Tuesday 21 December 2010

Machinima Reader final proofs

Over the weekend I was very excited to receive the final proofs of The Machinima Reader. It's the first serious textbook about machinima, edited by two academics who've been involved with it for about a decade, Professor Michael Nitsche of Georgia Tech, and Professor Henry Lowood of Stanford.

The Machinima Reader will assemble the first collection of essays to critically review the phenomenon of Machinima from a wide variety of perspectives.

Machinima is on the verge of stepping beyond its chaotic mix of artistic, ludic and technical conceptions into established traditions and vocabularies of contemporary media. As machinima invents itself, the flexibility of its form poses an interesting challenge to academics as well as artists and critics. We want to offer an inaugural reader for the further development and critical discussion of Machinima, one that charts its growth from several angles and also provides a foundation for critical studies in the future.

They first talked to me about the book nearly five years ago, and asked me to contribute an essay. After 25 years of writing as a journalist and for business, it was very strange relearning the discipline of academic writing. It's taken Michael and Henry a quite while to find a publisher, and go through all the rigours of academic publishing, but it's very nearly there now. The book's been picked up by the prestigious MIT Press, and should be available early in 2011. Mind you, last year I wrote that it was due to be out "in a few months", so don't hold me to that.

I haven't yet seen any of the contributions by the other authors, so I'm personally looking forward to this very much indeed!

Monday 20 December 2010


You may notice that we've added a load more sites to the link list on the blog. (If you're reading this on Facebook, you'll have to go to the original post to see what I'm talking about.)

We're always open to recommendations for more. We're looking for sites that are about:
  • Moviestorm
  • Machinima
  • Low-budget / amateur / indie film-making
  • Film techniques
  • Animation techniques
  • Film-makers resources & training
  • Previsualisation
  • Pre-production
  • Movie news
Please feel free to make suggestions!

Saturday 18 December 2010

New tutorials

We've now told you what Chris and Dave are doing over the Christmas holiday, so I suppose I should tell you what I'm going to be doing. I'm aiming to get some more Moviestorm Made Easy video tutorials made; it's been nearly three months since the last one.

I've done about 45 so far (here's the full list). What should we cover next? Suggestions include:
  • The gesturiser
  • Moods & facial animation
  • Working with multiple cameras
  • Working with multiple scenes
  • The script window
  • The timeline: basics
  • Working with stock sets and characters
  • More on lighting using hidden on-set lights
  • The lighting rig in the Rock music set
  • Making a music video
  • Choreographing a fight scene
  • Making props move
Any preferences? Anything obvious I've missed? I'm not planning on covering modding.

Friday 17 December 2010

Men in Tights

Here's a first look at Chris's male castle dwellers we mentioned earlier. 8 costumes (oops, only 7 here, duplicated one by accident), clean and dirty variants, all tintable.

Chris is aiming to do the female costumes over Christmas - screenshots as soon as we get 'em!

Moviestorm: under siege

Here's a first look at what Chris has been doing in his spare time: constructing a castle constructor set. It includes over 100 parts, all customisable and tintable: walls, towers, blocks, steps, flags, roofs, doors, corridors and a rope bridge.

He's hoping to have this finished over the holidays for release early next year, probably around the same time as the swords pack. He also let slip that he's got some peasant costumes in the works, and is planning some jumps and rolls and possibly some horses, though those will probably come later. Combined with squirrelygirl's growing collection of mediaeval mods, this should be enough to open up a whole new genre for Moviestormers.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Stormileaks: Operation Groundswell

Partial transcript of a phone call between Cambridge and Florida. Released with minor redactions.
Date: 13 December 2010
CB: Moviestorm Command Headquarters, Cambridge, England
FL: Moviestorm Propaganda Unit One, Orlando, Florida

CB: [indecipherable]
FL: Operation Groundswell? Isn't that the super-secret project you've been working on since late 2008?
CB: Correct. We're putting it back into active status with immediate effect.
FL: If I recall the briefing correctly, this would give you the power to raise or lower the ground simply by pressing a single button.
CB: [indecipherable]
FL: Isn't that too much power to be putting into the hands of ordinary people? They could create giant hills or rolling sand dunes? How would actors be able to move around without falling down or experiencing interdimensional clashes like last time? Terrain modification is dangerous stuff.
CB: We've thought of that. We'll simultaneously be deploying WST. [Note: this is believed to be Walking on Slopes Technology, an experimental process that enables actors to free themselves from the constraints of flat surfaces.] We've got the prototype code from [redacted] and we just need to [indecipherable].
FL: When do we expect first test results?
CB: Operations will commence as soon as the primary dev team have left the office for Christmas holidays. It's safer that way. With luck, we'll have achieved basic stability by the time they return.
FL: And when do we anticipate full external deployment of Groundswell?
CB: That depends on the preliminary test results. Assuming it's non-hazardous, early in 2011. If things don't go as planned, we'll just mothball it again until it's safe for another attempt, and ensure nobody finds out about it.
FL: [indecipherable]
CB: Let's hope not.
[Transmission ends]
This information is presented for the benefit of the public, and not for commercial gain. We have many more of these transcripts, and will release them if Moviestorm continue to withhold information.

