Dr. Of Machinima

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

Cinema Inspiration in Machinima Technique


There are rare moments when I’m at the cinema and I’m so inspired by what I see, I try to think of ways I can incorporate such ideas in my Machinima.

In Blade 2 we saw the introduction of the L Cam. CGI shots of digital stunt men were seamlessly merged with live action shots, providing more fluid action scenes.

It’s a live action shot and Blade gets punched, sending him hurtling into the air. The action slows down and he comes so close to the camera (he’s now the CGI Blade) that we can see the sunshades on his head wobble a little. He smacks into the wall, and the live action Blade lands on the ground.

Traditionally this is done by cutting the CGI and live action shots together but the L Cam technique allowed it to be done in just one shot! Apparently the L stands for “liberated” and as far as Machinima goes we’ve almost ALWAYS had a liberated camera. The problem for me is that my mind wasn’t quite this liberated, and for good reason. When I first tried my hand at Machinima I really went to town with the disembodied camera idea. Almost every shot in my first film was a dolly, the camera was weaving through people’s legs, pipes, hovering in the sky, I was out of control! I had to learn to reign that camera in and in that, perhaps some of the freedoms afforded by a virtual camera were forgotten. Until I saw Blade 2. Bouncers, had I finished it, would have had some some great action sequences thanks in part to this film (I might still finish it!!).

Despite what people may think from my early films I’ve always been a bit of a facial animation enthusiast. Back in the Quake 2 days the technical process for facial animation made it so difficult to get a good performance that by the time I came up with the idea used to animate the faces in Beast (an idea which was and is still unique, to my knowledge) I was just happy I could have lips moving at all. The facial animation in Beast made the characters in Bouncers look like stroke victims, however it still wasn’t as good as it could have been.
My first gripe is that the characters in Beast don’t blink in the whole film. This wasn’t impossible in Crazy talk 4.5, it was just difficult to implement while keeping other facial expressions going.
My second gripe is that their eyeballs didn’t move much. Other than on one occasion they always faced forward. This is where the cinema inspiration slips in again.

When The Polar Express hit the box office one seemingly persistent criticism of the CGI was that the characters’ eyes seemed dead, giving them a very eerie feel. In Beowulf they combated this by using Electrooculography to actually capture the movement of the eyes exactly as the actors moved them, and the result was a much improved virtual performance.
Now, I have no access to this technique, but it made me think of what kind of things I could do to improve on Beast’s method, and luckily Crazy Talk 5 accommodated. One thing that makes eyes seem more alive is jitter. The eyeballs never rest perfectly still, a fact that makes control of a computer via eye movement a challenge for interface designers. Again, 4.5 could have done this, but not without difficulty. Due to the live puppeteering in CT5 I’ll be able to make the characters blink, roll their eyes around, AND attempt to simulate a small level of retinal jitter – all in one pass.

With my animation muscles nicely flexed the next thing that’s really given me a brain itch is sound. As old fans of Binary Picture Show will know, I struggled with sound quality for quite a while. Now that I understand it a bit better things have improved and I can now move on to spending every other waking moment thinking about the actual sound effects. This is even more important in Digital Memory because of the main character, who my faithful blog readers might remember, is a robot. “Should a robot really make some kind of noise every time it moves, or would that just be annoying?”, I often ask myself.
Well, Pixar’s latest gem, WALL-E tells me yes, yes they do make noise with every movement. However I get the troubling feeling that if this isn’t done very well it would indeed descend into an assault on the ears, annoying the same way someone persistently zipping and unzipping their trousers in your face would be annoying.
It’s not just the sound work that was inspiring though. I found this film even more visually appealing than Finding Nemo. As the two main characters don’t exactly have English as their first and commonly spoken language, their actions (or animations) did the bulk of the talking, and it was done so well, especially since they weren’t humanoid in their design.
Just as facial animation helps a character appear more life-like, the sound effects given to Wall-E’s every roll forward, or lifting of an arm, or twitch of his eyebrows, added to his presence.

