It's All About the Story
Introduction by Tinus
(biltongbru) le Roux
Relatively new genre of computer generated films has been around since the turn
of the new millennium: Flight Simulator Movies. The production of these is based on flight sim games where the
Russian "IL-2 Sturmovik" family of computer games have been the major
source of material. The distribution and success of flight sim movies were
mainly as a result of the internet and enhanced by the ability to do online
viewing. The fast and modern PC's enabled individuals at home to do complicated
and near-professional film productions using state-of-the-art capturing, video
editing and sound editing tools. These
movies are however confined to internet viewing and have not been exposed to
television or cinema. The producers are mostly enthusiasts and hobbyists but
the level of professionalism in some of the movies are within broadcast standards. Today there
are thousands of these movies flooding the social video network sites where
YouTube is certainly the most used. Some of the better movies are very popular
hitting views near to the millions.
particular flight sim movie needs to be mentioned: Faith, Hope and Charity.
This is an outstanding production taken into account the "zero
budget" nature and the fact that it was
produced by a team of flight simulator enthusiasts contributing from different
parts of the world, the members of which had never met each other in
person. This movie, released in 2007, is an hour long production with a gripping
historical story and excellent imaging and sound.
importance of any movie, including Flight Sim Movies, having an engaging Story
or Screenplay is discussed in an article by a co-producer and the screenwriter
of "Faith, Hope, and Charity", Bruce Wallace, also known in the
Flight Sim community as "Wiley" and "DoolittleRaider". Wiley's article reviews the history of flight
sim movie-making, (also known as machinima), and takes a short glimpse into
possible future developments.
Faith, Hope and Charity by Wingmen Productions
It's All About the Story by Bruce
than a dozen years ago, the term “machinima” was first used, essentially
defined as being the use of real-time PC computer graphics-rendering engines to
create real time animation, to create cinematic productions, which in turn were
referred to as either videos, films, or “movies”. Most often, videogames and
their engines were, and still are, used to generate the raw computer animation.
The creation of such
“machinima” evolved from relatively simple real-time ‘capture’ of gameplay
action in First Person Shooter videogames, most notably “Quake” at the very
beginning, to more complex “movies” in which the full range of cinematic
techniques came to be applied, to include cinematography, editing, soundtrack
creation and mixing, Special Effects, post-processing filtering, etc.
the community of Flight Simulation gaming, “machinima” also took root around
2000 and simple “gameplay” videos began to proliferate, comprised essentially
of captured “Tracks” (or game events/action), with some limited use of elementary
cinematography in view/camera selection, and some basic post-processing
editing. Such flightsim gameplay videos satisfied
a number of very useful needs…to open discussions of on-line experiences and
tactics; to offer Training in aircraft controls and instruments; to provide
flying lessons in aerial maneuvers and gunnery lessons; to demonstrate positive
features or negative bugs of the particular Flight Sim game; to promote Sales
of the Game; or simply to display on-line kills/achievements, etc.
the main, the sequence of events in the majority of flightsim GamePlay videos
consisted of take-off (sometimes preceded by engine-start procedures); flying to a point in time and space,
sometimes just for sightseeing, more often to encounter enemy targets, either airborne or ground
targets, which are then engaged with guns or rockets or bombs; a resolution of
the combat engagement occurs which may or may not result in the ‘loss’ of the
pilot(s) or crew(s), or a safe return towards home base…often continuing all
the way through landing and engine shutdown. Very often, a gameplay video would begin ‘airborne’
and consist solely of constant, or nearly constant, air-to-air combat action. Another popular theme was the non-combat sightseeing
flight over the countryside or cityscape, intended to display the realism and
beauty of the particular Flight Simulation game’s graphics, both landscapes and
aerial vehicles. Soundtracks consisted
of just gameplay sounds or a single commercial song. In fact, with regard to
the use of musical soundtracks, many of the videos, if not most of them, were
of the MTV Music Video style, with a single musical piece or song as
soundtrack, for which flightsim game visuals were then edited to fit the song duration
and synchronized to one degree or another with the musical beat, movements,
and/or words. These seemed primarily intended as ‘artistic’ pieces.
