Brix of the Dead

Brix of the Dead was a final project in my first year studying Virtual Reality Design with Animation at the University of Huddersfield. I worked with two colleagues; Jonny Marshall, and Jason Donald. We chose to make a hand crafted stop-motion Lego zombie short film. We shared all the tasks involved so that each team member did bit of everything. Specialized skills were discovered and shared throughout the project; I was most experienced using video editing software; Jonny was the best with walk cycles, and Jason’s had experience with set construction.


1. Synopsis

The film tells a short story of four main characters who are trying to escape from their hometown, Sparta, from a zombie outbreak bringing the dead back to life. At the start of the film they have a car crash after swerving to avoid hitting what turns out to be a zombie, and from there they attempt to find refuge in the near by town meeting people along the way they eventually end up trapped inside a cinema where they meet their brisk and fatal end.

Brix of the Dead

2. Script

We started by writing a draft script for the story-line and created a few mock scenes with character positioning and some 3D renders to get an idea of camera angles and overall design scope. Our intention was to make all the sets ourselves out of a variety of cheap materials decorated to look ascetically pleasing. This allowed us to get very creative with crafting set pieces out of all kinds of ordinary household items.

3. Crafting the Sets

Each scene has a floor base consisting of 3 x 2 meter piece of card which was entirely painted. We built the graveyard scene first, we used packing peanuts for a stone wall which we painted grey and covered with glue. Trees around the perimeter were made from sticks glued to sponge bases painted green to blend in. I created the church by designing my own template in Photoshop using photos I had taken of a local church. I then printed this out and stuck it to card to make the 3D building.

Here is another example of a building that I made. I started the design in 3D Studio Max to make a virtual representation of what I wanted to make I then created the texture for the house using Photoshop and converted it into a printable template that I printed onto card, folded and glued together.

My colleague Jonny made this car design to populate the streets throughout the production. He used tooth picks painted black as wheel axles and structural support. As a team we made over 50 miscellaneous items that were populated throughout the sets, unfortunately we ran out of time in the recording sessions due to unforeseeable challenges during production and most of the planned footage wasn’t captured actually on film.

4. Scene Setup and Animation

For shooting the still images for stop motion we used two cameras; the Fujifilm E900 and the Fujifilm S5600 SLR. These were the best cameras that we had access to at the time. We experimented with different lenses and swapped out each camera depending on the shot that was needed.

As soon as we had finished constructing a few buildings we decided to test out a sample scene get an idea of how the scenes would look in the full production. We painted some of the Lego men that we had to make them look zombified, set up a still scene and took a few photos as seen here.

The three of us working on this project took it in turns to create our own walk cycles using the Lego figures. I lost my footage but I remember it making us laugh as my first attempt looked like the figure was walking backwards whilst moving forwards; it was humorously confusing.

The test videos here were made by my colleague Jonny.

5. University Project Submission

The video featured here was our final submission for this project at my University. Unfortunately we weren’t conservative with our timing estimates during production and lost time constructing the sets and dealing with camera and actor issues which weren’t able to make up during the filming process. The video editing was rushed and I felt disappointed and the result after all of our hard work – so I decided to spend the following summer re-editing the footage. As we didn’t have time to record any dialogue in the original production I worked with my brother to write a new script and we decided that it would be most appropriate to transform the film with a classical black and white effect along with a piano accompaniment.

6. Re-edit; Black and White Film

I wrote a new script with the help from my brother, I re-searched some techniques for creating a vintage classical style film. My father had an old 8mm project in the attic which I set up and recorded 20 seconds or so of blank footage in order to capture the film grain/scratches and vignette effect. I overlayed this video footage over the original images and applied a slight sepia tone to the film. I created framed captions for all of the dialogue in a similar design with old silent films.

7. Credits

I also added a credits sequence to the end of the new edit of the film. For this I followed a tutorial created by Andrew Kramer using Adobe After Effects. I was very happy with the results, and while they don’t fit with the classical black and white movie effect, I think it still works well with the Zombie theme of the film.

8. Brix of the Dead