Project Goals Expanding

The dire urgency for the need to complete numerous important tasks during the tenth JJIE Virtual World Team Group Meeting was expressed in Professor Witt’s meeting agenda sent via email on Tuesday, October 20. The e-mail reflected the importance of structured task lists necessary at this point in the project as we approach the end of this Fall semester internship. Our meeting followed the agenda precisely as follows:

8:00 to 9:00AM — PR Prep & Journalism Reflection & Planning

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Preparing for the team’s first press release of
“The Kid, The Cop, The Punch.”

PR
-Get machinima, “The Kid, The Cop, The Punch,” PR ready for distribution Wednesday & Thursday
-Polish release text for release, add logos and photos
-Assemble email and social media lists
-Plan strategy distribution strategy

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Journalism Game Plan

Journalism —
Determine:
-What do we have?
-What must we still get?
What pressing questions need answers?
-Who is on what?
-Recheck our deadlines

 

9:00 – 9:30AM — Guest Speaker Chantal Harvey
Meeting10_7eChantal Harvey, expert Dutch machinimist, visited the team via Skype to show some of her recent machinimas and share suggestions to improve the quality of our team’s  machinimas. Chantal commented that she was impressed with the Machinima Team’s first work “The Kid, the Cop, the Punch.” She answered several questions we had that we will implement during the production of our next machinimas, “The Christopher Story” and “Forgive: A Poem”.

9:30 to 9:45AM — App Update
After Chantal Harvey signed off, Derek presented the web and mobile app he had been working on with Soloman Negash, Executive Director of the Mobile Application Development (MAD) Center and our project app expert. Developing an interactive app to for one of our machinima is part of our project’s original grant proposal. As a Computer Science Major, Derek Maier has html coding skills.  He put them to good use creating the draft version of an interactive app that allows people to walk through the machinima story, making decisions at critical action points as if they were that person. Their choices will be polled and they will see what other viewers chose.  The group discussed the  possibility of creating another app from the same template that would be an interactive quiz about Senate Bill 440 (SB440).

10:00AM: Discussion with Tom Rawlings & Pete Colbenson

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Tom Rawlings (left) & Pete Colbenson (right) discuss the case with the team.

Right after the app presentation, we met with Pete Colbenson and Tom Rawlings.  Tom is currently practicing law and previously served for over seven years as Judge of the Juvenile Courts of the Middle Judicial Circuit.  He was also appointed as Georgia’s Child Advocate for the Protection of Children by Governor Sonny Perdue. Since Tom has had so much experience in law practice, he was able to answer many of our questions about Christopher Thomas’ case and trial. Tom helped us to think of more questions for the lawyers and judges involved in the case so that we can better understand each aspect. Furthermore, he helped direct us to lead themes for our Long Text Story, from trauma to parole.  He explained essentially how the world’s perspective of children has changed since the time of the crime, and how that would affect those past decisions if they were made today.
Pete Colbenson, who has been so deeply perturbed by this case, has recently contacted Steve Reba to ask if he can make certain efforts to help Christopher. As our project comes together and more people become involved, we see that we truly do have the ability to make a difference in CHristopher’s life. From what Pete and Tom were suggesting, our project may bring significant attention to the injustice of the highly enforced SB440 laws and parole issues. We could end up helping a lot more juveniles than we originally imagined.

After a long, busy group meeting, we concluded once again that we still have many tasks to complete to accomplish all of our goals. Many of these tasks can be attributed to the fact that our goals just continue to grow. Our original goal of giving a voice to juveniles in the Justice System has grown to include highlighting major questionable aspects of Georgia’s Juvenile Law.  More and more, we have come to realize that these bigger goals call for a substantially larger workload. Although we are all very busy with our jobs, classes, and other activities, I hope that we can all agree that this is the time to come together with resolute diligence as we advance towards our goals. The call is out for additional dedication to completing our individual tasks. I hope that we are all saying one thing: Bring it on.


