Dan Rubin: The last thing you need is some clown trying to buck the system – Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 10 [Interview]

For interview number 10, Keith Goldman chats with on one of our own. Take it away, Keith!

Although my next guest prefers to build in one genre, he is a bit of a Renaissance man in the hobby. Dan “Happy Weasel” Rubin has been an Ambassador, Administrator for CSF, convention coordinator, Brother Brick, active WamaLUG member, contest sponsor… And the list goes on. Dan and I have twice shared the low-budget convention experience, and the abject terror of a fellow AFOL emerging from the bathroom in a pair of too-tight red briefs… and nothing else. Dan is also a lawyer, but we won’t hold that against him for the purposes of this interview.

I sat down with Dan Rubin during my trial for manslaughter in the nation’s capital. During a recess for a witness to compose himself, we talked about art-school chicks, Gymkata vs Rexkwondo and the horrors of Kentucky. We also talked about LEGO.

The Build

Mephistopheles Courier Service ShipKG: How early in your build process do you decide the color scheme in a build?  You’ve publicly declared a foot fetish and admitted that this MOC was based in color scheme, off of this sneaker, is there any other garment, item, or device you have taken inspiration for your palette?

DR: The color scheme of a build is a very early choice for me.  Usually, I’ll decide on a shape/style, and then the color scheme is the second choice, before I put two bricks together.  That is, unless I want to try to create a shape that I’ve never attempted before, and I have to prototype it. Sometimes I’ll change the exact placement of stripes, and finer details of a color scheme as the build progresses, but the color combination, and general color blocking are early decisions.

As far as inspiration is concerned, I suppose that it can come from just about anywhere.  The shoe-inspired ship is definitely the most explicit example of an inspiration for a color scheme among my builds, though.  I built a police ship once that drew its color scheme from the ubiquitous “black and whites” of the LAPD, but since that was intended to be a lineal descendant of the inspiration, I’m not sure it’s what you’re looking for. 

Right now, I’m working on something in dark blue and lime, which is a color scheme I cooked up playing around with the colors while sorting.  As you may have noticed, I like contrast between the colors of my models.  I’ll usually use one neutral color for greebles, and then two more colors that will set each other off, or possibly just one color that contrasts with the greeble color (dark bley is a lot less neutral than old light gray, for instance).

KG: Can you think of any attitude towards building that you used to adhere to that you no longer do?

DR: This is a tough question, it’s going to take some thought.  Generally speaking, I’ve had to make LEGO building a far smaller part of my life lately, as real life issues have taken hold, but that’s not really an attitude towards building as much as it’s a forced change in priorities.  Lately, I have been trying to embrace colors that I once disliked.  I’ve tried to take on orange and red in particular, as well as lime, to which I used to be ambivalent. 

When I first joined the AFOL community, all the spacers were building in themes, and I jumped on that bandwagon.  Lately, I’ve been trying to cast my net wider, and embrace any idea that I find, rather than trying to force another creation on a theme that’s likely already stretched thin.  That’s not to say that I don’t build things into a theme on occasion, but I am trying for more variety.

Faded Giant in the Shadow of the Torii Gate

KG: Do you have a different approach for building models for a convention as opposed to a standard internet posting?

DR: Absolutely!  There are a lot of considerations that arise when you’re building for a convention, rather than for posting on the internet.  Stability is a pretty major difference, as you have to be prepared for tables to be jostled, or worse, your creation to be grabbed in a fragile spot.  Viewing angles are also important.  Building a diorama for internet posting, you can leave large spans of back-side completely un-treated.  When you’re going to display a diorama at a convention, you have to consider where people will be able to view your creation from. 

When Nick and I built the Faded Giant, we decided on a triangle shape, which would allow viewing from a much wider angle than a rectangle with three tall sides.  It also allowed us to force our own background on more viewing angles, rather than leaving the chaos of the convention hall visible behind the display.

Transport is also a huge factor.  When building something to post on the internet, it doesn’t have to be able to fit through the door of your legoratory, or into your car.  I built the landscape and most of the vehicles for the Faded Giant display, and they all come apart to be transported.  The entire landscape splits into a series of 48×48 baseplates, which all fit in a box about 16 inches tall.  The details all got thrown on for the first time at the convention.  Similarly, Nick built the building to split into more manageable sections for transportation.  After all, nobody wants to carry something six or more feet long.

