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The LEGO Animation Book review & thoughts

An increasingly popular side-branch of the LEGO hobby is creating LEGO stop-motion videos, also referred to as brickfilms. While a number of online blog posts and video tutorials are available on brickfilming, there has been a real need for a comprehensive and easily understandable guide to help people get started. Long-time brickfilmers David Pagano and David Picket set out to fulfill that need with their recently released book, titled; The LEGO Animation Book – Make Your Own LEGO Movies! I have been very eager to check out this book, so let’s take a closer look together. 🙂

The LEGO Animation Book is published by No Starch Press, the leading publisher of beautiful and high quality books by the LEGO fan community. The book is about 8 x 8 inches – the perfect size for a handy manual. The soft cover and the pages are all very high quality, with bold and brilliant color images, and nice big text. Flipping through the book the first time, you know it is going to be good.

The whole book is a bit over 200 pages, which is just the right length for a manual to give a good introduction to a topic, without being unnecessarily detailed. In other words; the book is meant to be practical. The authors write this in the introduction: “Our goal was to create a definitive reference for folks of all ages and skill levels, from the 8-year-old YouTuber to the 45-year-old AFOL (Adult-Fan-of-LEGO) and beyond. We’ve structured things so that you don’t need to read the book from cover to cover all at once – though we’d love it if you did. If you are brand-new to LEGO animation, start with Chapter 1, which introduces some key concepts to get your feet wet. If you’re already knee deep in the LEGO animation hobby, you might be looking to sharpen a specific skill. That’s cool. Feel free to skip around, skim, or read upside down. You won’t hurt our feelings. If at any point you feel compelled to stop reading and start animating, please do so. No amount of prose can take the place of practice. We’ll be here waiting when you need us again.”

In the next couple of pages, the authors introduce themselves. David Pagano is a LEGO animator and writer and the founder of Paganomation, a NY-based production studio. His work has appeared everywhere from BrickJournal to the Wall Street Journal. David Pickett is the LEGO filmmaker behind BRICK 101 and Nightly News at Nine. Together, they run the LEGO animation blog The Set Bump. In the video below, David Pickett talks a bit more about the book.

After the brief introduction, there is another page introducing LEGO animation as a medium for making stories, music videos, advertisements, tutorials and more. The book also makes it clear that computer-generated animation of LEGO bricks and characters, as well as live-action footage of LEGO models being manipulated by a human are not covered. What is covered, however, is all aspects of stop-motion animated films created with LEGO bricks and minifigures using techniques that are almost as old as motion pictures themselves.

The book is divided into nine chapters. Chapter One covers the basics for setting up a simple brickfilming studio with whatever you already have, tips for your first animation, and watching your animation. In other words, the very first chapter covers everything a beginner needs to know for making their first brickfilm. All later chapters dive deeper into a specific aspect of brickfilming, so you can perfect your skills. The chapters also include lessons and exercises to practice what you just learned. Chapter Two covers animating minifigures, Chapter Three goes deeper into animation principles, Chapter Four is about building scenes for your brickfilms, and Chapter Five addresses working in different scales.

Chapter Six covers tools of the trade like cameras, tripods, lights, microphones, computers, and stop-motion animation software available for mobile devices and desktops. While you don’t need many of these when you are just starting out, if you later choose to upgrade your equipment, this chapter can be very helpful to choose the right tools.

Chapter Seven is very interesting, as it goes deeper into the creative process of making a brickfilm, including writing a script, storyboarding, animatics, and organizing your work with spreadsheets.

Chapter eight helps you fine-tune your cinematography and production skills with covering topics like aspect-ratio, frame-rate, shot types, movement and composition, light effects, focusing, exposure and more. And finally, Chapter Nine covers post-production activities, like recording and adding music and sound, editing your brickfilm, adding digital effects, adding titles and credits, and whatever else is needed to tidy up your film.

While that’s a lot to cover, each lesson is only a page or two long and are accompanied by very helpful pictures to remain easily digestible and practical. As mentioned at the beginning, you don’t have to read the whole book to start. You only need to read the first chapter to make your own very first brickfilm, and then just dip in for more detailed lessons, whenever you feel like you wan to learn more about a particular aspect. And because of how the book is organized, it definitely fulfills the goal to be an excellent resource for both beginner and experienced brickfilmers.

The book also refers to a short companion film titled The Magic Picnic, which showcases all of the animation concepts discussed in the book. You might want to watch the film before reading the book just to enjoy the story, and to see what’s possible with LEGO animation. Later, you can come back to the movie with newfound knowledge and understanding, and see how the approaches discussed in the book look on screen. Watch the film below.

Here is the official description of The LEGO Animation Book: Have you ever wondered what your LEGO creations would look like on the big screen? The LEGO Animation Book will show you how to bring your models to life with stop-motion animation – no experience required! Follow step-by-step instructions to make your first animation, and then explore the entire filmmaking process, from storyboards to post-production. Along the way, you’ll learn how to: create special effects like explosions and flying minifigures, convey action and emotion with your minifigure actors, design sets for animation (including making three buildings look like an entire city), light, frame, and capture consistent photos, add detail and scope to your films by building in different scales, build camera dollies and rigs out of LEGO bricks, choose cameras, software, and other essential animation tools. Expert brickfilmers David Pagano an dDavid Pickett share their insight from over twenty years behind the camera, and introduce readers to the basics of animation before walking them through the creative process step-by-step. 216 pages. Recommended for ages 8+. Regular price: $19.95 – BUY ON AMAZON

If you ever had the desire to make a LEGO brickfilm – be that something simple like a LEGO-themed animated birthday wish, or something big and ambitious in the style of The LEGO MovieThe LEGO Animation Book has you covered. It is beautiful, fun, and full of practical instructions and lessons on making your very first LEGO stop-motion animation, and also helps you to improve and refine your skills if you choose to go deeper into brickfilming. I would highly recommend it.

What do you think? Have you tried making your own brickfilms before? Or do you think about giving it a try? Feel free to share in the comment section below! Also, if you have The LEGO Animation Book already, and would like to share your own review, feel free to include that as well. 😉

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{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Legostuff71 April 26, 2017, 12:09 PM

    Very detailed and very step by step layout. As so, not to be to overwhelming. It does take time and patients ( a lot of patients) .

    • admin April 26, 2017, 5:41 PM

      Yeah, patience is the key with stop-motion animation. So much work goes into a video that is only a couple of minutes long. Something like a 10-minute video can easily take a month to put together.

  • Håkan April 26, 2017, 3:58 PM

    Would you know how much of the book is specifically about brickfilm techniques, and how much about stop-motion and camera techniques in general?

    • admin April 26, 2017, 5:43 PM

      I won’t be home until the end of the week, so I can’t check this for you right now. Maybe someone else who also has to book can answer this for you? Legostuff71, are you around?

    • BLProductions April 27, 2017, 5:39 PM

      Everything in the book is oriented towards brickfilms and animating with LEGO, but really the only chapters that apply to just brickfilms are Chapters 2, 4, and 5, since they deal exclusively with minifigs, LEGO building, and LEGO scales. The other chapters (1, 3, 6-9) are general enough to be applied elsewhere. Chapter 8 discusses general camera techniques in some detail, and Chapter 3 is about “animation principles,” i.e., techniques for realistic-looking stop-motion. Hopefully that answers your question.

      • admin April 27, 2017, 7:26 PM

        Perfect! Thanks for helping out! 🙂

  • Legostuff71 April 26, 2017, 5:32 PM

    I just got the book a few days ago and I just read a couple of the pages. As a beginner in the LEGO animation universe, it looks like it covers most if not all of the various stages a person needs to do whatever style they want to do.

  • Humdrum April 27, 2017, 6:29 AM

    I have this book and I recommend it for the following reasons:
    – it covers all levels, beginner to seasoned. Webcam to DSLR so to speak.
    – lots of information and tutorials you’d normally need to dig from YouTube are condensed into this book.
    – it’s very complete and well structured
    – there’s info on other scales than the minifig scale

    Icing on the cake are the included building plans for that Pagano puppet you see on the cover of the book (behind the minifigs), it offers a way of animating I had never considered before.

    As with all Lego ideas/photography/… books I have a preference for the paper version, but I’m certain the eBook will also suit your needs.

    • admin April 27, 2017, 7:22 PM

      Thanks or sharing that. Very helpful.

  • BLProductions April 27, 2017, 5:51 PM

    I got this book for Christmas, and in four months have barely glanced through it. But yesterday I took a more thorough glance through it, and there is so much information. Some of it I know already (specifically the camera stuff), but I will definitely be using this when I make my next brickfilm, whenever that will be. I haven’t had a lot of spare time so far this year (I haven’t even finished my entry for the Modular contest), but hopefully I’ll get some time this summer.
    Speaking of getting things, my brother got the UCS TIE Fighter (75095) for his birthday last weekend. It’s massive! I kinda wanted that set though…. 😕
    Also: https://brickset.com/article/27740/creator-expert-carousel-revealed! It looks great, the functions appear to work well, and the animals are an interesting attempt, though a few look a little weird. It does have lots of those new adjacent SNOT Bricks, I believe in Medium Blue. 🙂

    • admin April 27, 2017, 7:23 PM

      I just watched the carousel designer video. Looks pretty neat! We can talk about it in more detail when I get back. 🙂

  • DavidH April 30, 2017, 11:39 PM

    I might have to check this out. It sounds like an interesting extension of the hobby, although I don’t know if I would have the patience.

    • admin April 30, 2017, 11:55 PM

      Yeah, brickfilming required a lot of patience. However you can manage the length and make the story tight, and thus reduce the production time. Some of my favorite brickfilms are only a few minutes long. They may still take a day or two to make, but the point is that short brickfilms can be just as enjoyable as long ones. It’s all about the storytelling. 🙂

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