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How I could’ve won a $3000 animation scholarship

When I was a kid (elementary school era), the most marvelous Lego set of all time was released to children with rich parents. This Lego set was called “Lego Studios”, and it was beautiful. It had two sky-scrapers, an awesome back-drop, a dinosaur, a film crew, and the infamous Lego Camera complete with Lego Studios software.

There was nothing I wanted more in this entire world than that Lego set.

I wanted to be a filmmaker right? I wanted to be Steven Spielberg, and this $150 hunk of plastic with a CD-ROM was my ticket to movie making fame!

But there was no way, just no way my father (a member of our proud and underpaid armed-forces) would be able to afford such a luxury item for his son. So I sat all day, looking at Lego magazines for months, dreaming of that set I could never have, dreaming of the Jurassic Park rip-offs I would make if only I could get that Lego set…

…I never did get that set, but my best-friend Timo did.

I don’t think Timo’s family’s money situation was that much better than my own. Even if Timo’s dad made more money, the amount of siblings Timo has would make a catholic Mexican family reunion look like a quaint Japanese tea ceremony (I just made that up, I have no idea what that means). What I had heard was that his mother was able to stack Toys R’ Us coupons like crazy and get the thing for only $50, but I have no idea if that’s true. Either way, the next best thing to owning Lego Studios is your best friend owning Lego Studios.

We made a literal TON of movies on that thing. If you don’t know, the Lego camera is able to capture things in low-res single pictures to create a stop-motion sequence, or you can live record the video. Using both functions, Timo and I created incomplete stop motion films until the sun went down and I was forced to go home. This was playing with Legos 2.0, people, and it was glorious. Unfortunately, none of the footage survives today (I think, I should check with Timo), but our Lego studios days wouldn’t be our last stop-motion adventure.

Fast-forward to my sophomore year in high school, and the idea of using my parent’s camera to shoot stills and then put them into a non-linear editor made its way into my head. I told Timo that I wanted to make another Lego movie again, light on plot, just a cool sequence using the Lego sets he’d already made (the dude played with Legos until he went to college–honestly he might still be playing with Legos). So we made a wild Saving-Private-Ryan-esque invasion of Normandy sequence that took a couple of afternoons to film.

I do remember some creative differences between him and I on the animation front, which I eventually won out on (for better or worse). Timo was really interested in making individual movements and keeping the camera still in order to capture the animation more clearly and in more detail, and I wanted more action and zanier camera angles to emphasize the chaos of the situation (plus, I wanted to be the director, and I didn’t have the patience for his style).

When all is said and done, the video is kind-of rough, but I like many of the visual ideas Timo and I brought forth with this 1 minute clip.

At some point I submitted this to Mr. Hendricks’s film class, and he told me adamantly that I needed to transfer the thing to a DV Tape (that’s how they did things not too long ago) so I could submit it to the Utah High School Film Festival. There were a couple problems with this, firstly I had no idea how to transfer the footage, and I was too shy to ask for help, second I was concerned about the Metallica song that plays in the short and I thought that I would be disqualified from the contest because I used it without permission, and last because Timo and I made it together, basically as co-directors, and the only one who’d be going would be me. So the film (stupidly) was never submitted to the contest.

When we went to the ceremony and they played the three finalists I was sunk with dread at how bad the animated films were. Guys, I mean BAD. The third place winner had literally 5 shots, with in-camera sound that lasted 30 seconds, about a Lego man getting out of his car.

My short had emotion, metal music, violence, awesome camera moves, dynamic action, and was a fucking masterpiece compared to the animation finalists with little movement and bad sound. Imagine my dread when the first-place winner got a $3000 animation scholarship for the diarrhea that he produced!

Coming back from the awards show, would you believe that our dear Mr. Hendricks had to pull me aside to say “You should’ve submitted that Lego movie, Joe.”

Yeah, I know.

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