Progression

On October 14, 2015, the goal for all team members at the ninth group meeting was progression – progression towards writing the full-text story, towards establishing PR events, and towards writing the machinima script for the Christopher Story. For this reason journalists, PR people and the machinima team were at the Center for Sustainable Journalism at 8AM, ready to review task lists and  make progress. The journalists made calls for more interviews and found additional contextual contacts for the long text story. The PR team designed a publicity campaign to promote the project and events. The virtual world machinimists worked with Gwenette on the script and production pipeline for the Christopher Story. Production scenes, props, and characters are already being developed.  Both the machinimists and journalists need confirmation on certain aspects of the case in order to tell the story accurately.

It is for this very reason – to uncover the accurate details of the case by hearing every possible perspective and retrieving additional documents – that four members of the journalism team were on a road trip to Augusta, GA, where the crime and the sentencing hearing occurred 15 years ago.

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Journalists Claire Bohrer, Ann Ondieki, Camille Moore, and Ariel Greenaway, were on their way to Augusta to uncover more information about the case. At 5:30 AM, the journalists had met at the Center, piled into Ariel’s car, and set off on their mission after mapping out their game plan.

They first went to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office to see if the incident police reports requested weeks ago were ready. Since the crime occurred 15 years ago, the paperwork was taking much longer to arrive than anticipated. This delay is definitely a hindrance as deadlines approach for both the machinima and long text story. The journalists will be keeping in touch with the police sergeant to retrieve these reports as soon as possible.

Next the journalists navigated to the Richmond County Superior Court to examine case dockets, where they discovered new information and printed some of the documents. Then they went to the Augusta Municipal Court, to take pictures of the sentencing hearing courtroom. Unfortunately, the building’s courtrooms were re-purposed and renovated two years ago. Many of the machinima scenes take place in the courtroom. Pictures are needed to construct a courtroom virtual world scenario.  No one in the building had  pictures from before the renovations, so the journalists set off on a mission to find pictures elsewhere. After visiting the Augusta Historic Museum and contacting the Augusta Chronicle, they made connections that should be helpful in finding courtroom pictures circa 2000.

To dig deeper into details of the sentencing hearing, our journalists next visited David Weber, the lawyer who represented both Christopher Thomas and Christopher Butts at the sentencing hearing. Unfortunately, Mr. Weber was in court all morning and could not meet with us. Although he does not seem very receptive to speaking with us, his experiences is a vital part of the story. Over the next week, efforts to contact him will continue.

After the downtown Augusta tasks were completed, the journalists traveled to the scene of the crime at A-Awesome Pawn Shop on Tobacco Road. Arriving at the address, they could not find the pawn shop. The decision to visit a pawn shop down the road was unexpectedly a very valuable choice.  There they happened upon the owner of A-Awesome Pawn Shop where the crime occurred in 1999. Greg, the owner, did not want to be recorded, but did answer several questions and tell the story of that day from his memory. He also explained there is now a liquor store at the location of the crime scene pawn shop. Today the building exterior looks practically the same with only the exception of different signs. After hearing Greg’s perspective of that day, the journalists took pictures of the crime scene to provide additional data for virtual world scenario construction.

The next interview was at the home of Ms. Sharpe, the foster mother caring for Christopher Thomas at the time of the crime. It turns out that Christopher and the two other boys involved in the crime were not the only children in her care. Ms. Sharpe stated she had 13 foster children living in her home in 1999. Ms. Sharpe stories about the crime, the boys and her experiences as a foster parent raised many new questions about Christopher Thomas’  life for the journalists – questions not only for Ms. Sharpe, but for DFCS (Department of Family and Children Sevices) and other facilities where Christopher had been placed.

With heads spinning and growing fervor, the journalists made their way to the last stop of the day, the victim’s house, unsure of how this encounter would develop. It could go one of two ways: He would be cooperative and answer any questions or he would be completely resistant and say nothing. Unfortunately, he was not willing to talk, speaking only a few disgruntled words: “They shot me. What more do you want me to say?”

Although the trip to Augusta was to find answers to many questions, the trip actually generated more questions than it answered. Hopefully, these new questions can be answered by the police reports, additional case documents, and a few more telephone interviews.

