Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Peter Greenaway Interview following review of entries to MachinimUWA III: Journeys

MachinimUWA III: Journeys - 22 May from Yesikita Coppola on Vimeo.

Cannes Film Festival award winning director, Peter Greenaway is on the judging panel for MachinimUWA III: Journeys, and will be guest speaker of honour for the Grand Finale event of MachinimUWA III from 6am slt on Sunday the 22nd of May. Following his review of all entries, and his selection of a top 11, this is what he had to say:

"Perhaps I seldom found what I was looking for - BUT - there is virtue in these eleven ..... and all fifty should keep moving, never stopping, keep going, holding on, getting stronger, fighting 'the slings and arrows', getting better and better all the time."

He was then kind enough to answer a series of questions on Machinima that had been constructed by MindBlind Setsuko and myself, for this blog, and for other publications in Australia and Italy.

"And here's some answers to the questions - and you can see where I am heading for better and yet better and yet better machinimas."

1 - What are your overall thoughts on second life machinima?
We are looking for a new audio-visual format after the exhausted death of cinema - it has to be capable of handling the breadth and depth of big ideas and it has to be more immediate than cinema ever was - and what we don't want is a digital medium that simply copies cinema. Cocteau said "Be original or astonish me". Show me something I have not seen before or show me what I have seen before but show it to me differently. Not an easy task with so much visual excitement flying around but it does happen otherwise we would not have Picasso building on Velasquez or Warhol making soup-tins philosophical, or Pollock dripping house-paint to confound the realists of figuration. You have to start somewhere - and I suggest let's find out why cinema failed, reseach the negatives and then start to rebuild avoiding the last set of negative traps. Cinema dies because of four tyrannies.

Number One - the killer tyranny - TEXT - most cinema is illustrated text - it should have primarily been a visual medium - but the visuals nine times out of ten take second place to the narrative text - cinema is largely an illustrative medium - picking its way along a text line - making pictures out of words - and usually words written by somebody else and not the cinema maker. Text has not been good enough for cinema cinema .... and first off - the machinima must not be merely an ilustration of text - so break with the bookshop once and for all - and also - and this is more difficult because everyone thinks we communicate largely by telling stories - step out that idea that cinema and machinmas must tell stories. The story, the narrative, the plot does not exist in the natural world - it is a man-made thing - a construct of convenience - therefore it can be "un-man-made".

Number Two Tyranny - we must dump the idea of THE FRAME - the frame - like the story - does not exist in nature. We do not experience the world in frames - its a limiting straight-jacket . There is essentially no frame, for example, in Japanese painting before it choose to imitate the West - the japanese traditionally got away without recourse to a frame - no edges, no margins, and by real and metaphorical comparison no boundaries, no limits, no need for resolutions. The evidence for stories being false propositions in the real world is because of this very thing - events in the real world are never "resolved".But it will be a big visual revolution to change the frame - all our digital devices have been lazy and too convenient for the money-makers - they stay with what they know . When you think about it - the frame scarcely ever has any effect on the image or the content of the image. Painters have told us about the frame edges in the 20th century - but few film-makers ever thought about the frame edge and therefore the frame limit. Until the hardware people rethink the frame - we can certainly start by pushing that frame around - changing its aspect ratio, proportion, shape - demonstrate that it can be a living thing - comic strips have been doing it ever since Krazy Kat and Little Nemo - shake it up as a prelude to dumping it all together. Humans are slow to give away their comforts and what they know they know. Machinimas could stamp their newness on the world by demonstrating they could be frameless.

