Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Incubus production update

by Sherwin.



Casting is now complete. ScarletRhapsody (who played Claire in Death in Venice) will be playing Isabel Bennett, the heroine. Sisch will be the voice of Lydia Vogel, an artist and Isabel's confidant. Goofparade will be Julien Leroy, a renowned artist. And K4 is Nathan Bennett, Isabel's well-to-do husband. AnotherNewDawn will have a special appearance.

Rather than trying to further cut down the script, we've decided to move ahead and start working on it as it is. We suspect that, given the proportion between description and dialogue, that the 28 pages will probably translate to 24 minutes or so. And we'll adjust the pacing once we see what we have.

Since "Incubus" was written with Moviestorm in mind, we may have fewer of the technical challenges that we faced in "Death in Venice". For one, it's not in Venice. (Thank God.) There are still various hurdles and a never-ending amount of tasks ahead to create and improve the visual elements. I know we are spending a lot of time designing the sets, and that it doesn't feel any faster than before. But there's nothing in Incubus comparable to, for instance, a conversation on a gondola ride through narrow Venetian canals. Most of the settings are interiors, but they should look different, unique and appropriate. We've made some good progress over the last few days!

And so we end this year looking forward to a fun year of moviemaking and moviewatching. I got to watch a lot of (non-machinima) movies these last few days of 2009, and I have to say that the diversity, versatility and the power of cinema never cease to amaze me.

Happy New Year!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A horrific dream begins

By Kate


For the last two months, stories and ideas were churning inside me, while I was racing to meet my life's obligations. Jutting down ideas during the commute, and thinking about the scenes into my sleep, I was waiting and waiting for this day to come.

So here I am with our next machinima project, and "Incubus" is its working title. (See the fairly self-explanatory picture above.) This is a story about a woman whose nightmare changes her life. I think "La Boheme" will make a nice ironic title for this one, as there are many rich artists involved in it (and there's another reason I wouldn't tell), but "Incubus" is just way too cool to give up.

This is going to be another unabashed Romantic affair (with the capital "R"). It's interesting that our machinima tends to be so unapologetically Romantic. I don't see myself, or my other writings outside machinima projects, fitting this description at all. The medium seems to define what we end up working on, and machinima seems to almost always lead us to wilder side of the imagined world.

The truth is, I was working on a more somber story until mid-November (working title: "Of Human Bondage") with a constant apprehension that the material might not be a good fit for the medium. Then this story happened...

I'm still writing up the script at this point. S started imported props for the sets. We are both very excited to submerge into this dark water in long winter nights.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Miscellaneous Musings

By Sherwin

While K is on a short break from posting on this blog, I thought I would try my best to fill in for her by just talking about what's been happening.

- * - * - * -
The International Machinima Expo 2009 that took place just last week was the kind of event that provides the inspiration and energy needed by a lot of machinima filmmakers. Even though it was taking place in the virtual world of Second Life, being in the same virtual room filled up with a bedazzling number of different avatars representing members of our little section of the machinima community - that was a fun experience for us, who came back to moviemaking four months ago.


I also had a chance to catch a few movies I had not seen before playing in the screening rooms. Even though the streaming quality will be inferior to that of a video streaming website, the environment and the people you watch with makes it a whole different experience. I got to watch our movie "Death in Venice" with award-winning filmmaker IceAxe, who fortunately did not burn the theater down with his torch.


This event also introduced us to the world of Second Life. I took the chance to explore many areas, also with the intention of maybe using some SL footage in a movie. What's most intriguing to me is the wide variety of environments that exist, and many of these being quite detailed, especially considering how empty most of these places appeared to me. While the commercialism is hard to ignore, there are a few areas in which SL really appears to shine: as a medium for artists to create virtual worlds, and as an innovative tool for education and dissemination of knowledge (e.g. virtual museums).

