Friday, 31 December 2010

The Last Post. (Of 2010)

Well the year is now drawing to a close, and I suppose it's time for a bit of reflection on 2010 - how was it for you?
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

Machinima Expo 2010 Feedback

Those of you who attended this year's Machinima Expo will have witnessed quite a different event to last year's Expo. Much bigger in scale, far more integrated with simultaneous streaming in Second Life and TMU Theatre, and a very polished programme of content.
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

Call for voice actor for new dark production

I've been on holiday this week.

Try as I might, I cannot avoid being drawn to the computer to try out new story ideas - both in terms of scripting and set-building. Well, I'm afraid it's too late! I have a new script, and the beginnings of some new sets that I'm getting quite excited about. It's far too early to say too much about this movie, I can't even tell you what it will be called yet as I don't want to give too much away.

Anyway, here is an early screenshot to give you an idea as to what this will look like. There's no post production done on this shot so it is a bit rough at the moment. I've borrowed some of the textures from D.L. Watson's excellent Industrial Corridor set (with permission!) which contributes to the gritty feel tremendously. Also, you might be thinking that I've addressed this topic before in Cut & Shut - but actually, what is going on here is something quite different...

It's quite a short script, and I'm looking for a voice actor to play the nasty guy. Ideally, I have a Ray Winstone or Jason Stratham type of accent in mind - menacing, London gangstery type of thing. If you're interested then please send me a message; iain.friar { a t }, ideally with some samples of your work. I will warn you now that sound quality is pretty important so you will need to provide a low noise recording.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Countdown to Machinima Expo 2010

The countdown to Machinima Expo 2010 is now well under way. This year it is being held on the 20th and 21st November, and is possibly the biggest date in the machinima community's calendar. And the great thing is that anyone can attend, no matter where you are in the world...
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

Beautiful movie by the Blender Foundation

This week I watched a movie that has been generating quite a lot of interest among the online community of late. It's called Sintel, and is a charming fantasy animation made entirely within Blender, which is an open source 3D content creation suite.
The reason I think this movie is so interesting is because it shows just what is possible when a free software tool is placed in the right hands. The "right hands" in this case appear to be quite numerous, and although the software itself is free that's not to say there wasn't money involved in this project. No, it's probably not machinima (and I'm not going to try to offer a definition of machinima here, there are too many trolls out there ready to take exception), but the spirit behind the project shares something with the spirit of machinima. That is, just because you're not a full time professional animator with access to artists, modellers, and render farms, doesn't mean you can't bang out your own modest little animation. That said, Sintel isn't really a modest little animation - it's a slick, atmospheric short which combines beautiful visuals with terrific sound mixing.
Watch it, enjoy it, don't try to figure out what it is and what it isn't, and reflect on the idea that maybe one day the machinima tools that we all use might yet be capable of something of this calibre.

First festival showing for Ruth

I managed to get Ruth completed just before the submission deadline for Machinima Expo 2010. After an anxious couple of weeks I received a confirmation that Ruth has been selected for screening at the expo. This is terrific news because it means I'll have two movies screening this year; in addition to Ruth, Embers was also selected!
There was a 25% increase in submissions this year, with around 200 movies submitted in total, so it's great to have made the final cut.
Congratulations to the other directors who were successful too.
Looking forward to the Expo.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Ruth. Showing at a theatre near you.

Ruth is now complete, and available to view here.

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

New movie is ready for roll-out

After a summer hiatus I managed to get round to finishing off my latest movie. It's called Ruth, and it's quite different (I think) to my previous movies. I don't want to give too much away at the moment - but I will be uploading it once I've shown it to a few people first (as a matter of courtesy).
So, if you like steam trains, Victorian mystery, and well dressed gentlemen then hopefully you'll like the movie!
I've created a couple of images which you can see here, that I'm using to generate interest in the movie.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Seven Sins is live!

Harb40's annual Passion contest has kicked off, and this time I'm on the judging panel! The challenge this time is create a movie which references at least two of the Seven Deadly Sins. What fun! I don't really have a favourite sin... they're all good!
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
  • Chilling
  • 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

Bracknell Screening

The screening at Bracknell Film Society was a great success. There was a good turnout, and there were some great questions asked, which for me is always an indicator that people are genuinely interested in the movie.
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

Screening at Bracknell Film Society

This coming Tuesday 13th July I'll be at the Bracknell Film Society who have added Clockwork to the programme. It's the first time I've shown anything there, and I'm looking forward meeting everyone.
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

