Over 530 crew from Animal Logic brought with them a wealth of LEGO experience, an impressive set of tech and tools, and a childlike curiosity to create the most colourful, sing-along LEGO movie ever!
The heroes of Bricksburg are back for an action-packed adventure to save their beloved city, which has been aptly renamed Apocalypseburg. It’s been five years since everything was awesome. Now everything is bleak. The threat of LEGO DUPLO invaders from outer space weighs heavy on the hearts of the citizens of Apocalypseburg but hope is not lost, only misplaced (last seen under the washing machine).
With the story switching between the imagination of Finn and his younger sister Bianca, audiences travel from battleships crewed by raptors, to the wedding of a shape shifting queen with a heart made of gold (and glitter). Featuring an all-star cast including Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish and Stephanie Beatriz, our favourite plastic crew set out on a journey of self-discovery to learn a powerful lesson – how to play together.
Animal Logic’s Vancouver studio opened its doors in late 2015 to start production on The LEGO Movie 2. Three years and 3,057 pounds of espresso beans later, the film was delivered with support from Animal Logic’s Sydney studio and premiered on 2 February 2019 in Los Angeles.
Much of the story is told by Bianca who uses arts and crafts to build the various worlds she plays in. This new perspective saw the Animal Logic team having to merge the LEGO world with a very messy, tactile, crafty world. The Systar System was Bianca’s creation, a handmade world with lots and lots of glitter. “The Spa has strips of holographic glitter in the walls and along the ground which gave the sets not only a crafty feel but also a 3D illusion,” explains Art Director, Kristen Anderson. “We wanted to extend that feeling to the characters too, so we added glitter to Sweet Mayhem’s wings and Balthazar’s cape. I think there’s stats somewhere of how many individual pieces of glitter were hand placed on the character’s costumes!” She was right, we counted them – Balthazar’s cape: 3,993 pieces and Sweet Mayhem’s wings: 835 pieces.
Incorporating mixed media into the film took a number of departments and teams to execute, including CG Supervisors Emmanuel Blasset and John Rix. Introducing glitter into the sets and characters required a lot of testing to achieve the final look. “In the real world, individual glitter pieces are tiny but in the macro LEGO world, with every detail visible on a theatre screen, we had to work hard on the look of glitter, how it responded to the light and how they work in a complex environment,” explains Blasset. “We wanted glitter to be distributed on the surface, as if it was sprinkled there by Bianca.”
This tactile, playful approach extended to other sets, including the seemingly perfect Harmony Town. Designed to represent Bianca’s ideal world, Harmony Town pays homage to the classic LEGO town, complete with a 2D cut out of the sun and the moon.
Weave, Animal Logic’s proprietary tool, was extended for this film to cater for the extensive use of fabric. Fabric was used to represent water, adding another layer to the handmade, arty feel. In fact, the largest piece of fabric featured in the movie was the water when Sweet Mayhem’s Formidaball Starship arrives at the Queen’s palace – 39 feet of fabric!
Production Designer, Patrick Hanenberger, used the film’s colour script to highlight Emmet’s journey. “If you split the colour wheel into two equal halves, you get cool colours (green, blue, cyan) and warm colours (orange, yellow, purple),” explains Hanenberger. “These two halves represent the inner conflict of Emmet (as he is played with by the brother vs. the sister). The production design of the film uses this philosophy to visually underline the relationship of Finn with his sister Bianca. You can see this approach to the design visualised very clearly at the end of the pyramid ceremony, where the world is warm and glowing before Emmet’s punch and turns cool and stark right after the punch.”
Apocalypseburg had been gathering dust for 5 years and the crew at Animal Logic needed to make it feel weathered and neglected. Artists used proprietary software, Spawn on Set, to create a realistic wasteland. “We extended our procedural instancer technology to allow us to sprinkle individual grains of sand, dust and dirt across the sets and characters. We used algorithms to allow dust particles to bunch up more when it got to corners and sparse in open area,” said Blasset. (We counted the sand – 49,496,833 grains in Apocalypseburg!)
