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Machinima Today
Ways to make Machinima
Machinima's Future
Social Impact


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Definition| History| Machinima Today| Ways to go| the Future| Social Impact| Links

Welcome to machinimag's guide to machinima. This document tries to explain what machinima is, how it developed and what impact it has both on filmmaking and society itself.
Often described as a new medium, a revolutionary way of filmmaking or even as hype, this document tries to define machinima as a GENRE among others that will find its way into the traditionl filming world.
This is no complete anthology nor a scientific definition of the term. I'm linking to some movies from time to time and i'll advise you to watch those movies in order to understand what i'm writing about.
Finally, I'll be adding and rearranging this document as time goes by and i'm open to all sorts of criticism and feedback. I hope you'll enjoy your read.

Friedrich Kirschner

What is machinima? ^

shooting film

Cameras record the action going on.

in a realtime 3d

the time needed for the computer to transform the abstract data into a 3-dimensional visible representation is so little that you do not notice it. The whole calculation takes less than 1/10th of a second. Thus the term "realtime".

virtual environment

the actors aren't human, but virtual Avatars or Objects, controlled by user input or scripting and act in a virtual world that is simulated using a computer game.

thus, machinima is a mix of three ways to produce moving images:

machine * animation * cinema

The term machinima is constructed from these three words, like this:

machine * animation * cinema
pronounced < mashinima >

Actually, it was a typo thing that led to the integration of the term animation. Originally the word "machinima" was just machine and cinema. But somehow it's fashionable and nice to have animation in there, right?

I suggest you go watch the Movie No License now. It's a great example of what we just described. They used the game "Battlefield 1942" and the Modification "Desert Combat" to reenact a popular british spy-movie. After finishing Preproduction, they set up a multiplayer network game and assigned different roles to each of the players. One of them removed his HUD and served as cameraman recording the action from his in-game point of view.

Machinima History ^

Machinima history is difficult to grasp. While its roots can clearly be traced back to the early days of the demo scene in the 1980, actual storytelling and public distribution did not take place until the technology was ready for it. Thus, machinima history is bound to certain game releases and the technological developments in the gaming sector. It might very well be that there was a machinima movie performed in Super Mario Bros, but because such movies are not traceable, the community decided on the first machinima movie to be "Diary of a Camper" from a group called "the Rangers". While argueably entertaining, it is the first publicly distributed movie to have some sort of storyline and dialogue. Generally speaking, machinima developed from a sub-genre called "Quake movies" consisting of Speedruns and Frag movies. When more and more games started to explore the world of virtual filmmaking, "Quake movies" was a too narrow term to describe this new way of creative expression. Thus, the term machinima was coined in 2000.

A brief history in numbers:

  • 1994 id-software released the game "Doom".
  • First game to "record" multiplayer gameplay. Open Architecture allows first MODs.
  • 1996 id software released the game "Quake". 16 player - internet matches possible.
  • first machinima movie "diary of a Camper" created by a clan named "the Rangers".
    Uwe Girlich develops "Litle Movie Processing Center" by reverse engineering Quake's demo format to edit "game-recordings".
  • 1999 id software's Quake3 disallows alterations to the recorded game code.
  • Epic games releases Unreal Tournament with Open Architecture. Unreal Movie Studio allows for scripted camera movement.
  • 2000 machinima.com founded. Machine, Cinema and a Typo...
  • the site provided forums and webspace for the first machinima movies and their producers.
  • 2002 first Machinima Film Festival at QuakeCon.
    Founding of the ""Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences" (AMAS).
  • 2003 first machinima music video aired on MTV. Zero7's "In the Waiting Line"
    Fountainhead Entertainment produced this beautiful video together with Tommy Palotta for British band Zero7. They developed their own machinima software tool called "Machinimation" based on id Software's Quake3 game.
    I suggest you go watch "In the Waiting Line" now. It's a great example of what machinima can look like!

