Dr. Of Machinima

A blog By Dr. Nemesis following the progress of Binary Picture Show's work, as well as other Machinima.

Machinima vs Anymation: What’s in a name?


“My opinion in reading them was that not a single one of the people writing these articles really had any understanding of second life or the whole concept of that type of community…. That being said, some of the viewers aren’t going to get it too, so it’s not necessarily a bad barometer for measuring that, because not everyone out there that would watch TV is gonna know Second Life.”

That’s a quote from Phil Rice, in issue #30 of The Overcast. Phil is talking about Molotov Alva’s series: Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator: A Second Life Odyssey, which was recently given some less than favorable reviews by a few industry regulars in the US.

A few weeks ago the debate between Anymation and Machinima was quite interesting, and now that it’s calmed down somewhat I feel I can look at it from a slightly different perspective than we’ve already seen.
I bring this up now because I think the above quote perfectly exemplifies why we are seeing this new separation in Machinima. The art/technique has grown to the point where in reality, it’s often not even Machinima any more and we look for new ways (Anymation) to help us understand how this huge art is changing in front of us. That might not make much sense to you right now, but keep reading. As usual I call on the old times to help explain the “why”s.

In the simple beginnings, we had what I often like to call “pure Machinima”, Filmed in a real-time environment, edited in a real-time environment, and then later rendered and watched in that same real-time environment (game). there were never really any issues of classification. Now it’s the 21st century and we have such a great abundance of different production techniques. Many games weren’t conducive to pure Machinima, yet they offered a great wealth of artistic assets that made those environments attractive for filming non the less. A great example of this is the Sims 2. Techniques here involve filming in a real-time environment but not editing or watching it so.

This is because it and many other games rely very heavily on the video editor for their Machinima creation, and I believe it’s here that the deviation from pure Machinima really took off. So as far as the whole real-time aspect went, it was much less so than say, Quake 1 and 2 or Unreal but it was so beneficial to Machinima that this really wasn’t seen as a problem. Generally if it was at least filmed in a real-time environment, so that the images we looked at in the rendered video were essentially from a game, it’s considered Machinima.

The problem that started to appear, even if this may not have been registering in many conscious minds is that the more work you do in video editing, the further you move away from the benefits you were originally given by real-time. Add chroma keying, compositing and various video effects as is common in Machinima, and you soon see that in reality you’ve left the land of real-time way behind. So if you see 3D and Real-time as the two cornerstones in the definition of Machinima, your video editing environment has neither (or at the very least you aren’t using what little 3d capability your editor might have). Now if there was such a thing as a Machinima purist, these would all be bad things for such a person. But the truth is simple.

People don’t care. They just want to do what ever is required to get the job done, and it’s partly this spirit that has given the rise to adoption of the term Anymation. A term which some have embraced, and others don’t really seem to like so much.

But if this is true – people don’t care – why make a distinction at all? If people really don’t care why don’t we just make the Machinima umbrella that little bit bigger so that we don’t need any new terms. For that matter, why do we even bother with the term Anymation? Isn’t it in some ways re-inventing the wheel? As has been mentioned before, isn’t Anymation just plain good old regular ANIMATION?

This is where the criticisms of Molotov Alva’s latest work really become relevant. The key is context. Phil Rice believed that many of the critics really didn’t understand were the show was coming from. This confusion can regularly be seen in people who don’t know what Machinima is. If you put a work of Machinima next to some conventional pre-rendered CGI, average people will generally prefer the CGI. And thats not so surprising. It usually looks better, usually has higher production values and indeed, the very site or mention of Machinima often confuses people who are new to it. “But it looks like a game” “Wait… is it a game?” “Oh so you didn’t make the stuff we’re looking at, it was made by a game company?” In truth, the limitations that Machinima imposes upon us means that it’s often unfair to compare a piece of Machinima to CGI. So you see, actually knowing that a piece is Machinima (of course you must then know what the word means) immediately places it in context. People then understand some of the circumstances under which the film has come to exist. Otherwise there would for example, be little more than the differing budgets to stop someone from smashing something like Bloodspell to bits when compared to say… Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf.

Does this mean that the term is in some ways used as a crutch? People may not like that, but I think maybe it does. Granted, most games, at times even crazy looking stuff like Unreal Tournament 3 aren’t quite ready to be compared to CGI. If a CGI film was entered to a Machinima film festival and won, wouldn’t the Machinima artists who entered feel robbed?
Anymation by definition can include any process, but the fact that is was created by a Machinima artist (Tom Jantol) and that it’s often used to describe pieces we would most likely have otherwise called “Machinima” shows a need to keep these creations in context still, so that they can be understood and judged aptly by the viewers. While some Anymation films may indeed be able to stand up against general animation, I believe on the whole we’re not quite ready to have our films judged like this ALL the time.

Now Machinima more and more often goes too far outside it’s traditional definition, but we aren’t quite ready to leave that term behind and simply call it “Animation”. For that may very well incur the full weighted, unfettered, no holds barred criticism of our audience.

6 Comments to

“Machinima vs Anymation: What’s in a name?”

  1. On June 18th, 2008 at 9:25 am johnnie Says:

    What a great post. I don’t completely agree with everything you’ve said here, but it’s definitely time that we all started to face up to some of the harsher realities that we’ve perhaps ignored until now.

    I think you’re quite right to suggest that one of the factors involved here is an unwillingness to allow one’s work to be compared to any other animation or digital video on an equal and unbiased level. I believe that is the case for some people in our community.

    I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with this – perhaps somewhat defensive – position. Everybody’s reasons for creating machinima/anymation are different, and equally valid. If someone isn’t comfortable with their work being criticised (positively or negatively) outside the machinima community, I see no reason why we should force it upon them.

