Friday, August 6, 2010

Hollywood, SLollywood, So Why All The Fuss

Part II: Storytelling - and the CG Convergence

***This blog is the second installment of a two part series that explores the undeniable give and take between machinima and cinematic filmmaking, amidst the larger game and special effects technologies.***

---"There's also the viewpoint from the laypeople or just the general populous that doesn't necessarily come into virtual worlds. There's sort of an iconography of virtual worlds that they recognize when they see it on television that shows like South Park and Robot Chicken that are made from avatars. People sort of recognize that and it's part of popular culture, but they don't really care about HOW it's made. I mean it could be full CGI animation, like the movie Avatar. The general public doesn't care that that avatar wasn't rendered in real time. To me, the whole term machinima - when we look back a hundred years - is going to have a period where it really had some meaning and then - it will become meaningless." --- (CodeWarrior Carling, Machinima Roundtable, 2010)

Soni says, Time Out. Yes, it is important to consider what draws machinima and cinema together and perhaps apart. In the long run, it is a futile mind exercise.

For the time being, however, we wrestle with its meaning and place in the film and television industries - and as we do, we begin to understand how film, computer generated technologies, and machinima as an art and tool are interrelated. Yet even through this convergence, there is uniqueness and purpose depending on the producer's goals. This blog picks up where Part I left off, an exploration of the interdependence and intercreativity of virtual filmmaking and gaming, as well as machinima's latter contribution to the evolution of the film and television industry.

For his first Star Wars film, George Lucas "cut together World War II footage of fighter planes dogfighting, as a moving storyboard for the attack on the Death Star. That approach evolved into using miniatures of the snow speeders, as well as hand-drawn animations, for The Empire Strikes Back" (Harz, 2006). By 1994, Lucas employed visual effects artist David Dozoretz and a team that "used 3D animation toolsets to create rough film shots, similar to animatics, that could be used both to guide the production teams on location and the post-production teams adding virtual creatures and scene elements." Moreover, for Episode III Revenge of the Sith, Lucas would come to experiment with scenes continually, pre-shooting scenes repeatedly (Harz, 2006). Industrial Light and Magic relied on Unreal’s 3D engine as a preproduction tool to create animatics for that motion picture. Lucas made more than 20 revisions to the first minute of the film, and this technique he speculated to have saved him $10 million (Harz, 2006). In fact, Cliff Plumer, Chief Technology Officer at LucasFilm, noted:

“It’s almost like a game. The director can plan how to shoot a live-action or block a CG scene...But, we can also record the camera moves, create basic animations and block in camera angles."

He elaborates, by saying, "And instead of handing rendered animatics to the CG pipeline, we have actual files – camera files, scene layout files, actual assets that can feed into the pipeline. It gives the crew input into what the director is thinking.” (Harz, 2006)

Lucas was aware that "ordinary storyboard techniques were insufficient to get his ideas across to his pre-production team — or to help keep the hundreds of creatures, characters and environments organized and moving down a timely pipeline" (Harz, 2006). The gaming world deals with this scenario on a continual basis.

Second Life allows filmmakers to use existing virtual cities or landscapes as interactive sets. As animations become increasingly sophisticated inworld and can be supplemented via CGI post production techniques, the practice of machinima becomes more concerned about how one can use such virtual platforms to tell stories in interactive environments. The movie industry has not shied away from the inclusion of computer generated technologies, and it would seem equally practical for its use in the evolution of machinima.

Machinima is unique as a starting point for the launch of a project idea, but it might be considered both a tool and an art form. Computer generated software and technologies merely expand the graphic opportunities for filmmakers and machinimatophers. This is all to say, over the past decade, legendary filmmakers like Peter Jackson have considered machinima as a storytelling medium, as well as means to experiment with story ideas in unique ways.

Leo Berkeley, in his article "Situating Machinima in the New Mediascape," helps to clarify the two distant views of filmmaking among those of Machinima communities: "The first is its status as a new form resulting from a convergence of animation, filmmaking and 3D computer games. The second is the opportunity it offers filmmakers with limited resources to enter the previously inaccessible, big budget world of 3D computer animation" (2006, p. 67).

Berkeley (2006), in his study of machinima, states, we exist in an era "where the narrative possibilities of interactive, hypertextual and virtual environments are opening up but have only been tentatively explored." In this environment, machinima "most commonly makes use of the increasingly sophisticated interactive features of recent 3D computer games to produce texts that are predominantly traditional linear narratives. It is a strangely hybrid form, looking both forwards and backwards, cutting edge and conservative at the same time" (p. 67).

The gaming industry has been particularly responsible for providing an interactive experience for its consumer. According to Deuze (2005, p. 8), the computer game industry is a rich part of "participatory media culture," apart from professional storytellers such as journalists and advertising creators, in that it invites relationship building in media creation and usage. Jonathan Sterne (2003) offers a conflicted machinima community on a continuum of rebellious independence and Hollywood idealism: " These contradictions reflect both an attempt to increase the symbolic capital of the movement....but also reveal a disposition towards the large-scale production of the dominant Hollywood producers that is currently being denied them" (In, Berkeley, 2006, p. 68).

Berkeley adds, "It is clear that machinima is an example of how digital technology has shifted power structures in the media towards the increased accessibility of production and distribution technology."

What is not so clear is why it is important to draw boundaries around the various technologies when the point should be on the message. But then again, I guess I wouldn't being writing about machinima if we were at that point. Let's just make sure that we never get too caught up in how we do something that we forget what we say is far more important.

Part I is available here.

:) Soni

Part II: References
Berkeley, Leo. (2006). Situating machinima in the new mediascape. Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society, 4 (2), 65-80. Accessed at:

BrophBlog (2007). Acccessed at:

Deuze, M. (2005). Towards professional participatory storytelling in journalism and advertising. Paper presented at the Media in Transition (MiT4) Conference, Boston, MA, May 7, 2005.

