Machinima Night III program part 1

Phew – took some time, ey?

So the whole point with organising these Machinima evenings is to create a space for people to relax, share a beer and be introduced to what’s going on in the world of Machinima. There’s people who know what we’re on about and there’s people who are just fascinated by the medium and of course, those who are interested in New Media. I try to give an overview of what machinima is, but the more I learn about it – the more I realise that I’m just barely scratching the surface. So this year I decided to toss out objectivity and completely focus on what I wanted to focus on. I completely choked up, though. Suddenly I realised I had a microphone in my hand and people were listening to what I had to say – I haven’t talked publicly in a long long time! Definitely needed the practice. Luckily I’ve been giving a few lectures and presentations with work lately – so I’m starting to get it down again. So anyways – I’m going to squeeze in what I meant to say inbetween talking about the program of the evening. If you don’t recognise some of it – this is why.
So nuff said!
Machinima stands for machine + cinema + animation. If you think it doesn’t add up with the spelling, blame Hugh Hancock who created http://www.machinima.com. There’s also a story about a pub, a few beers and a cocktail napkin. But in essence it’s machinima stands for machine + cinema + animation. It was the intention to focus the evening on the “machine”-part. What fascinates me with machinima is how the artists are communicating with a machine or an artificial intelligence to create their own narrative or story. The machine I’m talking about is the computer game where the film is made. If a machinima film is made in World of Warcraft, the artist will have to communicate with the game and understand the game mechanics in order to tell their story.
Defining Machinima
I’m usually very casual with my definition of machinima: “Films made in computer games or virtual worlds.” – I feel it works. It’s simple and it’s so that anyone can understand it. It’s a very general definition however so to show the complexities of this – I started off showing the audience the infamous Leeroy Jenkins episode.
At my first ever Machinima event I also started with this little film. I thought it was an entertaining way to show what World of Warcraft actually looks like during gameplay and back then I used it as an example of what wasn’t machinima. My intention was to prove that machinima isn’t replay films. There’s usually a narrative or storyline involved within machinima it’s not all about playing the game, it’s more about playing the game to tell a story.
But a great thing happened – my audience disagreed with me. They started to question whether this Leeroy Jenkins episode was REALLY just a documentation of an incident that happened in World of Warcraft. The authenticity was questioned and if the film is a reenactment are they not telling us a story, and is it not machinima then?
Perhaps I’m confusing my definition with aesthetics. The next film looks completely different from the first. It can maybe be categorised as a celebration of WoW game aesthetics or as I prefer to think of it – a celebration of the art of machinima. The filming, the modding, the acting and the playing. Let me introduce you to one of my favourite machinima artists:
Baron Soosdon – I’m So Sick
Now the theme of the evening is to look at the way machinima artists are interacting with the game or “machine” in order to create their own stories and narrative. I feel this is an important component to defining what machinima is. Gameplay or communicating with artificial intelligence has a narratological significance in machinima films. Henry Lowood has defined it as puppet mastery. An artist must master the game and the avatars in order to create their own storyline. I feel that one of my favourite machinima films (I’ll be writing that a lot in this piece) illustrates this rather eloquently. It’s created in The Sims. Keep in mind that there are no magic buttons in The Sims which makes the Sims avatar angry or sad or have nightmares. The emotions are consequences of how you play with them. The Sims have a complex artificial intelligence embedded within them. While watching this film try to think of what the machinima artist has done to the avatar to make her have nightmares. In addition – I just find this film such a great omage of what you can do with avatar creation in The Sims. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
One Jovial Sim – Alice
 
Now – saying that machinima has to have the element of the artist communicating with an artificial intelligence or gameplay reduces the scope of machinima. Or questions it. For example, there’s some beautiful films coming out of Second Life but this is a virtual world, there’s little gameplaying involved. Do these films then deserve to be a part of the same genre?
My favourite film from Second Life is an illustration of a short story by Sherwood Anderson. I haven’t read up on his work and I haven’t researched any analysis of this story. But from seeing this cinematic interpretation of the story – I feel it’s the best story ever told about writer’s block.
Lainy Voom – The Dumb Man
 

Incidently – One Jovial Sim (Alice) and Lainy Voom often collaborate in each other’s creations. Which makes you wonder – if the artists are collaborating, it must fall under the same media, right? Wouldn’t that be interesting if it’s the community of machinima artists that define what constitutes machinima or not?
Either way – I’ve concluded that there’s more than enough artificial intelligence in virtual worlds like Second Life for us to appreciate the puppet mastery involved in creating films in this space.
Now – there’s a new machinima “world” that I still don’t understand completely and will have to look deeper into, but I feel I can’t question the definition of machinima without mentioning it. The machinima “world” I’m refering to is, Moviestorm. From what I understand, this is a community that uploads environments, avatars, clothes etc. from games and virtual worlds and shares them with other machinima artists. So it seems like a machinima “world”, to me. But again, I must stress that I have not fully understood the concept and tool. Most of the contributions to machinima festivals are filmed with Moviestorm and it’s definitely a very strong force.
We’ve been a bit dark and serious in our film selection so far – so I thought I’d pick a film made with Moviestorm that made me laugh.
Phil Rice – Blast Supper
This is actually made for the Mefunk Akira competition. There was a list of things that had to be said in the film, like “That’s not a chicken, that’s my wife”. Excellent idea! And the film is just hillarious. But is it machinima?
I don’t know. Hugh Hancock, who created the whole term “machinima” says: “Of course it is!” – and for now, I’m willing to trust his expertise.
For more on the “definition”-discussion read Tracy Harwood’s contribution to The Fallopian.
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10 thoughts on “Machinima Night III program part 1

