Who doesn’t like telling a good story? Imagine bringing your audience into a world you created, and immersing them in a tale full of intrigue, humor, and killer action scenes. Sounds like fun, right? Most people do this by writing stories, but did you know you can actually make animated movies to tell your stories, without having to buy any expensive software?
What Is Machinima?
In a nutshell, Machinima means making movies using computer games. When you think about it, computer games have lots of characters that move through interesting settings, making for a classic storytelling medium.
As a word, machinima is a portmanteau of “machine” and “cinema.” If you’re paying close attention, you may notice that it should have actually been spelled “machinema,” but when Machinima.com was founded back in 2000, that was the name, and it stuck.
If you go to Machinima.com today, you may be surprised at how far the definition of the term is being stretched. Right now, the top spot on Machinima.com is taken up by Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, a show that has plenty of computer-generated special effects, but is definitely not machinima in the classic sense of the word.
Below, we’ll be looking at how to create classic machinima. If you just want to watch some machinima to decide if you like the concept, here’s a nice collection of machinima we’ve previously curated.
The absolute best way to create machinima today is the Source Filmmaker. Really, there’s no contest here, as I will show you in the section about alternatives. What’s more, the Source Filmmaker is absolutely free, and it’s the same application Source uses in-house to create in-game promotional videos.
So, first of all, a bit about the application itself:
And now, an example on what you can do with it:
Basically, the Source Filmmaker lets you tap into thousands of assets from Valve games to create your own scenes. You can use objects and characters from the games, pose them freely, move them around, and even add sound effects and bits of dialog from the game. The interface looks like a pro video editor, because the people who helped create it are filmmakers. Truly a stellar product, and clearly the best way to get started with making machinima.
Since it’s a large, complex program, Source put together an extensive collection of tutorial videos which you can watch on YouTube. You can take a look at the videos before even downloading the application, just to see what it’s like to work with.
If the idea of machinima sounds interesting but you don’t like the Source Filmmaker or want to use an unsupported game as your studio lot, there are a couple of alternatives you could check out. I can already tell you they aren’t as polished as the Source Filmmaker, but they do merit a mention.
First up is the WoW Machinima Tool. As you can gather from the name, this is built around World of Warcraft, and can be used to create some impressive work:
Note the skillful camera work with pan and dolly shots, as well as the selective focus used around 1:29, giving the scene an interesting miniature-like look (not quite tilt-shift, but close). The WoW Machinima Tool may not have the same serious developer backing as a Valve-developed product, but it’s definitely a viable option.
Last comes the Movie Sandbox. This is a project in a much more raw state, which you really should only use to understand concepts about live animation and machinima. When you get to the point you want to create something other people will enjoy watching, you’ll probably have to use one of the two tools above.
That said, Movie Sandbox does have a few interesting tricks up its sleeve, like being able to interface with an Arduino for an innovative live-action puppetry show as shown below:
You can see from the video that the visuals are far less polished than both previous options, but I really don’t think you can plug an Arduino into Source Filmmaker (feel free to prove me wrong in the comments).
The Upper Limit
Finally, let’s take a quick look at how far machinima can come. One of the oldest machinima franchises is Red vs. Blue by Rooster Teeth. Set in Microsoft’s Halo franchise, Red vs. Blue started out in 2003, growing increasingly popular, until today they’ve become so big, it feels like they’re expanding beyond the realm of traditional machinima and setting up a bona fide animation studio.
To understand what I mean, watch this behind the scenes video where Rooster Teeth shares a look at this process and workflow.
Any Machinimists In The Audience?
Is there anyone here who created machinima before? I’d love to see links to your work in the comments, or even links to your favorite machinima shows and clips on YouTube. Share away!