Dr. Of Machinima

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

Add one more to Bioware

July15
Yes, earlier today, I received a phone call confirming that.

I’ve had a lucky time with my Machinima recently. About 7 months ago I was sure that if I couldn’t make a reasonable living from Machinima this year I would stop pursuing the possibility.
Not that the situation was looking that grim. Thanks to BEAST I actually managed to become a freelance Machinima artist, and have managed to stay fed on that so far.

However around 2 months ago, paid work took a back seat while I focused on making a cinematic showreel, and then learning the Unreal Tournament 3 engine. The reason for this is, in case you haven’t worked it out by now, I had applied for a job at Bioware. One evening at a Machiniplex premiere in Second Life, Michelle had asked me how I’d feel about a job as a cinematic designer. I thought that even taking the time out to try such a thing could be costly if it didn’t pay off. I don’t think myself much of a risk taker, but I had already gambled 2.5 years of my life for the chance that I’d get a job in Machinima somehow, and I had achieved that at least to some degree. All I needed to do here was stop taking contracts long enough to give this the best whack I possibly could.

At the Beginning of July Lady Mainframe and I got on a plane to Edmonton, Canada. I felt like I had been asked to join the Justice League, or The Avengers, and the Bioware Edmonton office made for a pretty damn cool super hero headquarters. I got to meet a few Machinima community well-knowns like Ken Thain, Paul Marino, who I had met once before, MuNansen, and of course Michelle who I kept in touch with most of the time. If I thought I wanted the job before, by the end of my time at the office I was pretty sure I’d be willing to work there for free!

Anyway the Lady and I had a great time, and we got back to the UK early last week.
And that’s why I’ve been so quiet. I haven’t had much time to work on Digital Memory (although I have made some progress on it, which I might blog about later) and as much as this has all been on the tip of my tongue, I made sure to only tell close friends. But it was all a success, and while being a freelancer has had it’s moments I’m definitely glad to be joining a team and kicking some ass on the outer reaches of Machinima.

Will I still have time for personal Machinima? Honestly it’s impossible to say. I haven’t released any personal Machinima since I started freelancing, I doubt it’s about to get easier. Whatever happens I do at least hope to remain an active member of the community. Not that I’m that active anyway, but to continue to observe and blog much as I do now. A small part of me does worry that Digital Memory and especially Bouncers, will never be completed now, but we’ll see.

Right now I’m still jazzed about the fact that I’ll be working on Mass Effect 2.

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Machinima vs Anymation: What’s in a name?

June9

“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.

A great result at the OMFF and elsewhere

May16

Probably the last person to announce their result, I was very pleased to find out when I returned home on the weekend, that BEAST had won best drama in the Online Machinima Film Festival held in Second Life. It was only in the running for that one award, so I feel very lucky indeed. This is also the first festival (albeit virtual) that a Binary Picture Show film has recieved an award in and that has been a big boost to us. Thanks to everyone who contributed to our win.

In addition to that, BEAST has also been nominated for the Machinima award in this years Bitfilm festival! The real honour here is that there has been a GREAT selection of films for that category, so while it makes it much tougher for us to win it’s really great for BEAST just to be standing along side the others. Any BPS fans please give us that helping hand and rate the film if you can, it’s an audience decided award.

Thirdly as some of you might have read elsewhere, 3D Wolrd Magazine issue 104 had a six (or so) page feature on Machinima, and BEAST was a big part. It’s most definately our best appearance in a magazine to date we’re really proud of it!

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Oh I miss the simple times!

April15

I miss the simple times when everything was easier.

When Machinima first started, things were simpler because the games were simpler. Modding was easier and the audience generally understood that a lot of imagination was required from them for the film to make any kind of sense. If a gun looked more like a baguette, or if a tree looked more like a brown trident with green safety tips, it didn’t matter. You got a pass. Granted, the technical side of Machinima was shaky ground and for almost all of us there was a big learning curve in that respect, but creatively we got away with murder.

Custom animations were so rare even after a while, that bobbing characters’ bodies backwards and forwards was an acceptable substitute for emoting. If the camera was on a character while you heard a voice, your imagination did the lip sync.

The reason I’m taking you back in time is because of my own feelings of distance from the naive 18 year old boy I was when Machinima began changing me. Back then the sky truly was the limit. There was no such thing as “start small” dammit, if I could imagine the film I could create it – such is Machinima’s power – all hail the new king!! To me there was no difference between what we were doing and what the guys at Pixar were doing (yeah, I know). What they did was CGI, and as far as I was concerned we had the same. I didn’t take into account any of the many things we ignored as game players. Foot sliding, frame skipping, bad quality sound, cuboid heads, awkward poses (really, removing the gun from the character’s hand and leaving him in that weird pose made him look even weirder) were all absorbed by our blind spot, and since only players of the games would watch the stuff, the majority of us were ignorant to this whole galaxy of omissions and short cuts.

Computer games went from 1 man projects to multi million dollar ventures, and since it’s birth Machinima too has moved on in great leaps. Not only technically, but creatively. In order for the larger world to accept out creations we had to construct our films using a more universal (often cinematic) language, not just the visual colloquialisms of Quake, Half-life, or Unreal tournament (or any of the many other games engines for that matter).

