Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles and RatatouilleIn the January version of Imagine magazine, there's a great article by Saint John Walker of FDMX which touches on one of the biggest issues facing machinima. There are some things that you just can't do well using low-end real-time animation and a home computer, no matter how hard you try. And, frustratingly, some of these are the sort of things that are trivial with a camera and actors.
Going right back to the dawn of film, one of the first Lumiere shorts, L'Arroseur Arrose (Lumiere number 99, often regarded as the first comedy, made way back in 1895), features a gardener watering the garden. A boy enters the shot, steps on the hose and the water stops. As the bemused gardener looks into the hose to see what's wrong, the boy takes his foot off, and the gardener gets a jet of water in his face as the boy sniggers. (Ho, ho ho!) Then the gardener, now annoyed, grabs the young scamp and pulls him around, then squirts the water at him. All very simple, and it was made with the most rudimentary equipment.
Now try doing that in machinima. Getting the facial expressions is hard enough, but we're just about cracking that now. Getting the water to look right is just about do-able in modern game engines, but getting the splashing isn't there yet. But pulling the shirt is just not possible in machinima yet. It's right on the edge of what top-end 3D animation can do. More from Brad Bird:
One character touching another character's hair? "Aaah! No! Isn't there anything else you could do?" I mean, I had to budget shirt-grabs.And if it's hard for Pixar to do shirt grabs, then, realistically, can you expect machinima to do it well? Nope. You can get a hand pretty near a shirt, but don't expect to see cloth being pulled about. And when you run your hand through someone's hair, expect to see hair poking through the hand and not moving right. Taking clothes on and off is a 3D animator's nightmare. You just don't do it, not unless you have Pixar's budget and a lot of patience.
There are, of course, the three usual film-maker's solutions:
- Write a story that doesn't need shirt grabs, hair ruffles, or the like.
- Shoot it off-screen and edit the sequence so that the audience thinks they've seen something they haven't.
- Shoot something close enough, don't worry about the visual glitches, and assume your audience will forgive you because it's machinima.
The original Lumiere cine camera can still create images that 21st century computers find difficult.
But, as Mike Joyce is so fond of pointing out every time we speak, limitations are what provide artistic challenges.
Actually - there's a challenge. How close can you get to that movie in machinima?