Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Countdown to Justice begins!

After putting it on hold for a couple of months while I tried to get the last couple of minifigures I needed, here is chapter one of my ongoing DC LEGO Universe project, Countdown to Justice!

Chapter One: The Martian
The snow is beating heavily at the window of my office. Outside, the city of Metropolis is unnaturally tranquil and blanketed in white. I never grow tired of the snow, for it is a phenomenon I never would have had the pleasure of experiencing on Mars.
My name is J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, and I am the last of my kind. I came to Earth through a crack in space and time. Your scientists say my home planet cannot sustain life. They are half-correct, for though Mars is now a barren wasteland of iron-laced stone, it was once home to the greatest race in the Sol system. The Curse of H’ronmeer changed all of that.
Now I live among you, using my unique abilities to disguise myself as a human. On Mars I was a Manhunter, an officer of the law, and so here on Earth I have chosen to be a detective. I continue to do my best to help protect the lives of those who cannot protect themselves.
But your world is rapidly becoming a very different place. A more dangerous place.
Last summer, men from the world of Krypton brought the full power of gravity itself to bear in the middle of Metropolis, killing thousands and doing untold damage to the city. Though a human champion, the man Luthor is funding Metropolis’ reconstruction, life on Earth will never be the same again.
  Yet he is not the only champion fighting for you. One of the Kryptonians, who had lived here in peace for thirty-three years, repelled the invaders and aids in the great rebuilding. The people call him Superman.
  Faster than a speeding bullet. Stronger than a steaming locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
It is to this Man of Steel that I now go. He has fought to keep his identity a secret, and understandebly so, but he does not see what I see. He does not yet realise that the continued existence of us all lies in unity, and he must look beyond Metropolis. Beyond America.
For now, he will look to Mars.

(Click image for detail)

To be continued... 

Follow the blog to be updated when a new chapter arrives! Chapter Two lands next week, on August 30th.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Brickfilm Review: Superman's Rampage

Behold! For the first time ever, I've decided to write a brickfilm review. I'm not sure whether this will become a regular thing, or whether I might intend to do it regularly but forget, but here's one for now. Beware, for there be spoilers ahead, for both this animation and a lot of DC-related comics and video games.

The brickfilm in question is LEGO Justice League: Superman's Rampage, by Atlas Animationz.

First things first, Superman's Rampage is the latest in a series of superhero brickfilms. The first season was set in the Marvel universe and ended with the Avengers going through a wormhole and finding themselves face-to-face with the Justice League. Naturally, this second season goes back and explains how the Justice League got there.

In a nutshell, we see what could (but thankfully didn't) happen if Superman went bananas and starting killing both bad guys and any of his friends who got in his way. Its brutality is reminiscent both of Injustice: Gods Among Us (which opens with Superman finally snapping and killing the Joker when the latter murders Lois Lane) and of Superman's alternate counterpart Ultraman, who has no problem murdering children, pets, potplants, and anything else for that matter. It's all (well mostly) from Batman's point-of-view as he tries to rally the Justice League to fight back, but the superheroes get picked off one-by-one. At the end, Batman wakes up and it's revealed he was under Scarecrow's fear gas.

Voice Acting
The voice acting is, as always with Atlas' animations (pun intended) very well cast. He's clearly spent a lot of time finding the right voice actors, and it pays off, particularly with Batman and Flash who are probably the most well cast. This has always been one of Atlas' strongest points, and it really adds strength to the brickfilm.

While I liked the brutal nature of the story, I feel like the "it was all a dream" reveal was a bit too quick, and it completely dismissed the rest of the events of the brickfilm. Admittedly, "it was all a neurotoxin-induced dream", but Batman makes no mention of any of it when he wakes up. A line or two would have sufficed, and it makes me wonder what the real point of the carnage beforehand was if it's not even going to be mentioned again. Then again, it also makes me wonder whether Superman will have moments of anger later on in the series, leading Batman to remember this dream. If so, that could work really well. Also, Red Lantern Superman. It could work, right? I mean, Supergirl's currently a Red Lantern in the comics, and Batman got a Sinestro Corps ring in Forever Evil...but I digress.

