Topic: The Brickfilm Feature: In-camera techniques (July 29, 2017)
In recent years, I have noticed a shift in focus away from brickfilm effects being accomplished through CG and bluescreening, and greater thought given to how to accomplish as much as possible in-camera. I think this trend was accelerated by The LEGO Movie's focus on keeping everything theoretically possible in stop-motion, to admirable results (though of course the emphasis is on "theoretically", for many shots). Unfortunately, it appears that the LEGO Movie sequels are becoming less "purist" in this regard, but I am glad to see the influence continue to grow in brickfilming. Computer effects can often be used to great effect, but I enjoy seeing the creativity that can go into the in-camera solutions, so for this feature I have chosen a handful of brickfilms that make use of interesting in-camera techniques, whether in visual effects, set design, lighting, or otherwise. Going from oldest to newest:
Fast Forward II (Contains occasional use of strong language)
When I was scouring the internet for 80's and 90's brickfilms, I came across a 1994 brickfilm called Fast Forward, by Alec Joler. It was one of the more accomplished brickfilms of the early 90's, so I was glad to notice that it also had a sequel, from 2002. Fast Forward II by Alec Joler and Aristides Zamora is a much more ambitious affair, opening with a moving camera shot across a very large city set. This film has a "handmade" look that I enjoy and think compliments the fact that it is made with toys, featuring effects drawn on the bricks, construction paper used for fire and plastic wrap for water. Cardboard is also used to fill out the backgrounds, including for a second row of buildings in the city; always a challenge in LEGO. I think if this film had been known by the community, it would be considered a classic of the time.
In more recent years, Alec Joler was working on Fast Forward III, and posted production videos and images on a Facebook page. The project looks incredibly impressive, with enormous sets, better in-camera effects, forced perspective, and a rarely seen use of painted cardboard combined with LEGO for hilly scenery. Unfortunately, the last update was in early 2014, but I hold out hope that the film will still be released.
This one comes with a "Don't try this at home" warning! Namchild is the in-camera master, having utilized real-life indoor and outdoor settings, real explosions and destruction, in-set lighting (before it was widespread), and much more. The Duel from 2012 is a brickfilm based on a traditionally animated short film titled Duel, and stays true to the original's completely hand-drawn spirit by achieving absolutely everything in-camera, with the only visual post-production being rig removal and very occasional combination of layers, as far as I can tell. Even effects that would usually be done in post such as motion blur and smoke are achieved for real. This film lends itself to multiple viewings (as long as you don't mind some LEGO being destroyed), and also has a making of video that is well worth a watch.
The Duel was created as the official music video for "Afterlife (BCee Remix)" by Camo and Crooked. It won Best Brickfilm in the 2012 Brickfilmer's Guild Animation Festival.
I know most people around here are likely already aware of this one, but with a view count so criminally low, I will be happy if I introduce it to even a couple of people. What immediately jumps out about SlothPaladin's Beyond the Eleventh Dimension is its gargantuan and detailed sets. Beyond that, it is also masterfully lit, and my favourite technique is the use of lighting gels to create the beautiful skies in-camera. This film not only succeeds at a large scale but also at a small one, with a wonderful microscale city skyline and animation in cramped corridor sets, which Sloth even made an explainer video about.
Beyond the Eleventh Dimension was in production for many years. It has a lengthy production thread on Bricks in Motion filled with interesting behind-the-scenes pictures, which is well worth a look.
This is a recent series of LEGO commercials animated by Dylan Woodley, AKA NXTManiac. What really stands out to me in this series effects-wise are the brick-built effects used to create clouds of dust and snow. These have an exaggerated, stylised look and make great use of many types of sloped LEGO pieces. I could imagine this type of technique being influential to somebody with a LEGO collection more sorted than my own. There is also particularly amazing camera movement in A City Crook is no Match for Technic Vehicles!, and of course sublime animation throughout the series. Two more of these films are as of yet unreleased, and I hope LEGO still plan on uploading them.
If you know of any other brickfilms with standout in-camera effects or have used them in your own films, feel free to post them in the replies.