When I was a teenager in secondary school, before I’d been suckered into Warcraft III modding, I dabbled in stop motion animation. I got Lego MindStorms not long after our first family PC, and maybe a year or two later, the Vision Command expansion pack. The LegoCam was just a Logitech QuickCam in sheep’s clothing, but since that clothing had proper, official Lego studs and was perfectly-sized, you could build it securely into a model.
Eventually the world moved on. Driver support for the LegoCam ended and all that obsolete tech was relegated to the cupboard. Until…
My parents recently cleaned out their attic. I once again have a Windows XP computer. Can I make it any more obvious?
Robbie Enterprises Movie Company
The premise behind Vision Command was that you strap your LegoCam to the various wheeled contraptions of MindStorms to build even more elaborate bots, giving them the power of basic image recognition. A nice idea in theory; but in practice, the LegoCam is tethered to your PC by 5 metres of the thickest, most rigid USB cable you’ll ever meet. With no cheap and consumer-friendly wireless solutions in sight, MindStorms and Vision Command were vastly ahead of their time. The little technic motors simply didn’t have the pulling power to do much against the weight and rigidity of that cable.
But the camera and the bricks did not go to waste. Along with the headline MindStorms Vision Command software, there was a simpler program for just running the LegoCam directly: for taking photos and videos, for time-lapse videos and… stop motion animation.
I took a bucket of choice characters and props up to the family PC and got to work. These are some of the results.
The Blacktron, the M-Tron, the Space Policeman and the Ghetto Blaster
I was always besotted with the ghetto blaster piece for some reason, so one of my earliest works (if you can call it that) was a mad sci-fi battle over it. They just love their music! (Though this piece has no soundtrack.)
The Sam Grant Series
I literally got our family to upgrade our PC from Windows 98 to Windows ME just to get access to Windows Movie Maker.
One of my favourite characters back then was Sam Grant, the Indiana Jones rip-off from the Adventurers range. Remember when Lego had its own ideas and didn’t solely do direct licensed tie-ins? (He was later renamed/Americanised to “Johnny Thunder” but he’ll always be Sam Grant to me.) He’d scale cliffs, raid temples and escape as they collapsed, chased by Steven Segal the skeleton and Old Crock the crocodile.
There were two further Sam Grant films planned that I never completed: Sam Grant and the Diamond, and the vastly over-ambitious Sam Grant and the Dragon, for which I home-made a motorised moving background for a car driving scene… yes, I could absolutely have done that without the motors because stop motion.
The Gold Heist
Ninjas featured in my only voice-acted film. As you can hear, my acting skills haven’t really improved since then, even if I do have a better microphone and more post-processing tech available nowadays.
I had plans for a sequel where the ninjas would do battle with Jungle Slizer (the one who also uses a katana), but I ran out of patience — doing stop-motion with the big ball-jointed figures was simply too much work, and the results were much patchier anyway (given all those extra articulation points for it to wobble around).
I got much more avant-garde when my brother handed me the story-board for a video to accompany Stand by REM. There’s not all that much actual stop motion in here — as you can see, I incorporated bits of background I cobbled together in Warcraft III and Deus Ex, all manually shuffled about in Paint Shop Pro 7 (and that’s one piece of software that has aged remarkably well).
You are absolutely right, I do have a modern webcam and a modern digital camera and plenty of Lego, so I could have done more stop motion animation any time in the last 20 years (indeed, for a 4th year university pair project, I actually did; but that’s another story for another day). However, there’s something about the LegoCam software that’s just right for doing animation, and the way you can stabilise the camera by literally building it into the stage set is very hard to replicate with a normal camera that isn’t perfectly Lego-shaped.
So I got the LegoCam and its drivers installed successfully onto Monument. The Vision Command MindStorms integration didn’t work, but the basic LegoCam software ran without a hitch. There was only one way this could end.
I was planning to just faff about and do some test footage, but I ended up making a complete short film. So please, allow me to present to you: Sam Grant Versus the Clam. Yes, I am still hilarious.
Windows Movie Maker crashed about a thousand times in the process of piecing this 50-second short film together (from a mere 6 parts), so I think next time I will bring all the footage into the modern world for editing… I also forgot to disable the automatic gain/exposure/white balance adjuster while doing the first scene, so that’s why it looks like a mad rave. (Reshoots are illegal, shoosh.)
Overall, though, not bad for an afternoon’s work!