Behind the Scenes

Interested in what goes into an episode of Bricks of the Dead? No? Well too bad, because here’s some behind the scenes information anyway. Be forewarned, it’s rather lengthy and probably a bit masturbatory, but what did you expect?

Planning & Writing:
Believe it or not, there is a plan behind Bricks of the Dead. I’m a pretty organized fellow (maybe anal retentive is the right word), and I like to plan. I keep everything in Google Docs, include my outline, character bios, scripts, bonus information, style sheet, etc. I use Google Docs because it allows me to work on my comic from anywhere with a computer and internet access. I actually do a lot of my scripting on my lunch breaks at work.

As far as overall planning is concerned, I keep a running list of plot points, character traits, character histories, relationship, places, etc. My plot summary is something like an outline, except a little less structured. I tend to outline based on character groups: Stewart, Cheryl, Shannon, Sam, and Murphy will be doing A, B, and C; while Gene, Ted, and Jeff do X, Y, and Z. As groups form, combine, and split up they get their own branches on the plot tree. It’s not a perfect system, but it works pretty well.

My plot outline is also very fluid. Things that I plan to do frequently get mutated into something else, or pushed ahead or back for a variety of reasons. Usually this is because I rethink where the story is going an either think of something that would work better, look cooler, or flesh out the characters more. Plot points I abandon get saved for later (you never know when writer’s block will strike, after all).

I script Bricks of the Dead using a pretty basic template (I believe it’s more or less what’s used for movies and TV shows). I try to follow regular screenwriting format, with tweaks here and there such as the publication date and what status that particular episode is in (scripted, shot, etc.). Here’s an example of a recent episode:

Episode 133 (2011-07-06 – Shot/Edited/Published)

Panel 1

Ext. City Street – Day
Zombies are milling about outside.

Panel 2

The door open and Sam runs out.

Panel 3

Ohmygod! Ohmygod! Ohmygod!

Panel 4

A couple of zombies notice Sam

Panel 5

The zombies start to follow Sam.

Panel 6

Int. Apartment – Day

Murphy is looking out the window.

It’s working! They’re already following him.

If you compare the script to the actual episode, you’ll notice that I made a few changes here and there. I do this quite a lot once I’ve got my photography completed. What looks good in a script doesn’t necessarily translate well into the comic, so I try to stay adaptable.

Building and Organizing:
Fans of LEGO® tend to complain a lot about organizing. It’s time consuming, boring, and – so long as your collection continues to grow – requires constant attention. I, however, don’t complain a bit about organizing. I love it. I can happily sit in my basement for hours picking through bricks and putting them into various containers. As such, my organization system is in constant flux and I continually go through and re-sort to add more and more specificity to things.

A bit of my collection. I'll get more up later.

That said, I am not burdened with an overabundance of time, and my budget is quite tight, so I can only blow so much on boxes and drawers, so my collection is never as organized as I’d like it to be.

I use a mix of stock LEGO® sets and my own creations. I tend to use stock sets primarily for exteriors, and I’m especially fond of the modular building series (Cafe Corner, et al) for backdrops. I’d like to get into building more microscale buildings for exterior establishing shots. This is my first try so far (lots of room for improvement, I know):

I'd like to do more microscale exteriors

I like to build interiors myself, since I need lots of room to spread out. When I build rooms I generally build them like a movie/TV set, that is to say, 2/3rds of a room or so. This allows me plenty of options for different camera angles.

Here's how I build an interior
Here is another room and the attached hallway.

I shoot the series on a Nikon D60, using a homemade lightbox for most scenes. I built my lightbox from foam core board and masking tape. I use no-name worklights from Ace Hardware for the lighting. I generally shoot with two lights bounced off the ceiling of my lightbox, but occasionally add in a third that’s more direct for shadows.

This is my lightbox. There are many like it, but this one is mine...

This is a big improvement from where the strip began: on a piece of wood on top of my washer and drier. Seriously:

Don't laugh. It got the job done.

When I’m filming I typically use a black cloth behind my model to keep light from showing through the gaps between pieces. This is a technique I developed fairly recently, so you’ll probably find older comics with background light bleeding through. This makes me sad.

Very occasionally I’ll setup a larger street scene that won’t fit in my lightbox. For the larger scene I generally setup on a card table and bounce my lights off some shiny reflective material that I got from AutoZone (they go in your windshield to keep your car cool in the summer while it’s parked).

Big scenes require special attention

Since Bricks of the Dead aspires to be dramatic and scary (whether it’s successful is a whole other matter), I like to shoot at or around eye level with characters, using quite a few close-ups.

