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Machinima

From Academic Kids

Machinima (a portmanteau word for machine cinema and/or "machine" "animation") is both a collection of associated production techniques and a film genre (film created by such production techniques).

As a production technique, the term concerns the rendering of computer-generated imagery (CGI) using low-end 3D engines (as constrasted to high-end and complex 3D engines used by professionals) in video games (typically, engines in first person shooters games were 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.

As a film genre, the term refers to movies created by the techniques described above. Usually, machinimas are produced using 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 play, 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.

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 (http://www.illclan.com) voice and puppet their characters before a virtual camera to produce machinima displayed on a screen to a live audience.

Contents

History

The earliest roots of machinima can be found in the demoscene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when programmers created elaborate audiovisual displays animated in real-time. In 1992 the game Stunt Island was released, which allowed users to create movies by placing props and cameras, flying stunts, and splicing together takes. Communities emerged on CompuServe and the Internet, where users of the software were able to trade props and movies with each other.

This relatively new artform has attracted some interest in the media, as a "sign of things to come". But the number of machinima artists is rather small, as of 2004, and they have not achieved widespread success. As the quality of game engines, tools and 3D hardware improves, however, the popularity of the new medium continues to grow.

When Doom was released in 1993, it included support for the recording and playback of gameplay demos. This resulted in the eventual creation of Doom speedruns, where players recorded rapid traversals of Doom levels. Machinima per se arrived with the advent of true 3D game worlds and controllable cameras, from late 1993 to 1996. The Star Wars game X-Wing in 1993 featured a limited recording feature with a controllable camera system, but the camera was controllable only during playback of recordings, not during gameplay itself. While Quake is commonly given credit for being the first to introduce these, that honor technically belongs to MechWarrior 2, which was a year ahead of it and possesed most of the same capabilities. The first movies appeared in 1997, the term was coined at the start of 1998. At this time, the term "Quake Movies" was used in most situations. Around about mid 2000, this Quake community died out somewhat, due to the movement of players to newer games.

Things have picked up in the last two years or so, however. With the improvements in 3D game engine technology many developers added in-game cutscenes to their games. This led to improvements in animation capabilities and soon most game engines had the functionality (although often available to the developers only) necessary to produce machinima. The distinction between cut-scenes and machinima is superficial. For example, the developers of Act of War: Direct Action, a real-time strategy game with advanced graphics, used machinima technique (one person playing, another recording the action in-game) to create pre-rendered cinematics. The recorded video was then post-processed and sound effects and dialog were added.

Quake II, Unreal and Battlefield 1942 are examples of video games which are currently used to create machinima. Understanding the future potential of machinima, Epic Games, the developers of Unreal Tournament 2003, included a tool called Matinee with the game, and sponsored a contest for $50,000 to create a machinima film with the video game. Unreal engine was used by George Lucas for pre-visualisation of Star Wars movies and by some other directors.

The video game The Sims, which had a "photo album" feature, was used by players to stage elaborate "comic book" stories. For example, player nsknight has, over several months, staged a highly-rated photo album telling the story of three sisters whose mother is murdered; other players have staged stories of abusive relationships, drug addiction, and interracial adoptions. The Sims 2 has a built in movie making feature.

The Movies is a game being developed by Lionhead Studios that will put the player in the role of a movie director and allow them to create short feature films using the game engine. A similar technique is used on the MTV television show "Video Mods" that shows music videos, rendered using characters from popular video games, including Sims 2, BloodRayne and Dawn. However, the creators of the show only re-use the models, which are manually animated using 3D-animation software, not the game engines.

Besides the FPS and Simulation genres mentioned above, other genre of games, most notably the sports games (like EA Sports' FIFA, NFL, and NHL series), already had the features and tools required to make a Machinima since long ago (like instant replay, customizable camera angle, recording, playback, save, load, etc.), though it appeared that no one had attempted to make machinima using those games.

Quake machinima

One of the famous Quake machinima groups is Quake done Quick. QdQ produced several speedruns for Quake, and reworked them into movies, using special tools to show speedrun in third person. Their most famous movies are Quake done Quicker and Scourge done Slick (as QdQ themselves say, "the plot and the whole amount of work that went into this project, simply hasn't been topped yet"). As of 2005 the group is still active, making rare speedrun releases.

Halo machinima

Red vs. Blue, the Blood Gulch Chronicles, is a comedic machinima series filmed within the Halo series of Xbox games. It was created by Rooster Teeth Productions and was released on DVD. The series is one of the most popular and best known examples of Machinima. The series has also inspired a fan tribute series called Sponsors vs. Freeloaders, based in the forums of Red vs. Blue

Other HALO based Machinima series include:

Fire Team Charlie, who started production in Mid-2003. Fire Team Charlie has made a name by delving into the code of Halo and modifying it to increase their movie making posibilities. Their most notable change is removing all on screen displays, making each video seem less "in game" and more like a movie. This makes for more unique videos from a console game, though these types of modifications are extremly common in computer based machinima.

