machinima: a call for papers and some thoughts on defining a form 01.07.2006, 10:22 AM
posted by ray cha
Grand Text Auto reports a call for proposals for essays to be included in a reader on machinima. Most often, machinima is the repurposing of video gameplay that is recorded and then re-edited, with additional sound and voice over.
People have been creating machinima with 3D video games, such as Quake, since the late 1990s. Even before that, in the late 80s, my friends and I would record our Nintendo victories on VHS, more in the spirit of DIY skate videos. However, in the last few years, the machinima community has seen tremendous growth, which coincided with the penetration of video editing equipment in the home. What started as ironic short movies have started to grow into fairly elaborate projects.
Until the last few years, social research on games in general was limited and sporadic. In the 1970s and 1980s, the University of Pennsylvania was the rare institution that supported a community of scholars to investigate games and play. A vast proliferation of book and social research exists on gaming and especially video games, which we have discussed here.
Although I love machinima, I am surprised as to how quickly a reader is being produced. Machinima is still a rather fringe phenomena, albeit growing. My first reaction is that machinima is not exactly ready for an entire reader on the subject. I look forward to being surprised by the final selection of essays.
Part of this reaction comes from the notion that machinima is a rather limited form. In my mind, machinima is the repurposing of video game output. However, machinima.org emphasizes capturing live action/ real time digital animation as an essential part of the form, thereby removing the necessity of the video game. Most machinima is created within the virtual video gaming environment because that is where people are able to most readily control and capture 3D animation in real time. Live action or real time capture is different from traditional 3D animation tools (for instance Maya) where you program (and hence control) the motion of your object, background, and camera before you render (or record) the animation rather than during as in machinima.
Broadening of the definition of machinima, as with any form, plays a role on the sustainability of the form. For example, in looking at painting versus sculpture, painting seems to confine what is considered "painting" to pigment on a 2D surface. Where more expansive interpretations of the form get new labeling such as mixed media or multimedia. On the other hand, sculpture has expanded beyond traditional materials of wood, metal, and stone. Thus, the art of James Turrell, who works with landscape, light and interior space can be called sculpture. I do not imply that painting is by any means dead. The 2004 Whitney Biennal had a surprisingly rich display of painting and drawing, as well as photography. However, note the distinction that photography is not considered painting, although photography is 2D medium.
The word machinima comes from combining machine cineama or machine animation. This foundation does pose limits to how far beyond repurposing video game output machinima can go. It is not convincing to try to include the repurposing of traditional film and animation under the label of machinima. Clearly, repurposing material such as japanese movies or cartoons as in Woody Allen's "What's Up, Tigerlily?" and the Cartoon Network's "Sealab 2021" is not machinima. Further more, I am hesitant to call the repurposing of a digital animation machinima. I am not familiar with any examples, but I would not be surprised if they exist.
With the release of The Movies, people can use the game's 3D modeling engine to create wholly new movies. It is not readily clear to me, if The Movies allows for real time control of it's characters. If it does, then "French Democracy" (the movie made by French teenagers about the Parisian riots in late 2005) should be considered machinima. However, if it does not, then I cannot differentiate the "French Democracy" from films made in Maya or Pixar in-house applications. Clearly, Pixar's "Toy Story" is not machinima.
As digital forms emerge, the boundaries of our mental constructions guide our understanding and discourse surrounding these forms. I'm realizing that how we define these constructions control not only the relevance but also the sustainability of these forms. Machinima defined solely as repurposed video game output is limiting, and utlimately less interesting than the potential of capturing real time 3D modeling engines as a form of expression, whatever we end up calling it.
sol gaitan on January 9, 2006 10:04 AM:
Machinima defined solely as repurposed video game output is limiting, and ultimately less interesting than the potential of capturing real time 3D modeling engines as a form of expression, whatever we end up calling it.
Fascinating how limiting language is when we try to define new forms of expression, or in the case of machinima, new forms of reality. The term "mixed-media" is as vague as the works produced using more than paint applied to a flat surface. Robert Rauschenberg called "combines" his works made of everyday life materials that come together as complex compositions with the aid of pigment, and to which the word "collage" didn't exactly applied. Looking at them in the current show at the Metropolitan Museum is exhilarating because his play with the flat and the tri-dimensional cannot be rendered by photography, the only medium through which many of his combines had been seen before. They are neither painting, nor collage, nor sculpture, they are thresholds to new forms of perception. James Turrell's works are neither sculpture, nor multimedia installations, they are also thresholds to very intimate experiences within the spatial, tri-dimensional frames he provides. Machinima will prove elusive because it combines real time with interactive virtual environments in which machine animations can acquire a new reality and take us with them. The looking glass redefined, but how?
alex itin on January 9, 2006 10:58 PM:
The interesting thing about turrel and rauchenberg is that they both sort of operate in what Rauchenberg called, "The space between art and reality"... the thing that is interesting about online game play (particularly with voice) is that the conversations are real, but the action is synthetic... so much about machinima is in the soundtrack... dialogue seems to be the wedge that opens this space between reality and synesthesia. So it all comes back to words and or writing?
ray cha on January 10, 2006 11:37 AM:
It is amazing how much richer media is with sound. I think people have individual thresholds of how much deep they need the feedback to be, in order for them to get immersed into a virtual world. Some people may need only chat, some may need even less and a simple avatar is enough to emotionally connect with the other people. Edward Castronova provides many great insights his book "Synthetic Worlds" however, in one case, he goes too far when he suggests that chat/and voice is enough for all or most other people because it is enough for current users. The early users are probably self selecting towards needing a less rich media for a convincing experience. I certainly think that adding communication in virtual spaces played a huge part in the rapid expansion of its members.