Last weekend the six- and eight-year-olds came back from a friend's house raving about a new movie they'd seen, The Codex Series. Never heard of it? I hadn't either. But I looked it up and found the most extraordinary thing.
The Codex Series is a machinima film, made with networked Xboxes running Halo 2. As in all machinima, the human actors are essentially puppeteers, controlling the videogame characters to act out scenes in the game's multiplayer environments while the actors do the voiceovers. All the visuals are generated by the game itself, so the role of the filmmaker is simply to write a script, act it out, and edit the results. The technique is the same as the earlier Red vs. Blue, the Beckett-like surrealist comedy of bored marines stranded on an alien planet, which has been a favorite of ours at Wired for several years now (read Clive Thompson's excellent NYT Mag piece about it here.)
The end result of all these projects is super low-cost computer
graphics animation, like a basement Pixar. Anyone can make a CG film
this way and every year hundreds of talented amateurs do. Some of them are amazing.
The Codex Series is the best machinima I've ever seen. It has a stirring plot (an alternative history of the battle between humans and the Covenant in the Halo universe), edge-of-your-seat pacing, distinctive characters, and a pulse-quickening soundtrack. The kids watched it all weekend, and now beg to see it again. I'm on my third viewing myself, and I must say that Episode 18 is a stunner, a masterful interweaving of simultaneous rally-the-troops speeches by commanders about to battle. It builds to a crescendo that will leave you breathless.
The series has 20 episodes, and then, unlike Red vs. Blue, it stops. The creators, who are all in their teens, have now graduated from high school and scattered to the winds. Plus the film's runaway success has left some ruinous bandwidth bills for the millions of downloads:
Q: Are you going to make a second season?
A: Most of the Codex Crew went off to college right after finishing Episode 20. While making The Codex this summer we met every day at noon and worked until at least eight o'clock every night, sometimes going as late as 3:30 the next morning! Obviously we don't have that kind of time in college, especially since we have been scattered into three different time zones. The Codex has also been a very expensive project for us, and now that we're in college we can't really afford expensive hobbies.
you're not sufficiently impressed yet, consider this: My children's
favorite film was not made by Disney, but by a dozen Dallas teenagers
playing a videogame in one of their parents' basement. By Hollywood standards, the film cost essentially nothing to make and is
free to download. It's had 13m
viewers so far. There is now a DVD and a soundtrack CD.
If that isn't Long Tail, I don't know what is.