- * - * - * -

Moviestorm's recent announcement of their subscription service created a bit of a hoopla on both the TMU and the Moviestorm forums. The TMOA radio shows "The Storm Hour" and "Ken & Roger" have almost exhausted the topic. I do believe that the vast majority of us are willing to invest in this movie-making tool, and that the passion in the arguments stem mainly from our sincere concerns that the company remain a viable business in the long term. Being an engineer, my instincts are to leave these decisions for the business/marketing types and the number crunchers. The MovieStorm founders are prominent evangelists of machinima, so I trust that they will steer their ship accordingly.

- * - * - * -

On a lighter note, I think we have settled on a machinima project for the coming Winter break. Since we moved from California to New England, winter has taken a whole new intimidating meaning in our minds. Staying home and watching the snow fall from our windows while discussing moviemaking minutia - that sounds like a good plan. Alternatively I could learn how to drive on the snow, but I'm currently trying to minimize my auto insurance costs.

It will likely be a shorter movie than "Death in Venice," as our current goal is to keep it below 12 minutes. This time Kate is starting the script from scratch (instead of a three-year old "The Movies" script), so we'll hopefully be able to take into account the strength and limitations of our machinima tool from the scripting stage (instead of bending the tools to fit the script). It's still early days so I can't say much more than that, but you will hear from us. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Post-Mortem

By Sherwin

It seems an opportune time to look back and dissect a particular aspect of our latest movie effort "Death in Venice". One decision that I personally believe to be crucial in setting the tone and mood was made about halfway - a month into production. At this time we had completed the first half of the movie, each scene separately filmed and connected to each other only in our minds. It was time to string these scenes together and see what beast we had created.

Our earlier mindset with the 10-20 minutes machinima "shorts" had been that the story had to be as efficient as possible. Kate crafted this script in 2006 which was lean and mean, in the sense that the information was fed to the viewer regularly and at an accelerated pace when compared to regular feature films. We were indeed cramming a lot of background information in a short period of time (e.g., five flashbacks within ten minutes), and expecting the viewers to keep up. Would this approach work?

In some movies in the past we plead to being guilty of information overload and expecting much from viewers. This is not a decision we've made casually, and it is one that we have debated and sometimes reverted. In case of "Death in Venice", we ended up slowing the pace for the first half of the movie to give the viewers a chance to breathe and catch up. The background information is necessary but it can be tasking. After all, this is the fragile point at which the viewer is still developing a connection with the characters and an understanding of the plot. Did our efforts fall short? It depends on who is watching and the attention they are granting the movie. It depends on the environment it is consumed in - low-end speakers or headphones, full screen or not, the bandwidth of the stream (or whether it is a download), the display monitor. These factors are out of our control, but we have to strive for balance and make a serious attempt at pleasing most viewers. The truth is, I cannot tell whether we succeeded or not, as I cannot watch this movie unspoiled as if for the first time. But I am glad we made the attempt.

Making a movie that doesn't connect to viewers can be a self-absorbed exercise in narcisism. At the same time, a 20-minutes drama machinima is not yet an established medium, one that some people still doubt even exists. I think of this movie making experience as an iterative and incremental experiment in which audience and filmmakers consciously or subconsciously adjust to each other, and meet in the middle where expectations are met and a connection is finally realized. "Death in Venice" was hopefully a step in the right direction for us.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Death in Venice soundtrack

I finally gathered all the Death in Venice original music files and sent it to TMOA. You can listen to it here as well (find the widget on the right side). :)

It is really fun to compose the music for the movie that you are helping to direct. We deliberately extended a few seconds here and there when we felt an extra little musical phrase would help. And of course there were long discussions on whether music is necessary at all in certain places.

There are a few recognizable recurring themes used throughout. One of them is a short motif from Verdi's La Forza overture which I found to be handy - this overture is the music you hear at the opening intro with the mask and that church on the other side of the Piazza San Marco - what's the name of that? There is also a 'revenge' theme, associated with Sebastian, and a 'love' theme - prominently played near the end of the movie.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Death in Venice Released

How do I feel now that it’s done?

