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On the Death of Peter Rasmussen

Peter Rasmussen in a screen cap from the doc "Artery: Machinima"

Peter is gone.

Out of the blue (or so it appears to me) a sad announcement at the Machinima for Dummies site that Peter Rasmussen has died; no cause of death, no details, no reason. It sickens me. It's perverse that a man as talented and as smart as Peter could be whisked away into oblivion just like that. A man who had just released one of the best Machinima films ever made (Stolen Life), won practically every award at the recent 2006 European Machinima Festival, had set up a monthly meeting (along with Phil Rice) of Machinima filmmakers and was starting research for his next film. A man who gave to a largely insular community his time, his care and his wisdom, in order to make Machinima better.

Not to mention whatever web of friendship and love he had in his own personal life. Though I was only a casual friend, I got a vibe from Peter that he was a decent, thoughtful man. I can only imagine how painful his death must be for those who knew and loved him. What a tragedy.

I had just responded to him a month ago answering a question about IClone. He was looking for a new engine to use for his next film. He wouldn't tell me anything about it, but his enthusiasm and excitement was obvious even in an email. Peter came to several of the Machiniplex Premieres and asked smart questions that kept the conversation with the director grounded and focused on practicalities. I was trying to figure out how to get Peter on Machiniplex, or at least feature an interview where I could learn more about his life. But...

Peter is gone.

One of things I hate about death is that aside from the fact that it's inevitable for all of us, it often creates regret in those are still alive. Perhaps this is mostly my own issue (my brother died when I was 6), but I regret not searching Peter out and learning about him. I feel like a selfish fool for not reading through his Nanoflix blog until after he has died. And for not seeking Peter out as a collaborator. Now it will never happen because Peter is gone.

Peter and Jackie Turnure interviewed by Australian Gamer

Since the announcement of Peter's death, several blogs and tributes have been been posted on the net. Phil Rice's tribute addresses Peter directly and is hard to read it is so sad. Of course, the Machinima for Dummies site has the notice along with some heart-felt comments by the Machinima community. Some other site with comments include Leo's Dr of Machinima, Shattered Keyboard (with a good list of blog posts), Sidney ACM Siggraph, Eyes Wired Open (with a clip from Stolen Life), Johnnie Ingrams' I Hate Sheep has a bittersweet post on Peter, AFTRS Lamp, and Frank's Flinging Thoughts blog is an honest expression of the loss that all of us feel.

Phil's Overcast podcast #17 has an interview with wonderful interview with Peter. It's hard to listen to, but stick with it because you'll find more info about him than any other source. The links for the show are all excellent and informative.

Peter's Nanoflix blog is a good place to learn more about his films (there's a nice high-res download of Killer Robot). The last entry was (typically) praise for Bloodspell. IGN Australia has an good interview with Peter about Stolen Life. Peter appears briefly in the Machinima documentary "Artery: Machinima" ( one wishes now that the film featured more of him). Just Adventure, in addition to reviewing Stolen Life has an excellent "Making of Stolen Life" article by Peter. This is the definitive commentary on how the film was developed and created. The Australian Gamer has a nice interview with Peter and Jackie along with photos (some of which are featured here). Jackie Turnure's journal "Rockpool" has insightful comments about machinima and the media in general. It hasn't been updated in a while, so there's no mention of Peter's death. I'm sure it must have hit her hard. My heart goes out to her. I hope she posts about it at some point.

A still from Peter's "Stolen Life"

Peter's main site, Nanoflix Productions, features his Machinima work (Stolen Life, Killer Robot, Rendezvous, Joy), a live-action short (The Picture Woman) , a science-fiction story (Mars by
Stealth) and a Machinina study for building living quarters on Mars using robots (Red Igloo).

Stolen Life won Best Picture, Best Visual Design and Best Direction at the European Machinima Festival in late 2007. Phillip Johnston's music for Stolen Life won the 2006 Machinima Film Festival. The film was nominated for 5 other categories including Best Picture, Best Visual Design, Best Voice Acting Performance, Best Virtual Performance and Best Technical Achievement. Peter's earlier film, Killer Robot, was an official selection of the 2005 Machinima Film Festival. And his film, Rendezvous, was nominated for Best Picture, Best Writing, Best Acting and Best Independent Film at the 2002 Machinima Film Festival.