I edit every episode in Photoshop CS4 using a six step process:

  1. I go through my photography for the episode, and choose which shot to use for each frame.
  2. Once I have my photos picked out, I crop and edit them individually. Unlike some other webcomic authors, I never use an image without cropping it down to size, as I always shoot much wider than I need to give myself plenty of wiggle room. I try to keep the edits to a minimum, usually only a  bit of color correction and minor sharpening. I generally complete the first two steps on a laptop in the basement. I do the rest on a desktop since it’s considerably faster and easier to work with (a dual monitor setup is a thing of beauty).
  3. Once all the images are finalized, I import than into my comic template, add the episode number, and apply a border around each frame. These images are placed into a “Panels” folder in the layers menu (always organize your layers, kids).
  4. Next, I add dialog and word balloons. These layers go into a “Dialog” folder.
  5. Finally, I add any effects required, such as blood spatter, muzzle flashes, and sometimes editing out certain artifacts (like sticky tack used to hold the characters in place when they’re not standing on studs). These layers are placed in an “Effects” folder.
  6. After a quick read through or two to check for errors and typos, the final image is saved and uploaded to my website, where I write up the Zombie Cliché Lookout and add any other notes of interest, and schedule the episode.

Advertising and Community Involvement:
After I publish an episode (or a blog, new page, etc.) I always put up a link on Bricks of the Dead‘s Facebook page and Twitter feed (if you don’t already, you should totally follow both). Getting involved with people who read my strip is really important to me, so I try to give them a few different ways to find and connect with the comic (I need to get more active in Flickr as well).

My favorite area for interacting with readers is the comments section of each comment. I’m always excited to check my email on mornings when comics are published because I know there will be a few comments waiting for me. I always read every comment, and reply to most. It’s really fun to see what people think of the latest episode and where they think the story is going next. Plus I just love talking to people about zombies, especially when they’re as passionate about the subject as I am. Bricks of the Dead has some fantastic commenters.

71 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes”

  1. That’s a lot of work for a comic. Kind of makes me rethink making my own comic.

    • It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun.

  2. Yeah. I’ve been rolling around a Lego comic idea for what seems like years. There goes the option of laying a sheet on the armchair as a studio. 😛

    • I started on top of a washing machine. Humble beginnings, right?

  3. I realize I don’t have enough photos of my organization. I plan on rectifying that in the next couple of weeks.

    • *taps foot impatiently*

  4. Absolutely fantastic.

    The thoroughness and attention to detail is what makes this site very appealing.

    As someone who is very new to this I have found Dave to be an outstanding resource of knowledge and very generous with thorough replies that has been a tremendous help to me. Thanks for all the previous help and this page.

    I had some questions I wasn’t sure how to ask and that black cloth answered it. I had gone as far as building a L shaped wall to fill gaps but with so so results…the cloth is perfect.

    Also its very cool to see your supply drawers…I have something similar but not near as expansive. Where do you store your completed sets?

    • I keep completed sets in a few places. All my modulars are on my desk upstairs because they look cool and I like to show them off.

      I have a few other sets displayed downstairs, but most are in big bins. I’ll try to get some photography of that soon.

      • ” I like to show them off.”

        Your friends or family ever raise an eyebrow at the AFOL aspect?

        • Most people think it’s pretty cool, although I think a lot are surprised when they see the level of organization in my collection (even though I think it’s got a long way to go).

        • I have seen some pics of build rooms on brickling that are jaw dropping. I feel like I have already invested a lot of money but it’s a drop in the bucket in inventory compared to what some have. It hard building from the ground up and deciding what to order.

        • Yeah, but most of those collections are decades old. You just got started. I had the benefit of a rather sizable bin or parts from when I was a kid, so I had a nice head start.

        • True…

          Also…do you spray your sets with compressed air or anything before a shoot to clean them?

        • Sometimes, but not generally. I keep my interiors covered with a cloth when I’m not using them. The exteriors sometimes need some dusting though,

  5. (I need to get more active in Flickr as well).

    I think it would be great to have a group where readers can keep up with other’s MOCS’s.

    • Indeed it would.

    • dave its awesome behind the scenes nice i like it

  6. Aw, I knew you’d beat me to it! Well done.

    And you really do write Bricks of the Dead just like a screenplay…. very nice.

    This page has actually made me feel just slightly depressed – your camera, lighting setup, sets, collection, organization, and even your scripting all beat the zombie guts out of mine! Not to mention, you now have a Behind the Scenes page, and I don’t….

    I’m mostly joking (but partly still jealous. 😉 ) I enjoyed reading what goes into making Bricks of the Dead;I love “behind the scenes” for anything, and BotD is no exception.

    • dude person…shoot me an email…[email protected]

      • You start small and build up, just like everything. My scripting has pretty much always looked like this, because I’m anal retentive and I love to plan and organize. The lighting, organization, etc are all works in progress.