    Machinima today ^

    Nowadays, machinima movies are common to a lot of animation festivals. Here's a few festivals that feature machinima showcases or competitions:

  • Bitfilm Festival 2005
  • Ion Filmfestival 2005
  • Sundance Filmfestival 2005
  • Ars Electronica Animation Festival 2005
  • Ottawa international Animation Festival 2004
  • London International Animation Festival

  • For even more machinima festivals, head over to the Machinima WIKI. The festival listings page is kept up to date with up and coming festivals as they are announced.

    It's not just festivals that appeared during the last couple of years. Lots of game developers have jumped onto the machinima bandwagon and included tools and options into their games that faciliate filmmaking or even turn their game into a virtual studio set.
    Some of the games with built-in machinima tools are:

  • the Sims 2
  • Half-Life 2
  • Machinimation for Doom3
  • Unreal Tournament 2004
  • the Movies

  • And there's also tons of other games that let you shoot your movie without the need for special tools.
    Let's recapture what machinima is all about...

    Ways to make Machinima ^

    As you probably learned before, machinima is filmmaking in a virtual environment. To clear things up, let's talk a bit more in detail about how machinima movies can actually be produced and what ways there are to do machinima.
    Generally speaking, there a two main ways to produce a machinima movie:

    Live Action Machinima

    The action takes place in a networked computer game, mainly using a FPS game. Every player controls a virtual character via mouse and keyboard commands.
    Each actor uses a headset with a microphone to perform dialogue, if there is any. Though, sometimes the dialogue is added later in "Postproduction".
    One of the players is serving as the cameraman/-woman. His/her point of view is recorded to tape (or harddisk) and represents the "film-footage".
    Most of the time, the settings and characters are taken from the game that's being used for filming.
    This way of making machinima is easy to learn and feels close to "real-life" filmmaking. It has room for spontaneity and improvisation and adds that human touch to the behaviour of your actors.

    Probably the best known example of "Live Action" machinima is the series "Red vs. Blue" from Rooster Teeth Productions.
    (Go see it now!)
    Using the XBOX console, the game Halo and no further technical tricks, the series quickly managed to become the best known machinima piece to date.

    Scripted Machinima

    Each actor is controlled through a pre-defined script, telling him what to do and when.
    The script can be set up either via the game mechanics or by using the game's Modding Tools. Cameras can be assigned to pre-defined paths and actions can be triggered through scripts as well.
    Sounds and music can often be imported into the game.
    Using scripts, some movies run entirely in the game environment that they are created in without the need to record "footage".
    Also, scripted movies often allow for a higher level of customisation, as most tools let you import your own characters, animations, and/or textures.
    Scripted machinimas have that big advantage that you need only one person to make one. However, the technical problems inevitably linked to the use of Modding Tools are a big price to pay for your artistic freedom.

    For an example of fully scripted machinima movies, go check out "the Journey". You can download it either as a Quicktime movie or as an in-game Modification for the game Unreal Tournament 2004. It runs completely in-game and all the actions are controlled by scripts. Thus, you might see it perform a little different everytime it runs...

    Machinima's future ^

    If you think machinima is cool, just think about how cool it gets with all the fancy new tehnology that is being developed right now! Machinima's future is closely linked to developments in the gaming world. Looking at the techdemos of today means looking at the machinima movies of tomorrow.
    However machinima's future is not limited to what we see at gaming conventions or next generation game trailers. There's a lot of scientific development ranging from artificial intelligence to automated storytelling that will ultimately lead to even easier ways to make movies.
    Here are some points and hints that you might want to think about:

  • more complex physical simulation, including more realistic lighting with more advanced rendering hardware
  • intuitive tools through visual high level scripting and better integration of filmmaking options into games
  • more content in games with more flexible ways to use - more animations, more characters, more detail
  • new forms of linear and non-linear stories emerging from mixing both worlds together - think talkshows, documentaries, etc...

    Be sure to check out the work of Ken Perlin, for a taste of what's about to come.

