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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 October 2007, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Machinima waits to go mainstream
By Peter Price

The Machinima festival was held in Leicester
Falling somewhere between film, animation and gaming, machinima is the art of producing films using graphics rendered by computer games.

To many it is a brand new medium, but this weekend Europe's first machinima festival at De Montford University in Leicester kicked off with a presentation from Paul Marino entitled "celebrating the first 10 years".

Marino is Executive Director and co-founder of the Machinima Academy of Arts and Sciences, an ward winning machinima director and author of the first book on the subject.

Two years ago he participated in a discussion at the Sundance Film Festival which generated considerable interest in the medium amongst independent film makers.

In the cash-strapped world of low budget movies, many see machinima as a cheap way of getting their ideas on screen. The technique involves recording footage from games consoles and editing shots together to tell stories.

'Revolutionary steps

"They still know how to track a camera through a scene and how to get certain shots but without having to learn the animation software", says Mr Marino.

"In my eye machinima is just one of those revolutionary steps in film making."

"I think it's inevitable that we'll have these virtual systems that allow us to create stories that give us flexibility but at the same time don't hamper us with the constraints that the real world gives us."

We can make things that we'd have no chance any other way
Hugh Hancock, Machinima pioneer

Machinima directors are never troubled with bad weather or the leading man's ego, for example.

Toby Moores, visiting professor at the Institute of Creative Technology at De Montfort University, is an industry insider and successful games developer. He recently created the quiz game Buzz for the Sony PlayStation.

Mr Moores says machinima developed as a result of players wanting to be creative with their favourite game.

'Creative gaming'

"More and more people are seeing this as a way to do creative gaming rather than destructive gaming. They're making stuff rather than blowing stuff up."

He thinks that games producers are respectful of the machinima community and are stating to take the community seriously.

One of the most popular tools, Microsoft's Halo 3, has a sophisticated 3D camera system and can record footage in high definition. Last week Microsoft even updated Halo's end-user agreement to allow in-game footage to be distributed for non-commercial use.

Halo 3
Halo 3 offers many machinima tools

Many professional coders are also writing cheats into their games with no purpose other than to help budding film directors.

"The time is right", says Mr Moores. "People like Microsoft are very forward thinking."

Others at the festival were voicing concern that large game producers will start to exploit machinima for commercial gain.

In 2003 the BBC created the TV programme Time Commanders which included war scenes re-enacted using the strategy game Total War.

Production techniques

Ricard Gras, who works as a consultant to broadcasters, says that established TV and film producers are increasingly interested in machinima's low cost and fast production techniques.

"There will always be a need for professional media people. However, user generated content is cool because people are entitled to have a go at being creative.

"The media have to accommodate that."

Hugh Hancock, who is credited with helping to coin the term machinima and is a founding member of the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences, premiered his feature length film 'Bloodspell' at the festival.

Mr Hancock, who made the film with Johnnie Ingram, says that Bloodspell compares favourably with other animated features.

The only difference, he says, is the cost of production. Created using the game Neverwinter Nights, it was produced for less than 10,000 with a team of eight people.

For Hancock the ease of production is the main appeal. "We can make things that we'd have no chance any other way."

The machinima movement may have officially gathered in Europe for the first time last weekend but the festival's first award ceremony showcased worldwide talent.

The show was dominated by the Australian science fiction production Stolen Life.

Paul Marino hopes that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be keeping an eye on the new game-as-art world but admits that it may be some time before there's an Oscar for best virtual camera-person.

"I have a feeling it's going to take a new organisation, possibly the Association of Machinima Arts and Sciences, to really recognise the talents being applied in these areas."

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