In December, 2002, a
video using the IL-2 Sturmovik flightsim game engine appeared which had an
instant impact upon the IL-2 video-making community. Its name was “Requiem” and it differed from all earlier flightsim
videos, in that it Told a Story! It used no words to do so, no dialogue, no
text, just some well-edited visuals, some post-processing special effects, and
a well-chosen musical score.
Nevertheless, the “Requiem” story was an exceptionally emotional one and
its theme of sacrifice in the face of inevitable defeat brought actual tears to
the eyes of many a viewer.
was instantly recognized by most active IL-2 movie-makers that the necessary 'backbone"
of a truly successful cinematic production, the critical backbone of a movie, is
"The Story" or "The Message".
in 2003, movie-makers in the IL-2 flightsim community began to produce Movies
of ever-increasing sophistication in all aspects, from engine graphics
capturing techniques through application of advanced cinematographic and
editing skills; from basic single song musical soundtracks to more complex
mixed Soundtracks of music, game sounds, Sound Effects, spoken dialogue,
importantly, however, the very best FlightSim Movies began to incorporate a
much greater variety of events than the simple captured air combat action of
earlier years’ videos, and specifically during the 2004 through 2009 timeframe,
movies came to be orchestrated by a “Story” or screenplay which established an emotional
connection of one sort or another between the viewer and the “humans” at the
aircraft controls. One excellent example
in 2004 was “I Promise”.
the first FlightSim movie ever to be so recognized and honored
2005, the IL-2 movie-making community delivered a wealth of excellent movies,
each now conveying a moving Story. More
than a dozen of the very best of those are on the 2005 page of the FlightSim
Movies website, among which “Pictures of War” is most
noteworthy, as it was nominated for Best Editing at the 2005 Machinima Festival.
movie “Bill et John, Episode 2” using
the flightsim “Lock On Modern Air Combat” in 2006 actually won the Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Independent Machinima awards as well as it was nominated for Best Direction, Best Virtual Performance: Puppeteering, Best Voice-Acting Performance, Best Sound Design and Best Writing. It is a magnificent,
laugh-out-loud comedic tale…a Great Funny Story!
digress for a moment from the historical recounting of the evolution of
Flightsim movies, and the recognition being achieved in the greater Machinima
world, and focus upon the composition of any successful Flight Sim movie’s story/screenplay.
speaking, the typical Story or Screenplay of a Hollywood movie or a Broadway/West
End stage play most often follows a structure in which there is a Beginning
(setup), Middle (crisis) and End (resolution), sometimes referred to as the
3-Act structure. The structure is often
more refined, such as: Introduction,
Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
structure can be applied to even the shortest of movies, and most would agree
that, with rare exception, simply must be followed with longer movies; in that
regard, the outstanding IL-2 movies have been as short as 2 minutes, and as
long as One Full hour…but at both extremes the best movies have employed some
version of this 3-Act structure.
now to the evolution of Flight Sim movies…While the average duration of a
flightsim video/movie from 2003-2009 was less than ten minutes, the ones with
the best Stories were 15-30 minutes. “The Desert Dogfighter” and “Not my Time to Die” are two such
outstanding movies which present exciting stories, in both cases engaging and
exciting documentaries. It had become
increasingly obvious over the years that, with very rare exceptions, movies
longer than 5 or 6 minutes which did not have an engaging Story/Screenplay
rapidly reached the point of being Boring to most viewers.
longest IL-2 movie ever created was the aforementioned “Faith, Hope, and Charity” at just over one full hour in duration! When released in 2007, it received an
unprecedented level of effusive praise throughout the flightsim and machinima
communities for virtually all aspects of its production, but the core of the
movie’s success lay in the impact of its emotional Story, as told through
narration, dialogue, supporting imagery including CGI sequences, and musical
score. As the title of this article
states, “It’s All About the Story”!!!
the 2007 Machinima Festival Europe, “Faith, Hope, and Charity” (FH&C) was a
final nominee for Best Direction, Best Visual Design, and Best Story. At the same Festival, “Pictures of War 2” was also a
final Nominee in the same categories. In
2008, at the Online Machinima Film Festival, FH&C was named Best Film of
the Year, and took home Second Place in Best Drama, Best Original Sound Design,
and Best Custom Content.
once again from the historical recounting of flightsim movie evolution, some
more discussion of the elements and types of Stories and Screenplays should be
useful. A movie-maker, including
FlightSim movie-makers, must plan ahead before ‘shooting’ or ‘capturing’ his first raw ‘footage’; he must plan and
think beyond merely Action-Action-Action.