Though there is still clarity needed on some of the story’s details, one thing is clear: As the team delves deeper into this case, the story is coming alive on many different levels. Over the past few weeks, reading the documents has been the equivalent of a book for the team. However, now that our journalists have actually traveled to the scene, spoken with the people involved, and reported back to the team, this case has become very real for all the interns.  As settings become real places and characters become real people, the story is no longer just words on paper.  It is a reality these people lived through in 1999 and continue to live with today.

As one of the journalists in Augusta, I saw the interviews bringing people’s memories into focus.  We watched their faces and listened to their real experiences unravel in front of us.  We were reminded to treat every detail and person with care and respect.

Our new comprehension of the reality of the case strengthens our motivation to tell an accurate story so others can empathize with Christopher Thomas. After all, Christopher is a real person in jail for a crime he took part in at the young age of 13, for which he may have received an unjustly harsh sentence. Keeping this in mind, the whole JJIE VW team is striving to bring light to his case.  Hopefully, our project will change the lives of very real people incarcerated unjustly at a young age, educate more people about juvenile justice issues and bring awareness to the problems of the Georgia’s Senate Bill 440.


A Race Against Time

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As routine, the Journalists, along with some members of the PR team, were back at the Center for Sustainable Journalism at 8AM this morning for the eighth group meeting. To begin, the team reflected on the progress of each of the individual tasks that Claire Bohrer had assigned them the past week. The tasks focused on re-reading the documents, finding more information, and contacting interview prospects. Although we did attain a lot of valuable information, as Camille Moore found great articles from the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, where the case occurred) and Jackson Walsh found extra SB440 information, we were unable to track down as many interview prospects as desired. It seemed that we were stuck. However, that’s when we had to remind ourselves that we are never stuck – just slightly set back. Unfortunately, with this project, we don’t have a second to waste.

To lighten our hopes and bring everything into perspective, investigative reporter, Jim Walls met with the Journalism team right after the group meeting to give insight on investigative reporting. He introduced us to many helpful sites, which we can use to find contacts, and having reported on criminal cases before, he gave us some great information about the Juvenile Justice System. Furthermore, he agreed to help us research the address of the interview prospects so that we can more easily find all of these locations when the journalists take their next step: a trip to Augusta, GA.

Flashback to the meeting – [sidenote: a flashback is so appropriate, as there will be several as part of the final machinima story]. After discussing the individual tasks of each journalist, we focused on the long story draft that Kevin Enners has begun. We discussed the need to highlight significant parts of his life and to ultimately show the instability of the youth’s life due to his many foster care placements and school changes. We also emphasized the need to tell the story with facts so that we can leave it up to our audience to decide what they think about the case. Furthermore, we discussed the need for additional knowledge from experts in the following fields: foster care, juvenile justice, medicine, etc., all of whom are additional interview prospects being added to the list. From this discussion, we know that the best, most honest way to tell a story is through good reporting, which is why our goal is to obtain as many perspectives on this case as possible.

After the long story talk, we transitioned into the presentation of the Machinima Script. The Virtual World Team has worked long and hard to put together a script, complete with characters, dialogue, and specific ideas of camera angles. At this point, with the script written and the scene of the crime (the Pawn Shop) already built, they are ready to continue building all of the pieces that will bring this story to life, virtually.

At the very end of the meeting, the PR group discussed their next moves. With an Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook created, it is now our responsibility, as a whole team, to get our project’s name out there. The more attention brought to this project and this entire story, the more successful we will be of achieving our goals to give the youth in the system a voice, to shine light on the injustices he faced throughout his whole life, and to highlight the consequences that can befall any misguided youth who stumbles through any rough upbringing and eventually into the Juvenile Justice System.

The most evident problem that is looming over all of our heads is lack of time. The ticking of the clock becomes louder and louder every day. The fact is, we need more time: to contact people – to find people – to interview people – to track down all necessary pictures for the machinima – to build the machinima – to record all voices- to implement our PR campaign. Yes, we need more time. Unfortunately, this is simply something we cannot have. For that reason, we must pull together to not only finish the project, but to complete it to the best of our abilities so that we may give this story and this youth justice.