  1. Thanks for the Fallopian link! Defining machinima as films made by the machinima community is an interesting idea. It IS a circular definiiton, but probably more accurate in an experiential way than concentrating on the kind of technical methods used in filming.I think Henry Lowood's observations on puppeteering with machine intelligence may be a little out of date now, though it certainly used to be the case.Technology moves so fast, and film-makers have always wanted more control over their characters, Previously this was only available via hacks and game cheats, now dedicated machinima tools have shifted the way creators think about story creation. -Kate

  2. Hey Kate! Thanks so much for the response!I dunno, though – I still think puppeeering plays a role, somehow – I'm just not sure where. Because Machinima has moved beyond the ability to appreciate the puppet mastery, doesn't mean that it does not exist. I enjoy the term because it defines the gameplay communication so well. But you're right. It's not such a big factor these days – why is that, though? Why aren't we thinking of puppeteering anymore?

  3. Interestingly enough, and perhaps to further confound the issue… Moviestorm – while not a game by any means – does indeed make use of an "AI" by way of its scripted character behaviors. True, one has a magnificent level of control over the details of that behavior vs. your average game, but it's still an AI, and does to some degree define the limitations of what is possible in Moviestorm.Second Life – while it does have an extraordinary scripting engine – is in large part a puppet-driven environment when it comes to machinima. Moreso than most multiplayer games are, in fact, since there are no NPCs at all (unless fabricated wholly by a user).I wish I could attend one of your screenings, I so love to hear what people think of the craft who aren't already steeped in its lingo and traditions. Such fresh perspectives emerge.Thank you for telling us about these!

  4. I'm looking forward to learning more about Moviestorm even more now! Thank YOU for sharing Overman. It would of course be absolutely lovely to have you attend one of these screenings. It's just all about being a fan and loving learning new things.The audience is small but adorable – you'd love it. There's some who find it necessary to tell me about all the cool films I'm forgetting to show, some who are blown away by the whole media and some who just genuinely enjoy themselves. It's a relaxed atmosphere – and I enjoy the casualness of it all. I'm sure you'd enjoy it as well.

  5. Thanks for the shout out to Moviestorm!As one of the creators of Moviestorm, I'd have to say that it was neither game nor a virtual world. Users can create virtual spaces in which action takes place, but these aren't shared worlds like WoW or SL. Like iClone, Moviestorm's something new. Is it machinima? Well, I'd disagree slightly with Hugh, and say, well, it depends on your definition of machinima…

  6. I went with your definition Linn, puppeteering = communicating with artificial intelligence.My interpretation was that this refers to the actions of the characters which are influenced by gameplay.ie sims are more likely to kiss if their environment is good and they have both had a bath! The command to kiss only works reliably with hacks (I am guesing sims3 is similar to sims 2 here)Movistorm is more about advanced tweening, ie you don't have to animate every step of a walk sequence.Second life open sim has this kind of tweening also. (I would be very surprised if conventional 2d & 3d animation don't make use of this kind of technology in some form also)In these cases there are no gameplay elements to intervene though, no 'I can't use the 'sword of doom' as a prop until I have defeated twelve enemies' scenarios.Machinima made during gameplay does require AI puppeteering but I have yet to meet a film-maker who doesn't try to circumvent the game conventions to make a better movie.Sometimes just watching Machinima can be confusing, as it isn't possible to know whether a sequence has been filmed within a game environment or not, especially when a replica environment has been set up on a private server just for the purpose of animation.(see ian Chisholm's clear skies, parts of which were filmed this way with the permission of EVE game owners)Licensing issues occur when this happens, and basically you won't be told most of the time because of film-makers fears of legal action by game companies.Machinima creators have an inbuilt drive to control the game engine environment.(Films made within game environments, actually using the game rules are more akin to Frag movies) The new indie programs are an expression of something that has always existed, even in what looks like recorded conventional gameplay.Kate

  7. Hi Linn, do you hold any of these meetings virtually so more of us could attend? There used to be a machinima conference hosted regularly in Second Life by Phil until time became a pressure. It was a good way for all of us from all over the world to meet together.

  8. @Russel – No. But I definitely should@Kate – I'm not sure I understand what tweening is? But I definitely do recognise that people like me might put too much into the meaning behind the films or the IA communication behind it. Thanks so much for sharing your insight. @Matt- I don't know – I'm starting to feel like Moviestorm can best be described as a machinima making world.

  9. Tweening is a term used in animation that refers to the automatic generation of data between two points. The animator defines two states and asks the program to generate the inbetween points. A moviestorm walk path is defined by two end points, a walk characterisation, such as 'tired walk', and some automatic reactions to certain objects..eg characters will open and walk through doors if a door object exists on the defined walk path.This could be defined as artificial intelligence, but on an experiential level it feels very different to the actions of pc generated NPCs (non player characters) and interactions with sim type avatars.I guess I'm basing my defintion on the key element of the Turing test, could an observer be fooled into thinking that they were interacting with a live person / creature?Someone using a dedicated machinima animation program very rarely gets the feeling that their characters have a life of their own, whereas sim type games are designed to give that experience (with variable results)Multiplayer online-games are different again, as players tend to experience their avatars as extensions of themselves, not as separate characters.-Kate

  10. Kate and Michael,It's not that my observations are out of date — I'm a historian! So I get a pass on writing about old stuff.That said, while there are machinima makers who are doing very exciting things with scripting and editing tools, puppeteering is still alive and well. The tension has been around for a while, e.g., between demo and screen capture.Henry

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