Back at the Elven School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

In yesterday’s post, I didn’t mention Harry Potter. It’s because my relationship with Harry Potter is complicated. I already talked about it last year. I discovered the book series as a 10-year-old and fell in love with it. But the movies disappointed me. Still, I can’t deny that, alongside the Lord of the Rings, they are the most emblematic fantasy movies of the 21st century.

Originally, we picked Fantasy as the last movie genre of SiPgoesTT as it’s perfect for the holiday season. Last year I had so much fun with the Harry Potter Advent Calendar that I thought it would be ideal to do another project with the Elves as part of SiPgoesTT.

Change of plan

However, it turned out I didn’t buy this year’s calendar. After three years of Harry Potter goodness from LEGO, I find there isn’t much I want in this year’s calendar. So instead I decided to buy a Star Wars calendar.

Still, using my elves to create a parody of Harry Potter was the most fun part of SiPgoes53. So I decided to stick to my original idea of making a new series of photos centered on the Elven School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

A year ago, I only had the Advent Calendar and the Great Hall. However now, I have a few more sets and wanted to use them for photography. In particular, I wanted to see how much of the inside of the Clock Tower and Astronomy Tower could be reused as such for photography.

I also wanted to update my collection of Elf Wizards and Witches with the newly released headpieces and accessories from this year’s Harry Potter CMF Series.

My updated collection of Elf Wizards and Witches featuring a few newcomers and a few updated hair styles.

The Two Towers

However, it turned out that while the two towers feature cool interior details, many are rather hard to use for photography. Sometimes there isn’t enough background for framing.

Professor Elfona Sprout at work late in the evening.

This is particularly problematic with the top of the Astronomy Tower. It features a cool telescope but the space is so small that it’s simply impossible to frame a figure with the telescope inside the room.

Ginny Elfsley in the Astronomy Tower. I really love the small orrery in the tower but it was challenging finding an angle that worked to photograph it.

The set also includes many white door frames which make lighting sometimes challenging. They easily reflect the light and end up being quite distracting.

Kingsley Elflebolt sitting on his disk in the Astronomy Tower. The white door frame made it quite challenging for lighting. I had to rely on creating a composite image to avoid having two bright light vertical bars on the side of the image.

The Clock Tower featured a different problem. The interior includes two nice offices and desks, but the seats aren’t designed for minidolls. Thus I didn’t use them and limited my photos to the prefect’s bathroom.

Faran in the prefect bathroom, featuring his new hair style.
Bellatrix Elfstrange also got a new hair style following the release of this year’s CMF.

It’s most likely not my last post about the Elven School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As I’m writing this one, there is another set coming my way. Moreover, I expect we will get at least one more round of Harry Potter sets around the 7th book. And so the Adventures of Faran Potter will continue soon…

(After that, my wish for 2022 is for LEGO to revive the Lord of the Rings… Or LEGO Elves!)

Imaginations from the other side

As part of SiPgoesTT, our last movie genre of the year is fantasy.

Fantasy as a movie genre comes from the same genre in literature. It strongly relates to our previous two movie genres: science fiction and horror. The similarity lies in all of them being speculative fiction. The main difference is that fantasy uses myths and folklore as its main source of inspiration. However, it’s not uncommon for the border between them to be blurry with genres such as science fantasy (e.g. Star Wars), steampunk, and dark fantasy (which would include many of the movies listed below).

The Influence of Fantasy

Alongside Adventure, Fantasy is undoubtedly the genre that has had the most influence on my own photography. Do I even need to say more when my most photographed subjects are Elves and Dragons?

But beyond the toys I chose to photograph, I’ve always had a much deeper relationship with Fantasy as a genre throughout my life. Particularly as a teenager. Not only because of movies: fantasy also influenced me heavily through literature, video game, and even music.

As for movies, some of my oldest childhood memories are of the fantasy genre. The Neverending Story, Hook, Insektors, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Last Unicorn, Dragonheart, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, or Legend. (And I guess I should also list a few Disney movies here such as Fantasia, Aladdin, The Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, The Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone, The Little Mermaid, or Pete’s Dragon…)

My love for dragons goes back to my childhood with movies like Pete’s Dragon, The Neverending Story, and of course Dragonheart, which I still consider as the best dragon movie ever made.

Peter Jackson and the Lord of the Rings

Fantasy often aims at showing something surreal and making the unreal believable. Thus, technical aspects are often essential in making a fantasy movie successful. Take IMDB’s list of best fantasy movies, and you will find on top the Lord of the Rings.