Being a series of battles between Superman and Shazam, Green Lantern, Flash, your mother, Robin and Batman, the film has a ton of great visual effects. We see Superman pummel Shazam into the ground, and Green Lantern makes frequent use of his hard-light constructs. While Atlas pulls them off well, I do have a couple of niggles. There are quite a few jump cuts between actions, such as at 2:02 when we see Superman grabbed by a construct, and then moments later he has already been lifted up and is halfway to being crashed to the ground. Similarly, at 3:36 Shazam uses the Power of Zeus and throws lightning at Superman, only the next shot at 3:39 is him flying towards Superman and taking him into the air. He don't see Superman get hit by the lightning, nor any indications afterwards that he was hit by it. This makes the scene feel a little odd, as if there's a shot or two missing.

On the other hand, there's one super-slick cut at 3:06 from Superman VS Shazam to the Batmobile's headlights.

Set/Character Design
One thing that's immediately noticeable in this brickfilm is that the majority of the sets are card backdrops of buildingfronts. This is a great way of economising, since building various streets out of bricks would be...difficult, to say the least. I think they look pretty good, though the streets themselves are a bit bare in places. There are bins, yes, but lamposts are few and far between, there are no traffic lights, and you'd expect there to be a few stalls or paper stands outside the numerous shops.

Green Lantern and Shazam are decent customs (even if Shazam's face is slightly odd - I think he ate all the pies) and since they're two of my favourite DC superheroes, this makes me hugely biased in favour of the film that look perfectly normal alongside Superman's dark blue Man of Steel suit. I hope Atlas will be using more custom characters in future episodes; it'd be nice to see some Corps members, Black Canary, Steel, or basically any superhero that has had little to no screentime in brickfilms up to now.

Overall, I'd say this brickfilm is 7.3/10. It's a coherent story with some flashy battles to boot, which can feel like an uncommon combination in brickfilms. I'm fascinated to see where this series will go and how it will tie up with the first, Marvel-based season (a Marvel/DC crossover is in itself an exciting prospect) but conversely I'd like to see a little more consequence for the dream sequence. Otherwise, this episode could end up feeling a tad unnecessary. That said, this is still a greatly enjoyable brickfilm, and I look forward to future installments.

The third and final episode of Avengers Tower, called Ultron Ascending, is nearly finished, and I'll do a big ol' blog post about the whole series once it has. Until then...

Monday, 2 June 2014

Vampire Owls

New animation! Party time!


Vampire Owls isn't anything special. I've wanted to do a vampire-based animation for a while now - and this won't be the last either - and I decided to make it in my revision breaks over the last couple of weeks. Oh yeah, I'm in the middle of my exam period right now. Which isn't fun. At all.

As with pretty much all of my animations, there are some problems with Vampire Owls. My light flicker issue has returned, and though I could remove the worst of it in After Effects, it's still visible now and then. I hope that doesn't detract from the video too much.

And now, for your reading pleasure, here is some additional canon about the world of the vampires that this video is set in. This is also BrickFilm Cinematic Universe material too, so expect the vampires to go genre-bending some time soon, though I'm saving those projects until well after exams have finished.

A relatively young vampire from the south of Italy, Naldo’s greatest regret is losing his accent. The problem was, it used to be so thick that nobody could understand him! Not good, especially if you’re supposed to be threatening mortals. Naldo spends a lot of time outside the vampire realm, in the human world, working with mortal criminals. He is always on the lookout for a new crimelord he can possess. Some of the other members of the Vampire Council believe he is trying to build an army, but that is mere speculation.

