Machinima - Machine Cinema where characters from computer games perform as actors in home made movies...
14 October 2007

Interview with 

Chris Vallance


A handheld tablet with Hearthstone on the screen


Now we have a new feature on the Naked Scientists each month with the help of Chris Vallance.  We'll be taking a look at exciting new developments in the world of technology.  This month he joins us to talk about the emerging world of machinima.  This is where people use computer games to make movies of their own.  They use design features built into the game to edit the scenery and use characters to tell a story of their own.  They record this and distribute it over the internet. It sounds really weird and whacky but is actually a big business!

Red vs Blue clip - "Yes, everything is coming together as planned and these fools still have no idea. Once the young one gets his sword there will be no stopping us. Mwahahahahahaaa..."

Chris Vallance - What we just heard is a little clip of 'machinima'. Now, the word itself is a contraction of machine-cinema which tells you what it's all about. If you think about puppetry, well, these are films made. Instead of using physical puppets what you use are the characters in computer games. So, instead of picking up big bird or whatever the puppet of choice is, groucho, you go and turn on your Xbox or Playstation and use the characters in the game. Now what we heard there was a clip from one of the best-known machinima films, it's Red vs. Blue, it's based on the game Halo. It has become incredibly popular as many of these games have. And we've started to see them influence the mainstream. We're starting to see film-makers and advertisers pick up on this stuff as well which is why this weekend at De Montfort University, as the programme is going out, Europe's first festival of machinima bringing together filmmakers and people interested in this technology from all over Europe. I spoke to Professor Andre Hugill who is director of the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University. I asked him why machinima wasn't just an updated form of puppetry or physical theatre.

Andre Hugill - It's got elements of both of those and it's got elements of animation and cinema. What's unique is that it's user-generated content. It's empowering or enabling people to create original work fairly easily and they've got quite a range of resources available to them such as the ability to use camera angles, render buildings at any time of day or night with ease; create virtual environments and so on. I thin kit offers up a portfolio of possibilities.

Chris -   So Andrew Hugill seems pretty convinced as to its worth but to be honest, Chris it sounds a little geeky or anorak-y. Do you think this is really going to catch on and be popular?

Chris Vallance -   Well I think the examples there from advertising are perhaps the clearest. There are starting to emerge machinima-type commercials. In the States, recently aired during the football games, a Toyota commercial but was based on World of Warcraft. We have World of Warcraft characters and one of them suddenly pops up with a brand new Toyota truck and he meets the boss baddy at the end with his amazing magic pick-up. That kind of thing is definitely becoming mainstream. Now what's different about machinima is that it's actually live. The characters aren't manipulated and it's filmed without animation or careful step-by-step processes. It's much more like puppetry in that sense.

Chris -   Do you actually see a convergence between what's happening in the gaming world then and the film world? Is this an attempt to maximise the commercial potential because you can get one feeding off the other?

Chris Vallance -   If we go back to Red vs. Blue we've just had the new version of Halo out to much excitement in the gaming world. Obviously Red vs. Blue is based on Halo so how does the fact that there's a new version of the game affect the films? Well, that's a question I put to Jason Saldaña of Rooster Teeth, the company that produced Red vs. Blue.

Jason Saldaña -   It's good. It makes us figure out ways to do it, it's fun to do and we also have fun playing the game. With Halo 3, I haven't stopped playing it since it came out and the same can be said for all of the guys that we work with.

Chris Vallance -   And is this a full-time job for you now?

Jason Saldaña -   Yes, it is.

Chris Vallance -   How many people do you know of who make their living making machinima?

Jason Saldaña -   Probably just the six of us.

Chris Vallance -   But it must be pretty fun on mortgage applications, I imagine.

Jason Saldaña -   Yeah! Trying to explain to people what I I went to the dentists and they asked me what I did for work and it took me, like, 20 minutes to tell them. You know, it can bee complicated.

Chris Vallance -   So you heard from Jason there, well he's actually making a living out of machinima. Okay, there are only a few people in the world who can claim that but that does suggest that it's starting to creep its way into the commercial sphere.

Chris -   So what do people think of the potential for this kind of technology? There must be manifold spin-offs that you could do with this kind of thing.

Chris Vallance -   Well, there are. I don't know how much of an 80s kid you were but do you remember the Human League, do you remember Heaven 17? Well, if you do you'll know who Martin Ware is. He was a member of all those bands. He's now part of a group called the illustrious company working with 3D soundscapes. I spoke to Martin and asked him how he saw the future of machinima developing.

Martin Ware -   Well, I'm very interested in this new form of narrative. All the time, the barriers between the visual and the real are becoming broken down and I think Duran Duran have already done a full-scale concert in second life. That's not quite the same as machinima but it is related in a sense. For instance, the Gorillaz is an animated version of the band. Only a sort of art-conceit in a way. In my career as a musician and producer I've always been interested in things that relate to paint in the old still perspective of conceptualising stuff like mini-symphonies in four minutes. I think this is potentially the 21st century version of that from a musical point of view.

Chris Vallance -   So I think that's quite a nice idea, the idea of a live performance, both of music and of a virtual video, if you like: produced in a machinima style way. Perhaps when Mick Jagger gets that little bit too creaky to finally make his way onto the stage he'll consider replacing himself with a character from Halo 3.

Chris -   Well that sounds pretty good!. The Rolling Stones could carry on for another five thousand years. Thank you very much Chris for joining us this month to bring us up to speed on the art of machinima, which apart from being hard to understand is also impossible to say, We look forward to joining you again next month for another update on what's hot from the world of technology.

Chris Vallance -   Look forward to it.


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