Do you feel what I feel on seeing this picture? That little knot in the heart. That subtle pang between the eyebrows.
I am often amazed at what an image of a human face, even completely out of context, can evoke in another person.
Psychologists call it emotional contagion. The theory roughly goes like this. We human beings have an innate tendency to mimic the faces (and postures and prosodies, etc.) of our conspecies with which we're interfacing. As we view others' faces, our own facial musculature instinctively assumes certain aspects of the expressions on them. The subtle muscle tones generated this way in turn create a feedback to our system and thereby produce the very emotion that is associated with the original facial expression.
An interesting theory, although I question if we have to actually mimic the faces in order to be infected with the emotions expressed on them. My own suspicion (as an armchair non-working psychologist) is that evolution must have endowed us with a much more direct route to be attuned with others around us. (In any case, I haven't encountered any empirical evidence that emotional contagion requires actual mimicry.)
Anyways, here is another image of the same actress in the same movie. (You guessed it, it is Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. A fine movie, not my favorite, but that's not the point.)
Her expression is much subtler here. Barely noticeable. But this face still communicates something and draws you in. This is not just because this is a beautiful face (although I'm sure it helps tremendously). Look at the doll version of the same character.
This should be at least as beautiful as the original face, but it hardly does anything to me. I am completely disengaged.
By now some of you (if there is any of you stayed with me until this point) must have sensed where I'm going, given that this blog is about machinima, supposedly. Yes, I sometimes wonder if machinima can ever be as effective as live action films without real human faces -- these exquisite communication devices that bypass your mind and reason and speak directly to your heart. That powerful equipment tested and retested, modified, and built into the very core of who we are, through millions of years of evolution.
At this point I suggest that you watch the following video by Phil "Overman" Rice. (It's really funny anyway.)
So what's my point? That machinima is doomed? I suffer from my share of negativity, but I'm not that self-destructive. At least not in public. Whereas I do think machinima suffers from a heavy handicap for being deprived of the magic of the human face, I can see a number of ways in which machinima makers can overcome this shortcoming. Some further thoughts on this matter would make a good topic for my next blog. But now, I end this post with something that I hope would make you feel a little bit better.