I’m still a bit shaky I guess, from all the happenings of today. First, we were on the Ken and Roger Show, and then Death in Venice was premiered at the TMU theater. I was very nervous the whole time.

Well, the interview didn't go well. Ken lured me into discussions based on some of my blog entries, and I just fell right into that trap, forgetting the fact that I cannot talk and think at the same time. What can I say? Unfortunately, writing is my true mode of thought. :P Despite the stress and all the wrong things I said, it was very nice to be able to chat with these two nice gentlemen.

TMU Theatre is such a wonderful institution that enables people from anywhere to gather together and watch a movie (that is streaming on web a browser), chatting with each other in near real time. Having your movie premiered there is just an incredible experience and a true privilege. We thank D. L. Watson, a.k.a. Moonlight Pictures, for bringing such a wonderful gift to machinima makers.

For those of you who couldn’t make it to the premiere today, please find the movie on the right column.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Death in Venice

I guess my days of posing as a blogger are over! :) It has been a long time since I posted anything here. For the last few weeks, S and I have been working hard on our first MovieStorm machinima, Death in Venice.

Working together with your spouse on a creative project is an experience to have. Now that our joint efforts of last two months are about to come to fruition, I am excited and sad at the same time. I will certainly miss those countless late night discussions and dinner table debates.

The production process of this movie in particular was such a rich experience of creative collaboration, not only between S and I, but also with the initial involvement of NeoNoir, who was originally set to direct this movie. Even though he ended up dropping out of the project, he left a lot of his footprints in this. More than three years ago, he expressed his own interest in incorporating the motif of masks into a hit man movie after hearing a bunch of stories I pitched to him (including what became Death in Venice), and I subsequently wrote the mask motif into the script for him. Some of the mask-related parts are gone now, but the theme left its permanent mark on a deep place of the story. (Watch the movie, and you’ll see.) NeoNoir’s suggestion that we bring some spectacle to the movie by having the climax take place in a “piazza” (as well as his mentioning of “Venetian masks”) sealed the destination of Marc and Julia as well. When he brought up the possibility of having our first killing in a concert hall, Verdi's "Rigoletto" came to haunt the story and never left even after the concert hall turned into a restaurant.

After three years of hibernation and many week's intense labor, the story will be released at TMU Theater on October 4th (7:10 Eastern, 4:10 Pacific).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Machinima?

by Kate

I’m relatively new to “machinima.” Before my two-year break, I mainly stayed inside the tight-knit community of The Movies Online, and hardly ever called what I was doing machinima. Now my partner (and husband) and I make movies with Moviestorm. Here are some of my thoughts after suddenly finding myself being in “machinima.” (I am not discussing “anymation”* here. My focus is on machinima production involving single non-game-based engines.)

Let me begin with some popular definitions of Mahchinima:

“Machinima is making films with computer games” (Hancock & Ingram, 2007, p.14).

“Machinima is the art of making animated films within a real time virtual 3D environment” (Kelland, Morris, & Lloyd, 2005, p. 10).

The second definition is slightly broader and more inclusive than the first, and as of mid 2009 this seems most widely advertised meaning of “machinima” from Wikipedia to Machinima.com, to various machinima festival sites, and to the blogsphere. “3D environment” and “real time” have been established as the defining features of machinima production.

This, in my opinion, excludes movies made with software such as Moviestorm or iClone, as “real-time” is not the filming process in these platforms. The users of Moviestorm and iClone pause time in their virtual set to build the action piece by piece, and move back and forth along the timeline to make corrections and add subtleties. Yet, in practice, many individuals and various organizations/competitions consider Moviestorm and iClone production as machinima.

(EDIT: The term "real time" is a rather ambiguous term. Originally, the traditional machinima makers often used this term to refer to the real-time puppetry conducted inside of ongoing game play. In the filed of animation though, "real-time" has a strong association with the rendering technology rather than puppetry. That is, if you can render the result of animation in near real-time, it would be considered "real-time." In this latter sense, Moviestorm and iClone would be qualified as adopting a real-time technology.)

