Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Machinexpo 2009

Last Sunday was the main event at Machinexpo 2009. This is an online machinima festival that takes place in Second Life. I had never used Second Life until a week before the event when I installed it and logged on for the first time. I had two movies showing; Cloud Angel, and Clockwork. The latter having been nominated for a jury award.
I had been booked as one of a number of guests (or so I thought) to do a Q&A with Phil "Overman" Rice and Ricky Grove who were doing a live edition of the Overcast during the event. To make sure it all worked OK I went along to the technical rehearsal the week before. Ricky and Phil were very helpful in sorting out the voicechat settings, and explaining some of the movement and camera controls that weren't so obvious to me.
The event kicked off with a keynote speech by Tracy Harwood who is the Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Creative Technologies. This was followed by the awards, which were chosen by a jury panel (I'm not sure who was on the jury).
Jury Prizes were awarded to Cafe Insomniac by Hardy Capo, Clear Skies 2 by Ian Chisholm, Push by Lainy Voom (who also won a Special Achievement in Directing Award), Shelf Life by James Spencer & Jon Shortland, and Scripted by Krrysh Spyker. I won the grand prize for Clockwork. I can't begin to tell you how thrilled I was!
After the awards I had to log off for a bit to deal with some real-world responsibilities (i.e. feed the kids!), before returning for the Overcast, which I enjoyed very much (especially when I learned that machinima is coming to the Kindle...!)
I really enjoyed the whole Second Life experience; the venue was brilliantly designed, with lots of fun details built-in, and the technology itself worked very well; the media streaming and the voice chat. And it was great to "meet" so many people that I know from the various forums.
However, much as I enjoyed the whole online aspect, I continue to believe that there could be some sort of future for machinima in the real world. I enjoy meeting the real people behind the movies, and in a way Second Life goes completely the opposite way; you're meeting with avatars which are probably not that representative of their "owners" (or whatever the correct term is). However, it was fun and I'm sure I'll go along next year.
So congratulations to all the winners, and a huge thank you to the team who organised the event - it was very professionally put together!

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Atopic Interviews

While at the Atopic Film Festival in Paris recently, I had the opportunity to interview two "movers and shakers" from the French machinima scene.
Xavier Lardy and Frederick Thompson have been instrumental in making the first ever French machinima festival a reality, and it was fascinating hearing from them about the machinima scene in France.
I appreciate they time they took to speak to me because they had both had very long days!
Xavier Lardy is the webmaster of Machinima.fr. Click here to listen.
Frederick Thompson was on the creative team behind Atopic. Click here to listen.
I hope you enjoy the interviews!
(After I returned from Atopic I heard Clockwork was one of the three Audience Choice awards. The prize was to have the movie screened at La Geode. I wasn't there to see it myself, but thanks to everyone who voted!)

First Japanese Review Just In!

The other day I received my first movie review for Clockwork from Japan.

Of course I'm thrilled to receive these comments, and I think they capture the key points of the movie rather well. Don't you think?

Arigatou gozaimasu!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Atopic Film Festival

Well, the Atopic Film Festival turned into more of an adventure for me than I was expecting...

My wife and I took the opportunity to spend a day in Paris the day before going to the festival - we had amazingly good weather and did the ususal touristy things. I also visited La Grande Arche for the first time which is definately a sight worth seeing - if you think Paris is all olde worlde architecture then you're in for a shock! La Defense is like a vision of the future.

La Grande Arche is actually a building with some amazing views to be seen from the top, and an excellent computer museum which took me back to my teenage years; they had ZX81, Commodore PET, my first Amstrad computers, Apple II etc. I also had to point out to my wife that no, that isn't a seat, it's a Cray supercomputer...
On Friday we visited the festival which was being held at the City of Science and Industry - it was a great venue which combined various family attractions, 3D cinemas, planetarium, and a decomissioned submarine called Argonaute. I'm a sucker for old technology so a visit to the sub was mandatory!

The festival started showing the movies at 12 o'clock, so off we trotted to find the cinema. It was a little hard to find because it was separate from the rest of the Atopic exhibition (where they were showing old console games, demo 3d art, and an interesting augmented reality display). The movies were being shown in sections; Creative Machinima, Alternative Machinima, Narrative Machinima, French Machinima, etc. and the running order was changed every day. My movie was being shown as part of the Narrative section.

Most of the movies that were shown were unfamiliar to me, and I got a real sense that in France they like their machinima to be art, rather than frivolous. It was interesting to watch.

