[A Repelling Spider was kind enough to be the first of our guest contributors here on The Set Bump. Stay tuned for more guest posts in the future.]
Quite recently there have been some discussions about whether brickfilming is on the decline. People have said that the “golden age” of brickfilms is over (whenever that was). They support this opinion by pointing to the surplus of mediocre and sub-mediocre animations that are coming out each and every day. It seems to many that truly “great” brickfilms are produced less and less often. I, however, do not see this as being true. Even if it were the case, it does not change one simple fact: it’s a great time to brickfilm. At no other time in the short history of the art has there been so much opportunity, so many resources, and an abundance of encouragement. Allow me to explain.
Inexpensive, Abundant Tech
With the rise of webcams, smartphones, and DSLRs, gone are the days when not every Tom, Dick, or Jane could pick up a camera, a box of LEGO bricks, and begin animating. Rapid advances in technology have put brickfilming in the hands of almost anyone who wants to try it. It is easier to do than ever before, especially in comparison to when Lindsay Fleay first created “The Magic Portal” on a film camera back in the 1980s. Combine this with the software options filmmakers have today and it is relatively easy to get started. The upfront cost could be as little as $40-$100. Compare this to the $11,745 budget for “The Magic Portal,” the bulk of which was probably spent on things like film stock, processing & transferring, and simply getting access to studios with sound editing equipment.
Perhaps herein lies the real problem. When brickfilming was harder and required a greater investment, people were less apt to begin unless they were serious about it. Today, there are still plenty of people who are serious about making quality animations. It is simply harder to find them and become noticed in the sea of mediocrity.
Distribution on a Global Scale
Let’s consider Lindsay Fleay again. When he finished “The Magic Portal,” the internet was still in its infancy. There was no YouTube, Vimeo, or DailyMotion. Getting a brickfilm to an audience was not as quick and easy as rendering, uploading, tagging, and then tweeting. Lindsay’s only option for distribution was to work with a film distributor and apply to film festivals, a time-consuming process that doesn’t always yield results.
I won’t even begin to take the time to intimately describe the ways in which the World Wide Web has impacted this art. That’s a topic that would require a post of its own.
Encouragement from the LEGO Group
Over the short history of brickfilming, copyright issues have constantly plagued animators. For quite some time, it was apparent that the LEGO Group did not condone or even support a group of fans that wanted to make movies with their product, and then distribute them. Lindsay Fleay came against this very issue when he wanted to get his film out to the world, or at least a greater portion of it. Basically, LEGO told Fleay to stop all of his actions and turn over all of the content. Thankfully, Fleay was able to resist and retain his creation, but he was never able to distribute it like he dreamed.
As the internet began to grow and mature, companies began to change their policies on how they would allow people to use their products. Over the past two decades it seems that the LEGO Group has slowly changed their stance on the issue of brickfilming. They have switched from actively discouraging brickfilming to actively encouraging it.
For instance, over the past few years, LEGO has sponsored a number of brickfilming contests. Just recently, there was one such competition that was held to accompany the production of the upcoming LEGO Movie. This contest even offered the opportunity of featuring one of the winners in the movie itself! Also, the Tongal video challenges hosted by LEGO must be considered. LEGO was and still is paying animators young and old to produce brickfilms that they end up using for advertising and promotional purposes. Twenty years ago, the chances of a teenage, amateur animator to be paid $10,000 by LEGO were slim to none.
Oh, and I must not forget to mention the smartphone and tablet application that the LEGO Group recently released. It allows users to create and then share stop-motion brickfilms using the camera on their devices! Clearly, LEGO has become a supporter of sorts.
Doorway to a Broader Future
Ever heard of Christopher Nolan? You know, the man who made a few Batman films that a couple of people like? Did you know that he once made videos with LEGO? Or take Lindsay Fleay—he went on to do 3D animation work on major films like “The Matrix,” “Moulin Rouge,” and “Happy Feet.”
I say this to make a point that has become very real in my own life. What started as a simple hobby turned into a doorway for greater opportunities. I’ve been interviewed by LEGO more than once, helped on a larger film project, and more recently have been asked to create some small animations to be used at the end of a feature-length documentary. All because I started to brickfilm. None of these opportunities would have been possible without my hobby.
These things did not happen to me overnight of course. It’s taken me several years to get to this point, but it goes to show that brickfilming can eventually be a door to greater projects. I’m sure if you ask other talented brickfilmers, they could say the same thing. Just look at Dylan Woodley, the teenager who was commissioned to create an official LEGO version of Ed Sheeran’s LEGO House music video. Now that’s impressive!
Sure, there are a lot of bad brickfilms being created today. But does this mean brickfilming is on the decline? Of course not! Just like any art, there is plenty of junk to sort through. Finding the quality work can be hard at times, but that does not mean it is not out there. Trust me, it is. [If only there were some sort of blog that highlighted great brickfilms… –Ed.]
Here’s a quick call-to-action to the animators out there: don’t get stuck looking at all the negative aspects of the art. If you’re sick and tired of seeing cliche shoot-em-up action videos, work extra hard and create something truly unique and amazing. The opportunities, resources, and encouragement have never been so available.
Now is a great time to start brickfilming; more so than ever before. Get up, grab some LEGO, find a camera, and get animating!