Number three tyranny - THE ACTOR. Maybe traditionally the best definition of an actor is - someone who has been trained to pretend he is not being watched. Most actors are used most of the time to tell stories, pretend to be someone else. Is that what we want them to do? And most actors most of the time are asked - on our behalf - to fuck or die - the staple diet of world cinema. And curiously since cinema actors are 20th century inventions, they therefore are used primarily as pyschology-markers - pyschology-avatars. It is no accident that Freud and cinema grew up alongside one another. Compared to what painting has done with "actors" for two thousand years - actors are also scarcely used for their physicality in any truly visual sense - they only replicate us and scarcely ever extend who we are. Because of the perceived limitations - so far - of the machinima vocabulary - curiously this non-visual physicality need not - apparentlty - be a millstone around our necks. We must explore the use of "the actor", the figurant, more thoroughly in the machinima vocabulary - conceivably the actor no longer has to arrive complete with an established set of vanities - though there are very apparent vanities of a very primitive sense in most Second Life avatars - high-breasted barbie dolls and indeed "breasted" macho-men - which makes you wonder how limited human dreams really are - or is this a complaint related to available software supplies?

Number Four tyranny - THE CAMERA - merely an instrument that mimics what you put in front of it - not good enough. The camera is a recording instrument, an archival instrument.. But in a machinima everything has to be constructed and built, truly created. Critics poke ridicule at the nature of the Second Life puppeting avatars. They should be patient. Improvements happen daily - but maybe they are missing the point. The artificiality of the animated avatar could be its success. Do we want to make our avatars look and behave like people? Surely that is a low and maybe even miserable ambition? But we are learning - though maybe, sometimes I think, too slowly. Work our way through the negatives- don't build the vocabulary with the same old built-in flaws.

Other observations - length - most machinimas are too long for their media characteristic. Currently - though we need to develop - the haiku could be a model - short enough for perception at a single gasp - creating a must-see desire for repeated viewing ad infinitum. Delivering more at each viewing by staying the same. An economic jewel you always want to wear. The obvious credo - leave them wanting more, not determined to never see again.

I keep hoping to see a visionary machina maker - someone who uses the medium as the message. At present we are only seeing other art forms rewrit - the short-form feature-film, the music video-clip, the catwalk presentation, the dance-movie, the documentary-fiction with commentary - it's related of course to a loop of what you want is what we can produce for you - but I am truly full of excited hope that it is coming - an increased demand for new and better tools by machinima makers will increase the soft-ware and even the hardware thinking.

It took 30 years to make the first cinema masterpiece - machinmas have scarcely been going 8 years in any publicised sense. Let's be full of positive encouragement and let's be patient.

2 - Do you think that machinima could in some ways revolutionize conventional cinema? If yes, in what ways?
Poor analogy. We don't want to revolutionise cinema - which is socially mass-audience-organised illustrated text - we need to start something new here - and that newness is also very importantly associated with viewer participation, viewer interactivity and viewer manufacture - which cinema never was or could be - and cinema is a past tense medium - every time you see Casablanca or Gone with the Wind, or La Dolce Vita or Starwars or Avatar - it is always the same - no surprises second time around .... we now need a present tense medium that can change, develop, metamorphise every time you experience it - we are all post-television people. We are familiar with present-tense media.

3 - In your opinion, what are major advantages and disadvantages of 3d real-time animation in virtual worlds?
I am looking for a present-tense post meta-cinema - changing the product everytime you see it - and it is possible, though for the moment very difficult for the distributors to fathom. The whole Utube-thing could show us the way. I am dubious that 3D is that relevant . Cinema was a 2D medium - and the vocabulary of the 3D phenomenon will fast run out of juice - there are only so many times you can be hit in the face with a fist/boathook/blue-bird/ dead cat/ breast. I have yet to see a 3D moving picture show on any 2D screen bound by a rectangular frame that changes the nature of the film/video creativity.

I like the idea we can drink our coffee black or white, with or without sugar, placid or whipped in a small china cup, drunk deep in a big mug .... our choice --- I love the idea that we can switch a Second Life landscape to any minute of the day at will. We should make all machinima- viewing operable by the viewer. We write in fixed type. Basically the letter R is always the letter R - in Eastern calligraphic texts an R can be masculine, feminine, young, old, burnt, frozen, made of wood, stone ,water, dead, etc etc etc ... add to that excitement live action Rs and the capacity to customized by every recipient.

