M-A has been the stomping ground for some of the most creative, talented individuals in the world, from Grammy-winning guitarist Mark Lettieri to singer Stevie Nicks. Since 2020, M-A has enjoyed the presence of another renowned, uniquely-talented individual: senior and lego mastermind Mark Bakunin. Bakunin is the genius behind LegoDeadMadness, a Russian-language YouTube channel with 150,000 subscribers and 30 million total views. His 10 most popular videos each have over one million views.
Though he was born in Kazan, Russia, Bakunin’s family soon moved to a village on the Russia-Kazakhstan border for political and safety reasons. When he moved to the United States in 2020, he left his mother and four siblings. He cannot go back—even for a short time—for fear of being immediately drafted into the war. Bakunin currently lives with his father and two younger siblings. Bakunin’s younger siblings were his first motivation to make fun videos, and he started his stop-motion journey in 2018. Although he wanted a way to share his videos, he lived in such a small town that he had never heard of Youtube. Eventually, a friend recommended the platform, and Bakunin started his channel in 2019. He has an English channel as well, which is less active but maintains the same high quality.
Bakunin’s videos are inspired by movie series and video games. When he first started writing his videos, he used the premise that all of his characters were teenagers with “IQs below 50” who created problems in everything they did. Over time, his channel evolved, and he has created an expansive universe of complex characters and storylines, which connect from video to video. In Bakunin’s words, “The characters and all of the animations are a single huge story. Basically, I just want to try connecting famous franchises together with my own characters. It’s a mess, but I like it.”
In his videos, Bakunin explores nuanced themes such as mental health and loneliness. In one frame of a video that he is currently creating, he uses dim lighting, a blurred landscape, and the character Charlie’s position in the frame to create a beautiful shot that emphasizes her isolation. “This scene shows her being alone in the center of the street to mirror the loneliness that she feels. Just before this, she had a mental breakdown in front of her friend, and she told him that her father committed suicide a long time ago and that her mother died in childbirth. She was trying to share all of her concerns and feelings with her friend, and her friend just left her, alone in the street. So in this scene, she was alone, really angry, screaming, and then she stopped to breathe.”
While detailed stories are the hallmark of his channel, Bakunin’s technical prowess and editing also distinguish his videos. Many videos, especially the Five Nights at Freddy’s adaptations, feature violent storylines, including blood and flying minifigures. When he first started, Bakunin used Adobe Photoshop to add blood to each individual frame. However, given that Bakunin’s videos are composed of thousands of frames, this strategy of editing individual shots was not efficient. Now, he uses clay, fake blood, or red permanent marker for violent scenes. Bakunin incorporates special effects to his videos by downloading them from websites such as YouTube or Envato Elements. He also uses motion tracking and green screens.
Bakunin’s videos feature many characters of different personalities and genders. To voice these individuals, Bakunin relies on his friends, classmates, and parents. Family friends and peers from the U.S. often voice characters on the English channel, for Bakunin believes the Russian accents of his friends from home would be too conspicuous. A year and a half ago, he started using Fiverr to hire professional voice actors for some new characters.
The channel’s growth initially came from Bakunin’s use of the Five Nights at Freddy’s video game franchise in his animations. Impressed by the breadth of the game’s storyline, and unsatisfied with the plots of existing Lego animation adaptations, Bakunin decided to create his own short films based on the video game. However, after months of unsuccessfully searching the disorganized Five Nights at Freddy’s lore for interesting story elements, Bakunin decided that he would be better off simply writing his own plotlines. This confidence and creativity became his success, as his unique Five Nights at Freddy’s videos are the most popular on his channel, and drew in his fanatic audience. He said, “Since I was maybe the first one to actually do this well, that was the reason the channel became so popular. The audience for my Five Nights at Freddy’s videos noticed that I have other projects with the same characters going through adventures, and became hooked on my channel.”
Bakunin’s success is particularly impressive considering that stop-motion Lego is not a particularly popular niche anymore, especially in Russia. He described how, “As the Internet keeps developing and it becomes easier and easier to make 2D and 3D animations, Lego becomes kind of obsolete, in my opinion. In the next 10 years, it won’t be as popular as it is now.”
Today, Bakunin’s channel is so admired that there are web pages analyzing his movies and growth. His influence has also made him the subject of interviews and videos on other channels. He enjoys many rewards for his creativity and niche, from fan art to monetization. At the peak of his channel, before Russia invaded Ukraine and YouTube stopped monetizing Russian channels and channels with Russian viewers, Bakunin made between $400 and $600 a month from his videos. He spends 15-20% of his income on Lego sets, equipment, lighting, special effects, and other tools for his channel.
“Positive consequences of my channel are a recognition I never thought of for myself. Back in Russia, I liked to be the clown of the class, but I never thought to be popular.” Notably, his fans are not just there for his gory Five Nights at Freddy’s adaptations; his viewers admire Bakunin personally as a creator. “I’m really glad I have people who appreciate me personally instead of just my Five Nights at Freddy’s animations, because there’s more to my animations than just adaptation to already existing franchises, so recognition is really important to me.”
However, online popularity has its costs. Bakunin finds that the time he spends working on content has left him feeling unfulfilled in other parts of his life. He said, “If I analyze my life during the last three years, for each friend I have in real life, I have four online friends. I might become a little bit disconnected from reality sometimes, but I’m working on it.”
Bakunin came up with the name DeadMadness because of his enthusiasm for Stranger Things and its gory, death-focused side. He learned how to film stop-motion animation in first grade, but his family moved soon after, so he abandoned his animations until 2018. Once he found YouTube, he began to watch Lego animations, but was never satisfied with the quality of the videos he watched. Laughing, Bakunin described how he thought, “Well, this is really crap. I think I can do better.” In Russia, he didn’t have access to filmmaking classes, so he learned through the Internet and by talking to other filmmakers online. Now that he is at M-A, Bakunin finds motivation and a sense of belonging through John Giambruno’s film class and Sarah Frivold’s photography class. He said, “I’m really, really happy, because Mr. G is one of the best people I’ve ever met. I’m also in advanced photography with Ms. Frivold, and both of these classes give me motivation because of the feeling of studying with other people who are also interested in filmmaking. Plus, because I am able to receive appreciation and admiration by adults, which is something that I need.”
Prior to this school year, Bakunin planned on applying to college to major in filmmaking. However, taking a particular course at M-A completely changed all of his post-graduation plans: “This year, I decided to take the AP Art History course. When I took this course, I realized, ‘Wow, there’s so much in the world that I don’t know, and that I want to know!’ Forget filmmaking, I can learn all of that stuff on YouTube. This is what I need. So, I’m applying to art history, and maybe I’ll change to filmmaking after a few years.”
Currently, Bakunin’s main project is a massive, feature-length film in English. The story will be related to Five Nights at Freddy’s, but distinct from the franchise’s themes of horror. In this film, Bakunin plans to emphasize the human aspects of his characters, especially their inner struggles, pasts, and aspirations. The story may be separated into episodes, and the process of creating the animations will consume over a year. He is currently in search of voice actors from M-A to help with this project.
Amala, thank you very much for such an amazing and deep interview! I was really glad to share my story with a person who truly understands what they are doing, this is just professional and so well-written.
Wish you good luck with your next interviews and articles, you are doing great 😁