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Indie Filmmaker Insider: How to Make Your Animated Film on the Cheap Using Machinima

Make Your Animated Film on the Cheap Using Machinima

A few years ago I wanted to make an exciting epic sci-fi animated film, but I didn't have any money and I didn't have a crew, cast, or access to a studio or even high end software. So I decided to go an unconventional route: machinima.

Why Machinima?
Machinima is a video game based animation style in which the animator (or machinimator) essentially directs their characters in a premade computer generated environment. This is different than traditional animation that is created cel by cel or computer animation where the animator has to animate and design every single step, breath, and hair follicle of their characters. 

Think of it as the difference between claymation (where you have to create the character and then move its foot, take a picture, move its foot again, take a picture, etc.) and a live action film where the character runs across the stage and the cameraperson follows the actor as he runs. 

One of the key benefits of machinima is its low cost and low processing power needs.

To create an incredible high definition animated flick using computer animation software, your computer really needs to be ready to spend hours upon hours rendering, and you will need the time to wait for this said rendering to take place. Machinima doesn't take near as much time, often only as much real time is passing in the shot. And there are many freeware and shareware products you can use as well as affordable productions like Moviestorm, which I used for my film Libertaria: The Virtual Opera.

Libertaria: The Virtual Opera Official Trailer

If you are just making a fun fan film, something for class, or something noncommercially, you can even use a popular video game to film your machinima. This is how machinima started, as fan videos "filmed" within the video game, with the most popular machinima animation being Red vs. Blue, a comical look at two futuristic warriors using the game Halo.


Machinima software is easy and FUN to figure out.

To be honest, it is downright addicting to watch your characters come to life in front of you quickly in a variety of costumes and sets without a lot of work on your part. But this is where machinima has some drawbacks.

Some key drawbacks of machinima is the poor lip sync, limited animation options, some limits on characters/sets/costumes if you do not know how to design original objects, and sometimes the actual quality of the image in the end product. 

For example, in Libertaria: The Virtual Opera, there were key issues with the lip sync for some scenes. As a stylistic choice, I degraded the quality of the image by using cel shading that mimicked a graphic novel so the images had a "retro video game" quality to them. You can see the difference in quality between my most recent project Destiny: Eondwyr and a still from Libertaria below. 

No Cel Shading Destiny: Eondwyr for Malletkat and Multimedia

Use of Dark Cel Shading and Comic Book text for Libertaria: The Virtual Opera

While this decision had both lovers and haters, this decision was partially made because I felt that the film would be more convincing if it looked like a graphic novel come to life instead of a film trying to imitate Pixar. Using Moviestorm, our team of three animators (Lucinda McNary, Kera Hildebrandt, and myself) were able to create an hour long feature length animation. (In animation, anything over 40 minutes is a feature). 

This would have been impossible had we chose traditional animation or had chosen more complex computer software. Because I also wrote the screenplay, the music, and created the initial soundtrack (final mastering by Patrick Rundblad after a Kickstarter campaign), I did not have the time to create painstaking computer animation because I knew that the project would never be finished. 

Libertaria: The Virtual Opera highlights reel (8 min)

There are many machinima software options available in the marketplace. Some are free or shareware, some are low cost. 

Moviestorm
This is the option I went with. The software was affordable and easy-to-use (there is a demo available for free if you want to check it out). They are also very supportive of their filmmakers and there is a strong machinimator community that will support your work and help out on films.

iClone 5
iClone5 is a real-time 3D animation tool with digital actors, environments, visual effects, drag & drop editing, powerful physics and Microsoft Kinect-ready motion capture; designed for rapid production, creative education and cost-effective pre-visualization.

An online virtual environment where you can actually be creative.

Open source real time animation tool

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