So here we are with a wide-spread definition of machinima that excludes a particular kind of non-conventional animation on one hand, and the common usage of the term that defies this definition on the other. My question then is: is this the time to redefine machinima? Or do we need another term for non-game-based movies that were created with the animation tools targeted for mass market?

There are some good reasons for keeping the old definition in peace and coin a new term for the instances that do not fit it. The production process in Moviestorm and iCone (and other similar platforms) is significantly different from the traditional machinima production, and there seems to be some existing resistance in the old-school machinima circles to accepting non-game-based animation as machinima. Beside, a new term might actually help us break loose from the old baggage of certain machinima mentality and claim ourselves as -- excuse me if this sounds pompous but this honestly is the best words I can think of --artists, as opposed to, say, ingenuous hackers.

On the other hand, it is convenient to have one handy umbrella term for all the animated movies created with nontraditional techniques. Certain game engines are highly machinima-friendly and offer ample contents and functionality targeted for machinima production, blurring the boundary between game-based and non-game-based engines. In addition, the term machinima has been comfortably accommodating various potentially ambiguous cases such as the movies made in Second Life. The truth is, in spite of the existing sectarian disputes, there seems to be such a thing as a larger machinima community, that shares the same love, enthusiasm and vision, directed to all sorts of alternative method of animation that allows common people like you and me to make movies with micro budget.

But by applying the term machinima to certain movies, aren't we in fact changing its definition? Then, should we try to popularize this more inclusive definition, instead of copying and spreading the traditional narrower definition over and over again? Should we go ahead and edit Wikipedia? Or is the time not ripe yet?


Addendum:

I think the problem is that the term “real time” is used in many different ways. In animation, as I understand, the term “realtime” is often used in relation to “realtime rendering environment” which allows the animators to see their work in the rendered speed in the animating stage. In machinima circles, however, “real time” seems to have been used in various ways. In one extreme, the term requires capturing the action as it unfolds in front of your eyes even without any editing. In the other extreme, the aforementioned animator’s technical definition of “realtime” appears to be adopted. Between these two, there are various grades of “real time.” As such, I think it would be helpful if the term “real time” (preferably “realtime”) is further explicated when used to define machinima.

That said, I wonder if 3D animation in general will one day move to realtime rendering environments and the current definition of machinima (even with the word “realtime” with clarification) will be challenged once more. Or will the boundary be broken completely in the future, leaving only the distinction between high-budget, independent, nano-budget animations?

Work Cited

Handcock, H. & Ingram, J. (2007). Machinima for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Kelland, M, Morris, D., & Lloyd, D. (2005). Machinima. Boston, MA: Thompson.

*For “anymation,” see this page by Phil “Overman” Rice, or this Urban Dictionary entry by Tom Jantol, who coined the term according to Overman’s comment on this web page.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Anatomy of Empathy – Part 1 (or a Hopelessly Self-indulgent Musing)

By Kate
A little robot, Wall-E, spent hundreds of years in solitude processing garbage in the empty planet, until one day, when he meets EVA. She becomes his girl-friend and sole friend. When she turns inactive for a reason he doesn't understand, he takes care of her, dressing her up and bringing her to picnic.

Satine, a beautiful courtesan of Moulin Rouge who wants to be a real actress, is in love with a struggling writer. She is about to be raped by the duke who has been their sponsor. She announces that today is the day her life ends.

At the end of a picture-perfect love story in which a young couple overcome their obstacles, the young man watches the love of his life lie in a hospital bed dying of leukemia.
It might be too shameful for you to admit that you felt something in those moments. It is for me. But that does not change the fact that we felt for these characters. Empathy. Identification. These are the words often used to label what happened to us. They say we empathized with those characters. But what does that mean?

