Favourite Films of 2008 - Hugh

It’s been a fairly quiet year for Machinima, and as such, I’ve got a pretty short list of Machinima favourites from 2008. Oddly, only two of them are really and truly Machinima…

  • The Dumb Man - One of the few Second Life Machinima pieces I’ve really enjoyed. This surreal short plays to the strengths of the engine, with beautiful characters, varied, detailed and abstract sets, and minimal realistic interaction or animation. The interpretation Lainy Voom, aka Trace Henderson, puts on the story told in voiceover is just abstract enough, and the cinematography is lovely. Finally, the voiceover itself, by Alex Wilson, brings the entire thing together. Great work, and a really good example of choosing a project to fit an engine’s strengths. Watch it here

  • The Monad - I’ve enjoyed Sam Goldwater’s previous realistic, documentary-style, highly politicised work a lot, but The Monad is really where he’s pushed it over the limit to a really high-quality film. The story’s sophisticated, the dialogue is well-written and extremely well directed and acted, and the lighting and cinematography uses the Half-Life 2 engine to stunning effect. It looks almost like a 35mm film shot with a £100,000 budget, it’s seamless as Machinima - you don’t need to know or appreciate anything about games to enjoy the film - and he’s genuinely exploring interesting issues. And finally, and most importantly - you believe in and care about the characters. As a Machinima creator, it’s worth watching on many, many levels - the power of the facial animation, the difference that great dialogue and acting can make, and the incredible mood of the lighting and cinematography - within a game engine. My film of the year. Watch it here

  • The Demise - A beautiful, almost Disneyfied fairy tale/love story. The Demise is notable for being only tenuously Machinima - just about every frame has been altered if not outright drawn in Photoshop, and the animation style is mostly classic cel-animated 2D. However, the technique works - the frames are indeed beautiful, the characters are allowed to have emotion and reaction (normally a big problem for WoW Machinima), and it’s a lovely, simple story. A brilliant example to study for when and where conventional 2D drawn animation works better than Machinima, and can be combined with it. Watch it here

  • The Craft of War: Blind is not Machinima at all. It’s not even slightly Machinima, but conventional 3D hand animation, produced by exporting WoW models into 3D Studio Max. Nonetheless, if you want to see the future of Machinima as animation gets more sophisticated and motion capture gets cheaper, or if you want some pointers for areas that your Machinima could improve upon, watch this film. Lovingly shot with stunning animation and a surprisingly sophisticated and understandable storyline (and, to be fair, a very, very odd choice in soundtrack), it demonstrates how well-chosen shots and fluid animation can utterly transform often stiff and lifeless game characters. I like it because it’s fast, exciting, and fun. Watch it here

Honourable Mentions

World of Workcraft couldn’t be more in-jokey, but it’s slick, well-produced and excellently acted. I particularly love the opening - one of the best epic combat sequences I’ve ever seen shot in WoW. Overman’s Radiohead video, Bodysnatchers is a great demonstration of post-production filtering and a really nice experimental piece, although some sequences maybe go on a bit long. And Northrend Wonderland is absolutely classic WoW comedy Machinima - a nicely-shot parody song with great acting. It doesn’t break new ground, but it’s still darn good fun.

What will we see in 2009? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to it.