Film and Animation
For nearly all of my films, I have animated at 15 FPS (frames per second), which is generally considered to be “standard” among LEGO animators. However, starting with Appetite Lost, I have transitioned to animating at 24-on-twos, which is the standard used by most professional stop-motion animation studios, like Aardman (known for Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run). 24-on-twos is a technique where most frames are shot twice (“on twos”), resulting in animation that appears to be 12 FPS, but in reality is 24 FPS. This allows for more flexibility in animating. If a quicker or smoother movement needs to be animated, animators can forgo shooting duplicate frames and animate one frame at a time, essentially seamlessly transitioning from 12 FPS to 24 FPS.
My longest film is Beast, clocking in at 9 minutes, 58 seconds. It was planned to be even longer, but the contest I was entering (Fame, Infamy and Glory) had a time limit of 10 minutes, and I also was not able to animate many of the scenes that would have made Beast longer. Because I am busy with life outside of brickfilming, I doubt I will make a film as long as Beast anytime soon.
On average, it takes me 1 to 2 hours to animate a single second of animation. It greatly depends on the complexity of the shots animated and the final length of the film. Birdie was animated in about a week, but there’s less than 30 seconds of animation in it. Compare that to Alex and Derrick: Five Years Later, which took many months to make!
It depends on the complexity of the shot, but on average it takes me 1 to 2 hours to animate 1 second of footage at 15 frames per second. This is, of course, after I’ve spent many hours building the sets and setting up the camera, lights, and shot. Because of my full-time job and other interests and hobbies, it can take a year or more to complete a 3-minute film nowadays.
Professional as in, “do I get paid for animating LEGO”? For the most part, no. I was commissioned in 2008 by the LEGO Company to make 30 Years: The Story of the Minifigure, but besides that I have not yet been paid to make LEGO move frame by frame. I’ve also worked with friend and director Philip Heinrich to produce and animate the documentary Bricks in Motion. If you are interested in commissioning me, please contact me here!
I enjoy a wide variety of films, and it is very difficult to give a ranked top 10 favorite films. However, here is a list of films, in no particular order, that I will always enjoy:
Hardware and Software
I use a variety of software for my films. I’ll break it down by category:
Currently, I use Dragonframe 3.5 for frame capture. Dragonframe is used by many stop-motion studios, including Laika and Aardman, and features all of the controls you need for stop-motion capture. Previously, I also used an older version of Stop Motion Pro, as well as MonkeyJam. Unfortunately, MonkeyJam hasn’t been updated in years, and performs poorly on Windows 7 and newer machines.
Dragonframe is fantastic for my needs and I highly recommend it. However, if you are a new animator just starting out, you should probably try out free/cheap programs like HeliumFrog. More software suggestions can be found in this Bricks in Motion thread.
Over the years I’ve used various versions of Adobe Premiere Pro to edit my films, the most recent being Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Cloud. I’ve also occasionally used Vegas Studio and Windows Movie Maker 2.
Like Dragonframe, Premiere Pro isn’t cheap, but it’s good software.
Over all these years, I still continue to use Audacity for my audio recording and editing needs. It’s a neat little program with all of the features I need, and it’s free! I do some audio compiling and editing in Premiere Pro, but almost all of my direct audio recording and manipulation happen in Audacity.
Depending on the needs of the shot, I use either Adobe Photoshop or Adobe After Effects. After Effects in particular is useful for seamlessly blending digital effects or rig removal with stop-motion footage.
Unfortunately, if you want to get good visual effects results, you need to be willing to pay for a program like After Effects.
Currently, I use a Canon T3i. In the past I’ve used a Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000, Canon Powershot A85, Logitech Quickcam Pro 4000, and the camera that came with the LEGO Studios set.
You can find a complete list of the equipment I use here!
For overall set lighting, I typically use basic desk lamps that anyone could find at any store, wrapped with lighting or diffusion gels. Occasionally I will use a Mole-Richarson light for particular spotlight shots or when I need a very bright light source.
Honestly, unless I sat down and counted every piece, I have no way of knowing. I’ve been collecting LEGO since I was 5 years old, and except for a brief break during college, I never stopped! Since I buy a lot of my LEGO second-hand nowadays (through Bricklink or yard sales or thrift shops), I can’t even use a service like Bricklink or Brickset to calculate my collection size.
If I want complete, new sets, nothing’s better than LEGO’s official online store. Often, though, I only need particular parts, and that’s when I head to Bricklink. Sometimes, when I can’t wait a few days, I buy LEGO locally. I also sometimes get LEGO from eBay or from location garage sales and thrift shops.
Nowadays, almost all of the sound effects I get are from Freesound. Sound effects from Freesound are available under the Creative Commons licences, which means, as long as you follow the licences rules, you can use the sound effects for free!
Occasionally I also record my own sound effects.