Monday 13 December 2010

Christmas support

This will probably be the last dev blog post of 2010, unless one of us has a sudden burst of enthusiasm and free time in the next couple of days. Most of us will be starting our Christmas holidays later this week, and won't be back in the office until the New Year.

We'll still be keeping an eye on the forums and support emails throughout the season. Response times may be a little slower than usual, so bear with us.

Thursday 9 December 2010

New patch out today

The patch formerly known as is now live. It's now called the Starter Movies Update for reasons that have a lot to do with the underlying code structure of Moviestorm and which bits have actually been updated. As always, just start Moviestorm and it'll get the update for you automatically.

We've made some important changes to the launcher that probably won't be obvious to you, but which will resolve some really annoying issues that have been affecting some people.
  • Moviestorm is now better at detecting when a patch has failed to download, and will retry the download correctly after a restart.
  • There's a clearer 'Moviestorm is locked!' warning message (when there might be another copy of Moviestorm running).
  • And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, Moviestorm will recognise when a subscription's details have been updated, and allow the user to use the updated subscription immediately.
There's also the new Shut Eyes & Open Eyes gestures we mentioned the other day, and we've fixed some issues with female nose morphs.

The biggest part of the update is a selection of new starter movies, depending on what packs you have:
  • The Safe* & The Mob (Criminals)
  • Dead Walking (Halloween 2009)
  • Doin' The Deed (Miami Beachfront)
  • Galaxy Voyage (Sci-Fi)
  • The Big Day (Wardrobe 02)
*Created by Jorge Campos, aka act3scene24

That should be it for this year. The next scheduled update will be 1.4.2 (unless we rename it The One With The Sword Stuff In), due for release in January 2011.

School days

The next pack in the works is a small pack of school uniforms and a few other classroom bits and pieces. We've recently been getting quite a lot of interest from schools wanting to use Moviestorm for a variety of reasons, and this is something that both teachers and students have asked for. (Note that we're not making child characters at this stage - it's more sixth form / 11th grade age.)

We're aiming to get this out in January.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Give your friends a movie studio

We had an email the other day from our good buddy Santa, up in the North Pole, and he tells us he's had simply thousands of letters this year from kids telling him that what they want most in the whole world is some cheap, easy movie-making software. Now obviously, he may well have got into the whisky a bit early this year, and he's prone to exaggeration now and again (Round the whole world in one night, stopping off at all those houses? A likely story!) but there's probably a grain of truth in what he says.

So, since we couldn't bear the thought of all those sad little faces on Christmas Day, crying "Mommy, where's my virtual movie studio that Santa promised me?" we're in the process of fixing up a little feature on the Web site that will allow you to buy Moviestorm as a gift for someone. It's just going through testing now, and should be out later this week.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Let's not fight about this...

A couple of weeks ago, we were planning to ship you the new swords pack in time for Christmas. Sadly, that's not going to happen. We're just in the process of wrapping up the release, and the sword-fighting code didn't pass muster. There are a few bug fixes in that we really want to get out as soon as we can, as they're causing some people real headaches. So, rather than delay everything else for that pack, we decided to ship without the sword-fighting code, and we'll get it out to you after the holidays.

It's nearly there, though, and looking good. We've got a bunch of swords, a whole heap of fighting animations, and Chris made a couple of new swashbuckly costumes.

Monday 6 December 2010

Julian's psychedelic sniperscope

Jules is a master of many puppets (or is that a pastor of many muppets?), and one of his minions is the Moviestorm post-processing filter system. When he gets a spare moment (ahahaha), he might actually have a rummage around and see what's missing in this rather awesome toolkit of image processing, and implement it. So here, from him to you, is an entirely new set of visual functions to apply to your movie, hardware allowing. In no particular order (ie alphabetical):
  • Autotoon. Like Cel Shading, only as a post-process. It's not quite as crisp'n'dry as the real thing, but if you only want one or two clips rendered 'toon-stylee, this will help.
  • Binoculars. Wow! It's like looking through binoculars. Sort of.
  • Binoculars (night). As above, but with fancy and gratuitously expensive night-vision goggles, and Moviestorm gives you it for free!
  • Distort. Like looking through an old window. Or alternatively the effect that piece of out-of-date blue cheese that was left in the fridge had on you.
  • Emboss. Grey. With lines. Kinda like you saw in Photoshop, but probably utterly not quite similar.
  • Fisheye. View the scene as if it were on either the inside or the outside of a sphere (choose via the presets). Is this how a fish sees the world? Ask Spongebob!
  • Frost. Brrr! It's frosty here in the U of K. And this filter... well it's more like pressing your face up onto a piece of frosted glass. Though it might depend on which flavour of frosting you were thinking of.
  • Gradient tint. Adds a coloured tint from the top of the screen down, which is all but gone by the half-way point. Could be good for dramatic skies or alien worlds. Three different flavours to sink your synaesthetic teeth into.
  • Overexposed. Replaces your screen with a static image of Justin Bieber. No! Seriously, before you ask for your money back, I'm kidding. Zealously boosts the contrast. Like looking at the heart of a star with a telescope. Three different types of blinding supplied, retinal implants not included.
  • Psychedelia. Can't quite classify this and it gets varying results. But there's quite a bit of black and a lot of coloured lines that are rather pleasing on the eye (presuming you have any left after checking out "overexposed").
  • Radial blur. Like your scene was a watercolour and you span it whilst still drying. You wouldn't catch Cezanne doing that, mind, but perhaps that's all the more reason to try.
  • Sniper. Indulge your fantasy of assassinating Justin Bieber by combining a sniper filter and an overexposed filter. What's that you say? Nasty Jules won't let you combine filters? And there is no Justin Bieber filter anyway? Feel free to make a movie about shooting Jules then.
  • Sniper (night). As above, but with less chance of getting shot back, but much colder too. Let's face it, sniping should be a summer activity.

