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A Machinima by Ayman Aneece, Simon Mills and Ryan Robbins

Introduction Machinima is a form of film making using 3D game environments. It is a low cost form of cinema where the film makers are limited by the game engines they use with enough effort and talent amazing productions can be created. Machinima originated as simple fan videos of game walkthroughs or speed runs which, over time, have now become a legitimate form of cinematic art: conveying in-depth stories in either short clips or long, multi-episodic series. Popular machinima series include: Red vs Blue (Halo) including a feature-length film and six seasons, Azerothian Super Villians (World of Warcraft) and Oxhorns short shorts (World of Warcraft). While some games are more suited for machinima than others, some game developers such as Blizzard and Valve have actually begun catering for machinima makers by writing production guides, having dedicated forums on their sites and even releasing tools within the games to make machinima production easier. These developers have come to understand that machinima is a legitimate and popular form of art that promote their games for free. Story and Preproduction To be perfectly honest, we hated the brief. We struggled to come up with a way of incorporating environmental story telling with a socio political issue. I had originally come up with a plot for a Garrys Mod using turrets from Portal involving a handicapped turret going through turret training. It was a relatively unimaginative plot about discrimination and involved cameos from various characters from other Valve games such as Team Fortress 2 and Half Life. Regrettably due to the limited control of the environment we thought Garrys Mod would be a poor choice. However Garrys Mod excelled at everything else, including tools for lighting, weather and character movement and animation. At one point we played around with the Unreal Development Kit or UDK, unfortunately we had little experience with it and though it was slightly more familiar and easier to use that Bryce, it was rather alien. After these forays into multiple engines, we realized that the story was shaped largely by the engine we used, not the ideas we had. (an explanation of how you came to minecraft)

The Triumph of Greed: Munneh Munneh

After we became fixed to the idea of using Minecraft as our game of choice, we went through several ideas including a global warming / flooding scenario but due to the limited water physics in Minecraft this idea was swiftly dropped. In the last month after the Rena hit the reef and began leaking oil we considered and began planning a Minecraft rendition of the Rena, regrettably this was later dropped as we realised wed have to use stop motion to animate any movement of ships or oil. Stop motion we already knew would be time consuming and really choppy so we left that idea to the vultures. Though we were unsure of our plot, the general theme always reverted to capitalism and at the cost of the environment is bad (what the fuck does this even mean? Here's a better version) After a time, we came up with a simple idea capitalism at it's worst is bad for both citizens and the environment. After a lengthy discussion I had a flick through some news article on stuff.co.nz and remembered my previous outrage when the National Party said theyd be mining national parks. Though we were unable to create a national park with kiwi and other native New Zealand species we decided to create a similar scenario with a bunch of business men who had less money in their coffers than they wanted and decided to blow up a forest and its inhabitants (farmers, villagers and wildlife) to mine the rich mineral deposits underneath it to inject some funds into their already well lined wallets. So we began story boarding. We had originally thought to start in the happy village, using warm colours such as soft browns and woody textures with a hint of stone to give the village a well kept yet rustic aesthetic. We also planned to shoot the village during the day, in the bright sunlight, but the original scene wasnt used and the village was shot at night. During the final act we still used the warm colours and bright lights in the village pub to convey the homefulness of the villiage and comradarie of the citizens. We settled on shooting the finale at night because it was climactic and suspenseful, and the dark atmosphere lent itself to the narrative. We planned to shoot long ranged shots of the cityscape to give it an oppressive, lonely sense and casually have a figure jump off one of the sky scrapers, this footage was shot using Screen Cap a buggy peice of software that we realised in post production was completely unusable and we had to make do with the close ups we had shot in fraps earlier. This, again, didnt work out how we had planned and so we ended up using still images we took of the cityscape before we made the jumper the primary focus of the opening scene. This definitely went against our plans, mostly because it didnt look very good and portrayed the wrong message, but due to time pressure we had no choice.

