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/

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