Hugh's favourite Machinima films of 2009

Favourite films of 2008 - Hugh

As I mentioned in my review of the year yesterday, it’s been rather a quiet year for Machinima. Nonetheless, there have been some simply fantastic films released, several of which haven’t recieved the kind of widespread acclaim that they deserve. Indeed, I’d say all of my favourite films this year deserve to have viewing figures in the hundreds of thousands - yet only one has, and that’s only barely over 100,000.

  1. Warrior’s Dream

Good god this piece of World of Warcraft Machinima is good. A very simple tale of a young man - or Tauren, as the case may be - and his dream, it’s probably my favourite piece of the year. The editing and cinematography are amongst the best I’ve ever seen in any Machinima - incredibly cinematic. The story itself is both surprising, moving and touching - there’s even a love story in there, all in 4 minutes or so. Made for the Blizzard Machinima contest this year, it won third place, proving once again that the ones to watch in the Blizz contests are never the winners. (The Demise just missed out on winning last year).

The film was inspired by Fantasia, and is certainly led by the stunning musical score. It’s got absolutely none of the clunks you’d normally expect with a WoW movie, and a lot of subtle post-production touches (check out the sunbeam) that really make it stand out.

If you don’t play WoW, you’ll need to know that the cow people are called Taurens, they’re the enemies of the humans in plate armour, and that they can choose, amongst other things, to be either a warrior (sword, shield) or a druid (shapechanging and magic) at the start of the game. That should do you. Now go watch this incredible movie.

  1. Clockwork

If there’s one thing that’s rare in Machinima creation - or anywhere in filmmaking - it’s the ability to tell a serious, complex story. On that front, 2009 has been a very good year.

Clockwork’s a Clockwork Orange-inspired dystopian short. I can’t really say more than that without spoiling the plot, save to say this - it’s possibly the best piece of storytelling in Moviestorm so far. It’s not perfect, by any means - it’s a bit overwritten in places, the acting occasionally has flaws, and the Moviestorm engine rears its uglier head from time to time with flickering shadows and flat lighting. But its strengths far outweight its weaknesses.

The visual aesthetic and camerawork, for starters, are both fantastic. Iain Friar, the director, has managed to put together a sophsticated, coherent noir visual that puts many broadcast efforts to shame. There’s some genuinely iconic shots here, whether you’re talking about the droogs heading across the landscape or government meeting shot mostly in moving shadows.

The writing takes risks - sometimes it gets it wrong, but far more often it gets it right. And the world Iain presents is interesting and complicated. It’s not subtle - the future has abolished democracy - but it’s moody, it’s more complicated than a 10-minute short has any right to manage, and it’s compelling. And the lead character’s a genuinely memorable figure.

Machinima storytelling that, frankly, puts most of the BBC’s efforts this Christmas to shame? More of this, please.

  1. Shelf Life Part 1

And talking of TV-quality storytelling - Shelf Life.

It’s an enormous pity that Valve aren’t more interested in licensing Source to Machinima creators, because some of the most watchable Machinima of the last few years has used it for its startlingly detailed, expressive characters. Pixel Eyes appear to have picked up the mantle of Lit Fuze, and are running with it to even more interesting places.

Shelf Life, of which only the first part (approximately 16 minutes) is available, appears to be a TV-style drama treading somewhere between The Prisoner and Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. Complex, detailed, with fantastic action sequences, great voice work, and a genuinely intriguing plot involving memory downloading and dubious science, it’s moody, atmospheric, and thanks to great Faceposer work, easily as watchable as any other TV or film. I can’t wait for the next part - I want to know what’s going on - and I could really see it, if only there was some kind of commercial possibility for the engine, turning into a full-length TV-style series.

Occasionally it feels a little too slow, and the action sequence in part 2 is a bit protracted. But it’s deliberately moody, it’s tremendously well-acted and edited, and it fulfils something I’m always looking out for - Machinima enabling people who don’t have a Hollywood studio to outdo the so-called professionals at their own game.

  1. Honourable Mentions

  • Phil “Overman” Rice has produced about a million films this year, but I was a particular fan of Blast Supper, a spot-on parody of Hollywood trailers.

  • Lainy Voom’s Fall really showed off just how beautiful Second Life Machinima can be.

  • And lastly, an odd choice - Slashdance’s Slashdance vs Ulduar. It’s contentless, it’s basically a guild promo, but it’s just SO damn atmospherically shot.