4 - What can the second life machinima industry do to raise the bar and make it a true alternative for use in 3d computer animation in movies ?
Forget the goddamed movies! I am excited by the medium essentially because it can be personalised - it should perhaps become like letter writing used to be - one to one in abundance - where everyone had his or her own handwriting. Don't put it in the cinema - you will kill it . But it has now to mature - it must come with its own moral and ethical freedoms, though we may take sometime to learn what they coud really be. It should move on from the cliches. Think twice, three times, four times before you put in yet another gun, pool of blood, fire-breathing dragon, bursting bosom, thonged buttocks, unicorn, robot. Think historically backwards as well as forwards - be prepared to tackle the big themes with new thoughts.

Cinema in 115 years taught people of 6 generatiions how to make love, eat foreign food, vote, buck the status quo, wear sharp clothes, travel the world - and changed our ways of seeing one another - it really advertiused freedoms we did not know we had. Broadcast TV took on those repsonsibilities and still pretends it is doing so - but if cinema lasted 115 years for 6 generations I doubt somehow that TV lasted in influence 3 generations. And generally the new generation does not watch that much broadcast TV - but take comfort - in a world of over 7 billion people there are an awful lot of minorities all wanting a personalised audio-video phenomeon - and it can now be supplied - maybe indeed by what the machinima could be offering. All the best and most profound and lasting things repeatedly turn out to be the poetry of a medium - we need the dreamers and the poetry makers - they are the people who think out of the box and take us to places we do not know existed.

The cinema has consistently struggled to be real - rather like 300 years of the Renaissance. In painting - the Renaissance struggled all the time to be "realer "and "realer" - learnt geometrical and ariel perspective and struggled with the aids of anatomy and mathematics to convince the viewers that what was being depicted was to be real - all the way from Giotto to da Vinci -a sort of waste of time - the pre-Giotto painters had a better idea of what to do. We have been doing the same in cinema - and Griffith - praised for introducing narrative into cinema - is really a curse and not a blessing .He decided for the rest of us that cinema should be illustrated books - bad news, a wrong move. And in the same desperate desire to be real - we now have 3D and the apologists say it is more realer than real. Do we need that ? Shouldn't we be putting our energies into something more worthwhile? The human imagination is surely the most amazing thing in the universe. We do not want virtual reality we want virtual unreality. We cannot replicate reality - why are we wasting our time trying?

Peter Greenaway

One of the most incredible series of answers I have received in all my life to questions I have asked of anyone!
Jay Jay


  1. I understand where Pete is coming from. He seems to advocate for the "poetic" approach to motion picture aesthetics which does lend itself to repeated viewings in order to see something different with each viewing. Whereas 'the narrative', from his perspective, is unnatural and seemingly played-out.

    Playing with the viewing frame (ala comic books)is something already being done and is, from my experience, is just constructing more frames within an established frame. 3D (particularly VR helmets) have a potential to shatter the frame but has yet to be available to the masses.

    I suppose I feel like Pete should make his own machinima based on what he is saying. It is an extraordinarily accessible form to work in and I think he would help us all understand where he is coming from with a creation of his own.

    Perhaps he's doing that? If he wants to see examples of what he has mentioned, check out my other machinimas http://www.youtube.com/user/CecilHirvi

    Peace out,

    - Dr. Love aka Cecil

  2. Thanks to JayJay, MindBlind and Mr. Greenaway for this review. It's thought-provoking and useful. I agree with Cecil about the "poetic" film. But I'd add that what Greenaway criticizes in “conventional” film can already be subverted and experimented with in “conventional” film tools—and he has done so himself. The virtues of machinima are no better or worse than the virtues of any experimental or avant-garde film medium: look at the Quay Brothers weird puppetry or Memento and its shattered chronology. However, machinima offers us one element that is different from other film media: the world we film is already animated by code, so we impose one virtual reality upon another. As far as dispensing with the frame, I'd like to draw attention to the fact that we have a frame built into the medium itself: the computer screen. We must deal with a double frame when we edit.