Overcoming the impossible

It was high time for another interview with a famous name from the world of machinima and anymation. This time it was the turn of Moviestorm and OpenSim pioneer Kate Fosk (AKA kkffoo AKA Beans Canning). For previous podcasts I had the opportunity for a face to face chat, but this time the plan was to do it via Skype (other VOIP apps are available*...)
So how hard can it be to record an interview via Skype? Well, as it turns out it was nigh-on impossible. Twenty minutes before the agreed time, I fired up the software for the call, and connected up my headphones and mic. Audacity should be up to the job of recording. Or so I thought. Try as I might I couldn't get the software to record the Skype stream - it could hear me but not Skype. No amount of tinkering with the sound mixer could fix it. The clock was ticking and I had to call Kate toask her to hang on in there.
More faffing about - I was sure there was a "What I hear" option that I'd seen somewhere - but where?
I discovered the Pamela Skype recorder - that'll do it, right? Fired that up for the first time to discover that if you want to record for more than 15 minutes you need to cough up £15 or so.
I'm Scotch**. We don't pay for things if there's a whisker of chance it'll be free (just ask Moviestorm). By this time it was too late for the call, so we rescheduled. A week should be enough time.
So, in the meantime I did a bit of research. Turns out that it's deliberately set up so that you can't record audio streams - probably to prevent you from recording from Spotify and the like. But I reckoned I was smarter than Microsoft or whoever came up with this limitation. Turns out I'm not. I installed the Skype app on my Netbook which runs an OS called Jolicloud (no Microsoft technology present). Still wouldn't record. I resorted to my old desktop PC which runs XP. Now it does have a "What I Hear" option in the mixer.
And it does record What I Hear. Unless it involves Skype of course...
Another trawl of the web and I found a piece of software that claimed to do exactly what I wanted. I installed it. Along with it's nasty little payload; "Relavant Knowledge". The software was a basic recording app, nothing more - Relevant Knowledge was removed thanks to Malwarebytes Anti-malware.
OK. Let's shell out for Pamela Skype recorder then. Fire up Skype and it's downloaded a new version - do I want to install...? Sure, why not! I'll tell you why not, every time I fire up Skype now I get an error message from Pamela - and I've not even bought the damn upgrade yet!
By this stage a week has passed, it's 10 minutes to the second attempt at the call. At this point I'm desperate, and figure that it's time to resort to some sort of jerry-rigged hardware setup.
And that's what did. I connected my portable recorder to the headphone socket of my PC, to capture the Skype stream, and simultaneously used Audacity to capture my mic input. The end result was two separate audio files which I merged into a single stream.
Having managed all that, we still had a number of interruptions on the call (which I've edited out) such as when the guy turned up to replace my car windscreen...
Anyway, I'd like to thank Kate for her enormous patience. Here's the podcast - Kate has plenty to say about lots of things, and I know there's a lot more to talk about. Maybe next time I won't be quite so frazzled!

*although I don't know any of them!
** handy tip - all Scotch people from Scotland like to be called Scotch. Try it - we'll thank you for it ;-)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Winchester Film Society

Thursday night was the end of season party at the Winchester Film Society, and to celebrate they screened three shorts that had all been shot by local film makers. The programme included Clockwork, the highly acclaimed and technically astonishing Ten Thousand Pictures of You by Robin King, and Stand or Fall - from Page to Stage, which was a moving documentary about a play performed by prison inmates.
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

TV, Film Clubs, and being Judgemental

This week I discovered that the TV show I was filmed for in France last October is available online. The programme is called Tracks, and airs on the Arte channel in France and Germany (and dubbed accordingly). Tracks did a report on machinima and came along to the Atopic Festival in Paris to find out more about it. You can watch the report here (hope your French is good!). I make an appearance at the 7:30 mark, and they also show a little clip of Clockwork.
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

Machiniplex, Chromatose, FMX, FILE

Time for an update methinks!

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

What have you become, my beloved Moviestorm?

This is my second attempt at this 'blog post. The first attempt was a vitriolic rant that flitted uncontrollably from topic to topic. I've now had the chance to sleep on it, consider my thoughts, rearrange them a little, calm down etc.
This, I hope will be short and to the point.
This week, Moviestorm announced a new pack, euphemistically called "After Dark", but will, I fear, become known colloquially as the Porn Pack. I was infuriated! But why?
Well, it's not because I'm some sort of narrow-minded prude, (an accusation that can hardly be made of anyone who lists A Clockwork Orange among their favourite movies).
No, it's partly because over the past couple of years the modding community have been constantly knocking on Moviestorm's door, desperately crying out for the tools that would allow them to create their own animations, costumes, animated models. Now anyone that knows anything about technology marketing will know the importance of establishing an active and enthusiastic community to get behind and promote your product - in fact the importance is explained very well in Geoffrey A. Moore's book Crossing the Chasm. This is the first book you read when learning about technology marketing. Without building this community, no matter how innovative your technology is, you'll probably fade away. (A great contemporary example is Apple and the way they built a huge developer base for apps, which in turn increased the reasons to buy iPhone / iPod Touch.)
Now, I don't count myself among the modders (for me, importing the occasional model from Google isn't really modding). But I sure want that community to develop because:
a) I want Moviestorm to thrive and grow
b) I need more variety in my movies; more costumes, more animations, more expression in the models... basically all the things that people ask for after they've made their first movie
I had always thought that Moviestorm would be working away on SDKs (or whatever modders really need), and throwing their energy into finding a sales model that allows them to take a share of sales while mitigating any legal exposure (where there's a will there is a way). I believed this because this is a basic technology marketing requirement and I had assumed that it was due to the limited resources that meant it was taking a long time - and the problem of limited resources would be alleviated by having a large third-party development effort.
I also believed this because I know that the guys at Moviestorm are smart. There's no doubt.
But with the announcement of the Porn Pack it became immediately apparent that the development energies are being applied to just developing content packs, and therefore not opening up the platform to a hungry modding community, and all this within the limited development bandwidth.
So my first issue is that Moviestorm have got their priorities wrong.
What else troubles me about this pack? Well, I can imagine it will prove popular with spotty-faced teenagers keen to make grubby little skin flicks, and I'm sure they'll be able scrape together a few pennies to buy it. So it will sell, and Moviestorm will make some cash. But really, did we have to stoop so low Moviestorm? Wasn't it possible to do a "passion pack" which focused on animations that adults could actually use?
And finally, I think Moviestorm needs to show a bit of honesty. The description for the "After Dark" pack says "there is content here that will allow you to fulfill your artistic intentions." Artistic? Seriously? Let's have a look at some of the assets on offer (fnarr): naked female with morphable breasts, doggy position on floor (start, thrust, loop).
I've no particular issue with pornography - each to their own as far as I'm concerned, but if we're going to have a porn pack then for goodness sake call it what it is, and let's not pretend it's in any way high-brow.
Of course I may be proved wrong by someone doing a tasteful and artistic movie. But I doubt it.

