Methods of Production / Creative Process

  1. Perfect Capture. The process by which user actions (input by game controller or other HUI) are recorded in real-time as code (e.g. DEM files in Quake) which can then re-loaded and re-played using the game itself.  The relatively small size of such files made it possible for films to be distributed and shared using low-capacity media (such as floppy discs) or pre-broadband internet connections.   Functionality such as this was built into the engines of many early 3D, 'first person POV shooter' games (e.g. Doom and Quake) to enable players to capture their performances within the game - to demonstrate prowess (e.g. Quake 'Speed Runs') or analyse their faults in order to improve, creating a historical document of a player's actions within the game world. (e.g. NoSkill's memorial pages) Further potential for artistic and creative usage was soon realised and with the addition of narrative text.  Customisation (or hacking) of the game code itself allowed for further departures from the constrains of game play (e.g allowing alternative views, modified graphics or allowing the player to traverse the game in ways not originally permitted (e.g. The Rangers’ - Diary of A Camper).  Note that an identical game engine (e.g. a compatible computer, identical graphics hardware and same release of game) will be required in order for 'perfect' reconstruction of the film.  The 'Perfect Capture' method is recognised as the beginning of machinima. (Lowood, 2011)

  2. Screen Capture.  Films made as a result of capturing the game's video output.  As computing power (especially graphics processors) increased, it became possible for the actual rendered frames of the game to be captured and subsequently stored in a standard file format, e.g. .avi or .mov.  The resulting movie files could then be played back independently of the game engine and / or edited using free or low-cost movie making software, giving the film maker the chance to incorporate more traditional production techniques.   Titles such as Sims 2 and Quake 3 allowed the user to capture movies with a single key command from within the game and without the need for third-party screen capture software.  Although still confined by the constraints of the puppetry allowed within the game, the removal of such barriers to recording encouraged a rapid growth in not only the number of machinima films being made but also diversification of genres.  As captured footage can be subsequently edited, the screen capture method provides a documentary (rather than historical document) of action taking place in virtual worlds.   

  3. Asset Compositing.  This mode of machinima production does not take place directly within the game itself, but instead makes use of assets (characters, scenery, locations and artefacts) extracted from the game either by direct modding of the code or more frequently, by using additional utilities (e.g. WOW Model Viewer). This method enables the machinimator to style and animate characters individually, subsequently recording the rendered frames by use of screen-capture software.   More advanced video editing techniques (e.g. chroma-key and audio dubbing) are also used, allowing characters to act out scripted dialogue whilst placed upon backgrounds chosen either from the same game, a different game - or another world entirely.  By freeing the character from the constraints of gameplay, the machinimator has much greater control over casting, narrative and camera positions and many other aspects, far more closely actual film-making than either the perfect- or screen-capture methods.  The process is however more complex and requires the maker to acquire and learn additional software, whilst getting to grips with the fundamentals of film-making and new machinimators may therefore experience a far steeper learning curve.  Tutorial movies do however exist - some of which are themselves examples of the asset compositing technique. 

  4. ‘Bespoke’ machinimation.  This mode of production takes the asset compositing methodology one step further and involves the use of software specifically designed for the creation of 3D animated movies within virtual worlds.  Whilst not strictly game engines, programs such as Moviestorm, iClone  and Moviesandbox  allow the machinimator to choose from a wide range of assets, including characters, scenery and locations.   "These programs use the techniques and ethos of machinima, but avoid the complications associated with using game assets’ (Fosk, 2011).  Animation can be achieved by means of gaming interface (e.g. keyboard, joypad) and additional asset-packs (new characters) can also be downloaded.  This form of machinima has opened up the to new audiences, breaking the traditional links with fandom and the ‘in-jokes' associated with Perfect Capture.  Machinima made in this way is more likely to be focused on the storytelling or filmmaking aspects and can therefore encompass a wider range of themes and appeal to a broader audience.  This method of production is the only one, which addresses the issue of rights, as legitimate licenses are granted.
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