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BloodSpell Development Updates

CNN and the eternal Shrek problem

BloodSpell Development Updates

CNN and the eternal Shrek problem

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Good work by Hugh on CNN this morning. The interview was light but informative, and they seemed to let us get across what we wanted to get across. The rolling demo looked pretty good, even if we didn't manage to get anything bloodspell-related in there.

The thing that bugged me though (and it's something I came across a lot at EIEF as well) is that everyone's reaction to machinima seems to be the same: "Yeah, but, it doesn't look as good as Shrek, does it?" Hugh faced the same problem during the CNN interview. When he tried gamely to explain that, well, you see, machinima isn't really *trying* to be like Shrek, and is more a quick short cut to storytelling much more like Supermarionation puppetery, the interviewer nodded sagely.
"So, do you think it ever *will* be as good as Shrek?" he asked, professional fascination radiating from every pore.

It's a problem, I think, with the way in which machinima is perceived. Even when people can completely grasp what it is and what we use it for, and even when they genuinely like the idea and are intregued by it, they still think that our ultimate aim is to make Shrek in our bedrooms. Which it isn't. That's not to say that Shrek isn't a great film, and it's not to say that something very similar couldn't be produced using machinima techniques. The point is that such a product would be similar in plot, in humour, in cinimatography and in length, but not in look. The reason it bugs me so much is because I think people follow the logic through to a bad conclusion: ie, (1) these people are amateurs making films in their bedrooms for very little budget, (2) Visually, it's a rubbish version of Shrek, (3) It's probably rubbish in all other areas as well then; plot, voice acting, camerawork, etc (4) these guys wish they were as good as Pixar. Maybe one day they will be.

I think it's because machinima (at least a lot of it) basically looks like a very cheap and low-poly 3d rendering. Because most game captures *are* low-poly 3d renderings. It's also only fair to say that a lot of machinima that's currently being produced really *is* rubbish. Sloppy and amateur and painful to watch. But the best machinima is stuff that stands on its own, and is a totally unique product. My question is this (and I'm throwing the debate open to floor now): how do we distance ourselves from this inaccurate assumption of our aims and abilities? Do we need to start making machinima that is more stylised (effectively, get as close visually to traditional cell animation as we can)? Do we even care?
  • (Anonymous)
    So, do you think it ever *will* be as good as Shrek?" he asked

    The answer here is 'yes, Once the game engines we are using produce Shrek quality output'

    I like the reference to supermarionation, I always thought of Machinema being a lot more like puppetry than animation.

    Shrek like facial animation etc would of course require more operators per character to achieve. Have you seen how many folk operate some of the Henson puppets?

    <phil@work>
    • Hugh and the other Strange Company talking heads have been using the Supermarionation analogy for a while now. I think it's a very good one. Certainly it's far closer to the essence of what machinima is (or what it should be) than any thoughts of Shrek or Toy Story.
      I'm not sure that game engines will ever produce Shrek-quality output. If they ever do, CGI animation techniques will have moved on so far that game engine output will still look rubbish in comparison. I remember the first time I saw Doom. I was astounded. I remember thinking to myself "Well, this is it. I don't think there's any way to get closer to photo-realism that this. Wow." Now, Doom looks really dated and so blocky that at times one has trouble discerning what the on-screen blobs are meant to represent. We'll look back on Doom 3 and it's ilk in the same way, I'm sure.
      I think that the problem is that there's nothing quite like machinima, and people really wish that there was, just so that they could give it a comfy category in their minds. All I'm suggesting is that perhaps they're not entirely wrong to want to do so.
      • Well, yeah, that's just about exactly the problem. Because they (in many cases) haven't encountered Machinima before, they're desperately trying to understand it in terms of other things they're familiar with.

        Probably the best way to get them on the same page is to compare what we're doing to garage, low fi, jam band, and indie movements in music. You don't expect good homegrown indie music to have the production quality of a Celine Dion album, and dear God, that's a GOOD thing.

        Our challenge is to be daring, and justify ourselves. We have to show our audience things they won't get from the big studios. Aside from "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," have you ever seen a SINGLE feature-length computer-3D-animated film that was not a family comedy? And given that FF:TSW was a box-office flop, do you think any are in the pipeline?

        We don't WANT our work to look like Shreck. It would be so time consuming to produce our assets that it would miss the whole damn point of what we're doing. If I had time to fiddle around with shaping the INDIVIDUAL STRANDS OF STUBBLE on a character's face, I wouldn't be making machinima, in the first place. We're not about stubble. We're about making a damn movie.
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