        I also love behind the scenes stuff. Sometimes I enjoy those features of DVDs more than the movie itself. I’m glad I was able to contribute my own.

        • I think I definitely need to get working on the “building up” part! 😉

          I usually plan and organize my projects now, but sometimes I’m still too lazy to plan properly.

          I feel just the same way about some movies.

          I didn’t particularly enjoy the movie Terminator: Salvation (I won’t get into that here, I’m still trying not to derail things too much!), but I really liked seeing what went into it, and what techniques were used on different aspects of the special effects and such.

        • Oh yeah, even bad movies can have interesting features. Terminator: Salvation was a turd. I went in not expecting much and was still disappointed. Bring back Michael Beihn already. That guy’s a hardass.

        • Hah, a turd indeed!

          You know, apparently “Kyle Reese” *does sarcastic quote-fingers gesture* was also Chekov in the Star Trek reboot movie.

          I just don’t feel the actor brought the right presence to the character. He was pretty lame.

          Also, I was halfway between laughing and shouting at the screen at the end. (Luckily, the two impulses cancelled each other out, and instead I simply sat there, staring blankly.) The writer/director must not have ANY knowledge whatsoever of medical procedures (or even simple, common sense)… Either that, or they expect the audience to be equally unknowledgable.

          I guess Micheal Beihn couldn’t have played Reese in this one, since he was supposed to be a lot younger in it (when of course, in reality he had been getting older all these years.)

          I’m just dreading T5. I’ve heard a lot of rumors, and based on them, I think it could end up being even more of an insult to the series. There has been talk of bringing Robert Patrick or Arnold Schwarzenegger back, or something like that….

          Thankfully, there were a ton of rights disputes that, as far as I know, are still unresolved. Those disputes should hopefully (for a little while) keep us safe from another… turd, to put it nicely.

          Wow, you really opened up a whole can o’ worms on that one Dave! Just remember, you brought that upon yourself. 😉

          But I did like seeing what went into the Marcus Wright terminator-face effects, and also the actual Stan Winston terminators built for the movie in the behind the scenes stuff.

        • i know that u said that its fun creating the comic, but it looks like it cost you like two hundred dollars

        • Oh, I’ve spent a lot more than two hundred bucks on this, all told. It’s a hobby, and hobbies are money furnaces.

      • Alright ZombieMutts, whatever you say. Email sent!

        • It’s spooky how clever some ppl are. Thsnka!

      • Where do you get all of those awesome LEGO weapons? I would give like $3.00 for Stewart’s machete. And the the looter’s mp5

        • Stewarts machete is from BrickArms. You can buy them online from a few different vendors. I’ve only used GI Brick. Awesome people; they even sponsored one of my contests.

  7. Dave, have you considered expanding the community aspect of this site? Possibly with a message boards/forum and whatnot? I think- especially seeing last comic’s 111 comments only a day after it’s release- that a forum might become an active focus of the Lego/zombie community.

    • I have, I’ve even tested a couple solutions to expand the functionality of the comments out on my local copy of the site. Nothing I’ve found I’m quite happy with just yet.

      I ran a forum on another site, and it just never took off, so I’m wary of starting another. But as the comments continue to hit the triple digits I’m going to have to see what is available.

      • I run 3 forums as a side gig(that i never post on)

        If you ever need suggestions or want to bounce an idea let me know.

        • Thanks; I’ll keep that in mind.

  8. Well unfortunately for me I can’t shoot on top of the washing machine and dryer because the dryer’s wall mounted, and if the load’s unbalanced just right, the LEGO scene would need to be an earthquake scene for it to make any sense to shoot it on the washing machine. Plus it’s a semi-outdoors spot, fresh clean air available, just stick your head out! 😉

    I do, however, have a table but mainly the problem is keeping dust off it. Suffice it to say that I’m looking for some kind of system where I can keep most of the dust and droppings (from vermin like rats and geckoes just to name a few) off it. Living in a dusty old Queenslander makes this rather a bit of a nightmare.

    Dave however has been blessed with the ingredients for a very good webcomic! Keep up the good work, Dave! May your zeds act their part for a long time to come! 😉

    • Yikes, that’s quite a challenge.

      When I was shooting on the dryer I always had to take things down after shooting. It was a pain in the ass.

      • Let me put it this way: When was the last time you priced dustproof enclosures? 😀

        • Hah

      • Well Dave, I suppose I’ve started off slightly better than you did in terms of shooting space.

        I shoot Zombie Outbrick on my desk in front of my computer, which means all my LEGO can stay in the same room (i.e. I don’t have to haul it over to the laundry room when I need to shoot new episodes!)

