Machinima is an example of emergent gameplay, a process of putting game tools to unexpected ends, and of artistic computer game modification. The real-time nature of machinima means that established techniques from traditional film-making can be reapplied in a virtual environment. As a result, production tends to be cheaper and more rapid than in keyframed CGI animation. It can also produce more professional appearing production than is possible with traditional at-home techniques of live video tape, or stop action using live actors, hand drawn animation or toy props.
As machinima begins to break out of the underground community of gamers and becomes more widely recognized by mainstream audiences, tools are being developed to allow for faster and easier creation of machinima productions. A number of upcoming machinima products are expected to provide machinimators with original assets, as well as advanced features such as a timeline, gesture and sound creation, and precise camera tools.
Although most often used to produce recordings that are later edited as in conventional film, machinima techniques have also occasionally been used for theatre. A New York improvisational comedy group called the ILL Clan voice and puppet their characters before a virtual camera to produce machinima displayed on a screen to a live audience.
Disney Interactive Studios' 1992 computer game Stunt Island allowed users to create movies by placing props and cameras, orchestrating flying stunts, and splicing takes together. The following year, id Software's computer game Doom included the ability to record gameplay as sequences of events later replayed in real-time by the game engine. Because events, not video frames, were recorded, the saved game demo files were small and easily shared among players, thus developing, as Henry Lowood of Stanford University wrote, "a context for spectatorship.… The result was nothing less than a metamorphosis of the player into a performer." The game also allowed for third-party modifications, maps, and software tools, thus revising the concept of game authorship.
Dooms 1996 successor, Quake, offered new opportunities for both gameplay and customization, while retaining the ability to record demos. Multiplayer games became popular, almost a sport; demo files of matches between teams of players, or clans, were recorded and studied. Paul Marino, executive director of the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences, noted that deathmatches, a type of multiplayer game, became more "cinematic". At this point, the demo files produced were documented gameplay with no narrative.
In December 1997, id Software released Quake II, which included support for user-created 3-D models. The community continued to create films with the original Quake until editing tools were adapted to the new game. New Quake I productions included the Apartment Huntin' by the ILL Clan and Scourge Done Slick by the Quake done Quick group. Throughout 1998, Quake II editing tools were released; among them was Keygrip 2.0, which supported recamming, the ability to adjust camera locations after recording. Paul Marino called this feature "a defining moment for [m]achinima" because of its power and flexibility. The first Quake II machinima production made entirely with user-created models was Strange Company's 1999 film Eschaton: Nightfall.
The December 1999 release of id Software's Quake III Arena posed a problem to the Quake movie community. The game's demo file format included information needed by the networking code; to prevent cheating, id warned that revealing these details was grounds for legal action. Thus, the editing tools used for previous games could not be upgraded to work with Quake III. Around this time, too, the novelty of Quake movies was disappearing; as Marino explained, "Simply said, the joke was getting old." New productions became less frequent, and the community needed to "reinvent itself" to offset this.
Machinima soon began to receive mainstream notice. In June 2000, Roger Ebert called it an "extraordinary" new art form and praised Strange Company's machinima setting of Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet "Ozymandias". The ILL Clan's 2000 film Hardly Workin' won Best Experimental and Best in SHO awards at Showtime Network's 2001 Alternative Media Festival. During production of his 2001 film Artificial Intelligence: A.I., Steven Spielberg used Unreal Tournament to test scenes involving special effects. Game developers became interested, too: In July 2001, Epic Games announced that Matinee, a machinima production utility, would ship with its upcoming game Unreal Tournament 2003. As involvement increased, machinima releases became less frequent in favor of higher quality.
In March 2002, five machinima makers—Anthony Bailey, Hugh Hancock, Katherine Anna Kang, Paul Marino, and Matthew Ross—met at the Game Developers Conference and formed the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences, which held the first Machinima Film Festival during QuakeCon in August of that year. At the event, which was covered by mainstream media, Anachronox: The Movie, by Jake Hughes and Tom Hall, won three awards, including Best Picture. The next year, In the Waiting Line, directed by Tommy Pallotta, became the first machinima music video to air on MTV. As graphics technology improved, other games and consumer-grade video editing software were used to create machinima. The second season of Rooster Teeth Productions' popular comedy series Red vs. Blue, created with Bungie Studios' Halo series of video games, opened at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in 2004.
Machinima has also appeared on television. Time Commanders, a BBC television show in which players re-enacted historic battles, used Creative Assembly's real-time game Rome: Total War. The MTV2 television show Video Mods re-creates music videos using characters from video games, such as The Sims 2, BloodRayne and Tribes. In 2006, the creators of the comedy television series South Park used machinima techniques in collaboration with Blizzard Entertainment to set parts of an Emmy Award winning episode, "Make Love, Not Warcraft" inside Blizzard's massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft.
As time progressed, more commercial machinima was produced. Red vs. Blue is sold on DVD. To promote The Sims 2, Electronic Arts sponsored Rooster Teeth Productions to create a machinima series, The Strangerhood, using the game. In 2005, Volvo sponsored the creation of Game : On, a collaboration of machinima and mainstream advertising. In 2007, Electronic Arts commissioned Rooster Teeth to create the first machinima broadcast commercials to promote their Madden NFL 07 video game.
