“The Last Bit Lost” — A Stop Motion LEGO Short Film

This week, I spent a long time planning. I saw the “30 Second Documentary“, and decided to plan for a stop motion LEGO assignment. “The Last Bit Lost” is about the most tragic time in Donnie Rawlen’s life–when his family was killed in a train accident. In order to account for the requirement of incorporating another student’s character, I opted to blame the circumstance on Sebastian Crane–Donnie’s boss at The San Francisco Chronicle.  Had it not been for Crane’s insistence on Rawlen’s prompt return to San Francisco, Rawlen’s wife and child may still have been alive and well.

Check it out:

I spent a considerable amount of time building the set pieces for this, but spent even more time shooting.

Attempting to use three point lighting, I set up a lamp to the left of the first scene, a little lantern to the right, and a powerful flashlight just right of the camera. Speaking of cameras, I used my iPhone’s Otterbox belt clip attached to a LEGO Juniors box as a sort of tripod. I know it can kick out to be used as a stand, but the angle was too high, so it was losing too much of the base of the scene to be of use. I used that technique for the first two scenes, but opted to simply prop it on its side for a “ground level” shot for the final scene. Back to lighting, for the second scene I used the aforementioned lamp, propped on its side with the base resting on a chair back and the cylindrical shade resting on the table I had the LEGO set up, and the flashlight.  For the final scene I used only the lamp positioned behind the camera. Now that I’m attempting to describe my various setups, I wish I’d taken a few pictures of those, but I took approximately 250 stills for this project, so I wasn’t really in the mood to take many more, frankly.

In terms of LEGO building, I recently visited the LEGO Store, so I was pretty set, as far as that goes. By scene, I used the Sunset Speeder as Donnie’s vehicle and the Mountain Hut for the locale and atv design. For the second scene, I used a modified train, and some old mountain sides.  For the final scene, I used the Toy and Grocery Shop and a police car from this set.  Everything else, I designed myself, so pretty much just the final scene.  I knew going into the project that it would take a considerable amount of time to complete, so I tried not to design much myself to cut down on time.

Onto the actual process, rather than the set.

I took my time and tried to barely move each action object between shots, hoping to avoid an extremely choppy end result. For the first scene, I focused on making it seem as happy-go-lucky as possible, to try to convey how content Donnie once was. For the second, I really just wanted to focus on and figure out how to make the train fall over and fall apart without having my hand supporting anything. Luckily, the hitch joint between the rail cars actually worked as a vertex reinforcement, helping to get the angles I accomplished. For the final scene, I wanted to focus on how out of the blue tragedy can strike, so I kept Donnie in the street after having received an assignment from Crane.

After taking all of the stills, I opened Windows Movie Maker, added in the photos, and set their display time to 0.20 seconds per shot (0.10 was too rapid and 0.30 was a bit slow). I then lengthened the final shot in each scene to give a bit of delay before an immediate text caption frame.  Luckily, the Movie Maker portion only took about five to ten minutes, so that was a relief.

I’d stayed up all night to do this, so I was beat and my back ached from hunkering over the sets. There was much coffee involved.

This was by far the most difficult and time consuming project I’ve completed for this class, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite that. I stretched the bounds of the assignment by including some text for transitions, but it’s LEGO, so I felt it was necessary. Otherwise, it just looks like three unrelated scenes, with only Donnie’s car connecting the first and third.

I’m happy for having completed this project. I’ve been interested in stop motion work since the good ol’ days of Gumby. I still watch Robot Chicken, so I haven’t really taken a step back from it since being introduced. I finally gave it a go myself! I hope you enjoyed watching it as much as I enjoyed creating it.


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  • Paul says:

    The work is amazing as always, but the commitment that had to go into it is something else. Speechless…

  • Wow!
    All I can say is it looks so cool and smooth. Truly appreciated by those who know the tenacity to get it done and lost on those who will just quickly say “that’s nice”. You have reached the peak of accomplishment – creating something that look so simple – until someone tries to replicate it!

    I am in awe – not sure I could stick it out!

  • Brenda Levoy says:

    This is amazing, you are truly talented. I can’t imagine the work and time that went into this short movie. It turned out really good and something for you to be very proud of.

  • […] It is in ds106 though, because the students’ work is predominant, no matter what those of us nominally in charge do. We started this semester with a story framework about a shadowy agency with some sort of internal tension and a mysterious Jack character who was hinted at here and there. But we also had students create their own noir characters, whatever that may be, and build on them throughout the semester. And almost to a person, the students really took to that, creating amazing work along the way, from T-Wow’s rap to Spencer’s animation. […]

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