Postal Vampire
Nobody knows the Postal Vampire’s real name, and he is as old as the postal tower he inhabits. Though his menagerie of delivery creatures is mostly befitting of vampires - bats and werebats, blackheart dragons and insects - he occasionally hires other creatures, much to his compatriots’ horror. His latest aquisition is Targarioth the Black, a snowy owl who is about as intimidating as a marshmallow. Though he claims that “her speedy of delivery is unparalleled”, the residents of Vampire Town have yet to be convinced.

Blackheart Dragons
Created by dark magic from a dragon egg, beetles’ wings and a Magnus Gem, blackheart dragons are small but fast, agile, and every bit as malicious towards the living as a vampire could want them to be. They are just the right size to carry a single minifigure, have silky black hides and insect wings, and can spit balls of evil, purple lightning from their mouths. Like their vampire masters they are undead, and must feed on animal blood once every two months to survive. They are named after the creator of the first of their kind, an ancient Spanish vampire called Lord Blackheart, who was slain when he dropped a galleon in a ray of sunlight and foolishly bent to pick it up.

That's all for now. I'm going to do a proper post on Avengers Tower soon, and explain a few things about that, and in the meantime I hope you enjoyed this animation!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Why I Love Mayan Mythology (explained)

When I saw that the latest Animation Challenge on was to 'kick a ball', a Mayan myth immediately sprung to mind and, with the deadline only a day away, I figured it was worth taking a few hours out of my revision (*cough* *cough*) to turn this relatively mundane challenge into something odd. I created something odd indeed.

I released this with the description "If you don't know Mayan mythology, this probably won't make sense. If you know Mayan mythology, this probably won't make sense. Don't worry - the gods give Hunahpu a replacement head later, and then he steals the real one back. Oh, and that bat guy is a vampire god." While I made this video with the intention of being hard to understand, I thought I'd do a quick run-through of what this myth actually is.

Soooooo long story short, in Mayan myth there were these two heroes called Hunahpu and Xbalanque (and no, I can't pronounce them). They were playing football (or the Mayan equivalent) in their favourite ball court when the underworld gods - the Lords of Xibalba - got annoyed by the racket. They invited the twins to play in the underworld ball court, which was a ruse and designed to kill the twins. However, Hunahpu and Xbalanque (and I still can't pronounce their names) were smart enough to avoid the traps, and so got sent through a series of houses, which were again filled with traps.

The last house was the Bat House, home to Camazotz the vampire god (the bat guy with the black armour in the animation). To avoid the deadly bats that were flying around the house, the twins stuffed themselves inside their blowguns and waited it out until morning. Eventually, Hunahpu made the mistake of popping his head out of his blowgun to see if the sun was up, and his head was snatched off by a bat and taken to Camazotz. What happened next? Well, to add insult to injury, Hunahpu took part in another ball game with the Xibalbans, only this time with his head as the football!

Don't worry, the gods weren't totally evil - they shaped him a replacement head and planned to give it to him as an early birthday present. Xbalanque, being craftier than they, decided enough was enough and stole back Hunahpu's real head and put it back onto his brother's body.

After that long and hopefully-not-boring explanation, here endeth the lesson.

(Not the interior design you'd expect from the Vampire God.)

Avengers Tower episode 2 is finished and should be up on BrickUltra's channel some time this week, and when it is, it'll get posted here too. As for more mythology animations...we'll have to wait and see. Next time, it'd be more than a quick animation meant to seem like it has no narrative XD

Monday, 28 April 2014

The Amazing Spider-man 2 (review) *SPOILERS*

Time for another review! This week, I'm talking about The Amazing Spider-man 2.
I took a look back at some of my old blog posts and realised that my movie reviews are a bit lacking. From now on, they're going to be veeeery different and hugely spoileriffic, hence the massive spoiler tag in the title.

Aaaaaanyway, onto the review. Considering what this new, rebooted franchise has developed into, I think it's worth going over a little backstory.

