Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Becoming Christopher Nolan

With all the buzz over the Lego Movie out right now, how would you like to make your own Lego movie? A year or two ago, I downloaded an app called "Lego Movie Maker," and ever since, my kids and I have been having fun making stop motion movies whenever the mood strikes.
You see, they're really into playing with my iPod.

And being creative with Lego bricks.

But mostly they're into playing with my iPod.

Anyway, the thing is lots of fun for them, and (when they're not around) lots of fun for me. Making a stop motion movie that actually looks like stop motion takes a lot of patience. It can be tedious, trying to get all the moving pieces to move only as far as you want them to, and then making all the non moving pieces stay right where they're supposed to be.

To help us along the way, I've put together a homemade stand for my iPod with a used frozen juice container and a cheep tripod from my local big box retailer. Having this iPod Tripod freed up the kids to use their hands to animate the scene, without having to worry about the camera placement. It looks a little something like this:

This set up really helps the kids hold the camera steady as they try to tell their story. And that's really what this app is about, story telling. They can grab a handful of Lego people, a few members of the Justice League, or some HotWheels cars and tell a story just like those they see on TV.

In one attempt, Godzilla had villains escaping from a holding cell in the Bat cave, and then loosed the heroes to round them up, adding music and simple video effects, all inside the app. In another, Nat took some stuffed animals and made them come together to give each other hugs because one of them was sad.

Here, Godzilla and I worked together to put out a fire with his Duplo fire station set and a little help from a Transformer Rescue Bot. 

He wanted the camera to move to show the different elements of his fire station, so I held the camera and snapped the photos as he moved his pieces into just the right spot, every few shots checking our progress like a true director. In the end, I think we ran out of time and had to clean up before shooting the rest of his Michael Bay-esque feature, but the end product is still pretty impressive for a five-year-old.
So, what is the process like you ask?  As long as you have this app and something to animate, it's really simple.
Grab your toys - lets be honest here, of course we're using toys, even if the kids aren't around - and your app. Get your opening scene set and pick a title page. Next, frame your first shot and take a picture. Move all your little "actors" and take another. Then, simply repeat until your story has been told.
A little deeper insight. When you sit down to watch your TV, you are seeing roughly 30 pictures every second. That's right, every second of video on your TV is made up of 30 frames. This is all done in real time as the show is produced in live action, within the camera. On the big-screen at the theater, you're more likely to get 24 frames per second (FPS). Either way, if you tried to get 24 individual shots of your toys moving around your table, you would 1: be there FOREVER, 2: have a very whiny child on your hands, and 3: WAY over-produce your masterpiece of animation. In fact, the Lego Movie Maker app knows 24 FPS is too much, and the most you can fit into a second is 10 frames. This is still a lot. It will naturally look smoother once you play it through, but you will have moved your figures 30 times to make a simple 3 second clip.
In the Lego Movie Maker app, you can choose music from the app to create the soundtrack to your movie, or you can pick songs from your music library. You also have the option to insert pre-made sound effects, record your own, or even record your own dialogue. 
I love getting the see what the kids will come up with when it comes time to make a movie, as it's really just another way for them to express their personality and creativity. I'll leave you with Godzilla's latest work of genius that might even make Gumby proud...


  1. Now that's fun stuff. I don't have the latest electronic gadgets to do this with but I did one with my daughter using our point and shoot camera and iMovie. We had a little fuzzy stuffed animal and it went across a counter and up onto an overturned bowl so that it could reach a straw and it "drank" the juice out of a glass and turned and went back. It was great fun. Something I did with my boys when they were younger (with older technology) was to make towers using blocks and legos and lego people. Then we'd have hot wheels come down a track and over a jump into the towers. We'd video the whole thing and watch it in slow motion. It was great fun watching lego people and parts flying apart.

    1. That's really great, kids and cameras just go so well together! When my parents got a camcorder in the late 80's, we made several "movies" of my brothers and I as Ninja Turtles or He-Man or *insert every other child-of-the-80's cartoon icon.* With my kids, if it's not the Lego Movie Maker, it's the same with Matchbox cars and barbie dolls! They just can't get enough!

  2. I was not aware of this app. Of course the windows phone I have does not have the app (I want to like the Windows Phone, but the app selection is horrible).
    My kids are really into duplos at the moment, and at preschool my oldest likes the traditional legos. I've even contemplated exposing her to the youth league lego robots competitions.
    What you're showing here is a great idea.

    1. The youth-league robots competition sounds like fun, I know one of the schools here has a team, but I've never had a chance to check out the program. As far as the app goes, even without it, a point-and-shoot and iMovie or Windows Movie Maker on your computer can put together some nice stop-motion videos. I say give it a shot, see what they come up with!