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.