Monday, February 6, 2017

the LEGO Animation book

My kids were thrilled to see a life size mock up of the batmobile from The LEGO Batman Movie at the Detroit Auto Show.  They've watched The LEGO Movie on DVD more times than I can count and can't wait to see its sequel when it arrives at theaters on February 10th.  As the twins checked out the model of Batman's car an display at the Chevrolet exhibit and talked about going to see the upcoming movie, my son exclaimed "wouldn't it be nice if we could make our very own LEGO movies?!"

With the hundreds of LEGO bricks my kids have collected over the years to work with that wish actually might become a reality thanks to a new book I recently discovered. The LEGO Animation Book by David Pagano and David Pickett provides a comprehensive guide to creating stop-motion animation with your personal LEGO collection.  Pagano is the founder of Paganomation, a New York-based production studio that specializes in creating memorable films utilizing LEGO bricks, and Pickett is the filmmaker behind the youtube channel BRICK 101 that provides its 300,000 subscribers with videos reviewing new LEGO products and showing off unique customized creations built from the toy company's plastic bricks.  Together, the two also publish a LEGO animation blog called The Set Bump.

This dynamic duo share with readers in The LEGO Animation Book everything you need to know to make impressive animated movies using LEGO creations that you build yourself.  Whether you have expensive professional quality equipment or just a smart phone, Pagano and Pickett guide readers on how to become the director of your very own LEGO movies.  Some of the tips included in the book include:

+ Using animation principles like exaggeration, timing and spacing, and overlapping action;
+ Conveying action and emotion with plastic characters;
+ Adding detail and scope to films by building in different scales;
+ Creating special effects like explosions and flying minifigures;
+ Building camera dollies and rigs out of LEGO bricks;
+ Making sure stop-motion photos are light, frame, and capture consistent.

My kids are excited about the prospect of making their own movies and I appreciate how this 200 page paperback book walks readers step-by-step through the process of making stop-motion films with LEGO toys.  Encouraging using camera mounts and custom making them from LEGO bricks was a great suggestion I probably wouldn't have otherwise thought of.  Creating the illusion an object is in motion by moving the background instead of the principal thing being focused on really is helpful if you are just an average dad or mom having fun making a home movie with your kids just using physical props and don't have computer animation software to use for creating special effects.  Though if you do want to get fancier with your movie productions, The LEGO Animation Book provides suggestions and recommendations for both free and paid options when it comes to stop-motion computer software.

A Geek Daddy was able to participate in some Q&A with the book's authors who refer to themselves as "brickfilmers" and they had some interesting things to say about their passion for LEGO and film making.

How in the world did you get interested in LEGO animation?

DAVID PICKETT: I’ve been building with LEGO bricks my entire life. I learned how to build before I learned how to speak. My family got a video camera (one of the big old ones that used tapes) when I was 8 and I was excited to make my own movies. Naturally, all my actors and sets were built out of LEGO. Over the years I’ve tried other creative mediums, but I always come back to LEGO filmmaking.

DAVID PAGANO: As a kid, I was fascinated by stop-motion animation and puppetry. I think it might have to do with the magical nature of giving life to inanimate objects. Most people (especially kids) already use LEGO bricks to create tiny worlds or stories. So, to take those stories and put them on video was a straightforward next step.

Later on in high school, I entered a LEGO Movie Making competition, and was actually picked as a semi-finalist! The prize was a trip to the far-off land of…New York City, which is where I lived. Still, it was one of the first times I saw filmmaking as something I could turn into a career.

What is your favorite thing you’ve ever built out of LEGO and filmed?
DAVID PAGANO: One recent thing I’m proud of is the quick-build scene in my Garbage Man film. It took around eight hours to animate the transformation of a garbage truck into a giant monster. In the final video, it lasts about eight seconds. The creators of The LEGO Movie liked it so much, they put a two-second clip of it at the climax of the film.

DAVID PICKETT: My last major LEGO animation was NNN Chapter 2 - Robots! It’s a 24-minute animation I made over the course of three years, 200+ hours of animating time, and thousands of LEGO bricks. It’s a wacky story about a bunch of fun characters and it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever built. It was a true passion project.

How does stop-motion animation work, and what sort of equipment do you need?
DAVID PAGANO:  Stop-motion is an animation technique almost as old as motion pictures themselves. It involves taking many still photographs of an object. An animator moves the object a tiny amount after each photo is taken. Then, the pictures are viewed in sequence (like a flipbook) and the illusion of movement is achieved. With digital cameras becoming cheaper and more sophisticated every year, the hardware to create LEGO animated films is easy to acquire. There’s no need to spend money on fancy equipment; you probably have everything you need to get started sitting around your house right now. We recommend starting with a smartphone, some desk lamps and a bunch of LEGO bricks. For more detailed recommendations, check out Chapter 6 of The LEGO Animation Book.
DAVID PICKETT:  The thing we stress over and over in the book is that the best way to learn animation is to actually animate. No amount of reading or watching tutorials on YouTube can take the place of that. That’s why we included lots of hands-on exercises in the book.  We really want to inspire the next generation of LEGO filmmakers so that is why we've included almost all our secrets in The LEGO Animation Book.

The LEGO Animation Book is available from No Starch Press. No Starch Press focuses on publishing titles that are the finest in geek entertainment covering topics ranging from computer programming to filmmaking. You can purchase The LEGO Animation Book from the No Starch Press' website or at major book retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Target, and Walmart.

Admit it! If you're a parent who has seen The LEGO Movie you have absolutely thought about creating your own films featuring the toys your kids have around your house. You know any kid who has seen the movie has dreamed of doing that too.  The LEGO Animation Book gets A Geek Daddy nod of approval because it shows how anyone can become the director of his or her very own LEGO movie and making these films really are a great opportunity for kids and parents to work on a mutually enjoyable project together.  Reading this book, learning to make the stop-motion films, and creating your own visual masterpieces really provides a nice chance for parents and children to bond together and make some extraordinary memories while having a lot of fun.

** A Geek Daddy received the featured book for FREE to review.  Opinions are honest and my own**

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