Brick by Brick

Five years ago, we were introduced to a cast of endearing characters in the charming stop-motion-stylized The LEGO Movie. Now, the story takes us beyond Finn’s imagination into his sister’s realm. Co-Director Trisha Gum, whose background is in stop-motion, shares her perspective on the new film, The LEGO Movie 2.

All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
How did you approach the sequel?

We wanted to have the spirit, heart, humor and aesthetic style that the audience loved in the first The LEGO Movie, but we had a big mission ahead of us to make the film feel fresh and exciting. It was really important to Chris Miller and Phil Lord to make it look and feel like it was actually photographed [but] how can we make it even more charming and tactile? We started exploring [Finn’s sister] and her interests: she’s crafty and she loves space and science. So that really helped give us the look and feel. There’s a lot more mixed media, textures, and animation. We’re using fabrics and paper, crayons and different things like that.

Were you pulling different examples of textures as inspiration?

It was a lot of R&D with our team. They were tasked to push the boundaries and so there’s a lot of effects photography—how does fabric move when an animator touches it? What does it do frame by frame? How does glitter move and what does it look like when it’s actually animated?

You come from a stop motion background. How did you apply your experience?

I would try to approach everything [the same way] I would shoot it in stop motion. We play with a lot of different animation styles…like doing replacement effects. They are still computer generated but we make it feel like what you would have a [stop motion] animator do.

Unikitty (Alison Brie), Metalbeard (Nick Offerman), General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), Batman (Will Arnett), Benny (Charlie Day) and Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks).
Can you give me a more concrete example of how this was applied?

We’re using fabric for a lot of our water work. Sometimes it would look like it was on a cycle…too fluid. It looks too much like real water rather than somebody taking fabric and playing with it as though it’s water. So we’d really analyze it— if an animator were to touch this fabric and make it feel like running water those folds in the fabric feel different than it being on a computer-generated cycle—not as predictable, not as smooth.

Is there something you are particularly proud of?

It was so fun to go into space…but we were breaking new ground with a lot of this stuff. It’s a new world from a little girl’s perspective yet it doesn’t feel completely gender stereotypical. She’s a very multi-faceted character and you can really feel that in the world.

What was one of the biggest challenges?

One of our main characters is what we call a brick-built character rather than a Minifigure [molded plastic], and has different pieces but we really lean into the constraints of what those characters can do which makes really charming animation. But we had a character that was super complicated because she was completely built of bricks and she’s shape shifting. Everybody came together as a team to figure out how she could move and function in that world.

Emmet (Chris Pratt)
Are you constantly playing with LEGOs?

LEGOs are all over the building. They’re in the editing bay, in the writers’ room, and the animation table. We’ve got a few dance sequences [with] all different kinds of characters—Minifigures, the brick-built characters, then they have Mini-dolls, which are the Friends line, and they move differently too. They look a little bit more like a Minifigure but their legs don’t separate so they can’t do kicks and their wrists don’t rotate. We had choreographers come in and play with Minifigures versus Mini-dolls versus brick-built characters. How do you lean into that limitation and make it funny and charming rather than going, “Oh that doesn’t feel like a real dance because they’re not kicking their legs?”

So every LEGO item in the movie can actually be built?

Everything that you see in the movie, with the exception of the new mediums we’ve introduced in the little girl’s room, is all built out of LEGOs and it’s really physically built out in the computer. So every brick you see is an actual legal brick. Our asset teams actually build with those things so you can look at any set and go that’s LEGO number 55912. We never break [the pieces] or alter them.