Preparing for Brickfilming

If you’ve been to Brickfilms.com, and seen some great brick animations, then no doubt, you want to start making some movies of your own. In this feature you will learn what you need to start making animations of your own. Considering that you want to make movies, you’d be surprised by how little equipment you actually need. The essentials for brick animation are:

1. Plastic Bricks: LEGO bricks, Mega Bloks, Best-Lock, you name it. Any brand works, but many animators find LEGO Minifigures the best for animation, and they also offer the most range of appearance. You will also need enough bricks to build a set, but if you don’t have enough, you can also use cardboard or paper to build your sets (Or even, if you dare venture out of the comfort of your basement, natural materials such as “grass” or “rocks” can produce good results in some situations). LEGO Bricks can be costly, but Best-Lock minifigures are very similar in appearance. Still, most brickfilmers prefer to use the real thing, at least for minifigures.

2. A Camera and Microphone: Many people are scared off by this one, as people identify cameras as being very expensive. And I won’t deny that, as with any hobby, brickfilming typically requires a few initial purchases. But you can actually get a pretty good new camera for about $100 if you don’t already have one. Most brick animators use webcams, as they are easily setup, and convenient to use. If you want to get a new camera, the Logitech Quickcam Pro 4000 (and now 9000) is arguably the most popular brickfilming choice, and costs around $100 at most stores. On auctioning sites like eBay, you can get these for even cheaper, sometimes around $20 or so. If you want to know what I (used to) use, it’s a 3com Homeconnect, and I got it off eBay (new and unopened!) for cheap because it was a discontinued model. For an example of the quality, see Duel at Kamino, which is a little below the actual quality because of compression. You probably already have a microphone, but if not, pick one up at your local computer store. You’ll need it to record voices and custom sounds.

3. Software: The most easily solved, as everything you need can be downloaded for free (yes, legally) on the Internet. There is software for everything from special effects to credits to frame capture to editing that can be downloaded for free. Once you get better at brickfilming, you may want to start doing special effects, but when you’re starting off, all you really need are:

a. Editing Software: There are several good editing programs. I personally use a combination of several different editing programs, using whatever works for different scenes. Primarily I use Axogon Composer, because it gives you great control over transitions. Once I have the dialog and transitions put together in Axogon, I use DDclip Free to add up to five tracks of sound.I would not recommend Axogon Composer to most people, because it is difficult to learn, and has more features than most people need. I however like to have great control over all aspects of the movie. If I notice a shot is a little discolored, I add a recolor track to the project to fix this, instead of using 20 separate renders, each with different software, to get everything just right.For most people, all that is needed is something to put the clips together, no transitions. DDclip Free, though somewhat unstable, (Just save constantly!) can add five tracks of sound and has extremely fast rendering, even on long files. It allows you to view what you have so far without even rendering it! It is also easy to use. It can be downloaded here: http://www.softlab-nsk.com/ddclipro/free.html And if you can’t figure out how to work it, Bricksinmotion.com .

b. Stop-Motion Software: A popular option is MonkeyJam. It’s a little imtimidating as far as interface is concerned, but once you learn how to use it, it is easily the most powerful and stable free stop-motion program. I recommend it if you want free software. There is an expensive, very good animation software called Stop Motion Pro.

c. Compression Software: This is actually a very important component, if you want to release you movies to the public. Compression is the “art” of shrinking your movie files down to the smallest file size possible while still maintaining reasonable picture quality. When you’re starting out, people will not be willing to download your films if a minute long movie you’ve made is more than 10 megabytes. And that would be pushing it. The two most popular choices for brickfilm compression are DivX codec and RealPlayer codec, because they are both free. DivX is for AVI files, and Realplayer converts AVIs to a special RM format that will only play in RealPlayer. One useful piece of free software that you will probably want to have is VideoMach. It has a thirty day trial length. In the older versions, (up to at least 2.6.3) it allowed you to user it freely for non-commercial use (brickfilms qualify for this).It allows you to use any AVI-based codecs that are installed on your computer. You will also need the free, no-spyware-included version of the DivX codec. If you want RealPlayer format movies, use the free version of RealProducer You have to fill out a information form to get it, though. I personally like Realplayer codec for most purposes better than DivX. DivX is known to cut out small segments of the file, or skip in a few places, but typically has a little better picture clarity.

You should now have all the equipment you need to start making your own movies! For more information on software, animation, and just about every other aspect of brickfilming, I recommend the ever-growing Brickfilms Encyclopedia.