    Any genre, if done well in machinima can entice, and I have enjoyed the variety and ingenuity of all the films submitted here. I think one of the great virtues of machinima is its original use of multi-media: moving text, music and voice-over together, the visual pun, the dilation of attention demanded as we merge these with kaleidoscopic motion that in itself takes a great deal of scripting in a world that allows you to upload textures and shapes--and to play all your own characters through the use of alts!

    Last year, the topic “Art of the Artists” encouraged a specific genre that stressed a doubled form of exhibition: Art made of the Artists. "Journey," however, drew us away from documentary and encouraged chronology, fantasy, even plot. Let me imitate Cecil in referencing my earlier work (not that long ago! LOL). Up until now, my machinima projects focused on the “film-poem”... where my poetry supplemented my photography and vice versa (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tEhqPAUZh8 ); but here’s one I did as a very raw filmmaker and it got a lot of criticism: now that I've read Greenway's comments, I feel that its “errors” of framing are in some ways its virtues, since it’s all about frames, and “attachments” (I attached my 2D art canvases to my avatar and framed her in them): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBTvQoX5sV8. My entry this year is my very first "story" and I found it a very different challenge.

  3. Post script: Here is one of my very favorite machinimas, made by Toxic Menges. To speak without words seems to be the conundrum and paradox we need to face in making machinima. And take a look at that unsettling framing, the projected text on the landscape. It's exquisite.


  4. I don't share these views, tough I must confess to find them intriguing. I am an old fashioned storyteller, a narrator. For me movies are just another way to tell a story. And in this story a human kind, or something we can identify with (must not be human, lots of movie don't even have humans, like Nemo, the fish, but we humanize them) is in the center of interest. The famous writer Marion Zimmer-Bradley said once: "Stories are about people. Not about ideas." This is my credo, wether I write a novel or make a film. But this is my point of view - refering to narration only!
    If you see film or machinima as an artform - well, then everything is completely different. I can't compare Picasso with Shakespeare, its simply not possible. Picasso is not a narrator, he is a painter, an artist, who can change the way we feel about reality, about ourselves. Shakespeare told us infinite stories about love and hate, about war and peace, about struggle and success, the old themes we circle around since the first times we sat around a fire.
    PG told such stories too (Prospero's books), and I liked it very much.
    I also dont agree with the anti-frame position. Of course we have a framed view on the world. The human eye has an "arc" and angle of approx. 180 degree. We cannot look behind. So there is always a frame, not only in our view angle but also in our cultural prejudices, our education, our overall knowledge and concepts. A frame can be freedom - the freedom of being forced to watch every little detail around wich does not matter.
    So if you define machinima as a new artform, I agree with PG. But I use machinima as a vehicle to tell my stories. And then I can't abandon the camera or the actor. As I said: I am oldschool, I like to see stories, not only mind blowing picture compositings.

  5. Wow ... This is something you dont understand in one reading. Peter sets the bar very high .. I see components of his vision already in the virtual world .. Complete Viewer Immersion

    Great great article.

    GeeJAnn Blackadder (SL)

  6. Interesting interview with Peter Greenway. I disagree with virtually everything that he said, but interesting none the less - his dialog, based on the premise that "The story, the narrative, the plot does not exist in the natural world " is faulty. Every life (human or non-human), every journey, is a "story" unfolding. The film media like the camera, like the edge of a painting (farmed or unframed) has physical boundaries , that you work within. The point in to draw the audience "in" so they ignore the natural physical boundary. I think Peter is just trying to be "artsy fartsy" and taking gibberish.

  7. jour•ney:. a traveling from one place to another, usually taking a rather long time; trip: a six-day journey across the desert. a distance, course, or area traveled or suitable for traveling: a desert journey. a period of travel: a week's journey.
    If you did not want a "story", then why did you call the challenge a "journey"? Isn't it a little after the fact to tell pple you wanted a NON-story and a NON-film film at this point? Rather foul play, I'd say.

  8. I agree with most of what is said here. It is bright and it can serve to promote machinima as an art form. One thing - the text is not a problem; the concept is. Anything conceptual is, artistically speaking, a shit. Otherwise I love the idea of custom software & hardware - a computing platform. That's really great; but then - it will not be machinima anymore. It will be a step further.