Stryke Force, released in late 2004. UK based, the team at Stryke Force HQ also modify the game engine for machinima purposes but only to remove the on screen displays, preferring to film the series within the constraints of the game.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, released in October of 2004, is a 30 minute stand alone comedy that tells the story of Private Chade, the best event coordinator in the army, and the desperate plan to rescue him from the hands of the Scottish. Praised for it's high production value, original score, cinematography, voice acting, and special effects, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter remains one of the many high points of HALO machinima.

The Codex, Episode 1 debuted on February 9th, 2005. Unlike any previous Halo machinima series, The Codex is a drama, and is set within the universe of the Halo games. While previous Halo machinima series focus almost exclusively on comedy, The Codex has a definite story, and has often been described as a movie divided into episodes, rather than a series proper. It is also one of the only series to be set within the confines of the Halo universe, dealing with situations described in the games and happening concurrently with other well-known events.

With the growing popularity of american Halo machinima series, some european teams decided to do their own creation. It's the case of the french TGO-Team wich released two main series : the musical clips series WEF and the action/comedy series Band of Bourrin. They also started to parody some adds and famous movies like Kill Bill.

Sims machinima

Rooster Teeth Productions, the authors of Red vs. Blue, have also created a serial production, The Strangerhood, using the Sims life simulation program. The initial installment of the series introduced eight occupants of a neighborhood, none of whom can remember seeing any of the other characters before nor how they arrived in the neighborhood. The characters have diverse, quirky, and intense personalities. Owing to the limitations of the simulation engine it was necessary to create a number of clones of each character, each with a different expression (happy, sad, angry, etc.). The unused versions are herded into an out-of-viewpoint room and exchanged as necessary to obtain the various facial expressions.

Simulator based machinima

A new and emerging trend in machinima are films in which the plot is carried forward mostly by cars, airplanes etc. as well as selectively chosen ingame objects and scenery. Characters are introduced only by voice over dialogue - the protagonists are therefore the (unseen) pilots of the presented vehicles. This is due to a restriction of the used game software which typically cannot render user controlled characters. These machinima movies are often created in flight simulators, car driving/racing games or similar software. Because events can be difficult to script in simulators, the final movie is typically created in video editing software, sometimes adding additional effects. A good example for a humorous simulator-machinima is the movie Bensky & Mutch (http://tapadiuno.free.fr/benskyetmutch.html) (French dialogue, subtitle files are available). A further example is an intricately "filmed" war epos called "I Promise" (http://www.meyeuniverse.com/meyemovies.php)

Advantages and disadvantages

Advantages

  • Possible smaller distribution size: To distribute the movie, the producer only has to distribute the movie scripts (and any new resources used in the movie), which are much smaller than the entire rendered movie, though this requires both parties (producer and viewer) to have same rendering engine (same game, that is) and a hardware capable rendering the movie. Further to this, if the engine and hardware allow it, the movie could be watched at extremely high resolutions. The size of a rendered video of comparable resolution could put most viewers off, even those on very fast connections.
  • Lower cost and production time, because of lower hardware requirements (movie can be made and rendered on desktop computers), lower software costs (games cost much less than professional 3D animation software), and lower production time (because low-end 3D engines can render animation quickly, if-not real-time). Moreover, mistakes in the movie can be corrected quickly by simply editing the script and because of the lower rendering time,
  • Possible easier movie making: Because most games' interfaces are very simple and easy to use, it is easy to make simple movies, though it can be more frustrating to make complex ones because of the limited movie-making capability (see below).

Disadvantages

  • Limited capability: the possibilities (what can be done in a movie, that is) were limited by the genre of the game and the flexibility and (movie-making) capability of the game engine itself. Also, because game engines were primarily designed for game-playing, not for making movies, the (movie-making) capabilities of game engines (and, consequently, the quality of the produced movies) tend to be limited, when compared to 3D animation software used by professionals.
  • Possible high playback hardware requirements: Unless the entire rendered movie is distributed, in order to play a movie (run movie scripts), the viewer need the same rendering engine with the one used by the producer (same game, that is), and a computer with capable hardware (to run the movie scripts to view the movie), depending on the complexity of the rendering engine (the game, that is) and movie. Consequently, this prohibits low-end machines and machines without rendering capability (e.g.: cell phones, PDA, low-end computers, Video CD players) to display the movie.

External links

See also

de:Machinima nl:Machinima sv:Machinima

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