Warner Bros. And Legendary Pictures Preview - Comic-Con International 2013

One of the most ambitious projects to hit screens next year is The LEGO Movie. Yes guys, it’s all about LEGOs. At Comic-Con 2013, Directors Phil Lord, Chris McKay, and Chris Miller discussed their take on the film that leaves it up to a kid’s imagination to create their own stories.

The creative team on turning LEGO into a narrative film about creativity:

Phil Lord: We figured out that we started with this idea that they are a machine for creativity and let’s make a movie about can a regular construction worker learn those skills? We found out that we had to really hide the ball because the more you say the word “creativity,” the less you want to hear it. It started to get tired pretty fast, so there are versions of this movie that felt like a college paper or something like that.

Chris Miller: The word creativity is actually not in the movie at all but it’s obviously all about creativity. The idea is there are two different ways that people play with LEGO. There are people who buy the kit, follow the instructions, and build the thing exactly how it is, and that’s awesome, because then you have this really cool thing. It’s a Millenium Falcon or something. And then, there are people who just dump all the bricks together and build whatever they want to do. And that’s awesome as well to learn to have the whole thing be a dialectic about the different ways there are to make things.

Chris McKay: I think the most fun thing about it is, these guys especially, when they opened it up to everybody on the crew to access their inner child. It was a lot like play, the way we set up the environment for all the different departments from when we started working on the storyboards and then going into animation and layout and everything else. It was just play like you’re a kid. Have fun. What if the story was this? You just start running with ideas and that kind of thing. It was very organic and almost improvisational throughout the entire process. It was just how crazy can we make this. The way these guys talked about it originally was like if Michael Bay had kidnapped Henry Selick and forced him to make The LEGO Movie and it’s inside Michael Bay’s brain, that’s what this movie is, but it is literally those two guys coming together. It’s an explosion of creativity and that’s what makes the movie, because it is. It’s kind of like a joy ride through a 10-year-old’s imagination.

On selecting and working with the all-star cast:

Chris Miller: Well we thought of Chris Pratt pretty early on because he’s hilarious and he has this sort of regular guy-ness to him and he’s a hilarious guy’s guy. He seemed perfect for that.

Phil Lord: We knew him because of Anna Faris on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. We just met him as a guy and then watched him become the funniest person on television. He has a real sincerity to him that we thought was important to the character. Also, we got a lot of people that we went after. We got this idea to make Morgan Freeman into a crazy wizard.

Chris Miller: We thought he’ll never do it, but he did it.

Phil Lord: We had no other casting ideas for that part, like we didn’t know what we were going to do.

Chris Miller: We saw the Life’s Too Short [TV series] that Liam Neeson was on, and he was hilarious, and so we were like, ‘We got to put this guy in the movie.’ We asked him to do it, and we thought he’d never do it, and he did it too, and we couldn’t believe it. We’ve always wanted to work with Will Ferrell because he’s an amazing guy and hilarious and just a wonderful person, and this was a great opportunity to do that. We’ve been friends with Elizabeth Banks for years, and we worked with Charlie Day many years ago, so we tried to assemble some buddies and people that we really admired in the world.

On whether the cast actually recorded together:

Chris Miller: We did Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks and Will Arnett together a couple times because they play off each other… I don’t want to spoil it. Also, we did Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell together over the phone, which was kind of funny, because Liam was in New York and Will was in L.A., and they both had stuff that they had to do. We got them together and they did their scene over the phone. It was awkward at first, but then it became amazing. Those were the only ones that we were able to get in the same room. It was our goal to try and get people to play off of each other because it’s more fun and you get a lot of improvisation, and these are all really super funny people that can riff. And so, we ended up getting a lot of good stuff that way.

Phil Lord: The sad reality of casting a bunch of really famous movie stars in your movies is that they’re incredibly busy.

Chris Miller: Oh you’re doing Hunger Games and you’re doing Anchorman. There’s a million different things, so we worked around their schedules but we tried to make it work as much as we could.

The team revealed additional pop culture characters set to appear:

Chris Miller: Superman is being played by Channing Tatum and Green Lantern is being played by Jonah Hill, and Wonder Woman is being played by Cobie Smulders. But there are a lot of other characters that we’re not allowed to talk about right now from other IP, other movies, other LEGO sets, and they all interact in a way that if a kid was playing with a bucketful of LEGOs, they would make them play together. That’s a really fun part, but we can’t tell you about that stuff just yet.

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The team on the inspiration behind the look of The LEGO Movie:

Chris Miller: It was inspired a lot by brick films that people make online. There are a ton of these on YouTube where these people very creatively make funny, funny LEGO movies and the limitations of the characters is kind of funny. Also, there are some photographers that photograph the little LEGO people and try to make it look really epic, just from the lighting. And we thought that was pretty cool when they tried to marry a cinematic lighting style with a brick film aesthetic.

Phil Lord: I think it was a choice we made the instant that Dan Lin pitched us the project. We were like, ‘Well, if you did it like this, we would be interested. But if you don’t, if no one will commit to that, then there’s no way we’ll do it.’ I don’t know why we were such hardliners about that, but for whatever reason, that was what was inspiring to us.

Chris Miller: We wanted it to feel like it was a real LEGO set come to life.

Phil Lord: At every level, we had to prove it – at the conceptual level with the folks at Warner, and then again on the technical side, and then again with the animators, and all kinds of people. I’m sure there will be some reviews that will be like, ‘Ugh. I don’t like what they did.’ But we discovered that we could get a lot of expressiveness and emotion. One of the things that Chris and his team have done is just to get so much real humanity out of the toughest drawings in the whole world. That was our dream, that what a great trick it would be to make you care about the dorkiest looking things in the whole universe.

Chris Miller: It’s like in the Muppet movies, Kermit’s eyes don’t move. You can get so much expressiveness out of the limitations.

A story about toys can still have depth:

Phil Lord: Just because they’re little toys doesn’t mean that you’re not going to try to tell a big, grown-up story, and that translates into the animation. One of the things that would happen, that happens on every animated production, is that sometimes initially you get a lot of stock stuff that feels like a classic move that you saw Frank and Ollie draw a million years ago, and it’s wonderful but it doesn’t pertain to that moment.

Chris Miller: You connect to it when you feel like it’s driven by the story and the feelings.

On making it feel like a kid is playing with a set, embracing the flaws: 

Phil Lord: Another thing is that with stop-motion there’s no motion blur because every frame is its own little thing. We found out if a character is moving really fast across the screen, it was going to get a little bit jumpy. And so, we developed this brick-built motion blur of the characters when they’re moving really fast, and we have these special clever solves for things like that.

Chris McKay: We also tried to add in mistakes, too. Just like with film prints and things like that, but also maybe animation that felt a little more like we would talk through. Like what if you were dragging a hand up from one place to the other, especially at that scale, on a one-inch scale, you only have so many moves that you can actually technically make, that a human being can actually do to make that. So we’d think through stuff like that. Some of those were the kind of choices that we’d make to make this feel. There was sort of an innocence and a charm to that which is what we wanted to capture. And sometimes it was just puppeted. Sometimes we would literally make it look like somebody had their hand on the thing and was walking us. Some of the guys would walk around like that or they’d jump up and move as though they were puppeted. There’s something neat about that, too.

Phil Lord: Sometimes our notes are just, ‘Make it dumber. It’s way too sophisticated.’

The LEGO Movie opens in theaters February 7.