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.

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.