Life Science Blog

New Music Video Directors on the Tube

New technology is paving the way for music videos.

April 30, 2007
The Sims 2 version of Gerard Way, lead singer of the group My Chemical Romance, from
The Sims 2 version of Gerard Way, lead singer of the group My Chemical Romance, from

Major record labels aren’t the only ones who can produce slick MTV music videos. Aspiring directors don’t have to shell out for the costs of camera equipment, computer-generated special effects, and dance extras anymore – they can just use the latest version of The Sims, a popular video game which features virtual humans called Sims going about their lives. Homemade Sims music videos are multiplying rapidly on the video sharing website YouTube, where they are proving just as popular as the original music videos they are based on.

The advantage of creating videos using a 3-D game engine like The Sims is that directors have control over almost everything they could wish for, without paying the real-world costs. Weather effects like snow can be called up in a flash since they’re built or modded into the game, whereas normally directors look to the skies, recreate rain artificially on sets, or pay for a company to produce computer-generated hail or fire. Large dance scenes involve placing a group of Sims inside a virtual club and having them dance and flirt according to their built-in behaviors, instead of hiring dozens of human extras to dance in a rented-out club.

Using a game such as The Sims 2 for producing music videos is part of a growing film genre called machinima. Unlike traditional 3-D computer animation found in Disney and Pixar films, which are produced with expensive professional software, machinima uses existing 3-D game engines to cheaply make films. The difference is animation studios like Disney and Pixar usually have to digitally create or animate every single movement of their characters in each film frame, while machinima creators can simply make game characters laugh, cry, and do other emotes.

While machinima was previously limited to the fan bases of videogames, mainstream exposure is growing as major companies take interest. MTV runs a show called Video Mods on its MTV2 channel, where music videos of popular musicians such as Franz Ferdinand and Beastie Boys are recreated using 3-D game engines.

Major video game companies like Electronic Arts have even hired machinima teams such as Rooster Teeth Productions to produce commercials and promotional series for their games. The Brooklyn-based ILL Clan, a machinima production team, has done film shorts for MTV and Spike TV, as well as a Superbowl XLI pre-game commercial for the CBS show Two and a Half Men.

Since the emergence of YouTube in 2005, anyone can easily upload and share their music video creations. The Sims is one of the more popular games used to create such videos, particularly after the release of The Sims 2 with a built-in video maker. The Sims 2 Seasons expansion pack features an official music video for British singer-songwriter Lilly Allen, where she sings in the made-up language called Simlish.

Some of the most popular player-made music videos, such as a reinterpretation of Canadian rock musician Avril Lavigne’s song Sk8er Boi, rival the popularity of the original music videos on YouTube. Another music video by the same filmmaker, this time for My Chemical Romance’s song Helena, is the #2 top rated video under Youtube’s Film & Animation category. Other player-made music videos currently lack the fanfare, such as a music video for The Fray’s Heaven Forbid, but look equally impressive.

The Sims appears to work well in machinima videos for a number of reasons. The Sims characters are human enough inspire stirrings of emotional responses in viewers, particularly with their exaggerated expressions. Yet no one would mistake a Sim for doll-like human, which avoids the creepiness factor that has plagued some Hollywood films using computer-generated characters.

The Sims also offers a wide variety of customization for would-be directors, particularly with the release of The Sims 2 and its various expansion packs. Player communities spend their time modding the Sims with everything from new clothing to new skins, which allows them to closely replicate the sets and stars of real music videos if they want.

A wide range of quality exists among the Sims music videos, particularly involving the use of camera angles and views. A few savvier filmmakers also use video and graphics editing software such as Vegas 6.0 and Adobe Photoshop 7 to achieve a more professional look to lighting and other graphical aspects of the Sims engine. Although filmmakers are usually limited to the existing animations in The Sims 2, the existing 13,000 animations seem to provide ample variety for most.

Current limitations on 3-D game engines prevent machinima from seriously replacing human actors and actual sets. But perhaps a Hollywood studio or record label will eventually commission a game engine that is even more realistic and versatile, allowing for drastic cuts in filmmaking budgets. For now, independent production teams and casual filmmakers will undoubtedly continue to use increasingly sophisticated game engines to push the boundaries of personal creativity.

Sims 2 Music Video Links:

Evanescence – Lithium

Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland – Promiscuous

Lilly Allen – Smile (in Simlish)

Avril Lavigne – Sk8er Boi

My Chemical Romance – Helena

The Fray – Heaven Forbid

Machinima Production Teams:

ILL Clan

Rooster Teeth Productions

About the Author



Preeti says:

Thanks for this great article Jeremy! I posted in on my blog at, which is a social networking site for music video directors.

Jeremy says:

Thanks much for the link, Preeti – I’d also suggest the site for anyone still interested in finding more Sims 2 music videos. The videos of the month are especially worth checking out.

Just one tiny note: the link to Rooster Teeth is labeled incorrectly. Can someone jump in and edit it? It should say “Rooster Teeth Productions”, not “Red Teeth Productions”.

The important thing is that it goes to the right site, so at least there’s that.

Joshua J Romero says:

I fixed the link label.
Thanks Jonathan

mforiero says:

I suggest to have a look at Koinup
its a new website dedicated to machinima created with the sims and other games:

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