As it turns out, philosophers have spent much brain power to resolve the “paradox” of empathizing with fictional characters. Susan Feagin, for example, contends that “empathy” is feeling exactly what the other person feels and “for the right reasons.” According to Feagin, in empathizing with a real person, we have to believe that we adopted the beliefs and desires of the person in question. (Otherwise, it would be sympathy, not empathy.) In empathizing with a fictional character however, we can't hold such a belief. In fact, we don’t even believe that the person exists at all. So how is it possible that we empathize with a fictional character? Feagin’s solution to this paradox is to say that we imagine having the fictional character’s beliefs and desires, rather than believing that we do. This sounds like saying that the empathy we feel for a real person is categorically different from the empathy we feel for a fictional character. The former is based on the second order belief (the belief that we adopted the other person’s beliefs) and the latter based on imagination.

A more convoluted proposal comes from Gregory Currie, who says we don’t imagine believing the same thing as a non-existing person in empathizing with him, but we (lo and behold) “believe-I” and "desire-I" the contents of his beliefs and desires to simulate his mental states. (Here, the special “I-states” denote real mental states that bear some sort of systematic resemblance to the mental states of the target person.) Moreover, he says that what we do is to simulate “a hypothetical reader of fact” who empathizes with the fictional character in question. So Currie’s solution to the paradox seems to be making up this new mental state (“I-state”) as well as insert an intermediary between us and the fictional character. (It appears to me that the “hypothetical reader of fact” is an unnecessary entity, although some may find it useful for solving what Currie calls the “personality problem,” the fact that we empathize with the kind of fictional characters we wouldn’t empathized with in real life.)

One of the problems I have with these views is their assumption that we really do adopt the beliefs and desires of others in empathizing with real people. How can this be possible? We have no access to other people’s beliefs and desires. We can never truly know them, much less adopt them. Most of time, we only theorize about them. When we attempt to “simulate” them, imagining is the only possible way. Therefore, in my opinion, we always depend on our imagination when empathizing with somebody -- real or fictional.

Another problem is the notion of putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes and identifying with them. Do we really put ourselves in the shoe of Wall-E, or the beautiful 19th century Parisian courtesan, or the lover of the dying young woman? Do we imagine adopting their beliefs and desires (or “believe-I” and “desire-I” them)? I think what really happens is something more complicated. Here is what I think happens when we "empathize" with movie characters (and with real people to a certain degree):
  • I suspect unconscious activation of one’s own emotional memories in response to the event on screen is often confused with (or constitutes) what we call empathy. (Oatley, a leading figure in cognitive science of fiction and stories, also lists emotional memories as one of the five processes through which fiction evokes emotions, but for him this is a process separate from “identification.”)
  • In some cases, we may become emotional imagining the events in the film happening to us even without simulating the beliefs and desires of the character.
  • Once we form an alliance or attachment with a character, our own desire not to see bad things happen to the people we like may be at play.
  • Automatic arousal in response to emotional expressions at display on screen, should also constitute our “empathy” experience.
  • Furthermore, we sometimes seem to react to the abstract “truth” the event on the screen distills. (e.g., Wall-E’s situation shows us our hopeless bondage to the blind yearning for attachment; Satine’s moment in Moulin Rouge! says that happiness does not last and sometimes you have to pay a horrible price; The end of Love Story reminds us how helpless we are in the face of certain fates.)
My suspicion is that empathy is not a single-process, but an amalgam of different processes that are bundled as one in our subjective experience. When we watch a film, multiple processes -- wonderfully diverse and complex -- may interact with each other, enhancing each other, to create the feeling in us of connecting with the character and feeling for them. This realization (or is this just a misconception?) opens a door to a whole new way of thinking about story-telling for me.

