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Another Amazing Fall PC
Game Line-Up

I thought last years Fall PC Game line-up was amazing (Crysis, Mass Effect, etc), but this Fall 2008 looks even better. Here's a nice overview from PC.GameZone.com of the top games coming: And another list from Gamestooge.com with release dates:

Of course, Fallout 3, Far Cry 2, Wrath of the Lich King and Valve's Left For Dead are all going to have a legion of fans. But there are a couple games I'm particularly looking forward to:

  • The Witcher: Enhanced Edition. The Polish company, Projekt Red, actually took the crits of fans and went back to the original release of The Witcher last year and worked to improve the gameplay and enhance the story. They've also added two completely new adverntures to the game. An editor for the game will also be enclosed for people who want to design their own gameplay (machinima, anyone?)

screencap from The Witcher: Enhanced Edition
screencap from The Witcher: Enhanced Edition

  • Stalker: Clear Sky. I loved this game when it first came out after years of delay. Now, this russian game company, GSC Gameworld, has put together a prequel to the original Stalker and have added all sorts of fixes, enhancements and upgrades. It's one of those "open world" games on the PC that I love so much. No editor for the game has been announced but so what, I can't wait to play this game.
Stalker: Clear Sky has an amazing "open world" design
Stalker: Clear Sky has an amazing "open world" design

  • Grand Theft Auto IV (PC): I can't wait to start making movies with this game. Play it? Well, only to location scout and look for interesting characters. The graphics, the improved look and animations are like machinima candy to me. Of course, it will take a bit for people to develop the game hacks we need, although there is a "demo" like function being promised for the PC.
screen cap from GTA IV

  • MIrror's Edge: I only recently discovered this game which is a fascinating re-imagining of the FPS genre, but without the "shooter" part (you can use guns if you choose). The story is pure contemp sci-fi with the player as an information "runner" delivering crucial data for shadowy organizations. The parkour-like actions of the main female character are amazing. Watch this trailer and you'll see what I mean.


So, what games are you looking forward to this Fall?

The Demise Premiere: A Director's Message


We had a very enjoyable Premiere for Surgee's (Daniel Wasiluk) film "The Demise" yesterday at Hathead's Island in the virtual world Second Life. Approximately 15 people showed up for a screening of the film and a short audio message from the director. For those who couldn't make it, here is what Surgee had to say: (press the play button to listen)









Surgee's method of using Photoshop to create layered images for "The Demise" was a labor-intensive, but wonderful choice for the art design of the film and for adding simple facial expressions. By taking a snapshot in WoW model viewer of the shot/angle he's going to use in the film, then removing everything but the part of the model he wants to modify, and finally using the "liquid" tool to change a facial expression for example, he was able to import the image and use a simple cross-fade in Sony Vegas DV editor to create the effect (facial expressions). And by hand-drawing almost all of the backgrounds, he created a unique style for "The Demise" that is missing in most other WoW machinima.


We were also impressed with how Surgee created such a simple, yet beautiful style for the story he was trying to tell. In an email to me, Surgee said his "goal was to touch people's emotions". Considering the great response to the film, he certainly has succeeded. Here's part of an email Surgee sent me in response to questions about the film:

So here it goes:

Storyline: Adopted by rich and very strict couple from Silvermoon ,little Alasse is deprived of her childhood. One night as she looks out of the window, she sees a strange, bright light comming from a nearby forest. Night is the only time when guards hired by Alasses parents don`t follow her.She decides to take her chances and sneak out through the window, to check out the mysterious light. This isn't another simple story about incredible people and heroic acts.This is a breathtaking story, about simple people, forbidden love, hope and drama.

Making of :

1. The idea

The idea for this film came when I saw an annoucement about WWI Machinima Contest. Few months before, I made two short films from World of Warcraft. They appeared to be succesful and I wasn't even thinking that they would be so popular. At first I wasn't thinking seriously about taking part in this contest, but my girlfriend convinced me to give it a shot.

