Machinima

Machinima

[muh-shee-nuh-muh]
Machinima (or /məˈʃɪnəmə/), a Portmanteau of machine cinema, is a collection of associated production techniques whereby computer-generated imagery (CGI) is rendered using real-time, interactive 3-D engines instead of professional 3D animation software. Engines from first-person shooter and role-playing simulation video games are typically used. Consequently, the rendering can be done in real-time using PCs (either using the computer of the creator or the viewer), rather than with complex 3D engines using huge render farms. Usually, machinima productions are produced using the tools (demo recording, camera angle, level editor, script editor, etc.) and resources (backgrounds, levels, characters, skins, etc.) available in a game.

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.

History

Precedent

In the 1980s, hackers who cracked software—that is, circumvented any built-in security—often attached introductory sequences, or intros, to modified programs to credit themselves. As the power of personal computers increased, so did the complexity of these intros. Eventually, the demoscene formed when focus shifted from the cracks to the intros. 3D computer graphics and narratives appeared, and animation was calculated in real-time, but without the use of a pre-existing game engine.

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.

Quake movies

On October 26, 1996, a well-known clan, the Rangers, surprised the Quake community with the release of Diary of a Camper, which became the first machinima film to be widely viewed and distributed. This short, 100-second demo file contained the action and gore of many others, but in the context of a story, rather than the usual deathmatch. Although its narrative was simple, it established the machinima genre; so-called Quake movies quickly became popular. Dedicated demo-processing tools, such as Uwe Girlich's Little Movie Processing Center (LMPC) and David "crt" Wright's non-linear editor Keygrip, were developed; the latter became "known as the Adobe Premiere for Quake demo files". Distribution and review sites for Quake movies appeared; among these were The Cineplex, Psyk's Popcorn Jungle, and the Quake Movie Library. Notable works include Clan Phantasm's Devil's Covenant, the first feature-length Quake movie; Avatar and Wendigo's Blahbalicious, which won seven Quake Movie Oscars; and Clan Undead's Operation Bayshield, which used simulated lip synching.

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.

Modern era

In January 2000, Hugh Hancock, the founder of Strange Company, launched a new website, Machinima.com. The new term machinima surprised the community; it arose as a misspelling of machinema, a contraction of machine cinema, and was intended to dissociate the in-game film production process from a specific engine. The variant with the additional i stuck because it included a reference to anime. The site included tutorials, interviews, articles, and the exclusive release of Tritin Films' Quad God. The first film made with Quake III Arena, Quad God was also the first to be created by recording game-produced video frames, not game-specific instructions. This technique was initially controversial among machinima producers who had preferred demo files and their smaller sizes. However, because it was recorded in a traditional video format, Quad God was accessible to a wider audience, and was distributed on magazine-bundled CDs.

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.

Genres

Gameplay and stunt machinima began in 1997 with Quake done Quick. Although the project was not the first speedrun, its creators used external programs to manipulate camera positions after recording the speedrun, which, according to Lowood, marked a "shift from cyberathleticism to making movies". Stunt machinima remains popular; games commonly used for the genre include Halo: Combat Evolved and Battlefield 1942. Kelland, Morris, and Lloyd state that stunt videos created with Halo: Combat Evolved offer a new way to look at the game, and compare Battlefield 1942 machinima creators to the Harlem Globetrotters. Built-in features for video editing and post-recording camera positioning in Halo 3 are expected to facilitate gameplay machinima.

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.

Production process

Relation to other media creation methods

The Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences defines machinima as "animated filmmaking within a real-time virtual 3-D environment". In other 3-D animation methods, creators can control every frame and nuance of their characters and must consider issues such as key frames and in-betweening. Machinima creators leave many rendering details to, and are thus limited by, their host 3-D environments. Many machinima characters have difficulty crying, hugging, and sitting.

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.

Character control

Kelland, Morris, and Lloyd define three main paradigms of creating machinima, from simplest and least complex to most powerful: relying on the game's artificial intelligence (AI) to control most actions, digital puppetry, and precise scripting of actions. One game that encourages the use of the first technique is The Sims 2, which has built-in recording capabilities. Although simple to produce, results dependent on AI are unpredictable, and can resemble home movies. Incorporating a preconceived script can be difficult; when Rooster Teeth produced The Strangerhood, they had to use multiple instances of each character in different moods to achieve the intended result.

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.

Other notable examples

  • Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator: A Second Life Odyssey was the first full length documentary machinima created entirely inside a virtual world. It was also the first web-based series to premiere on YouTube and then be purchased for broadcast by a major network (HBO).
  • Portal was the first television experience to machinima. It aired on G4 for two seasons largely playing on comedy.
  • Red vs. Blue a Halo Machinima based on the multiplayer teams of Halo. Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles lasted 5 seasons spanning over 10 hours which began on April 1, 2003 and ended on June 28, 2007. A new series, dubbed Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction, began on May 26, 2008.
  • Borg War is a feature-length Star Trek-themed movie whose raw footage was generated with two games: Star Trek: Elite Force 2, and Starfleet Command 3.
  • The largest project yet made with Pacific Fighters/IL-2 Sturmovik is Faith, Hope and Charity, nominated for Best Direction, Best Story and Best Visual Design at the Machinima Festival Europe in 2007.
  • Strange Company's BloodSpell is a feature-length "punk fantasy" series about a world where "Blooded" mages spill their blood to use their magic, and are hunted by the black-clad Church of the Angels, it created an entirely original storyline. It was mentioned in the Suicide Girls website, the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper, and mega-blog BoingBoing A "Director's Cut" feature is due to premiere at the Machinima Europe festival in October 2007.
  • Relic Entertainment's Company of Heroes, a 3D real time strategy game for the PC, with some built in machinima capability, was released in September 2006. To publicize the game, Relic produced an eleven-minute in-game machinima piece, which subsequently won the award for Best Virtual Performance: Custom Animation at the 2006 Machinima Film Festival.
  • A notable example of Half-Life 2 machinima is A Few Good G-Men, a machinima produced from the famous courtroom scene from Rob Reiner's film A Few Good Men.
  • One of the most notable features of Half-Life 2s Source engine is Faceposer's ability to take any voices in sound form and have an ingame character automatically lipsynch to the words. A fairly known example is I'm Still Seeing Breen, by Paul Marino, set to music by Breaking Benjamin. Other noteworthy examples include the feature length War of the Servers, by Lit Fuse Films as well as the series Civil Protection, by Ross Scott.
  • During the release of Sam & Max Season One, developer Telltale Games also released fifteen short machinima cartoons in between episodes. The shorts range from one to two minutes in length and typically feature Sam and Max interacting with locations and characters from the most recent episode, though the shorts are not part of Season One's storyline. For the 2007 Independent Games Festival, Telltale Games also created several machinima shorts, in which Sam and Max greet the attendees and make cracks about game design.
  • Similar to Half-Life 2's machinima capabilities, Crytek's CryENGINE 2 is capable of complex facial animation as well as choreographed animations.
  • Another example using the Halo series as a platform, This Spartan Life was a talkshow rather than the more common story style machinima. The series has featured several notable guests including the audio director of the Halo games.
  • David Riedel, a german machinima producer, earn money with Machinima. He produce several Machinimas for companies like CMS Hasche Sigle, Computec Verlag and EA Games. David Riedel make his movies with The Movies, Guild Wars and Sims 2.

Programs used to create Machinima

Purpose-built Machinima Software

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:

Video Games

Games commonly used to create machinima include:

See also

Notes

References

External links

Engine-specific sites

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