We decided to take a break for the French Machinima section as we don't really speak French and I wanted to get lunch and back in time to see my movie (oh how vain!) As we left the cinema I introduced myself to some of the organisers. I had a tentative arrangement to do a recorded interview with Xavier Lardy (French machinima expert) later in the day, but there was some uncertainty as to whether he would be there as he lives 3 hours away from Paris, however Frederick Thompson was available and was happy to do an interview a bit later.

When we got back from lunch, we had just settled into our seats when there was a tap on my shoulder. It was Frederick. "It is time for the interview" he said.

"No, no." I replied, "My movie will be showing soon. We can do the interview later"

"No. The camera crew is here now. They need to interview you right now".
So, while I had been gallavanting around Paris the day before, Christophe Alonso from a French/German cultural TV channel, Arte, had been trying to get in touch with me to arrange a TV interview for a programme called Tracks.

And, as if I needed any further encouragement Frederick said that there had been a mistake in the running order of the movies which meant that my movie wasn't due to be shown for another hour or so. Perfect!

So, I go out and meet Christophe, and his crew (a woman with a camera, a man with a boom mike). They wanted some shots of me wandering around Atopic, looking at the various exibits, then it was outside to do the interview. A few shots of me walking below the shiny globe of the Geode (I think they were taking arty shots of my reflection in the chrome). The whole time I'm thinking "I'm going to be on TV, I'm going to be on TV! My, what a big camera she has!"

Then we did the interview, and I'm afraid it's all a bit of a blur. I guess I shouldn't say too much about what we discussed anyway as that'll just spoil their content, but I did give Moviestorm a mention, and also Phil Rice/Overman, Sisch, and Hugh Hancock.

And, according to Christophe I really know my art! So there!

We got back into the cinema just in time for the Narrative section. I was happy.

Later, I had arranged to meet with Frederick, and when I did Xavier had made it too, so I was able to do two audio interviews to gain a real insight into machinima in France. I'll be posting those interviews here very soon.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Dave Lloyd at the Cambridge Film Festival

This is the final interview from Cambridge. Dave Lloyd is the Chief Technology Officer at Short Fuze - the company that gave us Moviestorm. Dave is something of a visionary, and in this interview he talks about how they've been working hard to realise that vision.
In addition, Dave reveals that there is a character customisation tool under development which will enhance the customisation options available in Moviestorm - this has been one of the most frequently requested features for some time now - so have a listen to this now!

(Again, apologies for all the background noise!)

Sincere apologies to Sisch... I was presenting the Best Drama category at this year's Ollies (see below) and on this blog I incorrectly said that Saving Grace had won, when in fact it was The Afflicted. Fortunately I got it right on the night!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Roger at the Cambridge Film Festival

Interview number 3 is with Roger Strange-Burlong who is probably best known to the machinima community as one half of the team that presents the Roger and Ken show on Sunday nights on TMOA Radio. (Can you guess which half?)
Roger also hosts the excellent Friday Night Rock Show on TMOA, which I tune into regularly too.
I've been a guest on the R &K show a couple of times, and I decided this was the opportunity to turn the tables and find out a bit more about what makes Roger tick.

To listen, click here.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

A message during the intermission...

OK folks, two more interviews still to come, but I thought I'd take a moment to update what's been going on lately. (Apart from driving my car with four bikes on the roof-rack into an overhead barrier... that was an unhappy day let me tell you!)

BitFilm: well, in the end Clockwork placed 6th out of 15. I was really pleased with that - it's the first time I've ever had a movie in a competition, and I was up against some really strong contenders. If you're into machinima then check out the other entries, and if you're not then what are you reading this drivel for!!!

This week, the big highlight was the first ever Annual Ollie Awards, which was broadcast live on TMOA. The Ollies have been established to recognise the best machinima creations, directors, voice actors et al. The event was hosted by K4 TinMan. I've not heard him before on TMOA, but he did a sterling job of keeping the show moving with his very descriptive commentary. I was priviledged to be announcing the results for Best Drama, which went to Sisch for her astonishing movie Kate Lee's The Afflicted. Sisch went on to collect a total of 10 Ollies! (And Sisch appeared in many other movies as a voice actor, and she even sang in Clockwork)

For my part, I was nominated in four categories, and delighted to win in two; Best Arthouse, and Best Short Form (under 10 minutes). When the winners were announced they were Skyped in to make their acceptance speech. And yes, there were tears! (But not from me, ahem)
There were around 40 people in the chatroom, and it was great to read their comments as the winners were announced. Due to the lag on the audio stream there were a couple of occassions where I saw the congratulatory messages before I actually heard who won, and on the two occassions it was me, Skype rang before I'd actually heard my name read out! The first time I figured that they probably weren't calling to taunt me, so I must have won. It would have been a bit uncomfortable if I was wrong having blurted out my barely comprehensible thank you message!