Bringing the Story to Life, Textually & Virtually

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At 8AM this morning, the team was back at the Center for Sustainable Journalism for our seventh group meeting, eager to discuss the next steps. Although Professor Leonard Witt has been at a Journalism conference in Arizona all week, we were able to talk to him via phone and Skype for the meeting. Beginning promptly at 8AM (5AM Professor Witt’s time), the Journalists started off by opening up the CT Timeline in a Google Docs spreadsheet that track any significant information we find in the case source docs.  We were searching for any chronological holes in the story. As the story comes together through our timeline that maps out specific dates of significant events, we realize the we are ready to write our first draft of the story. Kevin Enners, who has a great understanding of the case from his research (and writing experience as the author of a crime novel, The Crave), immediately took up the task. To write the first draft, Kevin will be using our CT Timeline spreadsheet of events that outline the youth’s life. Kevin’s first draft will give us a a clear look at what might be missing and what we will want to highlight in the final story.

As we discover  holes in the timeline, we know we must uncover more information beyond the documents. And how do we acquire this information? Interviews. Unfortunately, the Journalists have experienced some trouble finding the most recent contact information for this dated case. Not only is it difficult to find the correct contact information, but we also have to recognize the number of years that have passed since many of our interview prospects have worked with the youth. So, when we do actually contact these prospects, we have to hope that they can remember the youth to an extent that will contribute to the telling of his story.

After a few disappointing roadblocks with failures at finding the correct contact information for interview prospects, the Journalism team discussed ways to overcome these obstacles. One solution we came up with is to hire an investigative reporter. Luckily, from the grant this project received, we have money stored away for any extra means needed to complete the project. An investigative reporter may be just what we need to help us track down some of the prospects whose perspectives are so necessary to the accurate telling of this story.

Machinima Script
After the timeline talk, Gwenette walked us through the Machinima Script that the Virtual World group has created for the CT Story. The final machinima product will be seven minutes and portray the youth’s life from his early years in foster care, including acting up in school, to the crime, his arrest, and his sentencing. Judging by the previous machinima the Virtual World group has shown us of Chicago crime scene, this machinima will be nothing short of vivid pictures that create a deeper understanding of what this youth has gone through. One major thing to note is the time it will take to create this machinima. This means that the final deadline for the Journalists to get all significant information to the Virtual World group is Wednesday, October 7. With this in mind, all team members are scrambling to find any further significant events to add to the machinima story.

Insights from Pete Colbenson
After the group meeting, Pete Colbenson, a prior juvenile detention center operator, came in to talk to us about juvenile detention centers and how they have changed over time. Pete gave a plethora of information, sharing his experience-based insights. This helped us all to better understand the rulings and societal events that were occurring at the time of the youth’s arrest that may have greatly affected the youth receiving a 40 year sentence. During our discussion with Pete we gained more knowledge about the history of the Juvenile Justice System and how it works today.  This will ultimately help us comprehend and showcase the entire CT story.

As we continue to research the contents of the documents and learn more about the Juvenile Justice System, we begin to see our Google Docs are coming together to form a more cohesive picture of the story than just our sketched-out story scenes and scribbled class notes.What started out as thousands upon thousands of pages of cluttered, muddled source docs has taken the shape of a story. A tragic case. A troubled boy’s life. An inside look on the injustices that this youth faced, from the moment he was born to his habeas corpus hearing. Through the numerous individual reports of a boy’s life and his trial transcripts, these documents are a reflection of the Juvenile Justice System and the very real consequences that any troubled youth may be likely to face.

By bringing this story to life through the machinima and a written long-story text, we hope to bring awareness to these issues that are so often ignored – until personally faced.


Dissecting the Documents

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Picture this
: Complete silence in a room full of 12 dedicated interns, working hard as they search through their documents to find the most significant parts of each one. With each important fact they uncover and add to the collaboration sheet on GoogleDocs, the closer they become to unraveling and effectively reporting the noteworthy story that could change the life of this particular youth, as well as the lives of many other youth across the country.

If you pictured this, and felt it – with all of these imminent emotions of the substantial impact of this project welling up inside you – you may have successfully visualized and had a slight sense of the sixth JJIE VW group meeting that took place at 9AM today at the Center for Sustainable Journalism.

Now – to have an idea of how we got to this moment of pure collaboration and document absorption, let’s take a moment to reflect on the meetings that had occurred just hours earlier. Before the group meeting today at 8AM, the Journalism group met to discuss the next steps regarding interviews, while the PR group met to discuss social media plans. While the Journalists were working on locating contact information of interview prospects, the PR group were working to make this project more prevalent in the community and beyond through the establishment of Facebook and Twitter accounts. In addition, the Virtual World group met yesterday, Thursday 9/22, to discuss the machinima for the CT story. After many hours of discussion on how to approach the story and how to produce the machinima, the group seems to have created a more precise outline of how they plan to display the story via virtual world. All in all, every single one of these tasks that each group is taking on are extremely important, and will ultimately work hand-in-hand to successfully expose this story to the world.

This brings us back to today’s meeting – where this hand-in-hand collaboration could be clearly observed. Today’s group meeting consisted of reverting back to each of the documents, and choosing the most significant quotes, moments, and facts from each. With each noteworthy finding, each intern took the time to enter the date, document #, description of event, names of people involved, quote, and any other relevant information into a neatly-created GoogleDoc spreadsheet, prepared by Gwenette. The intention of this spreadsheet is to make it easier for the machinimists to find the most important information and art clippings from the story to include in the machinima story.

As GoogleDocs continues to be our medium for information collaboration, we all learn something new every day about the importance of organization and communication. Furthermore, every day, we all take one step closer to telling the story of this incarcerated youth, to making his voice heard, and possibly even magnifying the injustices of his case and in the Juvenile Justice System just enough to make a difference in this particular youth’s life, and more.


Exploring Immersive Storytelling

In the Storytelling Circle interns are exploring displays and slide shows about the classic principles of all storytelling, while learning guidelines for translating their stories into 3D immersive scenarios for journalism machinima documentaries.  For one of their assignments, they took evening inworld snapshots of themselves in front of a Pixar Storytelling principle that is personally meaningful.  Then they dropped their own written comments about the principle in the Storytelling Creativity Basket inworld.

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From Case Documents, to Physical Interviews, to Virtual Worlds

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The Journalism and PR groups got an early start Wednesday morning. At 8 AM, both groups were at the Center for Sustainable Journalism ready to talk about our specific projects. While PR discussed their event/social media plans, the Journalism group prepared for the first interview with Steve Reba to be conducted in just a few hours.  After talking within our separate groups until about 8:20 AM, we combined to discuss the CT Story case documents. As we explored the main aspects of the case, we decided that it was necessary to make a chronology of the youth’s life. Since a few of the journalists had already started a draft chronology on Google Docs, we continued using their document.

As 9 AM rolled around, we continued to talk about the youth’s life, focusing on some of the major issues: his upbringing in and out of 30 foster care homes, his mental state, the crime, and the court hearing.  Also, from the documents, we had been recording significant people in the youth’s life – from here, since we knew our next big step is interviewing, we wrote down all of these important contacts who could possible give us a better idea of the youth’s life and case.  With a large piece of paper taped to the wall and pen in hand, Professor Witt divided up the paper into sections of people in the youth’s life: Family, Court/Legal, Co-defendants, Social Workers, Foster Care, Mental Health, Victims/Witnesses, etc. From here, the whole group joined in on reading out the names we had recorded from the documents. Soon, the paper was crowded with the names of people that we believe will be beneficial to contact for more insight on the case.

Halfway through the meeting, 4 members of the Journalism crew – Claire, Ann, Kevin, and Fred – had to leave for Emory Clinic to interview Steve Reba, the lawyer who is currently working to bring the youth’s case back into court for another hearing.  The remainder of the meeting was spent discussing ideas for the machinima storybaord.  Everyone was eager to contribute – even the journalists listened on speaker phone as they drove to interview Steve. After our discussion, everyone had a better idea of what the finished machinima might look like.

To get our minds in “inworld” mode, the Virtual World “The Kid, The Cop, The Punch” Machinima group showed everyone what they had been working on: draft machinima scenes from an incident that occurred in Chicago during the 1990’s. With this awesome presentation as reference, everyone at the table had a better vision of how the machinima for our story could develop. Each team member was thinking about how we could best showcase the youth’s story in he virtual world platform. We intend to catch the attention of a wide audience. We know how crucial this story presentation could be to the future of this youth’s life.

