The short version:
Most LEGO animation comes from men and boys, with lots of superheroes and fighting. Not here! I’m an adult, minority, female filmmaker who didn’t play with LEGO as a child.
This blog is about what I wish I’d known when I started out with LEGO, and what I learn as I progress.
Join me in this new obsess—uhm, I mean creative pursuit.
The longer version:
Welcome to Zee’s Universe!
I’m a translator of foreign-language documents and a filmmaker.
A late bloomer, I didn’t pick up my first video camera until I was 36. On a quiet Monday afternoon with no translation assignments, I went to the only “event” I could find: an orientation for would-be filmmakers at the local public access television station.
In my first-ever video, the people are unnaturally tall and skinny, and their skin is an alarming shade of green. That’s after I figured out that the little monitor screen was black because the camera lens was still covered. Step 1: remove the lens cap.
To edit, I placed my mini-DV tapes into a mini VCR that attached my TV to a system that I dragged out of the public access station to my car in a large suitcase.
The following year, I attended the Travel Channel Academy, a digital filmmaking bootcamp. After that there was no turning back, especially since editing on my computer and uploading to that hot new thing, YouTube, was much simpler than The Suitcase Editor.
Since then, I’ve made
- hundreds of documentary-style videos ranging from 12 seconds to 3 minutes in length, for fun
- 70 commercials for small businesses and non-profits, for pay
- and a documentary that was featured in two museums in Europe, one of them for more than 2 years.
I love filming quirky and beautiful expressions of humanity, like
- a non-profit racing outhouses to raise funds for a homeless shelter
- a graffiti artist
- bio-mechanical engineers working with cosplayers to create affordable, robotic, prosthetic arms
Narrative films seemed like too much trouble, but when I found a MeetUp group that seemed motivated and efficient, I was excited to try something new. In the end, the group made me so angry that I went out and made 11 narrative short films with essentially no crew.
On the 12th short, some [insert rude, crude description here] person played a prank on me and played porn noises in the middle of my shoot. That was the last straw. I was done with what had felt like an uphill battle at every step of the narrative filmmaking process.
The Film Industry
I decided to work in the film industry, in the Dallas market, and then move to a larger market, like Atlanta, to seek my fortune. By fortune-seeking I meant specializing, getting the required number of days, joining a union, and making steady income: a career, not stardom.
I was a PA (production assistant), working on sets of various sizes, getting coffee, cleaning up fake miscarriage blood, carrying C-stands, carrying the director’s large bag of Gummy bears . . .
When I was a wardrobe PA a couple of times, I gained great respect for that department and the physical demands of its work.
I worked on TV shows you might recognize: The Voice, Catfish, and Last Summer.
I was also a background actor on a number of movies, TV shows, and commercials, including
- Alita, Battle Angel
- Queen of the South
- two episodes of Scandal Made Me Famous, and
- a reality show that is nothing like reality.
Being a PA can be a bizarre experience for anyone, but it’s especially weird when you’re a black woman in your forties, in an industry that glorifies sleep deprivation, doing often very physical work, alongside twenty-somethings for at least 10 hours a day.
No. That wasn’t going to work, either.
The LEGO Journey
That’s when I happened to see a book on LEGO stop motion animation at a craft store. I turned to colorful plastic construction toys for actors, props, and sets and vowed to never set foot on a narrative-film set with humans again.
Now I probably own a larger collection of LEGO than any middle-aged, childless woman you know who didn’t play with LEGO as a child. Although my collection is nothing compared to hardcore, rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth AFOL (Adult Fans Of LEGO).
In the meantime, in 2020 I
- won a brickfilm (stop motion animation with construction toys, often LEGO) contest,
- gave a talk on making brickfilms to an advanced college-level filmmaking class, and
- was in the 20 people out of 80 applicants to make it to the Zoom-call interview to be contributors to a blog bearing the prestigious distinction of LEGO Recognized Fan Media.
Join me . . .
. . . on this particular part of my filmmaking journey: LEGO stop motion animation.
Start by . . .
- grabbing Zee ‘s Top 5 LEGO Secrets Every Adult Should Know.
- exploring the basics of LEGO stop motion animation through the mistakes I’ve made.