So I read this post recently by Mike Jones over at Digital Basin, and felt the need to respond. I was originally just going to leave a comment on his blogpost, but (as usual) it’s gone a little longer than I’d originally intended, so I’m going to post it here instead
Hi Mike – an interesting read indeed.
However, I think you might be over-estimating the power of ‘aspirational’ interface design, and letting your own previously accumulated ‘usage paradigms’ cloud your assesment of Moviestorm’s ease-of-use (and appeal).
For the record, I’m a 30-something ‘hobbyist’ film-maker, part-time musician, and (former) freelance web & graphic designer, now working in a primarily non-creative role at an online advertising agency. I’m not a HARDCORE gamer, and my skills using ‘traditional’ 3D toolsets and/or game engine ‘mods’ are severely limited, meaning all my short-lived stabs at making Machinima in previous years have come to nought.
So I guess I’m in the ideal ‘target demographic’ for a product like Moviestorm (and by your argument, Antics).
In the last few days I’ve tried both Moviestorm (now in ‘stable’ release, but still very much in development) and Antics 3.1. The thing is Mike, the very aspects of Antics’ GUI that you laud are the ones which most turn me off. As you point out, Antics by design has opted very much for a ‘traditional’ 3D application interface. For the ’3D-dyslexic’ user, it recalls the (to us) CLUNKING aesthetics of ‘high-end’ apps like 3DS-Max, Maya, and (to some extent) Poser.
Don’t get me wrong – I realise these are all truly powerful, truly mature applications, and as you said in your article, anyone with a modicum of experience in the aformentioned ‘high-end’ environments will feel right at home with Antics, and be able to create a scene in half an hour like yourself. This is the market segment Antics was originally aimed at (‘pre-viz’ for feature films, allowing guys who would previously have had to use a full-blown app such as one of the above, to simplify their workflow).
That GUI paradigm however, makes Antics a pain, rather than a joy to use, for the rest of us ‘mere mortals’ who don’t have a few years of ‘high-end’ production experience under our belts. If you’re completely new to 3D and Machinima, then you’re learning a new interface regardless. If (like me) you’ve tried the ‘big boy’s applications’ before, and been frustrated by the steep learning curves and highly-specialised paradigms, then another GUI which draws on this legacy of ‘shared 3D misery’ is going to be a turn-off.
Contrast this with Moviestorm. It’s a ‘fresh’ interface in many ways in terms of Machinima authoring (which isn’t a bad thing – for example, part of the reason Flash has become such a ubuquitous tool for rich media creation on the web, is that in it’s earliest incarnations it was such a RADICAL departure from the way web content had previously been authored), whilst at the same time recalling games titles like The Sims 2 & The Movies.
Its ‘power’ and its appeal lies precisely in it’s (apparent) ‘simplicity’. The mistake you’ve made in your article is assuming the ‘hobbyist’ user is going to ‘aspire’ to use a ‘high-end’-like tool. For Pete’s sake why ? We’re not talking about ‘aspirational voting’ or ‘aspirational lifestyle choices’ here Mike, we’re talking about software usability. For an ‘old-hand’ Antics is a breeze, but for a ‘noob’ to the field it’s a nightmare. Less of a nightmare than a pro-level app, but still a nightmare.
I think the REAL problem with your post is you’ve lost sight of the ‘end goal’. Yes, someone like myself or the ‘archetypical hobbyist’ ASPIRES to be a bona-fide ‘professional’ film-maker. Read that again carefully. FILM maker. Not necessarily a professional ‘Machinima maker’. We respect the work that ‘pioneer’ Machinima producers have made, and the EXTREME skills they’ve shown in coaxing convincing performances out of game engines, ‘traditional’ 3D tools, and ‘pre-viz’ products like Antics. However, we don’t necessarily ‘aspire’ to following the same routes they have to making their films – animated, or otherwise. What matters at the end of the day is the final product (the film) – not how many hoops you had to jump through (even though as I said, the guys who’ve done it the ‘hard’ way definitely get all deserved props for it) to make it.
That’s why – at least for me (and I suspect the rest of the steadily growing Moviestorm user-base), Moviestorm have made nothing but the RIGHT choices in their choice of interface paradigm, and overall application design. It’s simple, it’s easy to use, it’s blisteringly fast, it hides a lot of surprisingly advanced features under the hood – and in a few hours work (without even reading the sparse documentation, just doing two tutorials) I was able to conceive, execute and render a short-film concept in 3D complete with dialogue, auto-lipsync, and camera movements from scratch.
Something which, alas, I couldn’t do with Antics – or any other piece of software I’ve tried over the years !
Thanks for listening
[POST-SCRIPT 21/07/07]: So I just found out today from having more of a read of Mike’s blog, that he’s actually the Head of Technological Arts at the International Film School in Sydney (a film-maker’s ‘college’ offering courses that will set you back $20K a year in tuition fees !) In fairness to Mike, Johnnie Ingram has pointed out the original article was written in a bit of a ‘devil’s advocate’ mood, and Mike DOES champion ‘open-source’ apps like Celt-X over higher-priced proprietory software on occasion. Nonetheless, I think Mike’s giving Moviestorm more of ‘bum rap’ compared to Antics than it deserves
[POST-POST-SCRIPT 22/07/07]: As you’ll see from the edited post-script above (and the comments), Johnny INGRAM left a comment on my blog ! As Paris Hilton would say – that is like SO cool. Seriously … Bloodspell … Strange Company … Moviestorm … Johnny Ingram ! And NO – for once I’m NOT being sarcastic. Thanks Johnny !