Ego Central to Machinima Filmmaker Ken Thain

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My Reality

When I was a kid up until to the point of graduating high school I had my mind set on being a filmmaker. I wrote scripts, created storyboards, pursued methods of 'cheaply' creating films, cut school when I learned of films being shot downtown (Toronto), started sending resumes to production houses and TV studios at age 14, etc. etc.. And when I was finishing high school I applied to film schools. And I didn't get in (thats another blog). This was pretty devastating, because for the first time I had to think of a direction in my life other than being a filmmaker.

I spent a few year 'soul searching' on many levels which was a critical time in my life. During this time I came across an article on 'Virtual Reality'. I still have it. I don't know what it was but my drive for being a filmmaker was suddenly transferred into an obsession with VR (some sort of escapism is my diagnosis). I then went to college for Multimedia Communication and targeted all my learning on VR, which was far out of the scope of the curriculum. The whole reason I even found the Internet was because while visiting a friend out of town he showed me sci.virtual-worlds on usenet via cleveland freenet (co443!) and my drive to get there from where I was living got me online. At the time this involved numerous hacks through university gateways and gopher routes.

So I've always had this thing for filmmaking and virtual reality. I don't know exactly where it comes from or where it will go but readers can see the obvious connection to my interest in machinima.

I don't keep up with the virtual reality thing as much these days as I think game engines pretty much have it down, and it will only get better. But every once and a while I will see or hear something that will keep me reminded that its still happening, advancing and growing daily.

I was at the West Edmonton Mall last weekend (a lil'trip west, 3 provinces and 5 hours of flight) which for those who don't know it, its the climax of consumerism and consumption. Its a super mall, with a waterpark, and a supermall, with a ice rink, and a supermall, with an amusement park - i.e. indoor adult rides and full size rollercoaster, and a supermall, with a kids park and and... you get the point. So I checked out the arcade. I love seeing where coinop games are these days as thats virtually what I grew up on, and everything was physical action based. You either fire your gun, or dance on the pad, or ride the bike, or steer the car, or fight the screen, etc. etc. Which makes total sense because they have to provide something you can't get at home these days, and it sure ain't gonna be graphics like it was when I was a kid. So what I found the arcade systems providing was a more 'immersive' experience with the game. More than just a joystick and and a screen, but a fully interactive body experience. Thats the future of VR and home entertainment. So what is the next level of commercial level entertainment virtual reality experiences going to come packaged as?

Maybe this

or this

Moral of the story. VR is cool.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Machinima melting pot

Checked out a few cool things today.

A screencam'd video of the CryEngine 2, next generation of the Crytek engine used in Far Cry. This shows some amazing results. Of course you will need a hollywood sized production team to produce stuff this detailed but at least the technology is out there (almost... its coming).

An interesting trailer of 'The Movies'. This game has not interested me in the least, particularly with all the machinima hype behind it. I may be old skool purist but it just looks like a sims2 engine with more assets and content to play with. This type of thing is well suited to those who are really about the story and an easier way to get it produced, like some of the great stuff thats come out of Sims filmmaking. My personal interest is as much about the art of using the game engine to tell the story as much as the story itself. But hey, I do not consider myself closed minded so we'll see what comes of it. Its only been almost 2 years in the hype.

The big gaming news of the days has been the info release of the Nintendo Revolution controllers. My machinima.com visiting friends will already know of the video I posted about this one. What the hell is that?..Hey, I said I was open minded. I betchya their bass fishing game will rock! ;)

That is all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Waaas up

Not much news worthy items around recently. What I'm having a difficult time with right now, and what I've been contemplating is that machinima has reached a difficult stage (as a viewer). Its getting widely enough known that many people are aware of the possibility of making films with games. So people are doing it, a lot. Whole communities are developing around specific games to be involved with peers in making machinima with that game. This is obviously very cool, but where in the past Machinima.com was the hub of much of the machinima community and you could pretty much keep up with it on an 'as released' basis, now its spread over a much larger (virtual) distance with piles of films showing up across all genres, topics and skill levels.

The problem here is with so much machinima being created now, and obviously when something that was much more difficult to obtain is obtainable (i.e. filmmaking) you are going to get a lot of...crap. So how do you get the most bang for your buck without spending hours a day downloading and watching machinima films hoping to stumble upon that really good film?

I really rely on word of mouth to bring those nuggets to the surface. But as noted above, the machinima communities are spreading far and wide. And with the more popular machinima communities (i.e. Sims and Halo), the signal to noise is even lower. So, there is no one stop shop for the creme de la creme. You gotta hunt for them or wait for the good ones to get brought to light.

