Pixar animator Angus MacLane builds best LEGO Wall-E yet [Interview]

I had the pleasure of meeting Pixar animator and LEGO fan Angus MacLane at BrickFest 2007. When I saw the first trailer for Wall•E (in theaters Friday, June 27), I knew we should try to do something special. Our exclusive interview with Angus and first look at his LEGO Wall•E follows.

The Brothers Brick: How long did it take to build your Wall•E?

LEGO Wall-E on Flickr

Angus MacLane: About seven hours over a span of three years. I started building the LEGO version of Wall•E around the same time he was being built in the computer in late summer of 2005. I had been waiting for some treads to be released, and with 7258 (the “Wookie Attack” set) I got just enough tread links for two treads.

LEGO Wall-E treads on FlickrThe color scheme of Wall•E wasn’t settled so I stared building with all light grey. I wasn’t totally happy with the results. The treads were too small and pretty flimsy. I put him on the shelf and went back to work.

Then the snowmobile and bulldozer came out in 2007 and I had my tread solution. So I rebuilt him at the beginning of this year with the proper colors as we were finishing animation production. I’m proud of the overall proportions, but the eyes are still a bit too off for me.

LEGO Wall-E on FlickrTBB: Do you think that working on the movie gave you any special insights into the design of the LEGO Wall•E?

Angus: Having stared at this robot for 3+ years, I was extremely familiar with the proportions and functionality of Wall•E. It helped to know his design, but that made it hard to make the usual compromises when converting items to LEGO form.

Wall-E closeup on FlickrTBB: How does your “day job” as an animator influence your LEGO hobby?

Angus: Mostly I build with LEGO as a way to unwind from a day spent in front of the computer. The tactile nature of LEGO can be much more satisfying than working in the often intangible realm of the computer. Also, a large part of an animator’s job is to clearly communicate an idea through the pose of a character. I think this is similar to building with LEGO where part of the goal is to sculpt clear shapes that communicate the purpose of the creation.

TBB: Has your LEGO hobby helped your “real” job in any way?

Angus: LEGO gets you used to thinking and designing in three dimensions. It has really helped my ability to visualize spatial relations. This is especially useful when working with artists and technical directors to take 2D designs and successfully turn them into 3D character models.

Also, when building with LEGO you often have to simplify or caricature the intended form. This is similar to caricaturing motion and simplifying acting ideas, which is an important part of the animation process.

LEGO Wall-E on FlickrTBB: Do you share your LEGO creations with your coworkers?

Angus: I have a small area in my office where I have my MOCs [My Own Creations] on display. Sometimes I get comments form coworkers. The question I always get is- Is that a set? Why don’t they make that? It’s very flattering to hear, but I know that they probably aren’t familiar with the latest and greatest from Brickshelf, so they have little to compare it too.

TBB: Do you check Brickshelf and Flickr for LEGO creations?

Angus: Sometimes. I mostly check out pictures that have been linked form blogs such as Brothers Brick, Klocki, etc. Favorite builders include: Mladen Pejic, Izzo, Gla Gla, Arvo Brothers, Count Blockula, Chris Giddens, LEGOhaulic, and Soren Roberts.

TBB: What’s your favorite LEGO creation inspired by Wall•E?

Angus: I was pretty blown away by Joe Meno’s Wall•E. I struggled with Wall•E’s eyes for a while, and Meno’s solution is really great. I was also impressed that he went for the arm stripes. Plus it’s motorized. Pretty amazing creation of a character from a movie that hasn’t been released.

TBB: What are your thoughts on the various LEGO games?

Angus: I’ve only played the Classic Star Wars game. The play control is pretty good and it’s fun to play. The animation is fine, but I wish that there was more truth to materials in the animation. Something about seeing the knees on minifigs kind of freaks me out.

If the only joints that moved on the characters were the wrists, heads, and legs, the animation would be a lot more charming. I realize this would limit the movement, but it would feel more like LEGO and less like clay. It would also be about 78% funnier. Which is a big win in my book.

Monstors, Inc. door on BrickshelfTBB: Have you built anything from the other Pixar films that you’ve worked on?

