Topic: Building Good Sets

So in watching brickfilms, and messing around with a few of my own, I'm noticing the importance of "sets." The set defines the character of a scene, giving the actors a place in the universe. But there is a definite and noticeable distinction between an experienced set builder, and amateur N00Bs like myself.

So what's the difference? To the skilled brickfilmers out there, what do you do to make your sets look good?

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"Contrary to the old saying, the trick is not to expect but accept the unexpec..." ~ Rick Rascal

Re: Building Good Sets

I'd say I'm a decent set builder, but not brilliant (Squid, Sloth, Nathan Wells), but I definitely used to be terrible. The biggest difference came when I started looking at my sets, seeing the blank walls of bricks just stacked up and thought "there needs to be some detail there". Adding some sort of texture or differentiation in color to a wall can make a big difference. Have the bottom row of bricks in a wall be a different color to simulate baseboards, or have indentations in external walls to give them a 3rd dimension. I also tend to put more furniture in a living room than you would tend to find in real life. Empty space on the wall can look weird in LEGO, fill it with something.

The number one thing, though, is just look at other people's sets in detail. Find clever ways to do things and use them yourself; I guarantee that no one will be mad because you built a bookcase the same way they did. Take note of ways that really good builders create detail and fill space. You'll note that they tend to avoid large open spaces unless they're really appropriate, and walls are never totally plain. Hope that helps. mini/smile

edit: Forgot something that Aqua's post reminded me of. To quote Nathan Wells, "Only build what the camera sees". Don't build a part of a set that will never show up on camera. I know it sounds obvious, but I actually have a hard time with this. Especially if you have a limited LEGO collection, there's no point in using bricks on something that won't show up in your film. Nathan has some really good tutorials on his channel, you should check those out.

Last edited by backyardlegos (January 5, 2016 (05:02pm))

Re: Building Good Sets

Well sets are one of the biggest ways to have control of the Mise-en-scène of a brickfilm. I'm never been particularly good at it but I think it is important when building a set to think what it will look like to the camera. You don't have to build something that is massive and awesome in real life. It just has to look good to the camera. This will save you time and LEGO pieces. Most times my sets just stop or have huge gaping wholes that I fill my just placing things in front of them.

Re: Building Good Sets

Thanks guys.

I went and watched a few of studiosepsilon's Henri & Edmond films (great stuff). After that I tried to build an indoor set. How am I doing? design test by Guy  Commanderson, on Flickr

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"Contrary to the old saying, the trick is not to expect but accept the unexpec..." ~ Rick Rascal

Re: Building Good Sets

Only comment I have is to try not to use a green baseplate for an indoor scene. Kind of throws it off, or so I am told.

Re: Building Good Sets

I too am no master builder.  I'm not very good at building sets, therefore.  But I do have experience with interior designing.  So where I can't help in Lego construction of a good set, I can offer advice from a design perspective.

I wrote a brickfilming guide for people who were new to brickfilming, compiling everything I learned and was taught by people on BiM.  I wanted to pass what I learned to others.  The guide is located here:

The chapter on set design begins on page 24.  Topics include color schemes, form, and function.

There are seven bullet points I offer when designing a set that is pleasing to the eye:
1) choose a color scheme
2) Decide on style (classical, rustic, modern, etc.)
3) Collect pictures of the style of set you wish to build for reference and inspiration.
4) Consider the details.  (Make sure everything the character needs in order to tell the story is included)
5) Make it roomy, so you can animate/give the minifigure walking space
6) Don't waste bricks, just like AquaMorph said
7) To make furniture look soft, use curved bricks.

Let me know if it's helpful.  That's the area of set building where I can help.  For advice of taking your idea and building it, there are so many other people on BiM with that talent you can turn to.  Nathan Wells, for example.  And almost everyone but me.

"None practice tolerance less frequently than those who most loudly preach it."

Re: Building Good Sets

OK, so back in 2004 my friend Brian and I were working on our second LEGO movie, and we discovered, previously the only people who had seen our stuff were friends and family who were very impressed, when we finished and uploaded our movie to to site folks told us that is was not great, bad sets, bad animation, the lot, some of our better sets ended up looking like this:

I knew that I wanted to improve my sets so I ask myself what sets need to do. I came to the conclusion is sets make the world your film is in believable, so ideally the set should have some way to connect to the outside world. The first way to do this that popped into my head was have indoor sets which featured windows to the outside, where you could kind of see the outside.

This was my first attempt at this principle, I made a claymation film which took place in a small shop. I built another building which was 'across the street' and put a light in it, then I added some CG rain and had a light rain sound in the background to try to 'build the outside world' in the viewers mind. Now it wasn't very effective but it was a start.

We began to experiment with other things like adding moving objects in the foreground in front of the main subject, such as this ship that rocks being in front of the solders who are patrolling the doc, it really helps sell the illusion that they are on the dockside.