As a result we now have a much better ability to tell those stories. BEAST, for example, could simply not have been told in Quake 1 or 2 with the original conventions of Machinima (so much so that it just wouldnt be the same film). What really frightens me now is the idea that this increased ability to visually present ideas might be vastly greater than my ability to actually TELL a richer and more complex story. When I wrote short shorts, it was so simple. I would have an aim, come up with a scenario, and present the ideas and thoughts that proceeded, all in one scene. That’s the hook. Simple ideas, one (or at least only few) scenes. There were no grand arcs to consider, no deliberations over scene order, much less worry about pace and lasting cohesion, the list goes on.

Last night I finished writing the story for Digital Memory, the Science Fiction film we will hopefully begin producing soon. I looked at the page and thought “Man, this is gonna be one hard film to make”. I suddenly felt much like I did all those years ago, just after realising for the first time that simply having an idea and lots of enthusiasm just isn’t enough. It was when an old friend and I wanted to make our first Machinima film, which unsurprisingly turned into a feature length story. Young dumb and full of cum, we somehow thought we could magically get through production of all the scenes and still have time in our young lives to get girlfriends. “All hail the new king” right? WRONG!!!

Along with imaginative ideas we need tenacity, self confidence, a work ethic, time (lots of it), money (a better computer can let you have the number of characters you need!), and a nice little bag of skills. I hate how the lovely song this siren sings often makes me forget some of the hard learned lessons from my (simpler) early days. Or is it that I CAN’T forget the short comings I had back then, and they live on strong and vibrant in the form of my current insecurities?

Back in the simpler times these kind of thoughts couldn’t slow me down because they didn’t exist. And I can’t even be angry about it. The ambition to make the next film better than the last is how we improve.

By comparison, formulating new plans for the technical execution of this film has been much easier than creating the story. I could choose to make a different, simpler film, or I can choose to stay with the harder story that constantly swims in my mind and refuses to be left untold. Let’s hope it all works out.

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Frankenstein Machinima (part 2)

March19

Last time we saw that a great way of populating films is to look at multiple sources. Sometimes a game has an adequate online community like in the case of The Sims 2, but of course there can be so much more. A long time ago now a site called Polycount, part of the Gamespy Network hosted custom models made for various FPS games (doesn’t quite offer that same diversity today).

Programs like Milkshape 3D make it possible to bring models from different games together in one environment. I believe the reason most Machinima artists never do such things is because of the sometimes very stringent rules that the models must adhere to. There can be bad limits on the number of polygons (especially in older games), there maybe be a specific skeletal structure and naming system, complicated texturing systems, tags for separate parts of the models and then you’d almost always need to animate the model again from scratch… in short, it can be a nightmare.

But what I’ve always found to be worse is when I need a model, and I know I wont get it cause I just can’t model. I’m no good at it, and it’s really no time for me to start learning. As any kind of artist there should always be a limit to how many hats you wear anyway. When people new to Machinima often ask “What game is best for Machinima?”, the answer is usually “depends on what kind of film you want to make”, which is a good answer as theres not much sense in making a film about interstellar travel full of futuristic technology in a game like World Of Warcraft. However the plain fact of the matter is that some games have more Machinima friendly features than others.

So imagine being able to mix as many of the communities together as you wanted. Not via limited techniques like chroma key, but actually combining 3D assets. Using Sims 2 furniture to lavishly decorate a house in Half Life 2, or some futuristic weapons from Quake 3 going into the hands of a Sim. On the large scale it would offer an almost limitless supply of resources, provided they could be exported in 3D form. For characters, the possibilities are more limited, but for props, weapons, furniture, textures it can often be done with much less effort. As I said in part one this can become even more valuable when you move outside of the game engine as you may still be able to use resources for other games (and as nicely pointed out by Gtoon in a comment, there are already pipelines geared towards a similar way of thinking, like Reallusions 3DXchange tool). Provided you obtain permission from authors and have no intention to sell your film, it really does open up the possibilities.

As a very limited example of this, I have a short film made using models from the Freedom Force community. Freedom Force would be a great game for Superhero Machinima but finer control of the models can be difficult. So (with permission of the models authors) I have a bunch of Freedom Force custom-made models in Motionbuilder, and have recreated a page from a Marvel Civil War comic. Maybe I could have placed them all in a Sims 2 house. Now THAT would have been interesting. It was just a little piece for fun so in great Leo Lucien-Bay style, the sound is F’d up but the film is watchable.

I hope that we can really benefit from a larger amount of remixing for future projects. We have done it to small extents, but never really taken it very far. Imagine the possibilities. Of course there is a question of opposing styles, but considering the large amount of content available It can definitely be made to work. Digital Memory (a sci-fi film we hope to begin work on soon) will most definitely be made from the arms and legs of different bodies. Lets hope it works.

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In tribute to a fellow artist

March12

Today I hoped to continue from my previous blog post but received the very sad news that Peter Rasmussen, most well known to us in the community for the films Stolen Life and The Killer Robot, has died. I was very shocked to hear this and truth be told I’m still hoping someone says theres been some miscommunication, but I fear that is not the case.
I had only spoken to Peter a few times, and while many of us never new him personally, I have no doubt that many others share the same respect I had for him, and will miss him and the further contributions he was to make to our art.

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