All of these images are 100% Moviestorm. No other programs or post-processing effects were used to create these screenshots.

So that's filters03 for you. A whopping 13 new effects to help you make the movie you always wanted to, and you can get your hands on them very, very soon. This week, if Father Jules thinks you've been good enough.

Ssssh, he's sleeping...

This just in from the dev team...

Matt - There was a thread on the forums last week about a request for a "close eyes" animation, for dead people, or people sleeping etc. An animation has been created and will be distributed as an upgrade to the base pack with

Translating that into English, the "close eyes" animation will be part of the standard Moviestorm, not part of a pack, and you'll get it free. We're aiming to ship before Christmas, hopefully later this week.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Moviestorm user manual

We've been asked several times for a proper user manual than you can print out and read at your leisure. Finally, Moviestorm has become stable enough that we've been able to write one and not have it change before we've finished. 36 pages of it, in PDF format.

You can find it at http://www.moviestorm.co.uk/moviestorm/documentation/ (or click Documentation in the Web page footer).

Let us know if there's anything that doesn't make sense or which you think should be covered in future updates.

Monday 22 November 2010

Moviestorm on DVD

This little stack of goodies arrived in the office today. It's Moviestorm on a disk. Well, seven different disks, if you want to be picky. We've got one for each of the six new themed bundles, and one for Moviestorm Complete 2010.

Some time very soon, you'll be able to order your copy of Moviestorm on disk, and have it shipped to you anywhere in the world. That way, you won't need to worry if you've got a slow or unreliable Net connection. You'll have a lovely DVD case to put on your bookshelf, so you can casually say to people, "yes, I make movies," and impress the hell out of them. And, of course, you can use it if you ever need a backup or you want to put Moviestorm onto another computer.

Oh, yes, and don't forget Christmas is just around the corner. Just in case you were wondering what to get someone. Imagine their surprise and delight when they think you've got them The Last Airbender and it turns out to be a whole movie studio!

Friday 19 November 2010

Web site planned outage - Mon 22 Nov

On Monday Nov 22, we will be doing some serious work on the back end of the Moviestorm Web site.

It will go down at about 10am GMT, and will probably be unavailable for most of the working day in the UK. Of course, if everything goes perfectly to plan, we'll get it back up much earlier in the day, and some bits may be restored sooner than others, but we'd prefer to be a little cautious (and realistic) and give ourselves a little leeway.

Sorry for any inconvenience.

(Image from boagworld - a podcast for those who design, develop & run Web sites.)

Thursday 18 November 2010


One of the things we've been dropping occasional hints about for a while now is a sword fighting pack. It's well under way now. We can't actually show you any fighting yet (in Chris's words, "all the Max files are men in their underpants"), but take a look at these little beauties.

They're all one-handed weapons (although yes, some of them would take extraordinary biceps to wield with one hand). We do have some two-handed stances and animations, but those are more poses rather than actual fighting moves. The idea is that the swords will also be tintable, so you can have black blades, silver pommels, or whatever takes your fancy.

That thing on the left, if you hadn't noticed it, is a light saber. (Well, when I say "light saber", I mean "a glowy sword-shaped weapon inspired by a light saber", of course. We don't have a license to do an actual light saber. Phew! The lawyers can stand down now.) Anyways, we're not entirely happy with it yet. We're trying to make it glow properly, but it's not really working as well as we'd like, so that may not make the initial release and may get held over for a later update. We'll see how it goes.

It's going to take a small update to Moviestorm to support all the new sword-fighting stuff, but we're aiming to ship this to you in early December.

En garde!

Friday 5 November 2010

Damn Limeys! Can't you speak English?

If you were paying close attention, you'd have noticed that we updated the Happy Holidays pack yesterday, and added in a whole bunch of new things, including a big pile of assets suitable for a fabulous Thanksgiving spread.

Like this. Pretty, isn't it?

And then we realised what we'd done.

