FilmSDCC '14

SDCC 2014: LEGO/Warner Bros: ‘The LEGO Movie’

David Kane ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The table was loaded with LEGO products that tied into the Warner Bros. film from this year, as well as large busts made entirely from LEGO bricks of different versions of the character Unikitty.

Brian Bowler (brand marketing director, LEGO) led the discussion on the development of The LEGO Movie, introducing Keith Malon (director of content development for The LEGO Movie), Matthew Ashton (executive producer and vice president of product design, LEGO) and Michael Fuller (senior product designer, LEGO). Jadon Sands (actor, The LEGO Movie) was scheduled to come but couldn’t make it. Brian dove right in by showing a clip from the film after figuring out how to work the slideshow he had prepared. The AV element played a key part in Bowler’s presentation as he showed more images of character designs during their various stages of development for the film.

Brian brought up how unique this opportunity was for the LEGO company, passing the discussion to Keith Malon who told the story of how a studio executive came to the company in 2007 and asked if they has ever considered a mini-figure based theatrical movie, and the answer was, “No, thanks, have a nice day, go away.” But they were very persistent, and they thought about it and finally decided they would love to be a part of the project. So a lot of folks from Warner Bros. and Animal Logic start talking about concepts, and among the first ideas developed into a scene that made it into the movie. Near the turning point of the film when Wyldstyle uses her Master Builder powers to construct a motorcycle to aid in their escape. Brian showed the early animatic for this scene and then the final version from the film; he followed those with a quick montage of the early designs for the character Wyldstyle and invited anyone cosplaying as her to stand and show off the final design that went into the movie.

Matthew Ashton began the discussion on another major character that went through a lot of changes: Krazy King Karl who eventually became Unikitty during development. More images showed the concept art for King Karl and his kingdom of wackiness that would become Cloud Cuckoo Land. Ashton explained the massive collaboration on the film that spanned the globe with three teams: Michael and Matthew based in Denmark where toy development, the directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, based in LA overseeing story development, and Chris McKay working on animation in Sydney, Australia. Late videoconferences and telephone calls became their way of continuously working together on the movie. Ashton briefly explained how each main character fits into the main team for the story, and they found they were lacking someone who oozed emotion and joy and creativity, and they brainstormed on all the things that make you smile, including rainbows and bunnies, etc. They narrowed it down to two animals that would make cool characters: a unicorn and a kitten. Rather than decide between the two, they stuck the two together created a new character out using the image of the animal hybrid and the personality of Krazy King Karl.

They worked on concept art of a LEGO horse with kitten features, but it was too “scary” and disproportioned, so they scaled it back to the having a body made of LEGO bricks to look more like a cat with a swishy horsetail and an cat’s face with a horn on her head. Ashton worked with an illustrator to design her face. They showcased the final version by showing a clip of her from the movie that showcased her emotional and physical expression. They showed her various “costumes” that she wore throughout the film finishing in the “Angry Kitty” version that she brought out in the climax of the film.

Brian pointed to the various Unikitty busts on the panel table and explained they were built in the Connecticut offices of LEGO and that shows the passion of everyone who worked on the project. Michael Fuller took over and explained his long journey designed the character MetalBeard. Fuller’s specialty is vehicles designs, so MetalBeard was his first character, but he approached it as a massive walking vehicle. He showed us how he started out with a stable LEGO “skeleton” that was able to stand and could be added to. Being inexperienced with the moviemaking process, Michael thought the producers would be satisfied with a couple designs, but they sent him more concepts for him to tinker with, and the whole process ended up taking several months (longer than any other character). He showed some images of MetalBeard’s many stages before showing the final version in another clip from the movie.

With that, Brian opened the floor up for Q/A, and children eager to ask how their favorite characters were made filled the line in a moment. One kid asked how difficult was it to get celebrity voice actors. They were surprised that so many high profile actors were interested in the movie, and because of the large collection of characters, they were able to get so many celebrities to lend their voices to the film. When one kid asked if it was stop motion animation, they clarified that it is animated with CGI to look like it’s stop motion, so they were very happy that people still debated about that, which is a testament to the guys at Animal Logic.

One adult fan of LEGO asked if any of the writers on the movie was themselves an “AFOL,” and they said that the community of Adult LEGO fans really inspired much of the creations and themes found in The LEGO Movie, and in fact near the end of the movie Emmet points out creations of the rebellious people, and those images came from real adult fan creations around the world. They said that Morgan Freeman adlibed a lot of his lines, and that Good Cop and Bad Cop was supposed to be two characters, but Liam Neeson said he could do both sets of lines and the two became one. They were asked a lot about the sequel, but they said they couldn’t release any details at its present stage of development. They thanked everyone for coming out, supporting the movie, and finishing our Comic Con experience with them.

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