Sunday, 3 March 2013

"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille."

As mentioned previously in these ramblings, the set that started me down the Lego brick road to the Bankrupt city (1), was the 8070 Technic Supercar, courtesy of Mrs Boo.  Having had a mooch about on the interweb to see what others thought of this set, I soon came across something that seems quite popular in Lego circles.

The ‘stop-motion build’ video.

Younger readers may think of Wallace & Grommit when the phrase ‘stop-motion’ is mentioned.  If you’re of my vintage, then maybe Morph, from the TV series ‘Take Hart’ will spring to mind.  If you’re not familiar with the idea at all, then it’s basically this.  You take a photo of something, move it a tiny amount, take another photo, and then repeat until you’ve finished whatever it is you’re doing.  You then string all these photos together, and display them for a short period of time - maybe a third of a second - and hey presto!  When you play them back, you have a little movie. (2)

This caught my imagination, and I thought I’d give it a go.

Not so long ago, to make something like this would have required some fairly specialised equipment.  However, these days, with a modest digital camera, a simple home computer and an awful lot of patience, anyone can do it!

Lego seems to lend itself particularly well to this sort of thing, and quite apart from people filming themselves making sets, there’s a whole world of film making in plastic going on out there.  Known as Lego Movies, or more commonly, Brick Films, there are anything from simple shorts, just a few seconds long, to spectacular, effects-laden epics that can rival anything that Hollywood has to offer.

Anyway.  Not having any desire to emulate the likes of Spielberg or Lucas just at the moment (3), I decided that I’d stick to trying my hand at a stop-motion build.  

Then a couple of things occurred to me.

a) I hadn’t built any Lego for 30 years.  Had never built any Technic.  The Supercar set was fairly complicated, consisting of around 1260 parts.  It would probably take around 6 hours to build, even if I was concentrating on it to the exclusion of all else.

b) I’d never made a stop-motion film before.

I looked at my only other Lego set.  The Unimog.  That had over 2000 parts!  That wasn’t an option.

So I figured I’d start small.  A quick look at the Lego website revealed what could only be descibed as a baby Unimog (I’ve since discovered that Technic fans refer to it as the minimog).  It was set 9390, cost less than £7.00, and consisted of a far more managable 136 parts.  It looks like this :

Lego 9390 Mini Tow Truck

Lego Technic 9390 Tow Truck

(Image shamelessly lifted from the very excellent Lego website,

It was duly purchased.  I now owned three Lego sets.

The following Sunday evening, having had a quick trawl around the web to determine that the basic photo and video software on my computer would do the job, and having picked up a few tips on stop motion film making, I plunged on in.

I reckon that if I’d just sat down, opened the box and started building, the minimog would have taken me about 15 - 20 minutes to complete.  Including going back a few steps to fix a mistake I made.

But what with peering through the viewfinder of my camera every 20 seconds, fiddling with focussing points, and making sure that things moved enough, but not too much with each picture, it took me the best part of three and a half hours!

As I believe I mentioned earlier, not a hobby for those with little patience.  Or indeed, bad backs.

Anyway.  A couple of days later, after some computer jiggery pokery, I published my first Lego epic to the internet, and you can see it here.

Even if I do say so myself, for a first attempt, it’s not too shabby.  A plain background would have been better, some of the focussing’s a bit iffy, the lighting’s not great, and it really could do with some music, but these are all things I can fix with future films.  For now, I was pretty pleased.

And I was even more pleased, when a few days later, I broke the model down and made a second film of the ‘B’ model, a race car.  I didn’t fix every problem, but it was a definite improvement on the first effort.

Note also, the cameo appearance at the beginning of a Lego minifigure.

If I thought I had collectivitus before, it had just got a whole lot worse…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) If I keep buying Lego at my current rate.
(2) Or in the case of Wallace & Grommit, a series of full-length feature films which pick up the occasional Oscar.

(3) Although if my bank account were to emulate theirs, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

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