Why videogames may be the way forward in opening up the barriers of low budget amateur film making.
I have two major creative outlets in my life that bring me great joy… writing and filmmaking. Writing obviously is the easiest one to do as you require no budget, no other people and you are completely unbounded by reality and obstacles. A pen and paper will do the job perfectly fine if your computer decides it has had enough of life and spontaneously combusts.
Filmmaking is very much the opposite… it’s hard work to even get a small project successfully off the ground and an expensive art form to get right in reality. You’ve got the expenses and procurement issues around props and costumes, where your locations for filming are and getting the necessary permissions, actors, sound and scheduling considerations. Even basic film making equipment can set you back hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
Those limitations and difficulties, whilst an enjoyable challenge, are still a huge blocker towards making that high octane action film that’s been swimming around in my head for years, and why I may be looking to videogames in the future to provide the answer.
Machimina hit the big time with the release of Halo and was popularised by the Red Vs Blue webisodes that used the in-game engine to create short comedy clips. An even earlier example could be found in the Driver game by reflections in 1999 where you could record your own car chase scene and then go into the film director mode to work out the camera angles in which your epic car chase would be replayed.
More recently, this trend is showing some positive signs of growth. Rockstar created a Movie Maker function which was added into the PC version of GTA IV that raises some exciting possibilities about the increased freedom that videogames could give to the amateur film maker.
Here you had all the assets, actors and props ready to go. You had unlimited access to any location within an entire city and free reign to do whatever you want. Suddenly so many shackles have been removed and you are truly free to create the film you’ve always wanted to create without worrying about green screens, lighting rigs and whether your sound man actually pressed the record button. What is really inspiring is that Rockstar have recognised the potential for the gaming and film making community and actually built a tool to help those who have always wanted to create something that would be incredibly difficult to stage in the real world.
Whilst not necessarily built entirely by the in game movie making tool, one of my personal all time favourite examples of film making within a game is the feature length film The Trashmaster.
Produced by Mathieu Weschler over two years and requiring over 4TB of hard drive space, it delivers an incredible example as to how anyone with a decent spec PC can create impressive action sequences and stirring cinematography, without the considerable overheads that are only open to those in the high echelons of the film making industry.
Obviously there are limitations, you are limited to the game world created by the developers. Unless you have the right knowledge and skills to be able to design new assets and incorporate them into the game engine, you will always be slightly hemmed in with what you can do. But still you have significantly more freedom than you do in the real world.
Rockstar aren’t the only ones to understand this potential. Valve recently launched the beta version for Source Filmmaker, a tool that allows people to animate their own films based on the source engine that powers Team Fortress 2, Counterstrike Source and Half Life 2.
This gives you a much greater range of tools to construct your film with, you can sync lips to speech and control every aspect of your actors face such as eye positioning and nostril flaring (seriously).
This is a time consuming process however and animation comes with a very different difficulty threshold compared to normal film making. But the Source Filmmaker itself offers an impressive array of slider settings and any game you own that uses the Source Engine can have its assets imported into your film.
I played around with both the beta version of the Source Filmmaker and the inbuilt GTA IV movie tool recently. Of the two I found the Source Filmmaker to be the most free form and the one with the most difficult learning curve which is a result of the application being a pure animation tool in its own right.
GTA IV is obviously a little more restricted, it essentially records the game you are playing and then gives you all the camera set up options in the editing suite. With some clever editing you could easily knock up something as good as the early shootout scenes in The Trashmaster.
What excites me is if other developers, spurred by Valve’s recent effort, also try to release tools that make in-game movie making easy and accessible for all. It would be great to see Rockstar, in particular, ramp up their Movie Making component in GTA V and give PC and console players a chance to fully manipulate the world around them. Added freedom could be given by allowing the directors to fully manipulate characters in the scene, as you can do in the Source Filmmaker. As developers improve the motion/facial capture process and graphics become more advanced, the lines between what has been filmed and what has been recorded from an in-game engine could easily begin to blur.
And if they need any further convincing, imagine the opportunities for DLC. You could create a whole new brand of content geared specifically for those wishing to create films within the game world. New costumes, animations, cars, maybe allowing the filmmaker to swap around to alternative geographies and climates or time periods. You could offer a complete re-skin of the buildings, roads and cars to something a bit more futuristic or provide the director with a wider set of editing tools and post-production options.
Low budget film making is an enjoyable challenge and if you are patient enough to wade through YouTube, there are some fantastic examples of what people can achieve with very little. But sometimes you just want to create a big all out Nolan-esque action film and the sad reality is that a staged set piece in Battlefield 4 or GTA V is about as close as many of us will get to pulling off something of that magnitude.