As for the interview with Steve Reba – it went great. Steve has been working on this case for the past 5 years.  He’s extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of the case and the youth’s life.  He was more than willing to answer and expand upon all of our questions. During the interview Steve agreed any extra attention brought to this case could be helpful to future appeals. Shining light on the injustices of this case in a virtual world machinima might just be how this youth gets another chance in court.

Next step: Set up interviews with contacts from our interview prospects outline and hopefully, with the help of Steve, an interview with the youth himself.


Machinima Prep: Emotional Visuals

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The beginning of gathering graphics for machinima special effects & memory flashbacks.

As we wrap up editing and polishing the Chicago neighborhood machinima, the interns begin exploring the internet for Creative Commons licensed CC0 and CC-By images.  They are searching for photographs and textures that portray and evoke emotions.  The project’s two final machinima – one a real journalism documentary we call “The CT Story” and one a personal poem by a young person struggling with their emotions – will both use graphics and inworld special effects to create immersive, visual experiences to tell their stories.


Organization & Collaboration

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Today’s group meeting started out with a much-needed talk about the organization of the project’s activities and documents.

Gwenette led the first thirty minutes as we all took a step back to talk about the valuable information on this very JJIE Virtual World site, as well as to review the strict schedule. We discussed how to post and organize blogs, how to locate and read the calendar on the site (located under Project Info tab), and what needed to be done so we can meet our deadlines.

A major eye-opener for many was the September 30th Machinima Content Deadline. This is very important to note, as it means that the Journalists must have relayed all of the necessary information on the CT story that will be going into the machinima. Although we do have an “emergency info add” deadline for any missing pieces that must be in the virtual world story, the strict deadline is September 30th.

Furthermore, we discussed the events that the Public Relations group will be coordinating:

  • The earliest event, coming up on Wednesday, October 7, is a live, inworld music concert produced by the popular Hypergrid Safari Tours group. They run weekly hypergrid tours across the Opensim Metaverse for crowds of up to 20+ die-hard hypergrid explorers and music fans. We will be hosting their October 7, Noon to 1pmET, music concert on our very own JJIE Virtual World Welcome Workshop region’s Beach Music Stage. In addition, that same Wednesday morning,  Nina Camplin, an artist and machinimist from England, will be our guest speaker during our group meeting.
  • Our Wednesday, October 21, classs speaker, Chantal Harvey, a professional Dutch television producer, animator, machinimist and machinima festival producer from Amsterdam, will be sharing her creative techniques and virtual world machinima tips with our team.
  • Looking ahead to our final project showcase – it will be held in the Media Lab of the Social Science Building at Kennesaw State University, December 2, 2015 from 4:30-7:30. All KSU staff and students are welcome to attend.

After PR talk, we discussed our source materials for next machinima story writing and scenario creation: the CT Story documents received from Steve Reba.  We decided that everyone should be familiar with the case in order to commit themselves to the project. Claire Bohrer, the Journalist Producer, divided up the documents amongst the twelve interns to read through and give a detailed summary of each assigned file. Via GoogleDrive, each team member has designated pdf files to read and correlating templates for notes in which to record his or her findings. The deadline for the completed summaries is Monday, September 14, 2015 at 5:00PM. After all the document summaries are submitted, every group member must go back and read through the every summary (or full pdf files) to become familiar with all aspects of the case. During our group meeting on Wednesday, September 16, we plan to discuss the key points of each document. Along with the summaries, we will be recording interview/avatar prospects, significant locations, and important event dates. All of this information is relevant to both the Journalist Group, who is writing the story, and the Virtual World group, who will be building the machinima scenario.

When it comes to inworld assignments: Gwenette has prepared our Week 03 & 04 assignment, involving researching Creative Commons licensed, emotionally evocative visuals, then uploading, framing and displaying them inworld. The assignment is due on Tuesday, September 15. These skills will be important during our creation of the graphics and inworld special effects for both the CT Story and the “Forgive” poem machinimas.

At the end of the meeting, we all split up into our groups to discuss and assign tour specific tasks. Although we may be in three separate task groups, there is no doubt that we will all be working collaboratively to make this project a success.