Brickfilms Interviews: Ben B

We know you as Egoless Productions . Who are you really?

My name is Ben B. I live in Bangor, Maine, USA. I am 30 years old.To earn my daily bread, I teach special education.

Why Egoless?

Tibetan monks have this practice of making sand mandalas. It is a slow process of making a symbolic design using colored sand. When they are finished they destroy the mandala and dump the sand into a river or a lake. It teaches the monks about impermanence and to not be attached.I don’t want to be attached to my films. Trying to be egoless is important on any spiritual path.

I see from your site that you explore other forms of art, mostly sculptures. What led you into plastic animation? What makes it different that other kinds of artistic expression?

I dabble in art. In college, I took some art class. After college, I took some night classes in art. I prefer three dimensional art like stone carving and make sculptures as opposed to two dimensional art like painting and drawing. I saw the lego studios set in a store and went on the Internet and found brickfilms. I watched some films and decided I would like to dabble in stop motion animation. So I bought the set off of ebay at a realistic price and resurrected my Lego collection from my parent’s attic. Stop motion animation reminds me a lot of stone carving. It is slow and takes a while before you finally get your end product. It is also like 3d art transformed into 2d art. Films have to have a story a sculpture really doesn’t. I am not a very good story teller but I am good at visualizing.

Let’s move on to your films. You are known for your great matter effects and overlays. How do you accomplish this?

I bought flash to dabble in animation about two year ago. Until I discovered videomach and its ability to convert avi into images, I didn’t think I could use this software with Lego animation. The screenshot is the binocular scene from my first version of my Star Wars trailer. As you can see you got a timeline on top with layers and each layer is broken up into small boxes which represent a frame. Each little black dot is an image. I am working with images not movie clips when I make my movies.You can have as many layers as you want. You can use the drawing tools on the left. You can stick sounds anywhere you want in a layer. You can play your movie and mess around with how long each image is shown.You can manipulate the images in many ways for example making them transparent.This scene has 10 layers and 9 frames of it is masking. That’s how I make things fly. Masking is a layer trick which you can see above broken apart.

Enough about layers my favorite thing to do is make things spin. 360 degrees are fun. In Lega Wars I have the Pharaoh spin. Girl has the end shot spin. Kerouac has a room spin. Mummy has a spin from the center of the room. Ninja Thief has a figure spin. Lego Wars Trailer has the overused Matrix spin. Spinning is way cooler than any kind of layering.

What challenges have you overcome in your filmmmaking?

Most of my problems come when I have a scene in my mind’s eye but the mini figure doesn’t move that way. This is also the fun of Lego animation, overcoming the limitations. Ninja Thief had two, the figure sharpening his sword, and the figure taking off his shirt. My most recent problem I had was with the mini figure bring the binoculars to his eyes. The figure doesn’t move that way so I had to use blu-tac and attach a third arm to the mini figure’s body so it would look right.

Discovering masking opened a whole new door in my animation. Masking allows me to making things fly and have a lot of control over the flying object. The screen shot above shows I use blu-tac and Technic rods to hold the mini figures in the air where I want him.

The Star Wars Trailer was the first film I shot without using Lego base plates. I used double sided poster tape to lock things down. The mini figures had double sided tape on each foot. I used little pencil marks to locate position. I am going to animate this way from now on.

Camera movements and having them look smooth with the animation that is going on simultaneously is always a challenge.

Your film, Kerouac, won Best Animation in the recent Historical Fiction Contest. Other films of yours have also been nominated in contests, and Girl got much attention from the international media. What has been your reaction to this attention?

I got interviewed by the New York Times a week after I uploaded Girl but did not get quoted and the article just glorified a three second drug scene in my film. Lego company was asked what they were going to do about it, but Lego said that it wasn’t going to do anything about it because I am non profit. Then the European media did the same thing, Lego Company was quoted again this time talking of legal action. I thought I might get a cease and desist email from the Lego Company, but I never did. I had huge hit numbers to my web page. I felt a little bit like I was a bad ass Lego movie director like Quentin Tarantino with his ear cutting off scene in Reservoir Dogs. Now, it is wicked old news. Lego’s bark is worse than its bite. My web page now get its usual low number of hits a day and I laugh at the wild little ride my film went on.

I enjoy making contest entries because they give me structure and a deadline. I could careless if I win or not.

What is your studio like? What would you like to change about it? What do you like?

This is Egoless Productions’ studio. It is two boards put together at a right angle with a hole drilled in the top for a florescent lamp with a movable arm. I like my studio because it is solid and not very easy to bump around. I like my light because it is on an arm and I can move it around to where I feel I get good lighting. It is the only light I use. I also can use my studio as a camera sled. This is how I did my truck shot in my Lego Wars trailer. The scene is along a wall on the floor and is about ten feet long. I stuck my camera on my studio and slid my studio along the floor. So my camera and light move together as one. The only thing I don’t like is you have to move the whole set around to get certain angles because my studio has no sides. It’s not conducive to interesting angles.

Are you planning on covering all the major religions and spiritual movements in the world? Are there any Muslim or Hindu movies in the works?

I am finished filming until the fall. I have no planned films. Summer is here, and it is to nice to be inside. Lego filming is good in the winter because it is cold outside and it gets dark early. I have read stories from other religions but have not come across any that moved me to want to adapt it to Lego film. May be I will get some ideas this summer. I do plan to make some films from other religions.

What film of yours are you most proud of, and why?

I am most proud of Ninja Thief because it has some of my best animation I have done so far and I did the sound myself.

What movies inspire you, either from a traditional studios or independent ventures?

I watch all kinds of films from Drunken Master to Ghost World. Films that mess a little bit with your mind like Vanilla Sky, Memento, & Mulholland Drive. I love the frogs in Magnolia. Quasi spiritual films such as the Empire Strikes Back, the Matrix, Crouching Tiger & Fight Club. Spiritual films: The Cup, the Mission, Kundun (you can see sand mandala’s in this film), & Romero. Princess and the Warrior has amazing camera movements. American Movie is a funny documentary movie about underground film making.

What brick films do you like? Who’s next film are you looking forward to?

I am fond of Lego films with smooth camera movements and interesting angles. It is something I look for when I watch a film. I am still not very good at it and still want to improve in that area. I learned many filming techniques that I use in my animation from watching other people’s movies. I don’t have any specific film I am looking forward to.