Simon Liu: What do you mean it disintegrated in my suitcase? – Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 22

This week’s builder is one of those rare people in the hobby that seems to be universally loved. As hard as I tried and no matter how much money I spread around I could not dig up any dirt on Simon Liu, so either he’s some kind of “made” Canadian mobster or he really is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet. Renowned for his neverending wealth of ideas, giant bag of techniques and immaculate photography, Simon has made quite a mark for himself in North America and beyond. I caught up with Simon in the cafeteria of the Adelaide Street Court House in his home town of Toronto, where I was dealing with charges of “stalking” Geddy Lee. As if you can stalk your own father. We talked about cloud particle collision hypothesis, The Oilers Vs. The Flames and the future of erotic animatronics. We also talked about LEGO.

The Build

KG: Talk about your Iron Builder throwdown, according to an interview you did with Joshua and Matthew on Beyond the Brick . Did Guy Himber really ply you with alcohol until you agreed to compete? Talk about the experience and the popular contest in general.

SL: Haha. It was true, it was at Brickworld 2012, there was alcohol and an unwillingness on my part to initially do it. The spectre of public humiliation at the hands of one of the mighty Iron Builders was weighing heavily on me. But several libations later and an impassioned “Guts and Glory” speech convinced me otherwise (though my memory is a bit hazy for some reason).

Iron Builder entry: Sleeping with the Fishes...I think what makes this an extremely popular competition to watch (now with it’s own flickr group!) is twofold: 1) It’s fun to watch – it’s a builder showdown, add in serious bragging rights and trash talk for amusement 2) the builds that come out of it are nothing short of inspired. By virtue of making the builders go at it for an entire month with the same stupid peice means you will get a lot of really clever piece usages (and yes, I’m so sick of my stupid piece).

As for actually competeing in it, it was unlike anything I have ever done, I was up against Kahan (Tadashistate) who I believe is the longest sitting Iron Builder at the time (ever?). In anticipation for my bout (and trust me, it felt like a fight!) I sorted as much LEGO as I could so that I could build with utter efficiency. The entire month was almost like working two jobs, after getting home from my fake job, I would sit down and force myself to build. Oh and Guy was right, some of my best builds I have ever done was in that very tiring month of September (see above, and some more hidden below).

KG Translucent parts sometimes get a bad rap for being of limited use but you’ve employed them to great effect. What attracts you to said parts and do you approach their use in a different way?

Pearson Class Troop Ship - Ride that C-Beam baby.

SL: I think a lot of people’s perceptions around translucent parts is dictated by the theme(s) they build in. For me, it’s Sci-Fi, which is the natural pairing for translucent pieces. If you were a town builder I could see how useless a large trans green dome would be.

But even Sci-Fi and Spacers don’t always use a lot of trans pieces – outside of obvious canopy and engines uses. With the exception of the surreal builds by Cole Blaq, I actually can’t think of many that has a really deep build portfolio with trans piece usage. I find it’s really about your own personal build style/aesthetic. I’ve always loved that Bladerunner-cyberpunk feel for cities, and I’ve (subconsciously) applied that trans glowing aesthetic to ships and other builds – almost at pointless nauseum.

It also helps that I know that there are certain tricks you can play with blacklighting and translucent pieces (thanks to Brandon (Catsy) and his pioneering work), which adds that extra bang for your buck.

So I plan some builds entirely around the use of blacklighting, such as my Ace Chemical Plant (below) where I wanted that glow from the toxic vats. Others builds the trans pieces were added as an afterthought, such as my Micro Troop ship (above) where I had completely built the ship before retrofitting it to ride that glittering C-Beam.

Enter the Joker

Ultimately I think the trans piece usage really depends on what people have in their collection, and a lot of these pieces aren’t overly common or comes in ones or twos in a set. Which results in most people having limited options unless you’re specifically buying them.

KG: You recently participated in a completion at the Toronto LEGO Discovery center with the title of Master Builder on the line. Describe the experience, and what is it like to build under pressure with an audience?

SL: It was a two day building affair, with 200 applicants building and progressing through four elimination rounds (all contestants, top 50, top 25, and top 12) with the job of the Master Builder at stake. The first round was crazy, so many builders trying to stand out and you really only had 20 minutes! Thankfully the subsequent rounds they gave us a bit more time (30, 45 and an hour). .

I’ve done some pressure builds before, from Iron Builder to “Oh we need to finish this by WHEN?” and the even more dreaded: “What do you mean it disintegrated in my suitcase?”… but this was something else, typically you’re used to YOUR bricks, nicely (or usually not so nicely) sorted and a vast array of specialty pieces. At the competition we were given unlimited amounts of roughly 10 unique basic bricks.

