Making a Brickfilm: Part 2

Following on from last week I am going to spend this post talking about the process I use to make a Brickfilm.

A good Brickfilm is a result of the combination of the story, video length, set design, camera work and audio.

1.       The idea

You need to come up with a good story to tell. Maybe it is a remake of something else (which makes it much easier!), but if you are creating your own story think about how you will be telling it. Is it through dialogue? Music? A style of film like a horror film? Who are the characters?

Be cautious when making a story that all your hard work won’t be lost if the story is too confusing or too long. Try and start with short scenes rather than an 8 hour saga that no one will want to watch.

Are you making a story in an existing world like Star Wars? If my video isn’t a straight up remake, I try to be original because I figure who wants to see a story about Anakin Skywalker when there are entire movies and TV shows dedicated to the subject.

Write the story down, even if it is just a few pointers. Get an outline in your head on how the story will work. You can then expand on that into some small storyboards or a write up a few pages of a story to follow.

2.       The set/scene

The size of your work area will determine how big your set can be. I love big landscapes because it lets you tell a story that feels like it is part of a bigger world. Also large landscapes means I can get more interesting shots to set the scene and it isn’t just closeups on faces.

The Blues Brothers set

The Blues Brothers set

When building a set think about the details. What is in the foreground and what is in the background. What is beyond that? Are there hills? Is this inside with a window what is it like outside?

When making a set I first build up the path the characters will take. Maybe they don’t move much but you need to work out where the camera will be and what it will see. Put some details into the paths. I am big fan of blending in different colours to create a more natural looking environment. If it is a grass path there are 5 or 6 different colours you can easily use. A mixture of green, greys and browns can make the scene stand out. The same can be said for walls, cliffs or trees. While LEGO have a great range of existing trees or walls think about a real one. It isn’t smooth or neat, nature is more chaotic than that and rarely is a building in perfect condition. Try to mix things up and keep it interesting.

3.       Characters

Picking characters can be easy or hard. If you are doing a Star Wars scene then perhaps Darth Vader and few Stormtroopers. If it is a scene in café, work out who is in the background. Does it make sense for your story to have Harry Potter in the background? Things like this can break the illusion (or make it, if your scene is one about things being crazy).

Perhaps try and make your main characters stand out. Give them unique features like a hat or hair.

4.       Lighting

IKEA Dioder

IKEA Dioder

Lighting is of course its own school and you can spend forever working on the lighting. For the most part you are going to want something to illuminate the background and a separate light for the foreground (faces). Lighting may be different for every scene too, or change because of the story.

I use a combination of an LED flood light for backgrounds and IKEA DIODER colour changing strip lighting for closeups. The flood light is used for big scenes and the small strips can be stuck in different spots to provide lighting in key areas or provide different coloured lighting.

Some people use changing light colours but I would caution against that. It is hard for the colour changes to work smoothly with the photos. If you want fancy lighting it is probably best to do it in a program like Adobe After Effects.

One thing to note is you need to work on getting the right colour tone when you film. Otherwise colours can look off. I will cover this in more detail next week.

5.       Camera

There are many cameras you can use, from a smart phone, a digital SLR camera or webcam. I use a Logitech HD webcam which lets me preview the photos on my computer and save them right there. Whatever you use you need something that gives you control of focus, preferably so that it doesn’t change with each photo or your video will look awful.

My webcam carefully inserted into a scene

My webcam carefully inserted into a scene

Your camera will need a stand or a tripod to stop it moving around. One of the most common mistakes with Brickfilms is to have the camera move with every photo, either because you have to press a button that bumps it or because you move the camera too much. If your camera needs a button pressed on the device to take the photo think about remote triggers.

6.       Audio

Depending on your scene you may have some music to work to or some dialogue. In most cases you will want to record this beforehand so you know how long each of your shots will take.

If you are recording audio then I encourage you to buy a plug in microphone. One built into a laptop, webcam or basic gaming headset won’t cut it and you will sound distant or fuzzy.

When recording audio you need to be in a quiet place, away from other noises such as computer fans buzzing or other people making noise in your house.

I will caution again that writing dialogue that is entertaining is much harder than you think. Be careful not to write long monologues that detract from your set building and camera work.

If you get all of this together you are well on your way to making your video. Next week I will explain how I film a video and then compile it.

Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas.