Machinima expands beyond game engines, sticks with video games

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Machinima, a portmanteau of machine and cinema, is two things. As a common noun, the word refers to the use of video-game-graphics software, commonly called engines, to create animated videos. As a proper noun, it refers to the media company, which started life modestly in 2000 as little more than a website created to host machinima productions.

But while the roots of Machinima lie in videos created with game engines, the company’s chair and CEO, Allen DeBevoise, foresees a much broader future. On the phone from his office in West Hollywood, California, DeBevoise—who will appear on October 26 at the Merging Media conference in Vancouver—said that he’s looking to cable networks like AMC and Showtime as examples for how to create a programming model.

“We’ve seen them do incredible things,” he told the Georgia Straight, referring to programs such as AMC’s Mad Men and The Walking Dead and Showtime’s Dexter and Homeland. “Once you have an audience, you want to give them something unique and special.”

Something like Mortal Kombat: Legacy, a live-action web series that premiered on Machinima in April 2011. Shot in Vancouver, its nine episodes served as a proof of concept for Warner Bros., which has since hired director Kevin Tancharoen to helm a new feature film based on the franchise. DeBevoise said that decision was easy to make after executives and marketing departments saw the numbers; the series has garnered about 60 million views. It was evidence, he added, that there is a worldwide audience for movies based on the Mortal Kombat game.

The global reach of Machinima, through its website and YouTube channels, gives it a distinct advantage, DeBevoise asserted, over the traditional broadcast networks. So does the fact that the content has always been available on-demand and on multiple platforms.

If Legacy marked the first episodic narrative production for Machinima, then Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is the first blockbuster for the video network. “This is a major brand,” DeBevoise said. The ambitious web series, in part a promotional vehicle for Microsoft Studios’ upcoming Halo 4 video game, debuted on October 5. Its five 15-minute episodes, shot in Vancouver this past spring, boast effects rarely used outside feature films.

When Machinima first began broadcasting on YouTube, according to DeBevoise, it focused on creating videos for Halo gamers. “Halo is right at the roots of our company,” he said, “and really at the root of the machinima movement.” Machinima’s first hit series, in fact, was Arby ’n’ the Chief, created by Vancouver filmmaker Jon Graham.

Even if Machinima isn’t doing as much machinima these days, DeBevoise said the network isn’t moving away from games. “Our goal is to be an entertainment-programming brand that is deeply rooted in the triple-A video-game culture,” he said. “We think we can keep innovating as long as we super-serve the core.…We’re not trying to be something that we’re not.”

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