So in addition to unfamiliar bricks, limited time, you have a large audience watching your every move (and judges!). Some of the builders used the audience to their advantage, spending possibly more time than they should interacting with them, getting advice or taking build requests. There were other contestants that focused too much and built really spectacular builds but didn’t really interact with the kids.

But in the end it’s about the combination of the two, as the LEGO Discovery centers are an interactive park for kids, it makes sense that you need someone that can build and entertain kids. And I really think they choose the right person (go Greame!). It was also a pleasant surprise to meet many really gifted builders who just came out of the woodworks and have no realization that there is an actual AFOL community out there.

And I’m also happy to brag that three of our ToroLUG members made it to the final 12!


The Community

KG: You’ve been to major gatherings of LEGO nerds in both Canada and the USA. Compare and contrast the events, share an anecdote from either and what is it that draws you to return to conventions?

SL: I’m really not the expert, as I am still so new to the community and just started going to cons last year. But to tell you the truth: I don’t think there is that much geographical differences between a Canadian and an American convention. Sure the Canadian ones have the mandatory Hockey game, bacon and LEGO Igloo building contests, but besides that it’s about the same.

Brickfete (Toronto Convention, entering in it’s 3rd year – Mid July!) is much smaller size than the ‘big three’ US Conventions, but I would think it’d be very comparable to some of the smaller/newer conventions in the States. In my opinion conventions are really about the people, the friendships that get built over a weekend that manifests over a year to that next short gathering. It’s all about these personal connections and they are the same if you’re north, south, east or west of the border (though our drinking age is lower :P).

If I had to draw one difference between Brickfete and the American conventions, it’s the awards. Brickfete only has one – either a special achievement or best newcomer. While I understand the rationale for not having award (the every fan is equal mentality), I think the trophies/nominations are fun and a carrot to many builders to put in that extraordinary effort to push the quality of their builds to that next level. Though I might be biased, as I am lucky enough to have won an award at a convention.Brickfete SPACE! group shot

Anecdotes eh? Oh I have lots. But I don’t think they’re fit for publication… Also can I plead the fifth, even if I’m not American?

Though one general recurring incident, and I think a lot of new attendees to these events can relate to: it’s when you show up and not knowing many people, or more likely you know of them but they don’t know you.

When I was at Brickworld, I was lucky (ballsy? drunken?) enough to get up the courage to talk to many of the builders I had looked up to (and I did resist the super fanboy urge to ask for their autographs). Somewhat surprisingly everyone was extremely nice and approachable, and several eventually asked: “Oh are you on flickr? You should add me as a contact”, in which I usually mumbled something about it being a “good idea” – full well knowing I had added them as contacts long ago…

So my advice to new conventioners: Interact! Introduce yourself! Be friendly! It worked for me :)

KG: What is your take on Builders Lounge, both the now defunct website and the follow on Flickr Group? Its got a rap as being elitist, do you think it was deserved and how did it all go wrong in terms of public perception?

SL: I am probably one of the last person you should ask… I wasn’t around when the website was the main forum, in fact I have never even seen the original forum… I’m not sure exactly what the history was, and can’t really comment on how elitist the group might have been back in the day or if the current reputation is deserved…

I first noticed the Builders Lounge when I saw that some of my contacts were adding images in this “Builders Lounge” flickr group, and I thought: wow, that’s a seriously talented bunch of builders. I read the joining requirements and I simply took it as: “okay this is something good to aim for, once I get better I’ll try out.” And that’s what I did! But now that I re-read the guidelines I do agree it seems a bit put offish and snooty…

I think part of the problem lies whenever you have any group that has some sort of entry requirement, those on the other side tend to think the worst. As well I think there is a bit of a misconception with even how to get into the Builders Lounge, a quick poll of my friends show that one of them thought that it was invite only- as in sit back and wait till someone invites them – that might have been how it used to be, and there might be still recruiters, but I doubt they’re very active. The other wasn’t even sure how to get in…

For me I got in by asking, it wasn’t much work, but it actually requires an effort to choose some pictures and send an email. In today’s instant gratification world, that might be slightly too long of a process for some.. Not to mention the name contains phrase “lounge” which does projects a certain elitist aura around the group.

Though I can safely say that (at least on the flickr group) that there is no elitist behaviour or attitude in the Builders Lounge itself. I actually see far more elitist attitude in other pockets of the community. There’s a lot of “haha look at them, we’re better than that” vibe in certain circles.

Creations for Charity

That being said, I think the Builders Lounge still has two important functions in the AFOL community: Iron Builder and Creations for Charity. Both of these initiatives originated and still reside within the Builders Lounge, but has been opened up to the rest of the community to enjoy and partake in. The Iron Builder relies on the the Builders Lounge for contestants and judges. Similarly during Creations for Charity, donations over a certain amount receive a commissioned piece by someone in Builders Lounge. It takes a certain amount of trust and reassurance that people can perform these tasks satisfactory, especially the latter when big money is on the line.

