Making Machinima Movies
December 2, 2007 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Machinima (muh-shin-eh-mah or ma-shin-i-ma) is a hybrid filmmaking technique where people utilize game engines and environments to create videos. At first, it was little more than screengrabs and screencasts of in-game action, but it has now grown to include sophisticated storylines independent of game action. Shows and entire series have been made from The Sims, Halo, The Movies, Quake, Half-Life, Unreal Tournament and Second Life to name just a few. Actually, some Team Fortress 2 machinima was recently mentioned (October 9th). Over the years, there have been some really amazing productions, such as the now legendary 100-episode Red vs Blue series (also previously mentioned) which was created with Halo 2. A lot of machinima can be found and viewed for free on The Internet Archive also maintains a machinima section. The recently-released BloodSpell, a "punk fantasy" from Strange Company, is believed to be the first feature-length movie released using the Neverwinter Nights game engine. (watch online free, free divx download - 847 MB, free quicktime download - 903 MB). Two of the people behind BloodSpell, Hugh Hancock and Johnnie Ingram have co-written the just-published "Machinima for Dummies".

One problem with using game engines and environments is that one does not own the rights to distribute the video. Some game publishers have turned a blind eye, while others have been more supportive. More recently, companies have been clearly outlining their policies with regard to Machinima, and some like Microsoft, have been surprisingly flexible. For example, Microsoft’s revised "Game Content Usage Rules" specifically allow entry into film festivals, even where there are monetary prizes.

Linden Labs, makers of Second Life, have always been very encouraging of machinima, and has a page with tutorials and videos dedicated to it. They’ve even sponsored a trailer contest. And one owns what one creates in Second Life, meaning it can be sold without fear of a lawsuit for violating copyright or infringing on trademarks. This past September, HBO spent a reported six figures for the North American television rights to My Second Life: The Video Diaries of Molotov Alva, a short-form documentary which was shot completely within Second Life.

Other have come up with a different solution to the rights issue. For example, Moviestorm takes a new approach to creating machinima. Although, it is based on gaming technology, it's not a game. Users can create characters, build sets, record dialogue, use multiple cameras, edit scenes, and most importantly to some people, everything one creates with it belongs to them. Recently out of beta, and free to download, the windows (XP/Vista) software seems to have already obtained a cult following among enthusiasts. They also have a very late beta for macs (intel), and a PowerPC version is promised as well.

Recently, several hundred people attended Machinima Europe, the first European Machinima Festival (Flickr photoset, trailer) which was held at the De Montfort University Campus Centre in Leicester, UK. There were discussions, demonstrations, and an awards ceremony to honor the best of Machinima. Over 150 films (PDF) were entered from a wide variety of countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Croatia, Slovakia, Japan and Australia. Video of both the event and the awards can be found here (Flash/QuickTime). Stolen Life, which utilized the voice talent of sci-fi fan-boy fave Claudia Black (Pitch Black, Farscape, Stargate SG-1) took home a fistful of awards, including Best Picture. She's become quite enthusiastic about the possibilities of this medium (interview on YouTube).

In professional filmmaking circles, machinima techniques have been used to do pre-visualization aka 'pre-viz'. Major Hollywood studios have been saving a great deal of money creating entire scripts in this format, both to show to potential investors and also as a new sort of storyboard to test shots and setups prior to filmming. There was an article entitled "Preconceived Motions" in the October issue of Computer Graphics World about this very subject.

For more information, check the Machinima FAQ. A great way to stay on top of the latest machinima news is by subscribing to MachiniFeed, "the Blended Feed for the Machinima Community". Also worth noting is the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences. The afore-mentioned Hugh Hancock, is not only a co-founder of, but also of the Academy.

