Edinburgh-based Strange Co. have released the first part of BLOODSPELL, a computer-animated feature film. Using computer games technology and machinima, a new way of making animated films, the studio was able to complete the film in under three years, with a mostly volunteer staff and a budget of less than 5,000 pounds.
BLOODSPELL, an action/adventure fantasy film, tells the story of a world in which some people carry magic in their blood - when their blood is spilled the magic is released. It follows the adventures of Jered, a monk of the magic-hating Church of the Angels, as he discovers he is one of the "blooded" and has to flee for his life into the bizarre magical underworld.
The film was shot using the visual technology of the computer game, NEVERWINTER NIGHTS. Using the game's graphics to create the visuals for the film, Strange Co. was able to shoot the film for a fraction of the millions of pounds companies such as Pixar and DreamWorks spend on animated epics.
But in order to use the computer game as a film set, Strange Co.'s exec producer Hugh Hancock had to come up with some unusual workarounds. If a character in BLOODSPELL looks around for a reaction shot, it is because there's a dragon standing behind his co-star. If there's a low-angle shot that needs to be taken, Hugh's got the ideal cameraman an invisible badger.
"Modern computer games have immense graphical capabilities, which we've harnessed for BLOODSPELL," said 28-year-old Hancock, who has worked on machinima films for the BBC and Scottish Screen. "But they're not really designed for filmmaking, so we have to find some bizarre ways to get the shots we need. If we need a low shot, for example, we use one of the in-game spells to make our cameraman into a badger, then turning him invisible and film the scene from his perspective!"
Available on the Internet for only a few weeks so far, BLOODSPELL has already attracted widespread attention, with articles in The Guardian and trendspotter website BoingBoing, as well as an appearance on CNN. Technology commentator and science fiction author Cory Doctorow said, "There's some damned fine storytelling and editing/production work here. Machinima is still finding its legs, discovering what it's for, and the Strange Com. folks are at the forefront of using the medium for feature-length drama."
BLOODSPELL may be attracting attention due to Hancock's controversial decision to release BLOODSPELL for free under the Creative Commons project. While Hollywood is becoming increasingly desperate to curb movie piracy, Hancock's film is available free on the Internet for anyone to download and under the Creative Commons mantle, downloaders can also freely share the film with their friends, via the Internet or in person. More than 30,000 people have viewed the first part so far.
"It just doesn't make any sense for us to restrict what our viewers can do with BLOODSPELL," said Hancock. "I'm not convinced that it makes sense for anyone to do that, in fact. But for a small filmmaker, the struggle to gain exposure is a far bigger problem than that of piracy. I know of larger, more expensive films than ours, which have never even been released, and have ended up sitting in their maker's basement. Thanks to our releasing BLOODSPELL free to download and share, that's never going to happen to us."
BLOODSPELL is available for free download from www.bloodspell.com.
Creative Commons (www.creativecommons.org) is a nonprofit organization that offers flexible copyright licenses for creative works, offering alternatives to the traditional "all rights reserved" copyright. Controversial aspects to the licenses include the ability to freely distribute works offered under Creative Commons, provided no commercial transaction takes place.
NEVERWINTER NIGHTS is a bestselling computer game produced by Canadian developers Bioware (www.nwn.bioware.com). A fantasy/adventure game, it achieved success partially through the revolutionary tools distributed with the game, allowing players to make their own games within the NEVERWINTER NIGHTS engine.