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Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all of you. We’ve enjoyed watching your movies throughout 2010, and we’re excited to see what’s coming in 2011. We’re proud to be a part of such a vibrant creative worldwide community, and we’re proud that we’ve been able to contribute.

One of the things we really value is that this community isn’t just about people who use Moviestorm. It includes people who are involved with making movies with a huge variety of tools, or who just focus on one aspect of movies. There are writers, musicians, artists, voice actors and modders, as well as director/producers who do everything. This community spans the world of live action, iClone, The Movies, and more. It sprawls out across hundreds of sites, each with their own focus and specialisation. Every blog, every facebook page, every tweet, every video posted to YouTube or Vimeo - they all contribute to a growing wave of people who are making movies without big budgets, without studio backing or interference. Some are doing it professionally or for work, some are doing it as a step towards a career in film or TV, and most are doing it purely for fun.

And it’s not just the filmmakers who make this community work. It’s everyone who watches these home-grown movies. Every comment, every rating, every suggestion makes a difference. When Dave and I made our first movie, about seven years ago, it was the encouraging comments from other people that spurred us to give up our day jobs and focus 100% on making Moviestorm. More than anything, we wanted other people to experience the thrill of making a movie, and the satisfaction of seeing other people’s reactions. So remember, if you see a movie you enjoy, it only takes a moment to press the Like button, and only a moment more to share it with your friends. That’s the best thanks you can give a filmmaker.

So, have a great 2011, and keep making the movies!

(1) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kinect mocap

I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently about the Kinect being hacked for all sorts of purposes. It’s not entirely surprising. It’s an amazing device, which completely changes the way you can interact with software. Yes, the Eyetoy has been around for a while, but that was only scratching the surface of what’s possible. And they’ve had similar things in arcades for ages - I remember playing a fighting game with Dave in Seattle in about 2001, and getting a very thorough workout in the process! But the Kinect takes the quality way up and brings it into the home.

Here, for example, researchers at USC use it to play World of Warcraft.  They’re using a toolset called FAAST, which they’ve made freely available. There’s more about it here.

But where it get really interesting for us is that it can be used as the basis for a cheap, albeit simplistic home motion capture system. Check this out (thanks to Animatechnica for finding this):

Hatsune Miku was a virtual pop star (animated character) created originally as a marketing stunt for text to voice application but has since evolved into a full blown virtual pop star. Fans created and released a freeware application called MikuMikuDance which allowed fans to create their own animated music videos featuring Hatsune. Into this scene entered higuchuu who added Kinect support to the app and so developed the first real-time motion capture demo for kinect. The hack is still in process but this is an awesome start.
Read more…

Yes, this software has a long way to go. Just for comparison, at the end of this post there’s a clip of Hatsune Miku live in concert - well, as live as a totally synthetic character can be. But it seems more than likely that in 2011 we’ll start to see some mocapped movies created with cheap consumer equipment. That could herald a totally new approach to home animation and home movies in general. Animators will no longer be bound to customisable stock animations or have to laboriously create animations in a complex tool like Blender or Max. Live action directors and actors won’t be limited by costumes or make-up. That opens up all sorts of possibilities.

We’ll be watching this space with interest.

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Create conflict!

In this season of peace on earth and goodwill to all, let’s spend a few minutes thinking about conflict. After all, when you break it down to the bare essentials, drama is about conflict. That’s not to say movies have to be about war and violence. Far from it. One of the things that’s stuck in my mind for many years is this: “Drama is about one person wanting something, and someone else not wanting them to have it.” Look at something as simple as Tom and Jerry cartoons: the mouse wants the cheese, and the cat wants to stop him.  That’s conflict, and it’s sufficient to fuel literally hundreds of short comedies.