  9. Cinema is far from dead, the films and the good old cinema venue still entertains and moves us emotionally and occasionally challenges our thinking. Machinima can be used for new and exciting art as well, it's true. But why does cinema have to be dead for that to happen. Go create, but don't kill your brothers in doing so.

  10. What we call Machininma is just video recorded from our computer screens, so we are stuck with 2D pictures of a 3D world just cinema like in rl. Our freedom to move through and interact with space, time, light, colour, and sound, in the virtual world should allow us an immersive experience of art. Right now identifying with our avatars wandering second life is all we have and that art experience is poorly served by video captured from a flat screen.

  11. A passionate man!

    Machinima making is for me a solitary road. I like people's idea's and use them freely, but I resist intuitively when people start telling me what to do(or not): in the end it is my thing and not theirs. Sometimes I despair and want to give up and sometimes i am elated when i finally get close to what I intended and people tell me that they like it.

    What i read in is answers is that new means give us new ways of telling things, but I also feel we should not shed our past: when movies started out the only reference people had was the stage. Hence the first movies looked like stageplays. And who could blame them? It was a proven way of telling stories.

    An additional factor is technical possibility: one can dream of floating camera's bobbing overhead, but if the only thing you have is a camera that weighs a ton and is unmovable, then the dream remains for the moment what it is: a dream.

    Yet dreams can give us an idea of what we might strive for and inspire us to experiment: what if we raised the camera overhead? What if we moved the camera from left to right? How can we achieve this?

    Maybe that is what he is saying: go beyond the borders of mimicking movies and experiment.
    I can understand this, but also i can understand you who are trying to do what you love the most: telling stories. And for the moment the best ways are the proven ways.

    I experiment with every medium or technique to express myself through this form: be it sound, text, images or movement. One source is silent(quiet) movies like Modern Times or the Black Stallion. I am also considering if we can feed machinima back into sl so it can be manipulated and used it for instance to let people play a part in their own fantasy.

    Another form I like to study is comics. Two friends of mine make comics, one uses the old fashioned pen and paper way, the other uses sl. There are interesting movies on you tube (try the keyword composition). Adds, music clips or propaganda.. they are great too. Powerful means of impressing a mood or image. Another interesting form are expressionistic movies.

    I am lucky to be part of a small group of builders, artists and designers. Some of my movies use their builds or features inspired by them. I like their enthousiasm(see the cars in the mutant car races of the Burn 2 event).

    Many of my movies might be unwatchable because of this experimenting or just because they are boring or disliked, but those who experiment help those who tell stories and with some pushing and shoving we expand the limits of what is possible, mix new things with old, and thus give us more means of telling stories.

    And isn't that fun?

  12. I loved this interview. Mr. Greenaway has just raised my expectations of what I should be demanding as a creator and an audience.

    Bravo sir.

  13. If machinima is a pre-recorded 2D video interpretation of one avatar’s inworld experience then I don't see how it could be personalized or directed to progress differently, unless one is viewing a Dragon’s Lair-type of interactive video. You’re still stuck in someone else’s frame. The ability to have “live action Rs and the capacity to [be] customized by every recipient,” means leaving machinima behind and experiencing a virtual world firsthand. You, in the virtual space, with the fully customizable world at your fingertips.

  14. Hey Rod, its great to see you here mate. Hope to see you at the event proper from 6am slt on sunday

  15. Interesting article.
    Even if I do not agree with Peter Greenaway in some of his views I´d like to add an important reason to why some people lose interest in cinema.
    It is the same reason to why most machinimas are boring unless they have extreme artistic qualities and are very intellectually and emotionally challenging:
    There is zero interactivity.

    A fine haiku or a good written poem still offer me an interactivity - they make me invent my own pictures in my mind.

  16. He's wrong about the death of film which is the basis of his theories about machinima, and I disagree with him on nearly every other count. Machinima has presented amazing new opportunities for filmmakers. While it's great to experiment with avant-garde machinima and "push the primacy of the image," there will always a place for traditional storytelling with machinima as the medium.

