FAQ – Getting started

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March 27, 2003 at 9:09 pm #112
Avatar of mrgraff
mrgraff

[5] Getting started
[5-1] What do I need to start making brick films?
[5-1-1] Filming supplies
[5-1-1] Lighting
[5-1-2] The bricks
[5-1-3] Starting tips
[5-2] Overcoming writer’s block
[5-3] Scripting resources

[5] Getting started

[5-1] What do I need to start making brick films?

[5-1-1] Filming supplies

Below is a list of things that you should have in your “animation toolbox” before you begin filming. These items are a general list; you may require other tools depending on the nature of your filming set up and/or any effects you intend to do.

Blue-Tak (actual brand name may vary in your area) This is a blue putty-like stuff that works great for keeping pieces of your set in place, holding minifigs at unusual angles, and even keeps notes sticking to the wall. The best part of this stuff is that is reusable.

Tweezers These are vital for placing and moving tiny set pieces, especially if your set is too cramped to get your hands inside. A strong pair of tweezers is helpful when a character needs to be moved very slightly and doing it by hand may cause too much movement. A good alternative, if you can get them, are dental tools. The hook of the scraper is great for working in tight spaces.

Lights

A basic lighting setup should include at least 4 lamps to illuminate the scene and reduce or eliminate shadows.
“back light”, to illuminate the subject from behind.
“background light”, to illuminate the background of a shot.
“key light”, the main light source illuminating your subject or scene.
“fill light”, to illuminate or fill in shadows and reduce contrast.

Daylight is an alternative to artificial lights. However, the problem with relying on sunlight is that the sun moves. Shadows will move on your set following the path of the sun. Clouds and other objects in the path of your light will cause unexpected shadows that you may or may not notice until after you have finished shooting your footage. If you do shoot by sunlight, be sure to work in the middle of the day when the sun’s position in the sky remains fairly “constant”.

(see

http://www.lego.com/studios/filmschool/ … ent=lights

for a diagram of these lights and a demonstration as to how they work)

Colored or tinted lighting can be achieved by placing filters over the lamps or by adjusting color balances to the film in the computer during postproduction.

—–

Two problems that have been encountered with lights and brickfilming are these: size and reflectivity.

First, reflectivity. Lego (especially new Lego) is extremely reflective, even to the point of mirroring images and not just bouncing light. This is why when you’re trying to light a brickfilm you get hotspots (areas of pure white) even when shooting black blocks.

There are a few ways around it:

1. Use multiple lights at a lower intensity.
2. “Bounce” the light. Set up a white or grey piece of bristol board or paper or whatever (the far wall of the room, maybe?) and point the light at that, rather than directly at your set.
3. Diffuse the light. Put a piece of tissue or thin paper between the light and the set.

Second, size. Standard lights like pole lamps, bendy lights, reading lights, etc. all do a fine job of throwing light on a set but they throw light on the whole thing pretty evenly. One of the main uses of light in real movies is for “modelling”, which is to use highlights and shadows to enhance the shape of a face (not so important on a standard minifig) or a room, to create a sense of space and depth or what is essentially a 2D medium (film). You can’t do that when everything lights up the same way. What you’d really need are lights that can cast light in a narrow direction but not be as intense as a flaslight beam.

Another handy tip: wear a dark shirt. A white one can throw a fair bit of of light onto a set.

—-
When you light your scene make sure you have 1 or 2 light sources lighting the background and a separate light source on your action or main figure (Who’s talking, shooting, being eaten alive) Make sure you make it look realistic, but that’s up to you. Light can create a very dramatic feel. If you for instance do a very evil character, try have the light shine only on his mouth and chin, but not his eyes. You can see what it did for Darth Sidious in Star Wars Episode I No visible eyes can be spooky. And of course shadows can create a nice effect. Large shadows on walls can create the feel of the main character being followed, or it can let you do shocking scenes without really showing it (Shadow 1 stabbing Shadow 2 in the back)

Reducing glare

One tip to reduce glare : put soften filter on your lights. This can be a neutral gel (a gel is a piece of colored plastic).

This can also be some “sulfuric paper” aka “wax” or “baking” paper. It can resist high temperatures, and won’t catch much light. This way, you will greatly reduce the direct light coming from your lamp, and just keep the ambient light, which causes no glare.

[5-1-2] The bricks

LEGO bricks are of course the primary medium for creating the sets and “actors” for your brickfilms. LEGO is generally preferred over other so-called clone brands because of their higher quality and availability. This website is called brick films because any kind of toy brick animation is welcome here.

The other brands, however, do offer such things as brighter pastel colors, some have violent themed elements, (military vehicle sets, broader range of weaponry) and they are more or less compatible with regular LEGO bricks. Clone bricks are also good for use as filler; they can be used to provide support for an otherwise hollow structure, or as background pieces that are not the main focus of the animation.

