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Brickfilms Interviews: Marc Atkin

Marc Atkin is the director of a LEGO animation entitled 2001: A Lego Odyssey.  This film is a tribute to Stanley Kubrick's work of similar name.  It was released on January 1st, 2001.  I tracked Marc down and asked him a few questions about the work and LEGO movies in general.


Why did you choose 2001: A Space Odyssey?  What was the purpose of your short?

Even before I owned a camcorder I was interested in making Lego movies, and was thinking about a short idea to start off with. I remembered a "Hagar the Horrible" comic strip from years ago where one of the characters encounters a strange black monolith. As he is wondering about its significance, whether it could be a symbol from an ancient alien intelligence, the monolith falls on him. "Or maybe it's just a trap" are his words in the final panel. 

I thought I could do something like that in Lego, not even realizing until later that the year 2001 was nearly upon us. During discussions with my housemate, Ben Gagnon, the story became longer and more involved and eventually turned into what you see today. 
 

About how long did it take, including filming and editing?

Not including model and set construction, which was done over a period of weeks, filming and editing took about a week, between Christmas and New Year of 2000. 
 

What do you think of the official LEGO Studios set? Have you seen it yet?

I've seen it in stores, but never actually used it. 
 

What equipment did you use to make the film?

I used a Sony MiniDV camcorder with a Firewire connection to a Mac laptop, and Mac movie editing software, specifically iMovie 2 and Final Cut Pro. Stills were edited with Photoshop. The "Star Gate" sequence towards the end of the movie was built using MLCAD, a Lego CAD program, and rendered with Persistence of Version, a public domain ray-tracer. 
 

What do you think of the LEGO movie community?  Do you think LEGO movies should be a viable medium for say, film festivals?

As with the Lego community in general, they appear to be great bunch. 

A lot of people view Lego as just "a child's toy", and consequently movies made with Lego may not be taken seriously. But if you take a step back, Lego is just as a valid a medium as any other. One day we might see a Lego movie at a film festival (although I wouldn't hold my breath). [-Ed: Rick & Steve, two short films which will be appearing in the directory soon, actually won awards at Outfest Los Angeles, the Rhode Island International Film Festival, and the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
 

What do you like about working in LEGO?  What drawbacks do you think there are?

I view Lego as the "poor man's claymation". It's *so* much easier to build sets and animate with Lego and Lego figures than to 
hand-draw frames or to build everything with modeling clay. While I enjoy making movies, I don't want the effort to take up all my freetime. With Lego, you can produce something relatively quickly, freeing up more time to think of good scripts. 

The downside of working with Lego are twofold: First, as mentioned before, Lego movies may not be taken seriously. The more important concern is the restrictions imposed by the Lego bricks themselves: Not everything you want to model is easily modelable in Lego, and especially Lego minifigures have a very restricted set of movements they can make. Not being able to move the figure's head up and down or the arms side-to-side can be a problem. On the other hand, it's also fun to think of ways to work around these restrictions. 
 

Can you give any advice/lessons learned from filming techniques, tricks you used, or editing techniques? Any challenges you faced?

I'm just a beginner when it comes to movie making, but during the process of filming this movie, I found I was quite naturally 
implementing techniques and tricks I had heard about before: Sets and models need only look good from the sides they'll be filmed.  Cuts can be used to liven up the pace, and also to avoid having to film every motion of the figure. Matching the action up with the music was of course very important in a movie like this. It's also amazing what you can do with lighting--I've only begun to explore the possibilities (my main concern was to have some degree of consistency and to make sure shadows weren't falling on the backdrops). 

Regarding special effects, I used green screen shots for filming the spinning bricks (shot from above so the camera doesn't see anything holding the brick up). Underexposure was used for the interior shot of the house before the lights are turned on, overexposure was used for the white room at the end. The starfield is black poster board with holes punched in it, lit from behind; the rising sun is a small flashlight. In tracking shots (the car wheel) and panning shots (the clouds passing), I found it easier to keep the camera stationary and to move the background. In the case of the car wheel, the car is attached to my work surface off camera and I'm pushing the road beneath it. 
 

Do you have any upcoming projects?  What's next?

My next project is going to be horror comdey with a lot of skeletons in it. Although the script is pretty much done, it could be a while 
before the movie is completed -- I also have to worry about graduating... :) 
 

Yes, there is always another project.  Thanks to Marc for taking the time to answer my questions.  I hope we can all learn some practical LEGO moviemaking tips and learn a bit about this great short and how it was made.  2001: A Lego Odyssey can be found in the film directory.

Happy Filming!