A group of Adventist children and youth have come together to produce an animation of the Nativity story using the popular computer game Minecraft. Conceived as a way of getting involved in the church Christmas programme, the five-minute film captures the centrepiece of the season from the angel appearing to Mary to the Wise Men's departure.
"Initially when we had the idea, we weren't sure if it was possible − Minecraft is a game, not an animation environment," says William Middleditch a 16-year-old A-level student who has been playing Minecraft for seven years and acted as the director of the film. The project was the work of seven young people from the Loughborough Adventist church ranging from William's cousin Caleb, aged just 10, through to his good friend Tom Sanders, in his twenties, who cut his teeth on Runescape and has also being playing Minecraft for several years.
"I started off by thinking about the storyboard – I was clear from the start I wanted to use a narration that was the original Bible text. We spent a lot of time on building the environment for filming with teams working on the landscape, the buildings and the interiors, until we were satisfied, we had a 'set' for the filming. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions we never met as a team but were able to join a Minecraft world known as a 'realm' together remotely to 'film' the sequences with each member of the team playing a character."
"I'm a big fan of sci-fi films and TV," continues William, "so I tried to blend some of the more 'cinematic' styles I know from this genre to improve the feel of the production. The biggest challenge came at the end. During the last week I was due to edit the whole thing together with my dad using a professional video editing package. Instead, one of my schoolmates got Coronavirus and I found myself isolated in my bedroom with my meals left outside the door! I had to rapidly learn a basic editing tool on my laptop in between schoolwork. In the end I did a lot of the editing in one long evening to make sure it was ready to go for the church Christmas programme." The team have now put the video up on YouTube here and they are hoping it will carry the Advent message to young and old alike.
"We all learnt a lot about teamwork from this experience," says William. "We also had to use a few tricks along the way – Minecraft had its difficulties and we ended up using the back of a submerged sheep to represent Jesus in the manager! We also had to contain an unruly cow in the stable behind an 'invisible' block to stop her trampling on everything!"
"This was a great way to bring the Christmas Story to life for a new and younger generation born into the digital age," says local pastor, Jonathan Holder. "I really enjoyed the video and hope the team will continue using their talents for Jesus in the future." The group are already thinking about an Easter theme for their next video and have begun brainstorming how they can get some of the scenes to work.