Brickfilms Interviews: Andy Thornbery

Andy Thornbery is the creator of two interesting movies, both tributes to classic horror films.   Lego Chainsaw Massacre, his first film, is an short animated re-make of the 1974 Leatherface classic.   The Thing, his second and latest film, is a tribute to the 1982 John Carpenter film of the same name.   We posed a few questions to Andy about his films, the brick-animation scene, and his upcoming works.

We'll start with the basics.    Age?  Where do you live now?  What do you do when not making animated movies?

I am 24, and I live in Ohio.  During my free time I like to watch movies.  I'll watch almost anything, the good, the bad, and the crappy.

How did you get into brick animation?

I've always wanted to direct movies in Hollywood, but of course this is not an option.  I always like the idea of making movies with my toys when I was younger, but I never had access to any type of film or video equipment. When I saw the Lego Studio Moviemaker Set announcement, I thought I would give it a try.  I dug out my old Lego's and made my first film, "The Lego Chainsaw Massacre".  Since then, I've been hooked.

It's well known in the forum that you use the Studios product and have some gripes about it.  How could The Lego Company make it better?

One of my main gripes is that there isn't a Save button.  This is a real problem if the program shuts down because of an error and you lose your work. A lot of gliches needed to be taken care of before it was placed on the market.

Here are a few problems I have ran into.

*Movies typically over 4 to 5 minutes slows down the program taking forever to load.  This can also lead to spontaneous system errors causing the program to automatically shut down and lose progress made on your

*One of my movies would play in the "Show" area but make a mpeg file [with errors].  The problem was caused because the first scene I filmed was placed at the very end of the movie.  After I deleted this scene, the problem was fixed.

*Another one of my movies would play in the "Show"area, but not create a mpeg file.  This was caused by
putting Titles in the middle of my film.  They were in the Film area and not the Title area.  I fixed this by filming a black scene and then putting the title over top of it.

*When editing sounds and voice, the program might slowdown or cause an error.  This could lose all of the
progress you have made.  Record voices or sounds with the Sound Recorded in the Entertainment of your normal
Window Bar if you use Microsoft Windows.  Save them in the Sound folder, in Lego Studios, which should be in
your Program Files.  This way you can cut and paste your voice parts and save time re-recording.
[ed. - The default install path is C:/Program Files/LEGO Media/LEGO Studios/Sounds]

*Save your progress if you have made a long animation scene or about 3 to 4 normal scenes.  Save often.  I
have never lost clips after they have been saved at least once, but I have lost an entire edited movie with sound effects because of a program error.
[ed. - There is no actual save feature.  You must quit to Windows in order to have the program save. Nice feature, huh?]

*If the program is slowing down.  Let it finish what it is doing before continuing.  Patience is the key to not losing information by being frustrated.

I hope these help.

Whose works do you admire?

I really like John Carpenter, Halloween is my favorite movie.  I pretty much like any director that makes a good movie.   This includes Lego films.  I'd love to see more from all directors. 

Your first film, Lego Chainsaw Massacre, featured a great Leatherface.  Is that a customized fig?  What else can you tell us about the making of this film?

Leatherface was made from different pieces, but I drew a little mask and placed it under his hair to hold it on.  I worked a long time on this movie, experimenting with different characteristics of Studios and getting used to stop-motion animation.  I tried to mimic the basic story, and make it as comical as possible.  I never really finished the whole movie, we never saw what happened to the other 2 characters.  After I get a few more movies posted, I might go back and finish it the way I wanted.

Could you take us through the scene where the camera pans around the front of the house?  This is a nice dramatic moment.  How was this accomplished?

The scene around the house was really easy.  I set up the trees to give it an creepy feel.  I practiced moving the camera around on a wheeled dolly made of Legos, but it was to jerky.  I took it off the dolly and slowly moved it through the trees on the table itself, which worked much better.  When filming live scenes, I find it more helpful watching the CPU screen than trying to aim with the camera. 

Your second film, The Thing, has some great scenes I'd like to discuss.  For instance, how did you do the shadow attack scene?  What about the light from the flare outside the base?

