Topic: The Brickfilm Feature: IP Films

IP Logos

Dare I bring up the subject?

Yes.
It’s time.
It’s way PASTime.

There seems to exist a common popularity, amongst Brickfilmers, of using characters, stories, and media that originate with and belong to someone else, most commonly corporate entities.

I’m referring to Intellectual Property Films (aka IP Films).

The convenience of utilizing recognizable mini-figures from pop culture with preexisting back stories argues the point we can make IP brickfilms. Companies manufactured them; we buy them at the store, why can’t we use them in brickfilms? I counter that argument with The LEGO® Company’s own mission statement: "Our ultimate purpose is to inspire and develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future -- experiencing the endless human possibility."

Does recycling characters and stories from pop culture, demonstrate creative thinking?

It can, but all-too-often we see brickfilms resulting from IP that don’t.

I realize in bringing this up, I open a criticism of brickfilming itself. The bricks aren’t something we made ourselves. Indeed, a corporation invented them, developed them, manufactured them, patented and trademarked them and sold them TO US. The very notion of our films’ originality, hinges on the reality that these companies encourage creativity with their products. These interlocking bricks are so pervasive and universal they are more than toys. They are a medium.

While we may own some bricks, we do not own Darth Vader. He belongs to Disney (apropos if you ask me). Some use IP source materials as a crutch to generate stories that will get attention due to ease of recognition, but others use it as a medium to surpass re-production and mimicry. Despite not owning the Marvel Universe you can use the IP source material as a medium to explore ideas!

Let’s examine a few well-made IP films that have used their source material as a medium to enrich our enjoyment of tales, stories, and characters we already know and love.

In no particular order:

Indy

LEGO Indiana Jones and the Mystical Gemstone

I’ll admit, when I first watched this my reaction was, “UGH, overused Indiana Jones tropes!” But I didn’t give myself time to truly watch it; I even skipped ahead through the video looking for something that jumped out at me as new and inventive. That was my mistake. This film uses the Indiana Jones universe and recognizable tropes with the purpose of playing off of them in new ways. If you’re simply skipping through, you won’t be able to see the difference. If you WATCH it however, you will see some clever and humorous ideas that show a love and appreciation for the Indiana Jones franchise, and appreciation for The Lego Group’s producing toys from well known franchises.

The film also gives full credit where due regarding ownership of trademarks and music copyright (read the description – it’s all there). Its uses of sound effects are well chosen and mixed. However, there is a weakness in sound design. After several views I realize the unnaturally slow moments result from the use of existing instrumentation. The film matches its timing to the music and this robs the scenes of more natural pacing.  Had the music been custom arranged for the film, the film’s timing could have been edited to move more fluidly and make it more enjoyable. Let that be a lesson to anyone wanting to use existing film scores for their movie!

The film definitely aims to create a sense of space and depth, using large sets, and backdrops or digitally created backgrounds that increase depth even further. The sets are made of miniature modeling materials instead of Lego, creating a more natural and realistic look to the scenery. And perhaps the most notable fact about this film is its lack of dialogue. The director took special care to create a sense of AUTHENTICITY to this IP spinoff, and avoid things that could deprive the film of authenticity (like a voice actor who isn’t Harrison Ford).

Everything about this film is a tribute. Instead of including every single Indiana Jones bit and joke to make the story, it uses only a few (less is more). It avoids things that would take away from the atmosphere of Indiana Jones, and it acknowledges that it is nothing more than a Lego brickfilm, both on camera and in the credits. It’s humble and appreciative.