Harz, C. (2006, January). The Holy Grail of Previs: Gaming Technology. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from

Industrial Light and Magic. (2010).

Sterne, J. (2003). Bourdieu, technique and technology. Cultural Studies, 17 (3/4), pp. 367-389.

This blog is based on a draft version of the forthcoming book, authored by Lowe Runo and Sonicity Fitzroy, Machinima: The Art & Practice (McFarland, 2011). The Professional Machinima Artist Guild graciously provides syndication of Sonicity’s blog Magnum: The Machinima Review to Aview.TV/Sonicity/

Hollywood, SLollywood, So Why All The Fuss

Part I: Machinima in Context

Welcome to the many lives of Sonicity! That is something Second Life allows us to do, quite easily - you know, change the context of our life with the click of a mouse, as we teleport off to our next adventure.

"It's interesting that we control the content of what we do. We are not being told what to do by other people. And we're an amazingly creative group. And that creativity spreads across EVERY genre, EVERY form of art. It is really something that we should all be proud of. And I think we're pioneers in what we're doing here."(Larkworthy Antfarm, Machinima Roundtable, 2010)

***This blog is the first installment of a two part series that explores the undeniable give and take between machinima and cinematic filmmaking. The recipe for both - well - requires a bit of spice at times. So does that mean a film or a machinima is impure with a dash of CG - it's like making meatloaf. In the end, It's the taste that matters! Your mom might use a bit more or less condiments than Aunt Sadie down the street. ***

When Hollywood producers began to explore the potential of filmmaking through virtual technologies, storytelling techniques employed in traditional cinematic production began to incorporate computer-generated technologies that would save money but would extend the possibilities of what is achievable in real world settings. How do you make a film of the future, when you only have reality as your base of operation? It is possible, if you consider the Fritz Lang's Metropolis. However, to dazzle an increasingly sophisticated audience, the stakes become higher and more competitive among film studios. This attitude of course would also influence the nature of machinima making. The connection between Hollywood and machinima is an evolving relationship, most significantly intercepting in recent years.

Yet the story goes back much further, beyond video games. Consider George Lucas' revolutionary experimentation in 3D computer generated interactive graphics (CGI) and animation, and the subsequent release of Star Wars in 1977. Even before that, King Kong in 1933 was enhanced with stop motion and animatronics in its most crude form. and is recognized "as one of the pioneering films in the field" (Brophblog. 2007). In 1975, Steven Spielberg's Jaws was another landmark film notable for its special effects. These landmark technologies helped to shape the video game industry as well. Machinima, too, has evolved from such advances, and the larger cinematic world (Brophblog. 2007) concurrently became transformed by these new applications and programs. What we continue to see in the film and animation industry is a convergence of ideas and tools, and the purpose being varied depending on the goals of the producer. What machinima has done, similar to digital technologies in general, is open the playing the field to the consumer and amateur professional, as well as the indie producer hoping to find an inexpensive and creative way to tell a story or communicate a message.

Much of the machinima community, at large, is connected to the YouTube generation. Many producers post their works hoping to catch the viral waves of the Internet. It is difficult to navigate through this sea of videos about anything and everything. Other services such as AVIEW TV, Blip TV, and Daily Motion have attempted to organize machinima content, as well as other media, and serve to stream videos continuously on demand. These content providers provide clues to the increasing popularity of machinima, and other indie film projects. The convergence of media is not unique to the film industry, for these trends have propelled the launch of thousands and thousands of indie record labels and musicians to break free from traditional corporate business models.

On the other hand, Hollywood's growing awareness of machinima's potential among the gamers is nearly a decade old, gaining the attention of "mainstream, non-technical movie talent, who are attracted to the games-meet-Hollywood aesthetic exemplified by movies like The Matrix" (Kahney, 2007). In the 1990s, Kahney (2007) explains, "Gamers realized that instead of generating monsters to be blown away, game animation engines could be employed to conjure up imaginative sets, casts of thousands and spectacular special effects." Enter machinima as a mini Hollywood and accessible alternative to major production animation budget movies.

As early as 2001, machinima began a way for Steven Spielberg to storyboard his film projects, beginning with his Artificial Intelligence: AI. Other producers began to look toward machinima as way to present rough cuts of major motion pictures. Harz (2006) called attention to the significance of machnima in 2006, stating that "the holy grail of previs (previsualization) lies in the use of videogame production technology, especially that of the game engine." He continues, this is "the core of a game that allows the movement and manipulation of modeled people and creatures within 3D sets, together with lighting and camera moves — a process essentially the same as what previs supervisors do before a major movie starts production."

So maybe it is the "other" that we need to consider - computer generated technologies are becoming part of one's tool set in telling the story, whether we do so by traditional cinematic means or through machinima. The gaming world has evolved out of the CG world so how do you really separate all these converging forces.

Stay tuned, Part II next time, as I consider
Storytelling - and the CG Convergence.

:) Soni

Related News

Part I: References

BrophBlog (2007). Acccessed at:

Harz, C. (2006, January). The Holy Grail of Previs: Gaming Technology. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from

Industrial Light and Magic. (2010).

Kahney, L. (2007, September). Games Invade Hollywood’s Turf. Wired. Retrieved October 14, 2007, from

This blog is based on a draft version of the forthcoming book, authored by Lowe Runo and Sonicity Fitzroy, Machinima: The Art & Practice (McFarland, 2011). The Professional Machinima Artist Guild graciously provides syndication of Sonicity’s blog Magnum: The Machinima Review to Aview.TV/Sonicity/