Character building with machinima

It sounds like a cross between Fritz Lang and anime, but boosters of machinima hope it will be accepted widely as yet another form of animation.

In a further convergence of vidgames and the pic biz, machinima are animated films created with software from high-end vidgames that let players create their own levels. The software is modified so a creator can quickly and simply set up camera angles, lighting, characters and backdrops, then create an animated short.

Frequently, several people act as virtual puppeteers, each controlling a character as a scene is performed and recorded.

“A lot of times it’s really wonderful,” says Anna Kang, CEO and prexy of Fountainhead Entertainment, which is creating a feature-length machinima, “Sidrial.” “You have a lot more freedom to create that you might not otherwise have in another medium.”

The tiny genre took its next step toward acceptance with this weekend’s first Machinima Film Festival, in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite, Texas.

The choice of venues isn’t quite as odd as it seems; nearby are the headquarters of id Software, whose “Quake” series of shooter games have powerful level-editing software. Kang, not incidentally, is married to id vidgame guru John Carmack, the wizard behind some of the most cutting-edge graphics software.

Kang says machinima has Hollywood applications as well. She believes she can make a feature for $250,000, not counting voice talent costs.

And machinima tools allow creatives to cheaply and quickly experiment with camera placement, lighting, cuts and more.

“In other media, you have to rely on animators to illustrate everything,” Kang says. “With machinima, you feel like once you have the media set up, everyone else can go away.”

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