Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Making Machinima Happen

Biotic God Plays Facade

Machinima is the use of real-time 3D computer graphics rendering engines to create a cinematic production.

Welcome to a short course of how to make machinima. I would like to start by recommending

Machinima for Dummies comes with a CD-ROM containing the Moviestorm program for making machinima. The thing about buying a program to make machinima, such as Moviestorm or The Movies, is that you are confined to the program for the look, feel and audio of any movies you make. For this reason you should consider that the making of machinima is a process and each stage in the process is very important for what I describe as the texture of the film. I want to now go through the stages of producing a machinima film and explain what I think is important to know and what one should consider during the production process.

The film which Jenna showed, The French Democracy (2006) was made using Lionhead Studios The Movies. As a result you have backgrounds of jungle and log cabins as settings. It is important to remember that metaphor plays an important role in machinima.

Order of Production
Most machinima films that rely on narrative start with a spoken script. This is then recorded and the action is added later. It is also possible to add audio live using in-world voice software. Sound effects and incidental audio can be added later in post-production. The filming of machinima scenes can be very time consuming. Framing shots, getting avatars to do what you want, cutting out thought bubbles, and getting movements right can take many shots. You just have to go through it. Plan shots before hand taking into consideration the space, its features, if it is a high traffic area (you will have other avatars in shot) and so on.

Post-production is very similar to standard film production. You can do some editing in Camtasia but if you wish to make a more professional film, something like Final Cut or Premier.

Game Engine
The game engine is the virtual space in which you choose to set you film. There are thousands to choose from. Choose your engine based on criteria such as

- dimensions (cosmic, a city, a house, a planet)
- environment (urban, rural, gentrified, war etc)
- avatars (ethnicity, custom possibilities, costumes etc)
- actions (sex, violence, dancing, speaking, facial expressions etc)
- time period (contemporary, historical, futuristic)
- natural effects (rain, storm, ocean etc)

Image Capture
Virtual Camera

Camera Avatars
In most games the camera view is either attached to an avatar or moves in a third person (God-eye) perspective. One must think about the possibilities offered by the visual perspectives in the game engine.

Point of View
There are three main POVs in most game engines:

- First person (gamer view)
- Second Person (between users)
- Third Person (god-eye view, from above taking in characters, locations and worlds)

Second and Third person perspectives offer an independent camera view that is not attached to a single avatar. In the use of first person perspectives it is often worth using multiple camera avatars, who do not appear in the film but are used as virtual cameras in-world.

How to create a virtual camera in the Halo game engine.

Any sort of virtual camera could do
- Camtasia
- Jing
- The Movies
- Moviestorm
- WeGame
- PlayClaw

To use game platforms such as the Xbox 360 or Playstation you need to set up a video capture through another screen:

When you capture the video, there should be an options menu where you can adjust various aspects of the capture, such as quality, aspect ratio, etc

There are several ways of adding audio to your machinima film. You can use a free audio program such as Audacity. More advanced audio software such as Cubase and Protools are great but perhaps are too complicated and result in overkill for beginners. For these three programs the principle is the same; you lay audio tracks in layers, and can splice and edit them, adding effects in a visual time-line set up.

Avatars make up the graphic characters in a machinima film. Avatars are visual embodiments of users in virtual worlds. You can craft and customize avatars using skins and modeling. As well accessories can be added to avatars, such as hair, eyes, weapons, clothes.

Working on an avatar in pre-production can make all the difference in a machinima film. Skins can be purchased or made, using Photoshop.

Create and avatar skin based on the Na'vi characters from the film Avatar.

Technical Information

Three main kinds of software are needed to record machinima :

(i) sound recording software (used only for if for some reason sound needs to be recorded independently; most of the time sound recording is already included in video capture tools);

(ii) third-party video capture tools; and

(iii) video editing software. Software examples are listed below.

Flash drives or accessible storage for video files should be considered before embarking on machinima instruction on public computers or in computer labs.

