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Cubase
Post subject: Stolen Life - Review!
Post Posted: Apr 17, 2007 5:19 am
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Well, you've all been waiting for it... so here it is!





Stolen Life.
Review


From the screenshots you might mistake this short film for a PC adventure game with a sci-fi twist. I'll admit, when I first started watching the progress of this project that was my first assumption. However, it became apparent that we were looking at Machinima; the process of using a game engine and utilising 3D geometry to generate your scenes and characters, and eventually manipulate this world to construct and entire film. It's a bit of a mouthful, but rather simple. Imagine you're playing a game and in that game you can control characters in a 3D environment. Now imagine someone is filming all this interaction as if it were a movie set. There you have your first scene!

Using this method of production the creative sparks at Nanoflix (writer/producer Peter Rasmussen, and co-producer Jackie Turnure) conjured up Stolen Life. An intergalactic, futuristic, 3D computer animated space noir (whoa!). The story basically follows a droid (a Private Investigator voiced by Chris Jones, best known for playing detective Tex Murphy in the popular adventure games by Access Software) sent to investigate a seemingly inactive refuelling asteroid, whose droidian inhabitants (along with the facility itself) have been shut down. Once there, PI (that's the droids name) revives Kieru, another droid (voiced by Claudia Black: Stargate SG1, Farscape) and begins to investigate why the facility was shut down and why one of the droids (Faraday) has gone missing. Through the investigation, PI meets various other droids and eventually learns of a cover up, which all the workers are in on.

For the first 20 minutes, I was grasping the whole Machinima concept. I must admit, I was not 100% sure about this Machinima idea to begin with, and was probably scrutinising the film on a technical level a bit too much early on. It took me about 20 minutes to break away from the crudity of some of the textures and models and finally grab hold of the story. Looking kind of like my first attempts at a 3D Studio Max tutorial on character animation my first impression was that this film was begging for an aesthetic overhaul. Much to my surprise though, after this 20 minute period of technical analysis (I blame myself, being familiar with the process probably a bit too much not to scrutinise) I was no longer concerned about the imagery, and began my tumble-dryer-like spiral plunge into the story! and I love a good story!

After we were introduced to the various characters the whole unravelling of the story was, for me, quite daunting. In true detective style each new answer was a package of about 20 more questions. And by around the 45 minute mark I was saying to myself "If I don't find out at least some answers as to what's going on I am going to scream". With the 10 or so characters popping up here and there, each one with their own hidden agenda I almost needed a notebook, a hint-guide and a bourbon double just to keep track of where I was. They obviously thought long and hard about the story because there seemed to be a link between everything, I just had to wait until I was smart enough to figure it out or they just came out and spilled the beans (that latter obviously being the quicker and more practical alternative). Regardless, my interest was certainly peaked.

Half way through to 90 minute feature I finally began piecing the story together and this meant gradually shifting from observer mode to detective mode, saying to myself (in true Tex Murphy style): "Alright, now you've got my attention". Without giving too much away, PI begins to figure out who is involved with the cover up for whatever reason and begins to take charge of the situation. But, (and here's the tricky part) just when you thought you have it all figured out and you're about to call it case closed, the film throws in a little twist that has you slapping yourself silly. Then, in true adventure style, it is a race against time to make sure all hell does not break loose before it's too late. You know the drill.

It's easy to forget you are watching a bunch of droids when you get sucked into the story. The synchronisation of the animation to the voice over was extremely well done. As limited as they were in expressions the animators did a wonderful job of emphasising physical expressions with the characters. PI's only real ability to express emotion physically was his motor movements and his eye movement, which could go sideways or up and down. Despite these limitations I could detect a surprisingly large range of emotions, from remorse to intrigue, and even a touch of sarcasm (aside from the obvious expressed in the voice).

