Olympic LEGO Animations: Then and Now

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London may have ended last weekend, but you can relive the highlights in LEGO form, thanks to the Guardian’s “Brick by Brick” series of animations. While I am not a sports buff myself, even I can appreciate the amount of work that went into creating these videos.

What’s really interesting to me about “Brick by Brick” are the constraints under which it was produced. As outlined in the above behind-the-scenes video, nine animations were created by a small team in the span of two weeks. Because of broadcasting restrictions, news organizations can’t in many cases show video footage of Olympics events, so these brick animations stand in for the video. Considered as a form of sports journalism, “Brick by Brick” is a delightful, creative solution to a frustrating problem. It’s also cool that brick animation has become so widely embraced that it gets casually integrated into the operations of a major news outlet.

However, when judged as examples of the brick animation form, these videos are less remarkable. The low frame rate (about 5 FPS by my eye) makes the animation look choppy, and a lot of time is killed showing still images. Again, this is understandable given the constraints, but still leaves little to recommend. Those interested in these animations only for the animation should stick to the highlights video or the gymnastics video.

In stark contrast to “Brick by Brick” is “LEGO Sport Champions,” one of the earliest examples of brick animation.

Whereas “Brick by Brick” is a series of play-by-play recreations of real-life sports events, “Sport Champions” presents whimsical takes on traditional sports that frequently break the laws of physics. For example, in the hockey short, one of the players briefly turns into a snake, and the “winner” of the match is a dog from the audience. Rather than using minifigures, “Sport Champions” favors expressive, brick-built characters. While “Brick by Brick” features English narration to explain the action, “Sport Champions” is voiceless, and features a strong score that responds to the action.

As an official series of animations commissioned by the LEGO group, “Sport Champions” is one of the few brick animations that can safely be said to take place in LEGOLAND*. It’s a place where animals and inanimate objects have as much agency as people do (the scoreboard wins the gymnastics competition), and where everything can be easily taken apart and recombined (when two F1 racers collide, their cars combine into a giant striped race car which they decide to co-pilot). I want to live there.

The “Sports Champions” weightlifting video above is probably the one that comes closest to having a story. It follows a gorilla as it escapes from the circus and heads across town to investigate (and then compete in) a weight-lifting competition. In addition to giving a brief glimpse of some wonderful large scale town buildings, this video is chock-full of creative moments. For instance, when the two circus workers realize the gorilla has escaped, one of them turns into a dog to track its scent. The scenes in the massage room where the gorilla and masseur take turns molding each other into strange shapes are prime examples of “exaggeration“.

All seven of the “Sport Champion” videos are must-sees (and it will only take about half an hour to watch them all). Like the best brick animations, there is so much going on that you will want to watch them multiple times. Enjoy!

*I’m using LEGOLAND here in an anachronistic sense to refer to the fictional universe that LEGO characters exist in, as opposed to the real-life theme parks with the same name.

Brick by Brick – The Guardian [YouTube]

LEGO Sport Champions [YouTube]