I guess the lesson here is: Using IP source material as a medium for a story requires humility, appreciation, and lots of hard work. (But that last part really applies to any brickfilm)


Trump

Lego Star Wars: Triumph of the Empire

So if the previous film was an adoring direct spinoff, then this film would be an indirect in-universe enrichment. Star Wars of its own merit uses facts from history to build recognizable constructs within its universe. Nazi Germany had Sturmtruppen: the Galactic Empire has Storm Troopers. Even the imperial uniforms evoke a fascist military oppression. So continuing the comparison, Nazi Germany declared well over 100 German films as artistically valuable, and of special political value between 1933 and 1945. Would not the Empire also have prolific propaganda? This film represents what kind of propaganda the Galactic Empire might try to disperse but with a 1945ish feel and style. It’s a unique take on Star Wars IP. Sound design is well executed and chose to use the very music that was used as inspiration for the now iconic Star Wars soundtrack.  One particular moment of especially strong imagery displays the lightsaber pile from fallen jedi, reminiscent of book burnings in Nazi Germany. The montage of images is not unlike many news reels in Nazi Germany. One criticism I personally have of this film, is the voice performance of Tarkin. While the voice itself is chosen well, the range of modulation in the performance is minimal, thus making the speech come across as far more monotone than I believe it should be. Propaganda is often intended to appeal to a person’s emotions, and without modulation to express feeling, it makes it difficult to appeal to a person’s emotion (but maybe that’s just me).

Lesson: Using IP as a medium can happen in the form of crossing ideas and concepts from history, life, and other subjects with the IP source material to create something new, but still enriches the very material it takes from. It’s not as simple as a DC / Marvel crossover. It’s about taking something REAL and bringing that authenticity into the IP source material. The best art borrows from life.


Thorsday

Lego Avengers Reassembled: Third Person

Some might contend that this film ventures into “bad” IP territory. I disagree. This animation is solidly grounded in foundational basics: animation quality, clarity of image relative to its tone and style, and (perhaps not so basic) writing! This is a comedy. Comedy can be witty, it can be physical, and it can be situational. This animation demonstrates a little bit of everything. What’s more, if you’re writing a comedy, you’d better have a REALLY good understanding of funny timing. It’s the difference between jokes that work, and jokes that fall flat. Go watch Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Decades old and their films are STILL funny, because timing doesn’t age.

This animation demonstrates another way of using IP source material as a medium. It takes a single element from existing IP (Thor) and tells a brief story that could take place within the IP universe it comes from. It follows the “a-day-in-the-life-of”concept. It’s not trying to reproduce an IP storyline or style, it’s just doin’ its own thing. And like the previous film it takes something from real life (seriously, who speaks in the third person?) and applies it to an existing IP.

Lesson: Don’t forget your basics. It’s ANIMATION. Bad animation (or bad writing) doesn’t get a passing grade just because it uses a character everyone knows.


Titanic

Lego Titanfall – Attrition

I typically don’t like seeing visual effects in brickfilms, but for me, this film uses them well. Blaster shots can be recreated in Lego, but bullets and fiery explosions not so easily. But this film does more than use VFX to show action. It uses them convincingly (There’s three vfx moments in this film I wish were better, but the rest work well). The fact that the Titan gets blasted and turns black from the explosion… I wish I saw that in more brickfilms with VFX. All too often I see Lego ships and buildings “on fire” using VFX but not physically altered by the fire.

This film, like the previous one, has quality animation. It demonstrates production value: distressed sets, weathered brick, lighting and cinematography that befit the style of the IP and the story, good sound design and mixing, and camera angles and movements that draw you in as a viewer rather than distance you from the story. The basics are solid.

More importantly though people not familiar with the IP will find it accessible. Case in point, I’ve never played Titanfall. I’ve heard of it, I’ve seen commercials, but I’ve never had the controller in my hand and started playing the game. I saw this brickfilm and thought, “WOW. I want to play that game.” It inspires me to join in the fun. Maybe I want to make up my own Titans and have animated battles… It captures my imagination in the same manner that any successful Intellectual Property made by the pros would capture my imagination. That’s how it uses the IP source material as a medium. It has the same dedication to making something enjoyable that the original IP content had in the first place (in this case it may have MORE dedication because that game has no single-player storyline: I mean, REALLY?)

Another item of note here is that Titanfall is not in the Lego production line. So this film, with all of its sets, characters, and machinery is built to emulate what is in the IP. So I point back to the mission statement of Lego and say this film was inspired, had creative thinking, with systematic reasoning to craft something beyond a simple action brickfilm based on a popular franchise.