Think about the "story", about the “message” and/or the
“emotion” to be conveyed. When we say "emotion", we aren't talking
"Chick Flic". You've got
Happiness, true, but also achievement, pride, sorrow, respect, fear,
patriotism, sacrifice, camaraderie, bravery, cowardice, heroism, humor, etc. It has been proven in Flight Sim movies that
it is possible to convey emotion, to engage the audience, without on-screen
human actors or even animated characters. If, at the end of your movie, the viewer is
left Thoughtful, Wondering, Smiling, Laughing, Enlightened/Educated, or even
with a Manly Tear in his eye, you've told a Story and you’ve produced a MOVIE!
now to the evolution of flightsim movies, by 2010 the visuals had advanced with
the incorporation of Green-screening techniques to insert shots of human
actors, as well as CGI-type animated human characters. “I Flew for the Fuhrer” is an
excellent example of the former, the use of live actors. “BOB Storm of War” and “Battle of Britain Kanalkampf” are examples of the latter, the use of
animated characters. Aside from the
advancement in visually “humanizing” the movies, these three movies and several
others in the 2009-2010 timeframe had the all important element of creative
2010, a new WWI Flight Sim “videogame” was released…”Rise of Flight”…which had,
among other positive attributes and advancements, outstandingly beautiful
graphics, both landscape and especially aircraft ‘skins’. “Rise of Flight” (RoF) also provided improved
user friendly tools which greatly improved and facilitated “camera” and
“capture” options, making the creation of videos/movies simpler, and thus
bringing many new individuals into the “movie-making” community. A plethora of videos immediately flooded
Youtube, hundreds in the first year alone, thousands perhaps over the first 2 ½
years. Unfortunately, with the exception
of a very small handful of RoF “movies” which were accepted for showcasing at
the FlightSim website, these RoF youtube videos were almost exclusively
“Action-Action-Action”, raw gameplay capture, often displaying merely the
single camera “cockpit-point-of-view”, limited or only basic editing, and most
disappointingly there appeared almost no meaningful Stories or Themes or
Messages…no emotionally engaging screenplays, dialogues, narration, or related
aspects which could engage the viewer interest.
It was almost totally Fly-and-Fight, Fight-and-Fly…a return, or some
might say regression, to the IL-2 (and Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 1, 2,
and 3) gameplay videos of ten years earlier. A few excellent Movies did appear, some
documenting in visuals and text narration the events surrounding the last
flights and deaths of a select few of the most famous Aces of WWI; others told
short fictional emotionally moving Stories. “Death of Mannock” is an example of
the former type movie, while “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” and “Hearts and Minds” are examples of the latter. Unfortunately, these story-telling RoF movies
were few and far between.
year later, the long awaited sequel to the IL-2 Sturmovik flightsim series was
released…”IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover”…which,
as with RoF, was characterized by especially beautiful and realistic graphics. Aircraft “skins”, realistic damage modeling
and visuals, improved “human” generic animated characters/crewmembers, more
realistic explosive effects/visuals, etc, all seemed to promise a new era of
fantastic WWII combat aviation movies, specifically set in the historical
context of one of the most famous air campaigns of the war, the Battle of
Britain. However, once again with the
exception of just a small handful of documentary type Movies emulating phases
of the Battle and a few excellent trailers showcasing Cliffs of Dover aircraft
visuals and damage modeling, the community of flight simmers followed the “Rise
of Flight pattern” and reverted almost exclusively to the production of simple
gameplay videos (predominantly of the single ‘cockpit-POV camera’ type), with
little to no artistic creativity or originality. Basic cinematography and editing techniques
were often disregarded, as even the dreaded ‘verboten’ manual camera-panning returned. As with RoF, several thousand such Cliffs
of Dover videos flooded Youtube overnight.
more importantly than the aforementioned weaknesses, true
“Movies” with solid, creative, emotionally engaging stories were virtually
nowhere to be found, in any flightsim community as 2012 arrived. The Flight Sim Movies sponsored a Cliffs of
Dover Movie competition, offering tangible cash prizes as well as very
substantial 1C Maddox Game prizes. In
spite of that, participation was extremely low in numbers, although some
entries were promising in offering more than just gameplay and a bit more than
merely fly-and-fight scenarios.
should be noted that one epic documentary movie just released in November 2012 runs counter to the sad trend of lackluster and/or
nonexistent stries/screenplays. It is “Checkertails,
Part II”, produced by MysticPuma.
