New Media "Who, What, Where, Why" panel discussion.
New Media "Who, What, Where, Why" panel discussion.

MACHINIMA and the New Media Film Festival 2014

The New Media Film Festival has been gathering filmmakers, producers, actors and film students together for a live, two-day festival of film screenings, awards, panels and discussion. With the tagline, “honoring stories worth telling“, the NMFF focuses on New Media. What, you might ask, is New Media? An already a dated term, it’s essentially the personal and entertainment media being created as a result of the digital revolution that doesn’t show up on your local movie screens. Instead, the media is being created and distributed on demand, 24/7 at YouTube, Vimeo and on smartphones and iPads. It can be an animated web series, a mobile only short film or even a story-based application for a Mac or PC. Other film festivals have begun to adopt various aspects of New Media in their festival programming, but the NMFF is the only one that is devoted entirely to these new forms of media content.

Susan Johnston, a charismatic Hollywood veteran, founded the festival which is now in its fifth season and still going strong. I met Susan a few years ago while covering the festival as a journalist for Renderosity.com. When I told her I thought machinima would be a great addition to the New Media Film Festival she was intrigued and came on as a guest at the Expo 5 (a virtual machinima film festival) when it was taking place in Second Life. That experience along with meeting members of the machinima community led to Susan creating a machinima category at the New Media Film Festival.

CLOUD by Hypatia Pickens
CLOUD by Hypatia Pickens

This year (2014) machinima was represented at the NMFF in the form of two formal screenings at the Landmark Theater in Santa Monica, CA., and by two informal screenings on the “Art on Wall” exhibit (digital projector on a wall outside of the main theater).  The Drax Files, Ep. 2: Jo Yardley by Draxtor Despres (important Second Life media creator) and UNPLUGGED, a Unity Game Engine machinima created as a showpiece for Mixamo, an online 3D creation, rigging and animation website, were the two films screened formally at the Landmark. They both looked very good on a large screen and had no artifacting due to to the relatively high quality of the original video. Frankly, I could see little difference between the HD video in films that were shown and the 2 machinima films screened.  Clarity and saturation of the images were the only real differences, but you’d have to have a side-by-side comparison to tell the difference.

Drax Files, Ep. 2: Jo Yardley
Drax Files, Ep. 2: Jo Yardley

Sadly, I couldn’t find the “Art on Wall” showing any where near the theater, so I am unable to tell you how the films looked in that venue. Last year, the projector screened the films on a small pillar near the festival front desk which made it hard to find. I wish the festival would put more effort into making the “Art on Wall” screenings more conspicuous. There was no reason the two “Art on Wall” films shouldn’t have screened formally with the other two machinima selections. Unless the film selections are projected on to a larger wall or are made easier to find, the “Art on Wall” exhibit comes off as merely an afterthought and is probably missed by most festival goers.

By the way, those two “Art on Wall” machinima films were: CLOUD by Hypatia Pickens and NOISES by Julia Deak. Both films are superb examples of contemporary machinima (follow the links to view them). Very glad they were chosen for the NMFF. I just wished they had been formally screened where more people would have been exposed to the remarkable imaginations of these two female filmmakers. Unfortunately, the filmmakers were not named on the main New Media Film Festival schedule where only the titles of the films were listed. It’s important that filmmakers get credit for their work no matter what the context.

NOISES by Julia Deak
NOISES by Julia Deak

While I’m delighted that the New Media Film Festival supports machinima enough to promote and screen quality films, I’m disappointed that all four films weren’t screened at the Wednesday morning session. This programming track was devoted to  “Machinima, APPS (applications), Mobile/Tablet,Pilots and Panel Discussion“.  It started at 9:30am with approximately one hour of film screenings (including our two machinima films listed above). From 10:30 to 12pm it was talk and discussion (New Media Panel and Filmmaker panel). I can’t help but think that another half hour of film screenings would have balanced the morning better.

And while there were interesting comments made by panel members, much of the discussion covered the same generalized topics that you find in industry books, online blogs or forums. Perhaps it’s time to change the “Who, What, Why and How of New Media” question format to something more contemporary. For example, I really wanted to hear someone from Unity or Mixamo on how they created UNPLUGGED which, to my knowledge, is the first professional quality machinima film created in that game engine. Even a pre-recorded behind-the-scenes documentary would have been useful and inspiring. 

UNPLUGGED, a Unity machinima by Mixamo
UNPLUGGED, a Unity machinima by Mixamo

Of course, the New Media Film Festival covers a wide range of New Media and it’s very hard work to organize and present a two-day event with screenings, interviews, panels and more. Personally, I’m very glad machinima has an outlet to present cutting-edge machinima films to the Hollywood and New Media community. This year’s (2014) festival came off well (the Wednesday morning programming track, that is), and from comments I’ve read on the web other attendees say that the rest of the festival was exciting and enjoyable. I wished I could have been able to attend more events, especially the animation and web-series track. Perhaps I can schedule my time better next year.  

The Expo would like to thank Susan Johnston, founder and director of the New Media Film Festival for her continued support of the Expo and machinima filmmaking. 

 

-Ricky Grove, Machinima Expo Producer