The Amazing Spider-man came out two years ago (my, they've gone quickly) and as much as I enjoyed it, it was completely unnecessary. Yes, I'm all for another superhero movie, but it was just Sony flailing around, trying to hold onto Spidey's film rights. It had some good character development regarding Peter, Gwen, Aunt May and Uncle Ben, and although the CGI Lizard was fantastic (notice how I avoided saying amazing there, that would be too punny too soon in the review) he wasn't a memorable villain. The film freshened up decade-old ground regarding Pete's transformation into Spider-man, and sat snugly in the box office despite a lot of cynicism from Marvel fans and cinemagoers alike.

It was a standard superhero movie. Enjoyable, and perhaps slightly above average in quality, but nothing special. Still, I was looking forward to the sequel, and the reumours that surfaced about seeing Green Goblin onscreen again were fairly enticing.

Then the trailer for the sequel dropped. My jaw went with it. Jamie Foxx as Electro? And the guy from Chronicle's in it too? Is that Chris Cooper on the cast list? Is Emma Stone wearing the clothes Gwen Stacy died in? Hot off the back of all of this, December 2013 brought more Spidey news: as well as third and fourth installments, we would be getting a Sinister Six movie and, most intriguing of all...Venom. As in a movie about Venom. The anti-Spider-man, and possibly the most popular Spider-man villain of all time (please don't quote me on that). Fans have waited for a Venom movie for a long time, but it looks like one may finally be out of production purgatory.
Finally, last week, I saw the film, and it met most of my expectations. Aside from an underwhelming and farcical backstory for Max Dillon/Electro which bordered on absurd, and an underdeveloped subplot regarding the creation of the Sinister Six, The Amazing Spider-man 2 delivered everything that it promised: high-octane action, the continued development of Pete and Gwen's 'complicated' relationship, the return of Spider-man's notorious banter, and a springboard for potential spin-offs (all of which I welcome with open arms). Free of the need to establish Peter Parker's character, as the first installment did, The Amazing Spider-man 2 swung into new territory, and the franchise is so much the better for it.
I'll get my two gripes out of the way quickly. First off, Max Dillon was stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. He meets Spider-man once, then becomes a bit of a nut and starts pretending that Spidey's his best friend. He plasters his wall with pictures of the web-slinger. He even make-believes that his birthday cake was left by Spider-man. Contrast that to the confident, slick, gravelley-voiced Electro that we get after the Times Square sequence...I'm not sure it works. It's not as well-crafted a 'villain's journey' as Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus in Spider-man 2 (back in the mists of time, in 2004, which is an age in cinematic terms) and doesn't feel cohesive. It's like watching two separate characters. The other gripe was with Harry's transformation into the Green Goblin. There's very little development, and although it fills its purpose well, you can't help feeling that there should be more to it.

What really set the film apart was the chemistry between Pete and Gwen. No surprises, since Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are a couple in real life; that spark comes across so strongly in the film that you start to feel like a third wheel. Therein lies The Amazing Spider-man 2's greatest success: it creates lovable, believable characters, Max Dillon excluded. Pete, Gwen, Aunt May, even Harry Osborn (to an extent) seem like they could be real.

So it's heartbreaking when Gwen Stacy dies.
(you were warned about spoilers)

I'm going to talk about that in a separate post, since the death of Gwen Stacy is...well,  just wait for the article. Instead, I'll round this off by talking about what I consider to be the best sequence in the film, which is the Times Square sequence. Max, having woken up from his eel-related accident blue and electrically-charged, wanders into Times Square, hungry for more electricity. He's scared, terrified of himself and his new abilities, and just as frightened of the police, who do their utmost to subdue him but to no avail. Spider-man arrives on the scene to talk him down, and it goes well until a pesky sniper sees his moment.

There are several aspects of this scene which make it so memorable. Firstly, we see what makes Spider-man more of an individual than most other superheroes: he takes the time to know the people he saves, to truly be their "friendly neighbourhood Spider-man". He repeatedly calls Max his "buddy" and creates a sense of friendship to try to calm him, and it actually works for a good long time. Had it been Superman, he would no doubt have solved the problem by levelling a block on Electro's head.

