BOOK REVIEW & INTERVIEW: “The Lego Animation Book” – Animation Scoop

BOOK REVIEW & INTERVIEW: “The Lego Animation Book”

“Everything is Awesome” about The LEGO Animation Book. This is an in-depth and entertaining manual for becoming a filmmaker (or rather, a “brickmaker”) and bringing LEGO videos to life. Beginners and expert LEGO “Master Builders” (both kids and your average AFOL – Adult Fan of LEGO) will find the content extremely valuable.

Co-authors David Pagano and David Pickett don’t simply have their first names in common. Their middle names are Michael, they were both born in 1985, and they tied for second place in Nicktoons’ 2008 “Built By Me” LEGO Animation Contest. They infuse their upbeat personalities into this all-access guide (five years in the making), along with plenty of expertise on every aspect of LEGO filmmaking: from writing a script and storyboarding techniques, to set design and ultimately shooting and editing your finished product. The Davids have LEGO versions of themselves who offer advice and commentary throughout the book.

A companion video titled “The Magic Picnic” will be available online soon. Images from the film, starring Anna, Matt and picnic basket Shaun, fill the pages, along with easy-to-follow instructions. The examination of the LEGO character is extremely in-depth. Readers learn the proper ways to move the hands and feet, get the 411 on the numerous faces and facial expressions – (both painted on and digital), hair placement, and balancing scale and proportion. There’s even a section devoted to the advantages and issues with using copyrighted characters, featuring Princess Ariel, Rocket Raccoon, R2D2 and Hamm from “Toy Story”.

Anything and everything you can think of when it comes to making LEGO movies is here, though only a tiny block on “The LEGO Movie”. Pagano admits in his intro that one of his two-second creations was featured during the 2014 Oscar nominee’s climactic scene. So don’t be confused by the title or the premise, this isn’t a “Making of The LEGO Movie” or the newly-released “LEGO Batman Movie” book. In fact, it’s made very clear that the book is not authorized or endorsed by the LEGO Group.

However, the success and spirit of “The LEGO Movie” certainly served as the inspiration for The LEGO Animation Book, which follows the messages of the film’s final scenes. As Pagano and Pickett stress, “Anyone who creates art of any kind is creator, an artist, a maker”. If you share in their passion, all the essential tools are here for your cinematic dreams to become reality. Making a LEGO movie is not a walk in the park by any means, but with this guide Pickett and Pagano provide the insights and inspiration for any aspiring filmmaker to produce something epic – brick by brick.

I had the chance to speak with both Davids about The LEGO Animation Book:

Jackson Murphy: With the same first name, and being in the same field, you guys must get confused often…

David Pickett: Yeah, absolutely. We tend to travel in a pack when we go to LEGO conventions, so people can just shout “David!” and we both turn and look at the same time – and it all gets figured out.

Murphy: The book has been out for a few months. What’s been the reaction?

Pickett: The reception for the book has been really phenomenal. Our publisher sold so many copies of the first printing that they’re already going into the second printing, so that’s great. The reviews have been pretty much uniformly positive.

David Pagano: The word that comes to mind first is surreal, because we’ve been working on this book for five years, and it’s very bizarre that it’s…like a real thing that you can touch and talk about with people. We get things from the publishers like, “Number of Books Sold” or “Number of Books Ordered from the Printer”. But what’s really cool is when people send us the films they’ve made for the first time, and there’s a message, like “I’m an Adult Fan of LEGO – and this got me to connect with my kid in a way that we haven’t in a while” or “I build LEGO things and I never thought about filming them”. So people sending us their first-tries is really cool to see.

JM: And I’m sure watching all the LEGO fan videos online must be pretty cool.

Pagano: I think, last check, you can get 12.5 million hits on YouTube just by typing in “LEGO”. There’s definitely a large swath of content out there. One of our goals with the book was just to answer the questions [we] get on a regular basis: questions about cameras; questions about making mini-figures fly.

Pickett: What I always really like is when you can tell somebody’s got a really creative spark of an idea, and they might try to have some sort of special effect that is done in camera, or they’re really overemphasizing and exaggerating the motion. I’m really kind of a cartoony guy at heart, so I always love that expect – when people put that into their brickfilms and focusing on that joy of motion and exuberance. [That’s] always drawn me to other fan films.

JM: What was the most challenging aspect of putting this “How to” guide together:

Pagano: The biggest challenge for me, off the top of my head, was the Animation Principles chapter because that was really the section where I had to check my knowledge and make sure the things I had learned in school and from books and from practice were actually correct. It’s one thing to sit down at a desk and do animation – or…to do animation as your job. But to be able to explain it to other people in a way that’s clear and articulate and makes sense to 8-year-olds and 45-year-olds alike was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. And I’ve been saying to people that’s the chapter that almost broke me. I questioned whether I even knew animation at all.

Pickett: This was a side project on top of side projects. Until very recently, I was working a full-time day job that had nothing to do with LEGO. And then I had a LEGO YouTube channel, where I was posting a video a week – doing that just nights and weekends. And then on top of that I was working on a book. So, just managing my own time, and then the ebbs and flows of my time and David’s time. We had to work figure out what was a good routine, especially since we’re in different cities.

JM: Which movie directors have inspired you personally and your LEGO movies?

Pickett: I’ve always admired directors like Terry Gilliam. He has that animation mindset, even when he’s doing live-action films. Henry Sellick – he’s, like, a legend of stop-motion. He did “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Coraline”.

Pagano: There are a lot of directors I look up to. For the LEGO work… I feel like the biggest inspiration is Jim Henson – because we do a lot of stuff with weird characters. It’s also important to me that the things we create and the stories that we tell are sort of universal and have something to say and have an appeal for people of all ages.

JM: What do you hope readers – kids and the Adult Fans Of LEGO (AFOL) – take away from The LEGO Animation Book?

Pickett: We’re really happy with how the book turned out. It hit the exactly the level we wanted it to. It works for beginners, but also – a reader can grow with the book as they read it. My biggest hope for this book is to really broaden the amount of people making LEGO animations. Really getting people who are already LEGO fans to start doing this more – we just love seeing people use their creativity. Or people who wanna make films and LEGO can be a creative entry point into that – really enable the next generation of LEGO animators – whatever their age.

Pagano: I think the best thing I could hope for from people who read our book and use it to make a film is that they find it…useful in telling the stories that are inside of them and sharing things that they have to say with other people. The reason that LEGO works so well as a medium for animation is because there’s something familiar about it. And everyone kind of understands LEGO as a visual language. And I think if (the book) can be used as a way for people to get to know one another and understand each other’s stories, then I feel like we’ve been successful in what we set out to do.

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website Lights-Camera-Jackson.com, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
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