Updates from the set

For the record, this Stonehaven machinima is a beast.

Of course, I mean nothing truly negative by that. But I’m pretty sure folks have wondered what the heck is taking me so long to finish it. After all, I started it in April. April! Five whole months ago. That’s a ridiculous amount of time for a machinima, especially since I’m barely past the halfway point.

But I do think I’m “over the hump” and things should move along much faster now. That’s because I’ve finally wrestled the biggest time bandit to the ground—not to say I’ve conquered it—but at least the monster is harnessed. For those of you who have never made or attempted to make custom 3D content, trust me when I say you can lose days to the process. Weeks, even. And a very large percentage of the Stonehaven machinima requires custom content. New meshes. New animations. New approaches in general. Filming is nothing. Creating the sets and props? Well, that’s a horse of an entirely different color.

Today I’m uploading some fresh pictures to give everyone a sneak peek into the past two weeks of this project. Even though I devoted many hours every day to the process, it took that long to create the sets and props for these six pictures. A person who has never played Sims 2 might glance at them and say, “Oh. Okay. So what’s the big deal?” However, an experienced Simmer should—in theory—say “How the heck. . .???” Veteran custom content creators will just shrug and say, “Hmm. Looks like she used Milkshape.”

Indeed I did use Milkshape. It’s a low-end 3D modeling tool that allows Average Janes like me to do the impossible with garden variety computer games. Combine it with SimPE (Simple Package Editor) and the sky’s the limit. SimPE is a modern marvel. A plug from its home site’s About page: “While it is a powerful Tool, SimPE is absolutely free and largely based on Community work.” Yes, indeed it is free. And without serious bugs, spyware, or other malicious stowaways so common in free downloads. But as software goes, they’re not kidding about it being a powerful tool. It’s a hoss. A big old hairy-legged draft hoss, not a fuzzy little pony. My head spins every time I try to comprehend the amount of code people wrote for that program with no expectation of payment whatsoever.

But that’s the nature of the Sims 2 community. I’ve never belonged to a group of any sort with as much generosity. Sure, you have your silly little collabs who barely speak to people outside their own microcosm. But for the most part, Simmers are gregarious, helpful folks with loads of talent and creativity, and they’re eager to share it. . .with a few exceptions. I noted a glaring one below.

As far as the Stonehaven machinima goes, I’m trying very hard to make it as polished and professional as standard commercial animated “shorts.” That being said, there’s no way that machinima can ever compete with frame-by-frame computer generated animation. (For that matter, neither can claymation, yet Chicken Run happens to be one of my all-time favorite movies.) It’s important for people, especially new mainstream viewers, to understand what machinima is, and what’s it’s not. And to stop comparing it to the likes of Toy Story. Pixar did wonderful things with that movie. It was groundbreaking on so many levels. But I’d pretty much guarantee they never had to re-shoot a scene sixteen times because Buzz Lightyear kept picking his nose, or that random townies kept generating in the corner of each scene and strolling through their “closed” set.

Anyhoo. . .

The six “photographs” and media items pictured here will appear as framed wall hangings in the fictional Stonehaven Road green house. They tell their own story, which will be better understood after watching the machinima. For now, just take them in good faith, as proof that I am indeed working hard on this project, and making real (but slow) progress.

(Let’s hear it for WordPress coding: I CANNOT place the following text where I want, which is either before or after the last photo in the column, the one with the green background. So let’s all play “pretend,” okay? Let’s pretend this text is where it should be, and have no confusion over which photo it refers to, or lament the aesthetics of the layout.)

The last photo is the “exception” I mentioned earlier. This snapshot has been posted at the largest Simming site on the Web (Mod The Sims) for several weeks now. At the time of this post, it had been viewed more than 240 times. Yet not a single helpful response. Someone did say I should post photos rather than describe the problem. So I did. Then. . .nothing.

This is a meshing issue I’ve been unable to resolve on my own. It’s some sort of transparency and warp, which suggests incorrect bone assignments to me. Yet all bone assignments are complete and correct. The problem only manifests when an item is converted to an accessory. On the left, you can see what the movie camera should look like. On the right is what happens when I attach it to a Sim. I’m a bit dismayed by the fact that no one has responded on the MTS forum. I can think of many reasons for this, but still. What a disappointment.

Drop-in visitors, if you know the solution, please feel free to share it with me !!

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12 responses to “Updates from the set

  1. Oh, I want to print out this blog entry, frame it and hang it on my wall. You are so funny, Doolittle, and so inspiring! I too am amazed at the spirit of sharing and generosity in the Sims community. And the snobbery of people outside of Sims who have no clue what it’s about. The Toy Story fans, as you say, sneering at choppy Sims animation. I’ve never yet played Sims, but from what you tell me, it’s quite an education. You could create a summer camp for kids to come in and learn all manner of skills like time management, multi-tasking in the manner of a mother of three toddlers who’s trying to get them to pose for a photo but they keep picking their nose or hitting each other (love your Buzz Lightyear comment!). I am so entertained by your stories of Sims characters who do their own thing and may or may not cooperate when you try filming. Well, I’m inspired and I commiserate with the challenges, but you could write a book about your adventures with Sims characters. Funny how you get no response to the camcorder challenge. Me, I look at it and wonder what’s the problem, I hardly notice the transparency of the camera. You care so much about fidelity and accuracy. Good for you! As for your five months in filming Stonehaven, I’ve worked on that novel since Fall 2009 and still haven’t completed it. Watching what you do with machinima has put the writing process in a whole new light for me. What you do is like poetry. The carefully chosen image that tells us all we need to know. You show me, as no editor can, how I don’t need the clutter of words to explain it all. Thanks for your hard work — oh, and I love your work horse (hoss) metaphor!!

