Fun while you’re learning is an ideal combination. And for David Pagano, the fun factor is Legos.
The founder of the animation studio Paganomation is the co-author of the new book “The Lego Animation Book” ($19.95), written with Chicago filmmaker David Pickett, which teaches kids how to make their own stop-motion animated movies using Legos.
We caught up with the Astoria-based animator ahead of his Dec. 3 book signing.
Why should someone learn stop-motion animation?
Because it’s something they’re interested in, I hope! That’s why I pursued stop-motion as a hobby, and then career — it was just something I was always fascinated by. I think it has to do with the magical nature of giving life to inanimate objects. One of the things we point out in the book is that — even though it sounds obvious — making animated Lego films should be fun. The best creative work comes from a place of excitement and possibility, not from a sense of obligation.
Why do you like to work with Legos?
Even though most folks animate with Lego minifigures, I build and animate my own large-scale characters out of Lego bricks and elements. I love the challenge of creating something that is both a neat sculptural figure and a sturdy puppet rig that can be animated — all with the same pieces anyone can buy at the toy store. One of the strengths of Lego toys is that they’re all part of a system of play. Every single piece can be used and reused. Instead of working with a random assortment of materials, you can have movie characters, sets, props, and so forth that are all Lego and can all be used interchangeably. Then, once you finish one film, you can take everything apart and use the exact same pieces to build something new for the next one.
What kinds of skills does the book develop?
“The Lego Animation Book” starts out with basic techniques to ease budding filmmakers into the world of animation. Then we move into more advanced topics: character performance, idea/ story development, Lego building, planning and organization, photography, editing, sound and more. We also give advice on abstract topics, like how to be a thoughtful and responsible content creator in the internet age.
How might what kids learn from the book apply beyond animation?
When I teach animation classes and workshops, one of the things parents always appreciate is the emphasis on two school subjects tied directly to animation — math and science. For example, if I have a character running, I need to be able to calculate how many still photos, or frames, I need to take to get them from point A to point B. There’s more math involved when you consider how far the character will need to move in between each of those frames, how many degrees a single arm or leg might rotate, which direction it’s rotating in, whether or not the camera needs to move at the same time ... the list goes on. Science is equally essential to animation — specifically physics, which helps you figure out how things move in the real world. Gravity, acceleration/ deceleration, force, inertia, Newton’s laws of motion — all of these concepts come into play constantly. Animation also has laws and principles of its own, which we cover in the book.
How long does it typically take to make one minute of stop-motion animation?
It depends on what’s going on within that one minute! A 60-second scene of one character standing around talking is not going to take as long as a 60-second scene of a dozen characters flying around in robot spaceships, shooting lasers at each other as they explode. For [Paganomation’s] minifigure-based projects, I try to allot a minimum of one month of production time per minute of screen time.