This word is a combination of the terms ‘machine’ and ‘cinema’ and it was created to describe an intriguing artistic form developed by computer gamers that also happen to be a new form of “modder”. For years, modders have been adapting the structure of computer games – usually a first person “shooters” – to build new “levels.” Most of these games are broken into sequences; what modders have been doing is devising their own level or “maps” that are, in essence, additional game content, presenting the player with new obstacles and new interactions with the villains.
With machinima, these technicians have taken the process several steps further. They have dismantled the game’s apparatus completely and utilized it to build movies, TV shows and other creative video presentations. The video material is driven by the game’s 3D engines and, of necessity, features many of the characters within it. These characters, however, can be provided with a voice overdub and manipulated in their on-screen movements so that their game persona is completely altered.
One machinima created from the Interplanetary shoot-out Halo has been converted into a talk show with weekly segments. The special effects are harnessed to create new actions for the characters and their personalities are defined by the voice-over, as provided by the amateur film maker who has assembled the pieces of this video art. Action sequences can be created that are completely different from anything in the game; it’s the characters, the backgrounds, and the inventory of potential movements that remain the same.
To a perverse, creative mind the possibilities are endless. Rather than creating a small bolt-on addition to the game, they have utilized the game’s artwork and technology for completely original productions. The product can then be edited to videotape for a conventional film or, more commonly, distributed digitally. The practice eliminates the need for expensive animation machines and studios for potential movie makers. You can be a backyard film maker and simply upload your completed project for tens of thousands of viewers. If it’s well done, the recognition will be quick and meaningful. To those who remember the early days of the web when it was ruled by anarchists, this practice must be a touch of nostalgia.
Machinima: Find It!
The art form has progressed to the point where there is an annual festival that shows films created with the technology. Emmy winning animators are experimenting with the technology and producing products worthy of presentation- and awards – at film festivals. Others have produced music videos using game characters instead of musicians for the video sequences.
Describing Machinima can be difficult, and seeing it for yourself is the best way to understand it. There is a website dedicated to the format at machinima.com which has many of the better and well known productions available for download. There is also a lot of commentary on the state of the art, so to speak, along with production promotions. There is an entire set of “game channels,” consisting of machinima productions originating from a single game. In recognition of machinima as a legitimate emerging art form, there are also two national advertisers on the home page. Ads for voice actors and announcement of film premiers – it has all the trappings of a rapidly maturing niche in the film industry.