I don’t typically write about individual episodes of NNN on this site, I usually wait until a chapter is complete and write about it as a whole. But I spent a lot of time documenting my creative process when animating the most recent episode, so it ties in very closely to the How to Animate work I’ve been doing here and felt appropriate.
During the course of producing ROBOphelia vs. Grabbor, I was also running a Kickstarter campaign to support the production of Chapter 2 as a whole. While not directly affecting the content of the episode, doing this fundraising campaign simultaneously definitely affected my approach to documenting the episode. In the past I have only taken a few behind the scenes pictures and didn’t spend a lot of time contextualizing them for viewers. Because I was in constant communication with my Kickstarter backers, trying to engage them in my work, I was much more thorough about documenting my process this time around, so get ready for a lot of behind the scenes videos below. Doing the Kickstarter Project also caught the attention of The A.V. Club Chicago, which led to the following video interview, which is a very good overview of my animation process and how I came to be a LEGO animator.
As I mention in that video, one important step in my process is drawing storyboards of key moments in the animation, which I then use as guides to building sets and moving the characters through them. I don’t make a storyboard for every single scene or movement; my animation style incorporates a great deal of improvisation (especially when ROBOphelia is involved, she’s particularly hard to pin down). This video compares my drawn storyboards to the final product.
One aspect of this episode that made it more time consuming than usual is the large number of unique sets I had to build for it. When ROBOphelia is exploring the Pinchbot Mothership, she passes through a few different environments, several of which dwarf her in size. Each set had to be built individually and then immediately torn down so I could rebuild it into another set (I only have so much gray brick). It is one of the benefits of the working in the LEGO medium that I can create so many unique locales by recycling my materials. Click here to watch a time-lapse video of me assembling the set for the final confrontation between ROBOphelia and Grabbor.
One new cinematic technique for me in this animation was the dolly shot. A dolly shot allows the camera to move laterally to follow the action.
In addition to copious timing notes I always make before animating a shot, I also needed to plan out the movement of the camera to make sure ROBOphelia wouldn’t get left behind. The size of my green backdrop limited how far I could move the camera, so I found the edges of where the camera could move and marked those spots on the baseplate. I also figure out where I wanted ROBOphelia to start and end and marked those spots. Then I calculated the distances and divided by the total number of frames in the shot to calculate how much I would have to move the camera each frame and what ROBOphelia’s average speed would have to be. For instance the camera needed to move 30 studs over 90 frames, so every frame I moved it about a third of a stud.
The camera was mounted on a baseplate which I slid along the edge of the baseplate the set was on. I taped down the baseplate with the set on it to make it easier to slide along. The reason I went through so much trouble for this shot is because I wanted to get the parallax effect of the giant Pinchbot arms in the background. I carefully placed them at different distances.
The arms hanging down were suspended from the shelf above in a hokey (but secure) fashion.
ROBOphelia is always a lot of fun to animate because I never know what she’ll do next. When animating with her, I keep a stash of pieces handy that function as her arms, legs and other accessories, but this stash is constantly growing as she is always demonstrating new capabilities.
Grabbor isn’t quite so versatile, but I had fun playing around with his eyes and arms. The “bug-out” eyes were my favorite technique for him. The turquoise portions I made by slicing up one of these pieces.
Overall, I spent 44 hours animating this 4 minute video. Here’s a time-lapse video of me animating a couple of scenes with voice-over explaining how long various portions took me.
As usual, my animating desk was an absolute mess by the time I finished the final shot.
During the course of making this animation I started a new side project called How To Build which is a series of videos showing some of the characters from NNN (e.g. ROBOphelia and the Pinchbots). People are always asking me for instructions and this is much faster than trying to replicate all my creations in LDraw. I will be releasing one of these every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until I run out of things to build.