29 October 2009

3D World #122 - No machinima

Issue #122 finally arrived of 3D World magazine here in San Francisco.

This issue contains a disc that along with the standard 3D World disc contents has films from the 2009 Bitfilm Festival.

We were excited to get this issue since we were a part of Bitfilm 2009 and because of this little bit found on the Bitfilm official site:
"All selected films will be published on a free DVD on the cover of 3D World Magazine in September 2009. Each selected filmmaker will receive a free copy."

:) Fun! Machinima on a disc with 3D World magazine! But wait, no machinima on the disc. :(

The only categories are 3D Space, FX Mix and Politicool.

Oh well, I guess it was a bit much to ask for machinima to be advertised like this in a major magazine. And I don't think Bitfilm was being misleading or anything. I guess it just turns out that machinima did not make the cut yet for this level of distribution.

Still a cool disc and it is cool that we were all part of such a big festival! But in all honesty I only got it to see if the accepted or winning machinima films made the disc. ;p

21 October 2009

Shelf Life Wins Best Short Film!

It has been officially posted over at the Cinemanila website that Shelf Life was awarded Best Short Film at the first annual machinima segment at the Cinemanila International Film Festival!

Thank you Cinemanila judging panel for awarding Shelf Life with this high honor!

We appreciate that Cinemanila decided to have a judging panel award and also an audience vote award. We think it is an excellent format to have awards based off an official panel and also awards based off of popular vote. This format allows different aspects of the film makers achievement to be awarded and makes it possible for some new comers to the scene to win even if they have not established a strong fan base yet.

Best Music Video went to Inside Your Head by Erica Cruz. Congratulations Erica!

Then there were the audience choice awards that were decided by online voting. Audience Choice for Short Film went to Shrink Wrapped by Russell Boyd and Audience Choice for Music Video went to Worship the Will by Ian-Dean LoreĊ„os.

Congratulations to all the winners!

16 October 2009

Cinemanila Festival Voting!

Hey everybody!

It looks the the Cinemanila Film Festival voting has started!
Shelf Life at Cinemanila

Shelf Life is in the running and even though we were happy to get second place at Bitfilm this is our chance to try again to take the first place prize!

Unfortunately this festival also starts off with online voting. We think there are a couple stages of the voting process and hopefully the last stage is decided by a panel but we need to read into that more.

But in order for us to make it to the last voting stage we need your support again! If you think Shelf Life deserved a first place in Bitfilm here is your chance to try again.

...and about online voting

Of course like always there are many other quality entries and you should vote for the one you think is the best and not just the one to support a friend or whatever. The only way to keep an online voting system at all acceptable is to ask everybody to truly watch and vote for the one that they really think is the best machinima, even if that means not voting for a friend. I know, so scandalous, but it is the only way to make it count.

Really, even if you know us or are friends with us, we only want you to vote for us if you think ours is the best. Winning because we have the most friends is not that exciting, however winning because we feel the community really believed in our work and thought we achieved something special is amazingly exciting!

So get out there and vote! It takes a second of your time and effort to register and it also supports machinima in general. When machinima festivals are successful it brings more attention and other festivals will follow. Also this is the the first time Cinemanila has offered the machinima segment so let's make sure it is a huge success for them!

OK, go go go! Shelf Life at Cinemanila

08 October 2009

YouTube Partner Experiment

Since we first started created machinima using the Source Engine we began sending emails to Valve trying to clarify their stance on machinima and copyright issues.

We have sent multiple emails multiple times to every email address we could find on their website and...nothing. Never any response of any kind after months and months and many emails.

Well, to be completely truthful we did get a response two times. Both times is was an auto-generated response about how Valve is not able to respond to all their emails, or I guess you could read in that "Valve does not respond to any emails ever, but thanks for using our email links anyway!".

OK, so we tried, and tried. We described exactly what we were doing since the beginning and told them we wanted to be in festivals and other competitions and so on and although we see a lot of machinima out there doing the same we have never officially heard from Valve on the matter.

Now a new situation has come up in that YouTube has extended an offer of partnership for revenue sharing on at least one of our videos. So what do we do? Once again we dash off an email to Valve first thing to every one of their contact emails informing them of our offer and asking for confirmation that they are OK with the program. Guess what we found out...nothing.

So, I guess we take the plunge and hope for the best. Machinima is all over YouTube and is not being taken down. Machinima.com has a partnership with YouTube and they show Source Engine machinima and I have not heard of Valve complaining. And since all of our story line, characters, voice acting and music is original we are about as clean on the copyright front as a machinima could possibly be.

Once we push the accept button on the program we enter a waiting phase where either the program will be initiated on our video or one day it will just be deleted from YouTube.

Oh well, we don't have much of a choice but to find out first hand since Valve won't comment on the issue. I can't imagine there would be a problem with this but just thought I would share so if our video does disappear you know why.

Wish us luck! :)

03 October 2009

2nd place in Bitfilm!

The results are officially in and Shelf Life took 2nd place in the Bitfilm Festival!

We would like to thank everybody who supported us and gave us this 2nd place win! We truly appreciate the time you devoted to helping us get the votes!

The 1st place win went to a World of Warcraft film called The Orchard by Dan Ross and 3rd place went to a Second Life machinima called Scripted by Krrish Spyker.

Congratulations to the winners! And thanks to all the films that were in the voting process for creating such great films for the festival!

If you feel like watching the winners and discussing the results that is great!

We will probably post our thoughts on the Bitfilm Festival in general in another post but for now we just want to say thanks again for all the support and thanks to Bitfilm for offering such a big event for machinima to be seen and honored!