The lesson here: Don’t stop at good enough, push yourself further. Your dedication to creating a good brickfilm that happens to use IP can be a creative inspiration to others.


Conclusion:

Lego is a medium. IP can be a medium too. Remember your basics, don’t stop at the basics, borrow from life and apply it to the source material in question, and have appreciation for and humility with regard to playing with someone else’s Intellectual Property.

Post an IP film in the comments that you like. Be ready for heated discussion!
(keep it clean and not mean)

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Re: The Brickfilm Feature: IP Films

I think that the general bias against IP films sometimes justified, since many of them are, quite frankly, not very good.  If you don't put a lot of thought into it, using pre-existing characters and storylines can come off as lazy.  That said, there are a number of really good IP films that transcend being "merely" films based off of licensed themes.  One particular brickfilm I feel should be included in any discussion of Licensed Brickfilms is Indiana Scones and the Quest for the Platinum Waffle.

Once you get past the rather poor image and sound quality (which is forgivable for the time it was made in), this is a qenuinely hilarious and brilliant example of using a pre-existing IP to its fullest potential.  At no point does it seem that Eanimation is having to lean on the Indiana Jones franchise to support his film; rather, he utilises the concept of Indiana Jones (and adventurers exploring deadly ruins in general) as a base to give his own (wildly funny) take on the genre.  While in many IP films it can feel like the animator is just "borrowing" existing characters and using their pre-established lore as a crutch, here all of the cast really comes to life.  Each have their distinct own personalities--be it the clumsy Wally or sinister (and bald) Clubbins.

In addition, there is an almost constant stream of visual jokes and gags; some parody various Indiana Jones tropes, others are just plain absurdity.  In any case, they are all expertly set up and well-executed.  I first saw this a long time ago, when I was still a pre-teen, and I loved it then.  Re-watching it now, I was surprised at just how tight and well-structured the whole film feels; not a moment is wasted and the entire thing feels a lot longer than it actually is. 

In short, it's a perfect example of what you can accomplish with licensed IP brickfilming, if you put in the thought and effort.  The usage of the Indiana Jones IP isn't so much to tell a story about Indiana Jones (Scones?) per se, as a platform for the animator to build his own story on--a story which has just as much, if not more, care and devotion put into it as any non-licensed brickfilm.

Spoiler (highlight to read)Also, it has undead skeletons dancing to the Can-Can.  Enough said.
Retribution (3rd place in BRAWL 2015)

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Re: The Brickfilm Feature: IP Films

Needs more Indiana Scones.

Oh, and The Great Disturbance.

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Re: The Brickfilm Feature: IP Films

Thanks nswihart for bringing up this (daring) subject! I'm a huge fan of well-made IP brickfilms, but that's the problem. Because using IPs is an easy place to start off with when beginning to make an animation (my first brickfilm was Star Wars after all) as you don't need to focus as much on some of the key parts like the story, sound etc. many people use that for making their first brickfilms. Even worse, I would have to disagree with you on the topic of "Bad animation (or bad writing) doesn’t get a passing grade just because it uses a character everyone knows." as often I have found for this not to be the case.

Anyway, I have to say this is already a very good collection of IP brickfilms, as all of the ones that I had already seen (which is all except the one with Thor) were some of my absolute favourites.

Often some of my favourite IP brickfilms are those that recreate scenes from movies, as they are often done really well (some examples of recreations of Star Wars brickfilms are Hunted, The Final Death Star Duel, Storm Trippin' and this Rogue One Trailer. I would also recommend checking out Asap Animation and Jonas Erdmann for more of this sort of stuff.

Another IP film that's not Star Wars that I would recommend is called Battle of the Brick: Built for Combat, which is based off of Halo.

Spoiler (highlight to read)Honestly the Thor brickfilm is worth watching just to see the Hulk dancing during the credits mini/lol

Definitely the best topic so far! mini/smile

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Re: The Brickfilm Feature: IP Films

Good article, and I appreciate the effort you put into discussing what you liked about each individual selection. You really managed to get a really diverse group of films this time around.

