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Game Developers Satirize American Politics

Programmers, animators and comedians collaborate on cartoon series. (June 08, 2004)

The latest to come from the video game industry isn't a new game, but a 3D animated cartoon series satirizing American politics. By combining biting satire with the speed of computer game technology, the creators of "On the Campaign Trail with Lenny & Larry" can put jokes about the latest news headlines in their cartoons as soon as the very next day. The New York based animation and game development studio, the ILL Clan Inc., helped pioneer a new technique of real-time animation known as Machinima in 1998, with their first short, "Apartment Huntin'." Today this group of comedians, 3D animators and computer programmers are best known for their unusual, live animation performances, which include opportunities for the audience to interact with the animated characters.

The group has enlisted the talents of game developers and animators from all over the world to help produce their latest cartoon series. "It doesn't matter what country you're in, making fun of Bush is like shooting fish in a barrel," says Mike Steven, a 3D game-level designer in Hampshire England who designs 3D backgrounds and environments for the show, which follows two out of work lumberjacks as they pursue the two cushiest jobs in America: President and Vice President.

"We've got background's and 3D environment's being made in England and Germany, new 3D characters being created in Australia and all the writing, voice acting and editing being produced right here in Brooklyn" says Matt Dominianni, the show's director and cofounder of the ILL Clan Inc. The show's cartoon stars, Larry & Lenny Lumberjack were also created at the ILL Clan animation studios in New York by another of the ILL Clan's cofounders, Emmy award winning 3D animator, Paul Marino.

"Machinima (Machine + Cinema) is what we in the 3D animation industry call the technique of using computer game technology to create animated movies," says Paul Marino, author of the new book Machinima Artistry and executive director of the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences. This combination of the techniques of film-making and the technology of computer games has helped open doors for 3D animators to show off their talents, without breaking the budget.

In addition to cartoon shorts, the ILL Clan uses Machinima to perform animation for live audiences. One such performance took place at the awards gala at the 2004 Florida Film Festival, in which the ILL Clan's characters co-hosted the evening's ceremonies, and presented awards to the festival winners. The cartoon characters were projected on-screen, while the ILL Clan performers voiced and controlled the characters like puppets, from backstage. Their talent and experience as improvisers allows the performers to make the animated characters respond to the audience and the human gala host.

According to the ILL Clan, the technique of Machinima is more like shooting film or TV, than the usually time consuming and cost prohibitive process of pre-rendered 3D animation. "Because we are basically shooting animation live, we don't have long render times and can make 3D animation much quicker," says Frank Dellario, cofounder and president of the ILL Clan. "When people think 3D cartoons, they think long render times, a room full of computers and high costs. When we think 3D cartoons we think 3 laptops and a server pushed so far to the max we have to keep it in the fridge to cool it down."

The speed of the Machinima process allows the ILL Clan to make more timely 3D animation than has ever been possible before. The group uses this advantage to hilarious effect with each new episode they publish on their website, "We read the latest news, we write jokes and record the 3D animation that same night, and post the result on our website the next morning." Says, Matt Dominianni. "I'd like to see Pixar do that."

Episodes of "On the Campaign Trail with Lenny & Larry" can be viewed on the ILL Clan's movies page,


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Related Keywords:ILL Clan, Machinima, cartoons, Mike Steven, Matt Dominianni, Paul Marino, 3D animators, Frank Dellario,

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