One of the major differences between working in Moviestorm and Iclone presently is in the ease of generating custom content.
Moviestorm does not yet have a way for general users to retexture props, or create new clothing or faces for the characters. Users can, however, input user images on certain simple objects and add video to a selection of props. Some of the props and clothing can be tinted, but these objects retain the original texture and alpha map.
Iclone is a more established product, and with Iclone2 creating custom props and costumes is straightforward. With the addition of 3dxchange Iclone integrates with other 3d modelling programs, and has direct access to the huge free asset base of Google Warehouse. Using the clone cloth option it is possible to create a wide range of original outfits, and with the recent ‘flags and banners’ pack it is now possible to animate clothing props..eg a cloak or scarf flapping in the wind.
Iclone’s ability to create ‘faces from photos’ is well known to anyone who has used crazy talk.
All these features come at a cost and Moviestorm is still free at source, with additional in house created add-ons available at very low prices, the lighting is more flexible and works well with clothing ‘bump’ maps. The ability to add video to props eases the compositing burden for complex scenes, and newcomers often find Moviestorm easier to grasp than its rival.
Both of these programs are relying on fan created content to expand their possibilities, and in both cases the business model allows for fans to sell that content to other users if they wish.
I am interested to see what stance EA take to custom content when their new Sims3 game is released. Has the online modding community spread so thin that its can no longer be relied upon for bulk supplies of high quality free goodies?
One of the major differences between working in Moviestorm and Iclone presently is in the ease of generating custom content.
Mike and I are finding that by having an identical set of assets we can send project files back and forth for the various machinima engines, and so both work on the same scene in turn.
Now that we are editing things become less simple. Uncompressed video does not travel well, but in order to exchange project files for an editor we need..again..to have a matching set of assets..in this case rendered film from various programs.
So the process is one step removed..the project files from machinima programs have to be rendered out..then put into the correct locations within the editor media bin..and this process has many steps and is prone to error.
So one of us..Mike..is spending several days producing a first draft render. After that the files shouldn't change quite so much and this will make it easier to keep the coordination in the editor project file.
This leaves time for me, Kate, to create poster art, titles etc, before getting back to editing.
There have been problems with this approach. Moviestorm project files are very sensitive to data changes, and sometimes will not open on another pc for reasons that are hard to fathom. Iclone has an upper limit on the amount of data that can be saved, and on several of our sets we are very near that limit..this can cause some instability. Our mystery engine will currently only work on one of our pcs, so exchanging thwacking great video files is unavoidable for the moment.
I'm hoping that all of these issues will improve as each program develops.
Using this collaborative approach has given me a new appreciation for the usefulness of project files. We are hoping to develop this as we go, allowing each of us to work to our strengths and contribute at all stages.
A gradual, often unconscious process of assimilation or absorption:
Diffusion of fluid through a semipermeable membrane from a solution with a low solute concentration to a solution with a higher solute concentration
Although the second definition is also thought provoking.
Mike can be working away on some aspect of animating which I find utterly incomprehensible, then two weeks later, without recourse to a tutorial or working on the material, I just seem to 'get it'.
I can come up with some bonkers scheme, 'why don't we have them all upside down and painted purple', to which Mike might answer...'hmm'. Then a day later he will have understood what I was getting at, tell me about several films which used the same technique, and another which 'painted them green with yellow spots', and ask is 'upside down enough?', why don't we 'turn them inside out' and 'shake them up and down a bit'?
It's the 'unconscious' word, which I find fascinating, do we always need to pay conscious attention to something in order to understand? Or is the understanding automatic once we somehow find a way to pay attention to the right things?
I certainly need to bash away at things, sometimes it is necessary to work through somebody else's step-by-step way of doing something..a tutorial for instance. In other cases there seems nothing else possible but random thrashing around until (hopefully) something happens.
Once in a while Mike and I will consciously teach the other something new, either because one of us found it easier to learn..or because it was knowledge we already had from another part of our lives. Who plays tutor, and who plays student changes all the time.
Mike and I are hoping to complete one of of our short test films in time for the bitfilm festival. This mini-teaser features some of the iclone elements we have been working on.