Much like many things in life, the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. And I think many people think that the Builders Lounge is some super elite club, when in reality we are just a bunch of builders who really like to build, and occasionally try to do something fun or for the greater good.

KG: What is all this castle guilds things on the net? Tell us about Guilds of Historica on Eurobricks. What happens now that you’ve announced GoH’s final challenge? and what do you see in the future for this type of activity?

SL: Guilds of Historica (GoH), Lands of Classic Castle (LCC) and Legends of Brickdom (LoB), are all online collaborative role playing games. Builders create a character in a shared world which they help (literally) build and craft an overall story/plot. The concept isn’t that new, but I think this is the first time we’ve really seen move away from a building army/vehicles type format to a build a world format, not to mention allowing for people to easily join in at any time.

The Royal Tour - backdrop

This began back Oct 2011 when Josh (I Scream Clone) and the rest of the History team on Eurobricks (Taz-Maniac, RougeAng, and ZCerberus), were thinking about the lack of castle builds during most of the year. Due to the immense popularity of Colossal Castle Contest it results in a lot of dead months where there aren’t a lot of castle builds. In order to stimulate more building in the Historic (Castle) section of Eurobricks, the team had an open call for ideas and suggestions on how to get building during some of these traditionally low months. What happened next was very unexpected – instead of the usual “hold a contest” or “give us free LEGO” type responses, an idea emerged to create a unified world that people could build in, and carve up that world into four distinct groups and assign builders to one of these four groups.

Josh pulled in two of the best Castle Builders on the site (Luke (Derfel Cadarn) and Alex (Sirens of Titan)) and some Sci-Fi guy for no apparent reason, and decided that since they had some good ideas to let them run with leading a guild.

The premise was simple, you belong and live in a certain part of the world with unique geographical traits (basically: snow, forest, mountains/underworld, and desert). Every few months there would be a challenge where everyone would build something and points would be awarded toward your guild’s total. The response was phenomenal. The first challenge contained no mention of prizes and we had approximately 70 participants! And this was during CCC!

But this is the really incredible thing: it didn’t just stay on Eurobricks. Our friends at Classic Castle noticed the sudden influx from this guilds thing and saw how much fun we were having, but they didn’t want to leave CC, so they started their own! And thus Lands of Classic Castle was born! Taking similar concepts with four factions and four unique areas, LCC expanded the idea further by providing more room for your ‘character’ to grow. There are sub-guilds that you could join to gain fun bragging rights to add to your signatures and such. And as you build more, your character can move up in the ranks!

Then it expanded again, castle builders on Flickr saw what EB and CC were doing and they wanted something of their own. Which spawned Legends of Brickdom – which once again takes the same general premise but tweaks it: LoB provides more freedom for each individual builder, pushing the idea of individual characters even more (characters eventually becoming a Legend!), there is less group and more individual, and is the only group that allows for actual conquest of territory through a war/battle system.

While the original intent was to simply generate more interest and activity in Castle building, there was always a secondary sinister motivation for all this. By providing continually more difficult challenges and awarding prizes, we’ve seen an increase in build quality from individual participants. The growth of some builders in the last year has been amazing. An unexpected result was that several non builders have started mocing because they wanted to join in on the fun!

While the popularity of GoH has dropped in the subsequent challenges, we really hope that the last official challenge will excite people to tell the end of the first GoH chapter.

And what’s in store for GoH after? Well the world shall be theirs to continue to organically grow. We’ll still be there, but we won’t be driving the story telling anymore.

As for applying this to something else? I think other themes could definitely use some stimulating… So you’ll just have to wait and see what we will open up in 2013 :)

The Gate opens in 2013...

The Future

KG: What the hell is going on with the cosplay thing? Is this just a “shut up old man Goldman and get the hell out of the way of our good time” or is it an insidious infestation? How far is this thing going to go?!

SL: I kinda like the LEGO costumes. It just another way you can use the LEGO medium, and I think it’s been done really well so far.

Though I really don’t see this becoming overly popular trend due to two difficult aspects. First the 1:1 scale requires a large amount bricks. Second, due to the nature of moving around in the build, it actually becomes quite the technical challenge to build at that scale and be solid enough to withstand movement. These two elements will keep most sane builders away, which will leave the insane builders to continue to wow us with these spectacular creations.BrickFactor - Search for Canada's first Master builder (LDC)

What I do see, and have already seen, is the growth of 1:1 props/objects which could augment a ‘traditional’ cosplay costume. Nick Brick‘s halo weapons and Remi (Bolt of Blue)‘s Hylian Shield are fantastic examples where the future could be. The former being built sturdy enough to be played with (though I never had the guts to ask him to actually play with one), while the latter would be categorized as more of a presentation piece type prop.

