So, one question that a number of people have asked about Death Knight Love Story (DKLS) can be paraphrased as "Why Machinima?"
In other words, "Why make a film using a computer game? Isn't that, you know, a bit crazy?"
Now, when it comes to the decision to set the film in the storyline of World of Warcraft, I might in hindsight agree. Previous films of mine have used game assets without touching the game's storyline, and whilst I was attracted to the idea of Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead-ifying the World of Warcraft, in hindsight we'd probably have been better writing an independent, non-WoW-associated plotline.
But as for using the game itself - no, that was a spectacularly good move. A move which enabled the film to be made at all, in fact.
What IS Machinima?
For those who are unaware: I'm best known as a pioneer of a subgenre of animation called "Machinima".
The definition of "Machinima" has teetered back and forth over the years, between "filmmaking in a 3D environment rendered in real-time" and "filmmaking using computer games". The debate has raged fiercely in the Machinima world over the years, and many Machinima purists, including me, have at one point or another gotten very irritated at the way our artform is so strongly linked to gaming.
However, I have come to realise Machinima was and is the result of the remarkable potential of video game worlds to enable a live-action filmmaking style within a virtual world.
The Astonishing Cost Of CGI Animation
Conventional CGI animated moviemaking is infamously slow and expensive. In fact, it's arguably the slowest, most expensive narrative medium in existence, challenged only by stop-motion animation. And one of the key reasons why that's the case is that for each movie, the entire world in which it's set must be created from scratch.
That sounds pretty intimidating as a task. It's actually far more intimidating than it may appear.
Take the characters of the film, for example. Obviously, each protagonist, antagonist and other speaking role needs to be sculpted from scratch. That's a task with multiple stages (concept art, rough sculpt, texture painting, fine sculpt, facial expressions, and matching the character's skeleton to the body in such a way that it doesn't deform unnaturally), and it's not cheap: $3,000 - $5,000 at an indie level to produce characters like our two protagonists in Death Knight Love Story.
So, it's possible to look at a pared-down script and say that, assuming two protagonists and two antagonists, we'll need to spend minimum $12,000 on the task.
Oh, but wait - we also have incidental characters. Any story not set in a deliberately extremely confined location will need quite a lot of these characters: read through any of Charlie's books and notice how many incidental characters have actual or implied lines within a few scenes.
In the case of Death Knight Love Story, the characters mount up quickly. The two traders at the start of the film, the Captain of the Guard, the head of the cannoneers, the other Death Knights in Naxxramas, the adventurers (4 of them) - and that's all within the first five minutes. There are at least another 15 of these incidental characters through the 20 minutes of the film. They need somewhat less attention to detail than the main characters, but if we were creating Death Knight Love Story in a conventional manner, that's still another $30,000 or so needed in the budget.
Well, at least we're done now. Except we're not - because this is a visual medium, and that means we need to consider the background characters needed to make our world feel like a world, not an empty set. And those guys and girls mount up fast: 20+ within the first scene of Death Knight Love Story, far more subsequently. Some of them can be copied and pasted with minor details changed, but there's still a lot of work to do: if you were to assume another $60,000 minimum devoted toward background characters on a film the scale of DKLS, you'd probably be well on the low side.
Now, *looks at smoking chequebook meaningfully* shall we talk about sets? Or props? Skies, backdrops, plants and animals?
The summary of all this: creating worlds ab initio is absolutely standard for 3D animation, and is also really, really goddamn expensive. And so, even if you've got access to motion capture and all the clever tech tweaks that we used on Death Knight Love Story, the cost of hammering together the world in which you will eventually create your film makes animation completely inaccessible for anyone with less than a mainstream TV budget.
Unless - as we did - you have access to a virtual world, such as those created for modern-day computer games. In which case, all those costs go away.
Making Films In A Virtual World
If you have access to a virtual world like Azeroth (the world of World of Warcraft), you can suddenly take a live-action filmmaker's approach. Rather than creating sets, you can simple location-scout. You can choose a landscape, a castle, a house suitable for your project from hundreds of those locations all over these virtual worlds. The process becomes very similar to that of a conventional cameras-and-real-actors film: shortlisting possible locations ("How about this house at the back of Stormwind?" "No, too dingy - how about this one in Goldshire?"), picking one, then moving the cast and crew there.
The only difference is that in real life most directors don't have access to a "/teleport" command.
Rather than creating characters, you can use the existing population of the world, too - most of whom are very happy to take instruction, thanks to being run by an AI script rather than an actual person.
(More or less, anyway - some Machinima makers, particularly those using The Sims, spend good long while wrestling with the problem of persuading their actors to actually cooperate.)
Furthermore, rather than sculpting your lead characters from scratch, you can use the character creation tools provided in the game. Virtually all RPG- or MMO-style games offer a massive range of "casting" choices in the name of making your character unique.
Creating a tool for desiging well-sculpted, appealing protagonists who fit into the same consistent art style is surprisingly complex. However, the number of people out there who want to play an AAA computer game is massive - easily enough to justify the investment in a tool capable of churning out almost infinite numbers of beautifully sculpted, world-consistent protagonists.
And so, suddenly, for an independent storyteller, the projected costs of any independent animated project plummet if they're willing to use a "Machinima" approach.
Of course, their story has to fit within the locations and characters offered by a game's world; but there are so many games out there, and each of them have such vast, sprawling worlds that it's comparatively easy to find a good prospect.
It would be possible to tell almost any low to mid-fantasy story using Skyrim or World of Warcraft, with some minor modifications. The genre of science fiction, at least in its mainstream film-friendly incarnation, is similarly well-covered by EVE Online, Half-Life 2, Dead Space and dozens of other games. (It would take some thinking, but I could probably make a fair stab at adapting any of Charlie's SF works using one, another, or a combination of game engines.) And of course, modern-day stories are thoroughly covered by everything from The Sims to Call of Duty.
Now, the chances are that you're wondering about the legal aspects of this usage - and that's an entirely different kettle of fish, and a rapidly-evolving one at that. ( A situation I can assure you isn't particularly comfortable if you're one of the fish. )
But in principle, this is why Machinima is so attractive: because it allows animators, rather than having to create their worlds, simply to become live-action filmmakers and take their cameras into worlds that don't exist.