Also Machinima in its growth has become more commercial and profitable. Rooster Teeth Productions the creators of Red vs. Blue and The Strangerhood sell merchandise related to most of their products and have sponsors, who for sponsoring their productions gain access to multiple extra features including sponsor videos.
Game developers continue to provide more support for machinima. Products such as Lionhead Studios' 2005 business simulation game The Movies, Linden Research's virtual world Second Life, and Bungie Studios' 2007 first-person shooter Halo 3 encourage the creation of user content through the inclusion of machinima tools. In 2008 Rooster Teeth Productions have taken their Machinima into the Halo 3 universe with great success.
In 2008 HBO bought the Northern American broadcasting rights for the first machinima documentary, "Molotov Alva And His Search For The Creator: A Second Life Odyssey". The director Douglas Gayeton shot and mastered the entire 52 minute film without ever leaving a spare bedroom on his Northern California farm. The film later became the first machinima film theatrically released by a studio, with screenings in both Los Angeles and New York in September of 2007.
MMORPGs have enabled players to live a different life online. An example of non-stunt gameplay machinima is Miss Galaxies 2004, a beauty pageant that took place in the virtual world of Star Wars Galaxies. Footage was distributed on the cover disc of the August 2004 issue of PC Gamer.
With gaming-related inside jokes, comedy offers an entry point for new machinima producers. Many machinima comedies are presented as five-minute sketches, and are analogous to Flash animations found on the Internet. The ILL Clan, based in New York, pioneered this genre in machinima; their productions include Apartment Huntin and Hardly Workin. The most successful machinima series, Red vs. Blue, chronicles a futile civil war. Although its humor was game-based, strong writing and characters caused the series to "transcend the typical gamer". The series spanned five seasons and 100 episodes. An example of comedy targeted at a more general audience is Strange Company's Tum Raider, produced for the BBC in 2004.
Although stunts and comedy offer entry points, other filmmakers use machinima for drama. Many such productions bear some resemblance to the original visual setting of the game; for example, Unreal Tournament is used for science fiction, and Battlefield 1942 for war-based themes. Other creators start from the original setting and subvert it, or completely detach their production from the game. For example, in 1999, Strange Company used Quake II to create Eschaton: Nightfall, a horror film based on the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft. A later example is Damien Valentine's series Consanguinity, filmed in BioWare's role-playing game Neverwinter Nights and based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Another genre consists of experimental works that attempt to push the boundaries of game engines. One example is Fountainhead's Anna, a short film, reminiscent of Fantasia, about the cycle of life. Other productions are designed to look nothing like a 3-D world. Friedrich Kirschner's machinima productions The Tournament and The Journey appear hand-drawn, and deliberately avoid 3-D graphics and photorealism. Fake Science, by Dead on Que, appears two-dimensional, and resembles 1970s Eastern European modernist animation.
Another difference is that machinima is created in real-time, but other forms of animation are pre-rendered. This discrepancy is possible because many real-time engines trade quality for speed, using less sophisticated algorithms and simpler models. For the 2001 animated film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, every strand of hair on a character's head was modeled independently; in a real-time environment, hair is likely to be treated as a single unit. Kelland, Morris, and Lloyd argue that, as consumer-grade graphics technology continues to improve, more realistic effects will be possible; Paul Marino relates the feasibility of machinima to the increasing computing power predicted by Moore's Law. For cut scenes in video games, issues other than visual fidelity arise: Pre-rendered scenes can consume large amounts of digital storage space, harm the player's suspension of disbelief by contrasting with real-time animation of normal gameplay, and limit player interaction by having been already generated.
As in live action, machinima is recorded in real-time, and real people are involved in performing parts and controlling the camera. In contrast, machinima involves less expensive, digital sets and special effects. Science-fiction and historical settings are feasible. Explosions and stunts can be tried and repeated without monetary cost and risk of injury, and physical constraints of the host environment may differ from those of reality.
In digital puppetry, machinima creators become virtual actors; each puppeteer controls a character in real-time, as in a multiplayer game. Either one or more crew members become camera operators by capturing footage from their characters' perspectives, or the director uses the game's built-in camera controls. Advantages of puppetry are that it allows for improvisation and controls familiar to gamers; a drawback is the personnel requirement.
Scripting, the paradigm closest to older animation methods, became popular with third-party machinima creators due to Matinee, a machinima tool included with Unreal Tournament 2004. A technique commonly used by game companies to create cut scenes, scripting involves the specification of precise actions for every character, allowing for fine-grained control. Although a single person can do this, unlike puppeteering, the process of perfecting these commands can be time-consuming, and effects of changes cannot be seen immediately; in this respect, Kelland, Morris, and Lloyd compare scripting to stop motion animation.
While most machinima is created using video games, there are also several non-game software titles which are designed explicitly for the purpose of making machinima. Some of these include: