PAIRD is a work in progress, feature length (90 minute) sci-fi action film made entirely in Lego stop-motion. Stop-motion is a filmmaking technique used to bring life to inanimate objects by taking a still picture, moving the subject, and then taking another picture. When played back in rapid succession this makes it appear as if the object is moving on it’s own. While using Lego can limit the range of emotional expression your characters have, the great thing about it is you can quickly create whatever sets you want, and you don’t need live action actors (or a huge amount of resources), which can be hard to find.
The film is set in the near future, and is about two men who wake up with no memory and find themselves in a world plagued with overpopulation and terrorized by machines created by the robotic research company known as PAIRD (Practical Artificial Intelligence Research and Development). While on the run from the corrupt police, who accuse the two men of being affiliated with the company, they are lead by a mysterious trail of notes that take them on a journey across the world.
I initially had the idea for the film sometime back in 7th grade (I’m currently in 10th grade). I had been a film enthusiast for a while before that, and had made roughly a dozen short stop-motion films, but nothing compared to the size of PAIRD. Initially planned as a 20-30 minute short film, I wrote down my ideas and began to form a script for the film (something I had neglected doing for quite some time). Being able to get the story out of my head and see it written in front of me was a huge help. After a few weeks of writing, I started shooting with my Sony Vixia camera. Doing stop-motion on the Vixia was slow, but in about a year I had already completed a good 20 minutes of the film. By this time the script had expanded by about 300 percent and I had decided to split it up into 10 parts to streamline releasing it.
It was around the time I started editing Part 3 that I contacted an online composer by the name of Christopher Keith (known online as Mozzaratti) who’s work I enjoyed and asked him if he would be open to doing a theme for my film. To my surprise, within a week he got back to me with an amazingly cinematic action song that I used in Part 3. It wasn’t until Part 4 came around that I realized how much the song added, so I was curious if Christopher would consider writing another one. Once again to my delight, he was very willing to do so. Now, five parts and over 30 minutes of music later, he is the film’s official composer, and provides the crucial emotional backbone for the whole thing.
By the time I had finished Part 5 and was starting work on Part 6, my brother Sam, who I had brought in to help me build sets (being an engineer, he has a touch of ingenuity and perfectionism that has made all the difference) was getting ready to leave for college. Before he left we built an even larger table that was optimized for holding lighting rigs and filming. As the time came to edit Part 6 the editing system I had been using, Final Cut Express, had broken down due to Apple discontinuing the product. This caused me to lose some post-production progress I had already made and the system that I used to edit all my videos on. Thankfully we were able to get a copy of Adobe Premiere (another high end editing system) before too much time passed. I managed to finish Part 6 pretty quickly once I got a handle on using Premiere, and then it was back to filming for Part 7.
By now the script was about 40 pages long, and the ending had been re-written countless times, but the one section of the story that experienced by far the most change in a short period of time was Part 7. Originally intended as nothing more than a few scenes of the main characters in a revolution-torn Tripoli on the way to an airport, the script expanded to almost 30 minutes of plot points and adventure scenes. There was also a big leap in video quality. I was able to purchase Dragonframe (a stop motion program that I highly recommend), which allows you to see your project played back in a variety of frame rates and toggle between old frame. This allowed me to increase the frame rate and the precision of my animation by letting me catch and fix mistakes in real time. One of the most important things that Dragonframe also let me do is use my Nikon D5100 for stop motion, which gave me incredible control over exposure, depth of field, and focus. In addition, Sam was able to create some amazing set pieces that worked well with the mood and setting. Finally, to top it off, Christopher made over 20 minutes of incredible music that perfectly communicated the themes of the story.
Despite being filmed over the school year, Part 7 was the peak of my productivity (27 minutes fully completed in under 6 months). Perfecting my workflow made a huge difference. I would make sure the scenes I was about to film had a script I was happy with (now I also do storyboards for upcoming scenes), and then do some drawings or a Minecraft model of the sets I had in mind to communicate my ideas to Sam. The summer before Sam left for college, we sorted all of our Lego bricks into bins, so set building was made much faster. We usually start by using a large grey 40×40 plate as a base and then plot the outline of the building/set. In most cases we only build the sets for the next scene, as once I finish filming with it, we break it down and use the pieces for the next set, but in Part 7, we built around 6 different buildings on separate base plates so that as I filmed, I could just rearrange the buildings to create every part of the city I needed to film.
I had also gotten the hang of the 8 frame walk cycle that I use now, which moves one foot from stationary to slightly forward, then the whole body balanced between two studs, then the starting foot to a stationary position with the other foot bent back a little (after this it resets on the opposite foot). Another trick I started doing in Part 7 was how to animate large crowds efficiently. I found that instead of moving every person in the crowd for each frame, I could get away with picking one or two people that would have consistent motion to serve as “focus points” (someone that stood out by waving a flag or moving a sign back and forth) that the audience’s attention would be drawn to while I simply nudged random people elsewhere in the crowd to keep the rest alive. Over the three years of working on this film I have learned invaluable lessons, had incredible experiences, and acquired many skills, but I’m convinced the best is yet to come.
You can watch all of PAIRD so far here.