2. Genre
With my movies, I wanted to bring out people's emotions. With my last two movies, I made people laugh. But with "The Demise" my goal was to touch the audience's deeper emotions, like compassion, sympathy, maybe sadness. It was a great challenge for me and I'm happy that it found so many viewers all over the world. It was very risky because it is much easier to win people's hearts by making them laugh than with making them cry.

3. Development
Before I started developing this movie, I've decided to make it look unique and innovative (the first WoW machinima to show real heros' emotions-moving lips, eyes, eyebrows,facial muscles,tears). To do so, I've "photoshopped" nearly every object and character. On top of that, every background was drawn by me, except the town background in one of first scenes (this one was a recorded scene with later usage of Photoshop). To add more realistic animation to greater objects (ex. writing hand,"Magical Tree",etc.) I had to create many smaller ones and animate them separately. To keep it in this unique style, I didn't use any video editing software's built-in effects (except simple blur and chroma keyer to cut blue background off).

The intention was to make this film understandable without any voice acting. Because of the contest's time limitation (four minutes) I had to compress the whole story so it would be very short and clear. I am an autodidact. I haven't studied any tutorials or whatsoever. For example, I could see a scene with my imagination but I wasn't quite sure how to bring it to life so I was just experimenting till I reached the desired final look. All in all, I'm very happy how it turned out.

Because of my very slow computer (which unfortunately I don't have anymore), the whole project costed me a lot of time (about 3 weeks) and trash bags for empty coffe cups:). If I had a chance, I would improve my skills by setting up the bar a little bit higher with my every next production.



We also discussed the music in the film and how much we all liked it. Since there were no credits at the end of the film, we don't know what the music was or who composed it. I've got an email question sent to Surgee to get an answer to that question.

I'd also like to re-iterate that Surgee is without a computer because he had to sell the old one in order to get by financially. I asked for donations towards Surgee's computer and was very pleased that so many people donated. Surgee sends his thanks. And if you care to donate via this blog, just leave a comment and I'll tell you how to send money via Paypal. Let's get Surgee back to making films again.

My thanks to Hathead for running the event so smoothly and for letting us use his great (and newly designed) space. And I enjoyed talking with you all. Your participation and support of Machiniplex really makes it worth the time and effort to get these great films screened.




"The Demise" Premiere this
Sunday in Second Life

A still from the title sequence in "The Demise"

Daniel Wasiluk's (aka Surgee) film "The Demise" will Premiere this Sunday, August 24th at 12PM (Pacific Time) at Hathead's Tower Lounge in Second Life. "The Demise" is Daniel's third film; all of them shot in the World of Warcraft game engine. "The Demise" is a gorgeous film shot with no dialog, but with wonderful imagination and feeling. I've just come from a rehearsal with Hathead at his lounge and although we had to do a lot of tweaking, the film should look great when we screen it on Sunday. Daniel won the World of Warcraft "best special effects" award for "The Demise" this year. Be sure to check out his personal page at warcraftmovies.com for additonal comments and photos Daniel has provided for "The Demise"

Daniel is unable to be with us at the Premiere, although I've been in contact with him about the event for the last month or so. He had to sell his computer not long after he finished "The Demise" and because of financial difficulties has not been able to buy another. I've decided that I want to get him a new one somehow. We've set up a poster with Daniel's picture and all you have to do is click on it to donate. The money will come to me and I will send it to Daniel via Paypal.

You can see Daniel's poster on the right. Be sure to make a donation!

You can also contact me directly via this blog or at my personal website rgrove.com about sending any computer parts you might want to donate. It's possible we could send him a combination of money and the parts (graphics card, motherboard, ram,etc) so he can put it
together on his own. As Dan lives in Europe, shipping is high for heavy items like a computer case or monitor, so hold off on those things. But small items will work. Contact me if you have any questions.

"The Demise" is streaming at our newly designed Machiniplex site (thank you, Phil Rice), so head on over and watch/download the film, or you can wait until Sunday. Daniel has sent us message he recorded about the film which we will play after the screening.