I guess I just feel its a shame to see piles of films burn by in the machinima.com 'more shows' section without word or thought whether there is something well written, produced, or truly ground breaking being missed. I mean yes, we have the Machinima Film Fest, but thats only once a year.

So anyways, on that note, heres my word of mouth for today:

Borg War - A machinima project that combines output from Star Trek Elite Force II and Starfleet Command III. The entire project is planned to be over an hour and is expected be completed by the end of 2005. This is a fan made Star Trek story that is well produced.

Gladiator Evolved - This movie melds the of audio from Gladiator and content from Halo 2 to recreate the entire opening battle of the movie Gladiator. Becoming a more popular project style for Machinima films (I remember contemplating this when the game Tron 2 came out and thinking about recreating some of the film) this 'game meets and assimilates film' technique is a great way to test your machinima skillset.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Lucasfilm Talks Machinima, sort of

The main machinima related newsy thing around these days is the Director's Cut of the game F.E.A.R. And as many have heard Rooster Teeth (Red vs Blue, Strangerhood) have done some machinima work for this edition. I hope I get a chance to check out their finished product. If you want to get a better idea of what this 'Director's Cut' is all about, view the MOV via this torrent. It doesn't mention the machinima part, but you'll get the idea.

I also came across this article at VFXWorld that is an interview with LucasFilm CTO Cliff Plumer. The most interesting part is his talk of LucasArts and ILM now being under one roof. Thats a top film/VFX company and a top game company together, what obviously should follow? According to Mr. Plumer:
Now that we’re all under one roof, ILM can take advantage of their game engine, and LucasArts artists have access to things we take for granted. Look at something like crowd simulations. They have been big in effects for the last few years, but have been used in games for a long time. We can take advantage of their AI engines, their game engines and integrate them into the visual pipeline.

The big win for ILM, though, is in previsualization. A visual effects supervisor can sit with the director and have a synthetic scene move around in realtime. The director can block in a scene and do a camera move with a virtual camera. It feeds the whole post process.
Wow, thats very cool Mr. Plumer. So will you be using this 'machinima' technique for full production?
No. Only during early stages in previs. At this stage, the game engine can’t hold as complex a scene as we need for film effects. To get the complexity we need, we’d be compromising the realtime performance.
Ahh yes, understandable. But lets keep our eyes to the future. The short term future I expect. ;)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Quiet as we watch

I've been busy as hell the last few days with real world work, but as I stop to look around thinking I'm missing some (site related) interesting news item, I see that it really is quiet. I do believe many of us are watching the aftermath of Katrina. Every time I reload CNN.com I see another concerning 36pt headline. It's almost surreal what is happening down there, almost big budget Hollywood disaster movie like, but its not. Its real life. My heart goes out to everyone struggling in that horrible situation where they are just trying to survive after days without resources. I can't imagine the human stories that are taking place, both of courageous and desperate.

Kind of related to this, in an economic sense, I ended up being on TV last night on one of our local news channels (at 11:30PM EST). I was filling up my car when a reporter and camera man came up to me seeing if they could ask a few questions on my feelings about the insanely rising gas prices. Its funny, once you have a camera on you and a pretty girl with a microphone suddenly your brain spits out gibberish. As in the first question, "What did you think today when you saw your car needed gas" to which my reply was, "Time to fill up." Her disdain was a cue for more. "Ahhh, its going to be expensive.." ugg. I guess it worked out enough that they, reportedly, aired the whole interview even though I missed it. At least I heard I looked good...

Site related, the things I did pick up on was the news of OC3 Entertainment's FaceFX using Fonix VoiceIn Technology. OC3 provided the great (although not used by myself) lip-sync technology integrated in the Unreal Engine. The renown 'Who's On First' is a great example of this technology, now even better with Fonix's tech.

Also, if your checking out that clip at machinima.com. See the new top tutorial posted, 'Outlining - Telling The Story Over and Over'. Its a good read if you are just getting started in the pre-production process. Also see the news of the Movies Online Contest:
Lionhead Studios and Activision, Inc. announced today The MoviesTM Online, a community website where aspiring moviemakers can upload and share their motion pictures created with The MoviesTM on the internet! Located at www.themoviesgame.com, the site will launch a virtual film festival for aspiring film-makers when the game ships this fall. Members of the site will also find a host of competitions, Awards Ceremonies, a Prop Shop and additional downloads that will help extend their gaming experience with The Movies.
Might be something seriously worth checking out.