Works cited:

Feagin, S. (1997). Imagining emotions and appreciating fiction. In M. Hjort & S. Laver (Eds.), Emotion and the Arts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Currie, G. (1997). The paradox of caring: Fiction and the philosophy of mind. In M. Hjort & S. Laver (Eds.), Emotion and the Arts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Oatley, K. & Gholamain, M. (1997). Emotion and identification: Connections between readers and fiction. In M. Hjort & S. Laver (Eds.), Emotion and the Arts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Other references:

Davies, D. (2007). Aesthetics and Literature. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Tan, E. S. (1996). Emotion and the Structure of Narrative Film: Film as an Emotion Machine. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

My thanks to the members of TMU forms who participated in this discussion thread.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Economics of Interest

by Kate

How can we make our movies more interesting
? Today, I search for an answer to this question in the book mentioned in my previous blog (Emotion and the Structure of Narrative Film: Film as an Emotion Machine by Ed S. Tan, 1996), as well as a few examples of machinima pieces. Tan's book offers so much food for thoughts that I can see it inspiring a few more blogs.

Tan compares interest to investment. Being interested means investing time and energy to explore the stimulus at hand. The return includes the satisfaction of being confirmed of one's expectations or that “ah-ha” experience. Like any investment, “[i]nterest is determined by the prospect of return.”

According to Tan, the prospect of return is partly determined by the past return. Just like you will not keep investing on a losing stock, the viewer will not continue watching a movie that does not reward him/her. If this is true, small revelations and emotionally satisfying moments, scattered throughout the story, will help keep the viewer interested. Intervention by Overman offers an excellent example of how this may works. (Disclaimer: I'm not attempting to guess Overman's intention. I'm merely describing what the movie was experienced by this particular viewer.)

Intervention from Phil Rice on Vimeo.

At the beginning, we see a man holding onto a buoy in the middle of the ocean. Even stranger is the way he gets away from the buoy. This clearly demands an inspection. Quite soon, you figure out what it is. The man is swimming backwards. This movie plays backwards! (A small reward was granted in the form of this little ah-ha moment.) You follow the man running backwards for a while, and soon receive a new clue. He is hiding from police vehicles. He must have been running from the law. (Another piece of reward.) This way, you follow the backward-running man till the end, while picking up morsels of returns to your investment, until the very end when you finally learn the whole truth, including the meaning of the title and the song, in a one single mind blowing rush of Eureka!

According to Tan, interest is a self-enhancing emotion. Once the viewer gets sufficiently interested, and spends enough time and energy in figuring out the story and character, they are more likely to be deeply involved in the story, as well as develop a stronger desire to find a closure or a stronger expectation for a particular end-state. They will have more at stake now. They cannot leave. Past investments lead to more future investments. In this light, what we story-tellers want to do is get our audience sufficiently invested in the story from early on, and keep them invested by withholding the biggest reward until near the end.

Intervention illustrates the self-enhancing nature of interest very well. As we explore the unfolding story for a prolonged period of time, our involvement with the protagonist gets stronger, and so does our desire to learn how he got into all this mess. We also have made, consciously and unconsciously, inferences and predictions that need to confirmed. With time, our desire to see things through only grows.

Another good example of the previous investment leading to even more investment is The Snow Witch by Britannica Dreams.


Toward the end of this story, near the climax, we have developed a strong suspicion of the truth about Yuki-onna. In fact, we’re almost sure of what is coming. But instead of turning it off, we are transfixed in our seat, wanting to witness our anticipation being realized on the screen and curious to see how it happens. It is as if we worked toward this moment, and now we have to see it materialized.

Intervention and The Snow Witch also reveal another aspect of "interest" in movie watching. The streets of Intervention are relatively novel to me, and they look fantastic. Had they been exactly the same streets I watched many times before, or if they were shot with poor cinematography, would my interest have stayed at the same level? If the world of The Snow Witch were not as heartbreakingly beautiful as it is, would I have been equally motivated to explore that world? In these movies, the style and technique serve the story by helping to keep the viewer engaged. The quality of the artifact surely seduces the viewer. Possibly even more important is that it gives the viewer the sense of being at the hands of an able story-teller. It makes her feel safe about her investment.

We, story-driven machinima makers, have an obligation to our viewers to make our stories more interesting and rewarding for them. The viewer experience deserves more attention, and can be improved by better story design as well as other means -- such as pleasing dialogue and visuals. It would be mere laziness, or in some cases, sheer arrogance and conceit, not to try harder.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Experience of Fiction vs. the Appreciation of Artifacts

By Kate

When you visit Viemo, YouTube, or TMUnderground to watch a much-talked-about machinima piece, what is your primary motivation? What is it that you're seeking?

