Machinima Magic from Hugh Hancock

I have been chatting to Hugh Hancock over email after he took our online masterclass. Hugh is a very interesting chap and an expert in Machinina – what’s that some of you will ask. In brief, it’s making animated films inside a real time rendering 3D engine such as a computer game engine (often hacking in to take control over camera movement and actor action). The big advantage is that shots and sequences render in real time, and it can all be made from your desktop. You read loads more on Wikipedia here.

 Hugh sent me a long email documenting some of his thoughts after he made his own epic Machinima Movie, Bloodspell, which you can view above (yes the whole darn movie in HD, so remember to blow it up full screen!) Hugh is also the co-author of Machinima For Dummies. Anyway, here’s what he has to say about his shenanigans!

HughWe started making BloodSpell in 2003, as a way to make a quick, easy film and get back into the swing of things after I'd spent a year trying to raise capital for an extremely over-ambitious project of mine (my first swing at Stage 4, I guess). It didn't end up that way!

The project ballooned into a feature pretty quickly, and took a lot longer than planned. In the end, the first version of BloodSpell went out in 2006, nearly 4 years after we started. Not all of that was full-time, but a lot of it was. It attracted a hell of a lot of online attention, and we ended up with around 100,000 views for the series (it was initially released in 14 parts, one every two weeks – an approach I recommend, actually, on the Web). We might have gotten a lot more, but the opening couple of episodes showed we were still learning, and were
kinda weak. So…

 I then re-cut the project into a feature film, reshot a whole bunch of stuff, wrote a new introduction, and did a total re-edit. In hindsight, I wish we'd taken the time to do that the first time around – but we really didn't know how good we could potentially make it. (I spent a lot
of time in the Gone Fishing seminar shouting "D'oh!")

Bloodspell2The feature was released in 2007, as you know. It was enormously successful – over 33,000 people sat down to watch an hour and a half movie on the Internet, quite a few of them downloading it first – a gigabyte download. There were four feature films made in Scotland and released that year – to the best of my knowledge, two of them were only ever watched by about 1,000 people, and both had budgets well in excess of 10 or even 100 times ours. The other one, which according to IMDB sales data was viewed by about 66,000 people, had a budget over 3 million pounds! So in terms of getting visibility for the buck, our £5,000 film did pretty well!

We released the film as Creative Commons, which essentially means that anyone could copy it, provided they weren't making money out of it. That explains a lot about how many people have watched it. And unlike most features, the viewers keep on coming – we're up to 50,000 viewers for the feature film now, and it's still going up.

 Because BloodSpell was made with Machinima, using a copyrighted engine and art, we couldn't make money out of it. We knew that from the start – based on the Guerilla Filmmakers' books amongst other things, I knew that the odds of my first feature making money were tiny, and so decided to keep costs as low as possible and aim for visibility and experience. Overall, I'd say it worked out – particularly given the budget I've heard Hollywood people estimate to shoot the film live was on the order of $30 million! (Obviously, you could do it cheaper than that, but I think you'd struggle to tell anything like the BloodSpell story for less than £100,000). Machinima also let me tell a story there was really no way any live-action filmmaker could reasonably hope to tell.

Bloodspell1Overall, it's not catapulted me into the bigtime, but BloodSpell has done pretty darn well for me. I'm known by most of the Internet geek/filmmaker community now, I've had a lot of press (Guardian, USA Today, BoingBoing, etc) and some very favourable reviews (one magazine rated BloodSpell as highly as the Neil Gaiman/Matthew Vaughn film Stardust!). If I'd struck whilst the iron was hotter, I'd probably have been able to leverage it more, but I was so exhausted when I finished the film that I ended up taking a year to do something totally different – a fairly common story, I guess.

Anyway, enough waffling from me! Hope you enjoy it!

Hugh Hancock

Artistic Director, Strange Company

Thanks for such a great email Hugh and we all look forward to the next one!

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author

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