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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An interview with Sisch

Short Fuze caught up with Sisch, the creator of Saving Grace, our current featured movie.  Sisch is based in Bonn, Germany, and has been making machinima since December 2005 when she was given The Movies as a Christmas present.

Warning: this interview contains spoilers!

Short Fuze: Let’s kick off by saying Saving Grace was a great movie – one of the best we’ve ever seen in Moviestorm!
Sisch: Thank you!
Short Fuze: How long did it take you to make it?
Sisch: About three months, I think, including script-writing and getting everything together. That’s about how long I normally spend on a “serious” movie, mostly because all my stories are quite long.
Short Fuze: How long have you been using Moviestorm?
Sisch: Since the end of September ‘08.
Short Fuze: So it didn’t take you long to get to grips with it!
Sisch: No – I think it’s very intuitive. I just started playing around one afternoon – learning by doing.
Short Fuze: How does it compare to the Movies, and why did you choose to use Moviestorm for Saving Grace?
Sisch: I just love that I can influence every little gesture myself, change the mood, build my own sets. The Movies is much harder to work with, because you only have so many scenes, and have to constantly hunt for the right facial expressions and movements.
Short Fuze: Do you intend to continue using a mixture of engines in your films?  I think you used three different ones in Saving Grace, is that right?
Sisch: Yes, Moviestorm, The Movies and X3 Terran Conflict – the space footage was filmed in X3. My next project will be done in MS mainly, with some The Movies for background footage and maybe one or two characters.
Short Fuze: So what is your next project, or can’t you tell us?
Sisch:  It’s a remake of a movie a friend of mine made before the release of The Movies Stunts & Effects. A wonderful story, it’s called The Afflicted. The original can still be seen on TMU.
Short Fuze: Is there much of a local machinima community in Bonn, or do you mainly work with people you’ve found online?
Sisch: I only work with people online.  I have no idea if there’s anyone else making machinima in Bonn. Even the Germans I know about are all over the country. Plus I work almost exclusively within the English speaking community.
Short Fuze: did you have any film training or are you self-taught?
Sisch: All self-taught. I do everything by instinct, and get inspired by ‘real world’ movies.

Short Fuze: Is machinima just a hobby for you?
Sisch: Yes! – but it’s much more than that. Because of it, I started taking acting lessons, I started writing again, I started singing… I think my friends regret it to this day, because I spend so much time movie-making now!
Short Fuze: Do you have ambitions to make films professionally?
Sisch: Oh, I don’t know. I love doing this, and I would love to be able to do something related as a full time job, but I’m not actively searching for an opportunity to make movies professionally.
Short Fuze: What made you want to make films in the first place?
Sisch: I want to tell stories. I wrote stories when I was a kid, but forgot all about it. As soon as I got my hands on The Movies and saw the possibilities, I was addicted. I love every aspect of movie making – the visuals, acting, sound design – and I’m a perfectionist. I just love to touch people’s feelings with my movies.
Short Fuze: That passion certainly comes across in Saving Grace. What was the inspiration for that story?
Sisch: It was made for a competition a member of the TMU community made. He had made a film – Distance – for his girlfriend who lives in Australia; he lived in England at the time – and the theme for the competition was Distance.
Short Fuze: What films and stories influenced you in Saving Grace?
Sisch: I like to think I’m not influenced – although I’m aware that is an illusion. I’m interested in how humans react to certain situations – most of my movies deal with difficulties and predicaments, and decisions.
Short Fuze: Did you start with the story and then look for a way to tell it, or did you start by looking at Moviestorm and seeing the possibilities?
Sisch: I always start with one scene I see in my mind’s eye. In the case of Grace, I was seeing a lonely woman in space, with only the A.I. for company.  Then I start thinking about how the person got there.  I never think of limitations when I write my stories.
Short Fuze: Then you have the challenge of how to build what you see in your mind!
Sisch: Yes! I like that challenge.
Short Fuze: Did you have to make any big compromises to film the story?
Sisch: No, not at all.
Short Fuze: Which parts were hardest to film?  What were the big challenges?
Sisch: To get all the gestures right – I spent hours on the scene where she’s having the discussion with AICO in her bedroom, adding layers and layers of gestures, to make her facial expressions just right.
Short Fuze: And are you pleased with the results?
Sisch: Yes. I wouldn’t have released it otherwise. I’m not arrogant – I’m sure there are some things that could be done even better, but I like the movie as it is.

Warning – Spoilers from here on in!

Short Fuze: One bit of the story that particularly made it for me was that the AI would have aborted the mission if Grace had wanted, which is the opposite of the usual convention that the mission overrides all (I’m thinking of HAL in 2001 here). Was that an intentional reverse?
Sisch: Yes. I wanted to show the A.I. learning, and getting more “human” in the process – and realising that with a profoundly unhappy Grace, the mission would be, if not impossible, much harder to accomplish. AnotherNewDawn, the voice actor who played AICO, did a wonderful job – he even sounds a bit more human in the end. One viewer told me he didn’t really get why the A.I. did that – I feel it did it because it had empathy routines, and could understand why Grace was so unhappy.
Short Fuze: That was the impression I got, and it seemed to me that gave comfort to Grace as well and gave her the strength to continue.
Sisch: Yes, that was what I wanted to show.
Short Fuze: To wrap up, what would you like to see Moviestorm do next?
Sisch: I would love to see more gestures – it would be great if we had the possibility to make the characters’ eyes close when we want it, a ‘breathe’ gesture would be nice – adjustable – and a sexy walk feature – real hip-swinging! I’m very much looking forward to the buildings, too. And to get characters to drive cars would be really nice.
Short Fuze: At least you’re not asking for gorillas in ballet dresses on trapezes with light sabres!
Sisch: Now you’re giving me ideas!
Short Fuze: Thank you, Sisch, and thanks again for making Saving Grace.

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