Independent Film-Making Sets Stage Inside Computer Games Virtual Worlds: Machinima
"There's a new kid on the block of independent film-making, and it's offering everyone who wants to try the chance to make their own Matrix: a thing called 'Machinima'.
Machinima's a new form of film-making that uses computer games technology to shoot films in the virtual reality of a game engine.
Rather than picking up expensive camera equipment, or spending months painstakingly tweaking even more expensive 3D packages, Machinima creators act out their movies within a computer game.
We treat the viewpoint the game gives them as a camera - "Shooting Film in a Virtual Reality", as we've been known to put it in their more slogan-high moments - and record and edit that viewpoint into any film we can imagine."
(Source: Machinima.com, 2001)
Source: Legend Of A Cowgirl
Dramatic scenes of car chases, dizzyingly edited murder sequences, existential film noirs and breathtaking tours of the solar system were once the preserve of powerful film studios with millions of dollars to throw at the screen. Even an independent feature shot on a "shoestring budget" is enough to make or break a filmmaker's bank balance or reputation forever in the traditional movie making arena.
But emerging from the DIY, participatory culture of Web 2.0 is a new wave of cinematic creativity that takes in all of these possibilities and more, without anyone ever setting foot on a film set, or rolling a single can of film. Just as cheap handheld cameras and budget film stocks allowed the New Wave to take Europe by storm in the sixties, so now the ease with which 3D movies can be smashed together is bringing about a renaissance in homegrown DIY cinema.
Machinima (MA-SHIN-NI-MA) are movies shot entirely in the elaborate virtual worlds supplied by 3D games and virtual communities, from Second Life to The Sims 2, edited together using free applications like Windows Movie Maker and iMovie, and published directly to the net using the growing network of video sharing sites dominating the new wave of internet media.
In this introduction to a rapidly growing, diversely populated landscape of user generated cinema I have gathered a range of showcase machinima that show off the state of the art in homebrew 3D film-making as it stands today.
What Are Machinima?
Machinima.com, one of the definitive sites gathering this new wave of 3D movies together, describes Machinima as:
''... a new form of filmmaking that uses computer games technology to shoot films in the virtual reality of a game engine. Rather than picking up expensive camera equipment, or spending months painstakingly tweaking even more expensive 3D packages, Machinima creators act out their movies within a computer game. We treat the viewpoint the game gives them as a camera - "Shooting Film in a Virtual Reality", as we've been known to put it in their more slogan-high moments - and record and edit that viewpoint into any film we can imagine.'''
Source: Men's Room Etiquette
These are not films forged over months or years using the powerful render farms of supercharged computers running complex 3D authoring software found at Pixar or ILM. They are films shot using cheap and free game software that nevertheless allows for impressive and versatile results.
As Machinima.com makes clear to the potential Machinima filmmakers visiting their site:
''You don't need any special equipment to make Machinima movies. In fact, if you've got a computer capable of playing Half-Life 2, Unreal Tournament 2004 or even Quake, you've already got virtually everything you need to set up your own movie studio inside your PC. You can produce films on your own, or you can hook up with a bunch of friends to act our your scripts live over a network. And once you're done, you can upload the films to this site and a potential audience of millions.''
Source: Slightly Later Man
Hooking up with friends over the gaming networks is exactly what the filmmakers behind the Snoken Productions parody of the now infamous Sony Bravia "Balls" advert did, on a massive scale. In attempting to recreate the thousands of bouncing balls of the Sony ad, the filmmakers gathered huge numbers of players online to "bunny hop" in unison, rather than trying to kill each other, as would usually be the case in the Battlefield 2 game used in the production.
In this brief mashup of the original ad and its machinima counterpart, I have cut the two together to show the time and planning that must have gone into this network created production in almost every frame.
The Diversity Of The Genre
Machinima are not, then, endless recapitulations of men running around in combat pants trying to do each other damage with a hard rock soundtrack crudely overdubbed. If ever this was the case, the genre has now exploded into a huge range of filmmaking styles, tones and subject matters.
Taken from the vast range of films available on Machinima.com, the next video is a showcase of the true diversity of filmmaking taking place in the world of Machinima today. In the interests of showcasing the true range of machinima out there, some of the content is advised for mature audiences.
Opening with Ethan Vogt's award winning, gangster-tinged Game On, and seguing into Ninhead's frenetic Western Legend Of A Cowgirl, the showcase changes tack entirely to serve up the Lynchian gothic noir of Kate Lee, Lizard & Sherwin Liu's The Light in the Dust, Zarathustra Studios' pseudo-training film comedy Male Restroom Etiquette, Meowan's ode to Hitchcock's most famous shower sequence in the beautifully edited Unfaithful, Activision and Machinima.com's own B-Movie Sci-Fi pastiche Slightly Later Man and finally Aimee Weber's ambitious documentary Tour Of The Solar System.
This diverse range of film styles and subject matter also extends into the world of the machinima music video. Overcoming the challenges of producing video for independent music, on a none existent budget, the results achieved by machinima filmmakers can often be breathtaking. In the following video originally posted to the popular GameTrailers.com, filmmaker 'Kronik' creates an elaborate, Wu-Tang Clan style video to the parodic Star Wars Gangster Rap using the Final Fantasy game engine (contains offensive language).
The Future Of Machinima
As Machinima diversify and gain notoriety, they are gaining attention from world of business and mainstream media. Whether in the form of corporate training videos produced in Second Life or in high budgeted paens to the genre from international advertising agencies Machinima are slowly entering the public consciousness.
The final video in this brief tour of the machinima landscape looks just like a machinima, acts just like a machinima, and even uses the enormously popular Grand Theft Auto engine game in doing so. But it's actually an advert for a well known soft drink's brand. Machinima just made the jump.
Read And Watch More Elsewhere
If all of this has given you the machinima bug, check out the following sites:
- Machinima.com - arguably the definitive source of all things machinima
- GameTrailers.com - With its vast range of machinima movies, this site is definitely a contender
- Selectparks.net - a site devoted to the artistic/experimental side of machinima
- Machinimag - the world's first magazine devoted to Machinima
- Archive.org's Machinima section - a great collection of machinima of all varieties
- Wikipedia on machinima - an extensive overview and fantastic list of resources for all things machinima
- Plug In Cinema's 5 minute How To Guide - All you need to get started as a bedroom producer
Michael Pick -
Movie-Making inside Second-Life
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