The Making of 'Drift'
(This is a guest post by JO Co!)
Discuss the film on the forums here: https://bricksinmotion.com/forums/topic/27882/Drift-(Holly-Jolly-Brickmas-2020)/
This video was made for the 2020 Christmas Collab and I came up with the premise on the spur of the moment when presented with a question on what I'd be making on the sign up form. I knew I'd only have a few days back with Lego before the deadline so had to keep the scope in check. This was also my first test run using Dragonframe and it'll be a while before I figure out the best workflow.
First up was set building, assisted by O. I cheated and looked up example rocking chairs, then, realising I had insufficient parts, cheated further and used bluetack to hold the thing together. It does the job though, just don't look at the missing arm...
We had to take the 'only show what's on camera' approach to the full scale hut, due to its size. The roof barely sat on and to be honest, the whole thing was incredibly unstable- but it was sufficient for a couple of quick shots. The door doesn't actually open, but it didn't ever need to. The curse of the brittle brown bricks struck hard on this set, and it might well be time to bricklink a fresh supply.
The snow effect was achieved by sprinkling copious amounts of flour over a white sheet using a sieve.
Knowing the pain of cleaning flour off Lego from 'Mount Hostility' earlier in the year, I opted to animate the interior scene first where they're out of the cold. I considered different ways of achieving orange firelight but ended up just relying on the trans orange of the fire pieces to give the effect. The blanket was a last minute choice, but I think it really brings the shot together. One of the last things I did in the edit was mask out his smile as the original really didn't carry the right emotion. The result is kinda rough, but it's an improvement overall. I recorded a full chair rock at the end so I could loop it to perfect the timing in the edit.
Showing no heed for chronology, the second shot I filmed was of them approaching the house. Despite knowing I'd put it in grayscale, I spent ages working out the orange light. In the end I stuffed a plastic bag behind the house and lit it with an LED torch. I jiggled the torch around to give the illusion of a flickering fire, admittedly to mixed results. In the end I had to mask out a few frames to fix it looking too excessive. Unfortunately, the lithium ion battery was a bit past it and I couldn't hide a cable from the torch to a charger, so I had to take a few breaks mid shot to recharge. I took advantage of the man's feet being off camera and animated the walk mostly by sliding him along. I'm not entirely happy with how jerky the walking down turned out. As I started on ground level, I had to swap the legs out with a hinge and then just a blob of bluetack and it didn't quite work out.
This is where getting the lighting colour paid off. Admittedly I had to rearrange the bag mid shot, but hopefully no one noticed that. Initially I was stumped as to how I could do the camera move without messing up the footprints in the snow. It took me an embarrassingly long to realise that I could just film the shot in reverse so I could just move the camera forwards over the flour without concern. I took a load of frames at the beginning so I could loop for the credits and fade out.
I used Motion 5 to track on the smoke effect for both the hut exterior shots. This was quite the pain due to the camera movement and late night tiredness. The resulting effect is a little rough, but I'm happy with it given the time constraints.
My original notes for the opening shot were 'Far out camera, pulls in slowly as he stumbles on, trail of footprints visible behind'. Unsurprisingly, this was much more easily said than done. The set underwent many revisions as I played around with camera angles, and I ended up with the whole thing raised off the table by several more layers of books than necessary. In the end, I settled on just moving the webcam horizontally on a plank of wood and adjusting the hinge a little. For the last drop down, I transitioned to a bodged together Lego rig.
To make animating the minifigure easier, I hid a white baseplate under the section of snow he walked along. I tried to make his walk look slow and laboured, but it ended up a bit to frantic and fast in this shot.
I'd pondered over a few ways of selling the snowstorm, from applying it in post with 3D camera tracking, to rolling a load of small white bricks across the set. In the end, I just relied on the sound effects to save time.
The dodgy torch battery came back to haunt me once more as I crammed it in the mini-scale hut. I missed a few frames where it turned off, so if you look closely, you may spot a cheeky bit of masking in the final cut.
I may have cheated a little for this one. I filmed the first person camera by bobbing along a handheld phone and dunking it in the flour at the end. To puppeteer the arm, I blutacked it to a plate and wiggled that in front of the camera with my spare fingers. The shot took a few takes, but the final one worked out just as I'd hoped. To make things easier, I just added the blurred vision in the edit, alongside a faint bit of vignette.
Another deceptively awkward camera move. Originally I'd planned to have the camera slowly rise directly above the fallen minifigure and rotate slightly as the sad music kicked in. However, I could not work out a way to smoothly raise the camera vertically by such small increments. I found a small tripod with extendable legs, and tried to raise two of them, keeping the other fixed in place by a heavy book. Keeping the two legs at consistent height proved too much a faff, so in the end I just pulled back the third leg from full extension. It's not quite what I intended, but it did the job. The main visual I wanted in the shot was to have the shadow coming over the minifigure. I tried to keep the camera's shadow out of the shot, but failed to notice a faint one cast by the main room light. Ah well.
My final shot was the lift and carry off screen. There's not much to say about this other than the emphasis on making the fallen minifigure seem heavy to the old man. I'm really not very good at slow controlled movements and I'm honestly shocked it came out so well.
I knew from the start that this video would live or die on the music choice. It had to go from sad to uplifting, but remain nuanced and understated; a tall order indeed. Since drafting the concept I listened through all sorts of music to no avail until someone suggested Nordic folk music. I absolutely struck gold stumbling on Myrkur's rendition of Gammelkäring on the nyckelharpa (cool instrument btw). Somehow it managed to perfectly fit what I'd been looking for. I'll admit, I did have to slow it down to 81% speed to fit the animation, so any audiophiles out there, feel free to lampoon me.
I knew I wanted it to go grayscale for emphasis once the minifigure collapsed, and then fade back to colour in the hut. Straight black and white wasn't quite doing it, so I applied a slight blue tint and a bit of vignette. As far as sound design goes, I wanted minimal distractions from the music. After a bit of back and forth, I settled on the footstep sounds along with the wind for the outside. I actually recorded faint breathing sounds for the first person shot, although they're mixed quite low in the final edit. For the interior, I included the crackling fire, the creaking chair, and a faint rustle as the blanket is moved. I decided the usual intro drone would be a bit jarring, so just put the wind over it.
To discuss this article, visit the forums on Bricks in Motion: