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Plastic Actors - How I Learned Filmmaking through Lego (and Jungle Book)

It all started with the Jungle Book. Growing up, I’ve always had an obsession with everything related to filmmaking. I love watching movies, reenacting movies, and eventually making movies. By a very young age, I had seen many of my favorite films countless times. I could quote full scenes line for line at the pace of whatever Olympic equivalent there is (mathlete?) When I sat down to trace where this obsession started, my mind went back further than I could remember. Right back to Jungle Book. Jungle Book might or might not have been the first movie I saw, but it was definitely the first movie I watched on repeat. And I watched it a lot. There’s an argument to be made that that movie was my first babysitter and my first teacher. I got a taste of everything I’d one day obsess over with film. Animation? Check. Acting? Check. Soundtracks? Check. These were all aspects of a growing love of movies, which I wouldn’t fully explore until my early teenage years. By the age of 15, I knew I wanted to make movies. I continually saw movies in everything. What’s the soundtrack to me walking to school? What angle would you shoot this scene of my friends and me? Strange questions I would ask myself daily. I knew I wanted to create things, but the kind of things I wanted to create was a little out of my wheelhouse. I was at the age where big-budget action films were both all the rage and on the brain. I wanted to make a movie with big explosions and people jumping out of airplanes. The action movie craze was in full swing, and I was all for it. The only problem was I was still 15. I had very little money and absolutely no access to explosions (or any kind of practical effects). Something I had in abundance growing up (as well as a love of the tv) was toys. I was a big toy collector. This isn’t a big shock, what kid didn’t love playing with toys, but chiefly above all, I loved Lego. Whereas most kids LIKED toys, I was OBSESSED with Lego. I had more Lego than I possibly needed as a child, and I still wanted more (I might’ve been a little spoiled there). I loved Lego because of the freedom it granted you. It wasn’t like GI Joe or a barbie doll, where what you saw was what you got. If you didn’t like it? Tear it down and rebuild it. Lego gave you the means to create whatever worlds you wanted. So through much of my early childhood creative projects, Lego was there. At age 11, I would set up scenes and take photos, wherein Lego people were my models. Then by age 14, I had turned that hobby into a functioned social media page. The premise was simple, I would take my little Lego people out into the real world and photograph them doing seemingly mundane things, but human things. A chance to explore my hometown (eventually the world) in both a smaller and more public lens. So that brings me back to movies. I loved the Lego account, but it was only taking pictures. You can tell a lot with one photo, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to make movies remember?

This is where I found Stop Motion.

As a basic explanation, stop motion filmmaking is the process of taking a photo of an object — moving the object slightly — taking another photo — moving the object again — then repeating the process a million times. When it’s completed, playing all the images in succession at a quick enough speed should make it seem like the objects are moving on their own. In cinema, this is mostly done with clay. But there’s a broad community out there that uses Lego. Stop motion is something I had dabbled with as a kid, but now I was diving in headfirst.

My first few animations were not good. I lacked much of the patience required for this style of filmmaking. Back then, I knew what I wanted to make, and I wanted it. I just struggled to get from A to B. Nevertheless; I thoroughly enjoyed the world I was in. Lego was such a great tool, and the possibilities were endless. Unlike real actors and a real crew who all had lives to get on to and schedules to keep up with, Lego was entirely mine. I could work on projects late into the night or whenever I came up with a new idea. I was able to use this micro-world to bring macro emotions and feelings to life.

Like most skills, I got better with time and practice. But with this upgraded skillset came an upgraded mindset. My ideas were getting larger. I was starting to want to create things that really couldn’t be done with Lego. Hollywood stuff. At this point, I was mostly creating for my friends and family and modest online following, but I was loving every minute of it.

And then, one day, I got a break; I was invited to create a movie at the 2016 Pausefest Conference. This was a big deal. The simple premise was, I would sit in a corner booth of the conference for five days straight, creating a stop motion film. As part of this film, I had to use elements and effects from open source websites like Envato. Thanks, Envato, for creating such an excellent marketplace for creatives!

I was excited to have a broader audience for my filmmaking and the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded people. I collaborated with others to add visual effects, sound effects, and a soundtrack to bring this story to life. This experience allowed me to see an idea flourish, from start to finish, and have an immediate audience there ready to view it. To give me feedback. This was the final hook I needed to know that this was what I wanted to do for my career.

I’d love you to view my film here. Its almost five years old but I think it's important to look back. Let me know what you think and what you’d like to see more of.

“The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

– The Law of the Jungle (Jungle Book)

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