Here’s how Hollywood works today: Somebody writes a script. And especially if it’s an animated feature–a piece that will take hundreds of Pixar artists years to produce–there’s almost no chance it will be made. So filmmakers turn to low budget YouTubing, or even playing out their stories inside video game engines (machinima) in lieu of professional production and distribution.
Plotagon (free) is an ingenious alternative. It’s screenwriting software that’s been merged with 3-D animation software. So as you type actions, lines, and settings for your characters, those characters will actually play out your vision on screen, complete with auto-directed cuts.
“Now that computers have become so strong that they can be used to produce movies…everything else will be handled by the artists themselves,” foretells Plotagon Founder and Director Christopher Kingdon. “There’s no need for a middle man, no reason to ask for anyone’s permission to make a movie (like a producer). People will express themselves and share directly.”
We can’t pretend that Plotagon films look vastly better than a game of The Sims, but the core experience of actually using this software is incredibly impressive. It helps that screenplays, by nature, are a sort of code. They establish a scene (you know, INT. Bar – Night). They say who is around, doing what (John, a typical middle aged man, and Sara, a dragon princess, stand at the bar). Then those people talk and interact, one line and action at a time.
In Plotagon, each line of script is essentially a line of code in a directed program. But rather than needing to learn C++ or something, natural language drives the writer’s experience. When “John hugs Sara,” John is recognized as a 3-D model, Sara is recognized as a 3-D model, and they’re simply connected through a pre-scripted, verb-based motion in Plotagon’s library. (It definitely helps that every minimal bit of UI flourish makes finding these preset characters, verbs, and locations as seamless as using Google autocomplete.)
But even still, are we looking at Plotagon through rose-tinted glasses? Can auto-machinima really take off to create high-end media that people could become emotionally invested in? According to Kingdon, it can. The Swedish startup has 24 people behind the product, including painters, sculptors, animators, programmers, designers and one classically trained composer. Plotagon is also working closely with KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Scotland, to develop algorithms for “multimodal communications”–basically combining the logic behind a character’s facial expressions, gestures, and body position in a more believable way than animations work today.
“Within five years we will be completely photorealistic,” Kingdon promises. “You will be able to make a 3-D avatar of yourself and make a movie when you interact with Elvis and Marilyn Monroe.”
But until that day comes, and even if it doesn’t? At least the team is working on a $10 Pride & Prejudice plugin pack of new characters and settings, you know, for that Jane Austen fanfic you–ahem–your friend’s cousin has been working on for decades.