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!