There are people who think that LEGO stop motion animation is all about:
- showing off how cute the LEGO people and pieces are without providing any sort of plot
- shaky, vomit-inducing videos, perhaps made by children
- jokes and fun or
- superheroes and action.
This LEGO animation will change their minds.
If you happen to be a non-filmmaker and non-LEGO-lover stumbling on this review, I’ll explain some terminology for you at the end of the post. I’m a translator of foreign-language documents, and glossaries make me happy. Now let’s continue with the LEGO animation review, shall we?
“The Village” begins with an aging, medieval traveler walking through a peaceful forest. We hear birds chirping and see a bit more of his environment. Then we see the title of the short film, “The Village,” but unlike the chirping birds, the colors aren’t soothing, and the words move in an unsettling way, as if under water. Together with the ominous music, they seem to be saying, “Don’t expect to be smiling at the end of this story.”
But I was indeed smiling at the end, because the film was visually beautiful, had a lovely soundscape, and had an ending I was not expecting. Better still, there is no dialogue, so not understanding the filmmaker’s native tongue of German won’t be a barrier to fully enjoying the story. Brilliant. I loved love LOVE it, and Piet Wenzel is now one of my brickfilming heroes. This film was made for Steinerei, a German brickfilm festival.
The set design is clever. Rather than just a green baseplate for grass, grey for stone or brown for dirt, we see plates in dark green, brown, and two different shades of grey as our hero approaches the village. There’s also a variety of trees, plants, and flowers.
From inside the village we can see a cloudy sky, mountains that we would expect to see in a live-action film, and LEGO-built mountains.
We hear footsteps, horses neighing, the clanging of a sword being forged, the indistinct sound of a crowd talking, and church bells. You won’t notice the music unless you pay close attention because it supports the visuals without drawing attention . . . until key moments, of course.
One mark of a brickfilm made by a beginner is a lack of camera angles and camera movement, which can be hard to achieve without excellent camera stabilization. In “The Village” we see a lot of rack focus, zooms, and pedestals. At one point we’re looking straight down on a scene while the camera turns clockwise.
So Very Smooth
Every movement, from a walking staff sliding into position to support a step, to the pedestal revealing the second-story level of the village, is smooth. There’s no flickering, and the color is consistent throughout. This is difficult to achieve. Remember that a brickfilm is made by combining hundreds, if not thousands of photos, and it’s hard to maintain consistency.
The pacing is slow enough for you to understand what is happening without dragging, and at 3 minutes and 5 seconds, this film won’t challenge your attention span.
There’s one intense close-up of the main character’s face when his expression changes. This was obviously changed in post-production, as opposed to physically removing the head from the minifigure and exchanging it for one with a different facial expression.
The rest of the time, his facial expression doesn’t change, but his body language shows that he’s curious and observant, and he is constantly in motion in a way that makes sense. That might seem like something very obvious, but when you’re in the studio trying to remember the long list of tricks you want to use, you might end up with awkward movements, or no movements at all.
Brickfilmer Piet Wenzel has created an atmosphere and mood with lighting, music, and magic. I mean skill and CGI.
Watch the making-of-The-Villager video and you’ll see how the German filmmaker created the duck at the start of the film. He uses Blender to turn his photos into a movie. His explanations are in German, but you can see
- how he built the set of this movie as timelapses
- how he stabilized the camera with a blob of putty
- how he created a lighting effect starting with a photo of a cloudy sunset from the human world and adding it to a church building, and
- what he did when he didn’t have enough minifigures for a particular scene.
“The Village,” a brickfilm created by Piet Wenzel in 2010, is a technically outstanding, visually beautiful, and intriguing short animated film with an interesting ending. Watch it now and please share your thoughts with me in the comments below!
- baseplate: large, flat piece of LEGO, often 10×10 inches (green for grass, grey for rock or cement, blue for water)
- Blender: “Blender is the free and open-source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, even video editing and game creation.”
- brickfilm: stop motion animation movie made with construction toys like LEGO
- BTS: behind the scenes
- CGI: computer-generated imagery
- minifigure or minifig: LEGO doll/person
- pedestal: the entire camera moves up or down (as opposed to it tilting up or down)
- rack focus: you see something clearly, in focus, and something near it is blurry, like a dog in focus and her human behind her is blurry, then the blurred thing comes in focus and the clear thing becomes blurred, so now the dog in front is blurry and the human behind her is in focus
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments. Thanks!