Marks Place

Extreme Delivery: A stop-motion film by Mark Butler


 Great film, Mark. The attention to detail was marvelous. The effects were jaw-dropping, and the story was immensely entertaining. The animation was very good most of the time, and all the audio was well done. Sets were great, in fact, I've never seen any sets capture the feeling of "big" like that. Some sets, like the hangar were just jaw dropping. The stormtroopers were quite funny, as was the ending, which was very good. I really can't find any flaws worth mentioning.
Great work.

             LoganArts (www.brickfilms.com)
Dangit! this is the best stop-motion ive ever seen! friggin awesome job. Ive made quite a few of these myself, and i know it takes a ton of effort to make 7 minutes of this stuff.
             Bryce (fxhome.com)

 

Download a short (1 minute) trailer

Trailer - High rez (640x480 3.4mb DIVX .avi file)

Download the full (7 minutes 34 second) Movie

Movie - low rez (320x240 8mb generic .avi file - use this if you don't know of what the other formats are)
Movie - High rez (640x480 20mb DIVX .avi file)

 

With this movie I set out to show that "lego movies" could still be fun and interesting to watch. I wanted something with a lot of action, dialog and fun and plenty of interesting sets to build and film against.

When I sat down to storyboard it - it started out fairly simple (I won't say what it was so I don't spoil the surprise of the movie). Basically a guy moving around a lot with some complex backgrounds.  It didn't take long to come up with the two stormtroopers and then their dialog just kept growing and growing until I think they took over the whole movie!

The movie as envisioned is 4 major parts (which grew to 5) and each part is supposed to have a "wow" scene in it. Each one was designed with a cool scene to stretch me as a set designer and filmmaker.

Part 1 - Credits and Escape

This one has a lot of blue screening work in it. I wanted the spaceships to look pretty real and to fly around in a realistic fashion. To that end I photographed the ships at high resolution and turned them at 5 degree increments


Here is a shot of my workbench, notice the fancy black background and the 5 degree reference sheet. I turned the ship and then photographed and turned and repeated until I had 360 degrees. Once that was complete I took each shot, rotated and cleaned it up.


Original shot

After cleanup

 

Next up was the credits. I wanted the credits to fly in from the side and wiggle a bit and then fly out. But my first version didn't do what I wanted. They just didn't look right. So I manually added them in using Photoshop to simulate the movement.

Once I had the spaceship flying sequences down it was time to move on to the animation stuff. In the first part there is only a little bit of animation in the bridge of the Imperial pursuit ship. It took me 2 hours but in the end I had 8 seconds of decent footage.

Interlude

I call them interludes, 4 scenes where the rebels are getting more and more anxious, waiting for the delivery. These are very complex shots with 4 different figures moving at different speeds and performing actions timed to the soundtrack. I decided to film in chunks, so each characters set of motions was filmed independently and then I manually pasted them all together via Photoshop in the right sequence to make each frame. While this worked quite well, it was pretty tedious, requiring considerable Photoshop work to create each and every frame. Below is a pic of the spreadsheet I used to keep track of each of the hundreds of frames needed to make the scenes.

Note that each guy is mapped out and the soundtrack (shot sound) is carefully set up so I know when to match each sound.

 the spreadsheet

 

Part 2 - Landing and Troopers

In part 2 our hero has escaped the ship chasing him and lands at the base where we meet the Stormtroopers who will be chasing him through the rest of the movie. I wanted the hanger to be big and impressive, I think I have succeeded for a Lego movie. Unfortunately my filming doesn't quite match my ideas. 


For the hanger scene I had decided to film as an actual movie rather than stop-motion so I could swoop the ship in realtime and then edit the frames later. In order to make it more real I decided not to do the landscape visible through the bay in post but to print out paper and film as-is. This really was a poor decision as noted below. I also wanted the ship to be actually in the model as opposed to putting it all together later as I wanted reflections and shadows to move correctly on the objects in the scene. 

What happened made it a lot tougher on me than it should have been. First of all, the shadows of my arm/body were visible on the paper, making it look kind of strange as shadows whip across the landscape. Second, the colored background combined with the blurryness of the ship (the focus was set to where it lands) and that parts of the ship were chrome and thus reflected my hand color - made it very difficult to erase the background and make the ship look like its flying. Below is a 200% blowup of the pic shown. 

As you can see especially around the engines its very difficult to edit out my hand leaving a fresh backdrop consistently without picking a different set of pixels for the next picture, and the next, etc. So all-in-all the scene is quite a bit less impressive than I had hoped it would be. I should have reshot it, but due to the complexity of the set I had torn half the house apart for lights and cables and chairs to sit things on, etc. So once I had my footage I took it all apart and then discovered I should have done it better. If I ever do one like this again, I would use a black background through the port and wrap my hand in black so it was easily erased.

Meeting the troopers was supposed to be a kind of comical scene, as we learn a bit about the nature of these goofballs. I discovered later that I wanted them to run out into the hanger to chase the hero, but by then I had dismantled the hanger and the ships in it. I ended up using Photoshop and scaling a frame from the hanger sequence up and darkening it a bit, it seems to have worked out.

