Friday, 31 December 2010
For me it's been a pretty good year. I wasn't able to repeat the huge success of Clockwork in 2009, which if I'm honest was something that I was worried would happen. I hope I've not peaked to early! I still think that Embers is actually a better movie that Clockwork. The story is more complete, it required greater technical skill, and it has a slick look that I'm quite proud of. It got great feedback online, but it didn't perform so well in the various competitions it was entered into. No matter, I learned a lot from making that movie.
Then came Ruth. I haven't promoted that one too hard yet - I'll get round to it in the New Year. Again, I was quite pleased with the final result. Although the story might not have been the most original, I think the treatment was, and I managed to squeeze some nice latern effects by playing around with fireballs in Moviestorm (seriously!)
But 2011 is going to open with a bang! Or at least once "the new movie" is ready it will. I'm still not disclosing the name, but I've got a new treatment for this movie that I'm really excited about. Still tons to do, but I feel like I'm really getting somewhere good with this movie, and I think those who thought Clockwork was good will really get into this one.
So, that's it for 2010. You weren't a classic year by any stretch, but not a bad one either so I'll bid you a courteous goodbye and look forward to your successor!
Happy New Year everyone!
Monday, 29 November 2010
Sadly, I had a few technical issues as a result of my late switch to Viewer 2... I've never really got on with Second Life to be honest, and using the new viewer simply made the whole situation worse. I missed the keynote speech, and most of the awards while I tried to figure out how to see and hear the content (they seemed mutually exclusive for reasons that are still not clear to me).
On the upside, I met a whole bunch of interesting people - all the usual crowd, plus Matt from Moviestorm, and the new kids on the block from Muvizu.
Congratulations to the organisers - it was obvious you'd worked hard to make it all come together - take a bow!
And speaking of the organisers... they'd like to hear your feedback on the Expo. There's a handy form all ready for your comments. Remember, the more information you can provide the better next year's event will be!
Saturday, 30 October 2010
Monday, 25 October 2010
That's right! The Expo takes place in Second Life, which means that anyone can come along for free - all you need is an internet connection, and access to Second Life (which is also free).
It's also a great way to take the plunge and try out Second Life for yourself if you haven't already done so - it's dead easy to use, and as there is always a healthy turnout at the Expo it means you'll be picking up lots of contacts while you're there.
However, if you don't fancy the idea of Second Life then for the first time ever you'll be able to join via a normal web browser thanks to the TMU Theater. So, you can just sit back and enjoy the entertainment.
The Jury has already been announced over on the Machinima Expo blog, and features some familiar faces, and some new ones. And of course excitement is now building to hear which movies made the grade to be screened, and which ones have been selected to go forward for the Jury prize competition. There are some killer prizes on offer this year so watch this space!
The Expo is rightly recognised as an important event for the world of machinima, and that's why we see some great names in there as sponsors. There's the established heavyweights of Moviestorm and Reallusion, and joining them this year are cheeky young upstarts Muvizu. How do I know they're cheeky upstarts? Well, like me they're from Glasgow and it is a known fact that everyone from Glasgow is a cheeky young upstart.
Anyway, this year's Expo is shaping up to be a doozie, and that is thanks in no small part to the organisers, and those who are working behind the scenes so well done to Phil "Overman" Rice, Ricky Grove, Dulci, Phil "Biggs Trek" Browne, Damien Valentine, and Kate Fosk! (Did I miss anyone? If so tell me!)
Sunday, 3 October 2010
Sunday, 12 September 2010
I was a bit apprehensive about publishing this one - it's essentially a monologue, and I worried that it would be too long to hold the audience's interest. However the feedback has been positive, so what do I know?
I really wanted to try a fresh approach with this piece, so as you'll see, it is essentially a stage production in the form of a short movie. The whole thing was something of an experiment, and I wanted to play around with doing different things with the lighting than what I've tried in the past. Moviestorm allows for some really subtle lighting, and in the latest version of the software this gets even better (although I didn't use the new software as it was released during production, and it's best to stick with what you know works until a project is finished). And in Ruth I wanted to continue with the subtle lighting, but also introduce some very obvious spot lighting. There is a "super-trooper" style spot light available in the software which I've seen used to great effect in music videos, and I thought this would be a great platform to see what more could be done with it.
