How fan films shaped The Lego Movie

How fan films shaped The Lego Movie

This is a 20-minute VHS tape about a LEGO
character called Jack Stone. When it came out in 2001, it was the first
real computer-animated Lego movie. … but it hasn’t aged that well. “Incredible!” “Fantastic.” Thirteen years later, The Lego Movie looked
like this: Let’s watch that again. This is 2001. “There you have it.” And this is 2014. “Yes, that’s me.” That is a huge difference. Here’s how they made it happen. “My name is Grant Freckelton, I’m a production
designer at Animal Logic.” He’s overseen the animation style of movies
like Legend of the Guardians, 300, and more recently, The Lego Movie, with co-directors
Chris Miller and Phil Lord. “Chris and Phil were determined to sort
of make sure the audience was confused about what they were seeing. You know is it actually stop motion, or is
it CG film?” And that became a big debate. Before the movie came out, there was a lot
of conversation about whether the movie was stop motion or computer animation. “It is, I would say 99% CG animation, but
it respects the rules of stop motion animation, and is designed to emulate that style.” To understand what made that style so unique,
you have to look back at what Lego movies used to look like. Early productions for themes like Bionicle,
Star Wars, and Batman helped establish the whimsical feel of Lego movies — but the
animation didn’t fit the physics of the toy itself. “There was this tendency to sort of treat
the plastic like it was flexible rubber, which meant that the characters could flex and move
a lot more than they might be able to in real life.” That style is typical of more traditional
computer animation, like what you’d expect to see in a Pixar movie. Take a shot like this, for example. The background isn’t made of actual blocks,
plastic limbs are bending in ways they couldn’t, and the faces are a bizarre blend of skin-like
texture and Lego geometry. It doesn’t look like a scene you could make
at home with your own Legos. Compare that to scenes from The Lego Movie,
where everything — gunshots, smoke, water, fire, explosions, clouds, even mud on the camera
lens — are all made up of Lego pieces as they look in real life. “We respected the hardness of the plastic
by not necessarily bending on the elbow, which you can’t do on a real Lego minifig.” That means that any movement you see onscreen
simulates the adjustment or replacement of an individual Lego piece. A joint or facial expression will never actually
bend or stretch — it’ll either move slightly or be replaced by another piece. Early Lego movies lacked that level of discipline. They struggled because they fought back against the limitations of the medium instead of embracing them. But the creators of the Lego Movie saw things
differently. “Characters that have limitations force you
to find solutions and charming ways of doing things in different ways. I mean, look at R2-D2: he’s like, the ultimate
limited character, he’s basically a bin with wheels that makes beeping noises, and
that’s all he’s got to work with. And yet he’s a really charming character and everybody loves him. Same with BB-8. And other characters. Same with the Muppets, they’re essentially sock puppets with googly eyes that you don’t really have much control over. But it’s from those limitations that you actually get a lot of charm.” Every now and then, the Lego movie animators
would let some joints overextend slightly to make room for a nod or a shrug of the shoulders… But overall, sticking to the plastic rule
made for a believable movie. You can freeze frame any part of the Lego
Movie and look at a scene that you could practically make at home. “We were always trying to echo and hark
back to how a child might make a film. So we would alternate between thinking like
responsible filmmakers working on a large-budget Warner Brothers animated film, and then we
would suddenly approach a scene as if we were like a kid animating in their basement.” But the history of Lego movies actually does start
with kids animating in their basements. In 1973, two Danish cousins, aged 10 and 12,
shot a short film called Journey to the Moon on Super 8 film. They made it for their grandparents’ 50th
wedding anniversary — and it’s widely considered to be the first time anyone made
a motion picture with Lego blocks. Note that the “people” in this film are
just little cylinder blocks — this was before any version of the minifigure design came
out. Movies like this came to be known as “Brickfilms.” When fans were making these at home, they
shot them in traditional stop motion. Footage was usually shot “on twos,” which
meant that they would take 12 pictures — adjusting the characters every other frame — to make
one second of film. Shooting “on ones” meant taking 24 pictures
per second — this was usually reserved for making faster movements like running look
smoother. When the Danish cousins sent their movie to
the managing director of the Lego Group, they were rewarded with a tour of the Lego factory
and sent home with large Lego sets. But Lego hasn’t always had the most positive
reaction to homemade fan films like this one. Between 1985 and 1989, a teenage animator
named Lindsay Fleay worked on a 16-minute short called The Magic Portal. He used borrowed equipment to shoot it in
his parents’ basement. Before entering festivals and competitions,
Fleay sent the film to Lego to see if they were interested in doing something with it. At first, Lego responded with a letter of
approval. But soon, the company started expressing legal
concerns and issued a letter demanding Fleay surrender all copies of the film within seven
days. Lego ultimately backed down, but Fleay had
already missed out on most major film festivals by then. Fleay actually went on to work at Animal Logic. He left before production on Lego projects
began, but his movie had a huge influence on the world of Brickfilms. “If you look at the live action portion
of The Lego Movie, you’ll see Finn, the little kid, holds up a sort of cardboard tube and across the side is written Magic Portal.” The Lego Movie, of course, was a huge technical
feat. There are 15,080,330 animated Lego pieces and 182 unique minifigures in the movie. Early mockups of buildings and vehicles were drafted on a free software called Lego Digital Designer Later on, in the animation software Maya,
each brick was given profiles for fingerprints, dents, seam lines, scratches, and dust. It’s hard to imagine what The Lego Movie
would be if it weren’t for the legacy of these early home experiments. Where most animated films use soft lighting
modeled after paintings, The Lego Movie’s lighting was harsh, replicating the actual
lamps that animators like Fleay used. Playful non-stop motion interludes — like
levitation via fishing line — were part of Journey to the Moon long before they appeared
in The Lego Movie. Even the final break from the Lego world into
the real world to meet a human creator parallels The Magic Portal really closely. Ah, my film! It’s easy to miss on-screen, but The Lego
Movie pays tribute to fan films in the background of this scene — these four clips are shorts
submitted by fans. “Look at all these things that people built!” The homage was a nod to the fans. By doing that, the movie embraced the idea
that amateur creators matter — and sometimes, the way they handle source material is far
better than the way major studios are used to doing it. If you want to try any of this at home, you
can actually use the same software that the animators of The Lego Movie used. It’s called Lego Digital Designer, it’s
totally free off the internet. When I talked to Grant Freckelton, he challenged
me to make this sort of pig-drawn carriage. I tried. I got the pigs, I got the wheels, but not
much else. It’s very, very difficult.