Our entry uses an anymation approach, including Moviestorm, Iclone and a new engine we have been testing..more of which later!
Mike and I are eight hours and half a world apart. Our real-time communication centres around those times of day when we are both awake.
I wake to find new ideas in my inbox most days..the project has moved on while I was sleeping.
Free internet telephony means voice chat is possible in a way unthinkable a few years ago in the days of expensive international calls.
I live in northern England, an hour short of the midnight sun in summer, and a rain cloud's distance from perpetual darkness in the depths of winter.
The files fly from Californian desert to soggy windswept moorland in less than the flicker of an eye.
All around us, clustering in electronic gathering places are mutual friends and movie makers, awake, asleep according to their patterns and the rotation of the earth.
To our children, this is nothing unusual, as for me...I am still caught up in the wonder of it all.
As we progress in making these films, I am constantly reminded of how I wish these software programs would either all get up to speed and match basic functions or at least become more interchangeable with each other.
Imagine your goal is to move freight across the country and all the railroad companies have different gauge tracks, not allowing you a smooth transit. Instead of freight its film and the gauges are the software. At least when they follow certain standards you can get from A to B. And, that doesn’t mean that the service and refinements can’t differ and be better or new in one thing or another.
At this moment we are working primarily in Moviestorm and iClone. Supporting those programs we use various software such as Photoshop, FX Home, Adobe Premiere, Vegas, After Effects, Sketchup, 3DS Max, Audacity, Final Draft, Movie Magic Scheduling, Screenwriter as well as other programs that enhance the filmmaking process. Most of these could be found in the “kits” of live action filmmakers. All of the support programs have some sort of interchangeability. The difficulty occurs in the basic Machinima programs themselves. Apart from blending Moviestorm and iClone through the use of composites, there is no easy way to use the best of each program with the other.
If the lack of interchangeability is going to be the case, then why can’t these programs learn from each other and focus on basic requirements for making and rendering film.
I happen to like the visual aspects of Moviestorm. It has a textural quality that is pleasing to my eye. I find the characters seem to fit into the Moviestorm sets better than any other program. But after using iClone for some time, there are things lacking in Moviestorm that seem like “second nature” in an intuitive fashion.
For instance, when working in Moviestorm, I may want to vary the appearance of a character. In iClone I can simply modify a face or body mass. If a character needs a particular outfit to wear, I can do it in iClone simply with their CloneCloth. In Moviestorm, my changes to clothing are continually blocked by the mesh structure of the outfits.
When I want to move a character around the set, in Moviestorm I can simply set points for the characters to walk to. In iClone, it is much harder, and requires hours of slowly moving the characters into place.
Moviestorm has a great set of gestures. Especially the interactions with other characters. iClone requires a set of gestures to be adjusted to allow the characters to seem integrated with the other characters. This being said, Moviestorm is very limited in adjusting the motion animations. They can be somewhat blended together, but it requires and “hope and a pray” that the results may work. On the other hand iClone can import BVH animations and through the Motion Editor, the animations can be endlessly modified.
Moviestorm’s set building is very easy to use. In iClone it is harder to build sets but that is counterbalanced by it’s ability to import from Sketchup or other 3D programs like 3DS or Blender. Your desire to have a particular prop or accessory is only limited by your imagination (and skill if it particularly difficult).
And to make this list short, I still want to point out that props and accessories can be attached and animated in iClone. In Moviestorm, I have to resort to composites done in Post Production.
Examples of the brilliant offerings of each program and their equally frustrating shortfalls can go on and on. It isn’t that each program shouldn’t do things better than the others, but the fact if they don’t work in exportable formats that allow the interchangeably which other industry software does.
Machinima is a great emerging art form. Perhaps the first film form that allows an individual to work in the same manner as a writer, painter or musician. It can be a large enterprise or just a one on one experience. And the price of admission is very reasonable compared to the costs of a Hollywood production.
Perhaps some day, these Machinima dedicated programs will find a way for film makers to use them as interchangeable assets.
Most of the time, machinima teams are composed of a much smaller team than, say a live film crew.
Every job that needs doing needs to be learned.
