In the early 2010’s my photographs with Lego, especially with Lego, were rather experimental. The manipulation of air around the little minifigures with smokes and blizzards was the thing I did. I even coined a name for it: “Forced Atmospheric Perspective Photography”.

The idea was very simple. The Forced Atmospheric Perspective Photography was about adding something in the air to scale it down, make it denser. You can’t scale down elements like fire or water but with air I knew it could be done, I just had to search for it a little. Densifying air will help match it with the small scale of the Lego minifigure thus making them look bigger than they are in photographs, less toyish.

The basic idea is not mine, of course. It originates from special effects and miniature photography in movies. Animators use it too, they simulate it with frosted glass between the elements. I used to read everything I could get my hands on about the subject of special effects, magazines and books. I grew up in Finland and finding this stuff wasn’t always the easiest thing. This was before the time of the internet, mind you. I was a subscriber to early Starlog, Cinefantastique and Cinefex magazines, I found books like ILM, The Art of Special Effects from the big Akateeminen bookstore downtown Helsinki.

From the cloud tanks of CE3K and Raiders of the Lost Ark to the Hades landscape of Blade Runner and more, that's what I had, and the idea of using it for photographing Lego and other toys. It was a different and new look with Lego at the time, it stood out. At least on platforms like Flickr, it was the giant for the photography scene then.

Today is February 14th, 2024, Valentine’s day and the 10th anniversary of The Lego Movie in Finland. The anniversary of The Lego Movie is why I brought up those old experiments I did with the brick. They caught the eye of the production team gearing up to make The Lego Movie around 2012 or 2013. In search for the look of the film they called me and wanted to know how and why I did my photographs the way I did.

Now, I must emphasize that the toyphotography scene back then was not like it is today. In the early days there was a moment my photography experiments left me thinking that they were indeed different and I was the village idiot making them alone because everybody else just couldn’t care less. Originally I didn't even have my name shown publicly because of this. I thought that if what I was doing somehow blew on my face I’d still have the protection of anonymity. That's where the “Avanaut” came along. Defying the self doubt was good in the end.

I have signed an NDA concerning the Lego Movie so I can’t say much. I don’t really know if they’d care after ten years, probably not, but I will let them say it for me. Just to be on the safe side. 

Here is an article I’ve shared a lot. It's from Craig Welsh, the lighting supervisor of The Lego Movie. In the article on his blog Expanded Cinematography he opens the process of finding the right look for the plastic toy. 

Another article in the FX Guide where the film’s production designer Grant Freckelton is interviewed about the very same thing but broader. From the article:

“Animal Logic took inspiration from Finnish photographer Vesa Lehtimäki (also known as Avanaut) who creates realistic scenes using LEGO, sometimes with ‘in-camera’ effects. “We actually talked to him,” recalls Freckelton, “and he described how Douglas Trumbull influenced his work by creating smoke tanks or much much smaller environments filled with much much more atmosphere than you would normally have. That was the same approach we took.”

That's it, ten years ago this was my little adventure with Hollywood. It was grand! Maybe even awesome.

Happy 10th anniversary Lego Movie!