November 1st 2008, filmmakers from around the world converged in New York to celebrate and discuss the art of Machinima. I was happy to see many familiar faces and meet others whom I only knew virtually. I participated in the Interfacing Virtual Actors panel along with Dr. Ken Perlin, 3D guru and Academy Award winner, Armondo Troisi of Bioware (Mass Effect), and Matt Kelland of Movie storm. GameSetWatch.com has excellent festival coverage in a two part series. Here is an excerpt from their article that details the Interfacing Virtual Actors panel. Below are some photos from the event.
Photo Album: View Machinima Festival Photos
from GameSetWatch.com – Read full article
Interfacing Virtual Actors
The first panel I caught saw each speaker touching upon the concept of game technology as being in essence “live theater…enabling creative decisions in real-time, in the moment.” In that sense, machinima can be best described as digital puppetry.
Each person provided his own viewpoint, as well as technical solution to the struggle of getting virtual beings to look, act, and feel real. Perhaps the two most interesting examples, simply due to their bold-faced differences, were provided by Armando Troisi and John C. Martin.
Troisi, the lead cinematic designer at BioWare, demonstrated a bit of the work that went into animating the principle characters in Mass Effect. The system is a extremely complex one that allows for a wide range of complex human-like emotions to be created and adjusted by the numerous artists behind the game.
As sophisticated as the underlining technology might be, it’s hardly automatic; Troisi noted that everything must go through “the hands of God” — the aforementioned artists who ultimately control the show.
Serving as a counterpoint was the animation suite from Martin’s company, Reallusion; iClone simplifies the process for aspiring filmmakers who lack a certain degree of resources and technical know-how, when compared to BioWare’s experience for example, by providing drag-and-drop tools that take the concept of puppets on a stage to a far more literal level.
The real proof in the pudding was watching Martin animate a video game-like character realistically using the WASD keys. Traditionally, even the simple act of creating a walking animation has been a struggle for many users. Here, it remains quick and dirty, nothing close to resembling BioWare’s final product.
But it works, and is immediately accessible by using a visual language that every gamer, even the most casual ones, can understand. In a Q&A session, most participants agreed that “reality is overrated” and that photorealism is simply a stylistic choice. As was also noted, “the actors in real movies are real, but they can’t help it — they’re real!”