Also, I was pretty pleased with the gas lamp effect. That took quite a lot of tinkering and experimentation, but I think it looks like a fairly believable gas lantern.
The idea for the treatment actually came from another short by Kate Fosk called The Vampyre. In that movie, which is also a monologue, I was struck by the effectiveness of the limited set - and this coupled with the little improv at the end got me thinking about stage productions. I was concerned that there wouldn't be enough visual interest by simply watching the actor pace about the stage, so that was where the idea for the stills came from. In this way, it's a little reminiscent of Jackanory! And of course, the stills allowed me to include elements such as the horse and cart which would have otherwise been impossible to include as I have no way to animate horses. (Strictly speaking, that's not true as I could have used iClone, but I haven't been successful in befriending that piece of software)
So, that is Ruth - hope you enjoy it!
Sunday, 5 September 2010
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
I'll be looking for originality, believable dialogue, and good technical execution, among other things. Movies are not limited to any specific platform, and they don't even have to be machinima - live action is accepted too, so come on get filming!
Speaking on behalf of the judges I know we're all expecting some terrific entries, and for good reason - there's some killer prizes available.
To enter the competition and check the submission rules (and see the prizes on offer), see the official thread on the TMUnderground forums here.
Good luck to all entrants.
On another topic... following my visit to Bracknell Film Society last week, Julia (who organised the screening) sent me some of the comments that the attendees wrote on their feedback forms. I love getting feedback (good and bad) on my movies, but these ones were very interesting for me because the audience were previously completely unaware of machinima. Here are the comments;
- Unusual and very worthwhile showing
- Good and very well made
- Interesting technique; I enjoyed the story
- Interesting storyline and a technique well worth exploring further
- A stimulating introduction to an original aspect of the cinema art form
- Film equivalent of 1984
- An interesting technique - but can it catch on?
- A technique that gives the man in the street the chance to tell a tale
- The medium, and the talk about how the film was made, were fascinating
- Strange! Did not enjoy the film, but found the talk interesting
- An excellent view of a dystopian world
- Compares well with "proper" films of the genre
- Sorry - I didn't understand it
- Didn't really understand it, but congratulations to the enthusiastic film maker, hope he works on a positive machinima film next time
The overall score came out at about 7 (the main feature "The Swenkas" got 8), so I'm pretty pleased with that. But what I was really pleased about was the fact that these comments described machinima as a technique. I'm pretty sure I didn't say that in my little talk, but it's something I feel quite strongly about - machinima is a technique, it is not a genre in itself. I'm not even sure that I'd consider it to be an artform. But it is definately a film making technique, and I think that over time it will be a technique which will increasingly be combined with other techniques so that the final form will no longer be machinima as such, just a film which comprises machinima and a variety of other techniques.
Friday, 16 July 2010
Part of my introduction touches on the problems of IP infringement that can occur when making machinima, and the fact that tools like Moviestorm and iClone provide a very tidy solution (at least as far as the animation tool is concerned). This led to some questions about using open source game engines as the animation tool. I have to confess I'm not very knowledgeable about open source software, and I couldn't think of any open source game engines when the question was asked. However, when chatting to some of the members in the bar afterwards I remembered that there is now an open source version of the Unreal engine available now (an engine which is a great favourite of mine - Unreal Tournament 2004 is probably my all-time favourite game, before UT started taking itself too seriously with the hideous UTIII). Actually, now that I've just typed this I've remembered about all that great Open Sim stuff that Kate Fosk does. Jeez, I've got a lousy memory when I need it!
I was also asked whether my movies begin with the story, or do I draw inspiration by building scenes. The answer I gave is that it always begins as a story in my head which I then write down as a short story before converting it into a script, then a storyboard (which probably isn't a storyboard in the proper sense - I tend to just jot down descriptions of what will be seen, and occassionaly scribble a little thumbnail sketch). Usually there will be important scenes which I will see clearly in my mind before I shoot anything. The rest of the time I set up the action before concentrating on lighting and cameras.