And today's news is CineManila; I had submitted Clockwork some time ago, and filled out the necessary online form, and then heard nothing. Today, I heard from Sisch that it had been selected, and like BitFilm they're asking people to vote. You need to do the free registration thing again (but that's not too arduous if you get to vote for your favourite movie - right? ;-) )

You can vote for Clockwork and Saving Grace here. (You can also vote for any of the others that you like, if you must... heh!) Just click on Entries, then Short Film to see the submissions.

Right, thanks for reading. And next time it'll be interview #3 from the Cambridge Film Festival...

Friday, 9 October 2009

Hugh Hancock at the Cambridge Film Festival

This is the second installment of interviews I grabbed with key people in the machinima industry, while at the Cambridge Film Festival. This time, it's Hugh Hancock, the man responsible for giving us the term "machinima", and the creative force behind one of the most well known machinima titles of all time; Bloodspell.

To listen, click here.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Johnnie Ingram at the Cambridge Film Festival

Two weeks ago I went to the Cambridge Film Festival to see the machinima track, which was hosted by Bill Thompson and Hugh Hancock. While I was there I had the opportunity to do audio interviews with some really interesting movers and shakers in the machinima world.
These interviews were aired on the Roger and Ken show on TMOA Radio on 04 October, but if you missed them you can hear them here. I'm going to upload them one at a time over the next few days.

This first piece has a quick two minute intro by me, then it's Johnnie Ingram. He's well known as one of the co-writers of Machinima for Dummies, and is now Product Manager at Short Fuze for Moviestorm.

Apologies for the background noise during the first 10 minutes of the interview... it does get better!

To listen, click here.

Hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Clockwork does the festival rounds

This year I was thrilled to have my movie selected to be shown at BitFilm. As far as I know it has played in cinemas in Hamburg, Berlin, and soon Tel Aviv. To be honest, that was my ambition as far as machinima goes, but sadly I wasn't able to be in Germany on the opening weekend as I was already away on holiday...

Last Friday I visited the Cambridge Film Festival in the UK. I was going up to see what movies were on offer, and because I knew BlackAce's film Daddy is Home was playing. What I didn't realise was that they were going to show Clockwork too! I was almost speechless when I found out. BTW, while in Cambridge I was able to interview a few interesting people - more on that in a later post.

Today I learned that Clockwork has also been selected to be shown at a new film festival called Atopic in Paris at the end of October. I had no idea when I made the movie that it would be so appreciated (although it's not everyone's cup of tea of course!)

The Atopic festival clashes with other arrangements I already had, (my mother is flying down from Scotland to visit), however thankfully we've managed to make a few changes which means that hopefully I'll be in Paris to see the screening!

(Anyone know of any other movies showing there?)

The big worry now is how I'm going to follow it up next year - Cloud Angel isn't really a candidate because it's probably not "arty" enough. Better get my creative trousers on!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

I'm on the radio. Again!

Well I said I'd talk a bit more about why Cloud Angel is the way it is in a later post. But I lied. (Hey, I can do that!) Instead, Roger & Ken at TMOA Radio have once again kindly invited me onto the show - this time to talk about Cloud Angel.

So, if you want to know why I chose cel shading, or what the meaning is behind the call sign for Cloud Angel, or more importantly why there is only one person on board that can fly the ship then make sure you tune in!

Oh, and if you have other things you'd like me to cover then let me know!

The show is on Sunday 6 September, beginning at 2pm Eastern, 7 pm in the UK, 8 pm in Europe. To listen click here.

And while you're listening, why not jump into the chat room. It'll probably be far more entertaining than my wittering! To go into the chatroom, click here.

Hope to see you on Sunday!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

BitFilm Voting Now Open!

I've been offline for the past two weeks (with the exception of a 30 minute session in an internet cafe) so I've loads of catching up to do.

I managed to get Cloud Angel online at the main sites before we rushed out the door and it's been very interesting reading the comments. Pleased to say that the responses are generally very positive, although I can see that there are a few comparisons to Clockwork where it's clear that Cloud Angel isn't hitting the mark.

Well, that's OK. I'll be talking a bit about why Cloud Angel is the way it is in a forthcoming blog, but for now forget all that because... (drum roll) ...voting for Clockwork at the BitFilm festival is now open (yippee!).

If you saw the movie and liked it, then you can show your support by voting here. REMEMBER: Every vote placed means one less kitten being put into the washing machine. Help stop this unneccessary suffering! Save the kittens*

BTW, I had thought that the September issue of 3D World Magazine would include a DVD with all the entries, but it seems this isn't the case (can you imagine my disappointment?!) Am investigating now, but if anyone could shed any light on this I would be grateful.

