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.