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'The Art of Machinima' Book Review

Ellen Wolff explores how ILMs Stefen Fangmeier mixed cutting edge technology with a bit of old cinema magic to help conjure the retro look of Lemony Snicket.

The Art of Machinima by Paul Marino.

The Art of Machinima by Paul Marino.

Machinima (pronounced mah-shee-ne-mah) is a rapidly maturing medium. According to The Art of Machinima by Paul Marino, machinima has been around in one form or another since the mid 1990s, when the original first person shooter PC game Doom was released. Clever Doom players recorded bits of gameplay, overdubbed some audio and a new art form was born. Marino goes on to detail the history of machinima, showing the art form some considerable, well deserved respect along the way. This is no surprise as Marino points out early in the book he is a founding member of The Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences (www.machinima.org). This section of the book is quite entertaining and informative. Marinos chatty writing style is well suited to this sort of brief history. I would like to read more about the early machinima artists and their efforts to create in this new medium.

Once the book gets past this brief history it jumps right into tutorials. More computer graphics books should follow this example of hitting the ground running. Within a few minutes of cracking this book open the reader is instructed to install Fountainhead Entertainments Machinimation software demo included on the CD-ROM. Its worth noting that the only way to get this demo version of the software is with this book. Its not available for download like many other demo apps. One minor critique is that in order to complete some of the tutorials in the book youll also need a copy of Unreal Tournament 2004. Considering this game is readily available, not terribly expensive and really fun to play, its not a big deal. Once you get Machinimation installed its play time, or more correctly, its directing time. The software puts you in the directors seat and lets you direct rather than animate or some other less apt title. The book takes the reader through various tutorials to acclimate to the Machinimation environment. This is well done and easy to follow. Readers should have some computer experience but need not be experts. As with all games utilizing a 3D engine, a decent PC system is also required, including a high quality modern video card. These things could be more carefully pointed out on the cover, but then again any reader interested in machinimation is most likely not a beginner and will understand the requirements of a 3D engine.

Later in the book the focus shifts to UnrealEd and Matinee, the Unreal level editor and its included camera control system, called Matinee. These tutorials are deeper than the Machinimation ones but also not terribly difficult. What is difficult is putting all of the pieces together within UnrealEd, but again Marino does a thorough job. He is able to explain sound triggers, animation cues and character acting collectively without losing the readers interest or confounding them. This is important for newbies and seasoned filmmakers alike because these technical pieces are the foundation of machinima production. This is a solid part of this book and sure to be referenced continually throughout machinimation productions.

Subsequent chapters continue the straightforward tutorials but also contain some very worthy sidebars. Of note are sidebars breaking down the basics of video compression formats, storyboarding and the legal issues surrounding distributing machinima films that use copyrighted materials such as game characters, weapons and levels. This brings up another minor critique; the lack of focus on creating the content for the films. There are chapters devoted to content creation but they are brief. Marino should follow up with more in depth instruction on how to make great sets and characters specifically for machinima productions.

Machinimation is still mostly of interest to the geek crowd but Marino has the foresight to understand that the medium will only advance if the films are seen by a wider audience. Including a chapter on exporting your machinimation film to an external video format might seem gratuitous at first but Marino is smarter than that. Only if machinimation films are distributed on DVD, played on television and eventually in movie theaters, will they be considered another tool for making real films. This is a book that focuses on making your first machinimation film; readers looking for in depth filmmaking guidance would be better served by supplementary books that are less specific to machinima and its sibling, game development.

I definitely recommend The Art of Machinima by Paul Marino to anyone interested in learning more about the art form. The book is well-written and fairly complete, not to mention its the only machinima book currently available. The lessons are well thought out, I only wish there were more of them. The Art of Machinima is well worth the $39.99 cover price (sure to be discounted online), I hope Marino has plans for a sequel.

3D Game-Based Filmmaking: The Art of Machinima by Paul Marino; Scottsdale, AZ: Paraglyph Press, 2004; ISBN: 1-932111-85-9, softcover, 470 pages, $39.99; CD-ROM included.

Fred Galpern is currently art manager for Blue Fang Games in Waltham, MA. Since entering the video game field six years ago, Fred has held management positions in several other game and entertainment companies, including Hasbro and Looking Glass Studios. Fred began his art career as a comic book creator and also has experience in various graphic design fields He has created characters and developed stories for numerous childrens television series. Fred has satisfied his long-standing interest in education by teaching at several New England colleges. He is an adjunct instructor at Bristol Community College, where he created the curriculum, and also teaches and advises for the electronic games certificate and associates degree programs. Fred is writing his first game development book due for publication next year.

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