*Oh lighten up - I'm only joking! There are no kittens.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Cloud Angel nears completion!

This is the first "development post" on my blog. (Shouldn't that be 'blog, or is the apostrophe redundant?) I'm not sure how interesting it is for people to hear about the progress on a movie that no one has seen yet, but I kinda figure that after the interest that Clockwork generated then someone somewhere might be curious as to how I'm going to follow that up.

Much as I am mightily proud of Clockwork, I can see that in the future I'm gonna grow to despise it. Why? Well, I've a feeling that Cloud Angel (my new work), will appeal to a very different audience. So those that posted so many enthusiatic reviews at TMU and Moviestorm may well be disappointed with Cloud Angel. And that's a shame because all things considered, a lot more work has gone into Cloud Angel.

I'm not yet ready to reveal the details of the story, but it is a bit more involved than Clockwork, and has much more dialogue, and more actors. I see it as a more entertaining movie that Clockwork. Not as arty, and not quite as dark either. (Although those who liked the bleakness of Clockwork won't be entirely disappointed I hope!)

It has also forced me to learn a bit more about chromakeying, and modelling in Google Sketchup. I don't have any aspirations to become a modeller myself, but I needed a piece of rope. A cursory search of 3D Warehouse did (to my surprise) find some rope, but I needed something like a tether which curved gently. Sod it! I've said too much already! Have I given the game away yet?

So, I'm probably looking at a running time in the order of 15 minutes which will certainly make it my longest movie so far. And, all things being equal I'd like to get it published within the next two weeks.

Here's hoping.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Where is the future in machinima?

While listening to the first anniversary broadcast on TMOA Radio last night, there was a comment made by one of the guests who predicted that in five years time he expected some of today’s machinima directors to emerge into the mainstream (or words to that effect). This got me thinking about what the future holds for machinima, and machinima directors.

While there are endless debates about what machinima actually is, I think it’s fair to say that it is overwhelmingly a hobby activity. So I imagine that any director who makes it “big time” (lets say, gets hired by a professional studio), will almost certainly not be using machinima tools in the future, abandoning iClone, Moviestorm, and The Sims for Softimage, Maya, and other “serious” content creation tools (that I’ve heard of but don’t really know much about). Like Lewis Hamilton racing radio controlled cars as a kid, then go-karts, then Formula 1, I think that those directors talented enough to be picked up by a studio will inevitably discard their old toys.

If I am right, then machinima creation is destined to remain a hobby forever, because whatever those super-successful directors do, it won't be machinima. But this view is the result of comparing machinima creation to proper film production. It’s an obvious comparison to make for those of us who sit for hours chromakeying video clips together knowing full well that the very same techniques are used to bring Star Wars to the big screen. But what isn’t being considered here is the audience, and the delivery mechanism (wot you watch it on!)

Let’s start with the audience. Who actually watches machinima? (Not me, for the reasons I mentioned in an earlier blog). There are two camps, I think;

1. Gaming Enthusiasts.These are the people who live for gaming, and appreciate the in-jokes and game references used in Halo and WoW machinima. It’s quite a young democraphic (think spotty-faced teenagers that really should get out more), with a very specific need to see their favourite on-screen warrior telling jokes. Not a sophisticated bunch, I’ll wager, and certainly have limited disposable income. (Until they’re old enough to get their own credit card). This group isn’t my target audience at all.

2. Technology-enabled people who want to be entertained. My thinking here is why would anyone watch machinima, if not to be entertained? And if they’re watching machinma today then we can make some assumptions that they have a computer, or mobile device, with broadband access (because you can’t rent a machinima DVD, can you?).

So I suppose this group might have a lot in common with the iPod generation, which may be why the Terminator Salvation Machinima Series is available for purchase on iTunes. Having seen the astonishing success that Apple has enjoyed with the App store (both in terms of Apps being developed and being purchased) I’m wondering if machinima and iTunes might well be a marriage made in heaven?

If so, this could have a profound effect on the machinima community as it may create an opportunity for machinima to be seen as an entertainment form in its own right, rather than the output from a bunch of Hollywood-wannabes.

What do you think? Will machinima ever go mainstream?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Surprising news in the post!

Can you imagine my surprise this morning when I learned that my little movie Clockwork has been nominated for an award at the BitFilm '09 festival?

Naturally, I'm delighted - but I do feel like a bit of a fraud because Clockwork actually happened by accident. Let me explain....

