Machinima: Filmmaking Of The Future

[Note: This video is a real out-take from the making of SAND, the machinima series from “What Is Scion City?” I’m showing this video to you because I think it shows part of the difference between traditional animation and machinima. This event happened spontaneously, in real-time. The audio occurred on Skype and wasn’t recorded but I can tell you there was a lot laughing involved. No matter the fiction of the story and the virtualness of the set and avatars – this was a real event, experienced in real-time by real people.]

I think I was about 11 years old the first time I though about making a film. I was inspired by reading, in Starlog magazine, about how special effects were done. The problem though was that it cost millions of dollars to do that kind of stuff. I remember thinking that animation was the way to go because you’d be able to create anything you could draw. So I spent a lot of time imagining and drawing. I used to make comic books and spaceship models and movie posters but an actual film was still beyond my grasp back in 5th grade.

Now, 30 years later, I’m living that dream. Thanks to machinima and Second Life we can fairly quickly create most anything we can imagine and film it in real time. It’s a lot like real world filmmaking but much faster. Forget about waiting for the sun to be in the right position, now you can just stick it where you want it. Need to get that giant set piece out of your way for a moment? Or need to duplicate a set? No problem. These things are trivial in a virtual environment. For my latest project, What Is Scion City?, we had a whole digital backlot created – the virtual desert that covers the Scion City of the future. Additionally we had all of the underground sets floating a few hundred meters above the desert. And because our backlot is part of a persistent, shared, virtual world accessible from anywhere, it allowed us to work with great people no matter where they were located.

The directors of What Is Scion City worked from three different continents – Douglas and I here in North America, Trace Sanderson in Europe and PG Provenzano in Australia. Finding a good time to meet was a little difficult but when we did, Second Life and Skype made it all work. Most of everything I shot was done with the help of Poid Mahovlich in the U.K. and duckyfresh Wantanabe somewhere in the Eastern time zone. We spent hours on Skype and in Second Life – forming a little team. It was great to have people to work with who were truly interested in what was being done as opposed to just the people that happen to be available in that location.

Another thing about our process that was interesting for me was the way we able to trade digital assets back and forth over the internet with ease. We used a P2P app called SpinXpress, made by a company that I used to work for, to create a private network between the directors. So none of our work had to entrusted to a third party or posted somewhere on the Internet until we were ready. As the pieces were coming together we shared rough cuts with each other and then when they were done the other directors sent me their HD files directly over our private network. And because I could have things download automatically and continuously reconnect if there was network congestion I was able to get things from Australia without problems even though I was rarely sitting at my computer when PG was.

For me the most exciting thing about all of this is really how enabling all of these pieces of technology are. I’m already amazed at what we can do and this is just the beginning. I can’t wait to work on the next thing where we apply all the lessons we learned working on this. It’s a quickly compounding iterative process.

Photo set by Poid Mahovlich