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Gamers create short films and machinima trend

Gamers create short films and machinima trend

March 16, 2004|by Chris Copley

chrisc@herald-mail.com

Look out, Hollywood. Machinima is coming.

In the gaming world - or worlds, really, of "Halo," "Unreal Tournament," "Quake," "Splinter Cell" and others - life is like a movie: It's thrilling and lived on the edge. Gamers vicariously fight duels, face obstacles, solve puzzles and, sometimes, die tragically in exciting worlds with their own characters, music, snappy dialogue and special effects.

But increasing numbers of video-gamers also are preserving their adventures by saving them in digital memory. Or even "filming" adventures, just like amateur moviemakers.

This new medium is known as machinima, according to Carl Goodman, curator of digital media for the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York. He hosted the 2003 Machinima Film Festival at the museum.

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"Machinima is commonly defined as the process of making movies using game engines, so it combines areas of interest of the museum - movies and video games - in a unique and, at first, unexpected way," Goodman said. "The production process combines elements of computer animation, video game play, programming, traditional movie production and live performance."

Machinima - a combination of the words machine and cinema - is shouldering its way onto the World Wide Web and into traditional film festivals. Machinima is still young and rough around the edges, but Goodman said that's to be expected.

"Machinima emerged organically from the audience community - an unintended consequence of the openness and modifiability of many of today's video games," he said. "You have many, many people who are intrigued."

It's like making a movie


Gaithersburg, Md., resident Joe Falcione has put together three machinima films. His most recent effort, a short medieval-themed film called "The Outcome," won him the Best Editing award at the 2003 Machinima Film Festival.

"When I was younger, I played video games," he said. "I got a bit older and said 'I can do more with this.' With machinima, you're making a movie. For 'The Outcome,' I had eight hours of footage. I had to edit that into a 15-minute movie."

Falcione, who goes by the online handle Zepreacher, said he made "The Outcome" like a traditional filmmaker would.

"There's a preproduction phase involved," he said. "I wrote a script and made storyboards and posted them on a specific site on the Internet. Actors downloaded them. I had to communicate (with) hundreds of guys."

The machinima was filmed in the virtual land of "The Dark Age of Camelot," the massive, multiplayer, online role-playing game. The land of Camelot exists online; players create characters and participate in Camelot battles with dozens or hundreds of other characters.

Falcione said organizing the virtual filming was a challenge, much like making a real movie.

"I had 150 people on this one scene where they were riding on horseback out of a castle," he said. "We couldn't have too many in the frame at one time. Then this one guy comes running up during filming and says, 'What are you doing?'"

The walk-on ended up in the movie, against Falcione's wishes.

Driven by the 'engine'


The key to machinima is the "rendering engine" - the computer software used to create the virtual world for the game's characters to inhabit. All of the game's elements - rooms, landscapes, characters, music, sound effects, even the effects of gravity, light and heat - are specified by the game program to create the worlds.

Modifying the game engine allows a group of machinima filmmakers to create an animated story in a few weeks that looks like it was produced with a million-dollar budget in Hollywood.

One popular machinima, called "Red vs. Blue," is based on the popular computer game "Halo." In a serial of three- or four-minute episodes released sometimes weekly or every other week, a small group of blue soldiers squares off against a group of red soldiers for control of an isolated canyon.

"Red vs. Blue" episodes, like many examples of machinima, are available to download from a variety of Web sites, including www.machinima.com. This Web site is a proponent of the moviemaking technology, offering at no charge both movies and software.

The future of cinema?


Paul Marino, executive director of the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences - on the Web at machinima.org - said there is a lot of room for machinima to grow.

"Some experts say that aside from its wow factor, it doesn't hold up unless there's a story," Marino said. "Other filmmakers see this and they're blown away.

"I always talk about machinima as the intersection of animation, filmmaking and video games. In terms of artistic access, the sky's the limit. You're interacting in a virtual space. This makes it profoundly different."

Goodman said he's happy with the current state of the art.

"What is most interesting about it to me at this time is its homespun quality," he said. "Most of it looks cheap. That's part of its charm, after all. But this stuff grows up quickly!"

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