Anyway, the Bracknell Film Society were really welcoming, and I got a real kick out of seeing the description of Clockwork in the glossy brochure that the South Hill Park Cinema produced.
That's it for film society screenings for now I think. I'm taking a bit of a break for the rest of the summer (although I'm continuing to tinker with "Ruth").
Other news just in - Clockwork will be showing at Dragon*Con 2010 in Atlanta this coming September. I love Atlanta, but I won't be able to attend in person this year. They had expressed an interest in both Clockwork and Embers, but in the end settled on just Clockwork.
Naturally I'm delighted, and I think the movie will be a great fit for the audience. Personally, I think that Embers is a better made movie, and my skills with the software certainly improved in the time between making Clockwork and Embers. I'm not exactly sure why Clockwork continues to be preferred over Embers, other than the slightly controversial end to Embers. As I always say in my film society introductions, making machinima is a bit like making home brewed beer; you're never quite sure how it'll turn out until it's ready, you need to make an awful lot of it before you manage to make something that's really palatable, and once you do it's really hard to recreate that success!
Oh well, I'll continue "doing my thing" for now. I have my principles* you know!
*actually I don't.
Saturday, 10 July 2010
The Society have their screenings at the South Hill Park Cinema - if you can make it you should come along!
I also have some other news. I have a new film underway which I hope to have completed by the end of the summer. It is called "Ruth", and tells the story of a mysterious passenger on board a London commuter train in Victorian England. This will be quite a departure from my previous fare, and I had originally planned to make this in iClone, however as I was finding the software difficult to get to grips with and the results rather disappointing I switched back to Moviestorm.
Progress has been steady although I've encountered the old audio synch problem that I had last year once again. The last time the problem just disappeared on its own, but not until I'd completed Embers. I can work around the problem but it actually creates an extra step in the rendering process, and greatly slows progress down.
Anyway, one way or another I'll have something to show soon!
Friday, 18 June 2010
Sunday, 23 May 2010
Because there were only three movies on the programme it meant that there was plenty of time for Q&A. It is always with a degree of trepidation that put my movies forward for consideration by a non-machinima audience - obviously if you know your audience is "into" machinima then it's fine, but when you have a less specific audience there is always a worry that the movie won't stand up to comparison with more conventional fare. For me, the true measure as to whether they like the movie is demonstrated by the questions that are asked. No questions means they didn't get it, or didn't like it, so let's move on to the proper stuff...
I have to say I was really chuffed with the questions that were asked! And, if I did this sort of thing more often then I'm sure I could come up with more interesting responses. As it was, the audience were great, and the welcome from the Film Society was warm and appreciative.
Having the opportunity to rub shoulders with non-machinima film makers was great too. As well as being a talented film maker, Robin King is also a professional actor with a penchant for software development. Anyway, I recommend you check out his movies on Vimeo.
Sunday, 9 May 2010
Also this week I've been asked to join the judging panel for a machinima competition which will begin in August. I'll post more details about it nearer the time - isn't it time you entered a competition...? Some desirable prizes will be on offer!
My next real-world screening is organised by the Winchester Film Society on Thursday 20 May. I'm not 100% sure of the format yet but I expect I'll do a little introduction and Q&A.
Then, on Tuesday 13 July the Bracknell Film Society will include Clockwork within the programme. I'll be there too, and I'm looking forward talking about machinima and showing the movie.
Progress with iClone has been painfully slow. The software tantalises me with what it is clearly capable of, but I'm finding it really difficult get my head around. It would be great if you could just lift that engine and give it to the Moviestorm guys sort out. I have issues with the overall workflow which is confusing, and I find that the walk animations are sometimes really poor - the characters seem to moonwalk over the ground, sliding along as if they were on skates. I've also found it to be a bit buggy - I've had characters walking in endless circles when all I asked them to do was follow a path.
