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I'm honestly surprised that no one has replied to this film yet. Assault of the Ninja Squids has been one of the THAC XV films to stand out the most to me. It's just a really amusing entry. Also as a side-note, this has some of the best uses of brick-built motion blur I've seen. I really love cartoony brickfilm animation.
DISCLAIMER: My reviews are detailed and in-depth. This was THAC. You only have 24 hours. It's not easy, and no THAC brickfilm is ever perfect. I know this when I write the detailed review. IF IT COULD BE PERFECT, what could have been added/changed/improved? When we think about all these details in retrospect, we are training ourselves to think about them the next time we sit down to make a film.
This film is beautifully animated, interestingly lit, and has a fun and lively tone.
Starting off we have a ninja master hoop-hollering in his home about how awesome he is. Then he hears a crash outside. Cut to two robbers sidling against his wall. The first is irritated that the second is clumsy. The second complains about flower pots being everywhere and it's impossible to avoid them. They make a move and the second continues knocking pots over, the Ninja appears from behind the first robber. The Ninja Master inquires why they are prowling and then suddenly believes they are there to join his dojo. The Ninja Master explains he's been having trouble with Evil Ninja Squids. The robbers say, "well, we might need some equipment first" to which the Master responds by chopping his own tree down with a single swing of his hand. In the tree are various weapons made of what appear to be valuable metals and jewels. The Robbers pick up the valuables and begin to walk away with them, to which the Ninja Master Responds, "I KNEW it. YOU'RE the evil ninja squids!" Simultaneously a ninja squid crawls through the garden right up at the Ninja Master who is then saved by a single weapon throw by one of the Robbers. The Ninja Master is surprised by this. End.
Animation - The animation in this shows a lot of experience and skill. Everything from the strange and goofy moves with blur by the ninja master, to the bobbling heads when they speak, the surprise appearance of the Ninja Master from behind the robbers, the tree fall, and the weapon pile-up. Seriously, I want to know how you got the heads to bobble. I can't get any of my minifigures to do that. Did you use a knife to thin down the neck-peg? Truly awesome stuff for a THAC entry.
Awesome stuff period.
Lighting - I liked the lighting for the most part. The pink side light wasn't clearly present when we are first introduced to the robbers, and then it gradually seemed to get brighter from one shot to the next, until it is a main feature of the lighting. This doesn't have a real reason "why" in the story. It seems like those first shots of the robbers were "too dark" and you decided to add more light later after already shooting a couple shots. It's THAC and there isn't much time to go back and re-shoot anything, so I imagine you decided to incrementally add the pink light or bring it closer to make it brighter as opposed to suddenly just adding a whole brand new light. It could also be because the characters have walked closer to that pink light source, but I'm not sure what it is that is even casting pink light like that. But aside from that one meandering light, the lighting was good.
The story is brief, and most of it is clear, but the ending falls apart for me. I think it's a timing factor because "hey, it's THAC." The visual clarity of story and events is so crisp and clear, that when it becomes unclear at the end and the action is quick, the story is suddenly muddled. Unfortunately the connection to the theme of the contest is also pinned onto this brief interaction as well. So we are seeing things that are visually confusing, and to some extent they also conflict with the audio we are hearing, and on top of that the resolution to this moment is supposed to be the demonstration of the unlikely alliance that we're looking for. As a first-time viewer I couldn't help but feel a bit baffled by the ending.
I think the reason things fell apart at the end is because there needed to be separation between more of the moments at the end (Perhaps you had planned more shots, but were running out of time to get it complete within the 24 hours?). The Ninja Master begins saying "I KNEW it. YOU'RE the evil ninja squids!" That moment needed to stay separate (from a story perspective) from the moment where the ninja squid crawls through the garden up to him. Perhaps he should have said his line with the close up on him, and then he turns to face the robbers and says something like "How dare you?!?". THEN we get the close up shot of the ninja squid sneaking up on him without his knowledge, (we would be hearing the Ninja Master ridiculing the robbers for their evil "ninja squid" ways) then the attack would come by the REAL ninja squid. That moment would be prolonged as he wrestles with the squid on the ground, and THEN he would be saved by the robbers. Separating out those moments would have made everything more clear. But by having them crammed together it becomes confusing and it does a tremendous disservice to your entry as it is relying on this confusing interaction to sell the idea of the unlikely alliance as well.
