Do filmmakers really think about every single detail and nuance in their films? Or does the film’s brilliance happen with social praise?

April 28, 2010 at 1:09 pm (Machinima)

Vertical lines mean suspense, the feeling of being enclosed

One of the biggest criticisms of machinima is that it looks too familiar, perhaps too familiar. “Isn’t that the Sims?” 🙂  “Oh.. that’s that Second Life thing, isn’t it?”

Ok ok, I see what you’re saying. Sometimes it looks like its 3 frames a second, all the avatars look like newbs, and a simple breathing, idle animation makes an avatar look like they have a “rocking back and forth” disorder. So, I got inspired to write this article about how YOU CAN AVOID MAKING IT LOOK UNNATURAL! I showed a dear friend of mine some samples of my fav. all-star machinima and she refused to believe it was Second Life, “Are you kidding? I could go spend 5k on a good computer right now and I would NEVER see that!”  The thing is, the best machinima that’s out there is winning animation festivals and completely turning heads- and most of it doesn’t look like Second Life! I myself have been guilty of starring at Ill Clan’s machinima and muttering, “You’ve got to be kidding me! They must have some modified version of Second Life on speed.”  After working with the good guys at the Clans for a couple weeks as their newb machinimatographer and also doing some projects for other cool folks in my web, I learned a few techniques and secrets. What’s the secret, exactly? It’s just a matter of “tricking” the eye. Good old camera tricks that will never get old! And that my friends, is it!

I pledge that for the next couple weeks, I’ll make this into a series of ways how to make a machinima look more realistic. This week, I’ll start with style. Other weeks I’ll  talk about character animations. For now, this will give you a good start!


Style is the biggest key ingredient here. If you’re are telling a good story, people will be sucked into it if you can visualize it for them. The less people “notice” the elements of production, the more they’ll

Oh Warmth. Why does it make us feel so fuzzy?

focus on the characters. That’s what you want to happen! You don’t want them to be aware of the filmmaking. I recently got a little wrist slap from a client who asked me about the colorization at the end of a film, showing a woman leaving her man in a canoe by herself. I upped the colors + saturation and patted myself on the back at how pretty it was. Her response was, “What made you do this? What is it achieving?” I kind of blinked twice and didn’t have an answer. Isn’t their separation and yearning supposed to be a dark time? Why are the colors pastel blue like the Little Mermaid? Lesson learned!

Think about the story and the feeling it gives you. Now close your eyes and feel that mood, and a color will come to you inside your eyelids. I’m serious– try it. Close your eyes… Interesting, isn’t it? The best way to start thinking about Style if this doesn’t come to you naturally at first is to watch movies. In film school, one of the biggest things we asked was, “Do the filmmakers really think about every single shot and every little nuance like they’re OCD? Or does the brilliance come by accident, in other words, do WE mark it as brilliant even though it’s subjective.” To this day, I can’t answer that. I think it’s a little bit of both? But I have no doubt that directors do sit there, long and hard, and throw themselves into the story.

We are visual creatures and we learn to think visually. It’s important to provide that experience for your audience. A shaft of light entering a room may symbolize upcoming hope. A long dark hallway may symbolize hardships. Seeing more into the room gives you a feeling of space and depth. Which of these types of elements is fitting for your story?

I hope your day was nothing like this!

So now I invite you guys to share– What was something you did today that was important? Maybe you visited someone in the hospital, watched kids in the park and reminisced? If you were to film yourself, what would it look like? Would the shots be fast and constantly moving to keep up with youth and childhood? Would they be long and from far away to symbolize saying goodbye to a loved one (like the closing of a scene)? Ok, hopefully not the latter! But share, share.



  1. Rgrove said,

    What a great post! I’ve been thinking about style in Machinima/Animation for many years know and you’ve covered the subject well. Personally, I like the idea that a smart director works out their notions of style before and during the filmmaking process. Your questions are all ways to stimulation the imagination and get people thinking/feeling about the stories they are working on. Couldn’t agree with you more.

    I know of no better way to learn about style than to study very closely films that you admire and that move you. How do they achieve their effects? Watch a favorite scene over and over until you have it memorized. Break it down shot by shot.

    And I like your idea of using your own life as material to learn style. Here’s my contribution: I had a nightmare of being lost at the University trying to get to the theater to run the sound for a play, but I couldn’t find my way. I kept getting lost in buildings and no one knew how to get out. I’d shoot it in very bright light with even pace at the beginning. The camera would be mostly medium shots. As I get more frantic, the camera would move in, the lighting would get darker and all the buildings would loom over me. Sound would be normal at the beginning, but become increasingly sparse as the dream got worse and worse. Eventually, there would only me and the darkness with looming building that are just slabs of varying darkness.

    PS love that shot of Stalker at the end of the article. One of my favorite films. Talk about style, Tarkovsky had it in spades. Did you know he shot most of the film before he realized that the people developing the raw film had ruined it. He decided to start all over again. Amazing determination. His book “Sculpting in Time” is a revelation.

  2. Ariella said,

    Thanks for your comment, it really gets my gears moving! I can’t believe some of the earlier filmmakers, they had no precedent to go off of and I can only imagine their sheer determination. I often wonder if it was hard to live a normal life with the amount of time it required to create the masterpieces they did. They must have lived and breathed film. You really have to have a second skin to be able to fall off the horse and get back up, time and time again. How easy it was, back then and even now to fall short of your expectations when you have a vision you wish to share. I really admire those who keep going!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: