Machinima – A New Medium

Machinima

Photo by HVX Silverstar

MachinimaReal-time 3D graphics rendering engines to generate computer animation.

Machinima, a portmanteau of machine cinema or machine animation, is both a collection of associated production techniques and a film genre defined by the following techniques:

  • shooting film — Cameras record the action going on
  • in realtime 3d — the time needed for the computer to transform the abstract data into a 3-dimensional visible representation is so little that you do not notice it. The whole calculation takes less than 1/10th of a second. Thus “realtime”
  • virtual environment — the actors aren’t human, but virtual Avatars or Objects, controlled by user input or scripting and act in a virtual world that is simulated using a computer game.

Ways to make Machinima

As you probably learned before, Machinima is filmmaking in a virtual environment. To clear things up, let’s talk a bit more in detail about how machinima movies can actually be produced and what ways there are to do machinima.

Generally speaking, there a two main ways to produce a machinima movie:

1. Live Action Machinima

The action takes place in a networked computer game, mainly using a FPS game. Every player controls a virtual character via mouse and keyboard commands. Each actor uses a headset with a microphone to perform dialogue, if there is any. Though, sometimes the dialogue is added later in ‘post-production’.

One of the players is serving as the cameraman/woman. His/her point of view is recorded to tape (or disc) and represents the “film-footage”. Most of the time, the settings and characters are taken from the game that’s being used for filming.

Red vs Blue

This way of making machinima is easy to learn and feels close to “real-life” filmmaking. It has room for spontaneity and improvisation and adds that human touch to the behavior of your actors. Probably the best known example of “Live Action” machinima is the series Red vs. Blue. Using XBOX console, the game Halo and no further technical tricks, the series quickly managed to become the best known machinima piece to date.

2. Scripted Machinima

Each actor is controlled through a pre-defined script, telling him what to do and when.

The script can be set up either via the game mechanics or by using the game’s Modding Tools. Cameras can be assigned to pre-defined paths and actions can be triggered through scripts as well. Sounds and music can often be imported into the game.

Using scripts, some movies run entirely in the game environment that they are created in without the need to record “footage”.

Also, scripted movies often allow for a higher level of customization, as most tools let you import your own characters, animations, and/or textures.

Scripted machinimas have that big advantage that you need only one person to make one. However, the technical problems inevitably linked to the use of Modding Tools are a big price to pay for your artistic freedom.

Machinima’s future

If you think machinima is cool, just think about how cool it gets with all the fancy new technology that is being developed right now! Machinima’s future is closely linked to developments in the gaming world. Looking at the tech demos of today means looking at the machinima movies of tomorrow. However machinima’s future is not limited to what we see at gaming conventions or next generation game trailers. There’s a lot of scientific development ranging from artificial intelligence to automated storytelling that will ultimately lead to even easier ways to make movies.

Here are some points and hints that you might want to think about:

  • more complex physical simulation, including more realistic lighting with more advanced rendering hardware
  • intuitive tools through visual high level scripting and better integration of filmmaking options into games
  • more content in games with more flexible ways to use — more animations, more characters, more detail
    new forms of linear and non-linear stories emerging from mixing both worlds together — think talk-shows, documentaries, etc.

To get started, why not grab a copy of Machinima for Dummies!

Guest post by Ritesh Reddy. He writes on technology and design related topics when he isn’t creating illusions of mouth-watering allure and staggering beauty, building tools of stupefying power and breathtaking efficiency or simply wrestling the bleeding edge of technology into submission.