Digital camcorders are now fairly affordable, but making a movie can still be difficult. There are actors to cast, locations to scout, characters to control and other aspects of production to manage. Helpfully, animation software can take care of the first two variables for you, offering a flexible range of sets and a team of willing actors.

Such programs provide a fully customisable animated world, with 3D avatars that let you create exactly the story you want, without leaving your computer desk.

Using an existing 3D engine to make a movie isn't a new concept - a whole genre of cult movies has been created using this idea. Usually referred to as Machinima, these movies use a game as the set, and the in-game characters as the actors. You can find several examples at machinima.com.

With games offering multiplayer modes, an ensemble production is possible. The most famous example of Machinima is Rooster Productions' Red vs Blue, which uses the Halo engine. This online series has been going for seven years, resulting in more than 100 episodes and a regular advertising income.

However, Machinima movies are limited by the capabilities of their host gaming engine. The world and its inhabitants will be predefined by the game's original programmers, unless you're particularly adept at modding.

Moviestorm, which we use in the following tutorial to show you how to get started on your first film, is different. Unlike most Machinima hosts, it offers a stage you can alter to your heart's content. You can also customise the bodies and dress of your actors. A range of content packs is available for even more options.

Moviestorm is sold on a subscription basis at £4.99 per month, alternatively, you can buy the lifetime version for £149. A time-limited free trial is available from moviestorm.co.uk.

Step 1. Download the Moviestorm installer from moviestorm.co.uk. This helper app will download the remaining content for you, which totals hundreds of megabytes, so ensure you have a swift and dependable web connection and enough hard disk space. Register a username and password, then log in.

Step 2. Launch Moviestorm and choose 'New Movie'. You can choose a template, follow a brief tutorial or customise a prepared movie. We've selected the blank Moviestorm template. This creates a simple set with no bundled actors or activities. Click the tick at the bottom of the screen to load the template.

Step 3. The creation process is arranged into logical steps, with a row of icons at the top of the screen. The first of these, depicted as a hammer and spanner, loads your basic set. Choose an empty space or one of several predesigned sets, from rooms and gardens to stylised cartoon worlds. Click the tick to confirm.

Step 4. If you chose a predesigned set, a 3D room with furniture and props will load onscreen. Click on any item, wall or floor to customise it. The six icons at the bottom left provide options for adding more walls and props. You can also customise the lighting and background noise, and change the look of the sky outside.

Step 5. Click the second icon at the top of the screen to enter the Dressing Room. Choose a character's body type and clothing from the palette on the right, and enter their name in the space provided at the bottom. Some character types are locked, you can purchase extra Content Packs if you want to access these.

Step 6. Add as many characters as you want to the cast list. This is accessed using the icon to the left of the character's name. You can also customise their face and hair and add accessories. The facial options are particularly extensive, with a wide range of parameters, makeup and even scars available.