Topic: The Brickfilm Feature: In-camera techniques (July 29, 2017)

In recent years, I have noticed a shift in focus away from brickfilm effects being accomplished through CG and bluescreening, and greater thought given to how to accomplish as much as possible in-camera. I think this trend was accelerated by The LEGO Movie's focus on keeping everything theoretically possible in stop-motion, to admirable results (though of course the emphasis is on "theoretically", for many shots). Unfortunately, it appears that the LEGO Movie sequels are becoming less "purist" in this regard, but I am glad to see the influence continue to grow in brickfilming. Computer effects can often be used to great effect, but I enjoy seeing the creativity that can go into the in-camera solutions, so for this feature I have chosen a handful of brickfilms that make use of interesting in-camera techniques, whether in visual effects, set design, lighting, or otherwise. Going from oldest to newest:

Fast Forward II (Contains occasional use of strong language)

When I was scouring the internet for 80's and 90's brickfilms, I came across a 1994 brickfilm called Fast Forward, by Alec Joler. It was one of the more accomplished brickfilms of the early 90's, so I was glad to notice that it also had a sequel, from 2002. Fast Forward II by Alec Joler and Aristides Zamora is a much more ambitious affair, opening with a moving camera shot across a very large city set. This film has a "handmade" look that I enjoy and think compliments the fact that it is made with toys, featuring effects drawn on the bricks, construction paper used for fire and plastic wrap for water. Cardboard is also used to fill out the backgrounds, including for a second row of buildings in the city; always a challenge in LEGO.  I think if this film had been known by the community, it would be considered a classic of the time.

In more recent years, Alec Joler was working on Fast Forward III, and posted production videos and images on a Facebook page. The project looks incredibly impressive, with enormous sets, better in-camera effects, forced perspective, and a rarely seen use of painted cardboard combined with LEGO for hilly scenery. Unfortunately, the last update was in early 2014, but I hold out hope that the film will still be released.

The Duel

This one comes with a "Don't try this at home" warning! Namchild is the in-camera master, having utilized real-life indoor and outdoor settings, real explosions and destruction, in-set lighting (before it was widespread), and much more. The Duel from 2012 is a brickfilm based on a traditionally animated short film titled Duel, and stays true to the original's completely hand-drawn spirit by achieving absolutely everything in-camera, with the only visual post-production being rig removal and very occasional combination of layers, as far as I can tell. Even effects that would usually be done in post such as motion blur and smoke are achieved for real. This film lends itself to multiple viewings (as long as you don't mind some LEGO being destroyed), and also has a making of video that is well worth a watch.

The Duel was created as the official music video for "Afterlife (BCee Remix)" by Camo and Crooked. It won Best Brickfilm in the 2012 Brickfilmer's Guild Animation Festival.

Beyond the Eleventh Dimension

I know most people around here are likely already aware of this one, but with a view count so criminally low, I will be happy if I introduce it to even a couple of people. What immediately jumps out about SlothPaladin's Beyond the Eleventh Dimension is its gargantuan and detailed sets. Beyond that, it is also masterfully lit, and my favourite technique is the use of lighting gels to create the beautiful skies in-camera. This film not only succeeds at a large scale but also at a small one, with a wonderful microscale city skyline and animation in cramped corridor sets, which Sloth even made an explainer video about.

Beyond the Eleventh Dimension was in production for many years. It has a lengthy production thread on Bricks in Motion filled with interesting behind-the-scenes pictures, which is well worth a look.

Technic Challengers

This is a recent series of LEGO commercials animated by Dylan Woodley, AKA NXTManiac. What really stands out to me in this series effects-wise are the brick-built effects used to create clouds of dust and snow. These have an exaggerated, stylised look and make great use of many types of sloped LEGO pieces. I could imagine this type of technique being influential to somebody with a LEGO collection more sorted than my own. There is also particularly amazing camera movement in A City Crook is no Match for Technic Vehicles!, and of course sublime animation throughout the series. Two more of these films are as of yet unreleased, and I hope LEGO still plan on uploading them.

If you know of any other brickfilms with standout in-camera effects or have used them in your own films, feel free to post them in the replies.

Re: The Brickfilm Feature: In-camera techniques (July 29, 2017)

Great article. I look forward to more of these.

Re: The Brickfilm Feature: In-camera techniques (July 29, 2017)

Oh man, I friggin love The Duel, one of my all time favorite brickfilms. The choreography and pose work that namchild was able to achieve with the limited pose-ability of minifigs is just amazing to me, coupled with all of the insanely creative practical effects you already mentioned. I hope I can someday create such an awesome fight scene, I have a hard time thinking of many other brickfilms that even come close to how rad it is.

On another note, I'm so glad you introduced me to the Fast Forward series. Even going back to the first film, theres just so much homemade charm with DIY effects and the beatboxing sound track. Going into the second one, the improvement is pretty big, with the ending chase on the river being a legitimately well executed sequence, with a lot of intensity to it.

Then I looked at some of the BTS for Part 3 and JESUS some of that footage is next level stuff! A really insane improvement. And seeing all the cool details with the mountain building and such is just crazy. I do hope that the film sees a release someday cause it looks awesome. And with how much the animation has imrpoved, I am confident that the beatboxing in Part 3 would be god tier.
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Re: The Brickfilm Feature: In-camera techniques (July 29, 2017)

There's another from Namchild I also really like, Through the Hatch. I actually tried to find the director on facebook and see what he's up to. Not much to find though. Even though it was fairly low frame-rate, he conveyed a sense of epic with all of the action, and having British children do the voices was adorable and hilarious. It makes me want to make a brickfilm with british children doing the voices.

Re: The Brickfilm Feature: In-camera techniques (July 29, 2017)

Oh yes, I love seeing films with in-camera techniques! It's something that I like to do since I very much prefer it to most post effects.

Those teasers for FFIII look pretty fantastic. I didn't look through the page a ton (mostly just watched the first few videos there), but it would be really cool to see what kind of camera rig he's got set up there.
The Duel is something that still hasn't been topped, and I doubt anything will come close.

Aaaaand since you were asking about our uses of in-camera techniques, the LMS music video I filmed almost entirely in-camera with absolutely no post.

Thanks for this article! I really enjoyed reading/watching through it! mini/wink Good timing as well - I was thinking the other day that I should give Beyond the Eleventh Dimension a rewatch, and this gave me an easy reminder. mini/tongue

Last edited by Mighty Wanderer (July 30, 2017 (07:46pm))

Re: The Brickfilm Feature: In-camera techniques (July 29, 2017)

Penta wrote:

I know most people around here are likely already aware of this one

I'm sure I'm not the only one who missed Brickfilm Appreciation 101, so thanks for including what might seem like obvious choices to the seasoned veteran. Beyond the Eleventh Dimension was one of the best made brickfilms I've seen and I might never have known about it otherwise. The other entries are fantastic too. That's what's great about this column, it's basically Brickfilm Appreciation 101!

Re: The Brickfilm Feature: In-camera techniques (July 29, 2017)

Thank you for introducing me to the fast forward series, it is the definition of how to make a brickfilm without any fancy VFX and give that original feeling mini/smile superb animation by Dyland too, it has made me like technic a bit more now mini/wink

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Re: The Brickfilm Feature: In-camera techniques (July 29, 2017)

The production videos from fast forward 3 look amazing! some laika studios level of quality there, I do hope the project gets finished.

Re: The Brickfilm Feature: In-camera techniques (July 29, 2017)

This has definitely solidified my opinion on Dylan Woodley being the greatest stop motion animator of all time.


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