It’s no surprise considering how revolutionary were the special effects used for The Lord of the Rings.

I think the success of Peter Jackson’s trilogy partly lies in a good balance between practical and digital effects. (And of course, it also happens to be the film adaptation of the most influential piece of fantasy literature…)

Despite all the advances since then, I find the trilogy has visually aged much better than many other contemporary movies. This is particularly striking in comparison to movies from directors who decided to rely exclusively on digital effects.

More generally, The Lord of the Rings was the very first movie I paid attention to the cinematography as a teenager. I find Peter Jackson’s cinematography very inspiring and love his use of wide-angle lenses or various camera angles.

This photo, which was the topic of one of my recent blog posts, is directly inspired by the cinematography of The Lord of the Ring. Can you guess which character(s)/scene(s)/shot(s)?

Old and new

There has been tremendous progress with CGI that now allows creating almost anything. However, I think many fantasy movies from the 2000s have often relied too much on CGI. This often leads to a very polished look that 10 years later feels incredibly fake to me.

I think the 80s (and early 90s) were some kind of golden age for the fantasy genre. Because of the lack (or limitations) of digital effects, directors had to heavily rely on practical effects. This creates a very raw aesthetic that deeply contrasts with modern movies.

While certain things are near impossible to create with practical effects, practical effects make things appear more real in the long term. Practical effects might not be always the most realistic, but they feel real and don’t age as fast as CGI. A puppet on screen will still look as real in 50 years as it does now. The same can’t be said of CGI.

I find that the raw aesthetics of The Neverending Story still makes a far more believable world and story almost 40 years later than the artificial aesthetics of something like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland does 10 years after its release.

Talking about The Neverending Story, I always found there was something of Falcor in the LEGO Elves Dragon Queen…

I don’t think it’s possible (or necessary) to completely avoid digital effects. Still, I find that the (modern/recent) fantasy movies I appreciate most are often those that manage to balance the use of digital and practical effects. One good example of such good balance is Netflix’s prequel series to the Dark Crystal.

The Dark Crystal and other Netflix series

The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance came out of nowhere for me last year. I only learned about it a few days before its release.

While the Dark Crystal isn’t necessarily my favorite fantasy movie from the 80s era (that title would go to the Neverending Story), I’ve always loved Jim Henson’s work. (And as I’m writing this, I’m waiting impatiently for my Sesame Street set to arrive…)

When I saw the trailer, I couldn’t believe it… There was going to be a 10-hour long fantasy show with muppets puppets. As a toy photographer, it’s the perfect material for inspiration. (After all, isn’t puppetry the closest art form to toy photography?)

Since its release, I’ve been in awe with the series… So of course, I couldn’t resist buying some figures last year. I’ve wanted to write about it since then but never did.

A significant part of my inspiration for the past two years has come from a few Netflix fantasy series, such as the Dragon Prince or Guillermo Del Toro’s Trollhunters. But by relying on old-school techniques enhanced with modern digital imagery, The Dark Crystal stands above. It’s like that perfect mix between old and new.

My only disappointment with the series is that it ends on a cliffhanger… and that there won’t be a second season. (And also the poor quality of those Funko figures!)

Deets is still trying to cope with Netflix’s unfortunate decision…

SiPgoesTT and Fantasy

Want to join this month? Be sure to show us your favorite fantasy movie by making a photo inspired by it! And of course, don’t forget to tag your photos on social media with #SiPgoesTT and #SiPgoesTT_Fantasy

My struggle with Instagram (and social media)

I struggle with social media. Particularly with Instagram.

It’s been going on for years now. More than once, I wrote a draft for a blog post about it, but never posted any of them. It gradually became worse, but it felt like it couldn’t get any worse during this summer.

I still check Instagram multiple times a day. However, each time I scroll the app on my phone, I feel the same: there’s barely anything interesting. I feel completely disengaged from the platform as a viewer.

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How I failed at recreating one of my toy photos

Sometimes you make an image that you love, but end up not entirely happy with it. There is a tiny detail that you think is a bit off. You might notice it as soon as you take it. Or it might be years later. Eventually, you decide to attempt to fix it by reshooting the image.

The sad truth is that this is not always a successful endeavor.

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First impressions on the new LEGO Haunted House

I’ve been lucky to spend the past weekend building, playing with, and photographing the new LEGO 18+ Creator Expert 1073 Haunted House.

A week ago, on Monday, I got a notification from LEGO that a mystery package was on its way. Back then, I had no idea what to expect. Stefan told me it could be the leaked set that was “everywhere” online. As I don’t really follow people sharing leaks, I didn’t know what it was. When I finally saw the photos, I had mixed feelings.

