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The Codex Team Interview

Game: The Codex
Company: The Codex Series

We recently had the opportunity to interview Alexander Winn and Meghan Foster, two members of the team who created The Codex, a machinima based on Halo. Read on to get some insight into what went into making The Codex and what makes these folks tick.

GV: For our readers who might not know what machinima is, could you describe it?

Alex: Machinima is the art of using pre-rendered graphics engines to make movies. Usually, this means using video games to create the visuals for your movie, and then telling a story in that world.

Meghan: Machinima is the art of filming a movie script using a video game as our medium. Sculptors have marble and granite, we have Halo and The Sims.

GV: What inspired you to get into doing machinima?

Alex: Ryan Luther and I had both seen Red vs. Blue and were impressed with how they used the game to tell a story, but I had always thought that the Halo engine would best lend itself to an action/drama series, one which played more to the strengths of the game. Then, when Halo 2 first came out, Ryan and I were exploring the multiplayer maps and we started discussing what the large structure in the middle of Waterworks was. After a few hours of brainstorming, we had come up with a lot of good ideas, and we decided to make it into a movie.

Meghan: I was always a fan of machinima – I’d been watching it for several years. Alex approached me about making a drama machinima called The Codex, and I jumped at the chance.

GV: For anyone not familiar with The Codex, what is the basic premise?

Alex: The Codex is the story of a Covenant invasion of a Human-controlled world in order to recover a Forerunner structure capable of activating the Halos. The Humans then have to survive the invasion and find a way to keep the Covenant from activating the Codex.

Meghan: The Codex is about a team of Spartans that finds a Forerunner structure on a planet called Arios 2. Before they have time to discover what it is, they are attacked by a Covenant force of elites headed by the Cleric. They begin to wage a gorilla war against the Covenant to try to regain the structure.

GV: What is your involvement with The Codex?

Alex: I am the writer-producer-director, along with being the voice-actor for several of the main characters. I also edited the series and composed the soundtrack. The other members of the regular crew include Ryan Luther, the Webmaster and co-creator of the series, Meghan Foster, Lauren Jenks, and Patrick Malone.

Meghan: I worked as a voice actor and as one of the lead animators on the series, and generally provided some comic relief in my sleep deprived way. (We were all low on sleep during the Codex, but I think I averaged 2-3 hours a night based on some other things I had to do after I got home at night.)

GV: What actually went into making The Codex? In other words, how does it go from a game to a movie?

Alex: We have four XBOXes set up in my den, each on its own TV, and one of which is also hooked into my computer. The three “actor” XBOXes have four characters each, who then run around the environment while the lone character on the “camera” XBOX looks at them. I record the image from that XBOX and use his eyes as the camera, then edit the footage as I would any other movie. We put black bars over the radar and grenade readouts, add the dialogue, overlay music and sound effects, and then export the movie and release it.

Meghan: We network four XBoxes together – one works as a camera, filming what you see through the character’s eyes, while you load characters into the other three, with those characters serving as puppets inside the shots. The Xbox camera is connected through a DVD deck into the computer, and the footage is saved to the hard drive, edited together, then dialogue and music are looped over it to form the completed movie.

GV: Have you always been a big gamer, or is your interest solely in doing things like The Codex?

Alex: I am not a very big gamer, and when I do play video games I usually stick to strategy games like Alpha Centauri, Rise of Nations and the Civilization series. (I just got the Mac version of Civ IV, though, so my personal gaming just shot up quite a bit recently). Ryan, Meghan and Patrick, though, are huge gamers. Like, stay-up-all-night-for-five-days-straight kind of gamers. Jinx, by contrast, had never played Halo 2 until we brought her on board as a puppeteer. So we really run the entire spectrum of gamers within our crew. The Codex actually came about because of the partnership between Ryan, a huge gamer, and myself, an avid filmmaker. Thus, what could be more perfect for two such people than making movies out of video games?

Meghan: I’ve always been a huge gamer – I started playing video games when I was two. My dad had an arcade version of Galaga in our house, and I would stand on a chair to reach the controls. The gaming has just continued from there…

GV: How did the Codex team first get together? And, considering how much time goes into The Codex, has it made you a tighter group, or are you ready to kill each other at the end of a session?

Alex: Well, Ryan and I came up with the series together, so we were both in from the start. Patrick and Meghan were our friends, so we asked them to join us, and Jinx joined in a couple of months later. And while we did have a few … bumps along the road, we generally got along great. We did have to train Meghan out of using her Boxer controller settings … that was a pain … but no, we never came to blows.

