THE LEGO MOVIE
"Everything is awesome. Everything is cool
when you're part of a team"
Work on "The LEGO Movie" exemplified the spirit of the film's fun and
insanely catchy theme song, which proclaims, "Everything is cool when you're
part of a team."
Production ran more-or-less concurrently in three locations: the Los Angeles
hub, where the concepts, story, character and design scheme were developed and
where directors Lord and Miller spent the bulk of their time; the physical
production, at animation studio Animal Logic in Australia, where editor and
animation co-director Chris McKay relocated to work with an in-house team of 250
to execute those ideas; and the LEGO headquarters in Denmark, where top
designers under the direction of Design Vice President Matthew Ashton (also an
executive producer on the film) offered their expertise to help craft some of
the unique characters and props the filmmakers devised.
The process was more cyclical than linear, with ideas and artwork moving in a
continuous flow. Filmmakers would travel to Denmark or Australia, and key
artisans from Animal Logic and LEGO Group made the trip to L.A. Mainly, though,
they relied on daily video conferencing and cineSync software, which enabled
them to review and edit together in real time.
It was important that everything on screen was not only assembled out of
individually rendered virtual bricks but could theoretically be assembled by
hand with actual bricks, so some of the more complex set pieces were put to the
test at LEGO HQ for structural integrity. Drawings, ideas and descriptions would
go from the Los Angeles production office to the LEGO Denmark operation, where a
model was sometimes built and photographed for the directors to review.
Adjustments could then be made at both ends, often through multiple iterations,
before the final design was given to the animators to create a computer model,
which might then spark another round of adjustments.
"The LEGO Corporation was very hands-on," says Roy Lee. "We showed them what
we wanted to do and they gave us a lot of great ideas on how to make it work or
"We'd say, 'We need a spaceship, or we need a pirate ship that turns into a
submarine,' and they would come back with something amazing that not only looked
great but had humor in it," Dan Lin elaborates. "We'd share those models with
the animators and figure out how to translate those designs to the movie."
In other instances, animators originated their own models using the vast
library of bricks they had already assembled.
Upon initially reviewing the script with filmmakers, Matthew Ashton says, "There
was a lot of work the animation team could do without our support, but there
were some key things on which we felt we could offer some help. I have a team of
60 designers, all with different specializations. Some are really good at
classic models; some are good at the futuristic space stuff; and others excel at
functionality, trap doors, how to get weapons to pop out of a vehicle and those
sorts of things. We took the reference material and executed it in a way that
made sense from a building angle and would also look good on screen. The most
important thing for us was the story and working with the filmmakers to ensure
that when their ideas were translated into material for the screen it looked
"It's truly been a partnership with our film designers and the LEGO
designers," Lin concurs, "because they know the capabilities and the
restrictions of the bricks better than
anyone but, at the same time, our team was thinking about things in a cinematic
way, and they brought a different perspective in how to use a LEGO brick. So you
had artists on both sides working together."
"Our core philosophies are in line with what they are trying to promote, as
far as imagination and quality and fun, and they let us make the movie we wanted
to make," says Miller of the LEGO contingent. "We all had the same goal: to make
this movie the best it could possibly be. They've been very supportive."
The toymakers' input was especially invaluable for action sequences that
required breaking down existing props and structures and re-assembling their
parts into new objects, like a building remodeled as a truck, or a truck
becoming a plane. CG Supervisor Aidan Sarsfield at Animal Logic explains, "In
the story, a big part of the Master Builders' arsenal is that they can build
something out of anything. The elements of an alleyway can be turned into a
getaway car, and that posed some interesting challenges for the rigging guys and
the designers who built the assets, the individual pieces and props. They had to
think of how to build a car out of pieces that could also be used to form an
"They produced something like 24 different models based on our idea for a
scene where coffee shops, cars, dump trucks and ice cream trucks on a city
street are repurposed into incredible flying machines that could be used in a
dogfight," offers Lord, as one example. "It was both a focused and an open-ended
idea, and the LEGO designers came back with some fantastic things.
"Work like this requires the intelligence of so many different people," he
concludes, "and it reflects what the movie is about, in fostering the kind of
environment where creativity can flourish."
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