Thursday, January 7, 2010

Stories From The Machine Presents: The Future of Machinima

Happy New Year, dear Koinup readers. As we start on cusp of another New Year, I thought I might share with you some of my hopes and predictions for 2010 with regard to the Machinima industry. I'd love to see your own hopes and predictions for the coming year in the comments also.

2010 is full of promise for the world of Machinima. We are undeniably well into the technological era now, and as with all things, different types of filmed media will be embraced by mainstream audiences. We all know that a great many people spend more time viewing on-demand content on their laptops and desktops than in front of their televisions, so of course, it seems a natural progression that more forms of entertainment will originate from the digital medium. I think this year will be the year the world sits up as begins to take notice.

Already, it's been announced that a Machinima Documentary is an official selection for the illustrious Sundance Film Festival this year, which is groundbreaking in terms of exposure for the alternative film industry. Only one thing about this achievement gives me a little pang of frustration, and by no means is it a reflection on the quality of the documentary... but therein lies the crux. It is a documentary. Now, virtual documentaries have been made before using the virtual platform in some context. The CBC News did an expose entitled Strangers in Paradise which focused on how real peoples lives were impacted by having a virtual life. There's even been documentaries made ABOUT Machinima, the first that springs to mind is the the one produced by Lifeskool back in 2008 as part of their Gametrotting series. A Second life specific short documentary, entitled On The Grid, filmed in Machinima style appeared just this past November.

But, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the one that seemed to start it all. Molotov Alva and His Search For The Creator was the first documentary to really cross the boundary from virtual to tangible when it was sold and broadcast on Cinemax, a division of HBO, in 2008. It is the one that perhaps most machinima enthusiasts are familiar with today. These are just a few of the informative, speculative pieces on real people living in virtual worlds.

Because we are still so early in this digital era, as you can see illustrated above, many people are still too busy dissecting it, reaching for an understanding, deconstructing it's impact on society rather than using it for any kind of deliberate entertainment. It terms of evolution, mainstream is still only accessible to the whole "Why are we here" concepts that documentarians explore. Even the most high quality fictional machinima is left to it's own devices with a niche following on Youtube, Vimeo or the creators own private websites. But there is no fast forward button on evolution, and sadly, actual machinima won't have it's day in the sun until mainstream is satisfied with the fact that it simply exists in the first place instead of wondering about the secret real lives behind those funny avatars in fake worlds who sometimes do curious things which don't seem natural to Mary Jane in Kansas City! In shorter terms? The need for explanation has to dissipate before a level of comfort is achieved enough to allow one to be entertained. So, we'll probably see more documentaries studying.. well... you and me in our virtual forms.

It's not a bad thing, because with each documentary that rears it's head and is given a mainstream platform, it arouses a morbid curiosity and then, consequentially, appeases it. These informative, educational ventures are giving independent filmmakers specializing in filmed virtual fiction an inevitable audience. The documentaries are an usher into the vast world we inhabit, and once the usher seats them, that's when the storytellers take the actual stage. So, I'm okay with a documentarians having a mainstream platform to tell the world at large, "Hey, this is where we are, this is what it looks like, this is what can happen, this is what it means." They are in fact, doing the rest of us a favor. This will, of course, lead us directly to the next phase of machinima evolution which we've already seen tremendous amounts of. The "It's so bizarre that it's art" phase. When something is relatively new and ambiguous in context, early adopters are still exploring it and testing it's boundaries with unique manifestations of short features. The greater world at large will eventually take notice of this because they have seen nothing like it before. It's very strange and not entirely lucid. It's not a documentary, it's not a film, it's in the space between that is intentionally undefined, so we tag it as Art. Now I've seen some artists emerge in the past years that are destined to become legendary in the book of Machinima, when it is finally written. When the society of tomorrow looks at it's origins they will see these pieces and be mystified and enticed by them still, and those creators are our modern day Monets, Van Goughs, and Michaelangelos, and I have no doubt they will be revered as such visionaries in the future. Let's not forget, in the relatively early age of cinema, many pioneers dabbling in experimental filmed art went on to carve a niche in history, Andy Warhol for one.

After this era, once we explored it's deepest recesses, then we have our storytellers. Now the medium will be familiar to the world at large. They will have seen Avatars at some point, or perhaps in everyday life they will become as consistent as the very computers we view them on. They will not be as curious about who they are seeing but about what they are seeing in terms of entertainment. For example, it will shock no one that Will is a gay character, but instead immerse them in a great comedy spectacle and storyline like Will & Grace. They'll already have an inherent understanding enough to enjoy it for what it is instead of being distracted by it.

As it remains, the community of filmed virtual content creators is very small and in that, you find a lot of mutual support. A success for one is truly a success for all. This only strengthens the potential for advancement of this type of content. We might live in the age where machinima works are met with wonder and bewilderment, but I can certainly see that mountain beyond the Valley where it simply is a usable space, valuable for, among countless other things, entertainment. That's when we will see television stations and regular programming featuring work filmed virtually broadcast to millions of households.

