What is it?

Machinima, a Portmanteau of machine cinema, is a collection of associated production techniques whereby computer-generated imagery (CGI) is rendered using real-time, interactive 3-D engines instead of professional 3D animation software. Engines from first-person shooter and role-playing simulation video games are typically used. Consequently, the rendering can be done in real-time using PCs (either using the computer of the creator or the viewer), rather than with complex 3D engines using huge render farms. Usually, machinima productions are produced using the tools (demo recording, camera angle, level editor, script editor, etc.) and resources (backgrounds, levels, characters, skins, etc.) available in a game.

Machinima is an example of emergent gameplay, a process of putting game tools to unexpected ends, and of artistic computer game modification. The real-time nature of machinima means that established techniques from traditional film-making can be reapplied in a virtual environment. As a result, production tends to be cheaper and more rapid than in key-framed CGI animation. It can also produce more professional appearing production than is possible with traditional at-home techniques of live video tape, or stop action using live actors, hand drawn animation or toy props.

As machinima begins to break out of the underground community of gamers and becomes more widely recognized by mainstream audiences, tools are being developed to allow for faster and easier creation of machinima productions. A number of upcoming machinima products are expected to provide machinimators with original assets, as well as advanced features such as a timeline, gesture and sound creation, and precise camera tools.

Although most often used to produce recordings that are later edited as in conventional film, machinima techniques have also occasionally been used for theatre. A New York improvisational comedy group called the ILL Clan voice and puppet their characters before a virtual camera to produce machinima displayed on a screen to a live audience.

How does it work?

The Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences defines machinima as “animated filmmaking within a real-time virtual 3-D environment”. In other 3-D animation methods, creators can control every frame and nuance of their characters and must consider issues such as key frames and in-betweening. Machinima creators leave many rendering details to, and are thus limited by, their host 3-D environments. Many machinima characters have difficulty crying, hugging, and sitting.

Another difference is that machinima is created in real-time, but other forms of animation are pre-rendered. This discrepancy is possible because many real-time engines trade quality for speed, using less sophisticated algorithms and simpler models. For the 2001 animated film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, every strand of hair on a character’s head was modeled independently; in a real-time environment, hair is likely to be treated as a single unit. Kelland, Morris, and Lloyd argue that, as consumer-grade graphics technology continues to improve, more realistic effects will be possible; Paul Marino relates the feasibility of machinima to the increasing computing power predicted by Moore’s Law. For cut scenes in video games, issues other than visual fidelity arise: Pre-rendered scenes can consume large amounts of digital storage space, harm the player’s suspension of disbelief by contrasting with real-time animation of normal gameplay, and limit player interaction by having been already generated.

As in live action, machinima is recorded in real-time, and real people are involved in performing parts and controlling the camera. In contrast, machinima involves less expensive, digital sets and special effects. Science-fiction and historical settings are feasible. Explosions and stunts can be tried and repeated without monetary cost and risk of injury, and physical constraints of the host environment may differ from those of reality.

Kelland, Morris, and Lloyd define three main paradigms of creating machinima, from simplest and least complex to most powerful: relying on the game’s artificial intelligence (AI) to control most actions, digital puppetry, and precise scripting of actions. One game that encourages the use of the first technique is The Sims 2, which has built-in recording capabilities. Although simple to produce, results dependent on AI are unpredictable, and can resemble home movies. Incorporating a preconceived script can be difficult; when Rooster Teeth produced The Strangerhood, they had to use multiple instances of each character in different moods to achieve the intended result.

In digital puppetry, machinima creators become virtual actors; each puppeteer controls a character in real-time, as in a multiplayer game. Either one or more crew members become camera operators by capturing footage from their characters’ perspectives, or the director uses the game’s built-in camera controls. Advantages of puppetry are that it allows for improvisation and controls familiar to gamers; a drawback is the personnel requirement.

Scripting, the paradigm closest to older animation methods, became popular with third-party machinima creators due to Matinee, a machinima tool included with Unreal Tournament 2004. A technique commonly used by game companies to create cut scenes, scripting involves the specification of precise actions for every character, allowing for fine-grained control. Although a single person can do this, unlike puppeteering, the process of perfecting these commands can be time-consuming, and effects of changes cannot be seen immediately; in this respect, Kelland, Morris, and Lloyd compare scripting to stop motion animation.

Uses as an Instructional Technology

As an immersive experience
  • Machinima presents the possibility of visiting 3D representations of historical sites, which could be used, among other things, for exploring “What if…?” scenarios.
As a learning platform
  • Show students realistic 3D representations of events, technology, and social interaction.

The content on this page was derived from the “Machinima” page maintained by Wikipedia.