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?


  1. I think there's a sea change going on right now in where people are getting their entertainment. TV is dying a slow death, along with Hollywood, because the people in charge seem terrified of being brave. Everything is the safe option, to satisfy the bean counters.

    I agree that tech enabled people (which is just about everybody under 30) are looking to the net for more and more alternatives. The success of Dr Horrible, The Guild, etc. prove it's happening. It also proves, to me, that online success is possible in a niche market; and Machinima is just that.

    I think it'll take more than five years though; because are at the forefront, and they've got it horribly wrong. They pander to your first group as far as I can see, and anyone with half a brain runs a mile from it. I'd be very curious to know how many people are paying for that Terminator nonsense – very few I'd wager.

    Personally, I doubt if anyone will emerge into the mainstream. However, I do think more young, and that's the key word, film students will use machinima to hone their skills and get their work out there. That will do nothing but help.

    Well, I've rambled! More a stream of consciousness than thoughts I fear,

  2. I personally think that machinima has three mainstream roles in the future.

    1. As a form of low-budget animation for broadcast via internet or (if it survives) TV. The quality of game-type graphics is getting much, much better, and in a few years, we'll be able to make stuff that's at least as good as, say, the recent Captain Scarlet stuff, but on a fraction of the budget. As media advertising dries up, cost-conscious producers will use whatever cheap tools they can find, just as they turned to Flash a few years ago.

    2. As a storyboarding and pre-production tool. If a machinima director makes it big, they'll use machinima to make a rough cut of a movie, because it's so quick and easy. If that techniue becomes accepted, it will completely transform the way machinima is perceived.

    3. As a teaching tool. Machinima is a wonderful way to learn film techniques, and we'll see it used more and more in film schools.

    Will we see big-budget (multi-million dollar) machinima films on the big screen? Probably not. Will we see machinima producing the next Dr Who, Buffy, or True Blood? Probably not. But I'm sure it has a niche in the professional world a few years down the line.