Right now television concerning virtual worlds is hard focused on self awareness. While we have networks already existing in some platforms, there is no fictional content. No dramas, no movies, no comedies or even documentaries. It is, for the most part "As it happens" content, or talk-show format type material with a strong marriage to the world it originates from. While massively valuable to the evolution of Machinima, it benefits any industry to recognize and expound upon it's place in the larger real world. Ultimately, many virtual programs are platform-centric. They talk about what happens in their world, talk to the people in their world, talk about the fashions of their world, talk about the hints and tricks to achieve something in their world. It makes it hard for anyone not OF That world to care about it. There is no bridge over the chasm between the content made virtually and the wider audience sitting on the other side of the screen. As I looked over the body of my own work recently, I realized that was one of my most significant inhibitors; The fact that only people who knew my world could comprehend the content I was creating. It's like one big "in joke."

I believe that we will slowly move from that isolated place and begin making more accessible content. One of my most favorite example of crossing over interests was on an episode of Tonight live With Paisley Beebe where she interviewed Tony Dyson, the creator of the R2D2 robot from the iconic Star Wars films. Now let me be clear, for many of us, this isn't a self imposed isolation. Nearly every creator will tell you that bridge we are building over the chasm is incredibly difficult to build, and the creators are the only ones doing the heavy lifting, often with a breath of frustration. While we'd love to have access to the real world movers and shakers, they remain largely inaccessible. So we have few alternatives BUT to be entirely self referential. We are, for lack of a better term, between a rock and a hard place. However instances like the aforementioned with Paisley Beebe, and Pooky Amsterdam's historic and hysterical spoof of web sitcom phenom The Guild's "Do you wanna Date My Avatar" called "I'm Too Busy To Date Your Avatar" which was featured by the creators of the actual series and featured on YouTube itself, so far fetching almost 100,000 hits! It should also be mentioned that Pooky Amsterdam's music video for real life artist Alissa Morena created in Machinima format was added to the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame as the first video filmed in a digital platform. Another enormous milestone.

So, my friends, you see great things are rumbling in the distance in terms of Machinima. We are on a fast track, and the pioneers are laying new track to move us forward each and every day. This is truly an amazing time to stand in witness of the brilliant works that are shaping tomorrows industry. I can't wait to see all 2010 has in store.

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Russell Boyd said...

Enthusiastic and optimistic article, thanks Phaylen. Quite a different take compared to the other article on 2009 being a slow year with not much to look forward to. Somewhere in between lies the way ahead for us.

While I think it’s true that machinima has realised a glass ceiling, there are still amazing theatrical, documentary and artistic works that can be achieved. We just have to figure how best to use these tools that we have.

It’s not just about entertainment, I have also realised after reading what Mike Jones said recently “Where Entertainment, Information and Escapism are the by-product results of watching it is Worry that is the essence of the desire to watch”.

André L said...

Wosh, reading that optimistic article "just" gave me a nice new breathe. I guess your aproach were there best one from the reviews(´09) i've read until now. In a matter o fact I agree when you say "So, we'll probably see more documentaries studying.. well... you and me in our virtual forms" the entretainemnt as well, like u mentioned "Pooky Amsterdam's music video" added to the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame as the first video filmed in a digital platform (quiet remarkable no?).

2010 will be the year of big changes, (not sure if they will happen on SL) but for sure they will happen on Machinima concept (in the general meaning). We will still testing it's boundaries in every ways until machinima get a general mean.

I understand when you say "many virtual programs are platform-centric" but not all virtual platforms are running for that, at least I see less frontiers than in the past (let's don't take specific cases).

In my deepest thought "Avatar" the movie, brought to the world the vision that the world iognored from the virtual reality (when we see that movie it's easy to say "I guess I saw that before"). The public interest will rise for this 2010.

The rest, belong to us, to do our best to rise up the Machinima.

Mamachinima will put machinimator together again in a big great exhibition.
Blue mars is here and the stunning visuals promisses
Unigine “Heaven” DX11 benchmark stunnning 3D mesh tessellation (launched on 2009) and still in development
tmuunderground still rising up with SL, Iclone, moviestorm and others.
UWA Machinima challenge
Even koinup has now a machinima section with it own good and well experienced writer :D

and the list continues.

Really great article and very reflective.

Vive Voom said...

Hello, Phaylen.

I caught your last message from my metaship blog reader and once more, I find your opininion very significant.

As virtual creature and metaverse traveller i feel like machinima are memories of our experiences living in different universes at the same time. Machinimas are proof of our life, we are landing and exploring different territories.

Authors can treat machinima the same way as they would treat 'traditional' movie, but to me they fail to get the very meaning of the virtual worlds.

It's not a matter of using tech, it's not important if you do use dolly or smooth camera movement, i'm talking about the definition of 'virtual essence': i'm talking about the cry of a new born mind that doesn't feel gravity, or moisture, or sun, or cold, but at the same time it believes that things those things are true. A new mind that does not point a single view but many, all the views you can imagine.

This new ' definition of being' is not a joke.

This augmented life we started to live is defining a new kind of representation for what's around, where reality as we knew it is no more.
I'd like for you to join the Reality Breakdown struggle with me.

Many of us can fight traditional definition and destroy them, but only if we can provide a pure definition for what's next. Machinima will evolve with the immersive virtual world that are coming.


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