    Just because Greenaway insists that film is dead doesn't make it so. (Are books dead too? What about theater?)

  17. Delgado CinquettiMay 22, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    I agree.

  18. Mr. Greenaway is certainly entitled to his opinion, myopic as it may be.

    I do have to say, however, that Mr. Greenaway's comments would carry more weight with me if:

    1) he didn't drag this same "cinema is dead" stock answer out nearly every time he's asked to comment on film, as if he hadn't been saying the same thing for several years; and

    2) if I hadn't read reports that Mr. Greenaway is getting ready to direct a romantic comedy called "4 Storms and 2 Babies." The synopsis on the IMDB, the premise is certainly ground breaking: "a woman gets pregnant after having three-way sex with two men." Well, that is a new idea in Hollywood...oh wait...maybe not.

    Unfortunately I have to say, it weakens his case in my mind, unless he actually meant cinema, except for romantic comedies, is dead.

    Sarcasm aside, luckily there are plenty of filmmakers out there who are not ready to attend the cinema's funeral just yet and who continue to create a variety of thought-provoking, insightful, frightening, dramatic, funny, inspirational, etc., films.

    By the way, I want to say a personal thank you to UWA and JayJay Zifanwe for, once again, providing a showcase to recognize the efforts of both aspiring and experienced filmmakers of virtual films. It is because of the efforts of groups like yours that film is, indeed, alive, well and continuing to expand in a myriad of ways.

    Long live cinema.

  19. Peter Greenaway hasn't made a good film in years and he'll never make one again. That doesn't mean film is dead. Film will flourish for centuries to come.

  20. strange missusage of the term 3d..going back and forth between "real3d immersive modeling" and "layered 2d/3d ala REAL3D the ugly movie thing"..

    also machinima was a term "coined" NOT for realtime changing experiences....but for regular old puppeted animation, just done using a game engine with 3d media...

    all "recorded" animations presented via the current "panel" called a screen will fall into the "cinema" rules and comparisons... and none can really be "new"... just as what magic "depth" turns a Schnabel "plate" "painting" into a "sculpture"..?

    experiences that can be "played" by another... thats the "brainstorm"--;)( trumbull) thats being "wished for here"... the holodeck novel --shown but never "really" explained as a construct by an artist.. in numerous TREK episodes.... maybe one day the tools for creation and more important..EXPERIENCE AND DISTRIBUTION to another will exist... but come on..its not SL... or any internet browser 3d system.....

    and its not "machinima" which although finally a "grokked" "trendy" tech artist term... is still way to much what it always was... animation made with alot of others works..coming first... mechanized or sold or taken....
    unlike traditional animation where the "artist" needed to make every element on screen..themsleves..
    much like mechnaized photography to painting.. before it:)

    narratives..stories...tellers and Sellers...."storysellers".. not going away anytime soon...and they wont like what peter fanstasies about...

    "strange days"...;) 1999.;)

  21. Machinima is dead!

    Lol, i must have been in a silly hilarious mood when I wrote my previous comment(sarcasm doesn't translate well)
    Can i delete it... damm I can't.

    Anyway... people always tell other people what they should or should not do( or think, yes what you should think or not think)
    Including me..
    Best is if you all stop making machinima, as it is dead.
    A stillborn baby..
    Death at birth.

    impromptu haiku:

    an old master speaks
    shiver, tremble and squirm, then..
    what shit they made?

    (yes i know someone told me i suck at poetry)

  22. "Anonymous" wrote above: "I see components of [Peter's] vision already in the virtual world .. Complete Viewer Immersion." My response is that the machinima is quite different from the virtual world, just as the conventional film is a thing apart from the real world. When we get the holodeck, or that device in the movie _Brain Storm_, and can record our total immersion totally, then maybe THAT will be the art of the future. As it stands, machinima still has the word "cinema" in it.

  23. now 5 years later we have the oculus rift, now the fun begins :)