On the table there, if you look carefully, you'll see a bunch of tasty veggies including aubergines, courgettes, and gourds. Which is all very well, except, of course, in America, they're eggplants, zucchini and squashes. Normally, of course, we'd defiantly assert our Britishness and leave the English* words in, but we don't do Thanksgiving in the UK. It's a purely American festival, so it would make sense to use the American words.

So, after a bit of humming and hahing, and a certain amount of finger-pointing, with a little bit of agonizing and buck-passing for good measure, we decided we'd better put out an update to the update with American words in. That's now been built and tested, and we'll ship it early next week. So, if you want to see an aubergine in Moviestorm, grab it now, because at midnight** it turns back into an eggplant.
* Courgette is, of course, a French word. Unlike zucchini, which is Italian. That's the English language for you.
** By midnight, we mean some arbitrary time of day at some point next week. It'll be midnight somewhere in the world.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Well, thank you!

We're currently working through the closing stages of the next pack release. This is an update to the Happy Holidays pack, and will include a bunch of stuff from the old Photostorm and Greetingstorm packs. It will also have some extra material that was made for those packs but never made it in, such as completed versions of the sofa animations, the Santa chair animationss, mutual versions of pulling a cracker and kissing with mistletoe.

But that's not all, nossirree! We've also added in a load of totally new things suitable for a Christmas dinner: roast turkey and all the trimmings. Our American friends will, of course, get double value out of those, as they're perfect for Thanksgiving meals as well. There are some more Thanksgiving-related items in too.

To make this stuff work, it's going to be necessary to patch Core and Base , and there will also be patches for a number of art updates in other content packs, mostly fixes for textures and body meshes so that neck seams work better, that were done shortly after 1.4.1 was released.

Here's the good news. If you've got the Happy Holidays pack already, all this extra stuff will be a free update.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

One, two, three. THREE?

One of the things we're currently looking at - and before you get your hopes up, this is firmly in the category of "when it's ready" - is animations involving more than two characters. This was something we've decided we need to do to improve our fight scenes, and something that's been on the wish list for about five years. Way back when we wrote the first spec, we were throwing around ideas about movie cliches. Here are a few that came up in the section on fighting:
  • One guy pins another guy's arm behind his back while a third socks him in the stomach.
  • A wounded guy is carried with his arms around the shoulders of two others.
  • Caught in an alley, fighting the guy in front, get sapped from behind (or kidney punched).
  • Caught by a mob.
  • Step between two fighters, push them apart. (Referee?)
They're all great movie moments, but all of these require three or more characters to be closely involved in the action. And that, according to the guys building it, is a real challenge.

Animating one character is tricky enough, when you think of how many different actions you need to combine (walking, talking, breathing, holding something, gesturing, and so on). Animating two characters working together is really hard. You have to make sure they fit together without intersecting or missing. According to one of the guys working on The Sims 3, they spent several years trying to get two characters to walk hand in hand, and they eventually gave up. If you look closely at any game, you'll see people intersecting or air kissing. That usually doesn't matter in a game, where you're focusing on getting through the level or landing that dream job. But in a movie, where the viewer is focused on the characters, it's a big problem.
We have some two-person animations. Not as many as we'd like, admittedly, but enough to have some basic character interaction.

But now we're going to have a go at three person animations. We won't get everything on that list above, and it may take a while, but hey - we'll see what we can do.

Monday 18 October 2010


The Tender Tab

You may have noticed a small tab on the right of the Moviestorm front page for the last few weeks. We've recently been trialling a new support system, called Tender, as an alternative to the Knowledgebase / FAQ / email / help forums we've been using for the last few years. With the number of support queries we had coming in via different routes, we were starting to lose track of them. We didn't have a way to keep track of who was answering what, who was waiting for responses from customers, or anything like that. So Ben, Johnnie, Amos, Chris, Alex and everyone else just piled in and hoped for the best. It's worked pretty well until now, but we felt we needed to be a little more organised about everything.

Query entry and knowledgebase

Here's how it works. Click the tab (or go to support.moviestorm.co.uk) You can now enter your query or search the knowledgebase to see if someone's already answered your questions. When we get a query, it's logged in our system, and gets assigned to one of us. You immediately get a confirmation email which will, in due course, include links to relevant support articles. We've found that many of the questions we get have already been answered, so this hopefully means about 60% of problems will get solved instantly. We'll then get back to you as soon as we can, usually on the next working day. Our stats show that right now we're answering all questions in an average of one day, which we're quite pleased with.

This opens up a discussion, so we can go back and forth with you until we've dealt with your issue. You can attach files, include links, and so on, as you'd expect.

Discussion page

One big advantage is that unlike the forums, all issues can be kept private. This means you don't have to worry about what other people will think, or deal with idiots posting unhelpful comments on your query. If , once we're finished, you're happy to make the discussion public so that others can learn from it, that's something we can do.


Over the next few weeks or months, we'll probably move a lot of stuff over to Tender, so we don't have to maintain things like the FAQ separately. The help forum will stay, but we'll be regarding that as a more informal support system, where you'll be just as likely to get help from another Moviestorm user as from one of us.