It is the final half of a Masterpiece documenting the true story of the
USAAF 325th Fighter Group in WWII. Incorporating extensive real WWII documentary footage with IL-2 flightsim visual sequences, the
Movie brings to life specific aerial actions and combat experiences of the unit
and its individual members. "Checkertails, Part I" was 1 hour 40 minutes in duration, and Part
II is 2 hours 35 minutes long. The
full story of the 325th has never been told in such detail, and the
production involved many of the actual 325th veterans, and both Part I and part II have been viewed at the unit’s conventions, and highly praised. One short 7-minute excerpt from Part
I is called “Star of Altoona” …Though
short in duration, it very effectively tells a dramatic Story of one combat
encounter experienced by a 325th fighter pilot. A second excerpt from Part II called "Svengali-An Unorthodox Victory" tells the tale of a very unique aerial Victory by another 325th pilot flying a P-51 against a Luftwaffe Bf109.
else does the future hold for the Flight Sim Movie-making community? 1C Maddox has just recently released its last Patch for Cliffs of Dover,
announcing that its efforts will now be focused exclusively on finalizing and
releasing the sequel to Cliffs of Dover…“Battle of Moscow”. Cliffs of Dover has thus received its final
tweaks and modifications, and remains a quite beautiful and realistic flight
sim. As a game-engine resource for
movie-making, especially movies set in the Battle of Britain context, it will
continue to offer spectacular visuals…while the FlightSim community continues
to await the production and release of emotionally engaging movies with
Stories, real or fictional. After all,
there have probably been more books and articles written about the Battle of
Britain and its participants than about any other WWII Battle, Campaign, or
Theater of War. These stories cry out to
be told on screen.
exception of the masterpiece 1969 “Battle of Britain”, the major
‘big screen’ cinema production companies have failed to produce credible movies
about WWII combat aviation and events. “Battle
of Britain” was produced by a British company, directed by a British Director,
written by British screenwriters, and primarily filmed at Pinewood Studios west
of London. One other highly recommended big-screen cinema production, “Dark Blue World”, was a joint
effort by several Czech Republic film companies, released in 2001; it is a superb
movie, a fictional story based on true events, about the Czech pilots who
fought in the Battle of Britain with the RAF.
Hollywood, itself, has proven incapable and/or totally uninterested in
matching those two successes, its two attempts being the laughably bad “Pearl Harbor”, also released in 2001, and the recent "Red Tails" disaster! Perhaps
the small screen world of Flight Sim (machinima) movies will fill that void for
the community of people interested in the stories, real and fictional, of WWII
the imminent release of the IL-2 Cliffs of Dover sequel, “Battle of Moscow”, it
is likely that there will be a prolific period of BoM movie releases, as the
Russian flight sim community especially is, and has long been, very active in
movie-making. In spite of the language
translation obstacles, it is hoped that Stories of the Russian WWII air war
a new FlightSim currently in BETA testing, called “War Thunder”, is characterized by attractive and realistic
visuals, terrain especially. Though
still in open BETA, the producer Gaijin has allowed BETA participants to create
and release “Fan videos” (aka movies).
Three of these have already been selected for showcasing at the FSM
Website, two set in the Pacific Theater and one in the Battle of Britain. Each movie, though short and trailer-like,
displays excellent cinematography, editing, sound tracks, and artistic special
effects…and each presents a small story of sorts, though limited by the
trailer-like objectives. War Thunder
will offer an extensive number of aircraft types, covering all nationalities
and theaters of the war, all timeframes, and a variety of terrain and
maps. The War Thunder game engine
resources will be available to tell virtually any story, documentary or
fiction, of WWII aviation.
summation, it is hoped that in the coming year the FlightSim community will see
the release of some great engaging Stories about WWII aviation…The tools are
now available to put Hollywood and History Channel to shame. Let’s do it!
