One of the biggest complaints about the state of modern war movies is that instead of having a cast of thousands and using practical effects (including models), much of the “action” is created via CGI (computer generated imagery). While there is no denying that in the past 20 years CGI has gotten much better and makes the impossible seem almost real, it still doesn’t compare to seeing actual actors charge across a battlefield on the big screen.
CGI may also allow for a more seamless sense of motion that the use of models, but it seems we’re still very much in that “uncanny valley” where computer-generated graphics have a quality that is almost lifelike but misses by enough that it seems creepy.
For those who want the old school-stop motion animation there are now some truly impressive “creators” who have utilized Lego (and similar looking) plastic bricks to recreate famous battles and other moments from history, and taken their efforts to YouTube.
It may not be actual soldiers, and Lego may not have the realism of more detailed models but there is simply something fun about what it provides.
Lego Goes To War
Many Lego creators are still happy to create static models, and many of those can be truly impressive in their own right. Yet, it is the small handful of skilled individuals who have combined their knowledge of history with the ability to be both excellent filmmakers and Lego builders whose creations truly stand out!
Among them is Jordan Durrenberger, whose YouTube channel JD Brick Productions, has more than 245,000 subscribers while his most popular videos have been seen more than three million times. He’s recreated the D-Day Landings at Omaha Beach – and while it is clearly inspired by Saving Private Ryan – it actually captures the spirit of the battle in a way that is both fun and informative.
Other creations of his include The Battle of Cambrai, the defense of Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu War and the Battle of New Orleans. The challenge in these creations is that neither Lego – nor any of its competitors – actually make playsets from the various conflicts, so that has required Durrenberger to get even more creative.
“The vast majority of the pieces I use are Lego, however, for more specialized parts such as guns, helmets, uniforms etc. I’ll have to get them from one of the many stores that sell custom molded/printed pieces,” Durrenberger explained.
Dmitry of LCM Brick Show is another history buff, who has combined his passion for military history with his love of Lego. As a result he has more than 219,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel.
“I try to make military history films, and for me an important point is the educational component, I want the audience to have something left in their heads after watching my films,” he added.
Among LCM Brick Show’s most epic builds yet was his take on the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in human history. While the Lego stop-motion films may reduce some of the blood and gore, it also makes it a teachable moment for younger viewers who may have an interest in military history.
“Before making this film I’ve watched dozens of documentary films. I’ve read some articles. I was trying to find something which will allow me to make not just fun-shooting film but a story. So I found real soldiers who died in the Somme battle and told their story. Also I’ve paid attention to the first usage of tanks.”
Here is where liberties had to be taken because the Danish-based Lego doesn’t actually make military vehicles.
“At that film I used COBI tank – it’s a set from a Poland company that makes military history toys. Lego has a non-violence policy so they don’t make military sets. But there is a demand so there is a supply – including many small companies that make military sets for Lego bricks – for example Brickmania.”
3D printing has also helped the creators, but really at this point it is those small companies that have stepped up to the fill the void for what Lego won’t produce – yet the Danish company has made Star Wars themed playsets as well as knights and pirates over the years but draws the line at actual modern history.
Full Blown Productions
Creating those epic films for YouTube is quite time consuming said Durrenberger who added, “For a 3 minute stop-motion video, it takes me around one month to make. I could make in a much shorter time, but I like to spend a lot of time working on the small details to give my videos a nice polished look.”
Making the videos historically accurate from the uniforms to the helmets to the weapons has also been important for LCM Brick Show, who said the videos can take seven to 10 days.
Neither of these history-themed creators said this is really work in the traditional sense – and when asked why Lego instead of toy soldiers or detailed models their answers were similar.
“I personally like working with Lego for their detailed figures, and the endless possibilities when it comes to building items and sets for my videos,” said Durrenberger. “Also, the smooth joints and many different poses make the Lego minifigure an ideal thing to animate.”
LCM Brick Show added, “For me Lego soldiers are not toys. They are my instrument. I’m a director of the film and they are actors. I don’t think I’m making my films for kids. Kids’ attention is like collateral damage. I’m making my films for those who like Lego and history at the same time. I would say that kid’s views are stopping me from making my films more brutal.”
Plastic Fantastic – More Lego Creations
In addition to the channels such as LCM Brick Show and JD Brick Productions, there are now other Lego fans who have moved to YouTube not to show off their creations but those from the other builders out there.
That is what Beyond the Brick’s Joshua Hanlon has been doing since the channel debuted in 2011. With more than 2 million followers across Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, Hanlon now travels the world to showcase talented Lego builders and their incredible creations.
“Our favorite Lego military creations are a massive Battle of Waterloo with more than 2,000 minifigs and a 25-foot-long USS Missouri ship,” Hanlon explained. “Famous battles and military icons in Lego are great, but Lego creations can also bring attention to important but lesser-known moments in history, such as this recreation of Itter Castle.”
Hanlon who has been obsessed with Lego for most of his life added that YouTube has allowed for the sharing of Lego in a way that allows greater immersion for the fans.
“Our interviews with Lego builders around the world provide a glimpse into the creation process that photos and text alone could never do,” said Hanlon. “Nothing beats having the builder in their own words describe what they created. We hope that Beyond the Brick always serves as a platform to showcase the unending creativity and talent of Lego builders worldwide.”