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Editorial - 'The Art Form of Machinima'

by Nathan Mourfield on March 6, 2005 @ 2:40 a.m. PST

Machinima is animated film making utilizing real-time Virtual 3D Environments. This style of art uses pre-rendered graphic engines to streamline the production process. Machinima can be divided into two sub-genres based off of the methodology of production, scripting and puppeteering. In this week's editorial we look at how it all started...

The scripting method uses script languages inherit to the application package used to direct the action in the production. A programmer writes out the script to control all the characters and action in a scene. This method, which is similar to traditional computer animation, leads to a mechanical feel to the production. The puppeteering method uses actors/puppeteers to control the characters and the action. Most often, the execution method is for the actors/puppeteers to log into a server with another person logging into the server to film or record the action, leading to the organic feel of a live performance.

The history of Machinima is not as long as many forms of art. User Created Demo Movies, the predecessor to Machinima, first came into being with the release of Doom by ID. The technology allowed for an owner to create a recording of their action in a game that could be sent as a file to be viewed by other owners of that game. The first leap from ‘players showing their skills’ to an actual artistic production came after the release of Quake by ID. Quake was the first truly 3D game released, which allowed players to have reasonable free movement around the game. Quake Movies, as the recording of the action was know, became popular among a small group of gamers. The watershed moment was the release of Diary of a Camper on October 26, 1996 by a group of players called the Rangers. The difference between this Quake Movie and others was the fact that it had a narrative element to it.

The next enhancement to the art form was ID’s release of Quake 2, with its capability for users to modify the game. This allowed for ILL Clan to Apartment Huntin’, the first piece of work to make it out to the public. Wired Magazine’s Animation Express, a TV series featuring traditional computer animation, featured Apartment Huntin’. In addition, because of the release of other titles that supported making demo movies, the term Machinima was coined to describe the art form.

The first production released for generic consumption encouraged Hugh Hancock to open, a site to centralize information for the budding community on January 25, 2000. This site allowed for easier access to beginners to get started in producing their new productions. Just outside one year of the creation of the site, Steven Spielberg revealed the use Unreal Tournament, another game package, and Machinima Scripting techniques to do some of the special effects for his movie A.I.

On March 22, 2002, several of the groups at the heart of the Machinima Movement, including the ILL Clan and Fountainhead Entertainment, formed the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences, which formed to push the artistic qualities of Machinima, improve the genre’s quality, and sponsor the first Machinima Film Festival.

2003 was the year that saw a significant increase in the Public’s awareness of Machinima. March 12, 2003 saw the first panel on Machinima at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Two days later, at the Florida Film Festival, the ILL Clan performed their work Common Sense Cooking with Carl live before the attendees of the festival, even incorporation changes to the script because of interaction with the audience. Red vs. Blue: the Blood Gulch Chronicles, a Machinima series based off the Xbox title Halo, released on April 4, 2003. Red vs. Blue, produced by Rooster Teeth Productions, is the first ‘commercial’ Machinima project, using downloadable files to sell membership to the site and plans to release DVDs. Fountainhead Entertainment released Anna, a revolutionary piece, on October 25, 2003.

The year 2004 saw the opening the Bang the Machine exhibit at the Yuerba Buena Center in San Francisco on January 15. The Wall Street Journal featured Red vs. Blue on April 9, 2004 and the series released the DVDs later in the year.

Anna explores the life of a flower, from seed to offspring. Since this title is a complete scripted conversion, containing no significant elements from the original game, there are better rhythms with the characters of this work. In addition, since there is only one human character in the piece, the mechanical nature of the script-based action is not as noticeable.

There is something about watching a digitally created human walk, since every human knows how another should walk; it sticks out with the issues of movement rhythm. Anna uses a wide amount of color or chroma, trying to be as realistic as the software, Machinimation, will allow it. Fountainhead Entertainment used Anna as an introduction to Machinimation, a product they based off the graphics engine for Quake III Arena designed specifically to create Machinima. The lighting, a hard element to capture, executed masterfully, especially the Sun filtering through the trees and the thunderstorm.

Red vs. Blue is the ongoing chronicle of two groups of soldiers in a box canyon in the middle of nowhere, using the puppeteering method of Machinima. Rooster Teeth using the vanilla Halo Xbox Title hampers the graphical effects of the series. Lately, they have moved the Halo 2 version that helps graphically, but they still limit themselves to basic post-editing techniques. Rooster Teeth gets around this limitation by using the small supply of environments efficiently and using careful shot composition to express the graphical form of their art. By using innovative cuts and good postproduction techniques, they form a quality production with a limited production set.

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