Up to that point the goal had been to merely fill the camera with enough stuff that it felt like there was a world beyond the edges of the frame, and to up the game I needed to start doing some research to get better ideas for design. Flickr and Google image search is a great resource for set building.

I based the lair of the Evil Doctor Dementia on the large hadron collider, but with the idea that some of the lair had suffered from wall collapse and cave ins, which sort of broke.

But in my initial stages of the set building things were a bit to plain and I turned to other Brickfilmers, I think it was Nathan Wells who suggested I add more piping that was less symmetrical to the set, so I broke out chunks of the wall and added pipe structures behind them to create additional visual interest.

You can see a lot of these ideas refined in this shot from my current WIP, the film mostly takes place in the living room, but rather then just show a couch and a wall and maybe a door, there is an open wall leading into the dining room, and a little window that lets you see into the kitchen, this helps make the house more believable, you can see how this room is attached to other rooms and imagine these people living there. In addition you can see out the back door and see a tree and a fence and can imagine a back yard, while you don't see the ceiling the crown molding at the top of the room makes you believe that there is one there, and it adds more texture to the image. It's the little details like that which sell a world to the viewer.

I would also recommend not animating on baseplates, they often flex in animation and are a bit 'bouncy' if you will, I try to build up off a base plate so the set is nice and solid:

As you build your set I would keep it near your camera, sometimes I overbuild detail that can't really be seen in the final movie, you want to keep how the set will look in mind during construction, I have seen many amazing LEGO MOCs that just don't photograph well.

When you do your reasearch it's helpful to look at real places and things, not LEGO built stuff as it will push you to do things you might not have initially tired, but do keep your eye on places like The Brothers Brick and LEGO Flickr groups so you can learn new building techniques.

Remember it took me ten years to get where I am, keep building and you will keep getting better. mini/smile

Re: Building Good Sets

Build up off a baseplate: great advice!  I always suffer from that problem!

"None practice tolerance less frequently than those who most loudly preach it."

Re: Building Good Sets

Look at good MOC builders. Look at their styles. See when they use the SNOT technique and when they don't. Observe how they texture their base plates with different designs. Look at MOCs that may be too detailed and some that don't have enough detail and then try to find the middle ground between them for your own designs. That's probably my best advice for someone wanting to build better sets.

When working on my own sets, I try to see if anyone has ever done anything similar. If so, I take what I like, discard what I don't, and adapt it to my own building style. Some times I build places and sets just for practice. While a fare amount of what I make does get published in one way or another, there are still a lot of creations I've made that have and never will been shown on the internet.

I also use reference photos for things from fictional IPs. When recreating a place from a movie or anything else one of the hardest parts is deciding on what details are important to the scene and must be included and which ones you will need to leave out. And when building a completely new place but set in an already established universe, I always try to make sure the designs I come up with still fit with in the world I'm shooting in.

But I thing the best advice is what has already been stated above; practice, patience, and more practice.

Last edited by Galactic Films (January 13, 2016 (11:06am))

Re: Building Good Sets

Galactic Films wrote:

...70% of what I make never ends up in a brickfilm and 30% never gets published anywhere at all.

That means 100% of what you do is unseen. But that's not right -- I've seen some of your stuff and most have sets...

Re: Building Good Sets

Yeah that made more sense when I wrote that. Looking back it makes no since at all. mini/lol  I'll edit my statement to make more sense.

Re: Building Good Sets

Nathan Wells' Bricks in Motion series covers the basics of set building extensively.
Only Build What the Camera Sees
Structural Integrity
Size Matters

While all of the above listed videos were my starting place for understanding how to make better sets, Structural Integrity and Size Matters were especially important. So many n00bs tend to want to build an entire room for their sets, just so they can place the camera anywhere within the fully constructed setting. However, this is usually a bad idea. While some brickfilmers may have a larger collection than others - we all wish we could have more...

Only building small sets not only limits the piece count, but, only building what's within the frame of the camera (or what would be in the frame after letterboxing) is just more logical. You don't need to build an entire building complex if the brickfilm only shows one corner of one room.

When I started set building, I would just throw grey together, like in this video. It's obviously not well constructed, and, aside from one shot that aspires to something greater, it just comes off as bland.

Not surprising, my THAC X brickfilm came off looking pretty much the same (I was just fresh off of seeing Nathan's series by now). However, by this time, I was starting to interlock the bricks more like a real brick wall - which is sturdy, much sturdier than what I was doing before.

My latest brickfilm, De Mortem, while only containing 2 sets, has a lot of effort put into them. (ok, one, but, the other is supposed to be a white expanse, so...) Overall, I think it's just a case of getting down the foundations, and then going as crazy as you can with props, pictures, and other such artistic elements that can be added in. It's better to have the set a bit too cluttered, and then only need to take 2 or 3 items out, rather than to make a set that's too bare.