3D, Animation, Film, LEGO

LEGO Shakespeare


The man himself

It is almost 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare (or Willm Shaxberd, depending on which of the 80+ variations of his name you use – we’re not so sure that he even spelled it correctly himself!).

To celebrate this great man’s legacy, we were commissioned to create a video featuring some of his best known works.

An online poll gave students the opportunity to vote for their favourite Shakespeare plays and after weeks of voting, the three decided winners were Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and MacBeth.

We began by researching these works, reading through the plays and looking at various adaptations and depictions from different time periods. We also sought to discover as much as we could of Shakespeare himself. Mystery and controversy surround Shakespeare; nobody knows for certain what he did between 1585 and 1592, or how his career and subsequent rise to fame began.

Some historians speculate that he studied law, worked as a schoolteacher and may even have travelled Europe as an actor. One 17th-century account states that he fled his hometown after poaching deer from a local politician’s estate!

PUCK GIF
Midsummer layers

Usage and abusage

It is believed that his works feature the first-ever instances of over 2,000 English words, including; excellent, critical, barefaced and countless.

He popularised countless excellent phrases which are now commonplace; vanish into thin air, flesh and blood, tower of strength and with bated breath.

Counting new words, phrases and their usage, wider estimations of these figures reach somewhere between 6,000 and 18,000!

In Shakespeare’s time, theaters had no curtains and used little or no scenery. Setting was often described within the text of the performance. Thankfully we were able to model and sculpt LEGO-world accessories which lent great character and humour to the overall video.

When we had familiarised ourselves with Shakespeare and with the LEGO style of humour, we began to work on a script that we felt was a good meeting point for these two aspects.

Romeo and Juliet layers
Romeo and Juliet layers

Blocking out

LEGO, as we all know has a unique style. We looked at how humour is expressed in different LEGO media. The LEGO Movie was a big point of influence, but we’re fans of the LEGO games here at GLUE, also.

In the games, the characters don’t speak and this results in a different delivery of humour from the movie. There is more of a physical, slapstick feel to the humour and this works very well with the absence of dialogue.

In the video we used old-style movie cards to deliver the dialogue where necessary.  This offered a contrast in marrying both the mute and verbose.

Having done our research, we developed concepts for each of the characters and had our ideas approved.

MacBeth layers
MacBeth layers

We did our storyboards a bit differently for this project…

What better way to storyboard the sequences than to use actual, real LEGO?! We spilled out our giant box of LEGO and grabbed the minifigs from the shelves, posing them and taking photos to develop our storyboards using photography!

This gave us excellent feedback on the type of textures and focal lengths that these shots would require if we were to mimic stop motion photography.

Once we had developed the storyboards and decided how the scenes would play out, we went to work on building each minifig character’s textures, including clothing and facial expressions.

 

LEGO before
LEGO before
LEGO after
LEGO after

 

Everything is awesome

Having previously worked on the LEGO Eurovision video, we had a standard LEGO minifigure model asset ready for use. Read about that here.

At the same time as texturing, our animators began work on the character animations using the base character. These characters could later be replaced with the final, textured versions.

Using the blank, base character helped us to focus solely on dramatic expression and dynamics of movement.

With the main textures in place, we set out to model each of the character’s separate accessories; hair pieces, masks and specific individual pieces. For example, Puck’s minifig is the standard LEGO Faun, he has unique goat legs which are not to be found on any other character.

Puck transforms Bottom into various animals before finally turning him into a donkey/ass. Each incarnation of Bottom had to be modelled, UV’d and textured separately to achieve that authentic LEGO appearance.

Likewise, when Titania appears and the two walk off stage together, her fabric skirt can be seen creasing in accordance with her movement.

 

Titania GIF
Titania GIF

Now you see it

We achieved this by modelling and texturing the skirt, then creating Morph Targets; each final target matching the extreme of each individual leg’s movement. This was the preferred method rather than rigging and skinning the skirt, as it allowed us to match the creasing to her movement with greater accuracy (even though in the final edit we only see this for a second or so!).

We created several facial expressions for each character that reflected their emotions in a scene. Then we applied these expressions to the models using textures. This set up allowed us to get instant feedback of how the characters would appear in the scene. It also meant we could make changes to the facial expression when necessary.

LEGO JULIET GIF
LEGO JULIET GIF

We were delighted to have the opportunity to remember the great man and we’ll borrow some of his own words to say farewell.

(The slabstone over his tomb includes the following inscription, believed to have been written by Shakespeare himself:


… ”Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones” .

)

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