Technology is very accessible these days and one of my boy’s favorite pastimes is doing Lego movies. After many experiments, I believe that I have found the simplest and most enjoyable way to make this happen – so here is my step by step guide.  What you need:

1. A digital camera.

2. A computer.

3. A tripod for the camera. You can buy these for as low as $15.

4. The more Lego – the better!

The steps:

1. Set up a small ‘stage’ for your shots. This can simply be a box or a table. Your call. Make sure you have a Lego baseplate(s) on which to build the scene. Set up some type of background (The kids can draw one or you can do what I do, just put up a big blank sheet of paper).

2. At this point, I leave the artistic component up to the kids. If they want to draw out a story – let them. If they want to go free style – let them. It is all about the fun of the process, not the rigor of the process. They will evolve the process over time.

3. Set up the tripod. Turn the flash off on the camera (if you leave it on, you get uneven lighting). Make sure there is enough light (you may need to shine a lamp onto the scene).

4. Start taking pictures. The process is simple, take a single picture for each movement. Move everyone/everything a little bit, take a picture. Move everyone, take a picture. This will take some time to get accustomed too. A few tips:

  • Less is more. If there are tons of things in the picture, it will be difficult to follow the story.
  • Remember, slow. They take a single picture for each movement. So, move everyone a little bit, take a picture. Move everyone, take a picture. After they have done a few they will understand exactly how this works. My sons have now evolved to where they will slowly remove body parts to show someone sinking into a lake. Their creative juices will start flowing.
  • Show people flying or vehicles in the air by using clear Lego below the figure or vehicle.
  • Remember, it will take a LOT of photos to make a short movie. A lot! At least 100 shots for a little over a minute.

 IMG_4059 IMG_4060 IMG_4061 

5. Once the pictures are taken, move to the PC. I initially started by using Pinnacle Studio (full blown movie making suite) but that is overkill and adds complexity that is not required. If they keep doing this and want to start doing complex movies, then migrate to that product. For me, Windows Movie Maker (free – good overview in the link) works amazing and is surprisingly robust with transitions, sounds, etc. The steps to video processing:

  • Load the pictures to the PC. I found it is best to import them into My Pictures first, then choose the Import>Pictures option in Movie Maker.

    Picture of the Collections pane

  • Simply drag each photo to the storyboard (viewed below). You will want to go into Tools>Options>Advanced and adjust the timing between pictures (This is the amount of time that each picture is shown in the movie). I found the best settings are around 3/4 of a second per picture. I set the picture duration to 0.5 seconds and the transition time to 0.25 seconds.

Picture of the storyboard view

  • Play around with transitions (great for going from scene to scene) and effects.
  • Switch to timeline view (below) and add in sound. Adding in sound is as simple as clicking Import, Audio or Music. What I have done is scour the web for cool sound clips that the boys can add (Try WavSource or Daily Wav or .WavCentral. So many out there!) Simply take the audio clip and drag it to a spot in the timeline and it becomes part of the movie. You can also use the narration feature (Options>Narrate timeline) to add voice.

Picture of the timeline view

  • At any point, you can review the ‘status’ of the movie by clicking on the play button in the right corner viewing pane.
  • If you want to get really fancy? Import the pictures into a picture program (As simple as Microsoft Paint (free)) and you can add in special effect (i.e. An orange ‘burst’ behind a space ship or a ‘laser cannon burst’ from a gun). They love that. Personally, I used PowerPoint and saved it as a JPEG. The reason? It is dead simple and PowerPoint 2007 has a boat load of shapes, fancy text options and a huge amount of clip art (HUGE if you use the ‘web’ collection – which is free to users). Much easier than a painting program as the majority of our editing is not actual picture editing – but adding cool effects like star bursts and the below (which is a PowerPoint shape where I re-colored it). Also – note the clear Lego below supporting the spaceship (We had some clear and some bluish. As you can see the pure clear ones are almost invisible).

2006 067

  • Last click on ‘titles and credits’ to add in a title page and of course, the all important ending credits! Make sure you get special mention in the credits as technical support (smile).

Now publish (Click on ‘Publish To’ on the left side). You can publish to a file (which I do) or to a DVD, etc. Simple and limitless.

There you have it. Truly one of the easiest and coolest things to do with your kids. If they like Lego and are creative, they should love it.

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