Part 3 - Tube Chase

The "tube" is supposed to be a major scene. Essentially I wanted a chase sequence inside of a light-rail train type of thing. My inspiration for the look was the tunnel/tube in the movie "The Running Man" when Arnold is sent out into the "game grid" he flashes through a tube. The other inspiration was the older James Bond movies, they always had some kind of little people-mover thing that got them between sections of the evil guys master base. I wanted to break it into 2 main sections. The arrival of the hero at the station and the actual chase in the tube.

After some thought I decided to flesh out the arrival sequence to show the end of the tube and the train being "prepped" for its run. So I now needed two sequences, one for the hero and a close-up for the train in its "hanger". Building a hanger was easy, but I wanted to add some activity to the sequence, so I added in some big "grippers" that release the train. The problem I now had was that the train is supposed to glide out of its hanger and through the door. I could have blue screened the train into the scene but I wanted the shadows to move as the train did so I figured it was better to actually have the train in the scene. In the end I took a couple of coat-hangers and made a overhead rail that the train-support slid along, this was then matted out in the final scene. An overview of the hanger is shown below. You can see the rails, the train in the center hanging from them and even the "gripper" (black) in the lower left in its retracted position, I used guides to slide them back

 

Part 3 - Catwalk and Sewer

In part 3 our hero negotiates a scary catwalk and shows off how dumb the troopers are. 

The catwalk turned out to be a lot of work. I wanted both a top-down and a side view of the hero walking across the catwalk. The side view is relatively easy to do, but how to do the topdown? I tried laying the model on its side but it sagged and didn't look right.

As you can see from the photo, I brought in my ladder and mounted the camera directly above the catwalk. This allowed me to move the figure and film as I worked quite easily. Made for some fun times going around the ladder to get to the computer!

I used a black background because I thought it could be easily erased for matting in the cylindrical walls I wanted. I was thinking of white but the catwalk is white and I was afraid it would get lost in the background and be difficult to mask off. I had tried blue before but it tends to tint the fuzzy edges of objects and makes it difficult to work with. So I went with black. This turned out to be a tough choice as the fig has black hair and hands and so it was difficult to mask around it....ah well, the search for a better technique continues.

For the sewer sequence, I really wanted a downward pan, where the troopers are walking along and it goes down and shows the hero right under them. Unfortunately to do it right I needed to actually film the hero walking (i.e. frame be frame) while moving the camera downwards. I could not figure out a method of moving my little lego-framed camera 1/8" in a straight downward motion while keeping it absolutely perfectly non-moving in any other axis.

In the end, I cheated, using Photoshop to merge the two film clips together, the perspective is off and it looks wonky but it was the best I could do.

 

Part 4 - Lab and Shield and Delivery

I wanted the hero to walk past a cool looking lab. This gave me a chance to play with Legos (like I needed an excuse) as I wanted to make a real jaw-dropping lab. Then use a force field to escape from the troopers and finally...finally...finally...makes his delivery

I decided to wrap the lab walls in aluminum foil. I also wanted a really cool big spinning thing in the center, kind of like the Starship Enterprise Warp Core in some of the movies. After filming it though, the scene really needed some more excitement. That was how I came up with the spark towers..

Of course the spinning thing was added in later, but it turned out to be a real bear to do the zoom out and matte in the spinning thing, I had to individually scale it for each frame, ugh!

 

The shield scene was originally envisioned as being in a narrow corridor. After some initial filming I really felt I needed more excitement in the scene and wanted a chance to show how dumb the troopers are. The toll booth scene from Mel Brooks Blazing Saddles came to mind and I decided to merge that with some fondly remembered levels from Quake II and put in a set of boxes moving along. The troopers can easily step around the force field but decide its too much work.

The final delivery went through a lot of agonizing. In the original version The hero was supposed to deliver the pizzas but he would be 1 minute too late and Rebel Leader would refuse to pay because the company motto was "30 minutes or its free" -which was so goofy due to the flying and evading the delivery guy had to do. I just couldn't come up with a punchy ending though, it just kind of petered out. 

Next we tried a variation on, "I'm supposed to deliver a all-meat to some guy named D. Vader, do you know where he is?" but comments from the family were that it just didn't work.

Finally we settled on the "wrong order" scene, I'm still not really happy with it but at least it has a punchy ending, with the double whammy of finding out the true nature of the delivery and the realization that he must go back and do it all over again!

 

Bloopers

Early on I wanted to add in some bloopers after watching Jackie Chan movies and the bloopers at the end of "A Grand and Merry Race" movie by Doug James and Jared B. Gilbert. My original concept for the force field was to use a piece of Saran Wrap. So the first blooper I thought up was the trooper accidentally walking into (and through) it while everyone around him laughed.

 

In the end I was pretty happy with the whole thing. I hope you enjoy watching it.

Mark

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