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Machinima 101: The basics

Dan O'Halloran

You've seen a crazy good PvP video that shows a top ranked player's latest moves or maybe a short clip of the latest epic mount and now you want to make a Warcraft film of your own. With two simple programs you can make a video in an hour or less. It's not going to be an epic story of love and war across the ages, but it can be anything in game you want to show your friends, guildmates or the world whether it's a guild event, a boss fight or an Arena battle.

In this article, I'm going to cover the very basics of Machinima (making movies using game footage.) By the end of this feature, you'll be able to record, edit and post a short video of your exploits in Azeroth. You can see a demonstration of how to make a Warcraft film by clicking on the short video tutorial above. Otherwise, read on for step-by-step instructions complete with screenshots and recommendations for advanced techniques.

The programs listed below are free and readily available. In an effort to keep this simple, I'm focusing on aspiring machinimists who own a PC. For you Mac types, you're getting your very own in-game footage capture function in Patch 2.2. Combine that with iMovie and you'll be well on your way.

Install The Software

Fraps - this a free program that allows you to record whatever you do in the game. Download at

VirtualDub - Windows Movie Maker for Vista OS sometimes has problems importing Fraps video. If you encounter this, you can convert Fraps files into WMM files using VirtualDub. Windows XP users shouldn't have any issues.

Windows Movie Maker - this program comes standard with every Windows installation. Check under your START -> PROGRAMS list. It may also be under START -> PROGRAMS -> ACCESSORIES.

Download and install Fraps, then fire it up. Go to Settings and change VIDEO CAPTURE HOTKEY to '[' or some similar key you don't use in the game. Also set the frames per second to 30. Anything higher will result in an enormous file. Anything less will be too choppy.

Record Your Footage

Minimize Fraps and fire up WoW. You're going to see a yellow flickering number in the corner of the screen. That's the number of frames a second your graphics card is rendering the game on to your monitor. A low FPS area such as a busy city or big raid with all the particle effects cranked up is going to result in more of a slide show than a movie. So keep an eye on that number in the corner and choose a high FPS area to record your footage.

When you've logged in your character and are ready to PvP/dance/flirt/drown or whatever you picked for your movie, turn off your UI (alt-z), hit the record hotkey (you set it to '[', right?) and do your thing. The free version of Fraps will only record 30 seconds at a time, but that's enough to experiment with. The flickering number will turn red to show that Fraps is recording. This number won't appear in your recorded footage. Hit the hotkey again to stop recording early. After you get the footage you're after (this may take a few attempts), log out and fire up Windows Movie Maker.

Editing Your Footage

Windows Movie Maker is excellent for beginners who aren't going to be throwing in 100 different clips per minute. First, click on the IMPORT VIDEO link on the left side of the screen. Unless you customized your Fraps setting, you should find your raw footage in the C:/PROGRAMS/FRAPS folder.

Bring in all of the clips you need. They will appear in the center window. Then drag and drop the clips into the empty frame holders along the bottom of the window in the order you want them. Above the timeline is a button that says SHOW TIMELINE or SHOW STORYBOARD. You will want to work in TIMELINE view mode.

If you need to look at what's in the clip before you place it, simply click on it and hit the play button in the panel on the right side of the screen.

After you place all of your footage, you can trim off the beginning and end of each clip to eliminate the parts you don't want. Click on the sequence you want to trim, them move the cursor over the end of sequence, click and drag it until it is shorter.

If you want to cut out something out of the middle of the clip, click on the timeline to place the cursor at the beginning of what you want to remove. On the movie playback frame on the right side of the screen there is a button showing two frames of film with a dotted line running between them. Click that to break your clip into smaller pieces. Isolate the video you want removed this way, then right click on the video and select the DELETE option.

Adding Audio

Windows Movie Maker only allows for one layer of audio. You can have both music and narration, but not at the same time. If you choose music, import it using the link in the left window and then drag it into the timeline.

If you want to add narration, click on the TOOLS option on the menu bar and choose the ADD NARRATION option. A window will appear with button to record. Set up your mic, hit RECORD and speak your mind. Now drag that recording out of the center window and into the audio slot on the timeline.

You can edit audio the same way you edit video. Click on the audio sequence to highlight it, then click and grab either end. You can also move your audio to a different place on the timeline or swap it with another piece of audio by clicking and grabbing the middle of the clip.

If you don't want the audio associated with a video clip to play, right click on it and select the Mute option. You can't delete audio without taking the associated video with it.

Right clicking on an audio clip in the timeline will also allow you to Fade In, Fade Out or adjust the volume of that clip.

Adding Titles And Credits

Windows Movie Maker has a few options here. Click on TOOLS on the menu bar, then TITLES. Choose if you are creating a title for the front of your video, a title between clips or end credits.

A window will appear to type in your text. For credits, a two column grid appears. The left column will show the words in smaller text, such as DIRECTED BY and the right column will show credits in larger text directly under the left column text, such as STEVEN SPIELBERG.

Once all your text is typed in, you have a number of choices on how to display that text. Do you want rolling credits? Exploding type? Do you want to change the color of the text or the background? Whatever you do, avoid anything that would make someones eyes bleed (i.e. red type over a black background.) In general, a light color type over a dark background is the way to go.

Another option you can play with is the font that you use. Be creative, but make sure it's readable. As a general rule, big flowery fonts don't work well in all caps. Also, thin fonts are hard to read.

Saving And Uploading

Make sure to play your video for yourself once, from beginning to end to make sure everything is how you want it. Then choose one of the save options on the left hand pane. For this, you either want to save it to your computer to upload onto the Internet or you can upload it to the Internet directly if you have already set up an account with a site that will host the file.

Popular hosting options are YouTube, Google Video, Filefront and WarcraftMovies.Com. Each one can supply you with the information on how to upload your video to them. When you're upload is complete, the video host will take a short time to view and approve your video. Then you will receive a link to send to your adoring public.

That's the basics. For more advanced techniques like using Machinima to tell a story, using multiple pieces of audio or utilizing special editing moves to zoom in on UI elements, you will have to invest in some commercial editing software ranging from $99 to $700. Check out Oxhorn's Machinima Overview at the Myndflame forums or the Machinima 101 forums for advanced techniques and tips.

For a great short film made using these programs check out this 2-min Paladin PvP vid.

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