Dramatis Personae

Who are the LEGOnauts? LEGOnauts are LEGO astronauts of course, but they're hardly quality actors. They're cute, but smiling and mindless autonomons with no individual character. The new LEGO sets have certainly addressed this problem, and you can now purchase minifigs who aren't smiley drones, come in sexes, and even sport coarse stubble. The old sets I had in the Eighties had to rely on a lot of character from some editing slights of hand than relying on them to method act.during the production scraping their isotype faces off with a scalpel and replacing them with a Rotring inked version.

All the Portal characters are simple identical clones of each other (colours notwithstanding) and used the same facial heads. Character was distinguished by some heads being more frequently worn by a figure than others. There would be one or two signature expressions that a particular character wore more than others. Having special heads was all very nice and made the little guys look alive, but it was oh so painful to shoot at times. Within the space ship interiors, even a simple blink involved ripping apart the set, gingerly replacing a head without moving the character and then rebuilding everything around it all over again.


L

L is the junior of the three main characters. He's the most immature, gets into trouble all the time and is still learning the ropes. He doesn't think things through properly, and generally spends most of his time running from trouble or getting told off by his superior officer, Captain Paranoia.

L was voiced by Ingle Knight who literally recorded two thirds of our heroic LEGOnaut's dialogue in one, continuous first take. All of it was off the top of his head, seeing the images for the very first time. All Ingle knew was that he was performing the voice for a student film that used LEGO. At the time I was a bit stunned - so THAT'S professionalism. Bloody hell. I'll take a dozen! Ingle read my mind. I don't know how he did it - but he voiced L exactly as I'd imagined him to sound, except much better. Outside talent and experience - really, there's no substitute. I'm sure the spontaneity makes L come alive.


P

By contrast, P is more laboured. L was easy - a Learner, getting into trouble, being foolish and easily the most childish character of the bunch. P is like an older sibling, still on his P's, but with sufficient experience in the world to stand back and consider things before he rushes off and gets into trouble. He only speaks his mind when he feels he has to (unlike L, who'll shoot his mouth off at the drop of a hat) and for much of the film he wears the "Scowling/Thoughtful" head. P balances out L and the Captain, and is less prominent. But he is the rock to L's world, calming things down and acting as a buffer between the other characters.


Captain Paranoia

A simple caricature of authority, and the most one dimensional of the cast (apart from the Monster - and even then, it's not so Monstrous in the end). He's pretty much just a stereotype. That eagle crest on his chest was simply the most authoritive logo I could find in the LEGO set. I think I wore out about three of them in the course of the production (as well as four or five L's and two or three P's) so I didn't go to the effort of making a custom front. In hindsight, I really should have. There have been a few people wondering if he was some kind of German/Nazi reference or something. Those critiques caught me completely off guard. Of course not, I say - but in the back of my mind is an filmmaker contemplating his mostly Anglo-Saxon British colonial education and thinking twice about it...

Now there's a bit of a tale behind the Captain. He was eventually voiced by Paul Bryant, one of my high school teachers who also doubled as a part time opera singer. He was a replacement for fellow film student Jay Plaicing, who got halfway through the Captain's recordings before his contribution was cut short due to circumstances beyond my control.

I feel Jay easily made the best Captain. I'd tried a few recordings before I wisely gave up trying to do everything myself. Jay was a mature age student who lived on the edge, had had a rough time of it, and was a bit volatile. His Captain had the same extraordinary edge to it - his roars and shouts had depth and presence - which, coming from a LEGO character suddenly gave them quite a bit of presence and a real sense of character. This wasn't just some vocal rabbiting going on in the background - but a genuine Paranoid Captain! His being flushed away by the Plasticene had an amazing despairing edge to it - and his angry outbursts against the L's silliness were just fantastic. I think I cut much of the actual visuals around his voice, before I had to re-record because...