Speaking of Man of Steel, it's important to note just how many times Spider-man puts saving civilians before fighting the bad guy. He stops a group of pedestrians getting electrocuted by a Max-charged handrail, and saves an old man and a cop from being hit by the same car, thrown twice, and all of that's just in one scene. "Friendly neighbourhood Spider-man" is definitely ringing true now.

So, that's my opinion on why The Amazing Spider-man 2 was, wait for it, amazing. Sure, it had its flaws, but so do plenty of Oscar-winning films. As far as superhero movies go, The Amazing Spider-man 2 is a fine example, and probably one of the best Spider-man movies to date. Honestly, I'd say it's joint-first with the original Spider-man 2. Best of all, there's plenty more to look forward to.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 is currently in cinemas worldwide, unless you're in the USA, in which case you have to wait until May 2nd. Not long, my friends. Not long.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

BFCU Canon: Lavaloga

This post is the beginning of a series of nuggets of canon for the BrickFilm Cinematic Universe, which anyone is free to add to or use for BFCU films. Starting this series is some canon based on the island seen at the end of La Conquista, an island I will now reveal is called Lavaloga.


(Pictured: Chief Cherufe, La Conquista)

The island, off the coast of South America, that is home to the cherufe - huge lava monsters, made of, uh, lava. The cherufe are big but also big-hearted, and speak a broken, simplified form of Spanish. They do not age or die - if one is ‘killed’, they will quickly reform in the heart of the island’s biggest volcano: Monte Fumar (‘mount smoke’). There are two other volcanoes, and all three are in the centre of Lavaloga. Around them is a series of lava fields and rivers, and (strangely) beyond that is a jungle and the sandy shoreline.

Chief Cherufe
One of the oldest cherufe, Chief Cherufe is not actually the chief anymore (even though everyone, himself included, calls him that). His mind is fragile, and he often wanders the island, mainly the shores, talking to animals or humming old tunes, leaving one of the younger cherufe to take charge. Occasionally his frail body breaks apart and he won’t be seen for weeks, but he reforms eventually and carries on wandering around.

A young cherufe who likes nothing better than to sit in a nice lava pit and wait for the pressure to shoot him high up over the island. He’s quite small for a cherufe, only a few bricks over minifigure height, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to prove his worth to the other cherufe.

El Consejero
The cherufe who normally steps in when Chief Cherufe goes walkabouts, El Consejero (the counsellor) may just be a nickname, but he’s been guiding the other cherufe for so long that everyone’s forgotten his real name! He acts as a shoulder to lean on, a friend to all, especially those in need, and is good at reading the emotions of others.

That's all for now - I hope you've enjoyed these extra bits of canon for La Conquista, and look forward to more in the near future.

Reactions to The LEGO Movie

I saw The LEGO Movie earlier this week and decided I had to do some kind of homage to it. I mean, for brickfilmers at least it's a huge event, and not something to let pass without a big fuss. This is the first of what may be a few celebrations of The LEGO Movie; here, we ask the LEGO public what they thought of the movie (and show you a few other little bits of fun).

The Taco Tuesday guys may become regulars in my animations...thoughts?

The LEGO Movie - review
I absolutely loved it (but then again, I would, wouldn't I?). As a film in itself it was hilarious, well-written, heartwarming, and subversive unlike anything you expect to see in a kids movie. Technically speaking the film was also marvellous: the visual aesthetics (all the hyper-detailed bricks, the fact everything was made of LEGO) were stunning, and...well, I don't want to spoil that bit. There're a couple of brilliant plot twists, but one in particular makes this film awesome. As a brickfilmer, I was speechless. The movie is designed to look at least in part like it's stop-motion (and the directors say that some of it actually is) and there are even some references to actual brickfilms (most notably a reference to The Magic Portal, purported to be the first brickfilm).

Overall, this is a cracking film (see the video above) and worth a watch for just about everyone. I can't think of any major gripes, so I'm going to give this an 8.5/10.

That's it for now. Remember to like, share and subscribe!