Introduction: How to Make a Lego Stop-motion Construction Movie

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There are Lego stop-motion movies everywhere, but the ones my kids like the most are those where something gets built, as opposed to using the mini-figures as actors. They were particularly inspired by the Youtube classic Lego Millenium Falcon Stop Motion, and wanted to do something similar. The following project details the creation of short (~ 30 seconds or less) movies that will probably require some computer help, but whose creative inspiration can come entirely from the kids: they can write, direct, execute and shoot the movie themselves.

Here's an example of a short stop-motion movie as an animated gif:

And here's an example of a longer build:

Step 1: Get the Stuff and Write a Story

You'll need:

- a completed LEGOmodel, including all necessary actors (mini-figures)
- a computer
- a webcam (or a digital camera, preferably with a tripod)
- a photo processing program (we used Picasa)
- two kids, but one will do if you're prepared to help out

For this style of stop motion, the plot should include some reason for the construction of a Lego set. My boys love Lego Star Wars, and the Force provides a useful excuse as to why something is being magically constructed. Ask the kid(s) to write a few lines describing what will happen in the movie. Keep it simple! The above is an example script.

It helps if you then write down what has to be done, REVERSING the order of everything above. The "trick" that makes this stop-motion effective is the dismantling of a completed Lego set. So for the example above:

- The speeder reverses over the clones, who then jump to their feet. The speeder disappears backwards off the screen, then reappears (backwards).
- The clones back off the screen.
- Obi-wan and the others get off and back away from the speeder.
- Take apart the speeder, and put all the bits down in sight of the camera.
- Back everyone off the screen.

Step 2: Set Up and Film!

Cover the table with a suitable material. Put the camera somewhere it won't be bumped; on a laptop screen facing away from the laptop is ideal (the old Dell in the first picture has an integrated webcam that turns 180 degrees, which is perfect for this application). Mark out the field of view somehow (we used masking tape, but you could just put down pencils). Designate the oldest child the animator, and the youngest the cinematographer. A 9 year-old and 4 year-old made these movies. Start the webcam (or camera) for them, and set it up so all the cinematographer has to do is press a single button to capture a frame. Now, go for it! Help out the animator, but don't do it for them. Remind the cinematographer to take the photo at the right time, until they've got it. Don't worry about the animator making tiny steps or being perfect or even smooth - lack of patience will lend the final production an authentic erratic charm all of its own. The deconstruction of the model is probably the most fun part. Advise them to do just one block at a time, but it doesn't really matter if whole chunks come off.

Note that this approach is also a slick way of documenting a custom Lego build.

Step 3: Rename Photos in Reverse Order

You'll have a bunch of sequentially numbered photos... so they're the wrong way around! Move all of them into a new folder of their own. Order by name, in reverse. Then select them all, and rename the first one. It will now be called newnameyouchose.jpg, and all subsequent ones newnameyouchose (1).jpg, newnameyouchose (2).jpg, and so on. You now have a list of files that are alphabetically ordered the right way around (i.e. in reverse order to the order they were taken).

Step 4: Make a Time-lapse Movie

Open Picasa, and browse to the folder with the photos in. Make sure you're sorted the folder by name (Folder > Sort By > Name). Select all the photos, then go to Create > Movie...

Select Transition Style > Time Lapse, and set the slide duration to 1/15 second (or faster or slower, as you see fit). Under the Slide tab you can add a title. During the movie, you can use the same tab to add captions - to stop them flicking up for a fraction of a second, cut and paste the dialogue across several slides.

See how it looks by using the play button, then hit "Create Movie". You're done! Enjoy.

Note: there are of course many, many other ways to achieve the same end, and many more powerful tools for doing so (especially if you pay for them!). If you have alternate suggestions, please share them in the comments.

Step 5: Animated Gifs

If you'd rather make an animated gif because your movie is a short one, this is easy too. Just follow steps 1-4 then upload your images to one of the many free online animated gif makers (I used Adjust the animation speed to whatever you think is appropriate (I used 150 ms), and to make the file size manageable, reduce the dimensions of your photo (the one on this page is 320 x 240 px, and the one in the intro is 160 x 120 px). You can also crop, resize or add effects to your gif.

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