Brick by brick

Since the early 1970s, fans of LEGO have been making stop motion ‘brickfilms’ of ever increasing complexity and skill. Prolific YouTube brickfilmer Michael Hickox talks about his craft

Image: Michael Hickox

Image: Michael Hickox

I made different types of videos when I was younger. Brickfilms allowed me to create videos by myself, and on a much smaller scale. Also, I found my brickfilms were much more popular on YouTube, so I decided to follow what my fans wanted.

Over the years I’ve become better, and started making more money… but I haven’t really increased production. As videos become more complex and of better quality, they become more difficult to create. So although a person becomes much faster and more skilled, that effort goes into quality over quantity.

I work quite well with myself.
I have animated with other people before, and it has positive aspects. If someone else is working nearby, that pressures you into working hard and not slacking off. When you’re alone, it’s much easier to get away with taking breaks and giving up easily.

I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid, and still am a fan today. My favourites were older cartoons like Tom and Jerry and Bugs and Daffy. These shows had dialogue, but the central story was based around the animation alone.

I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid, and still am a fan today

The amount of time put in to a video varies greatly. If a video is simple, I’d say the animation takes somewhere around 20 hours. As more characters are introduced, and more advanced animations come into play, it gets really slow. I’ve had single camera angles take close to four hours to complete. The beauty of stop motion, though, is that you don’t have to do all of the work in one sitting. Although it’s a lot of time and effort, I suppose it’s a good thing that a seasoned animator like myself still isn’t fully aware of the time input. Everyone asks this question, but I still don’t have a solid answer.

The single biggest challenge with animation is dealing with failures. If you bump your camera, or a structure falls apart… you’ve got to start all over. To this day, I still get furious when I mess up, and lose my last hour or so of work. You start to get used to it happening, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

Over time, I’ve learned to have a different mindset when animating. When starting a scene, you have to relax, take your time, and have the mentality that you’re there to complete your task and not just put in time. If you watch the clock and say “I’m only working until noon,” you’ll become aware of the time loss, and feel anxious when it’s time to quit but you’re still in the middle of a shoot.

My favourite video to date is Lego Pizza Delivery 5.
It’s part of a series that started as an inside joke, with everyone in town wanting to get a pizza. That video was a tremendous amount of work, and I’m very happy with how it all came together. I’m actually completing the 6th episode right now, so look for it later.

My advice to people starting out, is constant improvement.
When you make a video, pick one thing you didn’t like about it and aim to improve. For example, there was too much light flicker. Now when you make your next video, make this your primary focus. If you fix one thing at a time, you’ll start getting much better. Also, by working on one thing at a time, you can focus on finding the root cause of the issue. It’s just good problem solving. Lastly, I like to say that you need to animate for yourself, but allow others to enjoy your works. The fun comes from seeing your own ideas come to life, and if you’re animating for someone else… it becomes work and no longer play.

Interview by Jack Richardson

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