Machinima and the Filmmaker's Virtual Immersion: The Modern Era of Digital Video Cameras and Cheap Home Computer Editing Systems (That Are More Powerful Than the Avid Systems of Six Years Ago and Sell for One Tenth the Cost!) Is Often Lauded as the Great Digital Revolution of the Cinematic Form: The Delivery of Cinema-Making Tools into the Hands of the Masses

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AS EXCITING AS THE PROSPECT of a digital utopia is for many me dia creators, there is still a huge wall of logistic and physical problems for the filmmaker with a grand, imaginative vision: locations, actors, public liability insurance, camera mounts, costumes, crew, catering, lighting and the ongoing, desperate--and mostly unsuccessful--attempts to get good location sound out of cheap microphones. The equipment has gotten less expensive and more portable, but, apart from the au naturale documentary, filmmaking is still a logistically intense process that invariably involves lots of money, time and minefield navigation.

However, the greatest ability that human beings have is the ability to adapt. Human society, and its relationship with the technology it spawns, has a long and well-established history of adapting, altering and re-purposing old tools for new uses. It is this tradition of lateral thinking that is currently promising to deliver a new generation of filmmakers, for whom the long-suffered physical constraints of filmmaking are but a thing of the past.

Enter Machinima.

An amalgam of the words 'Machine' and 'Cinema', Machinima is an increasingly popular movie genre and production process (currently it can be viewed as both, but we'll get to that shortly) that in many ways can be said to represent the future of the moving image. Indeed, the arrival of Machinima may, in years to come, be looked upon as the true digital revolution in media creation--a revolution that moves beyond the physical, economic and technological constraints of media production as a techno-cultural form today, and shifts filmmaking into the cheap, unrestricted and infinite virtual world of tomorrow.

So what is Machinima?

According to the official Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences (yes indeed there is one--www.machinima.org) the definition of Machinima is simply 'Filmmaking within a realtime virtual 3D environment'. Machinima movies are staged, performed and shot within the virtual 3D computer graphic, spaces' generated by existing computer games. Largely, these are first-person shooter (FPS) genre games pioneered by the seminal Doom (now in Version 3 and quite terrifying if you've ever played it alone at night in the dark with surround sound...), Half-Life 2 and Quake III.

These games, and more particularly their software code engines for creating 3D spaces and avatars, have become the virtual sound stages for Machinima filmmakers. Scripts are written, actions are storyboarded and players become actors controlling avatars within the game's virtual space. Very often in Machinima (although there are varying production/ capture techniques), the virtual camera through which the action is captured is simply another avatar, whose first- person perspective becomes the de facto camera--our window on the virtual world.

Machinima films are most often (although not always) created by using a Local Area Network (LAN) to connect several PCs or game consoles together into a single 'set', with each actor/player controlling an avatar within that unified space. The 'camera', created by another machine on the network, has the output, showing a first-person perspective as the view the audience will see; the virtual camera frame is sent as a video signal to a recording device. This could be as simple as a DV camera recording via analogue signal cable or direct to computer hard-drive via a video capture card. In other cases, a pure virtual camera can be created that is divorced from a particular avatar's POV, but this often involves the re-writing or hacking of the game's source code. Some older game engines are now open source, so this option is not only available and viable, but also legal and not in breach of the game developer's copyright.

For the uninitiated, Machinima may seem like a fairly radical new media idea, but in actuality it is the inevitable result of a long-standing and ongoing game culture that actively promotes user proactivity in manipulating game experiences. …