Machinima – a deeply silly art

I got a message on YouTube:

01geTnM has made a comment on Foetus – 30 years in 3 minutes:

“This paired with the computergames junk you’ve uploaded is really weird

It’s like depth with total idiocy ? What gives ?”

“Depth with total idiocy” – I want that on my tombstone. The “what gives?” question really intrigued me, because there are so many answers to that.

Is he surprised that I have depth? Or that I enjoy silliness? If I think of some of the brightest people I know, one was the CEO who cornered me in a lift to deliver an impromptu test of my knowledge of Disney movies; another is a world class academic who is quite the most flippant person I’ve met; and a third was a politician friend who used to joke about wearing paperclips in their underwear to set off the metal detectors in the House of Commons. Or perhaps it was the actual videos themselves. They may not look like much, but each serves a purpose.

The Foetus one was created to illustrate the Brainwashed interview I did, but much to my frustration I found on uploading the piece that I couldn’t embed the video into the article. It had taken some 15 hours to create – first finding that only some of the MP3s would work with Windows Movie Maker (only the ones ripped from CD or downloaded from Amazon, rather than – and then changing my mind several times about every song clip and photograph used.

Inspired by Zack’s hilarious game dance-off vids (above), my Guild Wars vs Morrowind vs Oblivion video was originally set to Gwen Stefani’s Wind It Up (the original is available at Planet Elder Scrolls), and “sound-swapped” by YouTube for copyright reasons. (Zack himself used the “fair use” argument for his videos and won. I did try to contact the publishers, but they didn’t respond.) The video took 30 hours to record and 10 hours to edit. I had created specially modded game characters for the Oblivion/Morrowind scenes (and used various animation mods), and my guild-mates patiently took my directions to synch up the in-game animations for Guild Wars. At nearly a quarter of a million views, I’m amazed by its popularity, and delighted that people have found it enjoyable.

Silorn Manor was the result of a competition to build a house for the game Oblivion, and I ended up (such is my wont) building a small town. I think I spent about three weeks making the mod. As to the video, “trailers” for mods are pretty common among makers and users of video game modifications. Like any such clip, they’re an illustration and enticement to those who want to see roughly what they’re getting before they investigate further. I was thrilled when Silorn Manor won the competition, and went on to be featured in a number of gaming magazines across the world (ironically, it became my most “successful” mod in terms of exposure, far eclipsing any of the 100+ mods I’d done for Morrowind).

Most of my YouTube videos are trailer-walkthroughs for video game mods, with the exception of two more “machinima” clips.

One is a spoof of Matt Harding’s Where The Hell Is Matt? global travel dance videos (using locations from Oblivion), and the other is a “music video” for Disturbed’s version of Land of Confusion using characters from Fallout 3. I got the idea because the lyrics (especially “these men of steel/these men of power”) so clearly fitted with the themes of the game. Unfortunately, it also fell foul of the copyright filter, but exists in its original form over at Planet Fallout. Here’s Joylock’s superior version of the same idea:

I have a vague idea in my head of making a further machinima clip at some point pitching Bethesda’s games against Bioware’s and setting it to the Foetus song Miracle (I think cinematically some of the cutscenes from Mass Effect 2 and Fallout 3 would go particularly well with parts of the song) – but this time I’d actually get written permission before using the music rather than just hoping for any sort of consistency over at YouTube. Mostly what puts me off is the thought of just how long it would take to make the sort of clip I was intending – I can easily anticipate upwards of fifty hours to create a three-minute video.

I think it would probably be worth it, though, and that’s pretty much the point of machinima. It’s regarded as an inherently silly medium, and I wouldn’t lay claim to actually being any good at it. Like anything else, it takes practice, and that means making a lot of bad ones before you make the good ones. Like the Land of Confusion vid, even the bad ones can have value if they inspire others to better it, and the good ones are as fun and memorable as any other medium of expression.

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