An IP film I enjoyed recently was Star Wars Battlefront Doesn't Make Sense. It's short and simple, but very polished and the timing of the joke is perfect.

Re: The Brickfilm Feature: IP Films

I've seen all but the Thor film before, but it's been a while. I agree on the great selection, especially on gathering such different films from all over the place. I'm especially fond of Triumph of the Empire. There is so much to gush over in that film. Lego Titanfall – Attrition remains impressive to this day, and while I haven't played the game myself, I'm familiar with it enough to know that Fancy Pants nailed it yet again.

To be honest, I don't envy the job you had this week narrowing down the possible films to showcase. While a lot of IP films are low quality, there are a ton of really, really good ones, and we could spend all night filling this thread with films that would be worthy of this list. You also did a good job selecting some of the usual IP properties, but still mixing in one that's a bit less well known.

Thanks!

Re: The Brickfilm Feature: IP Films

Fantastic article!

Personally, I've got mixed feelings regarding IPs in brickfilming. For me, I generally hate using IPs in my videos because I would rather create my own ideas. Then again, some of my channel's most popular videos are based on Lego Ninjago, which isn't fully exempt from the list of IPs. The conversation makes me realize how easy it is to be a hypocrite when you take either extreme.

I was on an episode of the Frame100 Podcast where we were talking about Brickfilm competitions and using IPs. In the end, the discussion turned to the fact that too many people use IP material as a crutch to quickly whip out a video and grab views. There's too many six year olds looking for Lego Star Wars videos, for instance, who will settle on poorly produced one and two minute clips. For too many viewers, that reputation kinda overshadows the entire range of IP brickfilms, including the ones mentioned in this article.

Another thought that came to mind is the attention of the IP fanbase carrying over to the video. I have a friend of mine who doesn't talk about anything other than Halo, Destiny, and Titanfall (within a group of friends who only ever text each other about food and cats) who I know would have gone crazy for that Titanfall video that was linked. Suddenly there's an open audience of fans who watched the video for Titanfall, maybe or maybe not for brickfilming. But hey, a view is a view, right?

In the end, you're right - it's all about producing quality animation and the rules apply both ways. I think that's a standard the entire community can agree on.

Re: The Brickfilm Feature: IP Films

I had a discussion a couple of month's back with a brickfilmer who didn't like BiM. We can have this reputation of being somewhat snobbish towards IP brickfilms, and that's totally a misunderstanding.

I don't think there is anything wrong with using preexisting material in brickfilms. There is no written rule to say that you can't make a well made, artistically sound brickfilm using licensed themed characters and/or sets. The reasoning for the BiM community's somewhat negative view on IP brickfilming as a whole is that those who tend to not put as much effort into their work, and don't take brickfilming particularly seriously, tend to make IP films. So, yes, it is unfair to say that most IP films are bad. It's just that most bad films are IPs.

There are so many great Licensed themed brickfilms out there that are worth a watch. I definitely consider Jampot and those involved in the Marvel Brickfilm Universe with high regard, as passion, and love for the source material shows in their work, and there are countless great Star Wars brickfilms out there that I absolutely adore.

This was an interesting article. Thank you for introducing us to some great examples of IP brickfilms. I particularly liked the Indiana Jones film. It reminded me a lot of a short GC film Lego made back in the day called "Raiders of the Lost Brick", which similarly referenced iconic scenes from the films throughout it's runtime. I always remember that short fondly, as I saw my first brickfilm around that time, which popped up as a suggested video on YouTube.

Last edited by William Osborne (August 15, 2017 (05:29pm))

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Re: The Brickfilm Feature: IP Films

Good stuff. I've definitely seen a lot of boring super hero films that do nothing new. It's nice to see it addressed.

Re: The Brickfilm Feature: IP Films

I really don't understand the hate directed at IP films...

