Community Spotlight: Obsidian Ant

Obsidian Ant has been making Elite Dangerous videos since the early days of beta, and now has more than 1.6 million views on his YouTube channel. In this interview, the Ant (we're on informal terms) tells us about his creative process, and what it takes to get a station built in a nebula.

How long does it take to make each video?

This can vary dramatically from video to video.  Some videos take as little as 30 to 45 minutes to make, where as others can take 6+ hours. The average is around 2 hours or so. Generally though, it's the recording of the footage which can be pretty time consuming, especially for the "Exploring Elite: Dangerous" videos. These videos essentially chart my journey across the galaxy, and there are vast distances to cover.

I try to include as many interesting systems, planets and nebula etc. as I possibly can, and that takes time. Ultimately for "Exploring Elite: Dangerous" I may distill a few days play time down into a ten minute video. In contrast to that, videos like the "Path to Pleiades" which are about the nebula station CG, only need around 60 to 90 minutes of playing. Editing also varies in time, especially if I have a particularly difficult sequence of beauty shots I want to link together. All that said though, as I gain in experience the process is certainly getting a lot faster and easier.

Why do you feel inspired to make each video?

There's a number of things that can cause me to make a video on a subject. In the early days, it was the desire to see what was over the next horizon, what was in the next system. That was back during Premium Beta when we only had access to a limited number of systems. It was the curiosity of wondering what was out there, and I wanted to be able to relate that sense of awe and wonder to other people. As time has gone on there have been other things I have found equally inspiring, just a few examples; the way the game places certain stations near stars, the colour of a planet in contrast to a nebula it is within, the rich lore and history of the game. I enjoy trying to put all of these subjects into a format which people may find interesting or inspiring.

Why do you play Elite: Dangerous in general? What excites you most about the game?

Exploration is the big thing for me! I'm not just talking about the scanning of planets (in fact I don't do a whole lot of that), what I actually enjoy is the sense of adventure and discovery. I can spend ages on the galaxy map searching for a new destination or an undiscovered nebula. Once I find such a place, it may often take a long while to travel there, but all the while in my mind, I will be wondering what it will look like. Along the way I often find interesting looking planets or moons which I record footage of to add into a video. In terms of exploration there really is nothing else like Elite: Dangerous out there. I'm an avid nature buff, and like to explore forests, mountains and any other wild nature places I can. Elite, for me manages to hook into that sense of exploration I have. Getting down to the surface of planets is going to blow that wide open!

How long have you been playing Elite for?

Although I was old enough in 1984 to have played Elite, (I also owned a Spectrum 48k), unfortunately it was a game I never picked up. However I did play Frontier: Elite 2 on my Amiga, and it was a mind opening game. The manuals and the star chart poster added to that immensely. So, for the Elite franchise, I have been playing since 1993. Elite: Dangerous, I started playing the alpha access missions as soon as they were available to Premium Beta backers in early 2014. I backed the game on Kickstarter during the first days of the campaign and followed it pretty closely ever since.

Can you tell us about the Nebula video? You were a key part in making that CG happen.

The video was essentially a result of EGX. In my interview with Sandro Sammarco and Micheal Brookes, I asked them what they thought about the idea of a station within a nebula, and Micheal cheekily said there is a 'chance'. So I took that answer and ran with it, I posted a nebula station banner image to Twitter, which ended up getting re-tweeted over 100 times, at the same time as that I posted the Nebula video to YouTube suggesting that players push for such a community goal. So the player reaction to all that was fantastic, and they are the ones that made the whole thing blow up. A short while later, Zac Antonaci got in contact with me, asking for details about a potential nebula community goal and what the players might like to see. I posted a thread on the forums opening the discussion. To be clear there are a lot of people that have been pushing for nebula station for a long time, and they have done huge amounts of work with the community. My video is just one of the more visible cases, but that shouldn't detract from what others have done.

How are you enjoying interacting with the groups who are involved with this?

The various groups out there have been great! I have been in contact both in-game and out-of-game with with many of the well known groups. There is huge interest in getting a station out there in a nebula. Elite has some fantastic locations, and a station out there in a nebula will allow many more people to see these awesome places. Many of the groups have a huge desire to make that happen, and I stand in awe of their dedication and ability to organize so many players, who all work so well together.

What do you think are your favourite highlights from production, and also the finished products that you’ve come up with?

My favorite parts of production are editing some of the "cinematic" sequences together. Finding the right areas of space, and editing footage together in a certain specific way and then finding the right music to go with that gives me a lot of pleasure. Occasionally, the final clip gives me inspiration to find a few words, and when that happens I add some narration to the segment.  It's hard to point to a video that is my "favorite", because I see so many flaws in the work I do, there are often many thing I would change, or like to do better. But in many of my videos there are small parts that I am very pleased with. One of my favourite videos is "This Galaxy", which is a short music video without narration, it just seemed to come together very well.

What inspired you to make the videos in the first place?

Making regular Elite videos was never something I actually set out to do, it simply started with recording a few clips here and there, and making a few short videos to show what the game was actually like. During Premium Beta, a lot of players were interested in the game, but didn't actually have access to it - so my first videos were born out of that. Over time I realized how much I actually enjoyed making them, so started making longer videos, which in the end became regular releases.

What’s next for Obsidian Ant?

Horizons is the obvious next step, I look forward to the challenges of making entertaining and interesting videos on the surface of planets - it will all be quite different to what I have done so far. I also have a new video series featuring a role-played story arc. I actually started that in April this year, but I have since reworked and "remastered" them. This will be two series of videos each containing three episodes. There will be a story-arc running across all six-episodes. The first of those should be on my YouTube channel right now (or if not, then very soon) - and the series is called "Commander's Odyssey".