Anyway the business men were to have a meeting where Mr Money bags (green suit, top hat and evil moustache) explained that they all werent rich enough so they should use TNT to blow up a forest which has high mineral deposits underneath it, they celebrate this genius idea. We had originally decided that the villagers would hear the rumbling of the diggers and prevent the explosion just in the nick of time but we decided that the message would be harder hitting if they failed. We ended on the quote Simon had found. Interestingly Simon mentioned it very early on in production and I decided that was perfect and we should work around it. We didnt want much dialogue because we wanted it to be understandable universally, we wanted the viewer to interpret it and in the finale we opted for not having any dialogue at all and let the music and the environment tell the story. Having designed a bulk of the environment with Simon I wanted music that told the story, inspired from childhood memories of films like Fantasia(1927) and Fantasia 2000 (1999). World Design Before I discuss world design I should first explain how construction in Minecraft works. When a level in Minecraft is started it generates natural biomes which then can be altered by the player. The whole area is a creative game space and the player is only limited by their imagination. This makes altering the environment very easy; however Minecraft is highly lacking in several areas including: Control of weather mechanics, natural world generation, in game time of day, character animation and design and control of NPCs. This meant we had to find a forest and alter it to our needs, time our shots to match the weather and time of day we wanted and build the entire city area block by block. So we had two main environments -the cityscape and the forest, within the cityscape was the conference room and the office and within the forest was the village, the demolition site and the pub. The exterior of the city was designed to be huge, oppressive and cold. We shot it primarily at night and in the rain to make it dreary and unpleasant. We had little symbols of capitalism everywhere, including the apple logo, a Starbuck's and a McDonald's, so as to make it appear more commercial and familiar. Cold blues and dull greys of concrete were used to emphasise the hostility and confinement of the city. We wanted to give the viewer a sense of entrapment as the cityscape is walled off in all four directions. The interior of the city scape buildings were lush and wealthy: we used a combination of dark woods, sage green and gold to infer a sense of smugness and wealth, while also using the grey lifeless concrete walls to remind the viewer of the surrounding city.

The forest and the village used lighter coloured woods for the most part and a different grey stone texture, the village also was better lit, had a warm hue to it and warm red textures, it also had people moving around and the pub was a loud and roaring place, with warm woody tones and bright red tables. The village was also strewn with flowers and mushrooms. The forest had dark green pine trees had animals and small plants to brighten it up. The forest was shot in the dark because it needed to be forboading to build suspense, but in the original we were going to have a scene in the forest before the arrival of the business men. The forest after the explosion was the final major scene; this literally involved the demolition of a segment of an already existing forest and then setting fire in it. The only lighting was that coming from the flames, it was actually quite sad to blow it up and set the trees a light but it had to be done (we found it difficult to destroy the scenery, having become so attatched to it). The final addition was that of the same grey stone floor the same colour of the city. This was used to demonstrate the infective properties of capitalism. Character Design Character design and animation is incredibly limited in Minecraft. The only customisation is altering the blocky skin, shape cannot be altered in any way and posture and expression cant be changed either. Skinning a character is a long process where each pixel is altered, loaded onto the Minecraft website then reloaded onto that players unique account. This was incredibly time consuming but ultimately worthwhile. We created a bank of about twelve different skins and only used about 10. This was primarily due to editing scenes and characters out. All the business men where in suits of plain or dark colours and Mr. Money bags was in a rich sage green outfit like the carpet of his office. The villagers were in plain clothing and bright colours they had less noise on their outfits and I went to great lengths to make them look quaint. We had initially written a script and line for each character but just before we began shooting we decided it would be better if the business men only spoke in money (I think this was originally Ryans idea) and because they are so rich and posh they pronounce it munneh. The villagers were more human, they spoke and laughed and in the original cut cried when they found their forest blown up. Music Unfortunately it wasnt until very late into post production we decided we preferred having no sound and using only the music and the environment to tell the story. As I mention before, the villagers cried and wept in the first cut, this was removed when we decided the finale would only consist of music. I believe that the last two pieces of music (Hypnotica and

