In this very special short film, there are no normal LEGO figures, but only individual blocks – and yet you recognize the characters.
For my bachelor thesis titled Character Animation with the Limitations of Analogue Animation of LEGO Characters, I analyzed this stop motion movie. Here is a slightly modified version of this movie analysis.
The short film Ah by the South Korean studio Shelter was created in 2011 under the direction of Lee Sung Hwan. The animation studio, which is otherwise focused on commercial projects, has gained international recognition and the video has been played on Vimeo over 450,000 times. Their description of the short film is apt:
„Combined units of colorful blocks. They act like people.“Studio Shelter
Because there are no human figures, at least as far as appearance is concerned. The main characters are individual LEGO blocks and letters from LEGO, which together form the word “Ahhhhh”. What makes the video special is that the individual stones and even the letters become independent and human characters. Together they tell the video in the everyday and not so common occurrences in a block.
In the first scene, only one red and one blue block are visible, moving toward each other. Of course, the sound layer also plays a major supporting role here, but even without sound, it can be clearly seen that it is a loving couple. The colors red and blue are very clichés, the sexes, and the movements and their timing point to the actions of the characters. Thus, cleverly used animation even lends a single personality to single, single-colored LEGO bricks.
With the letter sequence “Ahhhhh” appears another main character, or even six. Already through the dynamic appearance each letter gets its own personality, whereby here also Disney’s animation principles find their application. The “A” pops up with a squash & stretch animation – the last pose is exaggerated and the figure is one block higher for a frame before shrinking to the right size. The remaining letters fly from the right into the picture and then slow down or collide. Here, the principle of slow out and overlapping action is applied when the letters decelerate and the upper part bends left abruptly and jumps back.
Here you can see the letters. But the cars passing by in front of them, and the previously introduced couple disappearing into one letter in this scene, add an extra meaning – it becomes a series of skyscrapers. This is illustrated by minimalist but cleverly used animations. When the couple approaches a letter, the bottom block changes color like a sliding door that opens. The characters disappear and the door closes again to a black block. This stone then moves up and symbolizes an elevator, which is supported by the sound level. Next, the light goes on in a room – a green house stone is replaced by a yellow one – and the whole house begins to move. Here, the principle of exaggeration is used to represent together with the sound of the love act of the two characters. The LEGO bricks of the house are loosely put on each other to allow flexible circular movements in all directions.
Also in other parts of the video, Disney’s animation principles and other clever animations are used to portray the plot despite the very reduced characters and their very limited range of motion. When a character is threatened with a pistol, the LEGO rock wobbles around in an exaggerated way and is made a third higher with a small LEGO piece to show the raised hands. The same animation depicts previously laughing figures as well as a kissing couple – the actual meaning of the movement becomes clear from the context, but is then clearly distinguishable.
Later in the video, reference will be made to Star Wars movies, such as the emerging AT-AT Walker. Although these vehicles exist as detailed, officially licensed LEGO Star Wars sets, they were recreated from just a few gray blocks in the style of the rest of the video. Because the models have no movable joints, they are rebuilt or rebuilt for each pose. The shots of the laser cannon were digitally added in the post-processing, while the explosions of the hit vehicles were realized by means of practical effects. For the explosion, a car was split in two at the moment of the impact of the digital laser effect and a piece of cotton wool placed in the middle. In the subsequent frames, the vehicle breaks further and further, while the cotton is divided into smaller pieces and spreads. Both the laser and the cloud of the explosion could have been rendered with LEGO parts, but this example shows that LEGO animations can be complemented with other materials and techniques.
Also in the following duel the lightsabers are displayed with a digital glow. The characters in it – a brown stone as a Jedi, a black stone as a Sith and several white stones as a Stormtrooper – are immediately apparent to a viewer familiar with the Star Wars films in this context, though they are represented by single, single-colored stones ,
The camera is static in all settings, so without pans, zooms or camera shots. Additionally, most of the video was shot without editing. Thus, the lettering “Ahhhhh” can be seen throughout the middle of the picture. Only at the beginning and end of the video is cut between different settings. So the video starts with some close-ups, then gradually cuts to larger settings and finally lands at the longest of the letters / houses prevailing for the rest of the video. At the end, close and wide shots then alternate until the video is finally completed by a LEGO wall that fills the frame.