Speaking of which, the voice over was another aspect of the film that really stood out in a positive way. Maybe I am just a little bit biased when I say that Chris Jones is an amazing voice actor, but he's a man who's born to play a detective, in any way, shape or form. So it's no surprise that he did a stellar job voicing PI. Claudia Black, who voices Kieru also did an excellent job, and between the two of them I felt, dare I say, a bit of vocal chemistry. Most importantly none of the voice overs were out of place. There is nothing worse then hearing a voice over that does not fit! It makes you feel there is something quite not right (I know, I have been guilty of it myself!), but all artists did a great job, and helped develop their character well.

The music and sound design was very fitting. Composed and performed by Phillip Johnston, the music contained that cold, mechanical space atmosphere which was baron, chilling yet quirky at the same time. The most memorable musical moments overseeing parts of the film which detailed something of a robot construction ballet. The sound effects and atmospheres fit very will with their environments and on screen actions, and there were no nasty "stock" moments (a stock moment is when you hear a sound that has obviously been part of an already overused sound effects library... like the flame burst in Doom II, or the scream in Under a Killing Moon, and Pandora Directive, and Doom the movie, and Wolfenstein the game... you get the point!).

One thing I noticed towards the end of the film was that, despite the fact that I was sceptical of the whole idea of Machinima, the formula seemed to work. It may not have had stellar imagery (compared to computer animated films like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) but it has its own unique presence; a presence which I certainly hope becomes recognised in the industry. I discussed things with Peter after the film, and said to him that in my opinion its better to aim for your own unique spot in the industry and hit a bullseye, rather than aim for something and quite not make it. In comparing Final Fantasy (which is still one of my all time favourites regardless) with Stolen Life, the failures of The Spirits Within were mainly due to the fact that it was aiming for "photo real", but did not quite make it. When you reach a point where your visuals are so intricate that the viewer is often challenged it distracts from the story. However, nobody is going to be distracted by the fact that Shrek was not photorealistic enough, and so the viewers are free to curve their imaginations down an interestingly creative tangent. I believe Stolen Life succeeded in doing so, even though it did take a little while to get used to.

That being said; don't expect the film to be swept up by every filmgoer out there. Whether they have found a niche or not this film is not for everybody. If you are open minded, love a good story, have a good imagination and am willing to try new things you will have a ball with Stolen Life and Machinima in general. But if you expect to be wowed off your seats by stellar imagery that begs the question "what is real?", then perhaps you should take the red pill (Matrix pun, I'm quite proud of myself).

Stolen Life is a first step for the Nanoflix folks towards getting their formula into the bigger market. Of course, this market would not exist without fanboys and sci-fi nuts like us, so we gotta band together! There is a lot of room for development in Machinima and for the Nanoflix crew, so expect to see more form these guys in the future. Of course, exposure is the most important thing at the moment. I believe there is a place in the market for films like Stolen Life. It might not be Hollywood, but to the thousands upon thousands (even millions) or sci-fi fans out there tired of having their favourite shows either cancelled or shunned into graveyard time-slots there are those who will be supportive and appreciative of this kind of film, to no end!

I give Stolen Life thumbs up, and eagerly await further developments with Nanoflix and Machinima in the future; and if you too want to see the genre flourish, make yourself heard, and start by seeing Stolen Life!

-Mat Van Rhoon.


For more information about Stolen life (including trailers, interviews and other materials) and infor about Nanoflix, please visit: http://www.zipworld.com.au/~raz/nima/SL_Tumb/sl_ss.html




-Cub. =o)


EDITS > Fixed text tagging issues.


Last edited by Cubase on May 14, 2008 1:08 am, edited 8 times in total.
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Fred Buer
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Post Posted: Apr 17, 2007 6:09 am
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I've made my own machinimas (I played world of warcraft, remember?) so I'm familiar with the concept.

As for the review, excellent work! I'm gonna see this film. Easy as that.

Oh, and... Claudia Black would be more famous in Australialand for her part in the absolutely genius tv-series Farscape above anything else, I should hope :D

Chris Jones voicing a PI... Close enough! Gimme my FIX!!