Arthas my Son) were very powerful and conveyed exactly what we had initially envisioned. I made sure during the editing phase to synchronise parts of the video with specific parts of the songs, primarily the pushing of the dynamite plunger and the final explosion, the most important synchronisation of sound for me personally was the fading of the quotation, just as that final cry in Arthas My Son, Simon and I spent almost an hour in front of his computer just synchronising that one segment. Largely the rest of the music was used to aid the environment; the initial cityscape shots to Motzarts Requiem in D minor established a powerful and old place, the second piece (Rando in D major- Mozart again) we used to aid the classy and wealthy atmosphere of Mr. Money Bags office. The pub music King of the Fairies was used to aid the quaintness and folkish nature of the villagers while Hypnotica interrupted as the build up to the crescendo unfolded. I chose Hypnotica by Two Steps from Hell because it reminded me of Requiem in D Minor, so not only did the business men bring the darkness and the dull grey to the lush green forest, they brought everything about them. Final Notes Regrettably we ran out of time in post production to polish and round the edges off, so some segments were choppy. We used Adobe Premier CS5 and it was our first time using it. Minecrafts limitations were very apparent but I think we did an amazing job with it this was primarily due to Simons amazing editing even though he was relatively new with CS5. We found that Simon was best at the technical side of things such as filming and editing and world building and I excelled at designing and writing as well as selecting the music, Ryan whos computer couldnt handle any of the programs very well filled in odd jobs and assisted where he could. The three of us all fell into our own roles and we worked reasonably smoothly. Ryan had to leave early on both nights to catch the bus home while I stayed nights at Simons house where we worked until about 3 am every night. Simon had already built outlines of the city and I simply added details to make it look more varied and realistic. I feel the message we tried to get across was important, initially we had happened on it just to get the project done but half way through I reached a point where I personally began to take it seriously. I am personally against the mining of national parks and although we didnt directly attack the National Party we presented a simple reminder of how important the environment is. We used the villagers as human examples of the hundreds of species whos homes would be destroyed if we allowed the mining in our national parks, though admittedly we used humans initially because Minecraft only allows for human characters we realised that it was also a good was of humanising the entire situation.

Ayman Aneece Below we wrote a short paragraph explaining our individual roles: I was director, I told everyone where to stand when we filmed, I told everyone when they were meant to jump etcetera. I was also in charge of designing the environments alongside Simon. I designed all of the characters and created the slides for the slideshow which Simon later cleverly edited into the film. I also was in charge of finding and selecting the music as well as timing everything during the final editing stages. I made most of the decisions primarily because Ryan didnt care and Simon was usually indecisive or in agreement with me. I found Simon and I worked very well together and his technical skills complimented my design skills very well. He would build huge scale buildings and Id add the little details that made them more lifelike. During pre and post production Ryan was mostly absent (due to reasons out of his control) so Simon and I made most of the decisions. This did not mean Ryan didnt help where he could. I really enjoyed arranging the music and building alongside Simon and we are considering making a machinima series over the holidays. Ayman Aneece I was in charge of all the technical stuff, for example: My computer ran the server that we filmed the machinima on, I ran the camera player during filming and I also edited together all of the film during post-production. Running the server on my computer was the obvious choice as my computer is the fastest, whilst running the server I had to make sure that it was running smoothly and that all of the actors had the right server privileges in order for them to do all that was required of them. As the Camera man I was the person who used a screen capture program (FRAPS) to capture the film that we wanted. This involved me running the capture at the right times and directing the actors around the sets. Editing was the hardest and most time consuming part of the whole job. I used Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 because I had used it before and it was the best program for the job. I imported all of the recorded video in and clipped the shots that we wanted in the right order. Then I added the sound effects that Ayman, Ryan and I had recorded. After minor tweaks to the story Ayman chose the music that we wanted to use and I placed that over the film in the right parts. I also added video transitions and fade in/out effects to the music. I was also a major component of the set building in the early stages of production. I chose the sites that the sets were placed and began building the city-scape. I built the majority of the big

buildings in the set, also the roads and the light effects in on the buildings. I used redstone to make the lights change and also for the fuse to light the dynamite in the final scene. I used redstone repeaters with a delay to slow the fuse down so that we could have the final shot of the camera following the fuse as it lit. After all of the building, filming and editing we published the final cut into a single .avi file. Simon Mills Ryans laptop struggled to run Minecraft making it difficult for him to contribute heavily with the construction of the environment. He helped with the building part of the commercial district and did little bits and pieces where possible. He also contributed to the voice acting in several scenes and was involved in the discussion of ideas whilst building and shot selection. Ryan Robbins