Topic: Brickfilm of the Week: The River (April 10, 2015)

This week’s Brickfilm of the Week is The River by Nikolas Jaeger.

The River follows the story of a man who finds himself travelling down a river to an unknown destination. It was made in 2009 by Nikolas Jaeger for the Space, Time and Reality Contest hosted on Bricks in Motion. It won first place, and was also nominated for six Bricks in Motion Awards, winning all but two of them. Nikolas Jaeger, known as Night Owl, was a member of and Bricks in Motion and made other memorable films including Night of the Tater, Bill Carney’s Body and Hastings. The River is his last film.

Watch The River on YouTube


Most brickfilms are fairly straightforward in their storytelling. Sure, some brickfilms may have some twists or turns or dramatic reveals, but the story is ultimately simple and easy to follow. Nikolas Jaeger’s The River takes a different storytelling approach. Even after multiple viewings the story may not be clear, and that’s okay. It’s a story that is more metaphor than narrative, told mostly through haunting images and selective sound. A hallmark of Nikolas Jaeger’s style is the visual texture of his films: he avoided the clean digital look many others sought at the time, and instead pursued a grainy, muted look that alternated between intimate, warm yellows and cold, distant greens. Thanks to his frequent use of soft focus, his shots often feel very deep, such as the forest shot at 1:57 and the river shot at 5:34. Often the sharp, geometric edges of LEGO blur and feel less plastic and more alive.

What are your thoughts on The River? What did you like about it? What do you think of the use of color, texture and focus to achieve a look atypical of most brickfilms? Did you have a favorite moment?

Re: Brickfilm of the Week: The River (April 10, 2015)

This Brickfilm is truly awesome. I remember seeing it a long time ago, and I am glad it's brought back to my attention.

The lighting was superb. The day and night scene's were definitely a wonder, along with the music. I still can't figure out what the meaning is behind this. It's either a religious message (I doubt it) or a man riding down a river of the past. I don't know.

"Bless you for making this." -Sloth 2016 * on "Chicken Shaped Lighthouse Attacks Police"
Ephesians 4:29 -"Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers."

Re: Brickfilm of the Week: The River (April 10, 2015)

The River is one of my favorite brickfilms of all time. I've seen it so many times just because it's so atmospheric, ambiguous and immersive. The use of the mystical lighting and intricate set design as well as the brilliant score all adds up a film that's more than just your typical brickfilm. It feels so real, and I always look to this as a true example of how brickfilms should be made.

Re: Brickfilm of the Week: The River (April 10, 2015)

The River is definitely one of my most favorite brickfilms, if not, my favortie. I find myself watching Night Owl's films quite often and each time, I am always inspired.

The single most thing that I admire about his films and in The River, in particular, is his visual style. As mentioned above, he avoided the clean digital look and pursued a grainy, almost film-esc appearance. The shot of the forest battle scene is absolutely stunning. The use of soft focus extends the set beyond belief and the sound design of the Confederate troops adds a dynamic, suspenseful, and masterful element to the scene. Also, I belive Nikolas used aluminum foil for the river effect which really brought a mysterious, fantastical element to the scenes with the soldier floating down-stream.

I wish Night Owl would return to Bricks in Motion, but, we will always have his fillms to remember him by.

Last edited by Willow Tree (April 11, 2015 (08:34pm))

Re: Brickfilm of the Week: The River (April 10, 2015)

Nobody else was doing cinematography and lighting like this in 2009. They both seem like popular areas to focus on now, but I still think that Night Owl and The River especially are unrivalled. For lack of a better phrase, it looks like a "real" film. A tremendous swan song to one of the most impressive filmographies in brickfilming.

Re: Brickfilm of the Week: The River (April 10, 2015)

Now, this is what I'm talking about!

It's nice to see a brickfilmer that's not afraid of close ups, or going all out on visuals to push a story along.

I'm usually not that big a fan of over-the-top stylistic visuals in any medium, but, The River is certainly an exception! Not only does this brickfilm push the boundaries of what was the norm of the time, but, it also presents each shot in a style-appropriate way.