...Jay disappears mid way through the year. Weeks pass, and no one knows where he's got to. He doesn't show for his classes, and there's a worryingly finality about the complete lack of information, or even a single rumour. Then, one day, we all assemble for our film tutorial and the whole class is electric with the news: Jay Plaicing had played a starring role - on Australia's Most Wanted! Yep, he had been "recaptured" by police (or had surrendered to them when they cornered him, or something) after pole-vaulting over the wall in Pentridge in New South Wales (thats what I heard!) and then vanishing for several years to the chagrin of the local authorities. Unbeknownst to all, he'd travelled to west to WA, (the Sandgroper state that, as far as the "Eastern Staters" are concerned, sits in an alternate dimension), got himself enrolled at Curtin Uni and was busily furthering his education.

Um. No more Captain Paranoia. It explained quite a bit about Jay though, but alas, I had to break the glass and break out the emergency back up voice talent instead. Paul Bryant was an opera singer, and pretty good at it, but a cosy operatic life was no substitute for the raw edge that only the School of Hard Knocks can provide. I can still remember Jay cooped up in the sound booth going nuts into the microphone, making even a silly LEGO minifig sound amazing - and at the time thinking (quite innocently) that he'd make a great claustrophic character.


Plasticene

This was voiced by Tina Williams. After all that rigid geometry and masculine (albeit asexual) LEGO characters, the Magic Portal urgently needed a foil. Plasticene was designed to completely break up the LEGO world and loosen it up. It changed colour (but often stayed green, because my film up to that point had very little green in it) had a completely different texture and motion to it and of course, was female. Plasticene was light relief both for animation and characterisation. Tina added quite a bit to the character. Playful and liquid is Plasticene's character. It can become anything, do anything and is the most friendly, carefree and imaginative individual amongst them - even heroically saving the intolerant Captain from the Liquid Paper Daleks after he's tried to perforate it. The only tip I have for would-be claymationers: for heaven's sake, work at a bigger scale so you have enough space to sculpt in! Animating a LEGOnaut sized glob of putty is sheer torture...

The Plasticene is also my nod toThe Red and the Blue - an Italian series of five minute claymation TV shorts that basically demonstrated you can do ANYTHING you bloody like in a film, regardless of cost or length. So I did.


The Liquid Paper Daleks

Of course, The Magic Portal simply had to have Daleks. The Liquid Paper Daleks are armed with their deadly Knitting Needle Rayguns, comfortably overpowering the less-than-intimidating Cardboard-Cut-Out Blaster that Paranoia packs. The dialogue of the Liquid Paper Daleks is simply me destroying my vocal chords chanting out a string of words with "ate" suffixes and then mangling the result through a vocoder.

The Liquid Paper Daleks are a very, very thin and personal joke. You see, when I was a wee lad, colour TV appeared very late in Western Australia, popping up with much anticipation around 1977. Any kid who was anyone watched Doctor Who on the ABC. The good Doctor was up to his third incarnation and Dalek stories were the big thing. There seemed to be a lot of them at the time and lots of we anklebiters run around the schoolyard in packs doing lame Dalek impersonations, chanting "Ext-erm-in-ate" in cheesy robot voices. On old black and white TV sets, the Dalek death ray was simply an inverse video effect: cut to a close up of a Dalek Exterminator exterminating, and then cut to some great pantomine death scenes in glorious negative black and white.

We six year olds had no word for "cheap and nasty BBC video effect" - hell, we were still coming to grips with the idea that Batman was actually made in the TV studio somewhere - so we gromits in our naivete were convinced that Dalek victims "went 'all white' and die!" There was plenty of white death Dalek action on the school playground and not too many of us wanted to be on U.N.I.T.'s side, despite Brigadeer Lethbridge-Stuart's self-evident (if somewhat stuffy) charisma, because UNIT bullets never worked on Dalek armour and UNIT had a neverending supply of unlucky geezers for the Daleks to practice on.

Naturally, Daleks that "white out" their enemies are clearly Liquid Paper ones. Their favourite haunts aren't abandoned quarries colonised by the BBC, but old abandoned manual typewriters. And they would almost certainly be the most pre-eminent and evil stationery superpower in all the Galaxy. I daresay the LEGOnauts have had many run-ins with them.

Last modified Tue, Dec 7 2004 by Lindsay Flea