You can download Stolen Life at ZipWorld ($9.49). I'm not sure if the DVD is still available, but it's well-produced. Killer Robot is available for free and on DVD via Machinima.com. His other Machinima works are free at the Nanoflix.net website.

The earliest credits I can find for Peter are as a writer for the live action films Mad Bomber in Love (1992), The Picture Woman (1998 - He also directed this film) and In the Winter Dark (1998). If anyone has additional information, please add it in the comments section.

The Stolen Life trailer is here. There is a wealth of interviews, commentary, etc, that can be accessed through the Nanofilx website.

A still from Peter's Killer Robot

I'd like to leave you with the full text of Peter's essay on Machinima titled "Why Machinima is Different". Something that sticks with me are the lines:

"It’s not just the speed of production. It’s very much about the attitude people making machinima bring to what they do. Machinima is propelled by the same sense of hands on discovery that drives the video game modding community."

Peter walked the walk. He did what he talked about. His attitude as an artist and as an increasingly important presence in the Machinima community made Machinima better. Now we will never see what remarkable works he would have created. And we will never know what insights and craft we could have learned from him.

It is a tragedy that Peter is gone. But we can learn from what he has left us; his films, his comments and interviews, his writings. Let us all take the time to think about what he has shown us Machinima can be. Let's think about what he sees as the future for our nascent art form. I think this is the way to honor his life and his achievements. Because even though he is gone in a literal sense, he will remain alive in our desire to learn from him.

Why Machinima is Different

Posted by Peter Rasmussen on April 29, 2007

"To understand the potential of machinima we need to understand what has gone before.

Ancient history:

Even at the “independent” end the film industry has systematically been reduced in it’s scope. Like a “mini me” of the studios it has become intensely corporate in its workings if not in the actual budgets. There was a time when there was more balance. Big budget films employed a lot of people and payed for the infrastructure of the industry while independents kept the fresh ideas coming. Even big studios would occasionally put out films that could draw some critical acclaim. Now it has become much more homogenous.

At the moment the making of films has become so strictly regimented. Everyone has gone to the same “how to make a movie” seminars to learn that you have to have two clips to hold the script together not three. There is no room for descent. The result being that they cost so much and that they’re all the same movie.

Maintaining and expanding a profile in the industry has become such an art that there is a sense of reward that comes from being good at that alone. This contributes to a kind of decadents. It has become more about working the room and less about making the film.

Hal Hartley once said
“If I’m serious about film making I have to get out of the industry.”

The emphasis has been on impressing the industry with your value to get its support to make your projects possible. Now there is the potential to get that support directly from the audience you are making the film for.

Now we have digital video. Anyone can afford cameras and editing software that is capable of producing a film that at least has image and sound quality acceptable for commercial release. Now we have the Internet. Anyone can self distribute. Anyone can show their film to anyone who can find it.

Machinima is not a branch of an earlier kind of film making like video from celluloid. Machinima is a completely independent eruption. It is not just a new image recording medium. What used to be a video game add on is now a new approach to story telling that has it’s own community and culture. It’s a movement that is currently free of most of the intrinsic encumbrances of conventional filmmaking.

The greater population of machinima makers come from outside conventional filmmaking. Machinima was born out of the chaos of the warfare of first person shooters and the anarchy of excited gamers and hackers who were not restricted by filmmaking conventions or industry etiquette.

A great deal of machinima so far was made in existing games with no regard to copyright. This may actually have contributed to its growth. Not having to make the locations and characters made the process much more quick and fun at that early stage. Without copyright clearance the only way this work could be seen was for free. So the popularity grew. And other sources of revenue were explored. Like talking about how it is done at seminars like books on machinima like merchandising.

