Dr. of Machinima

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

Aug 16, 2008 at 8/16/2008 07:25:00 PM | 3 Comments
Well, sods fucking law came into action today and my computer died without any warning only a few days before it's supposed to get packed up to go to Canada. It powers up, but the monitor doesn't turn on, and it doesn't actually boot into Windows. How do I know that? A recurring sound, like the computer is looking for something it can't find. If it was the hard drive I would see a screen that says the primary boot device can't be found and the computer would try and find the alternatives, like the CD drive (thank the lord, cause the hard drive is more valuable to me than all the other hardware three times over). If it was the gfx card it'd boot into windows and eventually stop making noise. I wouldn't be able to see that, but It'd at least stop making the noise! I'm guessing either the CPU is f00ked or something on the motherboard popped it's clogs.
There probably isn't enough time to fix it before it gets picked up and even if there was there'd be no time left to use it so it looks like I'm gonna be hauling a dead computer halfway across the world!
This unfortunately means there'll be no preview pics of Digital Memory before I leave (and once I'm in Canada I think it's gonna take me a while to settle enough to continue) so I'm really pissed off! I'm so angry right now I can't even find the fucking words!!!

Anyway, with luck, it's definitely not the hard drive, and once I get the comp fixed I'll be able to resume work on it. For now I'm lucky Lady Mainframe has a laptop.

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posted by Dr. Nemesis
Aug 8, 2008 at 8/08/2008 07:05:00 PM | 3 Comments
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.

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posted by Dr. Nemesis
Aug 3, 2008 at 8/03/2008 09:18:00 AM | 5 Comments
Well, it's been a busy time since I found out I got a new job, and although it's going to get a lot busier in the coming weeks as I have to start packing, I might actually have an opportunity to do a fat chunk of work on Digital Memory before I go!

Even if I'm really busy once I start the job I'll hopefully still be able to do it on weekends, and Kane has said he's still willing to do 3d work even though he's gotten pretty involved in a few coding projects.

Right now I'm preparing the main character, Avatar One, (I'll hopefully release some pictures before I go) and I'm stilling pinning down the final technique I'll use for the other characters. One problem I ran into was the fact that even though I can reduce Daz models to a nice smaller polycount, I don't like their faces when the head gets below 4000 polys, and considering what I'm trying to go for, thats a bit too much for a head. This means I'll most likely have to use heads from elsewhere but this becomes a bit of a problem if the character isnt wearing a buttoned up shirt, cause you can then see where their neck was cut. But I'm working on it.

Also I have had a VERY quick tinker with Iclone 3, and am VERY pleased. As with Beast, Digital Memory needs to be made in 2 different environments. Motionbuilder was the first, but for the other I was looking at Iclone, Sims 2, Antics, Or Second Life.
Because of the abundance of assets I really wanted The Sims 2, but having used that briefly before, it's not my favorite Machinima environment. Second Life would have been good for all the readily available outdoor locations, but I'm not very good at working with Second Life and my computer really isn't tough enough to record smoothly in there anyway.

So it's between Antics 4 and Iclone 3. Both tools have made some great improvements lately. Antics has a new lighting system now so it looks way less pre-vissy and more Machinima-ee and I'll be installing that on my computer later this week. Iclone 3 has a mad torrent of new updates, and since it has a bigger range of 3D assets, it really looks like I'll be using that. BOTH tools have Google Sketchup import abilities and that's essential in this project. More details as I get more comfy with both tools.
Right now I'm really impressed with the new things that Iclone 3 has added. Of big use to me will be the improved camera system and more integrated animation system (now with IK, WOOT!)

Before I leave I have to get some voice recording for Digital Memory done. Will be much harder to find Brits over in Canada and I definitely want some home flavor in the film. Unfortunately that means I'll have to finalize some areas of the script slightly earlier than I'm ready, but it's worth it. Just need to multitask.
Cross your fingers for those screenies of Avatar One. He's being reduced (and re-done in places), and then his rigging might be a slightly complex process cause of his wires and hydraulics (yes, he's a robot!). Lets hope I can get it right :-s

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posted by Dr. Nemesis
Jul 14, 2008 at 7/14/2008 07:40:00 PM | 15 Comments
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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posted by Dr. Nemesis
Jun 9, 2008 at 6/09/2008 08:38:00 AM | 6 Comments
"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.

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posted by Dr. Nemesis
May 16, 2008 at 5/16/2008 06:08:00 AM | 0 Comments
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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posted by Dr. Nemesis
Apr 14, 2008 at 4/14/2008 06:55:00 PM | 7 Comments
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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posted by Dr. Nemesis