  2. P.S. These photos you posted today: incredible attention to detail! A whole page of a newspaper. So many people in once scene. The lion logo. You bring to life a whole world – with colorful, beautiful imagery and the telling detail — and characters that seem so real. This blog entry doesn’t show us Moosey and the Rottweilers or the redhaired girl at the window or Julian up a tree, or the green house. You have a natural talent for capturing archetypes.

  3. Good news: both my daughters, who play Sims (addicted!), ages 18 and 15, looked at your camera problem and said, “What’s the problem?” I explained. “No one would ever notice,” they agreed. Well, machinima pros might, but average viewers probably won’t. 🙂

  4. Carol, I always love your comments. On this blog and everywhere else you post. That’s the mark of a true writer, though, isn’t it? Someone who commits words to paper (or screen) in such a way that makes people want to stop whatever they’re doing and listen?

  5. Those are very cool pics!!! 🙂

  6. Oh I KNOW that this would take a whole lot of work. I need no convincing of that. I am so looking forward to it. Take me as an eager fan and not someone into Sims machinima because I looked at the pics and wondered “What’s the problem here?” I scrolled up, I scrolled down, I tilted my head left and right. Then I gave up.
    However, what happened is that I am looking forward to the story! I want to know what’s up with that team, how did the doctor come to win the humanitarian award and why is he surrounded by children? I want to know who Mark Nelson is. With that said, I think you are doing exactly what you set out to do, a book trailer.
    As for machinima, I would want to see that red ribbon being cut and eventually, when I come out of my absent-mindedness, I would give my usual delayed response to everything: “Oh my gosh, how did she…?”

  7. Odara, just as Carol wanted to frame the blog entry and hang it on her wall, I’d like to do the same with your comment. Why? Because you say even the photo snippets pique your interest, and that’s what I’m trying to do: use this machinima as a big old trailer sign with lights flashing in the shape of an arrow, pointing viewers to a “product,” which in this case is Carol’s novel.

    All of the “questions” these pictures raised for you have everything to do with the novel and nothing to do with my take on it–which is exactly the goal. Carol gets to take the credit for writing such fascinating characters, cooking up a compelling plot and lacing it with intrigue. In the machinima I’ve focused less on the main characters and more on the secondary ones, trying to raise exactly the kinds of questions you mentioned. The machinima is meant to be a complement to the novel, not a visual retelling of it. Carol will be guest-blogging in the next day or so, and she’s planning to expound on all the ways that experimenting with this machinima has given her new insights into characters who never really had a voice before.

    So at the end of the day, what she and I (and hopefully everyone who follows this blog) are learning is that machinima is indeed a powerful tool, not just for “advertising” purposes, but as an advanced-level exercise in storytelling. Every bit as edifying as traditional writing exercises, maybe even more so. In this way, I think we are indeed breaking new ground, and introducing fresh ideas to a stale market.

    And that makes me happy!

  8. Odara, I’m thrilled that you want to know who Mark Nelson is! And that Rhonda’s taken the time and trouble to “show” him to the world via machinima. He is a lot of men. They look nice and know how to behave in public, but behind closed doors, the reptilian brain comes to life and human morality drowns in a torrent of hormones. And Rhonda, LOL, don’t try to compete with me in casting praises where they’re due. You rule! You’ve inspired me and taught me so much, and I’m forever in your debt.

  9. Rhonda, this is so good, it bears repeating for emphasis:”… machinima is indeed a powerful tool… as an advanced-level exercise in storytelling. Every bit as edifying as traditional writing exercises, maybe even more so…. we (you in particular!) are indeed breaking new ground, and introducing fresh ideas to a stale market.”

  10. I looked up machinma directors reviving machinima – http://durs99.ning.com/profiles/blogs/directors-united-in-diversity?xg_source=activity – and “liked” on FB and posted links. Funny, every time I mention machinima on FB, I get ignored. 🙂 Mostly it’s my own family and friends, but several IWW members too.

  11. That’s awesome that you linked to DURS. But I’m not surprised that you get “ignored.” Remember your audience. Regardless of how good we get at making machinima, and no matter how it affects us personally, the majority of people may never enjoy it. Especially the literati, yeah, that same bunch who was particularly condescending toward “Twilight.” This doesn’t concern me. I feel I’ve drawn a bullseye on machinima’s target audience, and the pleasant surprise is its size and temperament. . .these seem be good, good folk with lots of imagination and enthusiasm. Hey–just the kind of people I want to be around! 🙂

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