Directorial debut in film

31st March 2006 at 01:00
THE MOVIES. Software game for making movies. Price from pound;20 from games and online suppliers, including See movies, including The French Democracy, at



Modern gaming technology is making creative fantasies a reality, as Jack Kenny reports

Now you can join Spielberg, Lucas and the Wachowski brothers. Desktop video has never fitted really well into the classroom.

But what if there are no cameras involved, when all the animation happens inside the computer, when the creation can be as personal as poem and when the main program costs just pound;20?

The ingenuity of people who work with ICT is boundless and so is the creativity. The new technique of Machinima, a blend of machine, cinema and animation, is where the "engines" in video games are used to create videos by using the characters and the settings.

Although this use was never intended by the original programmers, startling productions can be created. Machinima is as personal as a blog and not much more expensive.

To see what is possible look at The French Democracy, a 13-minute video that has amazed everyone who has seen it, even scoring a review in The Washington Post.

Developed from a budget game, it deals with social problems. Its creator, Alex Chan, who lives in Paris, made it because he was angered by the waythat the media was portraying the demonstrations in France last year.

Interestingly, it was made in just a week, it cost very little and uses no camera. Any teacher seeing Alex's video could easily think of many classroom applications.

His animation was made with a game called The Movies from Lionhead Studios.

This is a simulation where players can build, run and control their own film studio. The aim is to create a film by creating a script, hiring a cast and crew, directing, editing and supervising the production and premieres.

Film-making is not the primary purpose of the game, however. It is a management game about running a studio. The game starts and all you have is an empty piece of real estate in the 1920s.

You can move through the decades and, as you do, the technology changes.

There are hundreds of sets to use. You can bring in construction people, stars, scriptwriters, even locations. If you are not used to modern games you will be amazed by the graphics and the way that characters move around the games world.

The eventual films have all the things that you expect in mainstream cinema or even media studies courses: close ups, tracking shots, crane shots and sound effects. And it all happens in the machine.

The resulting films can be posted on to the Lionhead site where they can be viewed by anyone. The quality obviously varies. Most of the creators seem to be game addicts, and they tend to make films that have the plot lines of games. However, the technical quality is very good.

A warning, however. The game is not created for school use. For some that will be a disadvantage; others will see it as benefit. I found parts of the game tedious: the sections involving building the studios and the offices.

However, there is no doubt that some of this will appeal to a generation raised on games and it does give some insight into the whole area of commercial film-making.

It is possible, however, to skip past most of the more mundane aspects and go straight to the film-making. Every kind of film can be made: war films, horror, sci-fi, comedies, suspense or thrillers. Players can explore different film genres to express their creative vision.

Does work like this have a place in the classroom? There is no reason why not. Machinima will not be as big as blogging but it will certainly be more interesting. There will even be a festival of Machinima films this year.

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