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Look! App in the sky! It's Lego's superhero movie maker

The free and fun Super Hero Movie Maker for iOS gives kids the tools to build minifig movies, one frame at a time.

This Lego-supplied screenshot is a bit disingenuous, as Super Hero Movie Maker offers no depth-of-field option. But it's still tons of fun.
This Lego-supplied screenshot is a bit disingenuous, as Super Hero Movie Maker offers no depth-of-field option. But it's still tons of fun.
The Lego Group

As a parent, there's nothing quite so satisfying as watching your kids express their creativity. Doesn't matter if it's with a set of blocks, a box of crayons, or an app that turns long sequences of still photos into superhero-themed movies -- it's just thrilling.

On Saturday, I gave my 9-year-old son a five-minute tutorial on using Lego Super Hero Movie Maker, a new app that lets Lego fans create nifty stop-motion animations using their own minifigs (i.e. little Lego people).

By Sunday, he'd already created several hilarious movies, the best of which involved a giant praying mantis catching and devouring several minifigs (hey, who says the good guys always get to win?). And he was just getting started -- Super Hero Movie Maker was an instant hit.

The app takes a simple, straightforward approach to movie-making. First, you choose one of about a dozen title cards, which you customize with the name of the movie and director.

Next, you start snapping frames, which is literally as simple as setting up your first shot, tapping the screen, moving your subject(s) a bit, then tapping again. Wash, rinse, repeat. (Obviously you don't have to use superhero minifigs or even any Lego products at all.)

A toggle button activates your device's LED if you need to throw more light on the scene, while another one adds a 3x3 grid to help with framing. Best of all, the app has an onion-skin toggle that overlays a transparent image of the previous frame, a huge help in positioning.

When you're done shooting, you can add one of half a dozen action-adventure soundtracks or choose from a similar number of visual filters. The app also lets you adjust the speed of the movie, anywhere from 1-10 frames per second, and add or delete individual frames.

All told, it's everything young moviemakers need to mess around and have fun, in a simple and accessible package. For the best results, I recommend putting your "camera" on a tripod, or at least a stand, so you can focus more on the scene and less on holding your phone or tablet steady. iPhone owners, here's a cheap tripod mount that doubles as a case.

I do have a couple small gripes with Super Hero Movie Maker. First, there's no way to get the camera to refocus, as any tap of the screen fires the shutter. A couple times my scene got blurry for some reason, and the only fix was to skip ahead to post-processing and then go back to editing.

Second, the app has only one orientation: lens low. If you flip your iPhone around so the lens is higher (which I find preferable), the app doesn't flip with it. Also, you can't delete an in-progress movie without first saving and processing it.

But, hey, there's no such thing as hassle-free moviemaking, right? None of these problems seemed to bother my son at all; he had a blast with Lego Super Hero Movie Maker. Given the sky-high prices of actual Lego, I'm surprised this app is free -- but you won't hear me complaining.