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Encoding liveness: Performance and real-time rendering in machinima
Cameron David Carroll John
2009 DiGRA '09 - Proceedings of the 2009 DiGRA International Conference: Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory
Machinima is the appropriation of software-generated 3D virtual environments, typically video games, for filmmaking and dramatic productions. The creation and distribution technology of machinima tends to hide the nature of the performer, provoking consideration of a definition of ‘liveness’ that can accommodate the real-time rendering of screen content by game software in response to human input, or – at the extreme – as if there is human input in accordance with performance parameters coded by humans. This paper considers the continuum of creative modes that machinima makers work on, and the differing aesthetic/technical decisions affecting the level of liveness in the finished production. Machinima films derive from captured gameplay, puppet-like live improvisational work, cinematic or televisual on-camera performances, and totally scripted performances produced using coded commands. Often, the real-time rendering capability of the game software is only critical at the point of image capture, but once the footage has been saved as a video file it is editing and post-production that becomes the focus of much machinima production. Even live improvisational pieces – whether performed in a real or virtual venue - are generally better known via their capture and distribution as video clips to a wider post-performance audience. This paper also explores machinima making as a community of practice, that is a specific group with a local culture, operating through shared practices, linked to each other through a shared repertoire of resources. Digital performance communities of practice emerging from video games and machinima production can be seen as having levels of engagement with a range of other communities, most obviously the gameplaying, game modifying, CGI animation and filmmaking communities. Consideration is given to how, from a dramatic viewpoint, the performers within a machinima production are also operating in much the same way as in-role improvisation occurs within the community of practice associated with process drama - a strongly framed environment defined by a ‘digital pre-text’ - the common digital environment that provides the agreed fictional context for the dramatic action to unfold in.