[Note: this is my first post]
posted by TrinityB5 (31 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
doo doo dee doo-doo
posted by eriko at 5:36 PM on December 2, 2007 [5 favorites]

Well played, good sir. I tip my hat to you.
posted by killdevil at 5:46 PM on December 2, 2007

"[Note: this is my first post]"

Normally I would say that this is poking the lion but in this case I don't think it will matter. This is such an awesome post that I think even the snarkiest of Metafilter snarks will be hard pressed finding fault with this one.

If they do, I suspect it will be length, but I regard the length of this post as a plus, personally. Infact, I don't even feel qualified commenting here yet since there is so much to explore here and so much to read and I've only skimmed the surface of what it has to offer. And besides, the links are so perfectly presented and explained that I will go on record right now as saying anyone who snarks about length here is being an out ands out troll.

I have never heard of this subject matter before but find it very interesting nonetheless. In my mind, this makes this almost the perfect Metafilter post.

So I'll favorite this post and come back to it over the next few days, exploring all that it has to offer. Thank you for the post TrinityB5. And thank you for joining Metafilter. If only all the newbies were more like you!
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:03 PM on December 2, 2007

Yeah, what Effigy2000 said. This is a bloody awesome first post.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:06 PM on December 2, 2007

Holy shit! You aren't a newbie! My apologies.

Still, an excellent, excellent post. Thanks again!
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:06 PM on December 2, 2007

I hope badass posts like this don't encourage more posts on Second Life. :)
posted by Mikey-San at 6:11 PM on December 2, 2007

Bloodspell was damn near unwatchable.

"Snow Witch"
was fucking wonderful, though. Beautiful and tragic.
posted by empath at 6:26 PM on December 2, 2007

Great post. I look forward to exploring so much info on a neat topic during my four hours a day of commuting. Thanks!
posted by bunnycup at 6:38 PM on December 2, 2007

100-episode Red vs Blue series (also previously mentioned) which was created with Halo and Halo 2.

Christ I'm an arsehole. Great post.
posted by pompomtom at 6:38 PM on December 2, 2007

Awesome post. Thanks.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:47 PM on December 2, 2007

Concerned, the Half-life and Death of Gordon Frohman
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:58 PM on December 2, 2007

Just like the "asynchronous" part of AJAX, Microsoft invented this whole low-end real-time CGI simulation thingy in the mid 90s with 3D Movie Maker. It's ironic that MS repeatedly manages to get so many things right early on, then forgets about them or lets them languish.
posted by meehawl at 6:59 PM on December 2, 2007

thanks for the kind words, so far. i've been a member for a few years now, and before that, i was a reader for a long time. i was honestly terrified to make a post, but i got comfy making comments. once i got over the fear, i made sure to search topics i wanted to post about, but would often find them not only taken, but well posted. FINALLY, i found something that had been mentioned before, but which i felt i could put a different spin on, and so offer some quality.
posted by TrinityB5 at 7:10 PM on December 2, 2007

This isn't quite Machinima, but it's fucking amazing:

Crysis - Mass Physics
posted by empath at 8:11 PM on December 2, 2007

empath (or anyone else with an opinion on Bloodspell), can you elaborate before I waste my bandwidth and time? Thanks!
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:51 PM on December 2, 2007

Seconding "great post." I'm lovin' the CGW article. Thanks.
posted by sdodd at 9:06 PM on December 2, 2007

Bloodspell is D&D fan-wank of the worst kind, with lousy animation, art and dialogue. And a horrible soundtrack, to boot.

I enjoyed the Restroom Etiquette and Snow Witch videos from the smae site that is hosting Bloodspell though. Both done in the Sims. Snow Witch is a retelling of a Japanese fairy tale. The art is beautiful and the direction and voice acting are very well done.

Restroom Etiquette is just a goofy bit about how guys behave in bathrooms that goes off on a surreal, gross tangent. Funny stuff, though.
posted by empath at 9:10 PM on December 2, 2007

I had no idea. In my head, I was totally pronouncing that fucker like it had a chi in it: muh-kin-ee-ma. If I had thought hard, I might have said "ma-sin-eh-ma" (analogy to "cinema"). Never ever have your pronunciations occurred to me.