As I'm finding it all so difficult I am asking myself why I'm bothering. I think the reason is because of the fantastic facial animations that iClone has. Now, if Moviestorm had that (and water, and more morphable characters, and better shadowing) there'd be no need for iClone in my arsenal. Without those features I'm not sure what more I can really do with Moviestorm (without my movies looking like every other one I've done. And everyone else has done) but I don't have the time in my life to learn iClone to the level that would be required.
I'm at a cross-roads.
Friday, 23 April 2010
I've not been doing too much on the movie making front lately as I've been down in Monte Carlo with work. Due to the flights fiasco this meant an interesting journey through the channel tunnel then down through France on the TGV (amazing trains!), then along the coast to Monaco. Fortunately flights are now back on because much as I enjoyed the journey down I didn't really want to have to do it all over again on the way back. (Plus I've got tickets to see Paul Merton tonight and wouldn't have been back in time if I'd had to take the train)
The April Machiniplex Forum takes place this coming Sunday (25th April), and continues on the topic of directing voice actors. This time I WILL be there! Promise! Location details are on the Machiniplex blog - hope you can make it!
I've had recent confirmation for screenings at two more events. First up is Chromatose which takes place in Newfoundland from 30th April. They will be screening Clockwork during the main program on the Friday evening, and Embers will be shown during the Anymator's conference on the Sunday evening. I'm waiting to hear whether I'll be able to participate online, although timings may be an issue as I already have some commitments on Sunday.
The next event is the following Friday at FMX 2010 which is an animation, effects, games and interactive media conference held in Stuttgart in Germany. Well-known German machinima director CD Schulz will be screening some of the best machinima from the past year, and I'm proud to say this includes Clockwork! I wasn't previously aware of this event and thought that it might be good to go along to. It's not too easy for me to get cheap flights this time, but maybe next year!
I've also had both Clockwork and Embers accepted for FILE which takes place in Sao Paulo in Brazil at the end of July - I'll post more about that nearer the time.
What else? Well I have an idea for a new movie, as yet untitled and unscripted. However I have secured a new voice actor on the basis of my previous movies, so I'd better get writing before he loses interest! This time, I want to really focus in on emotion and I'm planning to use this movie to get to know iClone a bit better. I am approaching this with a degree of trepidation because I do find iClone rather confusing, but the facial puppeteering features are simply amazing. The potential is definately there, the question is whether I can harness it though! I'll keep you posted on progress but I fully expect this project to take a while to complete.
Friday, 26 March 2010
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Monday, 15 March 2010
Full details of the event are here.
The event takes place in Second Life, and if you've never tried SL before then this would be a great starting point. You need to download and register (all free), and I'd recommend you do that in advance so that you a basic idea as to how to steer your avatar around...
Hope you can join us! (And if you do, make sure you ask plenty of questions)
Thursday, 11 March 2010
First up, there is an evening of machinima being screened at Phoenix Square in Leicester next Thursday (18 March). The event is being hosted by Dr. Tracy Harwood of De Montford University, and Chantal Harvey who is the organiser of the Mamachinima festival. Clockwork is on the programme, and I'll be going along.
Next, as you may be aware I've started contacting various Film Societies to see if they're interested in screening any of my animations, following a very successful screening at Andover. The great news is that I now have positive replies from both Bracknell and Winchester Film Societies!
On Thursday 20th May Winchester Film Society will host a screening of shorts, including Clockwork. I'll be there to introduce it and to take questions.
Then, on Tuesday 13 July it's along to Bracknell Film Society who will also show Clockwork, and once again I'll introduce and take questions.
On the whole I have to say I'm really pleased with the number of "real world" screenings - I'd always believed that machinima shouldn't be limited to an online audience, so it's great that these opportunities are there. And for any directors out there who are contemplating contacting their local film society then my advice is: Stop Contemplating And Just Do It!
Next up: my television debut on French TV show Tracks... my appearance was short and sweet, and I looked suitably "animated". I'm looking for a online version that I can link to, so watch this space.
Another appearance in the media that was a real surprise for me was in last Saturday's Times newspaper. The "Sitegeist" column was about online animation software, and of course Moviestorm gets a mention, along with Clockwork.
