Brickfilms and the Amateur Animation Community

Brickfilm

There was a front page article in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal about the brickfilm community. Brickfilms is a general description for any film made using LEGO bricks, and most of these shorts employ a stop-motion animation technique. For more information about brickfilming, see the definitive online resource BrickFilms.com.

I wish somebody would do a more in-depth exploration of all the new animation filmmaking techniques that have emerged as a result of today’s abundance and accessibility of digital technologies. Thanks to new ideas like Flash, Machinima, and brickfilming, there are more people producing animation today than there have ever been in the history of the art form. There are easily thousands, if not tens of thousands, of creators who are currently making their own animated shorts. Granted, in most cases these animated pieces are unable to transcend the novelties of their techniques and truly resonate as films, but the simple fact that there are so many people producing animation independently is a notable paradigm-shifting moment in the animation world.

It used to be that animation was the realm of specialists. Even a couple decades ago, an amateur would have to make a significant investment in resources to produce anything. Today, however, any 9-year-old can create animation using the laptop and digital camera in front of them. To my mind, this mainstreaming of animation production is one of the most exciting developments that has happened in years. It has yet to pay off in any appreciable manner but I can’t help and think that with so many young people knowledgeable about the animation process, good things won’t come from it.

UPDATE: I just noticed that the top post on BoingBoing is about the first brickfilm festival in Europe, which will take place tomorrow in Sweden.

(Image at top of this post from the brickfilm Gefunden – Found by GoLeGo. Watch it here)


  • Peter

    I used to make stop motion Lego “brick films” in the 1980s, with my Super 8 camera. Guess I was ahead of my time!

    The Lego minifigures are great for animating, because the joints have enough resistance to hold poses a frame at a time, and the Lego flat pieces have pegs to hold the characters in place at the feet.

    The thing is, the toys are prohibitively expensive these days — building some kind of elaborate set would cost a fortune since it’s not as easy to buy a whole mess of those bricks in bulk.

    Cool stuff.

  • Chris Webb

    A very intriguing post, Mr. Amidi. I think one way we will benefit from the boom in people doing animation is that at least more people will
    know what animaton actually is. With more people doing animation, at the very least there will be more people out there who “get it,” which will widen the audience for animation.

    I don’t think the movie studios do a good job at looking for new audiences – they are all fighting over the “family viewing” piece of the pie. And TV has discovered there’s an audience out there for cartoons tailored to 20 somethings – but as we all know, animation’s potential as an art form and as a form of communication has barely been tapped.

    I’d like to see more animated movies for adults. Too bad “The Watchmen” will be live action, instead of animated. When will we see something engaging like “Chinatown” “Casablanca” or “The Shining” done in animation?

    Comic book authors have been doing stories like that for years now.

    In animation, only the japanese are even trying. Thank goodness for that.

    But because of the explosion of animated film making, the future is very bright. I believe in the next 2 decades we’ll finally be getting movies and TV that aren’t catering to the lowest common denominator. As animation gets cheaper to do, we will see more innovation and chance taking. We’re already seeing it.

    Enough of my yakkin’

  • http://gagaman.blogspot.com The Gagaman

    *Awaits scoffing from regular Cartoon Brew critics*
    I remember when I was about 10 trying to animate using blue tack, on a black and white toy camera that recorded directly to VHS. I don’t know why I didn’t think of using Lego, I had tons of the stuff as a kid!

  • Corey

    Speaking of Machinima,

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=pC_aGQyFETU

    used with the game ‘TF2′ which already has a great visual style.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    There’s a large collection of these, in better-than-YouTube video quality, for download at:
    http://www.archive.org/details/brick_films

    369 videos and counting.

  • Quiet_Desperation

    Peter, you just CGI the sets. :) Or keep them simple like Legostar Galactica does.

  • Brian O.

    The creation and availability of the typewriter didn’t create a string of fantastic novels. Of course, that was back in the day when the general public wasn’t so accepting of mediocrity.

  • Kyle Maloney

    I got the Lego studios set back in the day and I loved it, when it worked. eventually my pc would randomly stop being able to open the software. and when I upgraded to xp, the software is suddenly useless as its unsupported.

    I tried finding something similar to use for XP for free but never had any luck. and the ones I did find (that I was able to get working) was either a limited time trial, or put an ugly watermark on the images.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tony Mines

    The Wall Street Journal wrote an article on lego animation, and it didn’t mention Spite Your Face Productions? With whom do I register my righteous indignation?

    No, seriously, it’s good to see those guys getting such positive publicity. Its one of the most productive communities for people learning animation, and to be wholly encouraged.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    my pc would randomly stop being able to open the software

    There is some free stop-motion software for the PC:

    MONKEY JAM

    MOTIONMAGE

    ANASAZI

    STOPIT

    TRIKFILM CAM

    STOPMOJO

    These are from old, unverified bookmarks. Some links may be dead.

  • amid

    Chris Webb: I wholeheartedly agree with your comment, “I think one way we will benefit from the boom in people doing animation is that at least more people will know what animaton actually is. With more people doing animation, at the very least there will be more people out there who “get it,â€? which will widen the audience for animation.”

    To think of it another way, many of these people will go on to non-animation careers, but they will also have an understanding of the effort and skill involved in creating animation. Who knows if one won’t become a writer for a major magazine, or if another won’t become a movie exec. Part of the reason animation can’t gain traction today is that nobody in the mainstream really understands the process. Today’s technology though is creating tens of thousands of people who understand animation and IMO that holds great promise for the future of the art.

  • http://www.zteamproductions.com John Hudgens

    Amid “I wish somebody would do a more in-depth exploration of all the new animation filmmaking techniques that have emerged as a result of today’s abundance and accessibility of digital technologies.”

    I’m in the process of gathering interviews for a feature documentary on the fanfilm genre – while the main focus will be on the many live action productions, I *do* plan to touch on the many traditionally animated and Brickfilm entries as well… I don’t know how in-depth I’ll be yet (gonna depend on how many more interviews I get over the next year), but I’m gonna definitely try to be comprehensive…

    Tony, you’ve been on my list of people to contact, but I haven’t scheduled a trip to England yet, so I haven’t tried to start that process yet… :)

    I haven’t announced the film publicly yet, but hopefully something will be up on my website by the end of the year… I’ve already recorded a very large range of interviews…

    Anyway – here endeth the semi-plug…

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNkfZ59DNWM rafdaddy

    Stop motion? I had to stop the motion entirely! Check out my amateur video, Puddle Boy.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNkfZ59DNWM