Making a Brickfilm: Part 1

A brickflim is the term used to describe a stop animation video made using LEGO. Stop animation means that instead of filming moving objects you take one photo, move the characters/set, then take another photo. Some videos can have thousands and thousands of photos. The Wallace and Gromit films are an example of professional films made in this style.

LEGO Coldplay

LEGO Coldplay

I made my first Brickfilm when I was bored. It was a slow summer day and I thought why not give it a go. I got two minifigs and they had a fight. The video (which is on YouTube still) has about 30 photos and is pretty shocking.

After that I started to try for something more serious; which was my first Choose Your Own Adventure video. I built a scene out of LEGO, a path and a river, and set Indiana Jones and 2 accomplices out on a short walk. I used a digital SLR camera to take the photos, compiled them on my computer with some sounds.

My first serious video was a remake of the Coldplay music video to their song Talk. I made it because I love the video, it is done like an old school b-grade sci-fi film. Dodgy effects in a black and white film with a UFO landing on an alien planet and the band awakens a giant Robot. I had heaps of fun making this video mainly for my own amusement. I shared it and got 300 views in 24 hours and I was stoked.

The next serious video I made was a remake of the opening scene to Casino Royale. It features James Bond fighting a man in a bathroom, cut between Bond talking to a man in an office. It is about 4 minutes long and also filmed in black and white. I put it on YouTube and Reddit, and it got 1 Million views in 24 hours.

007.jpg

That was insane.

My awkwardly on TV with Adam Hills

My awkwardly on TV with Adam Hills

Since then I have made a bunch of other videos. Some original ones that I am really proud of and some more remakes of famous movie scenes like the Blues Brothers and Indiana Jones. I even got on TV here in Australia. While none of my other videos have been as successful as Casino Royale I don’t mind. I still make the videos for my amusement, and if anyone else enjoys them then that is a really nice bonus.

On YouTube there are thousands of Brickfilms. Some are as rudimentary as my first video, a few frames with someone talking some dialogue in the background. Some are more elaborate but still straightforward.

A popular channel is Michael Hickox Films. These videos tend to show a normal day in a minifigs life going a bit weird. I like these videos because they capture the feel of a LEGO world. They have a great amount of movement with lots of LEGO characters on screen at once. The stories are clever and funny.

Then there are channels like Fancy Pants, who is on another level all together. These videos are just amazing, the smoothness of the videos is like nothing else and the way he gets the LEGO to move is just magical. He also has some great behind the scenes videos that show how he does it, which I have watched religiously so I can get even close to this level of detail and filmmaking.

Between Fancy Pants and my first video there is a sliding scale of videos for quality, length, humour and appeal. Popular remakes of movie trailers are also around too.

For me what makes a LEGO video great is a combination of good animation, good visuals and good audio. When I make a video I try to make the world as immersive and professional as possible. This means only LEGO is on screen (except maybe a blue wall as a sky). The lighting and camera focus is consistent to the scene and there is no blutac or other obvious clues to how the video is made. Fancy Pants excels at videos like these so too does Brotherhood Workshop.

Be artistic, yo

Be artistic, yo

For me the one area that can most quickly break a video is audio. Especially dialogue. I won’t care how good your animation is if your video is just a few talking heads sharing jokes, for me that doesn’t cut it. Especially if it is just the one person doing all the voices. If you are going to record dialogue make the recording as good a quality as possible so it doesn’t sound like someone using a cheap microphone with a heap of background noise. Make your dialogue snappy and interesting, don’t just share inside jokes.

If you want to make your own videos my first recommendation is practice. You won’t be making a movie as good as a Hollywood blockbuster on your first go. Practice different elements and then work to bring them together over a year. Use one video to focus on one skill like lighting or audio, and then next time focus on a different skill. As you go along each skill will get stronger and stronger and the quality of your vidoes will show.

My posts for the next few weeks will go through how I make a video, from thinking it up through to editing it together.

I would love to hear between now and then what YouTube channels you recommend or good LEGO stop animation.