10 March 2012

Reallusion at the GDC

We had the chance to meet and hang out with the Reallusion team at the GDC this year and it was a lot of fun!

At the Reallusion station we got to play with motion capture using Kinect. It was very impressive how easy it was to use and of course fun to see yourself acting on screen as an iClone character. This could save a ton of time getting initial animations in place. We will definitely be using this in the near future.

We had a lot of fun hanging out with and talking to everybody from Reallusion. A cool company making excellent products with a team that is friendly and inspired. It's the perfect package.

Plus the cool new versions and plugins coming out for different products are very exciting and will open up the creative potential immensely. Reallusion knows how to have fun at a professional level and we plan to go along for the ride.

Thanks again John, Charles and Chris for the extended chat and physics demo over dinner!

13 January 2012

2012 Is Not The End, It's The Beginning

Happy 2012 everybody! We are a bit late on that but it's still early enough in the year to celebrate.

This year has started off well for us regarding filming Shelf Life. We jumped back in and are happily surprised that everything is either working as expected and that there are several new things for us to play with. We secretly thought we would load up GMOD and it would be totally different and nothing we used to use would work and we would slide into despair. Instead the opposite happened and we were inspired by the smooth re-entry.

So we would like to say thank you to all of the developers out there that continue to come up with new useful tools and content for GMOD and fix old tools that break over time. You have made our return to filming very enjoyable and exciting!

The news of the 2012 beginning is that Charles Wentworth officially hit the set again and got his first short shot recorded. It went well and we are looking forward to the rest of the cast dusting off and getting back to it.

This is just the beginning of a long dry spell so we don't know when we will have anything to offer up but we are hoping the momentum will build and keep us rolling early in 2012.

Stay motivated and inspired in 2012.

23 September 2010

Shelf Life chapter two

Well we have decided we just cannot find enough time to do everything we need done to create chapter two in a reasonable time frame (yeah, that ship sailed many months ago) so this is the official call for volunteers that have interests in contributing content to Shelf Life chapter two.

We will be accepting high quality work in the following areas:
- Skinning
- Faceposing
- Animating
- Mapping
- Modeling
- Translation
- Captioning for translation

This list may grow or change but we think these are the general areas we will accept work in. If you enjoyed Shelf Life chapter one and think it would be fun to help out with chapter two please let us know.

Please note that this will in no way be a free-for-all content contribution fest. We will still be maintaining very strict control over what the content is specifically and the quality and fine details of everything sent to us. It is quite possible that you may work on something and send it to us and we end up not using it for one reason or another so if that would offend you than this may not be worth your time.

We can (and will if we have to) do every single bit of work necessary to complete chapter two. The only reason we are opening this up is to hopefully speed up the release of chapter two and because we think it would be cool to have content created by the community that supported us all this time and patiently (or not so patiently) stuck around waiting to see what happens.

We will update this post with more details later but this is just an initial announcement. We will do our best to organize this and make our needs clear so if you do decide you would like to help we can do our best to not have your work go unused.

Once we see what interest there is we will take it from there. Please remember this is strictly volunteer work. We would love to officially employ and pay team members but that is not possible at this time.

Thanks everybody and take care!

We also dusted off the old forum and you can find this posted there as well:

Pixel Eyes Productions

05 January 2010

Seriously, What is Machinima Now?

I am often thinking about it because people always ask what machinima is and I always fumble through an explanation that usually ends with them thinking it is basically recording yourself playing a video game.

The other day I read Michael Nitsche's post attempting to tackle a refined machinima definition and it got me thinking again. Michael's post is great and you should go read it but I would be surprised if it left you thinking you can confidently define machinima.

Here is Michael's work-in-progress definition:
Machinima is digital performance that controls procedurally animated moving images in real time.

Make sense? I imagine for a lot of people that will not help them understand machinima.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with the definition. In fact I think it is great and if you take the time to read his excellent description on how he gets to that definition it may indeed make perfect sense to you. However, at least for me, the people I am most interested in convincing about machinima are the people who are not gamers, or animators or even very computer savvy. The general public that simply like animated films and want to be able to make a clear distinction in their mind about what they are watching.

This may turn some people off since a lot of machinima is still by gamers and for gamers but the reality is times are changing and the term machinima is getting watered down by new comers like us and new tools using machinima makers as their intended audience.

The fundamental comparison for the general public will be the difference between machinima and the animated films companies like Pixar make. While Michael's post attempts to make this distinction clear, it is definitely buried in the details that many people will not have the patience or experience to understand.

I went to the Pixar site and looked under their "How We Do It" link and found this interesting section under the title "The Shots Are Animated":
Pixar’s animators neither draw nor paint the shots, as is required in traditional animation. Because the character, models, layout, dialog and sound are already set up, animators are like actors or puppeteers. Using Pixar’s animation software, they choreograph the movements and facial expressions in each scene. They do this by using computer controls and the character’s avars to define key poses. The computer then creates the “in-between” frames, which the animator adjusts as necessary.

Anything sound familiar in there? How about, "animators are like actors or puppeteers" or "they choreograph the movements and facial expressions in each scene" or "The computer then creates the “in-between” frames".

Pretty much describes how Shelf Life was made using Faceposer. It even more closely resembles how iClone works from what I have seen so far.