A beautiful shot from "The Demise"

If you've never been to one of our Premiere's here's how it works: you will need to join up at Second Life (a free virtual community), or simply log in if you are a member. Then you'll need to teleport to Hathead's Lounge. You can follow this link to do so:

How to get to Hathead's Lounge


just follow the directions to teleport. For SL veterans, the slurl is:

http://slurl.com/secondlife/HatHead/85/148/607

Once you arrive at the Lounge, you'll find many other people chatting either by voice or by text chat, before the screening. After a while, I'll announce the screening and we'll all watch the film on the large screens in the center of the room (be sure to click your "play" button at the bottom of your SL screen). When the film is done, we will head over to the conference area and I'll offer some commentary on the film and talk about my conversations with Daniel. Then we will open up the conversations to comments and questions.

Generally, we talk for about an hour or so and then head over to the dance floor to boogie away (this is where the REAL conversations happen). If you've never danced before, just click on the silver ball over the dance floor to initiate the animations.

If you are a beginner, don't be afraid to ask questions; everyone there was a beginner once and we are happy to help you out.

If you need to check the time in your area, here is a time converter. The Premiere will take place at 12PM Pacific Time (Los Angeles).

Hanging around after rehearsal at Hathead's Lounge

Siggraph 2008: A Most Extraordinary Conference


I've been writing reviews and articles for Renderosity.com for year or so now. A couple months ago they asked me if I'd be willing to cover Siggraph 2008 convention as it was taking place in Los Angeles this year (my hometown). I was overjoyed at the prospect having read so much about this enormous convention in a recent history of Pixar Studios called "The Pixar Touch" by David A. Price.

After spending several months preparing, I finally got to attend the convention this last week and it was (honestly) an extraordinary event. Filling both convention Halls of the downtown Los Angeles convention center, the convention featured panels, classes, presentations, an animation festival, a huge exhibit hall and many, many smaller events all wedged in creatively to the schedule. And, of course, the exhibitors like Alias, NewTek, Lucas Studios and the like all had parties and classes of their own just a few blocks away from the convention center.


The event was overwhelming at times and I found myself seeking out a quiet place (the media room) in order to catch my breath and re-group. Since this is my first time attending Siggraph, I asked many of the veteran reporters what events were the most interesting. They all had completely different answers and I realized that you just pick what interests you and then see what happens. I had a prepared a tight schedule from 8AM to sometimes as late as 8PM every day, but by the third day (Wednesday) I realized that just wandering around and talking to people would actually provide more interesting opportunities to learn and discover. My legs and feet were so tired from walking miles and miles each day, I wasn't sure if I could last the day sometimes.


But I managed somehow and with my backpack, recording device and camera met all kinds of people; students, amateurs, professionals, CEO's, salesmen, filmmakers and reporters like myself. The classes sometimes went over my head. I took a class on "Motion Planning & Autonomy for Virtual People" and quickly realized what the lack of a computer science degree could do to you. But many of the panels were filled with animators and filmmakers who went way back with the Disney company. At one point during the "Future of Character Animation" panel, the veteran, Don Hahn, was asked what Disney would have thought of flash animation and immediately said "He'd love it".

I suppose the highlight of the convention was the Ed Catmull keynote address on Monday. I say "suppose" because there were so many other events that captured my imagination and inspired me. But Ed's comments were very special to me as I've been mulling over how small groups of people interact and work together. I've collaborated so much on machinima projects this year that I've wondered why some projects worked well and others were less effective. His personal discoveries of the value of trust and honesty in work along with empathy and commitment seem obvious, but in the context of a complex project, individual ego, incredibly long hours and looming deadlines, it's not so easy to hold to those values. His speech, told as a long response to an unnamed Hollywood Producers quote that better ideas are more important than people, Catmull spoke for nearly 90 minutes. At times appearing frail (he mentioned a recent hip replacement), but always intense and focused.

Maxon Cinema4D Luncheon

As an example of how well the Siggraph crew handled the tech aspect of this and all of the other events I attented, there were three huge digital monitors to view Catmull up close and a superb sound system so you could catch the nuance in every word. I came away, as did the majority of the 500+ people who attended and applauded him wildly, with renewed commitment to working with a creative team I admire and respect towards projects that not only interest us but engage us passionately. Unlike Hobbes, who saw the world as one huge process of self-interest, there is real hope and pride in working with others of a like mind. Again, while it seems obvious, it's often the simple lessons that we forget. No wonder Mr. Catmull has been so important to the development of computer graphics and animated films; he's an authentic genius.