        But I still have to take the whole thing off my desk afterwards.

        • Yeah, that’s definitely an improvement. Still, the biggest pain is having to break down your work area and set it back up again every time.

        • Both of you have me beat…I have all my stuff stored in my office/spare bedroom but I bring everything out into another room to do builds. I am incredibly slow at builds so if I didn’t do that I would be sitting back there by myself for hours at a time. I can’t plan everything out except a basic concept so I create as I go thus I need every storage container with me. I’m thinking about putting everything on some sort of cart and wheeling it out. Hah….crazy….

        • The cart isn’t a bad idea. I used to work for a school district and all the teachers who didn’t have permanent classrooms did that. Seems workable.

  9. weirdly i recorded my first few stopmotion movies on my dryer…they kinda sucked.i found murphys car.great work you’re awesome!now i gotta set up my youtube be back later.

  10. Its nice you did that behind the scenes, it was fun. Plus i had my father talk to some director guy who said that you had a good story line but he was way too busy, hey at least i tried 🙂

    • Hey, some director said I had a good story. That’s cool.

  11. Do you by any chance have some instructions for that hospital, Dave?
    It looks really awesome, and I would like to make one for myself if possible…

    • I don’t have any instructions, but the build should be pretty simple.

      Start here for the base, since that’s the most complete part. the rest is just bricks, plates, tiles, and headlight pieces.

      • You dont know how lucky you are to have those LEGO wepeaons

        • Hah, yeah I’ve got quite a few. I need to toss a couple into the next contest prize.

  12. I am getting a dSLR camera…nothing too crazy…I am budgeting $800 total for everything including accessories. From what I am reading and I have been told unless you’re a pro you don’t need to spend much as most of the quality comes from the person taking the picture’s skill.

    • Awesome! Which one are you getting? I’m using a very entry-level DSLR and it’s certainly meeting my needs.

      • As of right now the (Nikon D3100 14.2MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens) for $550 which is probably right for me as an entry level camera. I have developed a heavy interest in macro photography. When the weather gets better in Texas we’ll be seeing a lot ot of out door MOCS hopefully.

        • Excellent. Those seem to be on sale kind of regularly too.

  13. O_O
    Wow. I envy your setup.
    Where do you get those storage bins? I’ve been looking for a system for forever now, but i can never find anything that works.
    Also, I think you use the exact same model of laptop as me.
    The professionalism in this comic continually amazes me.

    • Hey Thade. I got the storage bins with the drawers from Home Depot. Everything else from Target.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      • *facepalm*
        Why didn’t I think of home depot! I think I’ve checked literally every other store in existance.

  14. Dave…are those “Akro Mils” shelves?

    • They aren’t that brand, but they’re essentially the same thing. I picked these up at Home Depot. Well, my wife did for a christmas present for me a couple years ago.

  15. so you just do all of the scripts at work breaks?

    • Not all of them, but I do write a few during my lunch break. Just did four today, as a matter of fact.

      • man, thats a hobby that takes a lot of adult stuff, my mom says that i should organize my lego’s like you do in that first picture. Parents…

        • Hah. The organization definitely takes a lot of time. Of course, I like organizing things. Always have.

  16. then could you clean my room?

  17. im stumped on my picture editing, i can do everything else, ( buy guns, make scenes. etc) i need to work on the picture editing, thats about it

  18. This is great how you did this! i hope to make some lego videos or something like a webcomic and I want to say thanks you for influencing me and making this awesome site!

    • My pleasure Gor.

  19. Dave, how hard is it to create the site itself? I’m keen to start my own, and understand the costs, its the creating of the site that seems like the daunting task!!!

    • I don’t think it’s too hard, but I’ve setup quite a few websites before (and since).

      The site uses WordPress with a theme called Comicpress to power the comic. Then I just customized the look of it. It’s self-hosted, so I have to make sure everything is kept up to date and whatnot. If something breaks (like it did on Monday) I need to fix it.

      I enjoy it, personally. If you want to do a comic and don’t want to do the website part it it, there are a couple free tools out there you can use. ComicFury seems quite popular.

      • I think I’d like to give it a go, found some software to run WordPress and comicpress without being online, so that’s a start! And I’d rather have a nice looking site like yours that something generic.

        • I use XAMPP to run WordPress locally for development. It works quite well. There are a bunch of other options available as well.

          If you’re looking to try to improve the look of it, my best advise is to download “Firebug” for Firefox. That tool is absolutely indispensable for theme development in WordPress.

  20. Thanks for the help dave I’ll look into it.

    On a side note, just realised your site could also be used for a caveman zombie apocalypse comic – “Brick soft, he dead” .com hahaha

    • Hah, nice

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