Some of the more available clone brands are:
MegaBloks
Oxford
Best-Lock

LEGO bricks can be obtained from many sources:

Stores:
USA Wal-Mart, Kmart, large department stores or large toy chains (Toys ‘R’ Us, FAO, etc., LEGO Imagination Centers, LEGOLAND shops
UK John Lewis, WoolWorths, Toy masters, LEGOLAND Windsor

Online:
LEGO Shop @ Home http://shop.lego.com
Bricklink http://www.bricklink.com
eBay http://www.ebay.com

It is possible to buy large second hand lots on eBay. eBay has hundreds of Lego auctions per day. Each auction lot can contain anything from one part to kilos of them. The larger, second hand lots are full of surprises – most of them good. Take a good look at the accompanying pictures. Auctions with blurred pictures often don’t reach high prices, even though the content of the lot might be obvious to the trained eye.

Take into account that Lego (especially used and, second hand) catches odors very quickly. Wash it in slightly warm water with a neutral soap (don’t use highly abrasive products or those with strong odors). Drying the parts is also a pain in the neck. Be very careful with the water temperature when you wash Lego.

Other great places to find bricks are garage or yard sales, flea markets, friends’ collections.

[5-1-3] Starting tips
Here are 7 tips to keep in mind when you start making brickfilms. (Thanks to James “The Janitor” Jannicelli)

1. Tape down or otherwise secure your sets, camera, and all other objects that should not move. A steady picture can often make the difference between a good brickfilm and a great brickfilm.

2. Pay a lot of attention to lighting. Regardless of what camera you use, you can always improve your image quality with good, careful lighting. It is best to have at least two movable light sources so that you can make many different adjustments.

3. Don’t be afraid to spend a lot of time setting up your camera before a shot. Framing is very, very important, and a good shot is worth the effort.

4. Mix up your camera angles. Don’t let the whole film happen from the same, boring “full mini-fig” view. Use CLOSE-UPS. They add a very personal feel to your film.

5. Be consistent. Don’t take obvious short cuts just so you can get the shot over with. Take your time, and people will notice and appreciate it.

6. In animation, “smooth” does not mean “slow”. You don’t have to move things at ridiculously small increments to achieve smooth animation. It depends on the speed at which you want things to move. Aim for realism, and experiment. As for frame rate, 15 fps is pretty much the standard around here, but anything above 12 fps will do.

7. And finally, start small. Often times, beginning brickfilmers start off with a huge, “2-3 hour” project. These NEVER get finished. Come up with an idea that lasts no more than a few minutes, and use it to work on your skills. The less quantity you have, the more you can focus on quality.

[5-2] Overcoming writer’s block

You can take inspiration from lots of sources. Such as music. If you hear a bit of music, you might start think of a good scene that would follow from it. Whole scenes and storylines can flow from this.

Other sources of inspiration are movies, tv, books, etc. You name it. If you are thinking of a particular theme, try renting a movie with that theme. When you are doign everything, however, it allows you to make the film fit your vision perfectly. Try to think of interesting scenes, ways to add drama, etc. Look at the best films in the Directory here and take inspiration from them.

Watch some TV, a movie, and get your thought process going. Sometimes things will come to you on an unrelated note. Try looking at a film not from the perspective of what is going on, but how they are telling the film. What camera angles might be used differently? How might the film have been edited differently? The purpose of thinking this way is to think like a film-maker … once you do this, the ideas will flow more easily.

If you still can’t think of anything, read a classic story or watch some non-fiction. History Channel, a biography, a tale of an interesting time (Hillary climbing Everest, the first submarine battle, the invention of the atom bomb, the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, etc.). Find inspiration in real life events and tie them to a related story. Is Star Wars really about just the characters on screen, or can you make parallels to real life (The Force is Buddhism and Jedi Knights are like Shaolin Priests, etc)? Look for stories in things . . . concentrate on things you like, as it will be easier to be motivated and get excited by genres and things you like and enjoy. Go with what you know.

[5-3] Scripting resources

Near the middle of the following forum thread is some links to a great collection of movie scripts. These should help you when it is time to write the script for your next brickfilm.

http://www.brickfilms.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=561

September 18, 2012 at 4:30 pm #417891
Avatar of krisha
krisha

Thanks for this interested post. I’m really interested in knowing more about brickfilming. Brickfilming requires a lot of techniques and artistic approach that can boggle our mind so basic information and additional suggestion can make us push our way to make our own brick films.

September 25, 2012 at 7:05 am #418281
Avatar of kristiane
kristiane

This really reminded us with the basic things that we need if we plan to make a lego film.

January 19, 2014 at 7:08 pm #439676
Avatar of Anna C.
Anna C.

Wow. That was a very detailed walk through. Thanks Graff!

January 26, 2014 at 12:44 pm #439743
Avatar of Anna C.
Anna C.

The tips here could not only be applied on Lego but also on other stuffs, especially the ones about writer’s block :-)

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