Speaking of "passion", that was the one word I heard over and over at Siggraph. That and "commitment". From the "Careers in Computer Graphics" to the "SpeedLab" final presentations, the idea that passionate devotion to the computer graphics field was a universally held assumption. And after meeting dozens of people and many panelists and teachers, I can honestly say that they practice what they preach. Siggraph was alive with people excited about what they were doing no matter what their age. Even the people on the sales floor in the Exhibit hall were passionate about their projects. At one point, "Ralph", floor spokesperson for NewTek (Lightwave, etc) offered a 20 minute story about his efforts to place "Speed Edit" in Mexican and South American schools. He was successful and I've got a copy of "Speed Edit" on it's way for review. Absolutely one of the best promotional speeches I've ever heard; and I've heard a lot.

Look closely: notice the Crytek poster? This was a station with the map editor for Far Cry2

I suppose if I had any regrets about attending Siggraph this year it would be that I didn't spend more time in the Exhibition Hall talking with smaller vendors and talking with the career/job reps. I'm considering changing careers to character animation and I missed talking to some of the better schools represented there. And the small vendors often had a more low-key approach to telling you about their project. I really wanted to talk to some of the smaller motion-capture companies. I chose to attend more classes and panels for my first Siggraph. Next time, if renderosity sends me again, I plan on giving myself more free time to let networking and chance meetings happen. These were the most interesting encounters I had while I was there.

By accident I ran across Friedrich Kirschner, but we only had about 10 minutes to chat. I took a picture, but it came out strangely (all a blur). Sorry, Friedrich. Spent time with my friend John Martin at the Reallusion suite (IClone 3) and met their CEO Charles Chen, a sharp guy who listened much more than he spoke. And I wrote Peter Rasmussen's name on the Memorial board which was in the West Hall. It made me feel good to write "machinima filmmaker" underneath. Peter would have loved Siggraph


On a final note, which will be of interest to our machinima community, I attended a panel late Tuesday night called "Anti-Auteur: User Generated Content" which featured several indie game producers and, surprisingly, a volunteer from the audience for a panelist who couldn't make it. The volunteer turned out to be a Microcoft dude who worked in their game development branch (if memory serves me) and did a good job for such a spur of the moment thing. I could have kicked myself for not volunteering as there was nary a mention of machinima (can you belive it?). Of course, I was falling asleep (literally) and would not have made a good panelist since I couldn't focus on anything after 12 hours of Siggraph and little sleep the night before. I didn't quite stay for the whole 2hr event, so they may have brought up machinima after I left, but I have a feeling they didn't, which is very strange to me. Their "user generated content" consisted of mod's for games and indie game development for the most part. In fact, I never once heard anyone discuss machinima during the my entire time at Siggraph. Even when I brought the subject up, most people either didn't know about it or were not that interested once I told them what it was. I suppose it's odd, but I'm not really troubled by this. Machinima and main-stream computer graphics are as far away as they could be. This "Anti-Auteur" panel was scheduled at a time when the regular Siggraph events are already over; it was a nod to the younger people attending the Conference.


One last aspect of Siggraph that I want to mention: their incredible organization. During the entire 5 days, despite some big problems that came up for me, not once did the conference structure fail to help or to provide answers. I was amazed at how kind people were how well-managed every event was. I discovered that Siggraph is essentially run by volunteers who give freely of their own time to help make the conference work. I imagine they've been doing this for a long time and it shows.

I urge you to buy a day-ticket to attend Siggraph if it comes to your city or you happen to be able to attend. This is without question one of the most inpiring (and tiring) events I've ever had the pleasure to attend. I feel as if I've only just scratched the surface of what one could get out of the conference. And that's without even talking about the extraordinary Animation Festival that was spread out over 5 days. After spending Friday afternoon at the Nokia Theater watching 3 hours (a small part of the festival), I really am sorry I didn't see more films. This was the best animation in the world without question.

