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©2019 by Chris Paul Walton.

Emotions in Machinima

November 4, 2016

 

In the previous post I discussed framing emotions within your scenes, why it is important and a few tips on how to achieve this. Here I want to discuss something which I believe needs a little more thought, showing emotions and building character in Machinima. 


Machinima is defined by the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences (A.M.A.S.) as “animated filmmaking within a real-time virtual 3D environment” (Marino, 2004, p. 1). It is an emerging on-line art form that relies on 3D game engines to create scenes and generate characters within them. Some examples of game engines that can be used in this way are Unreal Engine, Creation and Source which has gain infamy in the Machinima world due to Garry's Mod on steam. Garry's Mod being a "game" designed around giving players a Sandbox in which to create worlds. The description on its website states "Garry's Mod is a Sandbox Game based around the idea of building. Unlike most other games there aren't any objectives - you can't lose and you definitely can't win" (Facepunch Studios, 2016). This gives creators a wealth of ability to design and set the stage for a narrative. An example of what can be achieved in Garry's Mod is the slapstick comedy Who's Cooking Tonight?.

The use of slapstick brings me nicely to how to display emotion in Machinima, and for that matter animation and some stop motion. When working within some game engines, the number of polygons that make up the face is limited. Also some characters aren't human, being animal based, or animated objects with humanoid features or personality. Thus the full range of human emotions isn't always available to you. To counter this the implementation of slapstick tropes can assist you greatly. A basic definition of slapstick is a style of humor involving exaggerated physical activity.

The exaggeration of physical representations of emotion allows avoiding direct exposition through dialogue or similar vehicles whilst still signposting what is being felt. The above example is of course extreme to highlight the point.  But it doesn't always have to be that extreme and more subtle approaches are possible. The use of the features you do have can make up for a lack of ability to manipulate or the complete lack of other features. To put this into a more relatable context we can look at stop motion animation. The character Gromit from Nick Park's Wallace and Gromit. Gromit is a dog with human personality traits. He has no mouth, no eyebrows (although he does have a brow line) no ability to speak and an almost detail free face. Despite all of this the character is capable of displaying a huge range of emotion. This is all done through exaggerated physical action; his ear and his brow line movement and his limb movements.  A quick but good example of can be found in the video Google Hangout with Wallace and Gromit found on the Wallace and Gromit YouTube channel

Take a look at Gromit ten seconds in when he enters carrying a roast bird. His surprise and subsequent worry at Ginger, the chicken, being on screen when he is carrying the bird can be clearly seen. His eye movements are exaggerated and his general body language do everything that is required to display his emotion with out the need for complex facial features. 


Take this methodology and apply it to a Machinima, in this case the film Ghosts (Machinima) which was submitted to the N.I.N. Ghosts film festival.

The piece itself is a beautiful example of what you can do with Machinima, and I thoroughly suggest you watch it in it's entirety, but lets consider the main character here. The author himself admits that when he created the piece in 2009 he didn't know much about Faceposer (MaxOfS2D, 2011). On top of this, at the time, the model itself didn't have the ability to be posed with much subtlety even with the use of Faceposer. Minute facial detail wasn't used or wasn't possible yet we know the emotional context through how the model is posed in combination with other elements of the mise-en-scene. An example is in a sequence between 09:55 to 10:30. The very lack of expression is used to great effect, in combination with music and over the top eye movement and arm placement. We are told of the despair of the character followed by confusion and concern. 

 

In conclusion a lot can still be done to bring emotional depth to a piece even if you don't have the standard range or aren't using human actors or fully posable models. You just have to consider more than just what an actor's face portrays and consider the entire mise-en-scene  as well as amplifying what you do have at your disposal be this movement, suggestive features or anything else that can be implemented for your given character. 

 

 

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