Lights, Camera, Play!

They're not exactly Pixar, but a crew of Highland Park teens find fame--not fortune--making machinima movies on the Xbox

Then Luther got sick, and the Winns moved to a new house. Winn finished putting everything back together in his new bedroom only to have his computer crash. They had backed up the files of the nine completed episodes, but the footage for Episode 10 was lost. It took them three and a half weeks to remake six minutes of video.

None of them had imagined how much time it would take to produce each episode. All of them except Luther were involved in extracurricular activities. Things like AP exams, college visits, choir performances, softball games and senior events were getting in the way. As fan response heated up, they were fielding lots of personal questions. Finally, after a curious fan outed them by tracing the screen name "Nerrolken" to Winn, they decided to post their bios.

They were getting hits from all over the world and could see that they even had fans at NASA and Apple Computer. On a visit to a university to interview for a scholarship, Foster talked to guys from Virginia Military Institute. One recognized her name, and they told her they loved The Codex. People would recognize Malone as the Praetor when they heard his voice.

Mondolithic Studios
Lauren Jenks
Tom Jenkins
Lauren Jenks

But by the start of summer, it looked like their ambitious plan to finish the 109-minute movie, Episodes 1 through 20, before leaving for college was doomed.

Winn, Luther and Malone walked into the A-KON anime and video convention, held every June in Dallas, wearing their Codex T-shirts, not knowing what to expect. "I consider myself a dork," Malone says, "but they were a lot of nerds."

They headed for the Red Vs Blue table, hoping to meet their heroes: Gus Sorola, "Burnie" Burns, Geoff Ramsey, Kathleen Zuelch and the rest of the Rooster Teeth crew. "As we were walking up," Malone says, "Gus jumps up and says, 'Are you the guys from The Codex Series? Can I take your picture?'"

The teenagers were floored, even more so when the Red Vs Blue gang invited them to an after-party. They knocked on room 666 (no kidding) at the Radisson but couldn't enter the party because they weren't 21. Finally, the Red Vs Blue crew came out; since the Codex kids couldn't go to the party, they all sat in the stairwell and talked shop for 45 minutes. Way cool.

That summer, The Codex took over their lives. The teens virtually camped out at the Winns' house. Winn and Luther played with the game, trying to find new angles for shots. The voice actors worked on different accents for new characters. Except for Winn, they rarely saw their parents.

They stocked up on Goldfish crackers and Bawls, a super-caffeinated drink they bought at a computer store. Becky Winn made them real food like meat loaf, but they mainly consumed enormous amounts of pizza and Blue Bell double-chocolate ice cream. "They called it a download," says Becky Winn. Her grocery bill tripled as teenagers squatted in Alex's bedroom for 12 to 18 hours a day.

"I was a stress case that whole last month," Malone says. "I hadn't gotten anything done for school. But we really wanted to finish it."

Each night, when everyone finally went home, Winn spent more hours editing, dubbing in the audio and composing the score. By August, he began to doubt that their project would get finished. "He was so tired, he could hardly even think clearly," Becky Winn says.

Thirty-six hours before Alex was supposed to leave for USC, Luther uploaded Episode 20: "The End of All Things." To date, they have had more than 15 million visits to their Web site.

Becky Winn remembers Alex lying on the floor when it was done. "I'm exhausted," he told his mother. "Getting to college will feel like a vacation." She thought he was upset, but he was elated. "I love it so much," he told the ceiling. "I know I really want to be a filmmaker."

The Codex Series is now over. Or is it just beginning? In November, the group reunited in Los Angeles to shoot a segment on machinima for mtvU. "It was fricking awesome," Winn says.

Only Malone still bothers to play Halo.

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