Personally, I think that using existing characters in an original story is a great exercise in storytelling. A character like Batman, for example, has been evolving and adapting and growing for over 78 years! The thoughts, feelings, and emotions one might have attached to such a long-lasting character are unlike anything someone could achieve out of the gate with an original character.

So, it makes sense to make IP brickfilms - even moreso when starting out. It really lets your imagination run wild whilst playing things just a bit safe by saving yourself from having to worldbuild, and create new characters. For someone who exclusively makes IP brickfilms, or recreates scenes from movies on the other hand, the near universal dislike isn't totally unwarranted. If you're not doing anything new, inspiring, or creative, then what's the point of art anyway?

Besides, I've seen WAY more weak brickfilms based upon "original" ideas (or copyright-free rip offs of existing characters) than I've seen bad IP brickfilms.

As for the films listed, I LOVED LEGO Indiana Jones and the Mystical Gemstone, completely forgot about that one and was happy to be reintroduced to it. Lego Star Wars: Triumph of the Empire was equally impressive. Wasn't really a fan of Lego Avengers Reassembled: Third Person, although I have a strong dislike for most things marvel anyhow... Lego Titanfall – Attrition I'm kind of on the fence about, but overall I'd say the film was a net positive. mini/smile

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Re: The Brickfilm Feature: IP Films

Dyland wrote:

...it makes sense to make IP brickfilms - even moreso when starting out. It really lets your imagination run wild whilst playing things just a bit safe by saving yourself from having to worldbuild, and create new characters.

I agree. And that was the point of this article. For many of our brickfilmers on the site (who happen to be starting out) it's important to recognize what makes a good IP film. The idea is that a good IP film uses its source material in an inventive way, or an appreciative way, all while still at its core being a good solid brickfilm (quality animation, writing, visuals, etc).

Dyland wrote:

For someone who exclusively makes IP brickfilms, or recreates scenes from movies on the other hand, the near universal dislike isn't totally unwarranted. If you're not doing anything new, inspiring, or creative, then what's the point of art anyway?

And this is what we see all too much of, bad IP films that rely almost entirely on recognition, and completely set aside any production value. I'm not going to look up the film or mention its name, but I did encounter a nearly 10 minute brickfilm that was almost all static-photos of superhero characters with voice tracks carrying the story. The dialogue was badly written, and the whole story was a re-hashing of existing storylines from its respective IP. There was barely any animation at all. I tried watching it but I couldn't. As a matter of fact, that film was what ended my desire to watch brickfilms being posted on BiM. I went for nearly nine months watching EVERY film posted on BiM and going further back watching previous films posted on BiM.

But that film... it broke me. I just stopped caring.

Dyland wrote:

Besides, I've seen WAY more weak brickfilms based upon "original" ideas (or copyright-free rip offs of existing characters) than I've seen bad IP brickfilms.

And isn't it almost immediately apparent when you watch them? In fact, it's much easier to provide constructive feedback for original content because the flaws are so much more glaring. More people can help someone improve faster when they make original content. Fewer people (more experienced storytellers) can easily identify areas for improvement when someone is trying to disguise their ability with IP. Instead the IP folks get more positive feedback from people in general and go on without knowing their own weaknesses.
From my point of view, if they are genuinely trying to improve and become a skilled storyteller, it does the storyteller in question a disservice when they use IP.

Dragon Brick Studios wrote:

Often some of my favourite IP brickfilms are those that recreate scenes from movies, as they are often done really well (some examples of recreations of Star Wars brickfilms are Hunted, The Final Death Star Duel, Storm Trippin' and this Rogue One Trailer. I would also recommend checking out Asap Animation and Jonas Erdmann for more of this sort of stuff.
Another IP film that's not Star Wars that I would recommend is called Battle of the Brick: Built for Combat, which is based off of Halo.

I give a thumbs up on Hunted and Storm Trippin'.
The others all get a thumbs down from me. I don't deny the animation and set building etc is done well. The sheer volume of work in the Halo one... wow. I respect them, but I don't much like them.
Not my cup of tea. mini/sweat

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