While Derricking Ball and The Meek and the Bold were made first, I consider Alex and Derrick: Five Years Later to be my official return to stop-motion animation, and is my most autobiographical film to date. With the exception of a few embellishments (I never had to live out of my car, for instance), everything that happened to Alex and Derrick happened to me in my five-year absence. Five Years Later is a very personal film, and it is my favorite Alex and Derrick film.

Credits

Directed, Animated, Written and edited by
Nathan Wells
Cast
Nathan Wells as Alex, Derrick
Music
Jason Shaw - "Periscope" Jens Kiilstotfe - "After Dark" bone666138 - "8 Bit Circus" Kevin MacLeod - "Pump Sting"
Sound Effects
  • jpkweli
  • omar-alvarado
  • pagancow
  • plamdi1
  • timbre
Special Thanks
  • Danielle DeMartini
  • Bethany Wells
  • My Parents
  • Zach Macias
  • The Pixelated Pickaxe Gang
  • The Brickfilming Community
  • Cameras: Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000 and Canon T3i
  • Capture software: Monkeyjam and Dragonframe 3.5
  • Editing software: Vegas Studio
  • Microphone: Turtle Beach Ear Force X12 Headset
  • Frames per second: 15
  • Production duration: Summer 2013 - Spring 2014
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080

Behind the Scenes

bts_fiveyearslater_03
Alex and Derrick’s classic red apartment was (partially) rebuilt for the opening scene.

While it wasn’t really my first brickfilm in five years, Alex and Derrick: Five Years Later was intended to be my – and Alex and Derrick’s – big return. The story was primarily designed to explain why I had been absent for five years, told through the lens of Alex and Derrick. Everything that happens to Alex and Derrick except for living homeless in a car actually happened to me.

Instead of using an actual mirror, two figures were filmed at once, with their movements mirrored
Instead of using an actual mirror, two figures were filmed at once, with their movements mirrored

Filming took place in roughly chronological order, though all scenes that featured the same set (such as Alex and Derrick’s new apartment and the college quad) were filmed together. I also redressed several sets to represent passages of time (such as the fancy restaurant) or multiple uses of the same type of room (such as the same basic room being used for three different faculty offices. 34 different sets were built for this 2 minute, 54 second film: two versions of Alex and Derrick’s apartment, 28 sets for Alex’s montage, and 4 for Derrick’s montage. That’s an average of a new set every 5 seconds, though most of the montage sets appear for even less!

The ring is suspended by a transparent LEGO rig, which was erased, frame by frame, in post-production
The ring is suspended by a transparent LEGO rig, which was erased, frame by frame, in post-production

Halfway through the production, I took a break to purchase a Canon T3i camera and Dragonframe, and made Derricking Ball as a test. While most of Five Years Later was filmed with a Quickcam Pro 9000, all of the video game and new apartment shots were shot with the Canon T3i. The differences in image quality were surprisingly minor, especially since my final outputted video file was just 1920×1080. Later during the production I took another break to make The Meek and the Bold.

No rigs were used to hold up the cereal - I was worried so many rigs will just clog up the shot. So every piece of cereal was stuck directly to a prop
No rigs were used to hold up the cereal – I was worried so many rigs will just clog up the shot. So every piece of cereal was stuck directly to a prop

Originally, the film only contained Alex’s side of the story, with Derrick only vaguely mentioning video games. However, as I put the film together as I filmed it, I realized the rapid, visual nature of Alex’s montage leading up to the punchline needed to be mirrored by a similar – but shorter –  montage from Derrick’s perspective. All of the games featured – Oregon Trail, Half-Life, Team Fortress 2 and Minecraft – are all games I enjoyed in my life. Other games like Left 4 Dead and Portal were considered, but were ultimately dropped from being in the montage (though you do hear Derrick playing Left 4 Dead in the beginning).

During editing, shots that were originally five or more seconds long got trimmed down even more to keep up with the tempo of Alex’s monologue. It took several weeks of edits and re-edits to find the rhythm I liked and to get it to match with satisfactory music. The only shot that I think suffered from this was the shot of Alex’s fiancée breaking up with him in the restaurant. The final shot only features the tail end of the animation – in the original shot, the fiancée throws the ring at Alex. It bounces off Alex’s head and then falls to the floor, spinning to a stop.

The new apartment set
The new apartment set

The time skip in Five Years Later allowed me to do one final thing that I’ve wanted to do for a long time – redesign Alex and Derrick’s apartment. When the apartment was first made for Material Possessions, I never expected to continue to make Alex and Derrick films for a decade. I used the parts that I had available to me: primarily bright colors and simple shapes. As the years progressed, my skills in set design and LEGO modelmaking improved, but I was adverse to changing their apartment because a sense of continuity was important to me. Thanks to the timeskip, I finally had the opportunity to update the set to my current design aesthetics.

First, the red wall had to go, replaced with the more neutral tan color. Brown trim helps transition the wall to the dark tan floor. Tiles were favored over studs because I don’t like the look of wide patches of studs – it creates too much visual noise on camera It also allows for greater freedom in animating. The original green couch had one major flaw: it was four plates high, and any minifig sitting on it towered over standing figures, making shot composition difficult. The new couch, while not as colorful, is only two plates high. Because the figures don’t sit nearly as high, the back wall was more visible, and looked rather plain, so I added some new abstract art. The blue in the art is also mirrored in the blues in the rug, and help balance out the overall warmth of the apartment.

The original apartment
The original apartment

The doors were updated to the new 6-brick high doors that have become the standard in LEGO sets, and the right wall passageway that lead to the kitchen was given a door so that I could actually show that wall without having to build the kitchen. Light switches were also added. The computer desk was replaced with a short bookshelf and phone because the computer didn’t feel right in the living room. The brown side table became a white coffee table to help break up the large open space in the middle of the room, and the plant in the corner was replaced with a narrow shelving unit. Lamps were updated to reflect modern trends, and Derrick’s rare Charizard card and case were removed – don’t worry, they’re somewhere safe!

Alex and Derrick: Five Years Later was greeted warmly when it was released and I’m very proud of it. It helped propel me back into stop-motion, and it’s a good film to show people who are curious about the stuff I make.