More of Keith’s interview with Dan after the jump:

The Community

KG: As a site admin for Classic Space forum you are uniquely qualified to answer the question; are forum based LEGO fan-sites a dinosaur in the age of Flickr, or are they waiting in the wings to make a triumphant return in some mutated form?

Mecha Prototype Alpha ZeroDR: What a question!  I think that forum based fan-sites still offer a useful function not filled by flickr, though it often goes unused.  That’s the ability of the forum to act as a central location for conversation, whether it be about works in progress, new creations, convention or theme planning. 

Conversations on flickr are spread to the four winds in various groups and creation threads, and it can be tough to keep track of, or know when a thread has been updated.  At least with a good forum system, the recently updated threads float to the top, and it’s easy to scan for changes. 

Of course, as people migrate away from these sites, they become less useful for those left behind, and a snowballing death can take place.

KG: You’ve been a theme-coordinator and inside-man for several east-coast conventions, what does that gig entail and what are the best and worst parts of the job?

DR: I think that these roles can provide a tremendously varying level of work, depending on who has taken on the role, as well as the theme involved.  I think that for any theme, a big part of the job is drumming up interest in attending the con, and getting people to bring creations, especially if there is a community build, like moonbase, involved. 

The recruiting aspect is increasingly difficult and unpleasant as the community continues to create more fan conventions, and folks have to be picky about what they attend.  The first time I was space theme coordinator for a convention was back when there were really only two conventions in the US, BrickCon and BrickFest, and BrickFest was far larger, and where everyone wanted to be, making the recruiting part of my job largely non-existent.  

Both the best and worst parts of the job for me seem to involve interaction with the fans.  The best part of the job for me is probably being able to meet and hang out with so many builders.  As the coordinator, you meet everyone displaying in your theme, as you organize the display, and this can be very rewarding. 

The flip-side is dealing with egos.  There are a LOT of people who can be very needy about where they want their creation to be displayed, what they want to be near or far from, etc.  This can vary from the justified, “my creation is big, and should probably be towards the back of the table,” to the ridiculous, “my crappy creation is very important, and should be on top of this big attention-grabbing display that someone else built.”  It can be a lot of work to arrange a bunch of creations in a way that leaves everything visible, and safe from little hands, and the last thing you need is some clown trying to buck the system for their own perceived gain.

KG: I’ve been openly critical of the Ambassador program, give me something seriously wrong with it, and if must, something tangibly positive about it.

Alien Probe
DR: Lately, the program has been run in large part by the Ambassadors themselves, the intent was to allow the Ambassadors to communicate to the LEGO company what their constituents want.  Instead, this regularly devolves into a bitching session by the new Ambassadors about the lack of stores in their country, the unavailability of certain old elements or colors, and other standard gripes.  This usually happens at the start of each new cycle, with the new Ambassadors chiming in with moans that have been repeatedly communicated to the LEGO company, and often been publicly addressed.  This has an added effect of causing many of the veteran Ambassadors to check out mentally for awhile, to ignore this action.

If I had to choose one tangibly positive outcome of the Ambassador program, I think I would point to the Medieval Market set.  The Ambassadors were very involved in the creation of this set.  We were asked to suggest ideas for a castle set at that price point, and a great number of the suggestions made it into the set.  I don’t know how many of these ideas were also independently developed by LEGO designers, but it at least appears that we were heard.

The Future

KG: What is the future of collaborative builds at conventions?  Is Moon-Base effectively lost to German overlords where it still thrives at conventions?  Is it true to say that you shared my profound disappointment when the German contingent at BrickFest PDX refused to sing drinking songs even when plied with the best available beer?

DR: I think that the future of collaborative builds at conventions, at least in the space community, is in builds by small coordinated groups, rather than the masses.  I think that Moonbase died out in the US in part because of a lack of cohesion, as modules became more and more inharmonious in style in color.  Coupled with a fairly restrictive standard, it has turned a lot of builders off.  I’m often surprised to see the concept still thriving in Europe. 

The future instead lies in builds like the Omicron Weekend and Faded Giant.

While I did not attend BrickFest PDX, I do share your disappointment.  If your homeland has created a wealth of drinking songs, I say that they must be shared and enjoyed!  I have heard Jan Beyer help out with a song or two in the States, though.  Perhaps this wound can soon be healed.

KG: Do you see the aftermarket vendors specializing in weapons continue to enjoy popularity?