The most exciting and challenging character was Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi, who changed into 40 unique shapes throughout the film. This complexity meant that the rigging teams had to develop a new approach to existing tech to make it easier for the animators to play with different shapes when animating her. Designing The Queen’s rig took about a year and a half explains Rigging Supervisor Hans Heymans. “If you look at any rig from previous LEGO movies, though they are complex, they always follow a certain standard whereas The Queen is more organic. She is essentially a heap of bricks. How do you rig that?”
The Queen constantly changed shape from frame to frame, which meant that every time she was animated it was almost like building a new character. “We provided the animation teams with the rigs, the face, her shape and a library that was all the bricks they needed to make her. They established 200 bricks, essentially a brick bucket, that they wanted and then we made it possible to swap out different bricks interactively,” said Heymans. The software needed to handle these transformations more efficiently so the rigging team adapted a particle rig that was used in LEGO Ninjago, which sped up the process and made it more manageable.
Animation Supervisor, Dave Burgess described how particular shapes were chosen for The Queen; “Generally, the story artists and the directors would have specific shapes in mind, and Art would create several versions for the directors to choose from. Once the choice was made, we would add the shape to our animation library and animate in/out of the shapes. There were times where the animators would come up with their own ideas such as the flashing sign or the ‘dancer’ shape.”
During the live action sequences in the film, the animation teams embraced the ‘toy’ and ‘minifig’ aspects to find their own style of movement. “On set, the director taped an Emmet minifig to a stick and moved the toy through the shot as reference,” describes Burgess. “We ended up using some of that footage after removing the stick. We wanted it to still feel like it was a hand held LEGO toy so we put the action on 1s (usually we animate the characters on 2s to help with the handmade stop motion feel) and added lots of random noise so it felt ‘live actiony’.”
FX Supervisor Mark Theriault ensured that “every effect was physically possible – we proved it in the real world first.” When the idea came about for Sweet Mayhem’s ship to form from a bunch of floating bricks, Mark wanted to create it in real life, so he bought a fish tank and started playing around. Through a series of tests, he realised that “if you lace fishing line through the LEGO model and pull the fishing line, the pieces pop off.” So he laced up a brick built ship, “put it in a fish tank, filled it with water and pulled the fishing line.” He recorded the bricks all shooting off and floating around in the water and played it backwards. This helped inform how the ship should reform in CG. Try this at home kids!
The FX team approached explosions in a different way to the other LEGO Movies. “It was all real procedural replacement animation – every single one of those explosions is hand sculptured in LEGO Digital Designer (LDD),” said Theriault. “We built them in LDD and then we did replacement animation like you would in stop motion films.
“To do this we worked with the art department; they would sketch out shapes and then we would sit with the master builder and they’d build us guide shapes. And then I’d build them in different scales, for fire, smoke, sand – instead of doing simulation, it’s all hand built,” said Theriault.
With colour grading being one of the final stages the film goes through before it’s delivered, Senior Colourist Keiran Lee and his team are used to tight turn arounds during crunch time. But this didn’t stop them from ensuring everything on the film looked as good as it possibly could.
“The DI teams main focus on LEGO2 was making sure the nuanced performance of each of our characters was clear to the audience,” said Lee. “We also needed to highlight the subtle jokes and Easter Eggs, whilst pushing some of the more dramatic scenes by playing with the colour scheme.” DI was responsible for adding atmospheric elements like haze and blur, lens flares and sometimes even whole lighting setups during the grade to allow the directors to make last minute changes.
To create a complete mood change just before the wedding scene, when Batman and Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi exit together, the DI team tried something unique – they split the scene between them so there would be a huge contrast in look and feel. Keiran graded the first half, “adding and accentuating the soft pinks and purples of the room, borrowing some of the colours from Queen Waterva Wa-Nabi herself,” explains Lee. “Eric Whipp took on the second half of the scene including the Wildstyle / Sweet Mahem fight by adding bold blues, higher contrast and an almost monochromatic feel to really increase the tension of this climatic fight between two strong characters.”
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