Machinima (machine+cinema) is 3D film-making within a virtual environment where computer-generated images are captured in real-time, using live "avatar" actors. The Electric Sheep Company, a leading creator of virtual world content, teamed up with CBS Television to create the first on-air machinima promotion for a major television network series.
They created a 20-second spot for "Two and a Half Men" that aired during the pre-game special for Super Bowl XLI on Sunday, Feb. 4 on CBS.
2The promotional spot, recorded in high-definition, was "filmed" inside Second Life, an online virtual world, and features avatar representations of Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer as their characters, Charlie and Alan Harper, in "Two and a Half Men." Accompanying their avatar replicas was a voice-over with the "Two and a Half Men" stars' real voices.
The spot was shot live, just like a real commercial, by Matt Dominianni and Frank Dellario of the ILL Clan, a division of The Electric Sheep Company. The script, jointly developed by The Electric Sheep Company and CBS, features Alan Harper exploring the potential of the virtual world, while brother Charlie Harper enjoys some female company and champagne - just as he does on the TV series.
"This is the first time that footage filmed in a virtual world and avatar actors have been used to promote a prime-time network TV program," said Sibley Verbeck, CEO of The Electric Sheep Company. "This shows machinima is coming of age as a new digital medium. Machinima appearing in a Super Bowl spot is certainly a milestone for the industry and shows that virtual worlds have penetrated mainstream media as a way for major brands to represent themselves"
"The Electric Sheep Company has now created the virtual face of CBS properties in Second Life, allowing us to reach our audiences in a new and interesting way," said George Schweitzer, president of the CBS Marketing Group. "We see this as a way for our viewers to join virtual communities, where they can interact and share experiences together, although they may be thousands of miles away."
The video game industry, as seen by Second Life, has benefited from the constant evolution of 3D integration in a gaming experience.
Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) are chuck full of 3D influenced avatars/characters, environments, etc. The film industry has also benefited from the allure of 3D animation. Walt Disney has been involved with the release of several films such as "Toy Story," "Cars," and "The Incredibles," which all featured 3D animation.
3But what kind of software can be used to generate something like this?
Maya and 3D Studio Max are just a few applications that have been used by several animators to create 3D animation experiences. However, not many of them have the video game crossover potential that Poser, by e-frontier, has. It's been used to create avatars for Second Life, much like the process used to generate those avatar actors used in the pre-game special for Super Bowl XLI.
Poser is a complete 3D figure design and animation application. If you're a designer, animator or graphic artist, a lot of the options made available to you in Poser 7, shouldn't be unfamiliar. However, if you're a novice, the learning curve is a bit steep. But stick with it. You might be glad you did.
Poser 7 is the latest version and it seems replete with tons of cool widgets to get a novice such as myself started. Once you get around the rather robust and seemingly complex interface, it's pretty simple to create a basic figure thanks to Poser 7's diverse collection of ready-to-use 3D human and animal models. Being able to create 3D motion, walking, jumping, facial expressions, talking, etc., is relatively simple.
4One interesting aspect of this is being able to graphically track mouth and facial motion for speech. Being able to adjust mouth movement per phonic sound is interesting and it's fairly easy to do. This all can be done with Poser 7's body morphing tool or facial photo mapping. Manipulating material, especially those to be used as clothing, is made possible through the use of dynamic cloth objects.
This is so powerful that I would wager a fashion designer could use Poser 7 to graphically display how a particular design and fabric would flow on a moving 3D animated model. I think it would give them a heads up as to how certain fabrics and colors comply with each other in a simulated environment where lighting and movement are made available.
If you just need a pose, Universal Poses, is a new feature of Poser 7, which allows you to seamlessly apply any pose to any biped figure. If you have older poses you can resave them in the library in Poser 7, which then converts them automatically to Universal Poses.
Poser 7 is, however, limited in doing environments or set designs, but you can create a basic rooms or sets with it. In other words, you're not using this to accurately replicate a building, landmark or movie set.
Second Life, the virtual reality world created by The Electric Sheep Company, uses avatars to represent all of their users. You can use Poser 7 to create your own SL avatar. Games aren't the only place you can apply this technology. A Web designer could use Poser 7 to do character animations in flash and then upload that experience to a Web site. Or you could use it to generate an pre-roll animation for a show.
Poser works on just about any relatively new Mac or PC. The more RAM you have, of course, the easier the rendering is - and using a graphics card that supports OpenGL doesn't hurt either. You can export your project as SWF, MOV, AVI, MPG or even WMV.
Poser 7 retails for $249.99 and $129.99 for upgrade discount pricing. Upgrades are available from Poser 4 through 6, Poser Pro Pack and Poser Artist. Poser 7 is available for both Windows and Mac OSX platforms.
By Chad Chamberlain