The feedback loop between trying something out and seeing the result is so much shorter. This is true of the day to day production and of the turnaround on entire projects. Techniques like real time puppeteering fuel spontaneity. The immediacy of machinima is a very powerful substance.

The best way to learn filmmaking is to do it. The budgets for conventional films these days have become so bloated filmmakers just don’t get the same amount of practice. Starting out in the black and white era Alfred Hitchcock Made fifty films in his career. The ones he is most famous for are the ones in his later years.

With less time taken up by development and the raising of production money the turnaround for machinima is much faster. There is much less of a gap between having an idea and seeing how it actually looks on the screen. And straight away you can see if it works for the audience.

“Do what you like.
And If the audience doesn’t like it get off”

– Noel Coward

It’s not just the speed of production. It’s very much about the attitude people making machinima bring to what they do. Machinima is propelled by the same sense of hands on discovery that drives the video game modding community.

Skills and practices drawn from conventional filmmaking can be applied but this must be done with care. With Main stream filmmaking you get development hell. There are so many people you have to convince that what you are doing will be successful. This environment rarely produces things that have not been seen before. Machinima seems to be in a position where it can avoid much of this at least for a while.

With conventional film making there can be a strange gap between the filmmakers and the audience, the “demographic” as they are sometimes called. With machinima it is much more fluid. There can be a conversation between the audience and the filmmakers even during production via blogs and forums. This doesn’t mean that the work has been modified for the lowest common denominator it’s more like an overture before the main event.

Fans of machinima are not looking for photorealism. The spectrum of kinds of machinima being made is quite broad. From popular entertainment to extremely conceptual art pieces. So broad that a vigorous debate continues to attempt to define machinima.

The 2006 Machinima Film Festival in New York ran for two days. The quality of entries had grown since previous years. Most entries ran for less than ten minutes. Two had a running time of more than an hour. Short titles rule at the moment. The most successful films at a festival of mostly short films are gag driven. A single clever concept well delivered with a strong punch line.

It’s like Machinima is in the first few microseconds after its big bang. The particles are basic but very powerful. I expect that over the next few years we will see more long form productions as serious machinima makers settle in for the long haul.

There is an opportunity to, refine is the wrong word, to bring this new medium to a state where it can be produced for a return of revenue that allows the machinima makers to continue to deliver to there audience something fresh and original in a sustainable way without outside interference in the creative process."
Download the pdf here

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  1. Blogger johnnie | March 20, 2008 at 3:26 AM |  

    Thank you Ricky. Even though this was difficult reading at times, it's a wonderful tribute to a man that I, like so many others, desperately wish I had got to know better.

  2. Blogger Overman | March 20, 2008 at 8:13 AM |  

    Thank you for this, Ricky, it is greatly appreciated.

  3. Blogger 3dfilmmaker | March 20, 2008 at 9:27 AM |  

    This is a fantastic tribute to Peter, Ricky. Thank you so much. You did far more than just provide your personal reflection but you pulled together so much about his machinima involvement into one place. There is so much here that I was looking for.

    I think this is the way to honor his life and his achievements. Because even though he is gone in a literal sense, he will remain alive in our desire to learn from him.



  4. Blogger Coyote Republic | March 20, 2008 at 10:59 AM |  

    Great job here. The depth and detail here demonstrates your respect in all the research and thought you put into it.

    I knew Peter briefly; I now greatly regret that I was not faster at getting Stolen Life converted and posted on the Plex while he was around to see it.

    Too often we eulogize when the honored person can't hear how much he is appreciated and respected. I'm sure Peter would be very pleased to hear your tribute, and depending on your belief of what comes after, perhaps he is smiling.

  5. Anonymous Jackie Turnure | April 7, 2008 at 6:38 AM |  

    Thank you, all of you for the wonderful tributes. It has meant so much to all of us here in Sydney to read them. I have finally been able to write about it on my blog at rockpool and also put up my speech from the funeral. I know Peter would have been so touched to read all your kind words - I only wish he was here to realise how much he contributed to all of our lives. Best wishes, Jackie Turnure

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