Zero 7 – “In The Waiting Line”

The first commercially released machinima music video (and video game)

Ghost Robot produced the first commercially released machinima music video and companion video game. Machinima is the use of real-time computer graphics engines to create a cinematic production. Most often video games are used to generate the computer animation (which makes it sound a lot easier than it is).  With all the assets created and already ported into a native game environment, it was only natural to take it one step further and make a playable game.

As a follow-up to their collaboration on the impressionistic, rotoscoped music video for Zero 7’s “Destiny,” the band tapped director Tommy Pallotta to tackle their second major stateside release, “In The Waiting Line.” The video revolves around a lonely gardener robot who is travelling through infinite space. The robot continually tends the ship’s garden and prepares food for a long-since-gone human population.  The video picks up on the day that the lonely robot becomes self-aware and realizes that he is all alone in the galaxy.


Project Info
Director Tommy Pallotta
Best Commercial/Game Machinima Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences
Best Direction Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences

The Process

For the video Ghost Robot teamed up with Fountainhead Entertainment, developers of machinima technologies, to develop custom assets and tools to realize the creative vision for this project.

The project workflow started with building sets and character models in Maya. The models were then laid out, and environments built and lit, in GTK Radiant.  The Binary Space Partition (BSP) files needed for the Quake game engine were exported from GTK Radiant then loaded into Fountainhead’s Machinimation application. The final animation frames were rendered out of Machinimation, with the original color grade directly from the game engine, and then onlined for broadcast delivery.



A Game

Over the course of the video production, director Tommy Pallotta worked closely with Fountainhead and ID software to use the music video assets and environments to create a playable version as a Quake III game mod.  Regrettably, this project predated the first wave of Internet sharing culture, and as business and legal departments are want to do, it was shelved and never commercially released — but we have fond memories of throwing ripe tomatoes around the space station.

For more indepth info on the process, read this article from RES magazine by Katie Salen.


from RES Magazine

Following on the heels of “Destiny,” Zero 7 and director Tommy Pallotta teamed up to produce “In The Waiting Line,” a music video made using the real-time 3-D technology of video game engines. Known as “machinima” (or machine animation), this form of digital filmmaking uses special software tools originally developed for the graphics engines of video games like Quake and Half-Life. To Make the video, Pallotta and production company Ghost Robot partnered with Fountainhead Entertainment, developers of machinima technologies. Using tools developed by fountainhead Entertainment, and the game engine for the popular video game Quake III Arena, Pallotta and his team developed an animated 3-D word in which the story of a lonely robot traveling through outer space comes alive.  

The challenge, unconventional process used to make the video was filled with error and discovery. “It’s important to work outside of a comfort zone, in order to test out new ideas” says Pallotta, who has previously used rotoscoping for Walking Life, Figures of Speech and the “Destiny” video. “Game engines presented a new challenge. On one hand, they allowed our team incredible flexibility. We could change lighting, camera angles and textures on the fly, in real-time, rather than waiting overnight for the data to render. On the other hand, we were using the engines to do something that they were not originally designed to do. We spent a lot of time tweaking the code, making changes that would allow us to film language into a gaming environment.” The process combined many of films more traditional methods (storyboarding, animatics, camera-movement and editing) with an experimental approach to 3D animation powered by real time computing.

Pallotta wrote the treatment for”In the Waiting Line” knowing the game engine for Quake III Arena would be used. “It was clear from the very beginning that I would need to invent a way of telling a story that would create tension between technology and human experience. The game engine allowed me to do that” The juxtaposition of the songs melancholy melody and the organic, yet highly polished, visual surfaces achieve the intended effect. Audiences are brought into a strange world, only to be pushed back out again, transformed by the encounter.

In order to use the complex software effectively, Pallotta and his team spent several weeks in Mesquite, Texas at Fountainheads offices, working with their programmers to develop the models and camera movements that would be used in the final animation. One of fountainheads software tools, machination, was used to move the robot around in the virtual environment, import models and animations as props, create cameras to record the action, and to render out the frames of the animation.

Before compositing work could be done in machinimation, however, the elements of the animation had to be created. After developing extensive storyboards and animatics, the 3-D models and primary animations were designed in Maya; the models were then laid out and the environments built and lit in GTK Radiant, BSPs (Binary Space Partitions, the file format used by the Quake engine to store information) were created within GTK Radiant and then loaded into fountainheads Machinimation. Once each shot in the animation was finalized, the frames were exported and brought into final cut pro, where final editing took place.

“There were so many layers to the process” says Pallotta. “While the story is simple, the process was quite complicated. We are still learning the tools.” The complexity of the process infuses the video with a unique feeling. Part film, part game space, part animation.”In the Waiting Line” makes a powerful case for being somewhere in between.

by Katie Salen