However, some conflicts make for better, and more interesting story-telling than others. And, most importantly, action itself doesn’t make for interesting conflict. You have to care about the characters, or it’s just meaningless. Here’s a excerpt from a great blog post by Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU:

I often ask the question “What is the main conflict of your story?” and get answers like:

“The story starts out with a spectacular shootout, but there’s this one Marine who has no fear. He just walks into the line of fire and destroys the enemy. Then, he gets called to lead the Special Forces on a mission against the main terrorism cell where he kills every one except the top guy…”

Even though there is plenty of violence and visually exciting scenes, we haven’t heard a hint of the main conflict.

Read more…

Hal points out that this is actually a weak main conflict. If you think about it in the terms I outlined above, we don’t know who wants what, or who’s trying to stop them, let alone why. Hal notes that the audience doesn’t know, because the writer probably doesn’t know. The story is presented in terms of events, not a conflict to be resolved.

He goes on to suggest a handy technique for approaching this aspect of writing. Summarise your conflict in one short sentence. If you need too many words, then your conflict is fuzzy and the audience will lose track. If it seems weak when you cut it down, then it is weak and you need to rethink your entire script, and maybe your whole story.  Then, once you have that conflict mapped out, you use that as the basis for everything else you’re doing. Effectively, that is your story: everything else in your movie is just there to support that conflict and make the audience want to see how it plays out.


(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lights, camera, action!

One of the things we hear a lot when people see Moviestorm movies is that “it looks like The Sims”. That’s quite flattering in a way, to find ourselves compared to EA’s multi-million dollar blockbuster game. Sometimes, though, what people mean is that it’s all a bit, well, boring. It’s just people walking and talking in their living rooms, and going about their everyday business. It’s not like “real” machinima, where things actually happen.

Well, take a look at this jaw-dropping animation reel from Dean P. Wells. The opening sequence alone is an incredible demonstration of what Moviestorm is truly capable of.

Dean is a scriptwriter living in London, who writes both short and feature length films for the British and American markets. He also runs a Web site, The Screenwriters Cove, which allows scriptwriters and producers to work together effectively.

He took up animation as a hobby a short while ago and taught himself to use Moviestorm and Adobe After Effects. He blends them together remarkably effectively to create these amazing sequences, including sci-fi morphs, car chases, huge cityscapes and stylish fight scenes. He’s close-lipped about his new projects, but we persuaded him to drop some hints. “I’m currently designing something very special indeed. It’s gonna be the most explosive, action packed 5 minute scene to date. It all takes place inside an apartment block and the street below. I’ll be using Moviestorm, Blender, Trapcode and AE. The detail and recording speed is going to be absolutely amazing!”

This has to be one of our favourite videos of the year, for one simple reason. Nobody’s going to think it’s The Sims! This really sets a new standard for Moviestorm film-makers in that it goes so far beyond what Moviestorm seems capable of. We’re looking forward to seeing much more like this in 2011 from Dean and many others.

More about Dean Wells: Web site | Vimeo | YouTube | Moviestorm

(2) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Earthquake in Vanuatu

We’re hearing reports of a huge earthquake off the coast of the Pacific island of Vanuatu, and a tsunami warning has been issued.

Our thoughts are with John Herd (aka primaveranz) and all our friends at Wan Smolbag Theatre, and we hope that everyone’s safe and well.

[UPDATE: 5pm 25 Dec] We’ve heard from John, and everyone’s fine. The tsunami warning was cancelled.

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas from all of us here at Moviestorm.

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Thursday, December 23, 2010

D.L. Watson - filmmaker, modder and entrepreneur

Oh darn, video crashed!D.L. Watson, from Eugene, Oregon, is one of those real “characters” who epitomise the independent artist and who form the backbone of every community. He’s one of the most outspoken critics of Moviestorm, and at the same time one of its most vocal and active supporters.