So what of my latest movie Embers? Well, the response has been great. Comments about the look and feel have been consistently positive (apart from odd comment that said the bicycle in the basement gets too much prominence*). The ending however has really divided people! Some people like it, other's see what it was trying to do but feel that the pace of the movie was disrupted by it, while others absolutely hate the ending!
And this might surprise you, but if I was a viewer of this movie and not the director then I too would dislike the ending because it's not at all within my comfort zone, and this type of ending always seems like a cop-out to me whenever I see it used. However, I set out with clear personal challenge to myself with this movie - I didn't want to "play it safe", and regardless of how you feel about the ending in terms of story-telling, I still think it looks good. So, although I didn't follow my instinct for the narrative, I don't think I compromised any visual quality. It's like a vegetarian chef trying to cook the Christmas Turkey - I gave it my best shot, and I'm OK with the final result, even if it's not to my taste.
Another plus point; the ending surprised people, especially the ones who know me personally, and I love a twist in the tale!
Embers has already won a Storm Award from the Storm Hour on TMOA Radio. I think it is also a worthy successor to Clockwork as far as material for future cinema/film society screenings. I say this because at a little over 12 minutes long it's just the right size to add on to a main feature with an introduction. Cloud Angel at 20 minutes is probably a bit too long for that purpose (although I'd love to see Cloud Angel on the big screen - it would look amazing!)
*Oh yeah, the bike. This is one of the most interesting props I think I've ever used. I found it in Google 3Dwarehouse. The only modification I made to it was to tilt it over so that it leans against the bookcase rather than magically stand upright on its own. Originally, I stuck it on the set intending to find a place for it later (just like in real life I guess!) and discovered that it created some great shapes for some of the shots I was framing. That gave me an incentive to keep it where I'd placed it.
Thursday, 25 February 2010
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
I’ve not seen it myself yet, and I’ve had to go to some lengths to secure a recording of the show as it isn’t broadcast in the UK, and although it should be accessible online too I think it is limited to users in France.
I’m really looking forward to seeing this show, although I don’t speak a word of French, and I can’t remember much about what I said to them.
Still, if it turns out that I made a complete fool of myself then at least it will only be the French that think I’m an idiot. And as my French work colleagues will rush to point out, they already knew this!
Thursday, 11 February 2010
For anyone that's watched my movies, you'll know that I've started to build a reputation for gloomy, depressing, and dark material. Clockwork - my most successful flick to date - is set in an alternate history where the UK has descended into a hopelessly bleak totalitarian society. Cloud Angel is set on board an airship, and not wishing to spoil it if you haven't watched it, let's just say it doesn't end well...
I decided this had to change.
So, my new movie is set in an fallout shelter after a nuclear strike. I know what you're thinking. "It doesn't sound very cheery". Well, that's because it's not. I think it's fair to say that I've been singularly unsuccessful in my mission to deliver a happy upbeat Disneyesque family film. Still, could've been worse. It could've been a musical.
This film is something of a departure for me though. It's the first time I've set a movie in the US. The reason for not doing this before was because I like to direct my voice actors in person, and they're all British. In the same way that American actors struggle to do British accents, I assume that British actors doing American accents will sound ridiculous (to Americans at any rate. I doubt Brits would notice.) Do American actors struggle with British accents? I think so*. Any time there's a computer game with one of the levels set in the UK it's always painfully obvious that the actor isn't a native. The worst example I can think of is a Tony Hawks game that the kids have on the Wii - the "English" girl is dressed in a Union flag T-shirt and speaks with an accent that alternates between Cockney, Yorkshire, and bizarrely Australian. I don't intend this to sound in any way xenophobic - my point is simply that films set in the UK require British actors, so I assume films set in the US will require American actors.
This presented something of a problem for me as there are any number of actors available online, but I needed people that could perform without my immediate direction. I'm happy to say I got some killer performances...
With this movie I struggled with the title. The film is about a young couple holed up in the basement of their house which they've converted into a fallout shelter. They've been there for months after the country descended into nuclear war, and as they're in a remote rural location well away from any major industrial or population centres they've managed to avoid any direct blast damage. The threat now is fallout, and they wonder if it is safe to go outside.
