“We H@ck The Cinema” Interviews Hugh on VR films, the future of Machinima, more

I was recently interviewed by Mindblind Setsuko for We H@ck The Cinema! , talking about topics ranging from the future of filmmaking to the Oculus Rift and more.

Normally I’d just link the interview - and indeed, here it is - but since it’s in Italian, Mindblind have very graciously allowed me to post an English translation here.


Recently you have updated your “Strange Company” website, a pioneer studio of machinima production. Could you tell me about its mission and its changing during the years?

I started Strange Company in 1997 to take advantage of this exciting new medium - which wasn’t even called Machinima then - and since that time, its mission has been basically the same!

I’ve always been looking to the latest technology in real-time 3D animation. Originally, it was Quake, the first true 3D game with human characters, and the birthplace of Machinima.

Over the years, we’ve moved from games to custom-built software to using game assets but not the renderer, and now I’m moving to using an innovative combination of non-game technology with game techniques.

We’ve moved from “recammed” demo files to scripting to motion capture.

And we’ve moved from incredibly primitive graphics to something close to the state of the art.

It’s been really exciting! And currently it’s getting even more exciting, with all sorts of technological possibilities opening up.

What is in your opinion the next future of real-time animation within video games and virtual platforms?

Motion capture is obviously going to get bigger and bigger. The Kinect 2 is looking very promising for delivering higher-quality motion capture, and there are more and more low(ish) cost mocap solutions becoming available.

I’m very excited by the potential of modern-day rendering techniques, too. Things like Physically-Based Rendering (coming in the new Cryengine), good Global Illumination to make lighting much more realistic, and possibly even full realtime raytracing are nearly here.

And VR is going to change everything. We just don’t know how yet.

Despite of several negative reviews from media studies, from your point of view Machinima is still able to become professionally relevant for the industry of visual content development?

I think people get confused about what Machinima really is.

It’s inextricably linked with amateurish game movies these days - but the techniques of Machinima creation, particularly when coupled with motion capture, are all over the wider media world right now.

“Avatar” and “Tintin” are incredibly close to being Machinima in how they’re created - it’s only the final level of polish and the ultra-high rendering quality that’s differentiating them.

And CG studios are experimenting with realtime or almost realtime solutions more and more. I know of at least one company using Maya’s realtime Viewport 2.0 to render commercials, for example.

If people are discounting higher-end Machinima-like techniques, it’s largely because they’re so good they’re becoming indistinguishable from mainstream animation.

Gameplay experience is going to be brought to a complete immersive level with new virtual reality technology. Do you think that Machinima filmmaking will transform itself in relation with that? And how?

Heh, well, as you may know, I’ve got two of the first-generation Oculus Rift VR headsets here in the studio, so I’m very interested in this stuff!

I think there’s an entire new artform waiting to be discovered in VR, actually. Clearly it’s possible to tell a linear narrative story within the world of VR - but we’ll have to relearn everything about visual storytelling to do it.

You can no longer force the viewer’s gaze in VR: instead, you’ve got to tell a story “in the round”. And it may be that you can’t even force motion thanks to “VR sickness” - or that you have to find specific ways to do it.

I’m really excited about exploring the possibilities! Look for Strange Company’s first VR film soon…

Thank you very much for sharing your opinions.