Wednesday, September 2, 2009


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, 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?


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.


Matt Kelland said...

About ten years ago, there were similar debates in the (much smaller) machinima community as to whether films that were rendered as video files counted as machinima, or whether they had to be viewed in the original game engine by playing back a "demo" file. Many regarded creating a video file as "cheating" as it allowed you to add in edits, extra sound effects, etc, and not true to the spirit of machinima. On the other hand, people were quite happy to hack the demo file and add in things that didn't occur during the original gameplay. In the end, as we're all aware, we decided to let the broader definition win out.

It's also worth pointing out that machinima made with Unreal Tournament & Matinee (a game) relies on you pausing time, scrubbing back, and adding in new scripts - a very similar method to the way you do things in iClone or Moviestorm. It's not as simple as "games work this way, non-games work that way".

And yes, that is me ducking the question of whether X, Y or Z is machinima.

remixr said...

Wow, Kate. I could have really used you last week when those film geeks were picking on me in that LinkedIn discussion ;)

Eloquent as always. Nice work.


afterThought said...

I believe iClone IS considered to be 'real time' animation (as stated on their site). I think they consider it real time as opposed to Pixar-like animations that may take days to render a few frames. It's real-time in the sense that we can playback the timeline and see the animation happen more or less in real time. :)

sisch said...

I think that in the long run, Wikipedia should be edited.
Like Matt said, filming in game engines (and SL, too) nowadays involves a lot of scripting - so 'real time' isn't as real time as it used to be. I'm a bit tired of hearing in the sub-text that although a film is nice, it is nonetheless somehow inferior if it's made using MS, TM, or iClone.

I guess iClone gets away with calling itself 'real time animation' engine because you can film while actually directing the puppets via the WASD keys (though purists won't let it count!)

I feel we should all try to be impartial when watching movies - the important thing is the quality of the movie, not how it was made.

And as for calling it Machinima - at least where I live I could call it 'puppeteering pixel figures on my computer screen' - people would still stare at me with blank faces.. :p

Kate Fosk and Michael R. Joyce said...

The current wikipedia article uses the word *Quake* 36 times. I think the page is well overdue for an update, even if the definition of machinima remains essentially the same.-Kate

Russell Boyd said...

Yep, time for us all to go edit that wiki page :)

The meaning of words will be decided by the punters. Who decided that a manufacturer’s name could become a verb for vacuum cleaning – to hoover?

Or why do we call ourselves filmmakers? How many of us have even touched a piece of film in the last 10 years?

The debate over what machinima means has been interesting and sometimes heated. The majority of punters see it as cool videos made from games. It really is just a filmmaking tool and we can all use it as we see fit to suit our purposes. The only people who really need to be clear are those who organise film festivals. Yep, we really need a separate category to get recognition in festivals – just how often do we see machinima films making it in when up against traditional animation? If that is important to you. Personally, I'd rather cater to the punters, though sure, festivals can help get the message out to the punters.

To be frank, 90% (or more) of the machinima out there paints a pretty poor picture of the quality. So keep making better machinima and raise the bar, please :)

Hugh "Nomad" Hancock said...

I'm fairly sure that's not the total definition of Machinima we used within Machinima For Dummies - indeed, since we have a chapter in there on using Moviestorm, it would seem a bit silly if it was.

Obviously I'm reasonably aware that non-game Machinima exists too, having created what I believe was the first piece of it.

Good blog, by the way. Enjoying it.

CD@Machinima Studios said...

It might be worth trying to updating Wikipedia, but nevertheless I find it's core definition still valid and useful (compared to the German Wikipedia entry). "Machinima is the use of real-time three-dimensional (3-D) graphics rendering engines to generate computer animation".
As Matt pointed out, years ago the term rendering doesn't mean the whole film has to be viewed in real-time in that engine, it could be rendered out as video or bits and pieces as well. That allows us all the usual postprocessing we know from traditional fimmaking.
And I think this doesn't exclude tools like MS and iClone just because parts of filming process does not run in real-time. Nor do we need to modify the definition. As Matt pointed out most game engines have timeline editors as well one could use. Core to the definition and difference to conventional 3D animation right now is only that 'real-time' tag. Which limits what kind of visual quality and complexity of the scenes you can get at the end. Lucky for us Machinima filmmakers this will get better over time.
To my understanding Moviestorm and iClone both have real-time graphics engines as core technology. That you can render them out as video is a great feature, but you should be able to get the same result by 'fraps' the real-time preview.

Hugh "Nomad" Hancock said...

Personally I still like the AMAS definition of Machinima we put together a few years ago - "Machinima (muh-sheen-eh-mah) is filmmaking within a real-time, 3D virtual environment, often using 3D video-game technologies."

Anonymous said...

Kate you always come up with the most interesting thoughts to ponder on!