I knew at some point I would have to take photos of the next Fairground set for LEGO. Yet, I had no clue what it would be, and couldn’t really imagine what LEGO could come up after the Ferris Wheel, Carousel, and Roller Coaster.

Even though I’m currently busy taking photos for our friends at LEGO, I want to take a break to share my early thoughts on this set. As I’ve said, my initial reaction to the official pictures was rather mixed. But I also knew I just couldn’t really judge such a set based on images. Now that I’ve had time to build it, play with and look at it over multiple days, I think I can put words on the good, the bad… and the ugly.

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Photographing a modular building

I love LEGO’s modular building series. But while they’re among my favorite sets, I had never photographed any. They’re great sets to build and look great in Beastburg, my own LEGO city. As an outdoor photographer though, they’re not what usually inspires me to photograph.

However, I didn’t buy the two previous modulars, the Diner, and the Garage. I initially wanted to as they look beautiful, but I ended up making the decision of skipping them. The main reason being that the style is quite different than the previous buildings I own, and thus they wouldn’t fit that well together. (And then there was the other problem that my city would eventually be full…)

But when I saw the first images of this year’s modular, 10270 Bookshop, I knew I’d have to get it. And then it happened that we’d get one for review from LEGO. The idea of challenging myself with photographing yet another type of large LEGO set was planted in my head.

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Road Movie

Our first theme after resetting SiPgoesTT is Road Movie.

A road movie usually tells the story of one or multiple characters who leave home and go on a road trip. Often, it is all about the protagonist(s) changing and growing from their travel experience along the way. Road movies do not focus on the goal of the trip, but rather the journey itself to reach it.

Road movies have a long tradition in North American culture. This isn’t surprising. Most people in the USA live alongside the two coasts, separated by thousands of kilometers. Quite the opposite of Old Europe, where everyone’s live close to each other.

While travel stories can go back to The Odyssey, it’s the story of Huckleberry Finn in the late 19th Century that inspired the modern concept. It was also popularized during the Golden Age of Hollywood with movie adaptations of classic literature such as The Wizard of Oz and The Grapes of Wrath. Following World War 2, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road also became a significant source of inspiration. It’s then in the late 60s that the concept of road movie became a genre of its own, with classics such as Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider.

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Celebrating 4 years of LEGO Pirate Photography with the Pirates of Barracuda Bay

Today is a special day.
The new LEGO Ideas set, the Pirates of Barracuda Bay, is publicly revealed.

But Sunday, I noticed it’s even more special to me.

For the past 10 days, I’ve been playing with the new Pirates of Barracuda Bay LEGO Ideas set, taking pictures for LEGO. All this in secret. This has been a very special project for me as I have a special relationship with pirates.

And today, on the day I can finally talk about it, it also appears it is the 4th anniversary of one of my favorite photos. The One that changed everything.

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Winter Holidays at the Elven School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Over a week ago, I noticed it was already February and that the Winter Holidays (and 2019) were already far behind us now… Yet I still haven’t written about the photo project, centered around the 2019 LEGO Harry Potter Advent Calendar, that kept me busy in December.

Without any doubts, this calendar was for me the best LEGO ever made. Not a single gift felt unnecessary, uninteresting, too simplistic or lacking details. Maybe this was because of the novelty and maybe the next one (assuming we will get another HP calendar) will feel repetitive like the other Star Wars or City calendars. Yet, I loved it so much that I don’t care if Christmas is long gone and I can’t wait until next year to write about my little HP/Elves cross-over project.

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What’s the Best Disney of 2019?

This blog post is a bit different from the usual ones about toy photography. But being a (toy) photographer is not only about taking photos (of toys). It’s also about inspiration. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might have noticed that I’m a Disney fan. Like LEGO, it’s been an integral part of my childhood and something I can’t separate from being a toy photographer.

During the holidays, I decided to catch up with all the Disney releases of 2019. Initially, I wanted to make a short Instagram post about my opinion on last year’s Disney movies. However, it quickly became too long so instead, I decided to write it as a blog post. Maybe this will be the first post in a series about movie reviews.

Elsa invited her “LEGO colleagues” to enjoy the mild Nordic winter so Woody could pick his favorite movie of 2019.

Frozen 2 – the one I wanted to see most

The only one I was genuinely excited about was Frozen 2. I usually don’t expect much from sequels though. But the first trailer got me quite intrigued. And after all, Frozen is the Disney movie about the North.

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