Obviously, the main reason we're doing this is to make our own lives easier. However, the aim is to provide you with a better service at the same time. We'd love to get your feedback on the new system, so please let us know what you think, and how it compares to using the forums.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Moviestorm 1.4.2

Moviestorm 1.4.2 looks like it's going to be a fairly modest release. We're mainly focusing on papercuts and making some changes to the launcher. Yeah, we know, the launcher's not a particularly exciting part of Moviestorm, but it something that we have to give some attention to every so often. The idea is that Moviestorm will start up faster and it'll be less awkward having to restart it when you make changes to settings. We're also working on a background downloader so that you can get on with making your movies while it's grabbing new content packs or updates. So, as we said, not exciting stuff, but it'll make everything feel slicker right from the get-go.

We're also working on the codec support inside Moviestorm. As anyone who's done video editing can tell you, codecs are a black art. Sometimes you render your movie and it all works just fine, other times you end up with an unholy mess that's ten times bigger than you thought it would be, full of horrible artifacts, doesn't upload to your Web site or import into your video editor, and all the faces are bright blue. We're digging into this and seeing what we can do to make it easier and give you more options. One upshot of this is that we'll probably end up giving you more options for formats Moviestorm will accept, such as Ogg/Theora, and you'll also, at long last, be able to import video clips into the cutting room. It's too early to say whether any of this will make it into 1.4.2 (or indeed when 1.4.2 will actually be shipped), but we figured you'd like to know it's on our mind.

Monday 4 October 2010

Halloween horror, 2010

We've done a Halloween pack for the last couple of years, mainly because Chris just loves all that kind of stuff. In 2008 we gave you a bunch of traditional trick or treat goodies, and in 2009 we gave you a huge selection of monsters.

This year, we're knocking the Photostorm Bones stuff into shape, updating it slightly, and adding in a couple of new bits, and we're going to get that out to you some time this week. If you've already got Bones, we've added Graveyard Grass, some silhouettes, and a less complicated animation for getting your characters to start in the grave, so that they can do the "rise from grave" thing properly.

Happy screaming!

Thursday 16 September 2010

Bleach bypass

I know we've had the filter packs around for a while, but it's not until you start actually using them in a movie that you really appreciate what they can do for you. I've tried them all out, of course, but that's not the same thing. This is a shot for a promo video I'm making. It's a perfectly good shot, and I'm quite happy with it.

Then, in an idle moment, while thinking of some different ways to cut the scene, I added a bleach bypass filter in the cutting room, just to see what would happen. It looked interesting, so I changed the preset to medium, and ended up with this instead.

It may not seem that different when you just look at the two stills, but once you see it as video in context, it completely changes the mood of the piece. It looks less like a piece of game-styled machinima, and more like a bit of actual film. As a result, the entire video feels more authoritative, and it's more as if I'm addressing the audience directly, not putting my words into an avatar. Sounds crazy, but it's true.

It's so simple. Just a couple of clicks, and your movie is completely transformed. Try it. It'll cost you just 5 points to test out each pack for a day.

Here's a tutorial if you want to find out how they work.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

The Moviestorm night shift

We're pulling out all the stops to get Moviestorm 1.4.1 to you as fast as possible. It definitely won't be today now but we're hoping that our super-secret stealth dev team will finish the job overnight so we can release it tomorrow morning.

Here they are in action, captured on our security cameras. I know we've never told you about them before, but apparently they just signed a kiss-and-tell book deal with HarperCollins so we're going to have to fire them anyway.

Oh, so close...

Update: we have the technology. We can rebuild it...

If you're interested, this is the killer bug.

Dressing Room View: If you add a new character, then replace the character with a stock character, you will no longer be able to delete the character from the movie.

Dave's fixed it. We're currently retesting, rebuilding the patch, and engaging our bionic superspeed to get this out to you.


Yes... no... yes... no... release cliffhanger!

It's been all quiet on the dev blog for a couple of weeks, largely because everyone was on holiday in much of August, and since they came back we've been focused 100% on shipping Moviestorm 1.4.1. (Yes, we decided to call it 1.4.1, not mess around with calling it 1.4 official release or, or 1.4a or anything. No big deal, it's just a number.)

So here we are, Wednesday afternoon, and it's all wrapped up, ready to go, and we're writing the release notes, when we hear a squawk from QA. They've found four more bugs. That's normal. If we waited until we cleared every single bug, we'd never release anything. If they're not too serious, we just log 'em, ship, and fix 'em later.

But this time, one of them is a blocker. That means we absolutely can't ship the update until it's fixed. If we're lucky, it's a quick fix. If we're not, it isn't.

So here's the current status: there's a deathly hush in the office as Dave frantically wrestles code. Nobody is allowed to breathe loudly, let alone speak. Bits are flying left and right, sweat pours from his furrowed brow, and smoke begins to pour from the overheating computers. A telephone rings. Andrew grabs it before the noise can break Dave's concentration, and listens for a moment. "No, Mister Chairman," he whispers. "We're still waiting."