So many brickfilmers try to experiment with cinematography and lighting like this, and fail, simply because they don't keep to one style - one genre. Nikolas Jaeger obviously knows what he's doing, and does it well; not pushing any visual beyond what is necessary for his vision.

I certainly wouldn't say that The River is a brickfilm that anyone should try to copy or capture, however, it is a nice goal to strive towards - achieving perfection through perseverance.

Above any and all flaws within the film itself, The River exceeds any expectations that I'd had before watching. And that's something truly magical. Jaeger's masterpiece is certainly deserving of Brickfilm of the Week! I'd like to see more creators put this sort of passion into their own projects. I know that I've already been inspired to change my approach to brickfilming! I can't believe I hadn't seen this 'hidden gem' sooner. I wish I'd had. It's truly a great!

Re: Brickfilm of the Week: The River (April 10, 2015)

The overwhelming majority Brickfilms tend to be comedy, or action scenes; it's very rare to to see one take this sort of an approach.  I think it's also difficult to try to attempt a film like this, simply because many people, even Brickfilmers, tend to view LEGO as being inherently fun, even slightly goofy.  Even good serious Brickfilms (such as Unrenewable tend to have a fairly conventional structure in terms of storytelling and execution.

The River, however, defies categorisation.  It's completely unlike any other Brickfilm I've ever seen.  "Mystical" and "introspective" typically aren't qualities I'd associate with a Brickfilm, but somehow it manages to not only overcome the inherent awkwardness of making a film like this with LEGO, but excels at it.  In fact, it's one of the few Brickfilms that manages to send chills down my spine.  To me personally, it feels very reminiscent of the work of Terence Malick, or, perhaps, Heart of Darkness.

What really helps support the story here are the flawless visuals.  The cinematography (particularly the use of close-ups) and lighting is beautiful.  The framing, camera movement, and use of soft focus (whilst perhaps a tiny bit excessive) create a uniquely calm yet mysterious feeling.  Also, the sound design is excellent, and immediately immerses one in the film.  The ambiguity and surreality is very refreshing to see, particularly since this sort of thing is little explored in Brickfilming.

The River is nothing short of a masterpiece, and should be required viewing for every Brickfilmer.  It not only raises the bar, but also does something never really explored before in this medium.  Put simply, it's a work of art.

Retribution (3rd place in BRAWL 2015)

&Smeagol      make the most of being surrounded by single, educated women your own age on a regular basis in college
AquaMorph    I dunno women are expensive

Re: Brickfilm of the Week: The River (April 10, 2015)

Hey! It's great that people are still watching this—I feel very honored.

I enjoyed making it a lot. I think my main cinematic influences at the time were Terrence Malick and Werner Herzog—the really fun challenge being, of course, how to recreate that kind of naturalistic look in LEGO form. Basically, the main trick (which I took from Days of Heaven) was to use reflected light, usually from nothing other than the sky backdrop. I think I actually tried using a real tea candle (ha!) for the firelight scene before settling for a tiny flashlight instead.

The shallow focus came about because I was using 35mm lenses on a macro extension tube and shooting with wide apertures—an unholy trinity of shallow DOF if you will—but it seems to have worked out really well, especially in the context of the film. I actually think it'd be really interesting to combine the kind of lighting I did with a more wide-angle look.

If I remember correctly, the initial idea for the plot came from a really great novel by Edward P. Jones called The Known World (about slavery)—there's a chapter in which one character imagines himself to be traveling through the South with a large number of people who don't seem to be entirely real. The landscape and its history (geological time, Native peoples, explorers, settlers, etc) were really interesting to me, so I thought having a character experience that through a kind of uncanny (as opposed to explicitly religious or magical) journey would be really cool. One of the comments on Youtube actually suggests that it's about the individual realizing the insignificance of his life in the aeons of time, which I thought was a great way to see it.

I can't promise any new brickfilms, but I made a 16mm a year or two ago if you're curious.