A growing corner of microcinema is the category of Machinima. For those unfamiliar with this trend, Machinima (pronounced by most as “muh-sheen-eh-mah”, also spelled sometimes as Machinema - a play on words of both 'machine' and ‘cinema’) is the use of different programs to re-animate the 3D models used in popular video games to create animated films. (For more information on this, you can see Machinima.org's faq.)
This began in a vengeance with the Red VS Blue series that used Halo footage to make little movies, many of which have been played on G4 television, in addition to a slew of online sites. As Machinima grew in popularity and experienced legal hurdles (such as, “Who technically owns a movie written/directed/created by someone, other than the coders who designed the videogame?”) more and more programs became used in the creation. The Sims 2 became a huge source for Machinima as it allowed for easy exporting of video files and good character animation, as well as being an excuse to replace that oddly endearing “Sim-speak”.
Thus far, Machinima has been rather limiting due to the components that comprise it, along with the difficulty of “reprogramming” video game coding. (Though, honestly, the best Machinima I have ever seen was Wii Bowling characters performing the Lennon scene from The Big Lebowski.)
In an effort to present useful and user friendly tools to create Machinima without the use of proprietary content, thus allowing users to create their own little films and circulate them around the community, comes a piece of software from the UK called Moviestorm. I have spent a few weeks playing with the program and find its initial release very intriguing, if ultimately lacking. After my installation, I did what I always do with programs, ignore instructions and dive right in. After about an hour of confusion and playing that did not seem to produce the appropriate results, I realized that I was in a bit over my head.
I have used 3D design programs in the past, and I am proud to say I know a good deal about computers and design, but I have always found them dense and difficult. Therefore, the prospect of a design program that allows me to start with a fully formed doppelganger and get him to move fluidly throughout a space, by simply selecting the walk and sit commands on the command bar, greatly interested me. I sat down with Moviestorm, my expectations at full tilt, having watched the movies produced with it and I was anxious to utilize the program to do some pre-vis sequences for my next film. However, I found myself distinctly underwhelmed.
Ease of Use
As I said, it is difficult to jump right in and use Moviestorm, simply because the layout is not very intuitive. Menus and categories are not well named or labeled, and things you feel ought to be in one section are not necessarily there. The bottom line problem with having such a huge variety of options (which Moviestorm certainly does) is that it is difficult to find things when you need them. This is probably why programs such as Photoshop lay everything out in straightforward menus across the top. Moviestorm has several pallets of icons that do helpfully have labels when you hover, but ultimately you find yourself searching through all of them to find what you are trying to do.
In addition to these difficulties, saving and loading your project can be difficult and buggy, and loading new add ons, such as new set locations and accessories, is also extremely counterintuitive. Despite several emails towards the tech support, I was unable to get any information about why these new locations were not showing up in the list of locations. There is not much organization to keep the props apart, which explains why for every lamp in my list of props, there is a gun, a knife, a cigarette or an ashtray for the noir film someone other than me is making.
My biggest problem with the program was the dialogue options. In order to have characters chat with each other you must first record each line separately, two wavs. I wonder why you would not be able to import an audio file and mark the speaking characters on it, so they can simply speak back and forth from a single audio file, rather than a long collection.