Monday, December 31, 2018

A Year of Animation: LEGO stop-motion edition

The LEGO Arc de Triomphe Architecture set
For the final film in my "Year of Animation", I chose to do a stop-motion animation. I'd been thinking of time-lapse video for a couple months now but never found the right location or date to really produce something worthwhile... and technically it wouldn't be "animation". I'm currently working on (redoing actually) a direct-on-film animation as part of my R.I.T. film archiving project, but it won't be done in time for this post, so... a stop-motion animation.

Years ago, I taught an animation course at the local community rec center and in order to visually teach the students the differences between frame rates, I animated the assembly of a simple LEGO model. So, knowing now what I learned then, I thought it'd be fun to revisit that idea.

Here's the film from back in 2003 played back at 3 frames per second. The individual frames were captured using an Olympus digital camera, hence the flicker as the camera readjusts itself between each shot.

For the new film, I chose the Arc de Triomphe Architecture set because it was one of the few LEGO sets with a location that I've actually visited--granted it was in a tour bus and we drove around it before going to the Eiffel Tower, but I "was" there darn it!

A view from the bus back in 2010

After looking at the Eiffel Tower set, I just didn't think that it had enough pieces and it had too much visual uniformity to make the animation interesting. The Paris skyline set is nice, but I wasn't feeling it. I'm just not too into the skyline sets, which is why I passed over the New York, Chicago, Paris, and London skyline sets. I liked the Louvre Building Kit, but I've never been there. The London Tower, Big Ben, Lincoln Memorial, and White House sets were a little more than I wanted to spend and they don't have a Musee d'Orsay set for sale (I actually would've expanded the budget to get a nice Musee d'Orsay kit). And unfortunately, there's also no LEGO set for the Toronto skyline or CN Tower. Oh well. Like I said: the Arc fits the bill, so that's the set I selected.

Need to rearrange the studio, this was way too cramped!
My setup was a little more complex than the other animations I've created for this 'Year of Animation' series. Before filming, I jumped on Amazon and picked up a pair of light stands and a set of four sandbags to hold them in place (had to get the sand from Home Depot) and borrowed a tripod from work that was sturdy enough to hold my DSLR camera -- which was tied into DragonFrame 4 on the reliable MacBook that I use for demonstrations.

Good ol' Dragonframe on my TravelMac.
After assembling the LEGO set and studying the instruction manual to determine how I would film its assembly, I came up with a shotlist to make things easier and then disassembled the set--separating the pieces by color into small plastic containers. That original shotlist actually involved some close up shots using my iPhone, but when it came time to film, I discarded that idea. There just wasn't enough room to maneuver around with two tripods, two light stands, my laptop on a portable t.v. tray, and all the little plastic containers that I had used to separate the LEGO pieces. Eh, I can always go back and refilm those two sequences if I want to.

The animation is as follows:

I could play with the frame rate and add the aforementioned close-ups in order to provide a little variety and boost the "interesting" factor, but in the end, this was just for fun and I learned what I wanted from the experience. Which raises the question: what did I learn from my Year of Animation and all the films I created?

Well, there were some great triumphs, like when the project inspired me to go through all my RIT films and materials, enabling me to recover almost everything I had lost from a hard drive crash over a decade ago. And there were some new experiences, like working on a team with Gary Schwartz and Linnea Glas on our ASIFA Central tongue-twister animation. But throughout it all, this project highlighted how much work goes into producing an animation, even a small one. So future projects should never be taken lightly -- speaking in terms of the amount of work they take to complete. But my main takeaway was how personally fulfilling it is to put in all that effort and watch the completed film. The playback is truly the payback.

Now, on to the next project...

LEGO, always good for a fun animation

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