Also, the step directly before "The Shots Are Animated" is called "The Shots Are Laid Out" and is described this way:
Translating the story into three-dimensional scenes, the layout crew choreographs the characters in the set and uses a virtual camera to create shots that capture the emotion and story point or each scene. Layout often produces multiple versions of shots to provide the editorial department with choices for cutting the scene for maximum storytelling effect. Once the scene has been cut, the final version is released to animation.

Now it is not clear if these scenes are animated, it sounds like they are not, but I can't imagine that it would be hard to add simple animation at this stage for testing. But let's just say they don't or can't, in the next step they do animate and test the scenes.

Of course before we see anything from Pixar it goes to their render farm and comes out shiny and amazing. However, what if we were to see the film at the "The Shots Are Animated" or "The Shots Are Laid Out" stage? They must test these shots before they send them off to the farm to be rendered for 6 to 90 hours. Would it not then look much more like something we find in the machinima community?

It begins to sound like machinima is turning into a simple home user version of a much more powerful production process. Could Pixar start a machinima division and create lower quality films in much less time and take the machinima community by storm?

What changes would they need to make in their production process for us to consider it machinima?

Why all the comparisons to Pixar? Since they are the leaders in computer animated films and most people recognize Pixar animation as what computer animation is, anybody who wants to know about machinima will have some Pixar film bouncing around in their head as you try to explain machinima and use the words "computer animated film".

So this to me is the fundamental comparison that needs to be made for there to be any real distinction between machinima and other animated films.

The confusion to me is in the types of tools used for machinima today. In three generalized categories we have:
- Games with no interface that aids in the creation of an animated film
- Games with many options that help users create animated films such as cameras and face posing etc.
- Software meant specifically for creating animated films with no game aspect

How can machinima describe all of these things? Either machinima needs a new, easy to understand definition or what falls under the term machinima needs to be restricted.

If we move toward iClone after our confirmation from Valve that they have no interest in machinima I will feel even more like we simply make animated films using consumer level products rather than some thing called machinima.

31 December 2009

Thank You & Happy 2010

We would just like to say a quick thank you to everybody who supported us the past 6 months after the launch of Shelf Life.

Our debut into the machinima community was officially launched on July 6, 2009 and we have had a great time participating in festivals and getting to know many of you.

We have taken longer than expected to produce more of Shelf Life but we hope to make good progress in early 2010.

Who knows what the new year will bring but that is the exciting part!

Happy New Year!

22 December 2009

Valve Is Not Interested In Machinima

Here is a direct quote from Valve:

"We are not interested in licensing our technology or IP for machinima. This includes providing copyright approvals."

Well, that about says it all. Valve has no interest in machinima. It is really unfortunate because the Source Engine is so amazing and they offer such great tools for creating machinima.

What does this mean for Source Engine machinima? Probably nothing. Most people will continue to do what they do until they are told directly not to do it. But this does change things for those of us who look beyond YouTube popularity as what we want to achieve.

Source Engine can make amazing machinima. However, you cannot do much with it other than put it on YouTube, hope for a lot of views and then maybe hope that those views lead to somebody taking interest in you.

And what if they do take interest in you, then what? You can't actually use the Source Engine to make anything for anybody to use. Even joining some festivals will prove risky because some ask for extensive copyright permissions. This means YouTube Partner and Revenue Sharing is out of the question as well. I still have no idea how machinima.com does it and Valve would not comment on the subject.

I don't want to give the wrong idea and make it sound like we are giving up Source Engine machinima after our first try or anything. We still love the engine and the machinima that comes out of it and of course still have Shelf Life chapters to work on, we just feel very disappointed in Valve and the lack of interest they have in machinima. There is clearly no real future with Valve or Source Engine machinima other than personal projects free to the community.

This may lead to people moving away from Source Engine machinima and toward alternatives with licensing options. We were just given the iClone software that looked great already but sounds even better now that we know where Valve stands on machinima. Who knows what else we will look into, Source Engine is all we have known up until now.

Well, that's the news from the Valve vs. Machinima front. Thought it might be interesting to some of you.

19 December 2009

SIGGRAPH Asia 2009 Comes to an End

Yesterday was the last day for SIGGRAPH Asia 2009. It was an interesting experience and I met some really great people. Everybody at the Digital Hollywood/Association of Machinima booth were really excited about Shelf Life but also machinima in general so it was fun hanging out with them and talking about the different aspects of creating machinima.

We screened Shelf Life as well as Mr. Nagahama's Second Life films and there was a little demonstration going on to the side of the booth on creating machinima in Second Life.

It was definitely an excited atmosphere to be a part of and seeing all the people genuinely interested in machinima was great.

From left to right: Chee Yue (director of Association of Machinima Singapore), James Spencer (lost in translation), Hidetaka (creator of Award winning Second Life films), Keiji (professor at Digital Hollywood University)

There were a lot of other interesting things at the conference. Motion capture seemed very popular.

The emerging technologies exhibits were interesting and could have been at the MoMA in San Francisco.

The tech talk about Pixar's Renderman had a packed audience but I think not many people could actual follow the details of the program with any confidence. It was cool seeing how they build their shots though.

So that wraps it up. Hopefully machinima will continue to grow and expand in ways that allow for bigger events like to take place and attract more attention.

I am now in Tokyo spending my last day doing some relaxing and sight seeing. I really want to thank all of the great people I met at SIGGRAPH for making it such a pleasant experience for me!