Living Legos

Raph al Guul

Here’s to hoping everyone is having a good summer break. I, for one, finally got around to working on one of my brickfilm projects again, which is utterly delightful. In the process, I thought quite a bit about brickfilms and their significance for filmmaking. The following reflects some of those thoughts. Bear in mind that this is my personal opinion and – as dogmatic as I may sound – I do not believe these to be universally true claims. Feel free to share your own perspective, especially if you have some experience with brickfilms yourself.

What is a brickfilm? This was a question that I came across a long while ago, when I was looking into animation for a high school presentation. I didn’t know back then that by the end of that presentation, brickfilms would already have become my own secret little passion. Basically, brickfilms are a subgenre of stop-motion animation. The twist: what is animated are Legos. The genre, even more so than other types of stop-motion, is not very prominent in professional, commercial filming (Robot Chicken is probably the most notable exception). Consequently, there are few rules or conventions to brickfilms. For a film to qualify as such, it only needs to feature stop-motion-animated Legos in some fashion, and that is it.

There are very obvious reasons as to why most producers will prefer other methods of animation to that of the brickfilm. As it is stop-motion, it’s obviously very expensive; it is one of the most time-consuming animation techniques. It’s also often considered to be outdated, as particularly CGI offers even more freedom and better control over the animation. For a creative filmmaker, it might also be a restriction to work with Legos; in Claymation, CGI, or even drawn animation, the artist begins from scratch, while a Lego-brick or a Lego-figurine is already pre-designed. Additionally, a commercial project might run into copy-right-issues, as said Lego-design is licensed property.

Those are some of the cons of brickfilms. As an advocate of the genre, I would obviously like to focus a bit more on the pros, however. First of all, while the process may be hugely expensive due to its time-consuming nature, it is not exactly expensive to get started. You could probably find all you need to create a basic brickfilm in any Swiss household. Frame-by-frame animation does not even necessitate a video-camera and the resolution of the cheapest digital cameras will more than suffice for a decent 480p or even 720p brickfilm. What this means is that basically anyone can create a brickfilm and it is the reason why the genre exists despite its poor reputation in the film industry.

A major upside to brickfilming is that, in my opinion, stop-motion is the most gratifying way to create film. Part of it is, of course, the mere fact that the process takes so much time. If you are serious enough about a project to sink hundreds of hours into a few seconds of animation, then it is a joy to see that project manifest itself before your eyes in ultra-slow-motion. It is difficult to put into words the excitement that comes with such a process: “There is an energy with stop-motion that you can’t even describe.” It was Tim Burton who uttered these words when talking about Nightmare Before Christmas and he is on-point with this observation; only people who have tried themselves at stop-motion will know what he means by it.

Additionally, the issue of artistic restriction that has been mentioned above actually benefits filmmakers like me, as I am not very good with character modeling. I just want to tell a story and give life to the world of a child’s imagination. That doesn’t mean that my films are directed at children, though. In Swiss society, almost everyone, children and adults alike, can relate to Legos. Don’t we all have fond memories of a simpler time, when we spent our lives in imaginary castles, built skyscrapers, and raced custom-made cars across the floor? Brickfilming is not about going back to those times, but about bringing those times into the present. This entails making a mature film with children’s toys. Personally, I have had two goals for a long time: make a film in which a Lego-man commits suicide and one that contains a Lego-sex-scene. To date, I have only achieved the former of those goals.

Naturally, my personal goals should not matter to other filmmakers. It is obvious that brickfilms offer much more possibilities. In fact, there is nothing wrong with actually making a children’s film with Legos. Yet, I think the true potential of the genre lies in its direction towards adults. Be it an abstract animation of bricks or an actual story in a world of tiny Lego-people, a child will never be able to perceive the astonishing achievement. The reason for that is that a child, playing with Legos, is doing what the animator does: it gives life to little pieces of plastic. And it does not bother the child that all of that is just happening in an imaginary space. It is only when we gradually start to lose that ability to get immersed in our imagination, that we start to appreciate its visualization.

We can imagine Lego-people doing the most incredible things, yet, as adults, we have to see it happening to believe it. I think it is crucial for such things to be exactly that: incredible. If you search the internet for brickfilms, you will find many, many examples where the potential of the genre is completely neglected. Sure, it is already an achievement to show a Lego-figurine move its head or even walk on its own, yet that’s not incredible enough. You don’t make a brickfilm-sit-com. If you have this fantastic power in your hands, you should use it to its full effect; have your childhood-heroes travel to exotic places, fight dragons, and wield light-sabers. Animation is known as the realm of infinite possibility and even with some creative restriction, brickfilming is not an exception. Make the incredible happen – because you can.

Tim Burton talking about animation and Nightmare Before Christmas:

One response to “Living Legos

  1. Pingback: Living Legos « Raphmovies

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