He’s been making movies since 2005. He couldn’t afford to go to film school, so he started by teaching himself to edit. He took the whole of the first series of Lost from the DVD box set, and edited it down into a feature-length movie, adding his own sound effects and score. He then found himself inundated with requests to do the same to other TV series. “It was fun at first,” he laughs, “but I really wanted to do my own stuff. And I didn’t want to get sued either!”  In 2006, he bought his first camera, a small Panasonic which he still uses, and started to shoot live action films under the banner of Leefilm Productions. He soon began to find it frustrating as he couldn’t yet do what he wanted. Then in 2007, he discovered The Movies and realised that he could do a lot in animation that he couldn’t afford to do any other way.  Around this time, he and a friend had an idea for a science fiction movie, The Grey People, which he’s been working on ever since.

Two years ago, D.L. suffered a serious injury while working out in the gym, and had to give up his job as a Radio Shack salesman. He’s been using his time to practice his film-making skills, and is planning to go back to school in January to study film-making properly. He’s tried many different tools and techniques, including iClone and Moviestorm, and for one recent film, Graphic: A Risky Business, he used a unique blend of Moviestorm and live action. His latest film, The Letter, was shot live action and storyboarded using Moviestorm. “It’s all about finding the right tools for the job,” he says. “Moviestorm is great for storyboards, even if you don’t use it in the film.  When I saw Saving Grace, by Sisch, I pretty much fell in love with Moviestorm and knew it was what I needed for The Grey People. It’s affordable too at only $250. Just a camera will cost you at least $300. When you’re in my situation, that’s important.”

Shortly after starting with Moviestorm, he became very aware of its limitations. “I’m probably the biggest pain in your ass,” he admits cheerfully. However, rather than give up, he decided to see what he could do to make Moviestorm do what he wanted. The first thing he made was the nav mesh, a free add-on that allows characters to be raised off the ground and effectively create multi-level sets. “In one of the beta versions, there was a bug that allowed you to put characters in mid-air. I was using that, and then you fixed it, so I had to make the nav mesh to get the shots I wanted. I then realised that the only way to get the rest of the sets for The Grey People was to build them myself. I started with the sci-fi corridor, and then the cave, and there are more in production.”

D.L. took the controversial decision to charge for some of his mods, which a lot of people in the machinima community took offense to. “They’re pretty cheap, particularly compared to what you have to pay for addons for some other tools,” he says. “I’m just asking people to pay a small amount to use the sets from my movie. And the nav mesh, my most popular mod, is still free.” He’s also starting up a line of free mods for non-commercial use. He’s taking free models from TurboSquid and other sources and converting them for use in Moviestorm. “As long as you credit the original creator, and don’t use them for commercial projects, there aren’t any copyright issues,” he notes. “It’s a fast, easy way to create free mods than everyone can use.”

As well as starting shooting on The Grey People in 2011, D.L. has several Web ventures going. He runs TMU Theater (shortly to be renamed IndyTheater), an online venue for streaming high quality machinima and independent movie premieres. He’s also partnered with Moviestorm pioneers Phil “Overman” Rice and Tree to launch MSCopilot. He was inspired by Video Copilot, a key site for After Effects users, and realised that Moviestorm could use something similar. He sees MSCopilot as a central site for mods and modders. It will host a store where people can submit their mods. The MSCopilot team will check the mods and ensure they work, and provide sales and payment services. They’ll also have a load of tutorials to help modders. “The Moviestorm wiki never really took off, so we decided to do this instead. It’s something the community needs.”

D.L. is very conscious of the community. “I’d love to help out more when people ask for mods, but it’s always a race with Lucinda,” he grins. “And she always wins.” He has one last surprise up his sleeve. When he finishes The Grey People, he’s going to release the Moviestorm files as an open source movie. He’ll be including all the props, dialogue, and even save files. The idea is that people will get a unique insight into how a movie is created, from the early test footage to the final scenes. They’ll be able to mash up and remix the movie, just as D.L. did with Lost when he was starting off.

Read More:
D.L. Watson: Moviestorm | Facebook | Flickr
Leefilm Productions: Home Page | Facebook | TurboSquid | Vimeo | Twitter
The Grey People: Facebook
TMU Theater / IndyTheater: Home Page | Facebook
MSCopilot: Home page | Facebook

(6) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

FML Film Club

I’ve just joined a local film club. I’ve been extremely bad at actually making movies, and all I’ve done for the last few years has been to make tutorials, demos, and marketing movies. I’m always complaining that I don’t have time, or some other excuse.