01 October 2009

Nice report on Shelf Life chapter one

We were contacted by Christopher Kayser who is a Columbia College Student. He asked some questions about Shelf Life chapter one and said he wanted to do a report on it for his class. The report was very nice to us and so we thought we would share it here.
Machinima: Shelf Life
The machinima Shelf Life really stands out as a prime example of what can be done in this media form. Shelf Life is a Half Life 2 machinima created by a small group of talented individuals based in San Francisco, California. This group came together to form Pixel Eyes Productions. Starting in early 2007 they tried their hands at recording content from the popular game Half Life 2 and the popular modification known as Garry's Mod. Their first published creation is Shelf Life: Chapter One. This machinima stands out for its professional quality.

Shelf Life is superior to many machinima in it's production by four main ways. First, excellent use of in game assets. Second, camera angles and special effects. Third, movement and mannerisms of character models in the machinima rival the quality of movement and mannerisms that the game makers themselves created. Fourth, extraordinary use of mod tools and third party software.

Shelf Life used a large amount of in game assets in an adaptable way. Most machinima use in game assets without altering them. Some just grab the characters and basically green screen the characters into other areas. Shelf Life did something different.

They took maps, vehicles, and models and altered almost all of them. For example: the main character (Charles) is giving a presentation in what is the very first level of the regular Half Life 2 game. Pixel Eyes productions took the room, added a bunch of chairs, a raised podium, and added a bunch of props. The result was that the room was only barely recognizable from it's in game version. Just after the presentation finishes Charles leaves and he meets another character while standing at the entrance to a large mansion or university building of some sort. The building is clean, bright and shiny, old looking, but well taken care of in a welcoming way. The in game version is darker, dirty, and imposing in a hostile way. Pixel Eyes Productions did a masterful job of cleaning up this existing model and adapting it to their uses.

I contacted Pixel Eyes Productions with questions about their techniques and their response is as follows. " Using the post processing option in Garry's Mod we adjusted the lighting to make things look more inviting and pleasant. We then used a lot of props to create a more alive setting. We put up trees, street lamps, shrubs, benches, planters, etc. That brings a lot of life to a set and makes it feel alive. Finally, we used a console command that actually removes some of the details of the original map. It removes only certain things like graffiti, dead leaves on the ground and some other small details that make a place look run down."

Shelf Life really showed off their skill with their camera angles and their lighting techniques. I questioned James Spencer from Pixels Eyes Productions and he informed me that most of their lighting effects were actually done in game when they were shooting. Garry's Mod offers several post processing options along with the ability to create different light sources wherever they need them. It really is like working on a real set. You need lights, cameras, and action. Sorry, I couldn't resist. The interesting thing that I found was that Shelf Life really was created more like a TV show or a movie then I ever imaged machinima being. Sure, all of this is in a digital world, but the same issues apply. Further more, I found it really fascinating that the fade to white and black when Charles(main character) wakes up at the end was all done in game while they were shooting. Very few lighting effects were added during editing. Pixel Eyes Productions also used Adobe Premier for their work.

While researching Shelf Life I read at www.pixeleyesproductions.com that they used the same tools that Valve(The creators of Half Life2) uses to create facial animations. The exact program is called "Faceposer" and it allowed Pixel Eyes Productions to apply animations and lip sync the dialogue. It even provides ways for subtle facial movements so that they can really bring the characters to life.

Shelf Life also used very recognizable character models that fans would have strong, but mixed, emotions towards. Shelf Life masterfully crafted these in game characters into their story in such a way that it honestly feels like Shelf Life could easily be an alternate reality to the Half Life series. The characters have different names and different voices, but they still feel like old acquaintances, but in a great way. I would chalk this up to the writers, but the editors and special effects guys did a marvelous job of adapting these character models and their movements/mannerisms to this story. Pixel Eyes Productions used scripts and "Faceposer" to get the character movement down just right. According to James Spencer of Pixel Eyes Productions, all the animation work was very tedious, but it paid off since their characters really came to life in the final product.

I really have to commend Pixel Eyes Productions for its alteration and adaptation of in game assets, especially the characters. Most of the machinima I have watched do a decent job with character movement, but most of it is just regular movement of the in game characters with adding the slightest bits of quirks so that they appear to be different then other characters. Pixel Eyes Productions went well past the extra mile with their work. The movement of the characters and especially the fight scene are all masterfully done. There is none of the stutter movement that goes along with normally player controlled characters. I was and still am amazed at how natural the animations look. It truly is good enough to rival that of Valve's work with NPC movement in their own games.

I have already hit upon my last point a few times, but Shelf Life should also be examined for its use of user created content, sets, and use of third party software. Pixel Eyes Productions repurposed a lot of the in game maps, but they also used a number of user created maps for their filming. According to James a lot of time and effort was spent with setting up and perfecting the sets that they used. Shelf Life might have only been under 20 minutes long, but the shear amount of effort they put into this production is staggering to think about. I already quoted on what they did for one set previously, they had to do that level of work many of the sets. Near as I could tell, there were only about two maybe three sets that were not altered past cleaning the map up of enemies.

In conclusion, Shelf Life may very well be a golden standard machinima for anyone just getting their hands into this young media form. Pixel Eyes Productions is a prime example of what a group of dedicated individuals can accomplish when companies like Valve provide the online community with their own tools. I, for one, am waiting with high anticipation for Shelf Life: Chapter Two.

Christopher Kayser - Game Designer for Toxic Interactive and Columbia College Student


Thanks Chris!