Completely Machinima History with Ben Grussi - Unreal Engine

In this episode, Ben goes deep into the archives and digs out the earliest days of Unreal…. Long before the launch of Unreal Engine, the first machinima productions were made in Unreal 1 as early as 1998. Ben then traces the lack lustre performance of machinima in Unreal as a genre until such time as the Make Something Unreal Contest was launched in 2003 – then BANG!!! Credits: Speakers: Ben Grussi Producer/Editor: Ricky Grove Music: Unreal 1 soundtrack

Ben Grussi 00:12
Welcome, everyone to the history, part of the podcast, where this month we're covering Unreal. Unreal, as you will know, because of its great popularity now because of the Mandalorian and several other big projects that are now using its technology. Bear in mind that the history that we're going to cover is got a lot of shorts and false starts and whatnot. But any great technology has its moments of humble beginnings.

Ben Grussi 00:45
And it first starts off with the Unreal engine in the game Unreal was released in 1998. It's famous for its free forming fighter with its camera through a wonderfully designed Castle, as its intro screen. And handle was also well known for its in-game scripted sequences that really upped the ante in, in-game cinematic, where it didn't take you out of the game, it was incorporated in the game, much like in Half Life and Half Life to where you didn't have to worry about the cinematics taking you out of the moment, but you are becoming part of the moment. Unfortunately, as I said, with a shortcomings that some of the funny glitches that the game had with cinematics is unfortunately, the games AI and the scripting systems had a bit of of hiccups, where the AI sometimes had an interesting experience where when it tried to do something, sometimes it would go completely different to what the filmmaker was trying to get it to do. So what it expected it to do, didn't actually do it and did something completely opposite. So unfortunately, out of the control of the filmmakers that it kind of ran amok. So it was kind of funny but very frustrating when you're trying to reproduce this reproduces scene in the AI is not cooperating much like actors in the real world.

Ben Grussi 02:22
So a couple of groups came out of the woodwork for the first Unreal game, one of them was called Team Evolve. That was done, brought up with James Hammer Morton. He was working under the Team Evolve banner. And then we met up with another person Hugh MacDonald, who was a solo machinist who they combined forces and created Unframed Productions, which made a few films in Unreal, and actually did, they actually worked on a project for Resident Evil little bits and pieces there, but nothing significance. I mean it was really cool back in the day, but it didn't really react too much.

Ben Grussi 03:13
Then, fast forward a little bit. A year later, we have Unreal Tournament, the very first one, it was developed as a multiplayer heavy focus game instead of a single player. It was basically the unreal version of Quake III Arena is really popular, and the gameplay mechanics was really good. I really me personally, I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, the Machinima development that people could do with it didn't really get off the ground with it. This is as well either because again, the tools didn't exist and the usability was just not there yet.

Ben Grussi 03:51
Several teams actually developed some tools. One of them was called Reactor Four, which developed a tool called the real time movie studio. It provided some better control for producing movies. It did a few actions, skits, and so forth, but unfortunately, there wasn't anything of note to document to say that it really did much.

Ben Grussi 04:16
So fast forward again to Unreal Tournament in 2003, slash 2004. This is a big huge turning point. Because this is actually the first iteration that used the dedicated cutscene producer and editor they dubbed Matinee. Matinee is definitely has evolved. Major iterations in the future. They actually just retired the name for the latest of Unreal in 2022. But way back when in 2003, it really was a shot in the arm to for machinima production. Still had a high learning curve, but still, a lot of films are made with it.

Ben Grussi 05:04
One of the first was actually done by Greek movie alumni Star Fury. He created one of the first called Sucker. But what was really cool before soccer is actually that the intro for Unreal 2003 was a really polished introduction in-game cinematic for the game introduction, which really showed off the virtual production possibilities, with all the characters running through script, going through a crowd triggering special effects. And it was a really slick presentation that really showed off the tool, tools ability to do stuff. It may be hard to use, but at least it really produced some really good output in terms of what was possible.

