The LEGO Movie breaks new ground

06 February, 2014 by Don Groves

How do you shoot characters based on 3 cm high LEGO bricks in a 3D animated adventure movie?


That was the challenge facing cinematographer and layout supervisor Pablo Plaisted and the creative team on The LEGO Movie.

The team led by writers-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) came up with some innovative solutions.

“The directors wanted the movie to look like stop-motion rather than CGI,” Plaisted tells IF on the line from the US where he is taking a break after attending the premiere in Los Angeles last Saturday.

“CG cameras can look rather smooth and weightless. We roughed the camera up to make it feel big and heavy and to emphasise the tiny LEGO figures.”

Plaisted grew up with LEGO and says he learned how to be creative playing LEGO as a kid with his mother. He spent two years on the film, working with a team of 250 people at Animal Logic. It was his first film as DoP, having worked as the lead pre-vis artist on George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and on Happy Feet Two and an animator on the first Happy Feet.

Combining the roles of DoP and layout supervisor was a natural fit, he says, observing, ”In layout we explored a lot of the composition of sequences with the directors.”

The movie follows Emmet, an ordinary, rules-following, average LEGO minifigure who is mistakenly identified as The Special, the most extraordinary person and the key to saving the world. He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which he is hopelessly underprepared.

Chris Pratt is the voice of Emmet. Will Ferrell is the voice of President Business, aka Lord Business, an uptight CEO who has a hard time balancing world domination with micro-managing his own life. Liam Neeson is the voice of Lord Business’s henchman, Bad Cop/Good Cop, who will stop at nothing to catch Emmet.

Voicing the members of Emmet’s rebel crew on the heroic mission are Morgan Freeman as the ancient mystic Vitruvius; Elizabeth Banks as tough-as-nails Wyldstyle, who mistakes Emmet for the saviour of the world and guides him on his quest; Will Arnett as the mysterious BatmanTM, a LEGO minifigure with whom Wyldstyle shares a history; Nick Offerman as the craggy, swaggering pirate Metal Beard, obsessed with revenge on Lord Business; Alison Brie as the sweet and loveable Unikitty and Charlie Day as Benny, an 1980-something Spaceman.

The Warner Bros./Village Roadshow Pictures film opens in the US on Friday and in Australia on April 3. US box-office pundits are predicting it will rack up $40 million-$50 million in the first weekend and could be the first film this year to reach $200 million in the US.

Ticketing agency Fandango says the film has sold more advance tickets among all animated films behind only Toy Story 3.

Plaisted worked for Dr D Studios, the joint venture between Kennedy Miller Mitchell and OmniLab Media Group.  He describes its closure in 2011 as “a real shame; it was a fun place to work.”

Here are some fun facts about The LEGO Movie:

The film took about 2.5 years to make at Animal Logic.
A team of 250 at Animal Logic worked  on the film
18,144 person days (51.5 years) to make the film (which doesn't include art department, production, supervision, editorial or DI)
24 is the number of times awesome is said in the movie
2008 unique LEGO brick types were used in the film
3,863,484: Total number of unique LEGO bricks seen in THE LEGO MOVIE.
5,088:  Total number of LEGO bricks to bring the film's 183 unique characters to life.
1,908 unique set pieces where the adventure unfolds.