As After Thought mentioned, I also believe that real time refers to the render process, machinima is rendered in real time, as opposed to cell animation which is rendered cell by cell.

I have also been thinking about this recently. I feel the term Machinima is now owned as a brand by, especially on Youtube, and it's difficult for other types of machinima to make a big enough footprint to be heard sometimes. But then, a silent arts movie from the 20's is very different than the latest Transformers movie, but they both come under the term "Films", so I'm not sure it needs a new word to define, hmmm. Maybe a sub-category similar to the way films are categorised, similar to a genre maybe????

I'm not keen on the word anymation. I make animation or animated film, I don't use "any" thing to make it, I use a specific game engine. That is just my personal dislike for the word, it probably fits other people's way of working.

I kind of also prefer the word "animating" instead of "filmaking". The culture of machinima at this point in time is to emulate cinema, why this is I'm not sure, there is a whole world of animation that the machinima community could be inspired by too.


Kerria Seabrooke said...

Thanks Kate for the thought-provoking post!
I agree with Trace that ultimately at this point in time there doesn’t need to be a new definition for machinima.
ASIFA (International Association of Film Animation) defines animation as “not live-action” which is an extremely broad umbrella under which falls anything from claymation, Flash, traditional hand-drawn to machinima.
Machinima continues to trickle into mainstream media (TV, film, festivals, industrials etc.) as a form of animation. IMO – the term machinima is a technique of animation that includes iClone, Moviestorm, Second Life et al. The categories of machinima can then be subdivided to infinity though to what end I’m not quite sure.

Frank Dellario said...

Think someone mentioned it but "rendered" is the missing word, "rendered in real time." Moviestorm, Iclone etc are rendered in realtime, as well as matinee in Unreal 3. Though we don't scrub through the whole scene in Second Life for example, we do scrub through each animation and tweak before we shoot, and shooting (recording of the animation) is done rendered in real-time.

Kate Fosk and Michael R. Joyce said...

@Frank Are we sure Moviestorm and Iclone render in realtime? Maybe it is just me but it seems like longer -Kate

BiggsTrek said...

In a recent trip back home to AU, my nephew asked me "Do you still make those cartoons?" I flinched at that and told him, "We actually call it 'machinima'" and everyone at the table laughed. I'd forgotten how silly the word can sound to those unfamiliar with it (I know I didn't like it the first time I heard it).

All that aside, I think the name is really unimportant. It's just a name. As has been said by others (Kate comes to mind), I make movies using the tools that are available to me. If I had Pixar's resources, I'd make movies like theirs. I don't, so I use The Movies, iClone or whatever fits the purpose.

CD@Machinima Studios said...

The real-time rendering argument, although it looks like the strongest decision marker, can get quite tricky when examined in detail. Would a 3D animation done with Maya, 3dsMax be called machinima just because I have a fast enough machine and a scene of low enough complexity to render it out in real-time of even faster?
What about making a movie with the UT3 game engine, but at the end my computer is not fast enough to render it in HD at real-time, is this still a machinima movie or not? Lucky enough most of the time we don't have to bother about the definition of machinima and just can make our films with whatever tool we like. The machinima tag is most of the time only important when it comes to festivals and award and then it may depend on the jury or their definition of that category.

CD@Machinima Studios said...

To be honest, I wouldn't make any Pixar like film even if I had their resources. One reason is that for me the machinima production method is what I'm interested in. Therefore I call myself more a filmmaker and not an animator. For animation most work is modelling, rigging and animating characters. That's not what most of us are actually working on. We use characters, animations, props, sets made by others (either from games or tools, maybe mod them a bit) and use them as building blocks to tell our stories. So the emphasis of most work is directing, filming, editing.

Chat Noir said...

Thank you everybody for your thoughts. Frankly, it has been overwhelming. I never expected so many visitors. :)

I put some of my further thoughts on this issue in the addendum to the original blog entry.

Again, thank you very much for the discussion. I greatly appreciated all your comments.


Anonymous said...

If you put a machinima into a film festival though, you would be laughed out the building, it's never going to be accepted as film.

If you put it into an animation festival you may be laughed at for not having a high enough quality render, but in theory it would be acceptable(Tom Jantol is proof of this,for example).


Dulci said...

As long as somebody, somewhere out there watches my little flicks, I don't care what they call them.

CD@Machinima Studios said...

It's a challenge to get into an animation festival. They look for good animation work and since we are mainly not animators it's hard work to succeed. Tom's work is a good example for that. His work accepted by an animation festival is mainly done along a standard animation production pipeline used in a tool that supports real-time rendering.
I can add a counter example to
that, since one of my machinima movies made it into an animation festival besides the fact it was made with 'The Movies'. Sometimes strange things happen.
Great we still have our category own festivals and contests. Another chance is that animation festivals will open their mind and judgement to adapt to machinima.

