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Interview: Machinima Creators Matt Dominianni And Frank Dellario

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Machinima – or movies filmed using game engines – is taking the Internet by storm. Specifically, machinima is made from 3D engines of PC games such as Quake, Halo, Half-Life, or The Sims 2. Once considered to be just a means of creating film parodies by video game and movie fans, machinima has been increasing in popularity over the last few years and is being taken seriously. It is now considered as an alternative means of filmmaking and in fact, has been used for marketing purposes.

The March 2007 issue of PC Gamer magazine features the winners from the Fourth Annual Machinima Festival, one of which was Tra5h Ta1k, which won the award for Best Virtual Performance in Puppeteering. Created by machinima pioneers Ill Clan Productions, Tra5h Ta1k is an R-rated talk show/gaming news parody reminiscent of Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. Tra5h Ta1k has a quirky but amusing cast of characters. Ill Will is the show's host and wears armor over his business suit. His smarmy but loyal sidekick Mal Content is a talking missile and a member of the Amanda Bynes Fan Club. Their assistant is a corpulent zombie who enjoys discussing Nietzsche over a game of checkers.

Will and MalAlthough Ill Clan has created other machinima, Tra5h Ta1k is their most popular series. If you watch the show, it's easy to see why. In nearly every episode Will has stumbled into a strange but hilarious predicament. So far, he's been kidnapped by aliens, blown up in a Humvee, and unknowingly started an online romantic relationship with the zombie. Meanwhile, Mal always finds new ways to embarrass his friend by revealing for example, that he sleeps in footsie pajamas or is still a virgin.

In a recent telephone interview with two members of Ill Clan, founder and Tra5h Ta1k director Matt Dominianni explained that a few years had passed since their first two Machinima Festival awards, and felt a little vindicated by their recent win. "We feel really good that we kind of came back after that. It kind of makes me feel that we got back to what we're good at," said Dominianni, who also does the voice of Ill Will. While Tra5h Ta1k uses a 3D game engine (in their case, Torque), unlike most machinima, Tra5h Ta1k doesn't contain pre-existing characters and sets. "We wanted to create our own intellectual property so we weren't limited. We wanted to play around and see what we can do," explained Frank Dellario, Ill Clan co-founder and producer.

Recently, Ill Clan had another reason to celebrate. On February 13, 2007, Ill Clan announced that they have joined forces with the Electric Sheep Company, the largest 3D and virtual reality architecture company in the world. The Electric Sheep Company has worked with big-name clients such as CBS, Nissan, NBC, and AOL, creating virtual worlds for marketing purposes. Ill Clan has become the machinima division of Electric Sheep.

Shatner and Ill WillDominianni, now the "Grand Poobah" of Machinima Direction at the Electric Sheep Company, is thrilled with the merger, one reason being that Ill Clan now has access to Electric Sheep's vast resources, such as Second Life, an online virtual 3D community. According to Dominianni, the old way of creating machinima was a tedious, time-consuming ordeal. "It's a whole process that gets in the way of creativity," remarked Dellario, now the Director of Machinima Production at Electric Sheep. However, since they've joined Electric Sheep, work is much faster and easier. "Doing machinima in Second Life is great because the experience is very immediate. Instead of creating an object or set in Maya and going through the steps of exporting it and then bringing it into a game engine, in Second Life we can see the changes as they are made, right there in the virtual world. It's like being on a film set with an art department and crew." said Dominianni.

A second reason for Ill Clan's excitement over their new relationship with Electric Sheep is that it further legitimizes the role of machinima in the entertainment and advertising industries. "It's a viable medium in itself," commented Dellario, who has 19 years of experience in real-life film production. Dominianni added that they had envisioned that machinima would expand beyond computer gamers and be experienced by television viewers as well.

Matt and Frank at UCSBWhen asked to compare between live-action film making and machinima creation, Dellario explained that the two mediums are actually similar, but each presents its own challenges. "The only difference here is that there's no camera; everything on the set is virtual…One of the main things that's easier is that live action is very expensive. The hard part is this convergence of live action film making and 3D graphics," explained Dellario, who provides a lot of insight on machinima creation on his personal blog.

Ill Clan's inclusion into the Electric Sheep Company family doesn't mean the end of Tra5h Ta1k. In fact, it signifies a new beginning. Dellario revealed that within the next few months, Ill Clan plans to bring Tra5h Ta1k live in Second Life, in front of a virtual studio audience. "I think it's going to be huge. It's the first, true, interactive, virtual show," said Dellario.

When asked for advice for aspiring machinima creators, Dellario offered some sage words. "Imagine that someone gave you a mini DV camcorder. There's a whole world out there. Whatever game engine you use, look around and find your story there. There's a bit of a learning curve and you don't have time to make everything from scratch. Start small. Second Life's a great place. Read up on it on machinima.com and machinima.org. If you're on a PC, get FRAPS by BEEPA. It's a program used to capture the videostream coming out of your video card."

Meanwhile, Dominianni offered a few quick but equally helpful tips. "If you know what your story is, focus on telling the story. Take a look at the movies you like and see how the camera moves. A mistake that people often make is that they move the camera in crazy ways."

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