Dr. of Machinima

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

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
Aug 25, 2007 at 8/25/2007 01:53:00 PM | 2 Comments
The last test video (Meet the heavy Spoof) went well. I definitely intend to use this method on the new 'Bouncers' series, but before I commit to it entirely we'll actually be making a short film that will rely heavily on the technique, to see just how far we can push it and if it's really feasible to do it for a runtime above 1 minute.
So this test project is called 'Beast' and it's heavy on the dialogue.
One problem Machinima has almost always been plagued by since inception is the lack of emotional expression available. Facial animation was always difficult to implement and on the whole emotional Machinima has had to rely solely on audio. Great actors and a few choice tunes were really all you could do, and you don't need to be a veteran to know that great acting is rare.

Thankfully now, there is Half-Life 2 and UT2K4. However many of the popular engines still have no lip syncing tools. The Sims 2 is a great example. The film dialogue has to be laid over characters who are actually moving their lips to something else (ie lines from the game). Because of this I've always thought the technique relied too much on luck, or accidents. Facial expression's are do-able using a few tricks, but it's not really possible to get a range of emotions to be as fluid as in an engine with a dedicated tool.
Another great example is Second Life. Highly popular for Machinima, but unlike it's counterpart, There.com, it doesn't come with lip sync abilities. And this is where it get's interesting.
It's becoming popular, not just in Second Life but also other lip sync lacking engines, to use Crazy Talk. This way you could potentially lip synch any engine, although some video editing is often required, and it can be extensive.

In Machinima's progress, not only are we seeing better graphics as the engines improve, but also a greater ability to connect with the audience. It's from this 'fight for emotion' that 'Beast' will be born. With any luck the facial animation will do what the voice acting cannot, as we are one of the many groups who don't have easy access to great actors. 'Beast' is designed in such a way that the facial animation is not a nice extra, but rather an absolute necessity. Simply having lips move is not enough anymore, and not having them move at all.... So hopefully in a week, we'll have some interesting results. We've been working on it for almost 3 weeks now so it's very close.

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posted by Dr. Nemesis