Machinima surfaces on campus

Stanford U. event charts the evolution of machinima--from <i>Camper</i>, to Red vs. Blue, to its current incarnation: live performance machinima.


PALO ALTO, California--Stanford University students last weekend were treated to a special performance. Using a format that tread far from the usual lecture format, students were exposed to a unique variation on machinima, the art of making movies using game technologies.

Presented by the ILL Clan, a group that calls itself "a collective of 3D artists, filmmakers, and improvisational comedians focusing on creating animated episodic shows and works for hire using the machinima process and 3D CGI," the performance consisted of two parts: a discussion about the history of machinima, showing various clips illustrating what exactly it was, and a live performance involving the different members of the ILL Clan.

"Machinima lets people express themselves using accessible technologies," said Paul Marino, Executive Director of the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences and a cofounder of the ILL Clan. "We take the animation--the moving artistic aspects over time--and then we take interactive game technologies and put them all into the same space."

The evening started off with a showcase of machinima from the past decade. The clips spanned the range from the very first machinima, Diary of a Camper, a video involving a group of Quake soldiers trying to take down a camper in the game, to more modern clips like the very first Red vs. Blue episode, a humorous take on the events of the Halo universe.

Other categories of machinima were also shown, highlighting the diversity of machinima that can be found now. For example, one clip showed part of the music video for Zero 7's In the Waiting Line, the first music video made using a game engine to be shown on MTV.

Another, appropriately titled A Few Good G-Men, used the Half-Life 2 engine to reenact the famous courtroom scene from the movie A Few Good Men. Marino explained that the ability of the Half-Life 2 game engine to create face motion helped enable creators to produce more serious machinima pieces, not just comedic ones.

After this quick journey through the history of machinima, it was time for the main attraction. Titled Tra5h Ta1k with Ill Will, the live performance took the format of a talk show, with a chatty host, voiced and controlled by cofounder Matt Dominianni, and his sidekick, voiced and controlled by Paul Jannicola, trading banter back and forth. Various additional segments included an interview with a scientist and a game show portion involving audience members.

Galen Davis, the organizer of the event, was particularly pleased about the timing of the event. "Given that there's a lot of buzz right now about the short machinima film French Democracy [a film about the current riots in France], the ILL Clan's live work really brings out what's particularly relevant about machinima: its immediacy. Not only does machinima allow us to generate pieces that are provocatively contemporary, but it even allows us to do so live, in front of an audience."

One of the lecturers of the class agreed. "It's hard to believe that the ILL Clan has been at the leading edge of machinima for seven years, and they keep coming up not just with new ideas, but whole new approaches to game movies as a performance space," said Henry Lowood, who also is a game researcher and head of the How They Got Game project at Stanford.

Throughout the performance, the team's background in improvisational comedy was evident in their rapid-fire responses to both each other as well as suggestions from the audience. Instead of being flustered by technical glitches, they made jokes and turned even mistakes into humorous lines. By manipulating their controllers they could cause their onscreen characters to adopt four different moods or change their mouths to make it seem as though they were talking.

Asked about his thoughts on performing at Stanford, Dominianni said, "Coming to Stanford to perform Tra5h Ta1k and discuss machinima has been a bit surreal. When we started doing this eight years ago, we just figured it might be a good way to do animation. Now we've got respected professors and the academic community actually taking us seriously."

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