DR: As long as there are kids, teens and tweens interested in LEGO, these vendors will continue to thrive.  Young guys love guns (and collecting them in insane quantities) and they are the key demographic for LEGO products.  The fact that these products seem to carry a pretty healthy profit margin also indicates that they’ll thrive for quite some time. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think that many of these products are very well sculpted and manufactured.  They usually look good, and fairly authentic.  They cross the purity line for me personally, but I seem to be in a shrinking minority on that.

Iron Mountain Legion Tank and Helicopter

KG: Give me a builder on the verge of a breakthrough, who will we be talking in the next few years?

DR: This too, is a tough question. A couple of years ago, there were several builders that I thought were on the verge of break-through, but who instead withdrew from the community entirely.  It’s tough to predict which builders will remain LEGO nerds in an uninterrupted fashion, and which ones will discover girls (or boys) and disappear for years or forever. 

I’m going to roll the dice, though, and say that Danny Rice (BigX) is due for a return to the limelight.  He was building some fantastic stuff when he went away to college, and if he returns to the brick with an adult’s budget, he’ll probably blow us all away.

5 Boilerplate Questions

KG:  If you had to pick only one of your MOCs to go in the great FOL time-capsule, which would it be?

DR: I don’t think I’ve built my greatest MOC yet.  If I’m forced to choose from among the creations I’ve already posted, I think I might go with the Mephistopheles Courier ship that you mentioned earlier. I think that the color scheme will continue to stand out in the crowd, and that the compound angles will remain of interest.

KG: If you had to pick only one of my MOCs to go into the great FOL time-capsule, which would it be?

DR: I should probably chose the one you dedicated to my admission to the bar, shouldn’t I?  Should I go with the Ghoul?  It was ground-breaking for its time, and even at several years old, it stands up as a top-notch SHIP. No, I will stand my ground as the long-running champion of the Lo-Pan.  It has always been unloved, even by you Keith, but I’m a huge fan.  That action has a cool shape, interesting colors, and some serious mojo.
KG: If time, money and proximity were not an issue, give me 2 builders besides me that you’d like to collaborate with on a project?

DR: I’ll leave out folks that I’ve already collaborated with, don’t be offended guys, and go with new people.  Peter Reid, whose ability to focus on detail even over a large creation.  I’ve also hung out with him enough to know that he’s a fun and laid-back guy.  The second person would be Chris Edwards.  He brought some rocky islands to BrickFair last summer that showed a great mastery of the organic. 

A lot of my creations tend towards the smooth, as I seem to prefer working with shape rather than texture.  I think that the interesting textures those two builders bring to the table would allow for a collaboration with a lot of contrast and visual interest.

KG: What’ is your favorite comment or review you’ve ever received on a model?

Alien Hunter Killer Drone
DR: For a long time, it was when Mark awarded me a Brammy for building a monastery built into an asteroid.  More recently, there was Thwaak’s comment here which really struck the right nerve with me.  It’s very important to me to make my creations new and different, and continue pushing the envelope, and it was greatly rewarding to hear that recognized.
KG: And finally, good sir, who controls the action?

DR: I control the action M-Fer!

6 comments on “Dan Rubin: The last thing you need is some clown trying to buck the system – Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 10 [Interview]

  1. dshaddix

    Another compelling interview, I am glad the slave drivers at Goldberg and Osborne gave you the time off to do this. It was a bit hard to read (I’m not used to reading things without pictures, unless its REALLY BIG text), but it’s definitely made my Top-Ten list of ‘Best Boilerplate Interviews’. The question/answer about building for conventions hit home for me …definitely top-ten!

  2. thwaak

    Seriously, the reason I check out TBB on Monday mornings is for the Sunday Interview. Great as always.

    And Dan, I was sincere in my comment: It’s hard to keep reinventing a theme that you’ve worked so thoroughly in, yet everyone of those Emissary MOCs is distinctly different but clearly part of a greater whole.

  3. dshaddix

    ^ Leave it to an attorney to discuss semantics.

    On a serious note, I totally identified on the paragraph about building for conventions vs. photography. I have always just built for internet posting and occasionally to bring to a LUG meet. Now I am building on a larger scale for a convention and am learning all sorts of new things. They are two, totally different, worlds.

  4. Josh

    I totally agree with you, Dave. Building for conventions and other public shows is a completely different animal than building to post online. I’ve virtually stopped building for online posts. The only thing I built in that “category” ends up being table scraps that strike my fancy. My real builds are for cons and only end up online if they happen to be easy to photograph. I’m mostly a castle builder and my last two fortresses have virtually no online presence.

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