Five Things We Learned From 3D Movie Maker

By Aaron Matteson in Five Things, Humor
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm
3D Movie Maker -- before the Xbox, Microsoft gaming looked like this.

Last week I tried to get myself to understand the mechanics of adapting movies to games and games to movies, and I got in a little over my head. Or, to put it in more vivid terms, I wrote down so much concentrated nonsense that I could actually feel my brain melting, and over the next few days my hair began to fall out (I guess certain types of high-grade nonsense are radioactive). So this week I decided to take it easy, play it safe and go back to my old standby -- the "Five Things We Learned From" series, where we revisit video games we've played in the past and speak about what gems of wisdom they imparted to us.

The trouble is that I usually look to the games of my childhood for material when writing these articles, and I've done everything from Super Mario World to Goldeneye to Bubsy. And Bubsy wasn't even really a part of my childhood; he was like a distant cousin I saw only rarely and didn't much care for. I realize now that I've kind of already turned all the influential video games of my youth into Five Things articles.

Except for one.

3D Movie Maker is an old-school computer game that allows the player to create short films using pre-rendered scenery and 3D characters, props and effects. You can use stock dialogue and music cues, or you can import your own. It looked impossibly goofy even by 1995 standards, but god damn it did I love it, and it taught me many things about my own creativity, the art of storytelling, and a strange, terrible humanoid creature named McZee. Things like...

Please note -- none of the YouTube clips shown below are my own movies.

1.) Use hand gestures appropriately.

3D Movie Maker was all about working within the graphical limitations of the software to create the best possible product. One thing that was impossible to do was make characters' lips move along with their speech. It was just too much to ask of a Windows 95 launch program. The camera angles were also fixed -- you could not manually zoom or pan the camera at all (unless you got REALLY inventive; we'll get to that later).

But this presented a problem -- if the characters were just standing around motionless, without any facial movements or closeups, and voices were just coming out as if they were having a conversation, how would you tell who was speaking?

Well, Microsoft solved this issue by giving the characters a "talk" action, which makes the actor gyrate slowly and jerk their hands up in the air. Notice the (actually quite skillfully made) example above. Before the madcap car chase in which the shady protagonist does a barrel roll off a coffin in the middle of the road, there's some dialogue. See those characters waving their hands around? Can you imagine if you did that in a real conversation?

2.) Creativity is sometimes born of necessity.

If you let an average little boy make any movie he wanted, it would include more footage of guns than all four extant Die Hard films combined and more poop jokes than a 1990's Eddie Murphy movie. Lament this if you must, blame it on our culture of glorifying violence (and poop), but it is a fact. So, when I first got my hands on 3D Movie Maker, I was most excited to make intense action films laced with ribald comedy.

But this game was part of a line-up of Microsoft products aimed at kids. It's not like they were going to put in handguns and fart noises. The most intense thing Microsoft put in the program was a lame skeleton. Other than that, it was all props like hot air balloons and rats, in addition to nondescript geometrical objects that a player could squash or stretch as needed.

So kids who wanted to put rocket launchers and defecation into their movies (see above) had to rely on cleverly manipulated spheres and cubes. See all those pools of blood? Squashed spheres. In fact, the toilet that opens the movie is built from individually tailored geometrical objects. Impressive, huh? It's amazing what a kid can think up when they want to make a shit joke.

3.) Mascots don't need to make sense.

This is McZee, the Mascot for Microsoft Kids. He looks like a purple Picasso painting that was cursed by a wizard and came to life, and he sounds like Jerry Lewis on a lot of crack. He gets to the movie studio by taking a shopping cart roller coaster.

And as a child, I totally bought it, no questions asked.

4.) The loss of childhood is something worth mourning.


I mean, this lesson could apply to most of the games we've covered in Five Things. Every time I think about my old N64 or SNES I get a little misty, remembering the long summers of pure gaming bliss that existed back in a mystical time called "the 90's."

But 3D Movie Maker was something else entirely. For many years, on an ancient desktop PC, we had the thing installed at my family's home.  My brothers and I would watch the many idiotic movies we made as a kind of hilarious ritual. Some dated back only a month or so, and some were far older, made by pre-teen versions of ourselves.

They were all extremely juvenile. They all contained silly voices and excited swearing.  In one, the protagonist's catchphrase was to call everyone he met "Shittabrains." In another, the movie followed the exploits of a robot that compulsively stole babies... it was titled Babysnatchaz.

Were these movies any good? I mean, no, of course not. But they offered a direct window into what our younger selves considered humor, what we did for fun, what we were proud of. And I'm legitimately sad that they died with that old desktop PC.

5.) Some people are born artists.

Remember what I said earlier about how you had to manipulate little shapes to built complex objects in 3DMM? Well look at this bullshit.

According to my estimates, the above 3D movie must have taken at least 500 years to complete, which means that this footage was sent back in time from the year 2495 AD.

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