    Social Impact ^

    Machinima is not just a new technique, it's a whole new approach to filmmaking. Some might call it revolutionary, others a simple hype. Fact is though, that machinima is shaping today's (and maybe tomorrow's) culture.
    Here are some areas that machinima definetly has an impact on:

  • machinima resembles Film inside the new medium computer game.
  • it provides necessary criticism to computer games from people that are actually playing computer games and thus, know what they're talking about.
  • machinima further adds democracy to filmmaking, enabling nearly anyone with a computer and a suitable game to make a movie.
  • Game technology is not just providing visual quality but is integrated in the very content of the medium itself. Think of in-game movies that play differently each time they run!
  • it is a prime example of a new way of distributing a niche product and gaining a worldwide audience for your creative productions.
  • it raises the question of intellectual property rights and the necessity of finding new ways to copyright IP. Mostly using IP from the game itself, machinima is one of lots of newly emerging forms of remixing and re-contextualisation.

    That last point is something that would especially be discussed in the time coming.

    Thank you ^

    for sitting through this document and getting to know machinima. Just before you leave, there are a couple of links that I would want you to visit if you have any further interest (and i hope you do!).

    machinima.com is the main community hub for everything machinima and the main machinima download resource.
    machinima premiere is a site dedicated to reviewing and rating new machinima movies.
    machinima magazine is the official machinima online magazine with news, tips, interviews and reports.
    3dfilmmaker.com is a great news site with a special interest in machinima.
    AMAS the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences official site.

    Machinima Deutschland, the german machinima portal.
    Machinima France, the french machinima portal.

    and there's even publications about machinima:

    the Art of Machinima
    Paraglyph Press 2004, Paul Marino at amazon.com

    Machinima:Making Animated Movies in 3D Virtual Environments
    Ilex Press 2005, M. Kelland, D. Morris, D. Lloyd at amazon.com

    Magazine for digital extravaganza. www.sceen.org

    Thanks again for your time. If you have any questions, hints, allegations or things left unsaid, please tell me at info [at] machinimag [dot] com.


    thanks go out to the following individuals that helped shape this document:
    Paul Marino and Ben Grussi for that short Machinima history compilation in Pauls book,
    Sodabus for painful proofreading,
    and the M.com community for their support and feedback!


    Clan ^

    A clan is a group of people who play the same computer game as a team. Similar to soccer teams. Massively Multiplayer Games often use the term "Guild"

    FPS - First Person Shooter ^

    A First Person Game is being perceived through the eyes of the virtual character that the user is directing with his input device (mouse/keyboard, joystick, data glove). Most of these games have the simple goal to get to the next level alive through killing lots of aliens/zombies/terrorists, thus the naming of the genre.

    HUD - Heads Up Display ^

    The Heads Up Display usually is part of the game interface and shows basic game information like the player's health, ammunition and oftentimes the first person weapon model. This information is vital when playing the game but distraction when you wnat to use your view as a camera.
    Most games have built in commands or options to make the HUD invisible.

    MOD - Modification ^

    Most of Today's games come together with toolsets to customize the game content or to create extra content. Using those tools, users can create their own levels, characters or even their own rules. These changes to the original game are called "MODs" or "Modifications".

    PreProduction, Production, PostProduction

    Movies are usually produced in three subsequent stages:
    1. PreProduction
    2. Production
    3. PostProduction
    Pre-production includes raising funds, writing the story, casting actors, producting storyboards and searching for locations. Basically, everything that needs to be done before a film can be shot is done in Preproduction. At this stage, traditional and virtual filmmaking aren't that far away from each other.

    Production is actually shooting the movie; working with your actors and crew on location.

    Post-production describes all the steps needed to complete the movie with the footage produced during the production stage. Editing and application of special effects, additional dialogue recording (ADR), titling and musical score generally all happen during this stage.

    Disclaimer ^

    This site was built by Friedrich Kirschner, Hermann-Blum str. 14 74321 Bietigheim, Germany. For further information or complaints, please write to info [at] machinimag [dot] com. "Quake", "Quake2" and "Quake3" are registered trademarks of id software. "Unreal Tournament" and "Unreal Tournament 2004" are registered trademarks of Epic Games. Everything else, especially game names are registered trademarks by their respective owners. We are in no way responsible for the content of websites that linked to this document, neither for the content of websites other than this, even if linked to by this website.
    Friedrich Kirschner, November 2005.