As I am getting more acquainted with the machinima creation process at Electric Sheep, it is becoming clearer to me the difference between "amateur" and "professional" machinima. That is to say, anyone can capture video from a computer game or virtual world and call it machinima (just as anyone can snap a picture with their point-and-shoot and call it photography.) But to be a professional machinima product, there are definite qualitative differences in process and output.
Here is my quick overview some of the key differences between amateur and professional machinima…
I am by no means the expert on these issues, only recently working in a professional machinima environment. But these are what I see as some benchmarks that delineate differences in quality in the field of machinima.
Rik’s Initial List of Characteristics of Amateur versus Professional Machinima
As its basis, a machinima piece must be based on some kind of plan, or at least an outline, of what is going to happen, who is going to say what, and what scenes will divide up the action.
- Amateur: Only a bare-bones script is used, perhaps just a rough outline.
- Professional: Greater care is taken to craft a detailed script that breaks down the action, lines, assets, environment, and effects. At the highest level, a professional script-writer prepares the script. Read Illbixby’s excellent description of how to break down a machinima script.
- Amateur: Video is captured using basic in-world tools, limited camera angles and perspectives.
- Professional: Video is captured using custom or professional video capture software and hardware, an expanded set of camera angles and multiple perspectives. I.e. FRAPS, flycam mode, a joystick camera controller, etc.
- Amateur: The machinimist might be the only actor, simply shooting herself. Or a small number of other volunteers might play different roles.
- Professional: A cast of actors bring the action to life. Skilled "puppeteers" control the avatars’ actions, professional voice actors lend their skills to reading the script.
4. Music / Audio
- Amateur: Audio might be limited to in-world only sounds, or a single soundtrack that runs throughout.
- Professional: Audio might include sounds and audio effects added in post-production, original music, voiceovers, and other audio elements, all mixed using professional audio editing and mixing tools.
5. Visual Effects
- Amateur: Little to no visual effects.
- Professional: Custom visual effects added in post-production using professional software tools.
- Amateur: Editing is done with off-the-shelf free or cheap editing software, i.e. iMovie.
- Professional: Editing is done with a professional suite of tools, i.e. Final Cut Pro.
At the end of the day, it boils down to degrees of planning, personnel, time, and finances. Which is not to say that you need a full production house to produce great machinima. What is so great about machinima as an art form is that a single creative individual can create something that is cinematic, powerful and engaging. In fact, that is how most machinima — even award winning machinima — are created.
But on the professional end of the machinima scale, the process expands to include a large suite of somewhat distinct skillsets and talents that involve a team of people working together in a coordinated and synchronized fashion. Perhaps not PIXAR, but definitely bigger than one geek and his MacBook Pro.
Again, these are my very initial observations. I’m sure in a few months time this list might look very different.