The original title was "Embers", as I saw these two characters as being like the embers of life - and it could go one of two ways, they either fade away and die, or are rekindled into life. Then, I changed the name to "The End". I wanted to drive home the seriousness of their predicament. Now, no one has ever described my work as subtle, but even I could see that "The End" was a bit melodramatic, so "Embers" was rekindled. (Did you see what I did there...?)
Anyway, it is tantalisingly close to being released, so watch this space!
*with the obvious exception of Johnny Depp. I don't know how or why, but he can get away with it.
Thursday, 4 February 2010
The Film Club have their screenings at the Reel cinema, which is a modern multiplex. It's obvious that there's a great working relationship between the cinema and the club; in fact, the cinema had gone to great lengths to install a digital projector specifically for my movie (as opposed to the 35mm projectors used for the movies normally shown there).
As it was a special event, members and their guests were greeted in the foyer with glasses of champagne, (I made sure I guzzled one down in preparation for my little talk!)
While the audience were arriving I headed up to the projection room to meet the projectionist and to make sure everything was working OK. I've never been in a projection room before, and it was a sight to behold! I was fascinated by the film projectors - I instinctively knew that films are provided on huge reels but it's not until you see them sitting on these massive spools that you really understand how specialist this equipment is. In addition to the 35mm projectors, and the digital projector that was being used for my movie, they had a simply huge digital projector with integrated server (and cooling ducts disappearing into the ceiling). This was for Avatar of course - no wonder it looks so good on screen!
I then headed down to the auditorium to do a last minute check on the sound levels. The sound was crystal clear. In fact, there were some artifacts that I could hear which I know are in the movie but you're not normally aware of (mostly to do with the noise reduction filter for one of the voices). The sound reproduction was brilliant.
Then back to the foyer to quaff my fizz, then I followed the audience back to the auditorium. One of the committee members gave a short introduction, then I spoke for five or six minutes about machinima; what it is, origins, challenges, then a bit about Clockwork specifically; how long it took to make, where it has been shown, awards.
Then it was the screening itself.
The response was great. I think the audience genuinely enjoyed the movie, and later in the evening as everyone was filing out quite a few people stopped to say hello and tell me what they thought of the movie - they didn't have to do that!
All in all, the evening was a great success and I'm hoping I'll have the chance to show them more of my work in the future.
So, thanks Andover Film Club, it was an honour to be able to show Clockwork!
Sunday, 17 January 2010
I'm fortunate to have had movies shown at quite a few festivals in the last 12 months, and I was able to attend some of them. Of course, the other great thing about seeing your own movie in a cinema is that you also get to meet the audience - when someone looks you in the eye and tells you what they really think... well, somehow it has more gravity than an anonymous comment on an internet forum.
Recently, I was talking to a colleague who has just started a Film Society in his home town. Having seen some of my work he thought that it might be an idea to show it during one of their screenings. What's great about film societies is that they're genuinely interested in different types of film; art house, foreign films, classic movies, etc. So there's a possibility they'll screen something later in the year once the society is up and running.
This got me thinking... how many film societies are there in the UK? The answer is hundreds! So, on the off-chance I got in touch with the Andover Film Club who are probably the nearest one to me. I sent them a link to some of my movies and asked if they'd be interested in screening any of them - probably as a B-movie to the main feature. They were!
So, the good news is that they're going to screen Clockwork at the Reel Cinema on Monday 1st February. I'm going along to introduce it, and give a little talk about machinima, then after showing the movie they'll go on to the main feature.
I'll keep you posted how it goes, and assuming it all goes well I'll be contacting other film societies in the south to see if they'd be interested in doing something similar.
The only downside I can see to all this is it's one fewer night that I'll have to actually make movies, but in thinking about it, I make them because I want people to see them.
If you're interested in doing something similar in your home town, then a good starting place (in the UK) is the British Federation of Film Societies. Good luck!
Saturday, 2 January 2010
For the past couple of weeks I've just been chilling out, catching up with people that I haven't seen in a long time.
For now, let me wish you and your family a happy and prosperous new year!