In this post I’m showing how I created a wide epic-style shot for the new LEGO set 71738, Ninjago Legacy Zane’s Titan Mech, that I received from LEGO through Brickcentral
Shooting a large action set is never an easy task, especially if you want to place it in the context it is meant for. Before we do that, let’s start by zooming in on the four minifigures that come with the set: Zane, two ghost warriors and a Golden Jay.
Zane comes with options: his ninja mask and his hair. This was useful to show his angry face on camera. The ghosts have translucent parts that beg for being lit, and I did that with small LEDs at the head and legs (see below). Jay comes as a golden version of his Prime Empire outfit and is unique to this set. He is however unrelated to the mech scenes so I shot him alone on his 10th anniversary stand over a self-made digital background.
The Titan Mech
Now let’s quickly move to the challenge of shooting the Titan mech itself. And I say “move”, because indeed, this mech can move! From the start I did outdoor pictures in the fresh snow: never has a large LEGO mech been so flexible; thanks to a clever design of the knees, it can even do running poses!
Outside, the natural environment squeezed the mech to the level of a tiny toy. It’s a known issue due to the texture of real snow. I wanted to avoid it and needed the pictures to reflect its impressive size.
As a LEGO set, it is indeed a titan: large and sturdy, dwarfing any minifigure next to it, as shown in the few indoor pictures below. This large size complicated the shooting for any indoor setup involving larger scenery.
But standing tall in isolated scenes is far too easy. A mech like that needs something epic, a cartoonish fight scene up on a mountain top. The dramatic tone had to be set with the brightest colors of a flaming sunset to make the mech stand out.
Let’s face it: a titan mech to battle two puny ghosts? This looks strangely unbalanced (note to LEGO designers: why no competing mech?). To compensate and add drama, I brought dynamism through the background and lighting, as shown below:
Epic Mountain Fight – BTS
And now a few words on how I did that. Living on a rather flat area, no mountain in sight, I went full practical with the task. Rocks from my front yard piled up into a rocky mountain cliff on a table. Baking soda was used as snow.
My overall setup is shown in the following pictures, with some schematics below to guide you through:
The layout of the scene was dictated mainly by how I wanted to light it, in particular the sky. The sky here was done with a large glossy white board (1) placed behind the scene.
Colors were added with desktop lamps affixed with warm gels from one side (2 and 3) and a blue LED panel on the other side (4). The sky then became a mixture of red-orange transitioning to purple and blue, like it is dusk.
To add texture to the background, mist was blasted across it from two nano facial misters (5) (one shown in the picture, the other was handheld) and lit with a small but powerful LED flashlight (6) aligned diagonally up behind the mech.
Shooting with misters, you might want to take several shots as they can produce unpredictable results at short exposures. That’s the beauty of mist and smoke and why I wanted it to lift the background a bit.
I needed some thick clouds. Luckily Santa forgot his hat (7) in my house so I rolled it next to the cliff as well as a few fake candles in the nook of the cliff. Through the lens they looked like fluffy clouds on fire. (I returned Santa his hat unharmed, don’t worry).
I then positioned the ghosts with copper wires, placed tiny LED’s at their heads and “legs” to have them glow. The mech stood tall, and its flexibility and sturdy stance allowed him to grasp dynamically at one fleeing ghost.
Zane, mask off to show some expression, took care of the other ghost by jumping down for a direct face-off.
To show more of the mech’s front and keeping its pure whiteness, rather than seeing it become yellowish and dull, lighting was completed with an indirect cool LED panel at minimum intensity (8).
It was inclined off the scene with white paper bouncing light back at the scene. I covered it 1/3 by a blue gel to cast a bluish hue to the ghosts and make the weapons stand out.
Camera settings were as follows: my trusty and best prime lens (100mm) was used rather than a wider angle for the picture, mainly to keep the mech proportions intact. An aperture of f/16 kept most of the mech in focus. I then cranked the sensor up to 320 ISO and brought exposure down to a maximum of 0.25sec to capture some of the mist details and avoid it blanding the sky colors.
I finished it up in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to remove minifigure supports, bring in some ghostly green trails and glow, and add some extra rays and pale flares.
My personal impression of this set: a beautiful build with amazing details. Yet a challenge to shoot, due to the sheer size of the thing and the fact that it’s almost totally white. Care must be taken to avoid it getting washed out by the ambiant colors.
What impressed me most is the posability: fantastic for anime-style shots, or even casual poses. I ended up sitting it like a giant on the mountain top with Zane in its hand. I wrapped it up there and that helped me set the final grade: 10/10.
The set was provided to me for review by The LEGO Group through the Brickcentral community. The review represents my personal point of view.