For fun here's a link to one of the films I was enchanted with:

Morula


You can also find out more about Siggraph here. I haven't even touched on half of the things I did and the events I attended. There 's a daily blog at renderosity.com you can check for more. I'll be posting a large flickr picture file soon and will post a link here.


Trippy Machinima Series "Chadam" for Warner Bros.


Quiet Earth is a movie site I visit frequently as the "post-apocalyptic" theme is a favorite and the entire website is devoted to it. Imagine my surprise when I was reading through the description of a trailer for an animated film series called "Chadam" that is to premiere on the Warner Bros. website this Fall, and came across this description:

"CHADAM is an upcoming project that will premier on The WB this fall (wow, they'll actually have a show someone wants to watch for once!) and from the looks of it, it might just be post apocalyptic. The project is based upon characters Alex Pardee created for the rock band The Used. This is supposedly an internet "phenomenon" but I haven't heard of it before now, when the teaser premiered at SDCC.

"Chadam lives as the "chosen one" in the hyper-stylized and exaggerated metropolitan island city of Vulture. His power of imagination is strong enough to physically change his environment and, therefore, his world … to save it from evil. The series will find Chadam in a place of refuge where he and others have retreated to plan their attack against a serial killer known as Viceroy. A dark, emotional action-horror-adventure fantasy story filled with self-discovery, Chadam will come to full 3D animated life via the magic of the Unreal Engine 3, the leading technology and development framework that powers cutting-edge games such as Gears of War and BioShock on today's popular platforms, including PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The Internet series will serve as an incubator for future expansion of the Chadam universe, from additional online episodes to television, film, videogames and more."

An Unreal machinima series on the Warner Bros. website? How did I miss this? Take a look at the trailer which was shown at the recent ComiCon.



Sure makes the Unreal engine look good.

Digging further (the official website is just a photo with no info at this point), I found the MySpace page for the writer/producer, Alex Pardee, which has a lot more info. Alex has a background primarily in graphics and apparel design. He kind a hit it big with graphic design for a group The Used on their album. Now he's doing a machinima series in collaboration with producer Jason Hall and HD Films.
“As film, television and video games continue to evolve, the convergence of their associated tools, techniques and audiences are providing a fantastic opportunity for creative, cost-effective and compelling storytelling such as 'Chadam,'” said Jace Hall, Producer and President of HDFilms. “Utilizing the Unreal Engine 3 as part of our overall production process has enabled us to realize our full vision for the 3D series.”

I'm sure there is a very interesting story behind this production. I'm going to try to contact Alex and see if I can't set up an interview.

Stay Tuned





Machiniplex Premiere: "Demise" by Surgee. August 24th, 12PM Pacific Time

Our next Machinima Premiere will be held on August 24th (Sunday) at 12Pm in Second Life at Hathead's Lounge. We will be screening "The Demise", an excellent World of Warcraft machinima created by Surgee. The production values for this film go far beyond the typical WoW machinima. It's available in a HD quality format at Vimeo right now and there is a nice page of comments and worshop clips provided by Surgee at warcraftmovies.com. We will be posting our streaming and downloadable copy of the film a week before the premiere.

I've been in correspondence with Daniel (Surgee) who is currently in Poland, and it doesn't look like he'll be able to attend the Premiere personally. But he's given me a written statement about the film and it's creation. Also, he hopes to send an audio recording that we will play at the premiere.

Recent financial problems have forced Daniel to sell his computer, so I'll be passing the hat around at the Premiere to come up with a little moola we can pass on to Daniel to get him a new one. Or, does anyone have a decent computer they'd like to donate to Daniel? Shipping to him will probably be costly though. Contact me if you have any ideas.

Expo Update

Over at Machinima-Expo, we've posted about confirmed guests for the Expo. At this point there are five confirmed guests and two corporate ones. We've really gotten great response for the Expo and will be posting more info as we update.

Be sure to submit your film to the Expo! As long as you have approx 25% machinima, we will accept your film for review. All films accepted at the Expo will be shown at least twice and will recieve a certificate of screening.