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Review: Machinima seminar, RUC, Nov. 26th, 2009

An inspiring day of films and discussion about Machinima film-making, including its history related to animation, puppetry and games, the future directions and design tools. First, I give a review of the four parts of the day, then unpack two topics (Machinima as folk art and choosing style in regards to game engine). See more information at the end of the post (links, biographies and more). The four parts of the seminar:
- Speedmaster Bing (aka Jimmy Hansen) reviewed the history of Machinima, mainly from a technical viewpoint and he showed a wide spectrum of films (see his blog,
- Britta Pollmuller (Pigment Pye in Second Life) joined us in SL. She is a Machinima artist, a PhD student and also teaches classes on how to make Machinima under the Schome Initiative, at UK’s Open University. Britta demonstrated the versatility of designing scenes and figures in SL, highlighted the cheap cost and aesthetic potentials – as well as limitations.
- Hugh Hancock is a Machinima pioneer and part of Strange Company, Edinburgh. He took us on a whirlwind tour of the state of the art of making films in virtual worlds. He discussed what he termed “about 15 types and many production techniques… a whole continuum” under the umbrella term Machinima, which he came up with (a combination of machine + cinema + anime, although anime due to spelling snafu). Hugh also led a fun demo of an open source online Machinima film-making “tool” specifically for setting up and recording realtime animation (see
- I summarized and led a brief discussion on Machinima as a “folk art” from a wider historical perspective on the arts and media convergence.

I continue to speculate on two particular topics from the seminar: (1) how art forms evolve over historical epochs and the idea of Machinima as folk art, and (2) how machinimators work within a virtual world and go about choosing a style and look (in a game engine) to fit with their story.
Art forms as evolving…

Hugh suggested that machinima may be the only “art form in the last 500 years to genuinely emerge from play” – it is informed by others in the field and evolves in communities of fans, artists, professionals. Perhaps this predictably academic, but I want to explore just what, among the many meaning of play, is entering into this – and how it goes way back in time and in relation to artistic processes, to gaming and game play, to play as in playing theatre and puppeteering, to play with objects as if in a sandbox? There are a myriad of forms of play (see Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, 1938). Another, related question is how does playing with games in order to modifying them for  film-making purposes relate to processes of innovation?

Machinima was referred as “virtual puppeteering” by Hugh at seminar (see also Machinima by Matt Kelland, Dave Lloyd, Dave Morris, 2005). I see virtual puppeteering as a trajectory along the path of the ancient art form of puppetry (inspired by literary, historical theories of M.M. Bakhtin).

I propose that puppetry and folk art traditions can apply to how users, such as amateur film-makers/gamers, developed Machinima by modifying existing game engines and find ways to capture animated movements of figures in realtime – but also folk art on the basis of the trading, re-using and mixing together of sources. As an example, figures such as dragons or special props designed by one machinimator (film-maker) are offered to another in SL and generally, the whole game environment re-uses stories, folk legends or tales. So, authorship gets blurry, as tales are created and re-created and diffused in a collective process? The folk art and culture perspective aids in clarifying that sagas, tales and myths were oral and retold over time, often only written down much later. As such many folktales have no one author, nor do ancient Greek myths although written down at some point (such as by Ovid). Folk art is controversial in our era of the author (the auteur) and this is one reason why Machinima presents such interesting dilemmas and rich questions for research. Obviously, game companies etc. believe in their exclusive rights to maintain ownership, but I won’t dive into the copyright issue here.

The choice of style and look…
Hugh pointed out that a good way to plan a Machinima film is to choose a style and look and he recommends storyboarding. After that, it is a matter of finding the right game engine (or Moviestorm, suitable software etc) that matches the story. For instance, The Sims 2 became popular for Machinima because it was a “non-shooter game” and allowed machinimators to show new types of activities, such as dancing and kissing, and thereby affords expressing romantic scenes and everyday home and social life and emotional crisis.

In other words, Hugh pointed to how the story and the lens through which you want to tell your story is inseparable from what you can modify the engine to do. The resources available in terms of games and virtual worlds (or the tools) are growing rapidly. Therefore, the Machinima videos or films are becoming more varied and currently “not unified at all”, Hugh also referred to this situation as “how many schools of Machinima are there now” – perhaps we can see this as floating, evolving construction of narrative forms (genres as transforming, not fixed), but emerging from what we generally know and recognize as fairy tale, comedy, parody, music video or whatever?

In summary, the seminar provided lots of food for thought and was useful for moving forward in my Machinima research. Thank you Britta, Hugh and Jimmy! I will post more on my research project in early 2010. I want to explore the artistic potentials of Machinima and hope to try out motion capture for controlling avatars as puppets – I will get back to this in another post. I welcome any input and ideas.

Selected links

From the presentation by Speedmaster Bing (aka Jimmy Hansen):
Fantastic “documentary” in 10 episodes in a series shown on HBO: Molotov Alva by Douglas Gayeton. Episode 3 – The trouble with money, Even when it’s virtual
In this episode, Molotov meets a hobo named Orhalla Zander, who introduces the “Five Ways of the Seeker”.

Poem: Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll interpreted as machinima by: Bentham (this was conceived / recorded in 6 hours with virtually no preparation at cost of 7 USD / 35 kr)

Poem HQ: The Stolen Child – WB Yeats by by Lainy Voom

A music video: Too busy to date your avatar

A meditation piece: “Running around all the time, sometimes we forget to stand still for a moment.”

A Japanese trailer to a film: Dear my Father 2009
Real real time (?) shows in virtual world:

Hugh Hancock info:

Hugh Hancock bio

Read Machinima For Dummies by Hugh Hancock and Johnnie Ingram, 2007. The book covers how step by step how to make any type of Machinima from simple to the more complex film projects (especially technical aspects), and its application to conventional filmmaking.

Britta Pollmuller info:
Britta teaches Machinima and is herself an artist / machinimator doing her PhD studies at Norwich University College of the Arts, UK. She participates in the Schome project, see

See also Teaching Media and Machinima in Second Life: Interview with Britta Pollmuller by Diane Carr, August 2007, is on the blog report, ‘Learning from Social Worlds; Teaching in Second Life’ project:

Speedmaster Bing – blog is in Danish only.

His review of the seminar is on:

Other participants at the seminar have reviewed the seminar:
In Danish: Tommy Nilsson aka doctor Asp (SL name)

In English: Marianne Riis aka Mariis Mills
Links on copyright and finding and reusing material
“Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright.”

“Freesound Project aims to create a huge collaborative database of audio snippets, samples, recordings, bleeps, released under the Creative Commons Sampling Plus License.”

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