-Fred

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mr_cyberpunk
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Post Posted: Apr 18, 2007 6:28 am
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Yeah Claudia Black is very famous here in Australia. Even when she was a lesbo Amazon in Xena. (or was the Hercules... I forget)

I'm hoping that Chris finds more work like this.. maybe even a real acting film job. What would be ideal is through this movie, Chris draws more attention to Tex Murphy. Best case senario is that someone offers to publish a new Tex game or several.

I'd like to see the movie, I have issues with the textures and the technology they are using though. For starters I've seen much better Machinima than this, but never with such high quality voice actors.

I'm still trying to figure out why they used Machinima... when they could have just as easily rendered the video in 3DSMax with hell better visuals. Its a bit odd when you think about it. I'd love to know their reasons for using Machinima. Also Cub, how was the music... or was there a lack of music.

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Jen
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Post Posted: Apr 19, 2007 6:04 pm
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Good things come to those who wait 'eh?
Or to those who continually pester???? :wink:

Thanks for the indepth review. I'm so looking forward to getting a chance to watch it myself.

'ppreciate it!

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Jim the old guy
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Post Posted: Apr 20, 2007 6:06 am
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Ditto from TOG.

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Jen
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Post Posted: Jun 30, 2007 10:40 pm
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Hey Cubbie....you're quoted on the top of their web page!!!!

http://www.zipworld.com.au/~raz/nima/SL_Tumb/sl_ss.html

Funniest thing is, when you click on the review, it brings you right back here!


Just finished watching the DVD of "Stolen Life". I have to agree with Cub on so many of his points.

I've been a huge fan of computer animation pretty much since it's inception. Anyone remember "The Minds Eye" or the Annual Computer Animation Festival videos? The roughness of the Machinima was a bit jarring at first, it took me about 10 minutes to have it fall away into story and characters. After that it seemed very natural, their personalities melded from voice actor/animation into truly believable characters.

The lead, Pi, (pronounced pie, 3.14, not PI, sadly) was voiced superbly by Mr. Jones. I heard snippets of Tex through the tiny little guy, wonderfully wry and sarcastic at times. A Path C PD Tex though; the robot was a little on the uptight side. :wink:

The story wound around to places I didn't expect, but was pleasantly surprised where it did. Some of the ideas were very clever, robots with sentience, ideas and dreams, but still subservient and powerless to humans. The "ghost in the machine" I thought was especially well done. Consciousness in metal.

The music fit well, in fact I thought the opening was very "Heider"esq.

It's a niche market for sure, and I wish Peter all the best success with this little gem.
I give it a thumbs up!!!! :D
End review.

BTW I just noticed that AdvGame Ripper is back in Youtube with Pandora and Overseer videos. I only wish he'd upload to google video so they can be downloaded.

As another BTW....had anyone else thought about ordering a copy? It sure would be nice to put throw some support to the guys in their endeavors. And when I say support, of course I mean money. :P

Cheers!!

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Cubase
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Post Posted: Jul 02, 2007 12:19 am
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Hehehe thaks for the heads up Jen... had no idea they quoted it... it's good they linked here though!

-Cub. =o)

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Jen
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Post Posted: Aug 18, 2007 11:41 pm
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bumped for Ryan and for others that might not know.
Including links to CJ's videos and other etc about Stolen Life.
Posted: Jul 12, 2007 9:20 pm
Post subject: Another video from our favorite Fedora wearing fellow.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chris Jones is talking about an independent project. Killer Robot. This one's just released by the Nanoflix guys.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLVqAYMHWgU

For those who missed the original interview (it's been out for awhile) here ya go.
I swear he could slip right back into the game as if Overseer just wrapped.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PkNFuxPFz4

Here's a five minute snippet of Stolen Life. Very cool trailer.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wU5DXScNJHo


Ok last one. This is at the Sydney Film festival. No Chris, but more on the project.

http://www.gamearena.com.au/videos/late ... -episode-9
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