A regular flash light is all you need.  I made a light grey wall of Legos to reflect the image.  The character was way off camera with the light shown on him, but not directly so there wouldn't be a glare on the wall. 

The light from the flare was from a flashlight with a red transparent cockpit cover from one of my lego sets.  Since the scene was stop-motion, I moved the character, put the light directly over him, and snapped a picture.  I made sure the light was always directly over him and at about the same height for every clip.

Yes, I used that same trick in "The Chase" to show the lights from the police car.  How did you create the muzzle flashes from the guns in Part II?

This is a really cheap trick, but it works great.  I cut out a piece of wax paper from a sheet of stamps, because it is naturally shiny.  I cut it in a gun blast pattern that you see in a typical cartoon.  I drew a black dot in the center of it and then coated in it tape to reinforce its shape.  In the scene, I taped it to the muzzle of the gun, shined a flashlight directly on it, and shot one frame of film.  If stop the movie on the fire burst, you can see the tape. When moving normal speed though, you can't tell.

Near the end of the film, we see the Thing come up through the floorboards and the camera pans up the monstrosity, with all of the characters that have been killed now amalgamated into one mutation.  That was spot on to the scene in John Carpenter's movie.  Did you watch the movie as you were making this film?  How did you decide what scenes to include and which to exclude? 

I watched the movie a few months ago.  I can easily remember films I have seen down to the detail, but I can't remeber crap about what I read 10 minutes ago in a text book.  I actually used parts from the Howard Hawk's original and the John Carpenter remake.  The ice melt scene was closer to the original, but most of it was from the remake.  I used the key points of the film, trimmed the dialouge, and sped up the action. When I film my movies, I always make sure you can understand the movie without the sounds. 

Did you pay attention to camera angles, lighting, and other fine details of Carpenter's work as you were filming?

Yes, the outside scenes were hard to film because I wanted to get the lighting the same.  The blue strobe lights mixing with the red flares.  Scenes at the end were as I recall from seeing the film.  I want to mimic and spoof the real films, but stay true to the basic story. 

What do you use for lighting in your films?  Do you have a custom-built crane, dolly, or any other equipment you use?

I have a few lamps with the bendible necks that I use for bright scenes, regular lamps for indoor or evening outside scenes, and flashlights for certain effects.

Let's switch gears for a moment and talk about the LEGO film community.  What do you think of the recent controversy over Spite Your Face's legal threat?  What else excites, concerns, or interests you about the community?

I don't really know what to say.  Most companies don't want you using their products to make money, so I can
see that point.  I don't know why they would get upset if you made fan films for fun though.  Unless someone
else has a similar experience, I can't really make an informed decision.

How many hours a week do you spend on movie-making?  If you were to divide up your time spent on the making of a film, what would be the division between pre-production (script, building the sets), production (filming), and post-production (editing, sound effects, titles)?

I don't really know how much time I spend making movies.  Lego Chainsaw took a while just because I was getting used to the program and the process.  It took about 2 weeks.  I filmed both parts of "The Thing" in 3 days.  I would have had it totally finished in 2 more days if I wouldn't have run into problems with Lego Studio.  The longest parts to film in "The Thing" were the outside lighting scenes at night.

What's your next project, after The Thing?

I'm going to start working on "The Road Warrior".  I might make one or two shorts that won't take a lot of
time to make while I film the RW.  I hope it turns out okay cause it will have a lot of car chase and battle scenes.  In the future I might direct an original Lego movie, but I like the projects I am working on now.

I have just started building the vehicles.  I have a basic script, but I don't know how long it wil be.  It all depends on what kind of wrecks and action scenes I make as I go along.  I plan to keep the action scenes tight since I don't have a giant desert landscape on hand.  It will be a challenge, but fun.  I hope it works out, but it is just for fun so who cares.

Yep, it is just for fun!  Keep that in mind when you are working on your next project, folks. Thanks to Andy for answering our questions.  Check out his films in The Directory

Happy Filming!