    There are other prominent members of the machinima community, though, who are only too keen to have their work seen by as many people as possible, with or without context.

    Some people – and I’m one of them – believe that the cream of current machinima (or anymation) is good enough to stand on its own as superb entertainment.

    There’s a feeling from a lot of people that the word “machinima” no longer embraces or defines what they’re doing. Personally, I identify almost 100% with the manifesto and ethos of Anymation. I don’t particularly like the word itself though (purely on a subjective personal level), and I’ve always thought of the core Anymation tenets as falling under the increasingly-wide umbrella of Machinima. Not everybody agrees with me on that point, of course, which is fair enough.

    The recent debates over the “anymation” have involved people with all of the above motivations and more, which is one of the reasons that it’s caused such strong feelings and heated debate amongst the community.

  2. On June 18th, 2008 at 10:37 am Hugh Says:

    It’s interesting that you mention BloodSpell here.

    I explicitly intended for BloodSpell to be compared, without much context, with works like Beowulf and Stardust. It did rather well out of it – for example, Dreamwatch reviewed us with a score of 7/10, the same as Stardust and one below Beowulf.

    Again, with When We Two Parted, most viewers didn’t know anything about Machinima, and still enjoyed it.

    I get rather frustrated with the inferiority complex about other media that frequently crops up in Machinima circles. Sure, Machinima can’t achieve some of the graphical highs of CGI. But viewers don’t just watch films, TV, animation for their visuals. “From Hell” had prettier cinematography than Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I’d still rather watch Buffy. Blair Witch wasn’t as well-shot as the English Patient, but more people watched it.

    And there are ways to achieve some fantastic visual styles and effects with Machinima. Look at Phil Rice’s Radiohead entry, or anything Friedrich Kirschner has created, or Still Seeing Breen. You can show all of those videos to people who’ve never heard of Machinima and they’ll still appreciate them.

    It’s perfectly possible to compete on the world stage with a Machinima production. If I didn’t believe that, I’d have given up on the medium long ago. If Molotov Alva didn’t succeed, that’s a failure in its writing, direction, acting, whatever, not a sign of the Apocalypse for us.

    If we really want to ghettoise ourselves, resort to special pleading, say “well, yes, but if you consider how it was created…”, then we can. But we don’t have to.

    Ahem. Rant over.

  3. On June 18th, 2008 at 3:10 pm Overman Says:

    One of the reasons “Anymation” isn’t just “animation” is because the segment of the craft connoted by the word “animation” is just as full of dogmatic inflexible purists as some machinima circles can be. Read Cartoon Brew or any of the general “animation” blogs and their comments, and tell me if you sense an openness to all available tools. Poppycock! They look down their noses at anything not hand drawn. Just as a great many CGI artists look down their noses at real-time as some kiddie attempt to be like them without as much work. And in live action film circles, it’s not unusual to hear animation poo-poo’d regardless of how it’s made.

    Anymation (I grow wary of repeating this) is an ATTITUDE. One many stuck-in-the-mud animators don’t have. It’s most definitely NOT someone’s attempt to make excuses for how their films look.

    I am proud of how my work looks, without reservation, and as a thing in itself. There’s nothing (other than budget) stopping me from doing live action film at the level of quality I’d want to do, and there’s absolutely nothing in the age of Blender to keep me from learning to do CGI. I just don’t want to. I like the kind of animation I’m doing now. I enjoy the process, I like the aesthetic.

    And those closed-minded dogmatists in the various animation sub-families… are not my audience. And frankly, I’ve got an expletive-laced message for their uppity attitude, which I’ll spare your readers.

  4. On June 21st, 2008 at 1:56 pm Zachariah Says:

    I’ve been pondering the whole anymation term for a few weeks now, Kind of puzzled by it, to me everything’s just Filmaking . . . but this article, It’s warmed me up to the term anymation, for one simple reason.

    If you tell someone you do Anymation in real life, they’ll give you much more cred and your explanation of the term will be much more respectable than if you say ” yeah, machinima, it’s video game movies”

    Anymation all the way

  5. On June 23rd, 2008 at 10:09 am johnnie Says:

    Overman wrote:

    It’s most definitely NOT someone’s attempt to make excuses for how their films look.

    I’m sure that’s true for you, Phil. I would have no qualms about showing any of your work to any type of audience (indeed, I regularly do!) In fact, when I said in my previous comment that

    … the cream of current machinima (or anymation) is good enough to stand on its own as superb entertainment.

    you were one of the people I was specifically thinking of.

    I don’t think that you can claim that this is the case for everybody, though. I stick by my point (and Leo’s original implication) that for some people, the anymation manifesto is being used as at least a partial justification for not seeking (or paying attention to) criticism from the wider world.

    That doesn’t invalidate anymation as an attitude or an ethos, though. As I’ve said several times before, I’m fully in support of it, and I think that some of the often bizarre criticisms that have been levied at anymation recently are entirely unwarranted.

  6. On June 23rd, 2008 at 3:01 pm Dr. Nemesis Says:

    Let me remind people that I’m also a supporter of Anymation.

    The post had two aims:

    1. To spur further thought and questioning on the term Anymation, and

    2. Attempt to make sure that a ‘culture of excuses’ if you will (although Hugh doesn’t believe this exists ;-), doesn’t carry over from Machinima to Anymation, and I brought this up because I DO fear that we (the Machinima universe at large) are sometimes afraid of using the word “Animation”.

    I’m not trying to suggest that the term “Anymation” is in it’s entirety a direct result of that fear.

    Like I said in that post, the key to judging or maybe even defining our films is context. Some people use it as a reason, some as an excuse. whether there is a difference is up each film’s creator(s).