OK, maybe not as short as I was expecting. But fairly to the point.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

So what happened Iain?!

Well, let me firstly publicly apologise to Ricky Grove and Phil Rice for pulling out of Machiniplex 3 at extremely short notice. And for everyone who did make it, I'm truly sorry I wasn't there.
So what happened? Well, no great disaster as such - I just got my dates a bit screwed up. Ricky had checked my availability, and I confirmed it was fine. Unfortunately I had a prior engagement and being a bit of a disorganised sod I hadn't written it down anywhere useful, like in my diary.
I'm feeling suitably embarassed by all this, especially considering the organising and promotion that goes into the event.
Anyway, it won't happen again...

OK, moving on then... the Machinima screening in Leicester was very interesting. It was hosted by Dr. Tracy Harwood, and Chantal Harvey (who joined via Second Life). Tracy gave a very interesting talk about machinima as a social phenomenon, and screened some movies that I'd not seen before such as the 1K Project by Blackshark, Divas by Phalen Fairchild, and some favourites such as Lainy Voom's Push. But the big movie was the world premiere of Tom Jantol's The Remake. I think this has still to be published online so I won't say too much about it other than if you're familiar with Tom's work then you'll not be disappointed!
I also had a chance to chat with Tracy in the bar afterward as well as some of the audience, and of course Roger from TMOA Radio ("the Roger from the Ken and Roger Show!") and his son Scott. It was a great night, and well worth the trip up to Leicester.

I've also published a couple of new 29 second shorts as entries in the Doritos ad contest. I think there may be a problem with the encoding (at their end) as the quality isn't wonderful. I might look into this a bit more if I get a chance.

Here are my entries from the Vimeo site; Stoat & Onion, and Hello Mum.

That's it for now!

Monday, 15 March 2010


This coming Sunday (21 March) sees the next installment of the Machiniplex forums taking place in Second Life. The topic this time is "Directing Voice Actors", and I'll be joining the panel along with Chantal Harvey (organiser of the Mamachinima festival), and hosts Ricky Grove and Phil Rice.

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

Lots happening!

I've been postponing updating this blog for too long now with the result that there's a lot to tell you about!

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

Embers is now published

Just a very short post today to announce that Embers is now available for your viewing pleasure!

Just click here to watch it.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Is this my fifteen minutes that Andy Warhol promised me?

Those of you who follow my blog will know that last October I was interviewed for a French TV programme called Tracks. The show is due to be aired tonight (I think) on a report about Machinima and the Atopic Festival in Paris.
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

Announcing my forthcoming movie...

Yes, it's nearing completion and will be published very, very soon!
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

Screening by Andover Film Club

On Monday 1st February I headed down to Andover for the screening of Clockwork. The Film Club had done a great job of turning the evening into a special event, which I hugely appreciated. They had issued a press release to announce that a "local filmaker" (i.e. me!) would be showcasing one of their animated movies.
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

Breaking out of the backroom

Ever since I started making machinima I've been convinced that a wider audience exists outside the confines of the internet. It's great that so many many people have taken the time to view my movies and pass judgement on them - every comment is welcomed, even if I don't always agree! And it's natural that machinma viewing should largely take place online as the internet allows everyone to showcase their creativity. However, as anyone who has ever made a machinima movie knows, it takes ages, and what better reward for all that time than being able to see your movie projected on a huge cinema screen?
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

Happy New Year!

It's been a while since I posted an update, and it's not because there's nothing going on... I currently have two movies in production, one of which is a collaborative project, plus ideas for a further two movies which will take me in a completely new direction. In addition I've struck upon a new idea to broaden my audience. I'll give a full account of this once we're into the new year.
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!