. It doesn't really go the way he plans though. I wrote three songs for the movie and sang them myself, and I had my friend Sepheritoh compose the instrumental music. It didn't win, but I still really like how it came out. It is different from anything else I've ever made.

WI: The oldest videos featured in your YouTube profile are "Hark! Hear the Wails" and "Racing the Grimtotem" -- both rather serious pieces. What caused you to switch into the comedy format ("Inventing Swear Words," "Anti-Elf Anthem," etc) that most of our readers know you for?

O: Hmmm. For me, comedy is easier to do. I have a list of movie ideas that are all comedies, and the list keeps growing. I'm trying to check some ideas off the list, which is why I've come out with three new movies in the past three weeks. Drama, however is still my favorite genre. I enjoy making comedies, but I also enjoy writing thoughtful stories about characters the reader can care about. Tragedy is simply a part of human existence, and there is a lot we can learn about each other and ourselves by exploring the genre. I have a script written for a new drama, but honestly, I care about it so much that I don't want to mess it up, and so I keep putting it off. It will also consume an enormous amount of time, which I just don't have at the moment. So instead, I have fun with making short, funny comedies, which I think people like watching more anyway.

WI: ... should we expect more serious content videos from you in the future, or do you enjoy making comedies?

O: I enjoy both, but my heart is with drama. Once I finish college (in June), I expect to start on a new drama.

WI: We've seen you making several videos with the help of Mark Pfaff -- is he a real life friend? A guildmate? How did you start working together?

O: Hah! Mark is an old high school friend of mine. He has never played World of Warcraft, and it just doesn't interest him. He prefers games like Myst, Riven, Uru and the like. Mark is a good actor, but really, he's in my movies simply because he is a good friend and was willing to do it. He came with me to New York to attend the Machinima Festival last November when "The Anti-Elf Anthem" was nominated for best original song, so if you were there, you saw him with me. I'm teaming up with him and another old high school friend to work on a new project that probably won't see the light of day for a year, at least. But shh! I really can't talk about it...

WI: What software do you use to record and edit your videos? Is this the same software you used when you first started making WoW machinima, or have you refined the process?

O: I use Fraps to record all my footage, and I use Adobe Premiere 7.0 to edit and export all my movies. When I first started, I simply used Windows Movie Maker to edit my movies and Game Cam to record the footage. I switched to Fraps and AP7.0 for "Oxhorn Tells Off Xfire", because you can't use keying in WMM. I still use WMM every now and then to reduce the file size of my movies in order to put them on sites like YouTube. I used WMM in the movie I released yesterday, "Drunken Kodo Riding", in order to do the newspaper sequence.

WI (from Mainman): What basic movie-making standards would you advise aspiring young machinimers follow -- and what are your standards when creating your own movies?

O: I am often asked for tips and directions for making machinima, and I should probably come out with a new guide one of these days. I wrote up a guide a while back, but it is more of a guide on coming up with a good story, with a few technical directions thrown in. I posted it on my Myspace blog. For aspiring machinimators, here are a few suggestions:

  • Don't be afraid to make a fool out of yourself. If you are humble enough to laugh at yourself, then other people will laugh with you.
  • Don't make a movie about you and your friends if you want other people to enjoy it, for the only people who will like it are you and your friends.
  • I went into this in greater detail in my Myspace blog, but there are a number of cliché storylines, such as the farm boy-turned hero, horde killed the hero's parents so the hero takes revenge on the horde, and so on. It is best to avoid cliché stories, or to come up with something that may use a simple or cliché plot, but is primarily a story about unique characters that the audience can care about.
  • Always give characters a motive. Your hero needs a motive for doing what he does, and, even more important, your villains need a motive for being evil and nasty. The audience must understand why before the story can grasp its attention.
  • It is easy and unnecessary to make people laugh using foul language and explicit sexuality. Be truly creative and genuinely funny by taking the time to write a script that gets people to laugh without resorting to crass humor.
  • If you make a movie, some people will hate you. They won't have a reason; you simply exist, and therefore they hate you. Don't let it bother you, and, if you can, have fun with it. I had a guy come to my forum yesterday and post a series of very nasty comments. I had a great time editing his posts so that he appeared to be offering me a "totally platonic" backrub. He didn't like it very much, but I did! Mwahahaha!
WI: What's the process you go through when making a new video? Could you step us through the process you go through when planning a new video, from idea stage to publication?

