Green Shoots and Tall Trees

In this article I want to give a brief overview of some of the ways in which Machinima movies can be produced and the tools used to aid that process.

One of the most exciting developments taking place at the moment is nvidia’s Omniverse Machinima which is at the Beta stage of development. It does have quite high system requirements, as might be expected from such a powerful suite of software, but if you are lucky enough to meet the requirements you can download it for free and I’m sure nvidia will be delighted to have you amongst the Beta testers. (Unfortunately my 6yr old PC doesn’t come anywhere near the specs, but I will try to make sure the next one does!).

Similar to the above, but unlike it in that it has been around for many years, is Reallusion’s iClone. Although these type of programmes are really aimed at the more advanced sort of film-maker they do usually have free trial versions which let you see whether they may be useful to you now, or in the future. Reallusion also have Cartoon Animator, specifically designed for 2D animation.

Unreal have always tried to develop a strong relationship with their user-base by providing many excellent free tools for them to use. There are a large number of games using Unreal and if you are thinking of making a film in one of these then the Unreal Engine may be worth looking into.  Often recommended as being easier for the beginner is the Unity game engine and a little older, but still a very serviceable movie-making tool, is Valve’s  Source Filmmaker, with a very active community to help you on your way.  If open-source software appeals to you, then it is worth checking out Torque 3D.

Since the early days of Machinima attempts have been made to try and produce a kind of “all-in-one” solution to film-making, and the first of these was The Movies which showed a lot of initial promise, examples of which can be found in the Machinima Archive, but unfortunately is no longer in development, although copies can still be found on the Internet if you want to give it a try.  The most famous of these movies was The French Democracy.  The film highlights racial discrimination and the part that it played in civil unrest in France in 2005.  From around the same period and still very much in development, being used in many different ways from film and media teaching to pre visualisations and film pitching, is Moviestorm which has various package options depending on what you want to use it for.

Most of the above do require a certain amount of experience with animation and for the beginner I think it is best to start with some of the simpler methods which I will describe in more detail below. (If you can’t produce something you are satisfied with in this way then a complicated programme with a steep learning curve is unlikely to improve the situation.) Many good free programmes began life in the Linux community where they were extensively used and tested before being successfully ported to the Windows environment. Some well-known examples are Firefox, Libre Office and the excellent VLC Media Player, which I am highlighting as not only will it play pretty much any type of file you throw at it, but it also has some editing and rendering capabilities, if you dig down into the system. They also have the added advantage that if like me, you enjoy using both types of operating system, you have programmes you are familiar with in both.  Other popular programmes in this area include Blender and Gimp.

In the early 2000s there were not many games that had in-built recording facilities, the Sims 2 being a notable exception, which made it an easy and fun option for Machinima. Since then most game developers have recognised the added value that a recording system brings, in no small part helped by the Machinima movement. If the game you want to use doesn’t have such a system then the next best thing is a simple screen-capture programme. Fraps used to be the most popular, but it hasn’t been in development since 2013 and there may be better options available.  OBS Studio is a great free alternative.  Here is a review  and beginners guide to getting started with the settings,

For now I would just like to highlight four very popular games and their respective recording abilities..

Grand Theft Auto 5: Rockstar Editor is primarily a tool for recording your exploits in GTA 5 and its multiplayer mode. However, it also has an impressive suite of movie-making tools, letting you stage interactions between multiple characters using multiple cameras and post-processing filters. Furthermore, the editor also lets you manipulate the time, weather, location, props, and even physical constants like gravity. It also lets you edit the videos from right inside the editor, although you’ll probably want to touch it up in a more specialised post-processing video editor as the final step of production. GTA5 has one of the most flexible in-game editors for Machinima.

Halo Replay & Forge. After the jump to the Halo 3 engine, the cinematography in Machinimas such as Red Vs Blue improved dramatically. The improvement is the result of a new feature that was introduced in Halo 3, called “Replay”. Basically, Halo 3 records every game event — every player twitch, every bullet, every jostled physics prop — and can play those events back later, giving players the ability to move cameras around to record the action from various angles. This was originally developed to allow you to show off your “sick 360 noscopes” to your friends, but it turns out to be fantastically useful for movie-making purposes, letting you stage elaborate scenes in a multiplayer arena, record them, and then shoot the scene later however you want. Halo also includes Forge, a map editor which lets you stage such scenes with a high degree of control. As far as Machinima produced using a gamepad, this is about as good as it gets.

Free Far Sight (World of Warcraft).  World of Warcraft has long been a popular source of machinima, producing one of the few feature length movies, Tales of the Past  , in the early days of Machinima, despite the large lack of tools for it. Right now, the best tool available seems to be Free Far Sight, a successor to the popular WoW Machinima Tools. It introduces features that let you control the camera, lighting, and focus, while the game itself provides a huge array of characters and settings to work with.

Minecamera Mod. As far as machinima tools are concerned, you can’t get more bare-bones than this. Minecamera is a Minecraft mod that allows you to create and toggle between a bunch of fixed, HUD-free cameras for recording. It’s not much, but it is enough to make skits, build videos, and other basic forms of machinima. If you want to make movies in Minecraft, this is the way to go.

Once you have collected all your video clips you will need a good video editor in which to create your final movie. For the beginner Windows free “Video Editor” provides a starting point, but it’s limitations will soon become obvious. Luckily there is a whole suite of free editors available, ranging from the amateur to the professional level, as described in this excellent article,

The Best Free Video Editors for Windows

If you ever want to go down the professional route then two of the most popular editors are Vegas Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro. Remember to make good use of the trial versions to find the one that most suits your work style.  Another very useful tool to have is the free video converter HandBrake.  A good audio editor is also useful and the free and cross-platform Audacity should meet most of your needs. Also in this area, these Royalty Free Music for Games and Films may be useful. And if you need some 3D models, why not try Turbosquid, used to great effect by The IllClan, amongst others.

There are so many tools that can be used for Machinima that a single article can only scratch the surface. But hopefully this will give you some good ideas for starting points. The sort of programmes you end up using will mostly depend on the type of movie you want to make and your own level of skill. Although skill is only half the story. The other, and far more important part, is inspiration, which drives everything and is completely free!

This is a very exciting time to be involved with Machinima.  Many of the best first-generation aids for movie-making are still widely available.  Thank goodness, if like me you are working with a computer of more mature vintage.  But new second generation tools such as Omniverse Machinima are about to explode onto the scene.

Many thanks to makeuseof.coms 7 Free Tools for Creating Your Own Machinima Films from which the central section on the four games is derived.

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