Aug 2012 - Another stunning film by Barfly - moving on from Cliffs of Dover to full animation.
Barfly appeared in the flight sim moviemaking community out of nowhere. He released his first film made with IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover just a year ago and instantly became one of the most successful filmmakers. Over the past year, Barfly's four films in a Battle of Britain series have attracted over a million views, an amazing achievement for this niche hobby. He is now a member of the flightsimmachinima.com panel helping to search out and select all the very best flight sim movies. Where did Barfly come from, and what is next for this very talented animator and filmmaker? This interview looks at Barfly's transition from machinima (films made with games) to 3D animation with the release of his latest film, Hawker Tempest Mk V 2nd TAF.
Russell - Barfly, thanks for taking the time to talk. It is our great pleasure to have been able to showcase your films over the last year and we would very much like to hear what inspired you to start making films with Cliffs of Dover?
Barfly - Thanks Russell, it is an honour to discuss this hobby here. I have always been a big fan of the IL-2 series since the first flight sim game in the series was released many years ago, and I have also always been interested in aviation and military history. The latest in the series, IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover, is more than just a flight combat simulation game, but also a great interactive opportunity to explore the history of the Battle of Britain. I had previously been inspired to make a few short machinima films with IL-2, and with the release of the improved Cliffs of Dover version I knew in advance that I would produce some Battle of Britain machinima films.
Russell - How did you learn to make such amazing films?
Barfly - I’ve made machinima films using the first version of the IL-2 series, but I was a total beginner and my films were novice stuff, which I made for my own personal enjoyment. Only after several years did I have the courage to publicly release a movie, Battle of Britain v2.0, in 2009. My inspiration was the 1969 cinema classic, Battle of Britain. The popularity of my machinima movie surprised me, but the IL-2 1946 version in the series and the brilliant community modifications all contributed to the final product. Of course, over those years I was learning new tricks and techniques. One must have a passion for this hobby, because it is not easy to make good WW2 flying combat machinima movies. You need good software tools and a sufficiently powerful PC configuration, and also some skill in video editing and use of other special effects software so that the final package is rather glamorous and a more interesting amateur work.
Russell - You have also included some shots of pilots created in the 3D animation program, Poser Pro. Why did you decide to do this and how difficult was it?
Barfly - Shortly before the Cliffs of Dover sim was released, I had learned a little about the basics of Poser Pro animation software, and I thought it would be natural to experiment using animated pilot and crewmember characters in a Cliffs of Dover machinima movie. In my opinion, this kind of simple animation is not difficult to learn, it just requires patience, time, and an artistic eye. However, when we are talking about a lot more animation, more demanding animation, that of course requires much more time and also many tests and experiments.
Russell - Most of your films are focused on combat and action. Have you considered making a film with a narrative story, and possibly with actors as well?
Barfly - I also have frequently wondered about these aspects and possibilities, but practically speaking the making of such a movie would require a good film team; that is, a cooperative project with other skilled amateur enthusiasts. For example, there are many tasks to be completed, such as character development, dialogue, and voice acting, which in my case would be a problem to implement even in a short movie because my knowledge of English is not very good.
Russell - Looking now at your latest film, Hawker Tempest Mk V 2nd TAF, this is a stunning piece of work, beautifully filmed and edited with amazing models and animations. Of course, it is not made with a flight sim but 3D animation tools. Why have you progressed from flight sims to this?
Barfly - After my Cliffs of Dover Battle of Britain machinima projects, I decided to try to make some kind of fully animated short film and this became a lengthy educational endeavour for me, being my first full Poser Pro animation project. Of course, such an animation film would also need a lot of 3D modelling tools and other software before even a short animation film project could begin.
The flight sim game engine is excellent for beginners because many of the basics usually already exist, for example, 3D models and environments, visual effects, physics and flight modelling. I wanted to learn how to have even more control over animation techniques, as I like the new challenges of this hobby niche.