O: I usually come up with an idea for a video on the fly. The idea will just pop into my head and I'll quickly write it down so I don't lose it. Then, if it is a complicated idea, I'll sit down and write the script or write an outline, but most of the time I just make up the movie as I go along. I'll fire up my audio recording software, dust off my microphone, and record all the vocals, from beginning to end, until I have the entire thing recorded. I'll tinker with it a bit to get volume levels correct and put in some special effects, and then I'll save it as a .wav. When I am done with the audio, I'll picture the movie in my head, turn on Fraps, load Wow Model Viewer, and record my characters against a blue or green screen in the positions that I imagine them. If the movie has many scenes, I will do this in small sections: recording characters for the first scene, then putting them in the movie, then recording characters for the second scene, then placing them in the movie, and so on until it is finished. Most of the time, however, I just record all the footage while imagining the finished movie. Then I load Adobe Premiere, place in the audio track, and start to compile the film: placing backgrounds, positioning characters, keying out a green or blue screen, reducing or increasing size, rendering key frames for motion, adding special effects and transitions and so forth. When the movie is done, I'll record some funny audio for the credits-be it bloopers from the main film, a funny song, a rant or something equally silly-and then I'll make the credits to fit the length of the audio. When I've finished everything, I export the film as a high resolution .avi for my own personal use, then as a medium quality .wmv for use on file sharing sites that allow files over 100 mb, and then I use Windows Movie Maker or Virtual Dub to reduce the high quality version to under 100 mb for distribution on sites like YouTube and Google Video. Then I put them on the internet, and take a nap.

WI: About how long does it usually take to go from raw idea to finished product?

O: It depends on the movie. Sometimes it takes forever, such as when I made "The 12 Days of Winter's Veil". I originally bounced that movie off a fellow machinimator friend last August, but he wasn't interested, so I made it myself. I started after I came back from the Machinima Festival in November and I didn't finish until mid-December. Granted, due to classes and work, I was only able to work on the movie on the weekends. Sometimes, however, it doesn't take me very long at all. I made "Krick in the Back" in two days, "Drunken Kodo Driving" in four days, and "ROFLMAO!" in a week. I don't bother even starting a project unless I intend to finish it (which is why "Inventing Swear Words 3" is still only in script form), and when I do start a project, I always finish. Since I like seeing things get done, I tend to get my movies done as quickly as possible without harming the quality of the content.

WI: Your videos have won prizes in the past two Xfire summer movie contests and even been featured on MTV. Did you ever expect these videos to become so popular? (And what's it like to be a rich and famous machinima-maker?)

O: Hah! Hah! Rich? Hah! I imagine it is nice being a rich machinimator, but I certainly don't know by experience! I've made all my movies on the same laptop that I've had for the past two years. I definitely need an upgrade (and I need to get the latest version of Adobe Premiere, as well as After Effects) but my poor tauren pockets are empty. I try to convince myself that when I graduate, people will be knocking on my door trying to hire me, but the job market is fairly slim for a history major. We will see!

I never really expected my movies to be all that popular. I only made them for fun, and I only make movies that I would want to watch. I'm surprised that the things that make me laugh make so many other people laugh as well. It's a little intimidating, and quite a bit humbling, but it is also very fun! The majority of feedback from fans has been positive and I'd be lying if I said that it didn't massage my ego a bit. To be honest, receiving feedback from fans is probably the only reason I make as much machinima as I do-otherwise I would just make stuff for contests. Still, I try to keep things in perspective. After all, there are dozens of fantastic machinimators out there who are far more skilled than I am within the WoW machinima community alone, let alone the greater machinima community, and I am but a footnote when all things are considered.

WI: What can we expect to see from you in the future? You've mentioned an "Inventing Swear Words 3"...

O: I'm working on weekly releases at the moment. I'm producing "Oxhorn's Short Shorts!" which are short and sweet comedies that I pump out once a week. I haven't the time that I would like to devote to an "ISW3", a "Red Snappah! 2" and a sequel to "Racing the Grimtotem" -- all of which are in script or outline form-let alone the other large projects that I have outlined, including three music videos similar to "The Anti-Elf Anthem". So for now, I will try to come out with regular short movies, and get to the longer, more ambitious projects when I finish college.

WI: What do you do when you aren't making World of Warcraft machinima?

O: I'm working on my degree in history with a minor in classics and ancient history at the University of Washington, and this takes up the majority of my time. I am also working on getting my novel published, and I spent my entire spring break working on that. I'm writing a second book, which is currently at 20,000 words, and I write short children's stories. I'm teaching myself to play the tin whistle, and I'm getting pretty good, though I need to work on my rolls. I take care of Hat and make sure that he has a good supply of crickets (he loves those things) and I make sure that I get fresh air every now and then by spending time with family and friends. I don't play WoW much anymore, which is a shame because I hear nothing but rave reviews about The Burning Crusade. I figure I'll get back to the game someday!

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