Meghan: Alex and Ryan thought up a story line, then when they realized they were serious about making it, they decided to get a team together. I had told Alex that if he was ever going to make a machinima I wanted to help with it, so December of 2004 he came over to my house and asked me if I wanted to help work on a machinima. I looked at him like he was crazy, and I think my response was something along the lines of “Hell yeah I do!” Patrick was excited as well, and we had the initial four. Later in the year, Jenks started coming every day, and our core group expanded to five.

We had some days that we got frustrated – that’s the side effect of spending 12+ hours with the same five people every day, but I can’t remember any real fights. It really just made us into a great group of friends.

GV: Has there ever been a time where game limitations stifled what the team wanted to do creatively?

Alex: There have been many limitations, but that’s where a lot of the fun comes from: figuring out how to do what you want to do, but do it in a limited environment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to put more than 15 characters on screen at a time, or to put Grunts and Jackals and the other Covenant species in the game, etc. But you just can’t, so you learn to work within those boundries.

Meghan: Alex would think of really cool shots that he would want to get, and we wouldn’t be able to get the cameraman up to the place he wanted to take a shot from, which was very frustrating. You also have a hard time showing emotion with the characters. When your only option is an elite breathing, you can’t show emotion in standard ways. But instead of seeing it as a limitation, we saw it as a challenge – we learned to convey emotion through slight tilts of a head, body stance and tone of voice. It was the same way Hugo Weaving had to learn to show emotion in V for Vendetta.

GV: Why choose Halo 2 rather than The Sims or Half-Life 2?

Alex: Well, for us, there was never a decision. We came up with the idea in Halo 2, so we made it in Halo 2. There are, however, several things that make Halo 2 especially nice for machinima, such as the ability to lower the character’s weapons so they aren’t pointing guns in each others faces constantly, the fact that they have helmets so you can’t see that their mouths aren’t moving, etc. Not to mention it’s just a very, very pretty game.

GV: Has any thought been given to trying something with another game?

Alex: I tried something with Rome: Total War for a little while, but I couldn’t make it work well enough to pursue. We’ve discussed using other engines, but so far the only actual attempt we’ve made is that Patrick has started his own series in World of Warcraft. He’s having to start from square one with it, but it’s coming along quite nicely.

GV: Did you ever think that The Codex would have been received the way it has? The Dallas Observer feature must have been a real surprise.

Alex: Yeah, it really was! You know, we had hopes, and we thought we had something good, but it was definitely gratifying to have the audience agree. As an entertainer, you definitely want public feedback, and we’ve been very pleased with the feedback we’ve been getting.

Meghan: We’ve always known we were making something good – we put a lot of effort into it, we learned from our mistakes, and a lot of love went into it. Whenever those go into something, it’s going to be good, whether other people like it or not. We made it look like something we’d want to watch as gamers – something with cool fight scenes and a story line, but you never know if people are going to actually like what you made. We hoped for some good press, maybe some people to like it in the community. I had certainly hoped that it would take off, but I never quite imagined it like this.

It’s very strange – I’ve been places, and I’ll start talking about machinima with guys at VMI (Virginia Military Institute) or random people in Dallas, and they’ll know what The Codex is. I don’t know that I was every really prepared for something like that.

GV: Has the group heard anything from Bungie?

Alex: We’ve been trying to get a foot in the door for a while now, but no word yet. We’ll see…

GV: Do you have any aspirations at getting a job in the industry or film? Or do you see this is more of a hobby?

Alex: I am very much into filmmaking, and have been for years. I am currently at the University of Southern California to study just that. Meghan is also into making movies, although she seems to be slanting toward documentaries. Patrick has always had a knack for performance, (he’s on a full ride scholarship for his singing), but I think it’s more in front of the camera than behind. As for Ryan and Jinx, if they’re interested in filmmaking as a career, they have yet to tell me.

Meghan: I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker for a while, and I still kind of do, but I also want to be a game producer, too. I’ve definitely thought about the contacts that it could make in the industry, but it was secondary to wanting to make a great movie.

GV: For anyone who might be interested in trying their hand at machinima, what programs or other equipment would they need?

Alex: The first thing you need is a way to get the XBOX footage into your computer, such as a capture card. Other than that, you just need a video editor, (we use Final Cut Pro). From there, you can either put it up on your own website, or release it on one of the innumerable machinima websites, most notably It’s a pretty simple process on the technical end, but it’s the artistic end that matters. As with live-action movies, the real trick about machinima is what you do, not how you do it.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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