Ben Grussi 05:55
The other interesting thing that really spurred the moment, the the creative juices is that Epic Games actually made a deal, a collaboration with Nvidia, you know, the graphics company, and they made something called the Make Something Unreal Contest, also known as the MSUC, which was to promote development of user made content ranging from new models, character models, and levels in maps, to new gameplay types, and genres. And actually, what was really awesome is they also included a category for both 2003 and 2004 editions of the contest. They did it instead of under machinima, they did it under the category of non-interactive movie. They produced the some of the notable films that were crew that were presented as finalists and winners of the first iteration of it when the 2003 edition was Friedrich Kirschner's The Tournament. It was which was also featured at the Second Annual Machinima Film Festival. Unframed Productions who created Lucky Man as well as other films, and also several other notable films as EG_Intro from Hongman Leung and The Showdown from Accelerated Pictures.

Ben Grussi 07:25
And then for the 2004 edition, most notably, Friedrich Kirschner's The Journey which got the grand prize that was a wonderful prize of actually winning $25,000 in cash money. Several other notable films, entitled bought who got in second place that 15 sparked a memory third place at five scrap fourth place in damnation at fifth place $1,500. So, definitely not money to sneeze at, especially for all the work people did to put into their productions, but definitely a super shot in the arm for machinima production to get people spurred on to using the tools to create their films.

Ben Grussi 08:18
There resources and notable mentions, the editor has you a parody of sorts with the matrix. Answers was also another film that Star Fury did that was really well done. He did it as a solo with a small team of voice actors and so forth. Using the scripting system. You also have the ever season which is actually campaigns from submission to that contest, and a couple other ones which will be in the show notes. Another notables as well actually before I forget is actually called Anti Tumour that was actually quite an interesting piece of really, you don't know what's really going on. And also another one was Blade Runner, which I will explain a little bit more, which is basically someone developed a trailer, a game trailer for Blade Runner, like a movie trailer, all in game, and he just did it for fun. He actually did another film, with just showing off the ability to show what Lord of the Rings cinematic would look like if they're both released like, and it was just experimental, just to see if it can be done. So you never know what can come out of experimentation. It looks pretty slick even though it you know, it's very, it may be very difficult, but at least you get a lot of reward out of it.

Ben Grussi 08:30
So switching back I'm in between those times, we have another tool that was James and Hugh MacDonald. Under their Unframed productions, they created a tool called the Unreal Movie Studio. Again, not as notable, I mean, it was used for a small stint contest for the site, which was the Real Short, real short contest where people could develop, you know, a short, real short short, in that contest ran for a couple of months, or maybe a year, but definitely the website was trying to, again, cultivate content in you know, not trying to do Epic productions, but at least, again, has been noted in the podcast to to, you know, go small, don't go do Epics, but just use small stuff. So you can just cut your teeth and get, you know, skills and to grow slowly, instead of trying to go balls out, you know, really ambitious.

Ben Grussi 11:12
And then, a year after that, the big news that really surprised a lot of people was that it's one of the very first iterations of previz is that when Steven Spielberg was using Unreal Tournament, it in this is unreal tournament one, because of the day, this was back in 2001. He was using it for his previous for the design of his movie artificial intelligence. It was collaborated with Industrial Light and Magic, and as you well know, for the Mandalorian for the volume, and using stage craft, and so forth. So they're cutting their teeth that way back then, to get their chops to do virtual production. And Steven Spielberg was one of the very first noted directors of very high calibre to use those tools to work on his film to make it more efficient and so forth.

