Machinima Film Festival 2008
Eyebeam, located in the Chelsea art district of Manhattan, was a superb choice for the 2008 Machinima Film Festival (MFF), organized by the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences. Built on the European atelier model of providing open spaces for artists to experiment, Eyebeam is also dedicated to exploring the frontier of art and technology. Machinima, the art of real-time 3D animation, is now over 10 years old and slowly moving into the mainstream as both a production process and a unique animation style.
Held on November 1st, the 2008 Festival was a much scaled back event compared to the previous 2 day festival held back in 2005. That this year's festival came about at all is a testament to the commitment of individuals like Paul Marino, Friedrich Kirschner and Frank Dellario. Suffering a bit from fragmentation, the contemporary machinima community is primarily focused in various video game and software program forums like World of Warcraft, Sims2, Half Life 2, iClone and Moviestorm. And while there is a surprising amount of collaboration between filmmakers, a festival like this one is very important in establishing a real sense community as a whole for machinima. The social aspect of meeting your virtual friends and talking over films and film technique is worth the effort to come to the Festival.
Covering a period of about 12 hours from mid morning to the late evening awards ceremony, this years MFF was filled with interesting and varied programming. The main Eyebeam space was used for the screenings which went on all day. The secondary spaces were devoted to several panels which were taking place simultaneously, and small computer terminals where the Student Machinima film competition screened all day. I was so glad to see that the AMAS was making a concerted effort to attract young people to machinima, an art form and technique perfectly suited to introduce students to the world of animation.
Six panels were presented, starting with Paul Marino's “Intro to Machinima” to my own (in collaboration with Phil Rice) “Sound in Machinima”. Some of the other panels included “Machinima and Art”, “Grassroots Machinima” (students) and three filmmakers panels devoted to the questions “Where to from here?”, “Game vs Filmmaker” and “Story vs Character”. I was particularly taken with the “Where to from here?” panel, which featured Chris Burke (This Spartan Life), Douglas Gayeton (Molotov Alva) and Frank Delario (the Ill Clan). The discussion of copyright and the tricky move into professional machinima was spirited and featured very different points of view.
The Festival did present a bit of a dilemma for those who wanted to watch the screenings and those who wanted to attend the panels, since they were both occurring at the same time. A staggered arrangement would have worked better since I had to also get lunch, too (I was starving). It was stressful knowing that every minute spent focusing on one thing kept you from being able to see or attend another. We were also somewhat disappointed that the MFF didn't schedule a second day of events. It couldn't have happened at the Eyebeam, since they are closed on Sunday, but even a social gathering at a restaurant would have made the event last a bit longer.
And it was the social meetings that really got everyone excited. After the too long awards ceremony (I'm not one for awards in general), I found myself running from one fantastic conversation to another. And much later at a restaurant/bar, we all found ourselves exhausted, yet still yearning to share our passion for this unusual art form.
Fortunately, several of us were able to get together the next day (my apologies to those we missed) at a wonderful restaurant in Brooklyn (Maggie Browns) where, in addition to more fascinating conversation with Sam Midwood and Chris Burke, I had the best Macaroni and Cheese I've ever had. And any restaurant that plays a lounge band version of Pink Floyd's “Comfortably Numb” goes right to the top of my list of great places to eat and have fun.
It was hard to say goodbye to my friends, collaborators and new acquaintances. I felt the same sense of loss after SIGGRAPH, but this was more personal since I knew so many people there. But the result of this year's MFF is that everyone who attended either has new ideas for a film, a promised future collaboration and/or a huge charge of excitement for this still growing art form – machinima.
The 1st Annual Machinima Expo
It's difficult to report on an event that I helped produce. Especially since the Expo originally was set to be a three day event in Montreal, Canada, but had the funding pulled at the last minute and was then reconfigured to take place in the virtual world “Second Life”. The upset that this change caused was so great that the event almost didn't take place. And it is with great restraint that I am consciously refraining from going into detail about the poor treatment I and the other organizers received.
Anyway...at the last minute, myself, Phil Rice, Ingrid Moon and Damien Valentine scrambled to take our three days of programming and put it all into one day. Not to mention the problems associated with finding sufficient space and the servers to host the films we were screening and showing at the event. But primarily through Phil's superhuman efforts, we found an island, built the architecture we needed and finally managed to get all of the judging done for the film festival which took place in Second Life on November 9th with surprising success.
The Machinima Expo had a very different approach to a machinima festival than the MFF. Focused more on the international machinima scene and on specific filmmakers such as Tom Jantol, Marque Cornblatt and the late Peter Rasmussen, there was also a de-emphasis on competition and awards. The Expo adopted the European model of the “jury prize” and awarded six jury prizes out of over 130 films submitted.
Since the event was virtual, we were able to attract people from all over the world to the screenings and events. A main stage theatre was created for the brief awards ceremony and for a Premiere of the film “Clear Skies” (with the director Ian Chisholm attending). Our “Women in Machinima” panel was a highlight of the festival with Ingrid Moon heading a wonderful collection of women filmmakers. The conversation was frank and exciting. I think the panel could have gone on all day. A live “Overcast” podcast hosted by your's truly and Phil Rice addressed the issue of the “Amateur and the Professional”. Another interesting discussion ensued which could have easily carried over into the evening.
I found it fascinating to attend the all day Machinima Expo after having gone to a real life festival the week before. One thing that the Expo was able to do in the virtual world, was to schedule repeated screenings at multiple locations. I think most people were able to see as many films as they wanted to (we ended up showing about 50 films) and not miss a moment of the main stage events. Also, the virtual world allowed for moments like the director Ian Chisholm offering a running director's commentary in the public chat while his film was being screened, where it would be impossible to do in real life. In general, I found myself watching more films and connecting with more people at the Expo, although it's hard to beat face to face conversations, especially with the slightly drunk friend you've been wanting to meet for years.
In the end, both Festivals provided a much needed jolt of enthusiasm to the machinima community. Ideas were exchanged, friendships started, tech advice given; all contributed to a feeling that machinima is an art form that is growing and getting better each year. And I think the quality of people involved with machinima has never been better. Looking around the room during the after awards party in New York, I couldn't help notice that the variety of ages and types of people were remarkably diverse. And late into the night at the Expo, with my avatar fake-smoking, I sat with a small group of people eager to see the films we were screening and had such a huge feeling of satisfaction.
And even though people don't see all of the hard work that goes into making events like the MFF and the Expo happen, when you see people excited and enthusiastic about machinima, it was all worth it.
The Machinima Film Festival
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.