The club is run by a guy called Jason Blanchard, who teaches film and media at Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida (and also owns A Comic Shop which is, unsurprisingly, a comic shop, and which has a bar out the back called the Geekeasy, which makes him a damn cool person to know). He’s all about getting people to just make a movie, and he’s come up with a great idea.

  • When you come to FML Film Club you have to make a movie.
  • It has to be 60 - 120 seconds long.
  • It has to be based on a story from

If you haven’t encountered before, it’s a site where people submit ultra-short anecdotes about things that have ruined their day. (Warning, some of them are decidedly NSFW, particularly if you go to their Facebook page.) In a few sentences, they encapsulate a moment of exasperation, embarrassment or despair, which makes them perfect subjects for quickfire sketches or micro-movies. They all take place in everyday, familiar situations, so there’s rarely any need for complex sets, large cast, or even unusual costumes.

Here’s a typical example: “Today, my roommate asked me to lock the door as we left our place. I told her to use my keys, because my hands were full. Afterwards, she and her boyfriend set off out of town for the next couple of days. She forgot to give me back my keys. FML” 

Or: “Today, I got a call from an ex, demanding to know why my Facebook relationship status was set as married. I got married a few months ago, and I quietly explained this to her. My wife overheard and now thinks I’ve been cheating all along. FML”

Or how about: “Today, while parked at school, someone broke into my car by smashing the window. I called the police and they informed me I could drive it to the local station as it was an easy 2 minute drive. As I was driving there, I got pulled over for driving with a smashed window. FML”

Some of them are funny, some are mini tragedies. After just a few minutes browsing, I’ve already found the subject for my first movie, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to shoot it in Moviestorm in an hour or two. (And yes, I know it’s probably going to take all day and I’m going to regret saying this in public!)

I’m really looking forward to seeing how my work stacks up against what his students are doing when I get to the first meeting in January. I’m guessing it’ll be the only animated piece there, and probably the only one which was made completely solo, without any other cast or crew. I reckon it’ll be a great way to get myself into the habit of finding the time to make movies for pleasure, even if it’s just a short while every month. And I’m going to be very intrigued to see how well it works using as source material. It means I’ll be focusing on how to tell the story, not on writing the script or what the story is. It’s purely about whether I can convey the situation, the characters and the plot in a fast, efficient and engaging way, and it’s a great way to practice some basic film-making skills.

(1) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Passion Competition winners

Craig Harbison (aka harb40) recently ran a contest asking people to submit a film around the theme of passion.  The winners have now been announced:

3rd Place:
The Letter by DL Watson

2nd Place:
Shades of Grey by Macwemyss (Edan Mackenzie)

1st Place:
Fatale by BenTuttle90 (Ben Tuttle)

Congratulations to all the winners!

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Monday, December 20, 2010

Palmarès des 20 for 2010

It’s that time where people pick their favourite everything of the year. Over at The Movies FR, they’re about to pick the best movies made by French-speaking directors using The Movies and Moviestorm. They’re offering a bunch of prizes including DVDs and props, and we’ve also put in some Moviestorm points to show our support.

We’re really pleased to see so many non-English speakers using Moviestorm. It’s easy for us in Britain and America to think that everything’s all focused on our film and TV industry, and the cinemas and TV channels are indeed completely dominated by Hollywood. However, tools like Moviestorm and other low budget film techniques allow many more people to make and share movies. In just the past week, I’ve watched Moviestorm movies from Morocco, Egypt, France, Belgium, Sweden, and Mexico. We’re proud that what we’re doing is reaching people around the world. The Movies FR community has consistently produced some outstanding directors and films, and we’re very much looking forward to seeing the winners.

The Movies FR: Web site, Facebook, Vimeo

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

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