R2-D2 was my first Star Wars love. In my mid-twenties, R2 was always with me, on my key chain. Sadly, Yoda replaced him as my favorite character from a galaxy far, far away, but when I saw the title of this LEGO Star Wars stop motion animation, I was a tween again and all about R2. My hand flew to my keyboard and trackpad so I could click on the YouTube “play” button.
The Animated Short Film
I was immediately sucked into another world, almost forgetting that I was watching a LEGO stop motion animation.
Tatooine! But this isn’t a LEGO world. No, those falling rocks are real. The rocky mountains in the background are real. The landscape consists of video footage and organic materials rather than LEGO bricks arranged into fancy, free-form builds.
Along comes LEGO R2-D2. But wait, there are lights moving in dark hollows in the rocks. Ah, it’s those pesky Jawas. The cinematic shots with blurred foreground and background and camera movements are beautiful. Even better, I hear the wind, gravel and rocks, unidentified beasties, R2’s chirping, and the whispers of the freaky Jawas.
Suddenly, we see a close-up of R2. He sounds scared and trembles a little. And then, BAM!!! The unexpected happens. I did NOT see that coming.
Just when I was getting used to the idea and laughing hard, OMIGOSH!!! Did he really . . . ? Wait, what’s he going to . . . ? BAM!!! Another surprise. Now I’m snorting with laughter. In the final scene, R2 tries to . . . but he doesn’t quite . . . BAM, the final surprise!!!
When the story ends, right at 1 minute if you ignore the opening logo and the end cards, I bet your stomach will be cramping from laughter like mine was.
Watch it now:
LEGO Stop Motion Animator
I’m embarrassed to say how many times I watched this video, “LEGO Star Wars: R2-D2 Unrestrained,” by Brotherhood Workshop, whose main animator is Kevin Ulrich. If you don’t mind stooping to low levels as a human being and want to feel better about yourself as a filmmaker, watch one of his first animations. Never mind that he was eleven years old and had puny equipment.
The “worst” thing about this video is that it starts with a logo for VideoBlocks filling the screen. In other words, I dare you to speak ill of this brickfilm, because there’s nothing bad about it. The good thing is that the video became a reality because of VideoBlocks’ sponsorship. The fantastic thing is the video itself, in all its 1-minute glory.
At the time of this writing, this cinematographic masterpiece has 455,560 views and 7,700 thumbs up. Granted, it’s also got 115 thumbs down, but those were clearly slips of the mouse click and/or misguided viewers.
If the brickfilm isn’t enough, the comments are hilarious, too, but I can’t give you the best examples without giving away the plot.
Wait. There’s more.
Behind the Scenes
Watch the behind-the-scenes video released on the same day as the LEGO animation: May 11, 2015. You’ll have an idea of what Kevin did to achieve all those fantastic effects. There he is with his laptop and camera. His animation equipment isn’t spectacular, but the software is a marvel and the effects are like magic.
My favorite part of this making-of video starts 36 seconds in, when he shows R2 being filmed in front of a green screen and then the end result, with the stock footage from VideoBlocks replacing the green. Compositing, masking, keyframing. These are all things I don’t do yet because I’m still working on the basics of making LEGO animations.
I laughed a bitter laugh when Kevin said, “it added a fair amount of tedium.” I can’t tell you what he was talking about without giving away plot, but suffice it to say that I would use terms like “worst nightmare” and “kill me now,” when talking about that particular technique.
And that’s why the likes of The LEGO Group, Warner Brothers UK, and DreamWorks have commissioned his work while my latest brickfilm accomplishment was making a flickering video of a female minifigure wearing a lion’s head and sliding down a banana.
Kevin doesn’t talk about audio in this BTS video, and I can’t write about it without giving you spoilers, but the sound effects add not only to realism but also to hilarity.
Pleas for help
This explainer video has 1,800 thumbs up and 16 thumbs down (from absolute freaks, obviously).
Like the short-film video, comments under this behind-the-scenes video consist of lavish compliments and even “Poland loves you.”
But there are many more pleas for tips and tutorials on green-screen work, After Effects, and animation in general.
Lens for LEGO Animation
“What lens do you use?” was one of the questions. The reply: “18-55mm.” A YouTuber commented, “I thought he’d have something more advanced. Even I have an 18-55mm.” That only means that equipment matters less than skill, which can be learned and practiced.
My hope for you
If you’re not quite (or nowhere near) 15 years into your animation journey, I hope the short movie and the making-of video were inspiring to you.
If you’re a Star Wars fan and/or casual visitor to this site, I hope you enjoyed “R2-D2 Unrestrained” and are still clutching your sides from all the laughter.
As a side note, VideoBlocks is now Storyblocks. I haven’t used their footage, but they’re associated with AudioBlocks, which I use for stock music and for which I buy an annual subscription.
At about 60 seconds in duration, “LEGO Star Wars: R2-D2 Unrestrained” is a beautifully smooth, technically impressive LEGO Star Wars stop motion animation. What sets this brickfilm apart is the use of stock video footage and its organic environment with real desert and rocks where we would expect to see a landscape made of LEGO bricks.
After a comfortable start, it takes you on a funny, wild ride full of surprises. Compositing, masking, keyframing, and wire supports, are all techniques used by animator Kevin Ulrich to create the environment for this brickfilm. Watch the making-of video for a richer experience.
Tell me . . .
What did you think of this brickfilm? Are you a Star Wars fan? An R2? Geek out with me in the comments below.