1. What is it about
Ever wanted to visualise your fantasies and see them like a video? Or perhaps you wanted to express your creativity after seeing a movie and try it the way you wanted to see the story unfold. In recent years, Machinima has helped the rapid production of story-focused in-game fan videos. Using a game engine and environment, a Machinima creator, also called Machinimator, can use existing game characters, sets and environment to create a film. Of course new sets and characters can also be created and added to the world. This result is then compiled, captured, edited and made into a film.
As animations become more realistic and easier to make, there will be a huge interest to make videos for good stories that are not yet told. On one side of the spectrum, ultra-realistic animations are becoming ever more popular. These however are usually designed by professional with access to high-end software and render-farms.
On the other side of the scale, average users may just want to visualise a fantasy with semi-realistic graphics and be willing to give up the realism for tool simplicity. In this case, the ease of video production is the key. The current trend in Machinima is the use of scenario builders in 3D games to create videos out of the components provided by the games. These editors are usually used to make the game itself, so they are incredibly powerful tools. What you can make with them is only limited by what each game engine can artistically provide. Apart from game engines, Machinima can also be created using virtual reality tools such as Second Life. These can be much more open and cover a wide range of possibilities; though they may not have the fancy polish and style of latest games (see a movie made in Second Life).
2. Where is the fun
- Five students, a summer holiday, 8 hours a day, 2 month effort, result: a full length feature movie released on YouTube which got critical acclaim all over the world and was views one million times. 5c per view, between five of them, meant that they each got $10000. Not bad for summer holiday, considering how much fun there was while making it.
- Humans, by their very nature, are always obsessed about sex and eroticism. Just about any technology is initially explored for sexual fantasies and Machinima will be no exception. The creation of sexual animations is certainly not new, though they usually have been created by professional artists or dedicated hobbyists. When it gets easier for a casual user to create his own erotic fantasies and share it with others, you can expect an explosion of content entering the market. The porn industry has always been at the forefront of technology, from VHS videos to internet porn channels. However, most content was produced using real people, with a select minority writing scripts and stories (if at all). As a result, the field suffers from the same problem with mainstream TV where most of the money goes to projects that are believed to be money-makers and are of interest to the masses. Mass market strategy may not necessary appeal to everyone’s erotic fantasies. A typical individual may not go all the way to become a porn producer just to express their fantasy. Some people (religious or otherwise) may even consider it immoral. But what if you were able make something virtual for yourself. No harm done to anyone and you get your fantasy visualised. If you think there is already a lot of porn content on the net, then think again. Machinima is going to bring a whole new generation of porn producers and there will be an explosion in free and cheap content. Unlike normal videos, many fantasisers may like to remain anonymous and may be willing to give up potential royalties in exchange for freedom of expression.
3. What are its Applications
Apart from creating a story or visualising a fantasy there are many other indirect benefits from this technology. Remember, the most critical aspect of Machinima is the rapidity of the video production and the tool’s ease of use. Hence, Machinima will be attractive to those who are not usually in the business of making videos and animations, but that they see a need to create them. Examples are:
- Educational videos. These videos may visualise natural phenomena, illustrate chemistry concepts, organs in body, physics, mathematics, history of ancient civilizations, all using 3D models and similar.
- Action adventure movies extending the stories of popular blockbusters. Fans of popular movies will use the accompanied games, or even their own version of Machinima production tools, to create fan videos and express themselves artistically. For example, there are many Star Wars Machinima (example 1, example 2) produced by fans who just like to extend their favourite worlds.
- Artistic and fantasy videos. Those who want to express themselves can now do it easily and quickly.
Since it is easier to make Machinima, many niche topics would be covered that would not have been possible otherwise.
4. How developed is it
The majority of the tools available today are scenario builders provided by mainstream games such as Half Life, Far Cry and Halo. Almost all major next generation games provide extensive support for Machinima as they value fan-produced content which gets to popularise their games. In particular the recent release of Mass Effect may accelerate Machinima production as it has a unique system of automatically generating a conversation based on simple user commands. The producers intend to create a cinematic feel complete with emotions, gestures, lip-synching and voice over, all controlled by user actions.
In line with the increase in Machinima production, delivery and distribution of videos is becoming easier than ever before, not to mention you can start to make money out of them. YouTube is the prime example of such distribution systems and no doubt there will be more to follow. Soon you will be able to get paid micro-royalties every time your content gets viewed and if recover the cost of production or actually make money out of it.
Machinima is certainly becoming more popular and its progress is monitored by fan sites such as a site dedicated to Machinima. You can now compete with other animators in international competitions such as Machinima Festival Europe 2007.
5. How can it be improved
The current tools allow a user to create and modify a 3D world literally brick by brick inside a real-time visualisation system. The user can access a number of objects from an inventory and place them in the scene. Once the scene is constructed, actors can be added, and then animated explicitly based on timelines and keyframes similar to producing 3D animations.
Once a scene is put together, a large amount of time is required to actually animate the actors and get them to do what you want and sequence the story. This is where most of the time is spent by a typical user and is bound to get most of the improvement in the future.
As a user, you ideally want to work as a director. Based on your story, you may want to instruct an actor to perform. You might be interested to control every aspect of the acting from moving around the set to raising the actor’s hands and so on. On the other hand, working as a director, you may want to treat the actor just like a human. In reality, it means that the tool will use built-in AI to get the actors move in the environment and perform tasks. For example, you may use the tool’s interface to instruct the actor to “Go to Parking across the road, get into the BMW, drive home, go to living room and turn on the TV”. Each instruction can then be taken by the system and converted into a series of animation moves. You may also add other animated objects such as cars and assign behaviour to them. So an actor will know how to cross a road when no car is coming. This will help you as a director to focus on the story rather than the small details. In addition, the behaviours themselves might lead to amusing situations that you couldn’t think of before and you may get inspired by them and choose to include them in the story. There are already some products available (such as Endorphin) that capture some aspect of this dream.
The holy grail of Machinima is to be able to write a story and feed it to the system and expect the system to produce a movie. Of course you will get a chance to seed the scene, customise it and fine tune it functionally and artistically before outputting the video. This will lead to an unprecedented ability in creating concept video and will lead to the emergence of a large number of videos produced globally by just about anyone.
6. What does it lead to
Convergence of movies and games will lead to interactive story telling. This is a whole new world that awaits us. Interactive story as a concept is not new, but the animation quality in these systems has never been close to reality and they were difficult to use. We are now approaching realism and this is when interactive story telling really starts to take off. As a simple example, imagine that you can make a story and feed it to the system, get the actors to act the way you want, film it and produce a video. When you give your creation to someone else, you don’t only give them a video. You give them the environment of the story as well. So now, when they are watching your movie, they can change camera angles, zoom around as well as the usual options like rewinding or putting it into slow motion. You can even design crisis-options, so based on what they choose the story will unfold differently in front of them. In short, what might have been an adventure game designed by professionals with 2D isometric graphics 15 years ago will become the role model for the 3D realism of the interactive media produced by, well, you and me.
The Long Tail concept coined by Chris Anderson is very applicable in this case. Media and TV have traditionally been driven by certain kind of content creators who had the pressure of making money with top quality content broadcasted in the most lucrative time slots. In a global world that doesn't sleep and where there are no limitations on 'shelf space', almost infinite number of channels can be created and consumed. The end result is that satisfying every little interest becomes a possibility which leads to creation of many niche videos for just about anything you can imagine, or even if you can’t! Everyone will become a producer and a consumer.