For a moment, there is the sound of keys as Andrew sends a desperate message across the Atlantic. "Matt, tell the people we haven't forgotten them. Tell them our story. Tell them!"

Monday 16 August 2010

While the cat's away ...

Most of the Moviestorm team are taking a well-deserved break at the moment, but that doesn't mean the rest of us are sitting on our laurels. Everyone's favourite hard-working art guy, Chris Ollis, has this to share with you all:

Now that the dust has settled on the early access release of version 1.4 I'm taking the liberty to let slip some other stuff that we've been doin

g that should be with you shortly, and some even more exciting things from the future!

First up we've got a new and incredibly useful content pack nearing release. It may not seem like the most exciting thing we've done when you first set eyes on it, but I can guarantee every serious Moviestorm film maker will want it and it should make character driven dialogue sequences all the more impressive.

Looking further in to the future we're tackling some stuff that we've wanted to do since day one. It should also make a fair few users happy, and save a few from having to struggle with their own mods of existing animations.

Yes that's right - we've finally had some fun with swords. While Dave would like us to break this down in to all the different sword types, weights, rules and other professional standards, I'm more keen on just whipping them out and hacking away a bit :D

While on the subject of violent acts, I've also been messing around with similarly unpleasant animations in my spare time, and given a good wind I should start handing out handy little packets of jumps, falls, punches and stabbings to help Moviestorm step up a gear. I know people have been shouting for this for a while, but believe me the video footage I recorded as a template was in the can so long ago I've had to get a cinefilm converter to play it back on :D

Don't bother asking for dates, you should know by now ;P


Friday 13 August 2010

Show us your heads!

Here's a high-speed run-through of the morphs and decals in Moviestorm 1.4, by Chris.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Moviestorm 1.4 early access - grab it now!

We've built up the suspense long enough. Now you can go and play with all the lovely new stuff in Moviestorm 1.4.

To make things 100% clear, this isn't the official release. It's an early access release which is pretty damn near complete and has all the essential new features and tools. There are a few more things we plan to add in, mostly targeted at first-time users, but we're going to put those in over the next few weeks. In the meantime, you can start using the new dressing room and head creator, the new lighting, and all the other bits and pieces. There are no tutorials for the new stuff yet, but you can probably work it out!

You need to go through a couple of steps to get the early access version, but there's full instructions on the Web site. You can stick with your current version if you want, or you can run the two side by side. If you get 1.4 now, it should be easy to upgrade to the official release when it comes out.

We really want to hear your thoughts on this release, so please tell us what you think via the forums. Most of the team are on holiday next week, so we may not respond as fast as usual, but as always, we really value your feedback. It would be really useful to find out which bits you found confusing - that will help immensely when it comes to making the new tutorials.

Have fun!

Friday 6 August 2010

Moviestorm 1.4 is imminent

It's taken a while, but it's going to be worth the wait. We've just assembled a complete build of Moviestorm 1.4, and it's looking good. We're dealing with a few minor issues over the weekend, then we'll be putting it through its final tests on Monday & Tuesday. If all goes well, we'll release it mid-week - and then our entire programming team is taking a well-earned holiday!

Moviestorm 1.4 includes a whole bunch of new features that you're just going to love. If you've been following the dev blog, you'll have seen us getting excited about them over the last couple of months. Individually, they're pretty cool. Now that we've put them all together, though, they add up to a huge leap forward.
  • For a starters, there's a whole new dressing room, and a completely new head creator. You can morph faces in a huge variety of ways, add make-up and decals, and you can create random characters to give you inspiration or fill out your extras quickly. Oh, and we fixed those annoyingly visible neck seams. That's something we've wanted to deal with for absolutely ages!
  • There's a totally new lighting system, which gives you much better lighting and really brings out the relief in your movies. It's a tri-light system which allows you to create effects similar to the traditional three-light system used on real-life movie sets. It includes lighting presets, so you can quickly flip to day, night, or low-light scenes. You can still use the old ambient & directional system if you want, but once you've used this, you won't want to go back. There's also a new color chooser which remembers the last colors you picked, which is handy for so many reasons.
  • The help system has been completely revamped. It's now much easier to use, and links through to the video tutorials. There's also a beta of the prop info tool: press one key and it shows you what every prop on the set can do. We also made a printable cheat sheet that you can stick in front of your keyboard or on top of the screen.
  • One of the most important "under the hood" updates is the auto-save and backup system. You can store up to ten backups of each movie, which means that it's easy to experiment with a scene, decide you don't like the way it's going, and get back to a previous version.
  • And, as we promised, we worked our way through a bunch of "papercuts", those little annoying things that irritate the hell out of you. Like the save dialog, which always confused people, and now makes sense. Or the load movie screen, which you can now order by date and quickly find the last movie you worked on. And when you load a movie, it goes back to the last view you were in. And so on.
The test team keep telling us how much easier and quicker it is to use Moviestorm now, and how the new characters really allow you to get much more variety into their movies. We're really looking forward to seeing what you guys do with it. The movies you've created so far have amazed us, and we're sure that you're going to do something truly astonishing.

