Dr. of Machinima

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

Apr 14, 2008 at 4/14/2008 06:55:00 PM
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


  • At April 15, 2008 3:27 AM , Blogger Demasoc said...

    I've been there - good luck.

  • At April 15, 2008 5:49 AM , Blogger Matt Kelland said...

    Yeah, I'm noticing the way that we're getting less and less tolerant of "gamey" animations and conventions in machinima. We're expecting machinima to look more and more like "real" animation, both in terms of visual style and in terms of cinematic style and quality. As you say, back then "the audience generally understood that a lot of imagination was required from them", but that doesn't seem to be true any more.

    Games have evolved immensely in the last few years, and as game visuals have improved, we expect machinima visuals should be able to keep up. But of course game visuals only do what the underlying game needs. If your film needs something different, you'll have to build it yourself. Modding now is a whole lot harder and more time-consuming than it used to be, and matching the quality (and style) of the art in top-end games is bloody difficult.

    So yeah, it's a bitch. Machinima can do so much more now, but it takes a hell of a lot more work to do it. Do you continue producing really quick and easy stuff like you used to, and having a load of fun in the process, or do you bust your nuts, aim higher, and risk ending up with bugger all to show for it?

    Whatever you decide, good luck.

  • At April 15, 2008 5:57 AM , Blogger Pineapple Pictures said...

    Thought provoking post.

  • At April 15, 2008 6:29 AM , Blogger Brian said...

    Yeah, I think I had a feeling of overwhelming dread quite similar to this when I first laid eyes on the HL2 test footage from an E3 oh so many years ago. I mean, here we were masters of 256*256 and 300-tri counts, and they come out with 4 layers of hig-res texture for one model (normal, spec, color, glow, etc.) who was packing 3000-tri counts, and we simply didn't have the tools to keep up. Sheesh, where's the fun in that?!

    Then I started to think about it. (In no small part thanks to SummerTech) You know, when Q2 and HL were coming out it was the same thing, only I was just getting into it. I couldn't know my limitations, because I knew nothing about the tech. The tools came along after a while, and I started to learn them. It took years, only I didn't notice because I was having fun just messing around. Then when it came time, we were ready, we had the skills, and somehow, we just did it. Today we just need a bit more skills, a bit more time, but when the hammer falls...

  • At April 15, 2008 9:52 AM , Blogger Ricky Grove said...

    A very thought-provoking post, Leo. There is much to think about here. I think it's always a good idea to look back and try to figure out how you got from there to here. I'm very much of the same mind as you are. The only thing I'd add is that I think with the fragmentation of the machinima community into smaller groups (often clustered around certain game engines like Warcraft and Sturmovik) the "let's give it a pass" way of thinking about machinima is still very much alive. Just watch some of the films there and read the comments and you'll see what I mean.

  • At April 22, 2008 10:45 AM , Blogger micnit said...

    As someone who studies and talks about machinima much more then he actually produces it, I got to say that some of the shortcomings from "back then" still make a lot of sense today. Stolen Life had some moments where the empty station eerily looked like a Quake level, for example. And I like that. These are the moments when I notice what I am looking at and when machinima plays to its origins. Remember the subtitle scene in Annie Hall when Allen plays to an outdated cinematic tradition? No wonder it got the Academy Award.
    The much harder thing to let go seems to be the idea to be like Pixar.

  • At April 22, 2008 10:57 AM , Blogger Ricky Grove said...

    Ain't that the truth, micnit. My thoughts precisely. Although, it all depends upon how best to present your story/ideas. Allen thinks that way, but you and I might not if we were producing a film/machinima. The old form/content notion comes into play as serious filmmakers (like Sam who recently released his "Monad" machinima) try to find the right visual aesthetic. Imagination, creativity sometimes looks to the past. Michael R. Joyce at the recent Premiere of his and Katy Fosk's film "Voices" mentioned that "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" was one of the films that influenced the story and visual look of "Voices". It all depends upon what you are trying to do with your film.


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