What started out as a man simply photographing his kids’ toys turned into an artistic photography project that went viral on Reddit.
Finnish photographer Vesa Lehtimäki has a number of photographs on his Flickr account that re-create movie scenes using Lego toys. From “Indiana Jones” to “Star Wars,” the images feature miniature Lego soldiers, buildings and planes.
HLN: How did you come up with the idea to recreate movie scenes with Lego toys?
Vesa Lehtimäki: After shooting our kids’ toys for some time, I found a couple of old photographs of mine I had forgotten about, including one of a red Lego Y-wing I had built and photographed in 1980. I realized that I was just doing what I had always been doing. Kind of.
HLN: Are you a big Star Wars fan? Which film is your favorite?
Lehtimäki: I used to be a big fan when I was a child. I saw “Star Wars” in 1977 and, like so many others, was hooked instantly. When “The Empire Strikes” premiered in Finland, I had the best seat of the theater and was thrilled to the max. The ending was a total surprise, but what made the biggest impact was the snowy planet of Hoth. As a native of Finland, I felt a deep connection to that environment.
HLN: Is photography just a hobby for you?
Lehtimäki: Photography was a dear hobby for me, but now it is a part of my work (illustrator and former magazine art director). I have had the privilege of photographing toys for a living some time now.
HLN: How long does it take you to build the sets? How long do they take to photograph?
Lehtimäki: It varies a lot. Some images take just couple of hours from start to editing, some take several hours, days even. Sometimes I scrap two days of work because the thing I tried did not work. There are images on my Flickr account that have taken years to get there, this being one of them, with a long history as described in the caption.
HLN: How does the baking soda work? How do you make it look so much like snow?
Lehtimäki: Actually, I do not use soda -- it's baking powder. It has some soda in it, but it is generally smaller in grain size and is a perfect substitute for snow in the Lego mini-figure scale. I had not seen a blizzard or falling snow in a miniature photo and, being a fan of Hoth, I wanted to try to create it. After I'd gone through several materials, including plaster, baby powder, powdered sugar and some flours, I read they used baking soda for the snow in “The Empire Strikes Back.” We only had baking powder in the house, so I tried it, and it was just perfect from the first frame.
HLN: Do you photograph alone or with a team?
Lehtimäki: I shoot alone, I have no team or assistants. I improvise a lot while shooting, I don't think there'd be room for that if there was anyone else in the room. I haven't tried, though.
HLN: Tell us more about your work with “The Lego Movie” -- what all did you get to do for the film?
Lehtimäki: The visual team behind “The Lego Movie” had seen my photographs on Flickr and contacted me because they wanted to know how I had shot them. We discussed my photographs over Skype and e-mail, and that's about it. The thing was the aerial haze or fog I had used in some of my photographs, which I "miniaturized" air, in order to mess with the perception of scale. I call it the "Forced Atmospheric Perspective" effect, a term I cooked up at some point. “The Lego Movie” eventually used the same principal idea of enhancing the scale effect by densifying air with fog. It really isn't anything new -- it's been used in movies a long, long time.
HLN: What would be a dream photoshoot for you?
Lehtimäki: I am working my dream assignments all the time these days -- I could not imagine anything much better than this. Assignments with Lego, Marvel and Rovio have kept me more than happy.
HLN: What’s next for you? What would you ultimately like to do with your work?
Lehtimäki: I have a break with commissioned work coming up and I am looking forward to use it to explore some ideas for photographing miniatures. I'll stick with Legos because I really like the scale of the mini-figures and I find the limited movement range of the figures is a lovely challenge. I will also try to photograph the Y-wing fighter -- I just have to build a scale model first. Luckily, I was able to obtain one of the last unbuilt ultra-rare "studio scale" models of the Y-wing a couple of months ago, it is the 40th of a total of 44 units ever made!