Once recorded, videos can be uploaded to free public video hosting sites with online editing features for video and the original files can be deleted. Organize your files and recording using social networking sites with added features such as online editing or music mash-ups for video. Some of the new video sites have editing features for video and in some cases audio and “mash-ups” with images and video: eSocial, JumpCut, Grouper, Eyespot, Motionbox, Dabble, VideoEgg (“Online Video Editing”).

Sound Recording Tools

Audacityis a free software, cross-platform digital audio editor and recording application. It is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and BSD. The latest release of Audacity is 1.3.12, a beta, released on 1 April 2010. As of 29 October 2010, it was the 10thmost popular download from, with 72 million downloads. Audacity won the 2007 Community Choice Award for Best Project for Multimedia.

Video Capture Tools

If you are using video games to make machinima, some games have in-game video capture options. For example, 'The Sims 2' has a movie mode, and you just point the camera and click to record. Lionhead Studios 'The Movies' also creates movies as part of the game play, or as a sandpit option (filming separately from the game content). This is the easiest way to start with machinima - acquire one of these games and get going.

Alternatively, there are programs that enable you to capture any in-game or in-world footage. Just start recording inside your game or virtual world when you're ready.

Camtasia Studio and Camtasia for Mac are screen video capture software, published by TechSmith. The program allows files to be stored in its own proprietary format, which is only readable by Camtasia itself; this format allows for fairly small file sizes, even for longer presentations. Camtasia also allows the generated video stream to be exported to common video formats which can be read by most computers, even if the Camtasia software is not installed, such as MPEG-2 or MPEG-4. PC World described Camtasia Studio as "the premier screencasting tool", which, though "powerful," can be "a little overwhelming at the start".

AviScreen Classic, which you can download for free from It's totally free but doesn't record sound. The really good thing about this program is that you can customise what part of the screen you want to capture. This means you can miss off the HUD etc, so you don't have to bother cropping it later.

Fraps, which you can download for free from It's free for the unregistered version, which lets you record up to 30 seconds at a time and puts a small url watermark along the top of the video. Fraps can also record the audio of the game, making life that bit easier. FRAPS for PCs is optimized for games and can capture video at up to 100 frames per second depending on limits in the game. It is the best PC option for creating Second Life machinima.

GameCam- the lite version is free and you can download it from Game Cam Lite is still Game Cam, only simpler and without the extended features set. Game Cam Lite allows the recording of real-time in game movies with sound via hot keys or an easy to use in game interface and was designed to work with most DirectX 7, 8, 9 and OpenGL games. Game Cam Lite was created for individuals who simply want to record movies.

Leadtek Winfast PVR (TV card for PC). Record your PS2, X-box etc footage with this. Stereo sound as well. Includes a hardware MPEG 2 encoder for top quality video. Definitely the easiest way to capture video from games machines.

Leadtek Winfast PVR (TV card for PC). Pretty much the same as above. Cheaper, but will do everything you need.

For Macs

Snapz Pro X allows you to effortlessly record anything on your screen, saving it as a QuickTime® movie or screenshot that can be e-mailed, put up on the web, or passed around however you want. Snapz Pro X 2.x costs $69. Upgrades from Snapz Pro X 1.x w/ movie capture are $20.

Video Editors

You'll need a video editor to turn your clips into a film. Examples of video editors are:

Windows Movie Maker- Windows Movie Maker is free with Windows XP and XP Pro but only works on those platforms. There is an older version that shipped with earlier versions of Windows, but it's very limited. Windows Movie Maker is actually a really good program, very intuitive and with lots of options for effects. It's also easy to edit clips and add dialogue and music or sound effects. Adding titles at the beginning and end, as well as subtitles, is also very easy. A great option for getting started.

Adobe Premiere Pro 2 Windows- This is great for doing blue/green screen stuff for special effects and to mix videos together, including game and real life. Make every frame count with Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 software, the essential tool for professional video editing. Capture and edit virtually any format, from DV to uncompressed HD, and output to tape, DVD, and the web. Unparalleled integration with other Adobe applications removes production bottlenecks, freeing time so you can focus on the highest production values to tell your story. Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 sets new standards for efficient digital filmmaking.

