Teaching cinematic filmmaking


Teaching cinematic filmmaking

A Cinematic Approach to Filmmaking with Moviestorm

By Gerry Paquette, Game Development Professor at Algonquin College, Ottawa, Canada.


“Student engagement is a key factor in delivering an effective learning experience. Over the years I’ve come to realize that the further removed a subject is from the core learning material, the less important it will seem to a student. None of my students would argue that the principles of filmmaking apply as much to video games as they do to film and television. What does differ however, are the tools used and production environment.”

My efforts to resolve this inadequacy lead me to consider using machinima as it appeared to offer a better fit for my students.

 “Video game cutscenes and cinematics are staged within computer generated environments populated by virtual actors whose performances are recorded using simulated lights and cameras. As experienced gamers, my students are inherently aware of this fact making it hard for them to justify all time and effort required in learning how to operate standard digital video. This is evident in the work they produce for me over the past five years which, to be perfectly honest, has failed to reflect much of the filmmaking techniques covered in class.”

“Unfortunately the various tools and hacks required to make such movies would leave little time for deep learning or experimenting to take place. Further research along these lines eventually led me to Moviestorm – a tool whose raison d’être is the removal of all these hurdles so as to make machinima accessible to all.”

My students took to Moviestorm quite readily thanks to its game-like features.

“One of the most popular modules was the Dressing Room where they quickly figured out how to create virtual representations of themselves and their classmates often with hilarious results as they pushed the various parameters for eyes, ears, and noses to their limits. Navigating within the Set Workshop and Directors View was equally intuitive through the use of the WASD keys commonly used in games. Female students, in particular, seemed to appreciate the Sims-like interface used to control a characters movements and interactions with the set or other characters.”

As an educator, one Moviestorm feature that I greatly appreciate is how it imbeds the classic “rule of thirds” composition guidelines into the user interface.

“Rather than simulate real camera controls such as tilt, dolly, and pan, Moviestorm presents users with compositional lines attached to the characters which facilitates the placement of their bodies and eye levels within a picture plane that is subtly divided into thirds. This not only facilitates the process of framing a shot, it allows for the theory to embed itself into the user’s consciousness.

A few students did experience some frustration when they realized that Moviestorm did not provide complete freedom in the manipulation of objects and characters which they are accustomed to having when working with regular 3D modeling and animation software. However, I found that these virtual world constraints to be a great benefit as they reflect the real-world limitations that need to be overcome when making movies.

There’s a lot of trickery involved in making the audience believe what in what is presented to them on the screen and many of the techniques developed for film are equally effective in Moviestorm.


The illusions of a character fall into a bottomless pit, for example, can be created in both worlds through the use of a green screen. One of my students needed to make his character appear as if he had been shrunk down to the size of an action figure. Just as in real filmmaking, the way he found to accomplish visual effect was to place the character onto a wooden floor and surround him with oversized desk props such as a lamp and computer.”

Thanks to this new approach, I’m finally able to see cinematic results in the work produced by my students.

“Alfred Hitchcock’s dislike for shooting his movies on location is a well-known fact. The limitations and lack of control over natural elements such as sunlight and noise are challenges that frustrate and limit real-world filmmakers regularly. Having complete control over them in Moviestorm, much like Hitchcock had in making Rear Window which feature the largest exterior set ever built, removes these obstacles allowing students to learn more quickly and experiment freely without interference.

Working with virtual sets, rather expansive 3D environments, is also useful in terms of screen direction.

Since most sets feature just 3 walls, it’s practically impossible to place your camera in such a way that will break the 180-degree rule which must be adhered to diligently in order to keep the audience oriented in a scene.”

There’s nothing so rewarding for me then to cut them loose for their final assignment and watch as the group together to create engaging movies featuring gun fights, bank robberies, car chases, alien encounters, and even cast themselves as the struggling protagonists in a zombie apocalypse. The time and effort they put into these movies, often going above and well beyond my requirements, clearly demonstrate just how powerful a tool like Moviestorm can be in enabling learners.”