IceAxe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
IceAxe said...

Great 'blog!!!

Here's my two-bits; my opinion is that there is first generation machinima, and second generation. My definition would be that first generation machinima refers to animation that is created using game engines that have been harnessed to produce movies. By "harnessed" I mean either modified technically, or simply used for a purpose other than originally intended.
Second generation machinima relates to movies created using applications specifically designed for the purpose; iClone, Moviestorm, etc.
And I guess something like The Movies would straddle the two; so generation 1.5
This is just my attempt to pigeon-hole. Ultimately, for me, I do find it difficult to define machinima, but I know it when I see it.
I also think that it doesn't really matter what you call it in the end. I don't set out to create machinima at all. I set out to entertain. And when I talk to people that are not part of the "scene", I simply describe what I do as making computer animations. When they see it, they get it. (Or sometimes not...)
As with all things there will be purists that try to define something by what it's not. For example "it's done in Moviestorm, so it's not REAL machinima!". I don't agree with the argument because the end goal is the same whether you're using a game engine or not, and frankly I'd rather drive a car than build a go-cart from a lawnmower and two bicycles.(Right tool for the job.)

Hugh "Nomad" Hancock said...

Lainy - not so much, actually. Many live-action festivals will be happy to show Machinima. BloodSpell has played at a couple of primarily live-action festivals, notably the Bare Bones festival in Muskogee.

Good story is good story, and entertaining is entertaining.

Hugh "Nomad" Hancock said...

And to stir a bit - nope, unless you're running a VERY fast computer, Moviestorm's rendering isn't real-time. And what about the rendering in After Effects that most Machinima films do?

CHAT NOIR said...

As I mentioned in the addendum to the original blog, it looks like clraification of the term "realtime" would be helpful when defining "machinima" in terms of that feature.

Here is the quote:


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?

Paul Jannicola said...

Quite a thread! Glad to see so many responses and opinions on the use of the word. I remember when they were caled Quake movies, so to see this much discussion on the term we've all embraced is exciting.

Just a point of clarification - Tiny Nation, a machinima film, was accepted into the 33rd Cleveland International Film Festival as a short film. There was no machinima category and the film stood on its own, so I do see machinima as moving toward being accepted as film outside our community.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify what I was trying to say about the film festival comment and machinima. I wasn't referring to festivals that accept both live action film and animated film, I was referring to it being accepted as "film". If you look at last years Oscars, short film (animated) and animated feature film have their own categories, they are not viewed of as film propper, as in live action. Therefore, machinima would fit in the animated categories, not in the film categories.


Frank Dellario said...

Thanks for correction, rendering may no longer be a distinct part of the definition. In UT3, you can render in real-time or tell it to render a higher resolution and/or quality output, much the same as in max or maya, producing a render that takes hours or days. In Second Life, you can not only take a screen shot in game at your current resolution, but have it output a much higher resolution still (4000 x 3000 for example) that takes minutes to render (meant for 300 dpi print quality stills for magazines). Yeah a still and not moving image but point is the tech is there.

On the flip side, some animation houses (ie Rainmaker Animation out of Vancouver) are using a UT3 license (very expensive) to use Unreal as a real-time render engine. To them, they're not making machinima or real-time animation, they don't even know UT3 is used to make computer games. Their pipeline - create/animate everything in max or maya - stays the same, except they bring everything into UT3 to render in real-time. All they care about is speeding up a part of their pipeline to save time and money and therefore either make more profit from their current rates or be more competitive in the CGI market.

Bottom line, two worlds are converging but either way, machinima/real-time animation still has a lower barrier to entry, a good thing.

Norrie said...

Wow! So much nonsense talked about a made up word. Remarkable, really it is.

Rendering; RT rendering; 3D rendering. UT3, Maya, Quake, Doom, SL, 4QHP, etc. Yikes people, it's a chimeric word (and not in a Classical way).

Sorry, I don't do what you do that you do, but does it matter? Really?

Make it; enjoy it; publish it; revel, or not, in the feedback; but don't, please, obsess over one description of what you do.

Just keep doing what you want to do please; some of us watch it caring nothing for its tag. Story is story, visuals are visuals, art is art.

Don't get bogged down in semantics and, dare I say it, sophistry.

CHAT NOIR said...

I don't think people are obsessing over the description of what they do or what what they do is called. I think they are just stopping a moment and thinking about the usage of the term and what it means, etc. I think it is a positive thing when people do that. :)

Norrie said...

Not so sure Kate, not so sure.

It's a made up word, coined a few years ago. That's all it i; a made up word.

If it were called GameAchimema would you stop? Would any of you?

Words have meaning; labels... not so much

CHAT NOIR said...

Well, aren't made up words still words if enough people use them?

Come on, we're just thinking out loud here! Give us a break! Can't people fight over trivial matters in peace?