Date: 11 November 2013, 4-6pm
Venue: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Streatham Court, Lecture Room C.
Setting the scene: journalism, activism & ‘Primark on the rack’
Our audience: curious & expert students
& Carry Somers
Talking about our site with students at Bath Spa University this week, I wanted to show the most literal (and chilling) example of the ‘follow the things’ genre. It’s the only example we have come across which follows something as it’s being made, shipped, and used: telling the story of a thing’s life from the perspective of the thing itself, from its ‘point of view’, like a ‘shoot-em-up’ video game. It’s the ‘Life of a bullet’, the opening scene from the 2005 movie ‘Lord of War’.
Life of a bullet
Revisiting this opening scene, we made a new Lego re-creation today using the decommissioned AK47 bullet that we bought as a necklace from an E-Bay seller in Canada. We initially bought it to take the product photo on this example’s followthethings.com page, but it’s still sitting in our office, with our Lego, so…
Yes. A story appeared in Gizmodo today saying that, 55 years ago, Lego bricks were first patented. We are interested not only in their origins, but also in their powers…
For the most part, Lego is one of the great levelers in the toy world: kids love it, adults get excited about it, and you can build practically anything you like out of it. While most wholesome family fun turns out boring or desperate, Lego transcends age and gender and makes everyone want to play.
Here at followthethings.com, we use Lego for our own means,re-creating scenes from ‘follow the things’ examples showcased on our site, posting them on Flickr and hoping that they will generate interest in our site. See a sample from our Flickr set in the right hand column of our blog.
What the Gizmodo article includes is one of Lego’s earliest commercials, in German, illustrating its playful, leveling effects… Enjoy!
After the first talk about our Lego re-creations of scenes from followthethings.com pages (photographed and posted online in our Flickr set here) and after a discussion on Twitter about the beginnings of this genre of political re-creation in Lego (legofesto’s blog and Flickr sets Legoing scenes from the ‘War on Terror’ are extremely important here), we were asked yesterday what was the earliest Lego re-creation to be photographed/filmed for an online audience.
One suggestion was a scene in the 1979 Monty Python film ‘Life of Brian’. We investigated. It wasn’t the ‘Life of Brian’, but the 1975 film ‘Monty Python & the Holy Grail’. There wasn’t actually a Lego scene in the film. But one of its scenes was re-created in Lego by animation company ‘Spite your face’ for disc 2 of the film’s DVD released in 2001. This scene was posted on YouTube in May 2006 and has been watched almost 2.5 million times.
It’s worth watching this with the scene it re-creates. It’s also worth reading about how this came about and how Lego re-creations can be done well.
Tip: see if you can watch them both at the same time, synch them. The Lego re-creation is frame by frame and uses the original unedited soundtrack.
There’s a blog post explaining why and how this was made here, but let’s pick out some important points:
The origins of the idea
The deal with the Python film started when either Terry Gilliam or John Goldstone (not sure which) found this great Japanese website where the guy had made a bunch of LEGO models of scenes from Holy Grail. They saw that, and approached LEGO for the possibility of doing an animation in the same vein, for the Holy Grail DVD. At the time, Spite Your Face were already in negotiations with LEGO to do some other animations, and the project just fell into our hands. So basically, we scored the deal off the back of this Japanese guy’s hard work. …
Choosing a scene to re-create
The first stage in the process was deciding which scene from the film to recreate. There was a lot of discussion about it, but for us, the Camalot sequence was the only real option. The original film is very textural and visualy rich, but it’s also essentialy a series of sketches and talking heads, not at all suited to dynamic animation – and that visceral quality is almost impossible to translate using smooth plastic blocks. All the ‘action’ scenes in Holy Grail operate on two basic principles, (a) that fake limbs are funny and (b) so is copious amounts of gore. Again, not something that works in plastic, or that LEGO would particularly allow. The Camalot sequence on the other hand, is not only lively, but has a logical beginning and end point that makes it work as a self contained movie. …
Breaking it down
We began to break down the sequence, watching it over and over, and turning it into a storyboard. We found to our delight that much of the original sequence consists of repeated footage or a return to the same three or four shots. This helped us in terms of budget and schedule because it meant we could make similar use of loops and repetition, though I really shouldn’t be telling you this stuff. We also began to break down the geography of the location, so as to build an accurate set. The DVD has a featurette about the original locations, which when we eventualy saw it, verified most of our assumptions about the geography. We even used the same trick of redressing the same ‘alcove’ to be two different parts of the room (one with the minstrels, one with the choir singers). … Finally we constructed ‘likenesses’ of the characters using a mix of existing lego-men parts, and hand-printed labels based on the tunics in the movie. …
What Lego fans wanted to know
[We] get lots of mail from hard-core LEGO fans who want to know exactly which parts we used for the characters. We generally like to ignore those sort of questions, but some answers are provided in our on-site FAQ. [unfortunately this link is now dead].
So, what do we know of the Japanese Lego maker who re-created the scenes that inspired this DVD extra? That’s research for another day, but here’s what was said about his re-creations in a November 2000 ‘Web watch’ column in The Guardian (link)
A very special kind of inspiration must drive someone to recreate scenes from films or famous album covers out of Lego. Let’s just be thankful that those special people – in this case, some Japanese men – also put their creations on the web (seewww.geocities.co.jp/Hollywood/9060/english.html). Lego cinema scenes include The Matrix, Monty Python’s Holy Grail and the entire Star Wars trilogy, while album covers include The Prodigy, Nirvana, Korn and the Beatle’s Abbey Road.
If you know more than we do, please add a comment to this post…
[PS if you want to find out more about our Lego work, what we made, and what we learned from the process, see Tara Woodyer’s blog post about her visit to our LegoLab this summer]