Note: This is the keynote address given by Tracy Harwood for the 2010 Machinima Expo on November 20th

, 2010.

Keynote for the 2010 Machinima Expo
written/delivered by Tracy Harwood

Introduction Firstly, I would like to thank the organisers, Phil, Ricky and Kate, for their tireless efforts to making this event happen, supported by many in the community who have taken on roles from tech support to noob hand-holder to discussion facilitator. Integral parts of the community now, it is fantastic to see sponsorship again from both Moviestorm and iClone (Reallusion) but this year we also have to welcome newcomers to the machinima world, Muvizu, who have also generously sponsored prizes for the Expo. This is the second Expo I’ve had the pleasure of keynoting – a Machinima Exposition which is in its 3rd year of existence. I think it is worth reflecting for a moment that it is not by accident that the event has taken on a format that builds upon a tradition of showcasing the ‘state of the art’ as well as cultural exchange. Indeed early expositions or ‘world’s fairs’, the first being the 1851 Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace, also focussed on dialogue, community and collaboration among nations, and outcomes enriched the international community through exchange of ideas, problem sharing and solution building

and also influenced how the arts and design shaped the future economy, impacting on society in many ways. Applying the analogy to the machinima world, where nations may be represented by games platforms each with their own distinctive culture, language and community, this year it is very evident that not only have many nations come to the Exposition, represented by the artistic community, but that the culture, art and science of machinima has now extended to many nations. This year, for example, you will have an opportunity to see screenings from Asia, Canada, the US and Central America, East, Central and Western Europe, and games platforms as diverse as Grand Theft Auto, Second Life, The Movies, Open Sim, Moviestorm, iClone, Little Big Planet, World of Warcraft, Battlefield, Gary’s Mod, Half Life, Halo and Team Fortress, to name a few. These have been used to tell original stories about people, places, communities and events, both imagined and real. They have also been mashed together, some including real life, to in effect create new cultural forms of media. Although this a medium that is mainly distributed through the internet and as such is accessible to many through different mediums, it takes an event like an exposition to truly position the work in a context. This therefore represents a unique opportunity to explore the state of the art – and MachinimaExpo a unique exposee on the world of machinima and set of activities in the cultural calender. So my task for you all during the Machinima Expo weekend, and challenge for you to report on afterwards, is what will you take back with you into your own creative world? Looking Back to Look Forwards Now, I want to spend a few minutes looking to the future of machinima, and like any good accountant, I will do this by looking back over a few key events from the last year! Reflecting on my comments to this Festival last, I said that machinima had successfully crossed the generational divide from its original founders to a new community of artistic directors. This year, I will add – Critically, machinima popularity and participation has reached a tipping point with the launch of machinima.com’s iphone app. Machinima.com had already reached the heady heights of being one of the top YouTube channels by March this year but now, at least according to its website, it has had 1.7B views year to October, and claims to have 289 million monthly views of which appx 13% are unique viewers in October ie., 37M viewers. To put this into perspective, that’s around 60% of the population of the UK (according to the Office of National Statistics) and about 10M less than the BBC has over a week. These represent phenomenal growth rates, when I reflect back to 2007 and the First European Machinima Festival held in Leicester, UK. At the time, we guestimated the world population of machinimators was around 4,000 and

even in 2008 at the last New York Machinima Film Festival hosted by the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences, figures of around 60,000 were bandied – and I thought that was pretty astonishing growth for an essentially ‘underground’ movement. Why this is important is that it allows us to better see the continuum of creativity that is evident in machinima – where much of the machinima I have seen on the machinima.com site fits squarely into the fan fiction and game play category and much of what I see at this type of event is genuinely creative and artisticly derived work. Furthermore, machinima.com quite openly distances itself from the creative in order to maximise the potential from a mass market, made up of the very many games out there, and a proportion of gamers who have begun to experiment at a deeper level with their entertainment of choice, probably in much the same way that free runners combine martial arts and gymnastics to get from A to B in streetscapes to enhance the experience. Machinima.com states: “We build enthusiastic communities around and in between game launches and DLC releases, distributing “official” videos and producing custom content, creating the world’s most powerful gamer network.” At this end of the ‘creativity’ continuum, there is also evident then a scale of interactivity, where machinima is about dialogue between gamers – and, of course, machinima.com has been successful because it has also generated sponsorship and endorsement from the games platforms by promoting machinima as advertisements (or promotionals) for the games themselves, which in turn draws in more gamers and increases further the levels of participation in game play. A typical ‘marketing’ cycle. Less evident in that segment of the community is a genre of machinima that is a form of video response to third parties, or the sort of reportage and positional statements that can be seen to be commenting on some other machinima, or form of (media) content or real life event. But this type of machinima becomes increasingly creative and is much more about artistic expression, and for many of you here, more closely represents a genre of machinima that you produce. This has been and will be in the future the basis for engagement in more of a digital arts world. So, there is clearly some distance in terms of both interactive and creative quality between the machinima.com mass consumerist market and the work that has been recognised by this community. It is, apparently, exemplified by comments made by Peter Greenaway at the 48 Hour Film Project awards ceremony, hosted by Chantal Harvey (Mamachinima). Although his comments were made in the primary context of cinematic film, I feel that one of the most important things he said was that machinima may be a means to exchange information associated with the pleasure of playing with that information in visual forms rather than simply producing an ‘illustrated book’. He stated the machinima phenomenon cuts the umbilical cord to textbased media which has dominated the world for more than 8000 years. He called for machinimators to, basically, step beyond merely producing animated painted images, saying “lets not imitate previous technologies”.

Of course, he fully recognises the danger of doing this, citing John Cage, if you introduce 20% of new work you lose 80% of your audience! These comments do reflect the considerable difficulties and challenges that persist in bringing your work to the attention of an audience. Very many machinima films have low viewing figures, but from my perspective, even these apparently low rates are fast growing – say, from 20-30 views to 2-300 views to several thousand views. And further evidence of the attention being given is found in the academic world. Throughout this year, being the observant academic that I am, I have received more than six calls for contributions to conferences, journals and books – focussing on machinima, its role in teaching and learning, in commerce and marketing, its value as a social and cultural phenomenon and its emergence as an art form. Thus, in conclusion, machinima is still a relevant and highly contemporary practice, where many thousands of contributors enable an art form to emerge. But this year I want to throw out a challenge to you. Emergence online, which is central to the machinima form, is only really evidenced through the active engagement of the community with the work, for example, through number of views, discussion and responses to each piece created that supports and endorses the originality and importance of the work. Given the now rapid growth of the genre, the challenge will be to bring more contemporary and creative works to the fore and to the attention of the broadest community of digital arts lovers. Since the number of works is increasing, and familiarity with the art form and participation grows further, so the visibility of your work and others will degrade in what I call the elastic environment of the internet. So, proportionally few notable examples will rise to a prominent level, complete with the evidence to support its emergence and originality. This means that machinimators must engage in dialogue not only with other artists but also with the broader Machinima, games and digital arts communities, including those who host digital arts festivals and exhibitions, so that the value of the work is fully and appropriately represented. Some of those whose work is screened here this weekend are new into this, some have been here a while, but without the dialogue that recognizes the value of the work and its creative contribution, the future is one of more of the same. Indeed, I would say the blogs this year appear to me to have been a little less zingy but that’s perhaps because the conversation has been going on where I haven’t been! Nonetheless, I challenge you, the community, to start debating the quality and creativity of the artistic elements of the work – I believe, for example, there is the 1:9:90 rule where 1% of people express an opinion, 9% comment and the rest just observe. I would suggest you are already the 1%, opinion shapers in the world of machinima. From my perspective as a non machinimator, the quality of this year’s films has reached a new height – in creative execution, in voice acting, directing, storytelling – every aspect has shown significant improvement to the early films I helped to curate just 3 years ago. Some of this will of course be due to the vast improvements in animation quality seen within the games engines themselves, but much of it is down to the producer’s creative vision. Please

do take time to watch a range of the many films that the team have reviewed – they really do represent the best of the machinima world at this time. And then discuss here and in future fora how this work can be improved upon, built upon and inform your own machinima practice.

End

(Audio of keynote available at www.machinima-expo.com)

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