Something new every day...
posted by mr_roboto at 10:40 PM on December 2, 2007

has anyone done reverse machinima yet?
posted by sushiwiththejury at 1:25 AM on December 3, 2007

Nice post, TrinityBD. I happen to be into machinima these days and you've got some good references there...thanks.
posted by rmmcclay at 6:25 AM on December 3, 2007

Hmm, the early Quake days were the most interesting for me... Keygrip was sick, and with the recamming in Q2 you could see how powerful a visualization tool it could be. Q3 efforts were a big dropoff compared to the likes of Hardly Workin', which seemed so endearing in the Q2 engine. Fast forward 10 years and Halo 3 has a dedicated Theater mode with a freecam, time scrubbing, screenshots and clip recording built right in!
posted by prostyle at 6:53 AM on December 3, 2007

Last year, my then 12-year-old nephew and a friend made a video for their history class using WOW characters to represent Leonardo DaVinci and others from the Renaissance. I just thought it was cool--didn't realize they were part of this kind of trend. Huh, kids today! Thanks for a very interesting post.
posted by agatha_magatha at 8:25 AM on December 3, 2007

Tucker: You shot Church, you team-killing fucktard!

God I love Red vs. Blue.

Great post.
posted by quin at 8:29 AM on December 3, 2007

has anyone done reverse machinima yet?

Does this count? Complete with poor pathfinding AI!
posted by notmydesk at 10:11 AM on December 3, 2007

all this, and on npr today it was mentioned that the gaming industry is bigger, by dollar, than hollywood.

this fact was dropped in a discussion on the high overhead of film compared to music production.
posted by eustatic at 10:23 AM on December 3, 2007

I love this stuff and unless the license owners turn into RIAA-buffoons, it's going to be great to see it develop and blossom. It incorporates all the best elements of appropriating found media and just the whole neatness of subverting a corp character's personality with plain old imagination and fun is too excellent.
posted by Skygazer at 10:46 AM on December 3, 2007

i've been watching so much machinima lately, and i'm stunned by all the different types. and the sheer effort put into some of these productions is amazing.i definitely LOVED 'Snow Witch' which i think was made in The Sims 2, if I am not mistaken.

with regard to 'BloodSpell', i think it's a matter of personal taste. i found it interesting, possibly because of my extreme curiosity about how it was done, and the storyline was fun. i've never actually played Neverwinter Nights. one thing i have noticed is that is that it has been very well reviewed. i'll cut and paste a few of the links/comments:

- "It's rough around the edges, but BloodSpell is an impressive achievement."
- "must have been created by putting Joss "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Whedon and Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson in a blender"

Thinking Machinima
- "Pure, unfettered entertainment"

Play This Thing
- "rough in parts, but actually pretty satisfying"

- "Probably worth a looksee"

Peter Rasmussen
- "What an epic!" - director of Stolen Life, mentioned above

oh, i just found the YouTube trailer for it. i'm definitely getting the 'Machinima for Dummies' book from Hugh Hancock and Johnnie Ingram, the guys behind it.
posted by TrinityB5 at 10:47 AM on December 3, 2007

Does this count? Complete with poor pathfinding AI!

Naah, this is a simulation. A movie made to look like machinima.

I mean:

1. Sample a movie to make game characters out of the actors.
2. Play characters within the movie universe.

e.g. can we make a game out of Rashomon using video/images from the movie only?

I wonder what kinds of movies are most amenable to reverse machinima {apart from movies based on video games (Tomb Raider, Resident Evil et al)}. Maybe Ed Wood / Kiarostami / Trnka.
posted by sushiwiththejury at 1:35 PM on December 3, 2007

Very nice post.
posted by OmieWise at 1:38 PM on December 3, 2007

posted by Smedleyman at 2:16 PM on December 3, 2007

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