Friday 16 July 2010

More from the logs

Watching the commit logs is a fascinating way to see what's actually going on in the development team.

The last couple of days has seen a lot of commits of the form:
  • Revision 24513 Committed by ben_sanders: - Deleting and moving female gestures
Basically, this means that there's some reorganisation of the underlying data structure going on. Things are going into different directories, which won't affect what Moviestorm does, but is usually preparation for some other change. It's one of those godawful tricky jobs, because if you get it wrong, you end up shipping something that's missing a file, or which has two copies of the same thing. And when I say a lot of commits, I mean a few days' worth. I don't envy them that job.
  • Revision 24503 Committed by ben_sanders: - This has the reverted version of calloader.java, and the changes to animationremapper.java
  • Committed by julian_gold: - New vidits.jar built for altered openapi.
  • Revision 24479 Committed by dave: - Ignore .svn folders
More underlying tech stuff. Fiddly. Nasty. Probably necessary.

There are loads of updates on the new dressing room and the new light controls, of course. Most of it consists of entries like this:
  • Revision 24501 Committed by chris_ollis: - Female dressing room anims again
However, here are a few juicy bits that give you an idea of the less glamorous side of it all:
  • Revision 24471 Committed by ben_sanders: - saving wrong verb instance to library was causing all sorts of havoc.
  • Revision 24493 Committed by ben_sanders: - More remaps; these anims were submitted after the first remap but still needed remapping.
  • Revision 24495 Committed by alex_gowland: - Changed name of female decal so its recognised by the .bodypart
  • Revision 24500 Committed by ben_sanders: - Republished (without neckbodyweld's which break publishing)
  • Revision 24530 Committed by dave: - Possible fix for modshop crash on windows
However, let me leave you with just one last tantalising hint:
  • Revision 24429 Committed by chris_ollis: - Specular fix for female wet/sweat/rain

Lighten up!

While working on the many changes to the character creation, we've now got the characters in proper dressing room. This gives you a much better idea of how they're going to look on set than having them against a plain background.

We realised during development that this worked much better if you had some half-decent lighting, so we took the opportunity to revisit the way our lighting controls work.

You can see in the shot above that we've now got lighting presets, so you can quickly go to some standard light settings and see how your character looks under different light conditions.

Here's a closer look at the controls. The current version has two main light controls: ambient, which is a general light, and directional, which comes from one direction only. The new system works more like conventional three-point movie lighting, and uses a front light (key), side light (fill), and back light. This gives you much smoother illumination, and the results look much more like what you're used to seeing in movies. And, as you can see, any light setup you create can be saved as a preset.

We haven't determined whether the new lighting controller will make it into the set workshop yet; there are still some big issues we need to address. However, we're fairly confident that it will make it into the dressing room for 1.4.

Monday 12 July 2010

At the touch of a button...

Are you ready for this? Coming up in Moviestorm 1.4 is probably the single most useful interface change we've made in ages.

When you're in the Director's view, press F2. Everything on the set that you can interact with is highlighted, and each prop tells you everything that you can currently do with it.

No more clicking around to see what does what. It's all there, right in front of you, instantly.

This is still work in progress - we haven't finalised the look and feel of this, and there are some issues with using the F2 key, particularly on Macs - but it's hard to stress just how much difference this makes, and how much this opens up Moviestorm to novices and experienced users alike. Even the dev team are finding things they didn't know were in there.

We're aiming to finalise development on Moviestorm 1.4 this week and get it over to QA. Then we'll test the hell out of it for a while, and make the awkward decisions as to what actually makes it into the next release and what's going to be held over for more development.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Moviestorm 1.3.1 just got too big for its britches

For the last few weeks, we've been packing more and more new stuff into Moviestorm 1.3.1. And now it's got rather bigger than we were expecting. So big, in fact, that it's completely outgrown 1.3 and will henceforth be known by its new name, Moviestorm 1.4.

As we developed the character shop, we came up with all sorts of new ideas. We started with basic decals, and rapidly expanded that to cover not only make-up in the sense of a little bit of lipstick and eyeshadow, but also cyborgs, Ziggy Stardust or KISS style face painting, scars, tattoos, and all sorts of fun stuff. After playing with those for a while, we decided this was just too good to leave out, so we opted to go with the flow and create more details. We also added in more morphs, and more ways to make characters look good when you film them. We've been paying particular attention to things like how shiny the eyes should be, so the characters look properly alive.

We also came up with a few oddball ideas in testing. We mentioned the "create random character" button a while ago. We ended up with three random buttons, which give us different basic parameters. One's fine for generating normal characters, one gives you more extreme characters, and one gives you completely random ones. This was really helpful for testing the morphs, and making sure they all worked together successfully. We then realised that this would actually be a useful feature anyway: you don't really want weird freaks when you're just trying to set up a restaurant scene. So yeah, we rather like the idea of a bunch of "create a sort of random character along these lines" buttons.