Ben Grussi 12:11
And then the initial announcement of Matinee was actually announced in July of 2021. But actually 22,001 Sorry, three a little ahead. So Epic really released details of the matinee tool way back in 2001. Again, we didn't really see it in mainstream ability until the 22,003 edition of Unreal Tournament. They did have Unreal 2 be released, but that was done. But Matinee wasn't ready for that. So they did still use in game cinematics like Unreal did bring it up another notch with actually stories cutscenes. Much like an Unreal Tournament 2003. But again, Matinee need wasn't ready yet for that implementation. So that's, again, the evolution of tools, even if they didn't have names for it. So the the announcement of the Unreal Tournament, or unreal Making Something Unreal was actually the first iterations of it were rumoured to be around in the beginning of 2003 actually Ken Thain was the one that he heard that epic was planning a contest that will include slots for machinima productions made in Unreal Tournament 2003. And then the formal announcement for the competition actually was in July or that same year, where it was entitled The $1 million Make It Unreal competition. And it was, like I said, a collaboration between Epic and Nvidia and also the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences was also coordinating the, the non-interactive movie portion of the contest.

Ben Grussi 14:06
And then the biggest thing that has really changed the world to its epic proportions, but not intended is that that year in October, Epic Games, released the very first version of its Unreal Engine for use for education and non commercial projects, where even to this day, people are using the the engine to create mind boggling things in games, in movies and so forth. And it's done all for free. You can use it as a wonderful resource and the teaching resources provided these days is astronomical. So it's definitely from its humble beginnings, you know, over 19 years ago, it's just mind boggling what has come to pass because of their openness to allow people to use it without cost.

Ben Grussi 15:00
And then the interesting tidbit for the the grand finals of the making machinery Contest, which is The Journey, Friedrich Kirschner's The journey is that there was an interview done by Homeland. It was a hardware lead website way back in February of 2005. They had a brief interview with the Unreal developers on the Make Something Unreal Contest, and they asked the question, on another subject, why was Journey picked is the best movie award winner. One of the guys named Steve College said, quote, journey was unique and well done, it had a thoughtful storyline and unique art, it certainly didn't look like it was running on the Unreal Engine. And that's one of the key things that machinima has a skill and if you can tap into it, and have assets that create it, so you don't even know the game from the movie. So sure, you can have your own logic as to Unreal, Halo, you know, flight sims and stuff like that. But if you can use your resources to completely kind of in a way we mix it. So you don't even know what's coming from the game, you're using the game as a platform to create your content. But to not know where the pieces fit to make it what it was the game, to your film, your film stands on its own. And nobody really has to know how its running it just as long as it allows you to create your stories. And in allows you to get your vision. And it doesn't matter to a lot of people what you're running, it matters to them the visual presentation and that you're able to put all the pieces together and make a wonderful production that they can enjoy. You can enjoy releasing to people and share you know, the, you know, the fun and the drama and everything else that you've reduced to let other people feel the same thing that you do that you want to express in your films.

Ben Grussi 17:06
So this is pretty brief. There's not as much notables. But definitely the quality of the films that the Unreal Engine has produced has been really good. I mean, like anything it's it's has its moments, but definitely there have been high points. In closing, I just want to mention two other productions of worth.

Ben Grussi 17:36
There was a team that did from Down Under called Victory. Victory did a series of tutorials in explaining how Unreal Tournament 2004 You know, each of the game types they show off with the team they did in a humorous way of just trying to explain to you all the different genres of game types that 2000 Unreal Tournament 2004 provided you know, it was a really slick presentation and definitely was worth watching. And then there is another cinematic piece inadvertently I don't remember the name of it at the moment but it'll be in the show notes and the video will be attached once I upload it to the archive definitely shows a very cinematic it's very foreboding in its depicts the the end of the world in a way it deals with a lot of mechanics. So it definitely is a slick way of using, again the Matinee system and using the internal components of the unreal world and engine to create a quite an interesting presentation in their interpretation of what it means for the world to end.

Ben Grussi 18:56
So so that's it for Unreal. I mean as always, sometimes these things are so detailed that there's no way for me to cover everything in it's not to be disrespectful, but it's just sometimes you don't want to turn this into a college essay or college textbook that you know you're gonna get bored after a while. So hopefully all these little tidbits brighten your day and help you learn a little bit more of the history of the at least the Unreal branch of this story. And I will talk to you next month for our next series on whatever engine we have planned for. Even I don't know sometimes. Alright guys thank you!

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