As someone who grew up with The Sims and has lost weeks, if not months, of my life to it and its many sequels, I have always been amazed at the creativity of the series’ fans. Whether it’s creating new hairstyles, eyelash accessories, or WooHoo mods that sometimes defy the laws of physics, The Sims has truly become a platform all in itself. And one of the most impressive categories of these creations is machinima.
What is a Machinima?
Machinima have been around for even longer than The Sims. In short, they are cinematic videos made using video games. Their creators are known as machinimists or machinimators, and yes, that is awfully close to masochist. It’s apropos because these creations are seriously labor-intensive. Originally machinimas were speedruns of games such as Doom and Quake, the latter inspiring “Quake movies” made with the in-game recorder and user-created mods and customizations.
From there came machinima made in games ranging from Second Life to Halo. Roger Ebert commented on the films, and there’s at least one book about the art of machinima. There’s even The Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences (AMAS), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting machinima and celebrating noteworthy machinimators.
Sims games are a natural fit for machinima. Players can already control everything their Sims do, especially if you factor in mods. Just take this “Let It Go” video from Malik Hatsune. In releasing The Sims, EA had unintentionally created a mini movie studio, allowing creators like Hatsy to remake My 90 Day Fiance with her Sims. And that’s just the beginning. Thanks to a treasure trove of expansion packs, the types of stories players can make with The Sims is practically infinite.
That’s not to say making Sims machinima is easy. When I decided to write this piece, I figured I’d take a shot at it myself and soon realized just how hard it can be. It’s time consuming and detail-oriented work, and between my Sim having to use the bathroom and setting himself on fire, it was hard to get the shot right. The amount of effort that goes into these full blown films and television shows is astounding — each one can take months to years to create. If that’s not a labor of simulated love, I don’t know what is. Best to leave it to the experts like Rémi Marocelli.
Meet the Creators
Marocelli is one of the most lauded Sims 4 machinima creators on YouTube, and his origin story is much like anyone’s who picked up The Sims as a kid. At age 11 he was introduced to the original Sims and fell down the rabbit hole, finding solace in the game when things were tough, and realizing that it allowed him to express his creativity in a way he never had been able to before.
“I like telling stories and conveying emotions,” Marocelli explains. “The Sims is a good way for me to do this. Pushing the boundaries of the game to make a movie as I can imagine it is very rewarding and stimulating.”
Marocelli had heard of machinima after the release of The Sims 2, finding himself mesmerized by the videos and stories people were creating. However, he didn’t get his start until The Sims 3 came out.
It’s a similar story to Bri’s, also known as Simsberry in the machinima community. Her fully voice-acted, scripted series The Kenopsia Effect has been running since 2017.
“I accidentally stumbled upon machinimas while searching for news about the Sims 3 Movie Stuff pack,” she recalls. “I forgot about it for about a year and then decided to check out those Sims music videos and films again. That’s when I noticed that some videos had voice actors in them and that the directors were opening casting calls.” As a drama kid, it was that which sparked her interest, leading her to start voice acting in machinima before eventually launching her own channel.
“Since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to make my own animated movie,” Simsberry adds. “And by making machinimas I can get closer to my dreams than I could ever imagine.”
Creating a Machinima
Marocelli truly customizes his astounding machinima through the use of mods and post-production software such as Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. Simsberry, likewise, is reliant on mods, though she employs the use of Audacity for audio editing and Cyberlink Powerdirector for editing.
“Mods are very important for making a machinima. A machinima maker must have total control over the game to modify it as he pleases,” he says. “Whether it is the weather or the emotions of the Sim and its needs, mods make making a machinima easier. It’s a real time saver.”
The Sims themselves are actually captured with software such as Mirillis Action, OBS, or GeForce Experience. Macorelli’s machinima can take years to make, mostly because he starts planning early on, using inspiration from music as well as The Sims expansions and stuff packs.
“I spent four and a half months on my last machinima,” he tells me. “To begin, I use a Sim with which I will test a large number of existing animations in the game. As soon as an animation seems interesting, I note it by indicating what its use will be. I then build the set that I need or I use those already created.”
Simsberry has a similar process, as well as timeline. Each machinima takes months or even years to plan and fully flesh out. Given that many of her machinimas are voice acted, there’s also extra time required to flesh out the characters.
“I first take some time compiling ideas and trying to figure out who the character will be,” she explains. “Then I make a list and write down the main plot points of each of the episodes. The plan might change along the way, but it’s good to be prepared.”
Each episode of Simsberry’s series is around 40 minutes long and takes roughly two to three months to complete, on the conservative side. She starts by writing and sending the script off to her editor and then to her voice actors. While waiting for the recordings to come in, she creates the needed Sims, builds sets, and sometimes makes custom animations in software like Blender.
All that remains, then, is filming. Marocelli says this is the most lengthy step, and he’s sure to free up a lot of space on his hard drive, considering the gigs and gigs of space that’ll be needed. Despite this, it’s his favorite part. He can make sense of what he’s filmed in editing and begin to create a coherent narrative.
The hardest part, he says, is the construction of sets. If just one object is out of place, he can’t film and has to re-build the area. Marocelli says that set building is what he’s least talented at, but he’s being modest. His work in Plumbob Princess, for example, is incredibly immersive.
“For a real movie, you have a whole team working on it. Everyone has a specific position for which he is talented. For my machinimas, I have to wear all the caps and there are some that I prefer to wear more than others,” he admits.
Simsberry finds filming to be the most fun part of her machinima process, because she gets to see her story come to life. On the other side of the coin, she hates editing. “I am very impatient and just want to show the video to my viewers instead of wasting time on color correcting,” she says.
That being said, the color palette of The Kenopsia Effect is as much a character as her actual Sims. Distressed and dark, the palette immediately gives a sense of weight to the world she has created, as well as a sense of uneasiness. So keep on color correcting, Simsberry.
The community surrounding machinima is ever-growing, with more and more people jumping in to try their hand at it. It’s still a relatively niche section of YouTube however, and one that definitely deserves more accolades for the work put into it. “We have a benevolent and passionate community of machinima makers, but unfortunately [we are] not sufficiently recognized,” Marocelli laments.
Building a Community
“The Sims community is my second home. I’ve met some of my best friends here,” Simsberry says. “People are so supportive and are willing to give each other advice and encouraging words, be it for something Sims related or something in their personal life.”
Regardless of how they get there, all these creators agree that when the months of planning, building, filming, and editing are done, the result is something to be proud of. Machinima are an enormous labor of love, and hopefully they will only continue to grow in scope, quality, and popularity.
“My favorite machinimas are those on which I spent the most time: Bella Goth: The Last Hope and Plumbob Princess,” Marocelli says. “I really put my heart into it and I’m very proud of the result. These are the ones that have the impression of watching a real movie. When I receive this kind of remark in the comments, I can say my goal is reached.”