Premiere Elements 2- Presenting Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 with everything you need to create videos that thrill your friends and family. The perfect combination of superior control, ease of use, and reliability, Premiere Elements automates tedious tasks so you can be creative more quickly. Import video clips from all of your digital video devices, then experiment with hundreds of professional transitions and effects to grab your audience. Burn your videos to DVD, complete with custom menus for that personal touch, or transfer them to your portable video players to wow your audience anytime, anywhere.

Pinnacle Studio Plus 10- Introducing, from Pinnacle, the worldwide leader in home video editing, Pinnacle Studio Plus version 10, the most advanced and powerful home video editing solution available today. Studio Plus combines the legendary ease of use of Studio's intuitive three-step movie creation process with the power and quality of the Pinnacle Liquid Engine to quickly and reliably capture all of your media from popular consumer electronic devices including the newest top quality HDV cameras and even video phones. Studio Plus provides users with the ultimate control with the addition of 100's of breathtaking user-defined keyframeable real-time effects, like HD Pan & Zoom, picture and picture and Chroma Key. Effortlessly, add music and titles and you are quickly creating blockbuster home movies for sharing on DVD, the Web and beyond.

Ulead Video Studio

  • Over 1000 Customizable Effects, Filters, Transitions and Title Styles - Simply drag and drop to personalize your movie

  • 16:9 Widescreen Support creates wide screen movies for a true home theatre experience

  • Chroma Key Editing - lets you place your subjects into different backgrounds

  • Pan and Zoom lets you scan over still images to create a motion effect

  • Share and preserve your home videos on DVD, CD, tape, the Web, or mobile

Adobe Encore 2 Windows- DVD authoring - Adobe Encore DVD software takes DVD authoring to a new level of creativity and efficiency. Through its flexible interface and unparalleled integration with Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Photoshop CS, and Adobe After Effects, Adobe Encore DVD gives professional videographers, DVD authors, and independent producers the power to create sophisticated multi-language DVDs with interactive menus and multiple audio and subtitle tracks. With Adobe Encore DVD, you can produce consistent, high-quality results, and output to all recordable DVD formats for a wide degree of playback compatibility.

Adobe After Effects 7 ProWindows- Expert effects - Wow your audience with visual and audio effects considered indispensable at leading studios, including grain effects, Glow, Advanced Lightning, and Optics Compensation. Flexible distortion effects Distort and morph footage using Mirror, Ripple, and other effects, and paint distortions directly onto imagery with Liquify. Timewarp - Slow down and speed up footage with smooth, crisp results and minimal artifacts. Timewarp analyzes pixel motion to create more accurate in-between frames.


Books and References

Berkeley, Leo. “Situating Machinima in the New Mediascape.” Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society. 4:2 (2004), 65-80.

Hancock, Hugh, Ingram, Johnnie. Machinima For Dummies. Aug. 2007.

Kelland, Matt, Dave Morris, and Dave Lloyd. Machinima. Boston, MA: Thomson/Course Technology. 2005.

Landay, Lori. “Virtual KinoEye: Kinetic Camera, Machinima, and Virtual Subjectivity in Second Life.” Journal of e-Media Studies. 2:1 (2009), 1-33.

Long, Geoffrey, “Interview with Paul Marino”, Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol. 2, 2009, 1-7.

Lowood, Henry. “High-Performance Play: the making of machinima”. Journal of Media Practice. 7:1 (2006), 25-42.

Lowood, Henry. “Real-time Performance: machinima and game studies”. The International Digital Media & Arts Association Journal. 3:1 (2005).

Lowood, Henry. “Found Technology: players as innovators in the making of machinima” in Tara McPherson (ed.), Digital Youth, Innovation and the Unexpected, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008.

Marino, Paul. 3D game-based filmmaking: the art of machinima. Scottsdale, Ariz: Paraglyph Press. 2004.

Nitsche, Michael, “Claiming Its Space: Machinima”, dichtung-digital, at, 2007.


Unknown said...

Hello, I really enjoyed your article. I am new to Second Life machinima, and am intriqued by the statement that FRAPS is the best application for SL machinima. I am currently also looking at Camtasia. Can you tell me why FRAPS is best? Ty. (I dld it and am looking at both programs.)

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