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creating machinima

Interview with Paul Marino

image paul marino
Paul Marino

Paul Marino is Director of the Machinima Film Festival, Executive Director of the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences, and the author of Art of Machinima: 3D based Filmmaking. He talks with Paul Green on the occasion of the Machinima Film Festival at ACMI.

Could you describe your "a-ha" moment, the point at which you 'got it' with respect to Machinima? Was it a particular movie or was it something that you'd seen kicking around and it accumulated slowly?

A bit of both. The actual moment occurred upon seeing the Quake Movie cum Machinima film Operation Bayshield in 1998. I had been watching the Quake Movie scene slowly evolve over a year or so, but when I saw Bayshield by Clan Undead, I knew we had finally reached the moment of approach - where we could "joystick our way through a scene" (something I often said while working in 3D animation). Seeing Operation Bayshield clarified that path to the future of filmmaking.

image from red vs blue
Red vs Blue
In the mobile content space the term 'user generated content' is used to help define things like blogs - typically content that has a homespun or (perhaps unkindly) amateurish quality. Is Machinima part of the user generated content movement? Or is this simply a formative stage that all art needs to work through?

I think Machinima is in a unique section of the creative spectrum - similar to music sampling and remixing - where it evolves from the re-appropriating of existing art and is slowly becoming its own medium: through the growth of technology and tools, as well as creative desires. To quote Machinima pioneer Hugh Hancock, we're creeping into "the age of ubiquitous creativity," and Machinima is one medium that holds that statement up.

In your recent visit to Melbourne as part of the Machinima exhibition at ACMI, you used the term 'Democratisation of Movie Making' as one of several aims of Machinima.  In a democracy, the majority decides 'Who Rules' - everyone has a vote. But Most Popular doesn't necessarily mean The Best.  Do we want more Red vs Blue (functionally dedicated people producing films to high standards) or will the backyard films we make advance the art form?

Every art form needs both. To have the masters, we need the non-masters as well. How do we know if Michelangelo was the genius he was, unless we have other works to compare to? To this, the 'democracy of animated filmmaking' points towards making what was traditionally something for the skilled now for everyday people. This allows them to explore their creativity without spending years to gain access (physically and intellectually). Once Machinima has reached the same accessibility as paint and canvas, we'll have democratised the art of filmmaking and animation - allowing for the proliferation of works, facilitating larger audience appreciation and paving the way for the masters to surface.

Your descriptions of the two genres of Machinima as 'Inside Out' and 'Outside In' are, I believe, the key to the increasing popularity of Machinima. While there will always be a place for Inside Out, the public at large is not going to be as interested in a gamer 'showing off'. Could you expand on Outside In as a production technique? Does it use the same techniques as traditional animation? 

The Outside In approach does use some similar steps to traditional animation production. First off, and probably the most important difference to the Inside Out approach, is that the ideas are usually generated without technology consideration. In this case, these creative explorations are about the story first. While the technology can factor in and play a part in the creative process, it is not the foundation by which the narrative is based. From here, the creative process is similar to animation and filmmaking: screenwriting, shooting, editing, post-production, etc. (though these steps are also part of the Inside Out production approach).

image from game on
Game On

Could you comment on this statement: "Inside Out Machinima requires a different skills set than Outside In. Inside Out requires skill at the game, while Outside In demands writing and more traditional film/animation skills."?

My view of Inside Out is more about the creators' relationship with the game, and the virtual world it creates in respect to the narrative. While this could be inclusive of a skill set that relies upon intimacy with the game and its mechanics, its more about the creation of Machinima that is solely based on their internal experiences within the game - whether it be a speed run in Quake or a World of Warcraft epic. Thus, an Inside Out Machinima starts with the game as seed to creativity, rather than the idea itself. Still, the more ambitious efforts can require the same amount of production work as Outside In effort.

Does the enjoyment of a Machinima include knowing about the game and how it is played? How many different levels of enjoyment are there in Machinima?

There can be a number of layers, but it is solely up to the discretion of the director/artist. There are Machinimas that are made exclusively for World of Warcraft players (again, this bleeds into the notion of Inside Out) and which are nearly nonsensical for the non-players. Then there are multi-layered works such as Red vs. Blue, which speak to the gaming audience (and specifically Halo players), but the writing tends to transcend into more mainstream entertainment as well. My feeling is that as Machinima evolves, our audiences will as well, and dimensions to which an artist can create their work will span many a viewer, depending on which sensibility they are attempting to address.

Besides cost and convenience, what is Machinima doing that previous art practices have been unable to help us achieve? Why are people using games to make movies, to tell stories when there are other mediums available?

Games provide an 'experience-in-a-box', which then facilitates a platform for creative expression. There's a whole virtual world to create a film in - one that contains characters, relationships and environments that are unavailable elsewhere in our real world. Though the artist/director is crafting their own vision in the game space, the virtual environments and characters affords them the creative flexibilities of recording artistic assets in a live-action (read: human) mode.

image from hardly workin'
Hardly Workin'
A Machinima practitioner can produce high quality animations/films in a short period of time. For you, what's the most interesting types/genre of Machinima currently being produced and why do they engage you? Is it the story being told, the aesthetics, the Outside In skills, the Inside Out skills?

This can pertain to Machinima or not, and might go against the "less work, quick process" thought, but I find the personal works - the works involving a fair amount of custom content - the most interesting. Even if the custom content creation is made using the game's character builder or a level editor, it's these stories that show off a very specific vision. Each shot contains something that the artist/director specifically placed in our view to convey their story. It might not contain the elaborate sweeping vistas or the squads of elite troops that can make a shot impressive, but knowing these are handcrafted frames speak more to me as an artist.

As a Machinima practitioner, how do you know when you've "nailed it"?

The artist in me constantly reviews my own work, locating points for improvement, so I never really attain a sense of satisfaction. However, if someone feels inclined enough to write me an email saying how much they enjoyed my work, it speaks volumes. That comes as close to 'nailing it' as it ever could.

Paul Green
Paul Green is a content and media producer with interests in mobile phone content, machinima and location mash-ups.

Australian Centre for the Moving Image, August 2006
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