100 thoughts on “How fan films shaped The Lego Movie

  1. This just happened to a coworker of mine at work on a Flashback 8 Gold. How were you playing this?

  2. Remember back in 2006-2012 most of what Youtube was just lego building tutorials and stop motions such as MICHAELHICKOXFilms and JANGBRICKS? Those types of channels I would only watch as a kid on Youtube all day. Too bad channels like those are dead and forgotten in history now…

  3. I created a stop motion animation back in 1989 with my old lego sets with my dad, we created the Keaton batmobile with batman climbing out of it. Still have the VHS tape somewhere.

  4. Bruh i remember watching ALOT of brickfilms such as lego batman,spiderman even indiana jones. And ive been watching also a guy caled michael…(cant remember his name) he had a gray ninja as his YT background

  5. in nz I got a lego movie animation of a kid death become a dragon in a movie called the new Zealand dragon sponsored by Hershey of the making

  6. why wouldnt the lego company make a remake of the old lego movies like jack stone?? it would be pretty cool

  7. Народ, сейчас вы все лайкните этот коммент, и в ответе кидайте смеющиеся смайлики, и иностранцы будут думать, что я написал что-то угарное 😂😂

  8. It bothers me that this film didn't win best animated feature. It even didn't get animated. This film was absolute genius in its animation, and that's what a best animated feature should be.

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