A lot of talent, patience and over 50,000 pieces of plastic make Dylan Woodley a rather famous 17 year old. Dylan is the creator of LEGO “brickfilms”.
Stratford Festival patrons know him for his three animated Snoopy race segments in the Festival’s 2012 production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Dylan’s current hit is a LEGO brickfilm mimicking every movement in Ed Sheeran’s Lego House music video which features Rupert Grint (Harry Potter’s Ron Weasley) as Sheeran’s “crazy stalker”. That contract came from The Warner Sound company in New York. Completed at the end of February and posted mid April, the video is already over four million views. It took Dylan an exhausting 50 straight days to complete, since one complex scene can take up to a day to construct.
“I like to make my videos very detailed, and the scenery is no exception. I do a lot of researching to figure out how to make the sets accurate and realistic. Google’s a life saver. There are a lot of very talented LEGO artists that post their work online, which is a great resource to pull inspiration from,” Dylan explained. He has constructed a volcano that spews syrup, a jungle for missionaries, exploding walls, a medieval village square, the planet Earth, and lots more.
“For facial animation, I first animate the characters using a blank head. In post-production I manually track a 3D digital face onto the blank head using After Effects … to change expressions or even make the character sing,” he explained.
Dylan uses a sparing but startling mix of live body parts and plastic block structures in his early Pokeballin’ video. Pancake Island features Dylan as the voice of the Flying Pancake. His animated short Possessed includes an intriguing night scene with a creature that transforms from a tentacled menace to a woman, a horse and a man – all with evil, glowing red eyes. These and his two independent music videos Coldplay – Viva La Vida (in LEGO) and Foster the People – Houdini (in LEGO) are on his YouTube channel.
Insomniac Animations is his one-man company, so named because he gets so focussed on his work that he can find himself staying up until 4 a.m. It was originally called NXTMania Studios, “but that was a catastrophe, with people trying to figure out ‘How do I spell that? How do I even SAY that?!’”. He had posted about 50 videos on his YouTube channel but recently pared it down to six, “curating it, taking down the more mediocre stuff.”
In 2011, in a contest by Mega Bloks and Halo the video game, Dylan’s entry HALO: The Battle of Block Planet was chosen (also seen on his YouTube site). It won him second place out of 1,500 entries. “Luckily Mega Bloks are compatible with LEGO, but I still had to use Mega Bloks characters,” he said.
Dylan has collected LEGO sets for as long as he can remember. In the summer of 2012 the LEGO company ran an on-line competition where you make a pitch for yourself to make a video for the company. Five independent animators, including Dylan, were given a production budget to make a two-minute video. He thus produced LEGO City – Miney Mayhem.
“About five years ago I picked up my dad’s digital camera. I had heard about stop motion (animation) and because I had so much LEGO at the time it just seemed the obvious choice to animate with. In the summer of 2007 LEGO hosted a Star Wars movie-making contest. It was the perfect opportunity because I was just starting animation then. I made a really crappy three-minute video,” he recalled, and didn’t place in the contest. But he enjoyed the process, which soon turned into a hobby for the 12 year old. “It slowly grew into something that I just did all the time, making videos every chance I got.” “It’s the same kind of thing as claymation. The only thing that changes is the medium – instead of clay you’re using plastic bricks.”
When his dad needed the camera back, Dylan relied on his own webcam for a couple of years. Now he uses a Canon DSLR camera with changeable lenses, which upped his production values. The old webcam was scavenged and attached to the front of a homemade race car. Following his story concept comes script drafting (of which there could be many drafts) and storyboarding on the more complex stories.
Dylan’s original audience was friends and family, “but then, with the online community, it was possible to just post stuff on YouTube and get feedback that way. Immediately you have an audience anywhere in the world. That wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.” It’s definitely thanks to the power of the Internet that he’s linked up to a lot of the big projects he’s done, Dylan reported. He says these days the video animation audience has grown into people looking for entertainment, especially teens and young adults.
A lot of his learning “was just self-taught, trying new things and experimenting,” all in the confines of his suburban Stratford bedroom. For instance, what can seem like a complicated lighting set up, such as rows of stage lights at a rock concert in Houdini, was actually just a regular desk lamp backlighting strips of blocks that have rows of holes in them. His rock stars spin through the air by means of “masking”. Small LEGO support rigs hold them in mid air as each pose is captured. The rigs are then erased on the computer in post production.
In terms of music copyright issues, “When I posted my music videos I just threw them out there and hoped for the best,” Dylan said. He ran into trouble after posting his Viva La Vida video, and took it down. “But later I asked the Label (EMI) to put it back up and they agreed!”
Director Donna Feore explained how she found Dylan’s work. “I was looking for a segment where Snoopy would play a video game on a device, and needed source materials that was original. Dylan’s work was brought to my attention by my own teenagers that attend Stratford Central with him. They showed me his YouTube clips and I was extremely impressed with his stop motion filming (of) LEGO figures. He did not only have the ability to do this painstaking and very difficult style of video but he was also an excellent story teller and sound engineer. I was blown away by his attention to detail. Unusual to see from such a young film maker.” Dylan impressed her by delivering three 15-second videos exactly on deadline while also carrying his school workload. “The audiences loved that (Snoopy Race) element … He could very well be the next great animator for Disney or Pixar,” she added.
Dylan is enrolled in Ryerson’s Film Studies Program for the fall. He’ll be trying out new methods of filmmaking such as live action. This summer he’ll be completing his black belt in karate and producing a one more music video. Watch for teaser frames on his website this summer at http://insomniacanimations.com.
article by Karen Mills, photos by Ann Baggley and videoes by Dylan Woodley Jonathan