How I Cast Brian Blessed, Joanna Lumley and Jack Davenport in my fantasy short, Guest Blog by Hugh Hancock

blessedWhy You Should Consider Virtual Filmmaking For Your Next Project

Guest blog post by Hugh Hancock, filmmaker and author of Machinima for Dummies

Everyone knows that it’s impossible for micro-budget filmmakers to make a CGI animated movie, right?

It’s horrendously expensive. It’s brutally slow – hours of rendering for every frame. It’s so technical that if you’re not actually wearing a propeller on your head right now you shouldn’t even consider it.


No. Not any more.

In the last decade or so, fully-CGI movie-making has completely changed. “Performance Capture” and virtual filmmaking haven’t just revolutionised ultra-high-end Hollywood movies – micro-budget filmmakers should totally be considering some form of virtual filmmaking as at least part of their
moviemaking strategy.

Here are five reasons why:

It’s not jerky or clunky-looking any more

“Machinima” films – virtual filmmaking films made in real-time using computer games technology – used to look, well, crap. They looked like old-school computer games: flat, blocky and brown.

Nowadays, though, indie virtual movies and Machinima movies can look pretty awesome. If you use a tool like “Source Filmmaker“, you can produce fluidly-animated shorts with perfect lipsynching and expressive characters. Check out the Reddit for Source Filmmaker to see some awesome examples:

(Here’s a particularly fun example:

Virtual movie-making is by far the cheapest way to practise filmmaking techniques or try out ideas

Using a tool like Moviestorm ( gives you access to a huge film set right on your home PC. Unlike conventional CGI programs, it works in a What You See Is What You Get way, and is pretty intuitive to use.

You can use crane shots, cast as many actors as you want, block off locations and throw around lights to your heart’s content. And if you don’t like the end result, it didn’t cost you anything, and only took a few hours.

Virtual films are a great way to get noticed

If you’re an editor, screenwriter, or director, you should seriously consider making some Machinima or other CGI short films. There’s a huge audience out there watching them, and it’s a great way to get your skills noticed for very little cost.

Millions of people watch top Source Filmmaker films, for example this trailer for an upcoming 8-minute short has had over a million views, or some of the animations made in games like Minecraft.

If you’ve got visual skills and want to build up a portfolio, you can use the fact that these virtual worlds have huge audiences interested in them to popularise your YouTube channel and get your name known.

The technology is only going to get better

We’ve already seen how Machinima films have moved from being clunky and ugly to looking pretty visually slick – and their quality and flexibility is continually improving.

I’m one of the guys at the forefront of the movement, and some of the tools that I’m seeing coming up are just scarily good. Real-time renderers capable of almost photorealistic quality, Avatar-like motion capture technology in your living room (I actually made this motion captured short entirely in my front room), “procedural” terrain generators that can give you a Lord of the Rings landscape with five minutes of processing – the tech that’s arriving now is just scary.

And that’s before we start thinking about really futuristic stuff like filmmaking using virtual reality glasses… (

It’s different!

In the age of YouTube, everyone has a camera. Tens of thousands of people are making movies. You need to differentiate yourself.

And making films using CGI technology is one way to do that. In fact, as I discovered a few years ago, it’s one of the best ways to do that.

I was working on a new short film, and after watching Chris’s great seminar on how he made “Gone Fishing”, I decided to try and pitch my short film to a top casting agent, Gail Stevens.

I was expecting a polite but very firm “no” – but actually, she loved the idea of the project! And a significant part of the reason why she was so keen is that it was something genuinely different – a romance story set in an epic fantasy world.

We started approaching actors, and they had the same reaction. And that’s how I ended up casting Jack Davenport, Anna Chancellor, Joanna Lumley AND Brian Blessed to star in my short film.

It’s out now, actually – free to view at As you’ll be able to see, it’s quite different from most shorts – with a cast of hundreds of characters, epic battle scenes, and a lot of other elements that would have been impossible in the real world without an eight-figure budget.

You should definitely consider using virtual filmmaking in your next project – short or feature! Now’s the right time – just as it’s getting hot, and before everyone’s jumping on board.

hughIf you want any advice on what to use or how to use it in the virtual filmmaking sphere, feel free to give me a shout at @hughhancock


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