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How fan films shaped The Lego Movie

The film was an animation feat built on the legacy of homemade projects.

There aren’t many animated films that look like The Lego Movie. It doesn’t feel like CGI, but doesn’t seem like traditional stop-motion either. By the time previews for the 2014 movie came out, footage looked so realistic that even stop-motion experts were stumped as to how it was made.

That's largely thanks to the animators at Animal Logic, a Sydney-based visual effects studio that worked on the film. The studio helped reinvent what Lego animations could look like. Earlier film series like Bionicle and Lego Batman treated plastic Lego characters like rubber, which made for a less authentic look. But The Lego Movie worked with the limitations of real life blocks to make the characters believable.

According to Grant Freckelton, the production designer on the film, the initial pitch from co-director Phil Lord was to make a film “as if Michael Bay kidnapped Henry Selick and locked him in a basement and got him to make the most expensive ridiculous summer film out of nothing but Lego bricks.” The animators developed that style but had to produce “audition videos” featuring The Lego Movie characters to convince the producers that it could work.

The visual aesthetic that made the film successful draws heavily from fan films. Since the early 1970s, enthusiasts have been making home movies with their own Lego sets. These projects are called Brickfilms and are often a starting point for animators looking to get into the business.

Watch the video above to see how the film was animated and how homemade fan films laid the groundwork for that visual style.

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