Russell - It certainly looks a lot better than Cliffs of Dover, which is saying a lot as the graphics and models in the game are actually some of the best yet and far superior to the predecessor that I and many at flightsimmachinima.com used to make films in, IL-2. How much extra effort does it take to move up from a game engine to Poser Pro?
Barfly – It was not easy or fast to step up from the use of a game engine to full scale 3D animation. A few years ago, I believed it would be impossible for me to do even a short animated film, which would require me to master 3D animation software and special effects techniques all of which I believed would be too difficult for me. I felt that for a beginner, it would take years to progress from the basics to the use of semi-professional tools and video techniques.
Russell - How important do you think it is to get every last historical detail correct in this kind of demo movie, or indeed in any kind of film, even the Hollywood blockbusters?
Aug 2012 - Another stunning film by Barfly (cont)
Barfly - I've always been very much interested in aviation and military history. Mainly I am interested in WW2 aviation history, and for that reason alone I try to include in my short films some historical aspects. However, I also sometimes like to use some short slightly Hollywood-style action sequences; that is, some scenes are not always 100% realistic or historically accurate, and I do not intend them to be so. But in spite of everything, I think, of course, that important historical issues should not be ignored. In other words, I do not make entirely fictitious films. On the other hand, maybe in the future I will make a short totally historical documentary film. Big budget Hollywood style war movies have also sometimes been a source of inspiration, for example the classic 1969 British movie, Battle of Britain. In these actual movies one can see the kind of professional visual techniques which are used, I mean the camera and editing style. Also by watching the big budget cinema movies, one can see what kind of technological trends are in progress, so I watch movies from a slightly different perspective than others in the normal movie audience.
Russell - What methods of distribution to you prefer and why?
Barfly - I like Vimeo the best for publishing. In my view, the Vimeo community is a better choice for amateur filmmakers though Youtube has a much wider audience. Either way, it is sometimes problematic to provide a good internet version which runs smoothly in the Flash player because there are issues with format conversions. My final render is usually Sony Vegas AVC but in some cases this requires other conversion programs. The final web video bitrate is the biggest problem and can be made worse if the viewer's Flash player is out of date. General bitrate recommendation is a minimum of 5Mbps for 720p and 8Mbps for 1080p though usually 720p version is the better HD choice for the Web.
Russell - This has been a fascinating interview. Before wrapping up I'm sure some enthusiasts would be very interested to know what your hardware and software set up is?
Barfly - My PC Rig is this: Asus P7P55D Deluxe, Intel Core i7 870 (2.93Ghz @ 4Ghz, water cooled system), Gigabyte GTX 570 OC GDDR5 1280MB, RAM 8Gt DDR3 1600Mhz, Windows 7 64-bit. In the end credits of each of my Cliffs of Dover movies and my latest Hawker Tempest movie I have included a long list of all the software tools used.
Russell - So, Barfly, what's next? I'm sure you gained a lot of experience and learned many lessons in your journey from flight sim movies to 3D animation. Where does that take you in the next year and longer term?
Barfly - Presently I am building a new PC configuration and will soon be using it to test motion capture techniques using the Microsoft Kinect motion sensor system with Poser Pro. I hope that this will facilitate and speed up my human-figure animation. Of course time will tell what movie project I might start after that testing. Meanwhile, Tinus le Roux (Biltongbru) and I have an ongoing cooperative experiment exploring the merging of film clips of real human actors with my animation environments. We have had many very interesting sessions exchanging filmmaking techniques and skills. Maybe in the future you can expect some form of cooperative project by Biltongbru & Barfly, perhaps a WW2 air combat dramatic movie or documentary.
I have also often wanted to make a short Rise of Flight machinima film, because I like this WW1 combat flight sim for its historical accuracy, good graphics, beautiful airplane models, and pilot and gunner animations which I think are quite successful. So maybe in the future there can be a RoF machinima movie including some of my animated environments and characters.
Russell - Thanks again. For those who want to check out previous films and keep up to date, you can see all Barfly's work at https://vimeo.com/user6706488
Barfly - Many thanks also to you, to Wiley for helping with the translation and to the others on the Flight Sim Movies website team, and also to all fans of flight sim games, aviation, and amateur film making. It was a great opportunity and honour to answer these questions.