How VDC Is Like "The Lego Movie"

As the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry uses building information modeling (BIM) to move towards a digital workflow, it's important to recognize that other industries also use digital workflows. One example of this is especially relevant to our work – the production of The Lego Movie!

The Lego Movie was a 2014 full-length film produced by Warner Bros. Animation with the entire film environment comprised of Lego blocks (and maybe one lollipop stick). The film succeeded in one important objective: It was nearly impossible to tell whether the movie used real Lego blocks in the filming or some digital effects. In reality, the entire film used digital workflows, which allows us to make a direct comparison to the AEC industry's work in virtual design and construction (VDC) and BIM. Following are three ways The Lego Movie is like the AEC industry's VDC processes.

  1. Multi-Platform Workflow

An interview with the makers of The Lego Movie helps us understand how it was produced. According to Animal Logic, The Lego Movie used a series of software platforms in a digital workflow to create all the scenes in the film. These programs included a modeling program called Lego Digital Designers for Lego elements (which is freely available to anyone), a scene composition tool, and a special lighting effects program. This is very similar to how VDC works in AEC. We use a combination of AutoCAD for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems; Revit for building modeling; and Navisworks for construction analysis. (Your project may vary, of course.)

   2. Magnitude of Elements

The Lego Movie used 3,863,484 virtual Lego pieces in the creation of the one hour, forty-one-minute film. Ever wonder how this compares to a typical VDC project? We used Navisworks to count the number of individual elements in a typical project. The project we picked, a three-story laboratory, had 817,100 virtual elements. We’re quite positive there are lots of projects with many, many more elements. We welcome you to count your elements and post them in the comments below.

   3. Time Frame

According to information from various websites, The Lego Movie took more than two years for production, which is similar to a design and coordination schedule for a major building. If the workflow followed the workflow of other movie productions, there were various production stages for The Lego Movie. For example, there was a storyboarding step where the story of the movie was roughly sketched and reviewed by the project team – similar to a schematic design effort in AEC. As the movie production process progressed, the finished product would take shape in a more and more refined way. This process would be very similar to the design development, construction development, and as-built drawing process in the AEC industry.

For those of us who work every day in VDC, working in Hollywood on feature-length movies with digital workflows sounds exciting. The work product is amazing in its final visual effects and the addition of famous actors doing voice-overs certainly adds to the appeal. Our work, however, very effectively plans what happens on real buildings, improves the environment through greater efficiencies, and returns value to people in a lasting way.


Make sure to check out our website and see the work we’re doing in computational BIM and the automation of MEP modeling. BuildingSP is at the forefront of the application of generative design to AEC, and we look forward to better tools changing how we specify BIM on projects.


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