Angus: I took a pass at the Omnidroid from The Incredibles. At minfig scale it’s a bit too chunky for my taste, but I haven’t gotten around to rebuilding it properly. I built the Luxo lamp which is a bit more on model. I also built a Monsters, Inc. door station that is to scale with the action figures.

TBB: Which Pixar film (feature length or short) is your favorite?

Angus: That’s pretty hard to for me to decide. Toy Story is the only feature that I got to see as an audience member, rather than as a crew member.

Luxo on BrickshelfProbably The Incredibles is my favorite feature and Luxo Jr is my favorite short.

TBB: Okay, we have to ask this. :-) Why aren’t any of the main characters in Toy Story or Toy Story 2 built from LEGO?

Everybody has toys from their childhood that are very special and meaningful to them. For me personally that would be Classic Space LEGO, Fisher-Price Adventure People, Original Star Wars 4″ line and the first 3 years of the small GI Joe line. You’ll notice that the toys of the Toy Story world are loosely based on or inspired by toys that are pre-LEGO. So I don’t actually know the answer to your question, but I’m guessing it’s because the original character designers did not happen to grow up with LEGO as a major influence. As to why there hasn’t been many Buzz Lightyear LEGO MOCs that would be due to the relatively new arrival of lime green and the shortage of purple.

A huge thanks to Angus MacLane and Pixar for this interview. Be sure to check out all of the rest of Angus’s Wall•E photos on Flickr.

41 comments on “Pixar animator Angus MacLane builds best LEGO Wall-E yet [Interview]

  1. Josh

    Great Interview! Thanks for taking the time, Angus, it is great to hear from a Pixar insider. That Wall-E is most excellent.

  2. Riley Hunter

    What do you get when you cross the best building toy with someone working for the best CGI movie compay…

    Wall-E looks Awesome! I also really like the Monsters Inc. model.

    Great work, thanks for sharing.

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  4. Matt

    Good to know that their are fellow animators out there with the same sickness…er… Hobby! I meant hobby…

  5. Jarrod

    OMG. That is all kinds of awesome. I would totally pay for a Wall-E LEGO set. Anyone know if there are some instructions, or if he could make instructions? Cause I’m pretty obsessed with having that thing sitting on my desk…

  6. Ryan

    Did you forget about mine, Andrew? …or do you think it’s not worthy to steal this beauty’s front-page spot? ;)

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  8. Surfininsf

    Hi Dunechaser,

    As a Bay Area LEGO fan, I am a friend of Mr. McLane, but I don’t have his e-mail. Are you in contact with him by any chance?

  9. Bunbrick

    I hope to see a lot more of these high-quality interviews on TBB. Great read, and delightful Wall-E model. (As is Joe Meno’s version, btw)

  10. Bunbrick

    I’ll edit my previous comment accordingly if you edit yours to say “Bunbrick rocks”? ;)

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  12. Andrew Post author

    Glad everyone enjoyed this interview, and thanks again to Angus and Pixar.

    Having seen the movie itself now, I highly recommend it. I even loved the credits, which reminded me a lot of the end credits for Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind — appropriate really…

    Oh, and Ryan, don’t worry — I’ve still got your great Wall-E bookmarked, and will include it in a Wall-E roundup post tonight. I was just super-busy with the BrickForge and upcoming BrickArms review yesterday.

  13. Angus MacLane

    Hey All,

    Thanks to all for the compliments. I have gotten several requests for instructions and I would love to post them. However I don’t see getting enough time to do this right now. LDD doesn’t have all the parts and I am not yet familiar with LDraw. If I have time in the future I will, but I not sure when I will find the time. There aren’t many new or fancy building techniques, so I would encourage anyone interested to use the existing photos and have a go at building it sans instructions.

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  17. Shawn

    Where did the arm pieces come from. It looks like there is a grey lower arp piece that telescopes in and out of the yellow upper arm piece. I don’t recognize that part. Do you you know where it comes from?

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  20. Roderick

    I absolutely love this blog! I would have never thought there were so many “sociality functional” adult Lego fans. This is most def my source.

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  22. Hector

    Really great model and interview. Would love to see more interviews. Maybe from Industrial Designer or Crowkillers. Love supercars.

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