When I started making machinima I concentrated on doing comedy. This was because over the years people have told me I'm funny. As it turns out I think they meant funny peculiar. Anyway, I found that there are others who do much better sketches than me, so I decided that I needed to be taken seriously; that meant branching out into other styles.

I'm a huge fan of A Clockwork Orange, both the book by Anthony Burgess and Stanley Kubrick's masterful movie. I love the dystopian themes in the story. I decided to do a short music video featuring my band Diesel and use animation created in Moviestorm that would be based on the Clockwork Orange themes - e.g. sinister gang of "droogs", Korova milkbar etc. So, I made that movie and put it to music.

It sucked. Really.

The music was called "Work and Smile", and was a parody of the sort of music that would be played in a factory to motivate the workers, in some sort of Orwellian world. It just didn't go with the visuals. I decided to find some other music to use then I could get the movie out of the door and concentrate on something else.

I couldn't find anything suitable so I tried the official Clockwork Orange score just to see what it was like. And it fitted perfectly! Bish, bash, bosh, job done, upload to YouTube et al. The thing is, YouTube has this very clever scanning software which immediately jumped on Clockwork for copyright infringement due to the music (much to my shame). The movie was pulled and once again I was left with a movie with no sound.

I was ready to scrap the whole thing. But I felt that there was still potential in the movie so I sat down and wrote out a proper script (there had been no dialogue when it was intended to be a music video). I needed it to have a story that would be dark, maybe a little disturbing, and hopefully surprising. In the end, none of the original movie survived, but I did manage to bring in some of the ideas from the Work and Smile song (BTW, it's a tongue-in-cheek song that's actually quite cheery.) I was pretty happy with the results. Yes, it could be better - I'm still learning to use the software, and there were a few gliches that I was having trouble ironing out. The whole time I was doing Clockwork though, I was inspired by what I know is possible in Moviestorm. That's the kind of quality I'm striving for.

So, as I read through this post I'm thinking that it sounds like I've actually won already! Well fingers-crossed I may yet win, but if not then let me just say what a huge honour it is to get the nomination!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Life in a "notspot"

I remember a radio DJ in early 90's predicting that in "the future" people wouldn't buy CDs and videos anymore but instead would click a button and whatever they wanted to watch or listen to would come down a wire there and then for immediate use. I remember this because the DJ in question didn't seem to me to be a particularly technical person, and therefore didn't have any understanding as to the complexities in enabling such technology. In short, he didn't know what he was talking about, so it was easy for me to dismiss what he was saying.

I guess today, we can all chuckle at my blinkered view that this magical "on-demand" future could never be a reality. Well chuckle away folks because for me this vision of the future still hasn't arrived. I live in a heavily populated part of England, not out in the remote wilds of the Highlands, and yet I struggle to get enough bandwidth to stream movies without interuption. I live in what the BBC recently described as a broadband "notspot". Great.

"So what?" you may ask. Well, what it means is that I don't actually watch much machinima. Certainly not anything like the way I'd like to. I rely on browsing the various forums trying to figure out which are the hot movies worth downloading, then I can watch a few selected movies. It's very frustrating. I'm quite new to this malarkey, and I'm desparate to learn story telling and camera technique from those more accomplished than myself. But, at the moment, casual browsing through movies isn't a worthwhile activity. Here's hoping the powers that be are doing something to improve the broadband situation where I live. And how broad does broadband need to be "broad". I think our lot are stretching the definition a bit.

On the upside, there's one thing I have learned; don't scoff at other's ideas of what the future holds. BTW, I'm on the waiting list for a flying car.

Any future predictions from the past you'd care to share?

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Welcome to my new blog

A friend of mine recently commented that writing a blog is the "sort of thing" that I might do. I think we'd been discussing blogging in general and we'd decided that it wasn't the sort of thing that people who have a life should be doing. And I do have a life - at the moment I'm in the throes of putting together my new machinima masterpiece which means spending far too many long hours on the PC in a darkened room, endlessly scrubbing back and forth the same 10 second segment trying to get it just perfect.

Which is no life at all.

So, as we all know it's healthy to take a break from time to time... which I am doing by spending more time at my PC. It's a vicious circle, isn't it?

Right, there are any number of blogs about machinima and anymation already out there, so why do I feel the need to create another? Well, I tend to lurk around a couple of the forums, chipping in when I think I have something to say, but I often find that when I do want to say something it is more than a throwaway comment, and who wants to read 10 paragraphs from an opinionated Scotch bloke (yes, I can be self-effacing!). So if you come here, that's what you're gonna get.

Thanks for dropping by, I hope that I can come up with some content that you find worth reading!