In Emotion and the Structure of Narrative Film: Film as an Emotion Machine, Ed S. Tan (1996) discusses two primary motives for watching a film: 1) the experience of fiction and 2) the appreciation of artifacts. The first is about being transformed to the world pertaining to the narrative. (e.g., being engrossed in the events unfolding, being scared as you watch the character ventures out to the dark). The second is about appreciating the style and formal characteristics of the medium (e.g., appreciating the camera work, acknowledging the way the monster suddenly flashes right in front of the camera after the long and slow building up of a nervous anticipation, or marveling at the way Memento tells its story).

This dichotomy seems particularly interesting in the context of machinima. It is my opinion that the appreciation of artifacts has a much higher priority in machinima watching than in film watching. It would be fair to say we often watch machinima mainly to see what people can do (and have done) with various machinima engines, and to be impressed and inspired by their ingenuity. At least, we do so much more frequently than we approach films with the same motivation.

The heightened status of the artifact appreciation in machinima watching is not surprising since machinima started (by and large) as the showcase of what an impressive artifact you can create out of the game you play. The machinima tools geared for story-telling are still in their infancy, and both the developers and users of these tools are in the process of discovering what can be achieved and how. In the mean time, a drastically high proportion of machinima watchers remain to be what we might call peer viewers (viewers who are involved in the craft and the community around it themselves), and for these people, the technique and style naturally are of particular importance and interest.

The problem is that this seems to brew the culture of 5-minute tech-demos in which the highest esteem and popularity are reserved for brief movies with minimal stories that are primarily to demonstrate the maker’s cinematic techniques or the potential of particular tools. In this environment, I find myself left wondering whether there is a place for story-driven machinima.

Should a story matter? I will not dwell on the point that style without substance is empty. Neither will I spend the virtual ink on my personal motivations for making those little movies. Instead, I would raise the point that machinima’s value as an artifact is bound to greatly depreciate outside the small odd community of the machiniphiles. None of the most superior camera works, lighting works, or cinematic techniques created in a personal computer will sufficiently impress non-game-players and non-machinima-makers. It is only through the story, and its universal appeal, that the people at large can be intrigued. It is through the story that machinima would be able to gain the legitimacy and respect it deserves in the real world.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Production Diary Aug 3, 2009

We had a good weekend, our first one working on the Death in Venice project. We are surrounded by Verdi's Rigoletto everyday now, it's beginning to drive me nuts.

There's a learning curve for us, but we are excited about all the tools and possibilities that exist right now. I fiddled with Adobe After Effects to produce the opening shot, and I think we are on the right track. I am also giving more input than in previous movies where K did most of the directing. Of course, I run all my ideas with her - we all know who is the boss in this production studio. :)

I also worked on some music. It's a piece that we definitely cannot get a free recording of, to use commercially. So I just had to enter it and tweak the samples to sound better.

Finally, most of my time was spent on importing Sketchup props into MovieStorm. By the way, I think MovieStorm is a great tool. Sure there are some deficiencies, but I believe they are pointing in the right direction - making it simple to get things done so you can focus on the important things.

-S

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Past, Present and Future

By Kate

We lied. We weren’t sleeping. We’ve been busy hammering, sawing, and screwing around in the set. We’ve been training ourselves with Moviestorm, researching for postproduction tools, and conducting trial shooting.

In addition, I intend to blog here about: our production processes, writing, and… cognitive science approach to stories and arts, which I think could be a unique feature of this site and which will be an extra motivating factor for my quest to learn more about this relatively new field to me (although I have background in a related area). I may also try to write about exciting developments in the Machinima community, but I know there are enough people out there doing great job on that front already.

No more idle TV watching, no more weekend excursions... I see lots of Chinese takeouts in our future.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sssh.... We are sleeping.