Glenn Gaslin
June 29, 2001 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Making digital movies is now as easy as playing PC games — literally. A rising technique called machinima (machine and cinema) uses software from common computer games to make animated films, and upstart directors are flocking to the Web to learn it. ”You can produce very stunning visuals very quickly,” says Machinima.com’s Hugh Hancock, who’s re-created scenes from ”The Matrix” using the method. How’s it work? Game makers offer downloads used to customize the creatures and guns in their shoot-’em-ups, such as ”Unreal Tournament.” Instead, Hancock and others use the code to renovate the games’ sets and characters — turning dungeons, for example, into eateries, demons into waitresses. Then they get friends on networked PCs and ”play,” recording the action to a hard drive. Add sound and you’ve got a Net-ready flick. ”It’s like using virtual-reality puppets,” says Paul Marino, who worked on Hardly Workin’ (illclan.com), a short starring wacky lumberjacks animated with the help of the usually bloody Quake II. And how do his e-actors blow off steam? Says Marino, ”We do leave the guns active.”

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