If I can get anywhere near a similar result in Digital Memory I’ll be a very happy man. It’s not impossible. Phil Rice and Ricky Grove have kindly offered to help (and we all know how good they are), but the amount of sound work seems so staggering I doubt I could let them at it in good conscience. In Beast, most of the sound effects were already in place when it went to Phil. Ricky did some clean-up (there were some clipping problems in the dialogue files, which I now know occurs during the video capture process in Motionbuilder) and Phil added a few sounds and reverb effects, etc, to give it a more engrossing atmosphere. Hopefully I can do something similar for Digital Memory so that it doesn’t become a chore at any point in their helping. It’s a difficult thought since the sound in this is going to be so much more complex than in Beast. As always a cross my fingers for a good outcome.

Totally off topic I saw a film today, Twaddlers, made in Antics. The viewer comments on Youtube reminded me why I don’t like Youtube, and partly why I left Machinima.com. Infantile comments aside, it was fun, but really annoyed me because of it’s similarity to an idea I had in University and was really looking forward to producing some day. Twaddlers could have been made a little better, some polish here and there, but the random humor is very funny, I loved it. Give it a look if you can. from the comments, some people get it and some just don’t.

3 Comments to

“Cinema Inspiration in Machinima Technique”

  1. On August 9th, 2008 at 11:41 pm Ricky Grove Says:

    I love these in-depth writeups you do when you are working on a project. Just the range of ideas and of experience you address is inspiring, Leo.

    I know what you mean about the facial/animation and eye movement. CT5 has a much better set-up to create seemingly random movement. In fact, just with the mouse-jitter you can create an approximation of natural eye movement. I’ve experiemented with it quite a bit. Now, I didn’t see it as a problem in Beast since the characters were so focused and the situation so tense. Staring, focused eyes would make sense, so i don’t think it hurt the film. But had the film been longer or in a different style, I definitely think blinking and other facial tiks would have made a difference.

    Re: Sound Effects. Read David Sonenchein’s “Sound Effects” and you’ll get the whole history of sound aesthetics. Now, if you want to you have your robot make a noise, you can mix it so that the sound is not forward, but back in the mix with everything else and it won’t become overstated. One trick is to remember that audiences tend to recognize/pattern a character within the first minute or two on having seen/heard them. If you make your sound for the robot louder in the first minute, then you can lower the sound for later scenes and the audience will still hear it as being as loud as it was at the beginning.

    Very happy to be working with you on this project. The amount of work is not an issue. It’s the quality of the work that is important to me.

    Man, they are going to be so lucky up there in Edmonton.

  2. On August 12th, 2008 at 3:10 pm Overman Says:

    Ricky’s right on the money. Mixed properly, even robot movement foley can blend very nicely and almost work on a subliminal level.

    Re: Motionbuilder output, if the sound coming out of Motionbuilder is clipping, there are a couple things to keep in mind:
    1) That clipping might be fixed simply by backing off the level on the sound by 1-2 dB to give it some headroom, so if MB is boosting it a bit it won’t push it over the limit.
    2) The other solution, which is much preferable, is to simply let your Motionbuilder sound output serve as your scratch track for synchronization, saving ALL your original individual sound files (bits of dialogue, sound fx, etc.). Then deliver the video render to your sound guy with the rough sound mix (not worrying at all about clipping), and also deliver to him all your original (hopefully pristine quality) sound files, and he’ll rebuild the mix for you from scratch. This will not only make your sound guy very happy to have this level of control, but will yield the best possible end result. For an engineer to really make the most of sound mix, he/she must have the ability to control individual levels (and effects) on each individual track (and sound within that track). If what you deliver to him/her is something already mixed, without those separate individual parts, there is only so much that can be done.

    I look forward to working with you and Ricky to bring this to life!

  3. On August 13th, 2008 at 11:24 am Dr. Nemesis Says:

    Hot. Thanks for the comments guys.
    This is gonna be a very interesting one sound wise.