Machinima

The symbiosis of art and technology can be inspiring, thrilling, annoying, frightening and intimidating. But if one wades through the bad to find the good, it can be a very rewarding journey. An artform which has been emerging for the past few years, Machinima, is one of those mediums

which only gets better with time. A machinima (a combination of the words “machine cinema”) is a story told through the use of a realtime virtual 3D environment, usually a computer game. Some of these stories are truly amazing eliciting the same reactions and emotions as any other animated art form.

Check out this machinima by Michael Barnes using the game Call of Duty 4.

I’ve been making machinimas for a few years on and off in my spare time mostly to advertise changes I’ve made for games, but also for fun. I’ve recently completed a few short videos with the new graphics engine contained within GTA IV, the controversial game from Rockstar Games. As with many newer games, the PC version of GTA IV contains an in-game editing tool made to encourage the creation of, and hence the grass-roots promotion of, the technology behind this game. This particular tool, compared to others, is very good for accurate edits and camera moves. Another benefit is that you don’t have to use Fraps (a screen capturing software program which really slows down computer performance while recording), as the GTA IV editor includes HD (720p) and web video encoders.

Here’s the first video I made with GTA IV. It’s a simple exercise in camera control over a short and simple scene:

Here’s my most recent video where I tried to create a scene and make the most of the flexibility of the editing engine. It’s not perfect and there are some continuity problems, but overall I’m happy with the outcome:

The way the GTA IV engine works is the game records 20-30 seconds at a time “Tivo-style” meaning that when you hit the record button, the previous 20-30 seconds are written down into a file. During that recorded time, logs are written of the placement, position, physics, sound, AI, everything in the game within say a 100 foot radius around your character (and anything visible but further away such as el trains, airplanes, etc). Basically, you “act out” the scene while recording in the game. You have the basic 3rd person view. But when you go into the editor and review the footage, you can move the camera away from that 3rd person perspective to anywhere within that 100 foot radius around your character. You can set up camera moves, lock the camera off, attach it to your player or different characters so the camera moves with them, you can add different levels of hand shake (more realistic camera movement), do advanced blended multi-camera-position moves, and more. In addition to that, you have control over time (slow motion and fast motion) and camera visual effect filters (sepia, b&w, and many more). Also under direct control is audio which has been separated into speech, special effects and music. For example, there’s a lot of swearing by AI bystanders in this game, so the ability to turn off speech from cut to cut while keeping the overall street ambience is a plus. The editor is very fast. I’ve set up some extremely complex and quick half and quarter second cuts in sequence, and the game is able to keep up without any errors.

If you are a filmmaker and you aren’t making machinimas or are suspicious of them, I encourage you to give them a try. I’ve tought myself more about camera placement and movement over the course of one video than I have over several different real world video projects. Machinimas give you the chance to capture and edit scenes which would otherwise be too dangerous or expensive to capture in the real world. It is a fantastic medium to test out some new ideas as well. An added benefit is to test out how much work is involved in shooting a particular scene. This car chase, for example, had hundreds of camera setups, cars and extras. Choosing where to place the camera to keep the excitement level up was interesting and very challenging. Obviously, doing this in game is much faster than in real life, but it took me a few days to edit this. Imagine how much time was spent shooting the chase scenes from Ronin.

Here’s a machinima I made using the Flight Sim X engine:

This was my first machinima using a very flexible environment contained within a game called Armed Assault. It’s sequel Arma2, is even better and I am always tossing around a few story ideas for that game.

You can find more by visiting the wiki on Machinimas here and you can see some great examples by SteveScottGiantShark and the brilliantly talented Michael Barnes. You can also keep up with all of my newest releases by subscribing to my videos on Youtube.

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