You're no stranger to animation or storytelling, so the following isn't really for you, but it's some advice for anyone who is still new to animation contests. When there is a very short deadline for telling your story, you have to decide what the bare minimum required shots are in order to tell the story. Shoot the ones that are critical to selling your story and use of theme first, or at least allot time to ensure they are complete. But as you get more and more shots complete, then you can have more shots to flesh out the full story. When I compete, I have stages of the story planned out. Stage A is the critical stuff that incorporates the theme and makes it a complete story. Stage B is added stuff that fills out the story more, and if there's even more, I might have a Stage C as well. I keep track of time as I complete each of these stages so that I know whether I can continue shooting for the next stage, or if I should scrap the next stage in favor of beginning postproduction to complete the entry within the time limit. I can even plan my set builds to match the stages of story too.
Speaking of set building... nice work on that part too! The set isn't really shown-off as much as some, but it's still decently detailed.
Sound Design - This is pretty important to me, and man you delivered! Music, sound effects, voice acting all of it was well chosen to fit the mood and tone of the story. Bravo! I liked the cloth ruffling for the Ninja Master at the beginning. The flower pot noise sounded a little bit more like coins and metal, than a clay pot smashing, but it still got the idea across. The tree fall noise was good, I liked the choice for the suction cup noise as the Ninja Squid attacked. Music across the board was well chosen to create a Tarantino-esque flavor as well.
This was a great entry and I feel it landed just outside the top ten. If we had more or different judges it could have been in the top five. There were so many high quality entries this year, It made me wonder if we might need to increase the list to top 20 instead of top 10.
Wow, I really appreciate the review, nswihart! It's not every day that someone takes the time to analyze a film of mine and flesh out their thoughts in the form of a detailed critique.
Seriously, I want to know how you got the heads to bobble. I can't get any of my minifigures to do that. Did you use a knife to thin down the neck-peg?
I'm kinda a purist when it comes to brickfilming, so it's tough for me to modify any of the LEGO elements. The minifig heads were all old and quite loose to begin with, but I may have expedited this natural process of erosion by scraping a Swiss army knife around the inside of each head. My intention was to mimic the style seen in the LEGO movies, which gives the appearance of stop-motion while still taking full advantage of the non-solid nature of CG models.
It's THAC and there isn't much time to go back and re-shoot anything, so I imagine you decided to incrementally add the pink light or bring it closer to make it brighter as opposed to suddenly just adding a whole brand new light.
Ahaha, your deduction is so accurate. Basically, I realized that the lighting was too bland when I was preparing for the close-ups, so I just decided to gradually introduce a purple light source to jazz things up a little You mention also that the purple lighting seems unmotivated. Well, I like to think there is some symbolic meaning behind it.
Perhaps he should have said his line with the close up on him, and then he turns to face the robbers and says something like "How dare you?!?". THEN we get the close up shot of the ninja squid sneaking up on him without his knowledge, (we would be hearing the Ninja Master ridiculing the robbers for their evil "ninja squid" ways) then the attack would come by the REAL ninja squid. That moment would be prolonged as he wrestles with the squid on the ground, and THEN he would be saved by the robbers. Separating out those moments would have made everything more clear. But by having them crammed together it becomes confusing and it does a tremendous disservice to your entry as it is relying on this confusing interaction to sell the idea of the unlikely alliance as well.
Each THAC and BRAWL entry that I've made thus far stemmed from a cherished idea that I could have easily made into a half-hour film. Because I find that motivation for a project initiated during THAC is violently extinguished after the 24 hours elapse, I decide to make films as complete as they can be during the competition rather than finishing them up afterwards or releasing a director's cut. In the case of this film, I was unable to shoot some of the more crucial shots for the ending.
Thank you again for the review, I hope that I have been able to address all of your curiosities.
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