I'm guessing that most film-makers spend at least as much time absorbing new skills as they do making films, so managing that learning effectively is important.
Mike and I are taking an Anymation approach to our filmmaking, and just now we seem to be dipping into and testing out a new program every week.
After first checking for a suitable EULA, the assessment criteria go something like this;
1) What can we do easily in this program that is not so easy in others?
2) What can we do with this program that may be more challenging to learn, but is nevertheless still easier than attempting the same feat in any other program we have?
3) Are there features within this program which would be useful, aren't available in any other program.but that are outside our ability to master in a reasonable time
In terms of our 'brain budget',
1 is cheap
2 is expensive but worth it
3 is beyond our budget but on the wishlist
Of course the 'brain budget' does not behave in the same linear way as a monetary account, and the relationship of the BB to time isn't that simple either.
For instance a task could be assigned to category 3..beyond our budget, then two weeks later and for no apparent reason what seemed hard and out of reach seems rather simple..without any apparent effort or 'cost'.
A 'eureka' moment.
Of course, it is also possible that something in category one, something simple, easy and obvious turns out to be a freakin' nightmare..and then there can be a tendency is to persist in trying beyond the amount of time that is reasonable...because it 'ought' to work.
Both of us find it useful to break down large unmanageable chunks of information into tiny pieces, if that is the only way forward.
I have been known to read three words of a tutorial..go away do something else..come back read another three words..for something in category 2...say. I often flick between web pages and a program I am learning, so as soon as I begin to feel stuck I switch to something else (in machinima there's always something else that needs doing!)
Often one of us will find something easier ..and then it's efficient to let that person learn the task and then teach it to the other...
Outside our team, we learn all the time from other film makers, through discussion..watching films, reading blogs, talking with friends.
It is amazing how thoughts about movie making can take over any time when concentration is not required for other every day tasks..and just as noticeable when something intrudes in the other direction..a worry or pressure from everyday life, which interrupts, thought and interferes with the creative freedom needed for learning.
In addition to what Kate has said about the organisation of our feature project, I want to emphasize that we look upon the render footage we create in the same way that we would if we were on a live action set. Each "take" is an individual piece of the puzzle. As we shoot the film, we intend to cover a scene with the setups we feel we need to tell the story. Any editing or special effects can be done later in post.
This sounds pretty simple and obvious, but by following the organizational techniques evolved over the last 100 years of filmmaking, a large and challenging project can be made manageable. And extensive pre-production and scheduling will allow the project to grow and fit new changes as they occur. If there are problems, they can be shifted to the side and worked on at a later date.
On a comment to a previous post Johnnie (Ingram) asked if we had had any teaser trailers ready for the big project and the question prompted some thought.
The simple answer is 'no we don't', but the reason is fairly complex and in some ways influenced by a remark Hugh (Hancock) made about Bloodspell. The team learned so much as they progressed that they came to regret the quality of the first episode.
Now that the full length version has been extensively tweaked and re-released Hugh has got his wish to improve the first part of the film.
I have only seen the re-mixed version so I can't compare the two, I suspect the original wasn't *that* bad.
However , in a medium as rapidly changing as machinima, creating a consistent look and feel is an issue.
Frank L Fox (Fling Films) chose to keep the same beta version of Moviestorm for his 'Morning Run Amok' short, which took around three months to make. At the end of the project, due to the rapid development pace at Short Fuze, Frank practically needed to relearn the engine (not a great hardship for Frank, and his film was very impressive, but if we took that approach our film would already be more than a year out of date on release)
For our long project Pineapple decided to follow a live film model.
We are choosing to prepare very throughly, using test films where necessary, and then (hopefully) shoot the film in a relatively short time frame (say three months?) using a pre-set production timetable.
All the work of the last five months has been directed towards making it possible to create that timetable 'on paper'. We are still several months away. Once that seemingly rigid document is created we, almost paradoxically, will have the freedom to deviate, taking advantage of the spontaneous without geting lost.
Well that's the plan anyway....
See http://machiniplex.com/ for copies of both Bloodspell and Morning Run Amok.
See http://www.moviestorm.co.uk/MSDB/HomePageServlet for Short Fuze's machinima program , Moviestorm.