“What machinima has done, similar to digital technologies in general, is open the playing field to the consumer and amateur professional, as well as the indie producer hoping to find an inexpensive and creative way to tell a story or communicate a message”
-Phylis Johnson, Machinima: The Art and Practice of Virtual Filmmaking
Digital-born machinima is celebrating its 17th birthday this year. Machinima, real-time virtual world filmmaking, is now in the mainstream. The huge success of Machinima dot com’s Mega-YouTube channel has a lot to do with it. With 125 million views (mostly young males), the very term “machinima” is now synonymous with this beast of a media channel.
But is machinima really just about stunt videos, game footage and low-brow humor?
There are communities of filmmakers all around the world who consider machinima an art form and are using it to express their ideas about politics, gender and virtual identity, just to name a few. While a large part of that community simply enjoys making films and sharing them, another significant part is attempting to create professional machinima on their own terms using new online methods of distribution and social media to interest like-minded viewers.One director in particular has worked diligently to create machinima that can compete in the animation marketplace, while still retaining that “outsider” status that machinima was born out of. Hugh Hancock, the original founder of machinima.com, has been making high quality machinima films for over a decade through his Strange Company production team. His most recent film, Death Knight, Love Story (Part 1), took him over 5 years to complete. Starring Joanna Lumley and Brian Blessed, it’s an ambitious film shot in the video game World of Warcraft. Hugh used home studio motion capture to create some of the fight sequences in the film.
Many filmmakers like Hugh Hancock come together once a year to share films, listen to panels of filmmakers and interact with potential collaborators. The event they come to is the Machinima Expo, a virtual machinima film festival held for the last six years in November.
Now in its 7th year, the Expo drew over 1,500 people to its live Ustream event back in November 2013. Filmmakers from all over the world watched as the grand prize winning film was announced - Narcisse, directed by Tutsy Navarathna, a French-speaking filmmaker who lives in India.Despite the high visibility of machinima.com and its focus on young, white male viewers for content creation, machinima appeals to a much wider group of people. Filmmakers and viewers from Africa, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, France, Mexico and many other countries come together once a year at the Machinima Expo. The films that are screened and that earn awards vary from stark experimental works to Pixar-like films that could be part of any cable network animation channel.
What machinima has done in the nearly two decades since its creation, is to provide nearly free access to an entire world of characters, sets and game assets for imaginative filmmakers who want to create animated films that reflect their interests and ideas. The resulting explosion of creativity can be seen at events like the Machinima Expo, but also, increasingly, at major film festivals all over the world.If you want to learn more about machinima, visit machinima-expo.com and check out some of their archived films at the Expo Vimeo channel. There are a number of excellent books on machinima that are also good how-to guides. Machinima for Dummies, by Hugh Hancock and Johnnie Ingram, is a good choice. And Machinima: The Art and Practice of Virtual Filmmaking, by Phylis Johnson and Donald Petit, provides deep insight into filmmaking inside of the virtual world of Second Life.
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.
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