Whether this will make it into this release is very much open to question. As of now, we've stopped adding new things, and we're aiming to wrap everything up and get it through QA and out to you as soon as possible. There are several features in the category of "if it works properly with minimal effort, it stays, otherwise rip it out and ship it later."

Does that mean the character designer is finished now? No. There's still plenty more that we're planning for the future. Last week, for example, we figured out how to do some neat stuff with skin shading and tinting that's not going to make it into 1.4 for sure. And even today we were coming up with more new ideas, and everyone in the team is finding things we'd want to do differently if we had the time. The priority is to get you what we have, and see what you make.

So when's 1.4 coming? You know the answer. When it's ready.

Friday 2 July 2010

Your face looks different

Last week, we showed you some of the more extreme heads we could make with the new face creator. This week, we've got some more normal looking male and female faces, the sort of thing you're more likely to use for most of your movies.

Bear in mind that this is still in development, and we're still adding new things and chipping away at the rough edges, so these aren't final. However, it's clear that we've got vastly more variation in these characters than we've had before, even without going for pointy ears, hooked noses, or oversize chins.

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Fixing the bleedin' obvious

I have quite a lot of computers in my life, and they all run Linux. In fact, the only time I leave the confines of my beloved Linux is when I'm at work (where my machine at Moviestorm Towers is a Macbook Pro). Most of my machines run a variant of Linux called Ubuntu. Last year, the Ubuntu development team announced a new project which they called 100 Papercuts. The idea was that they would identify 100 little irritations which were reasonably trivial to fix. Most of the issues identified were minor and really not too significant, but as they all pile up they start to become a serious problem. One papercut, after all, is only an irritant, but if you get enough papercuts all at once you just might bleed to death.

I was quite taken with this idea (the papercuts concept, not the bleeding to death), and spent some time talking about it with Dave and Andrew. As a consequence, we recently launched our own "papercuts" project for Moviestorm. Whilst Ubuntu's Papercuts project attracted over 1600 recorded bugs within a few weeks, our initial brainstorm generated a slightly less ambitious 200(ish) issues. We're going to be tackling these "papercuts" a few at a time, aiming to fix between 10 and 20 papercuts each time we have a code release.

Let's take a look at some of the papercuts for the forthcoming 1.3.1 release.

MS-3277 Keep window positions and sizes after the user has adjusted them
Wouldn't it be nice if, when you moved a customisation window over to the left, it appeared in the same place when you next reopened it? Now it does. We haven't implemented this behaviour for every window yet, but it's in place for all of the "adjust something" windows (what we call Activity Customizers).

MS-4887 Improve transitions between major mode views
This one's not so easy to spot, but the load time required to switch Views - to move from Set Workshop View to Director's View, for example - has been much improved. A lot of clever process threading and Clever Engineering Hacking in the background has allowed us to make these transitions faster and smoother.

MS-4826 Can't remove user images
I'm going to be totally honest with you here: this is one of those bugs that represents a lack of functionality not through deliberate choice but just because we forgot to put it in. Once you add a custom image to a set object, there's no way of actually removing that image if you change your mind later. The ring menu for such objects now features a "clear image" option, which removes the image. It also works for held props and bodyparts.

MS-4815 File overwrite message is confusing
This one was ridiculously easy to fix, but had still been sat in our bug database for a long time. Being such a small team, it's easy for small things like this to never actually make it onto anybody's "to do list", simply because there are so many other, bigger things that need to be done. That's exactly what the papercuts project is good for: making sure that issues like this do eventually get addressed. Here's the dialog as it appears in the current released version of Moviestorm:
And here's the new version:
A lot clearer, I think you'll agree.

MS- 4809 Can't find the movie I last worked on
My Moviestorm "movies" directory currently holds about a hundred different movies, in various states of completion. When you spend a lot of your working day testing Moviestorm you tend to accrue a lot of test movies. The load screen will now allow you to sort those movies, either by name or by modification date. That means that the movie you last worked on can be quickly brought to the top of the list.

MS-4806 Typo on first page of Help
Yes, well. The less said about this the better. Let's just move on, shall we?

MS-4786 Warn me if I'm not placing a character at time 0
Ever had a character appear halfway through a scene because the timeline wasn't at the start of the scene when you issued the "place here" command? Yeah, me too. Not any more:

MS-3690 Autosave
Matt has already blogged about this one.

There are about half a dozen other papercut issues in various stages of completion, but this should give you some idea of what we're hoping to achieve for 1.3.1. This is an experiment, so the choice of which of our 200 papercut issues to address first has been almost arbitrary. What about you? What little annoying niggle would you like us to fix? Comment with your papercuts, and I'll add them to our issues database.

Friday 25 June 2010

And now for the new heads

So you've seen what sort of controls the new face morpher has. Now let's see what it can do when you push those sliders around a bit.

You may not actually want characters this extreme, of course, but this demonstrates that Moviestorm 1.3.1 will offer a lot more flexibility and customisation than the current version.