Incidentally I’ve decided to build a cosplay doodad this year, so that I can tell old man Goldman to get the hell out of the way of my good times.

KG: You’ve been on the factory tour; talk about your experience and what can the program do better going forward?

SL: I’ll start with stating the obvious: The LEGO Inside Tour (LIT): it is expensive and it is awesome.

But you really do get what you pay for, I think Camilla has done fantastic job of making the tour really special. Besides the tour of the factory and the vault, one really pleasant surprise was having so much time to spend with the designers. In fact, two of the AFOL turned designers took us out for drinks on their own time (and bought the first round!) because they knew how expensive it was to get on the tour.

Now you don't see that every day...For the most part I wouldn’t change a thing (except being cheaper!), but I would think of possibly having an AFOL only tour might have been nice… For the most part the kids were great (one of the moms wasn’t a fan rides, so I got to play Big Brother and do allll the rides) but… how to put it politely… There’s a certain type of children that can afford to go on the LIT, and ummm yeah they’re not the most well behaved… But I could deal with that, what I didn’t appreciate was that one particular kid had gone the previous year and loved to tell us all the little things that were right about to happen…. But even then that was enough to ruin such an awesome trip.

So if you have the money, simple: go.

KG: You’re a big fan of the collectible minifigs, having built habitats for them. Where would you like to see the series go? What types would you like to see more of, and what would you like to see retired?

SL: For the record, I didn’t build the habitats by myself, they’ve always been a modular collaborative build with my LUG for the Toronto LEGO stores (Cecilie on the other hand, did do it all by herself!). I, like many AFOLs, grew up with not a lot of minifigs, so having access to all these little guys is a bit of a “kid at christmas” feeling! So yes, I’m a fan.

Collectable Minifig Series 6 - Habitat

But I worry if the current pace they release is slightly too fast, part of the specialness is lost when there’s a new set every 4 months… I still remember the fun and effort of chasing down figs in Series 1, and now I don’t really try that hard anymore. There are times where I think this last series may be my last. But every new wave they do a fantastic job with creating new and fresh figures that I HAVE TO HAVE.

Speaking for myself, I think they need more Sci-Fi guys. The new Galaxy Patrol figures (and alien counterpart) are top notch, as are the robots! But where’s my Steam Punk fig?

Though I think we’ve had enough permutations of Skater/Skier/Boarder/Snowobarder etc. I think two of any iteration is more than enough, it’s LEGO, if we wanted a girl version of a male fig, we can put change up the head/hair and vice versa. That’s what’s LEGO is for.

5 Boilerplate Questions:

KG: If you had to select just one of your models for enshrinement in the great FOL Time-Capsule, which would it be and why?

SL: I’m going say “My next build” cause my next build will be my best build – right? :P

Seriously, I think I would probably choose the Automated Automaton Machine. It’s been one of my most popular builds at the few shows I’ve done. And there’s just a huge kick I get when I see kid’s eyes light up when they see the illusion (though much to my horror, someone pointed out afterwards that Pete Reid did a much better robot factory before I did).

It never ceases to amaze me how many kids are able to figure out how the illusion is done and how many adults can’t…

KG: If The LEGO Group invited you to design an official set, what would it be?

SL: UCS Batcave. I’m a pretty big Batman fan, and have the silly cross themed Batman builds to prove it. I would love to do a massive $500 UCS Batcave and get the right proportions and proper props- complete with dinosaur and giant penny.

And I’d build it in such a way that the top is stackable with a double? quad? Modular Wayne Manor (with Bat-Pole) :D

KG: Taking time, money and proximity out of the equation, name 2 builders that you’d like to collaborate with on a project?

SL: Do I get a Time Machine too? If so, without a doubt I would love nothing more to work with Nate (nnenn). Heck, I would settle for going back in time just to buy him a beer and thank him for what he’s done for the community.

Drinking buddy.

Time Machine aside, if I could put together a dream team for my dream collaborative build, I would go with Karf and Tyler (Legohaulic). Now don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people I would dream to work with (a few of these are in progress, others impossible dream), but if I could build my dream Keith Goldman-eqsue collaborative masterpiece, I would want to do something with these two.

I’m not sure WHAT we would build, but I would want to build something special and completely different than anything else done before.

Karf is the undisputed champ of ‘creative’ builds. I’m sure he would come up with some crazy fun design / world / creatures that would just be something utterly unique.

Tyler … is Tyler. He’s a universally gifted builder and, in my opinion, has the best ability to inject humour into builds than anyone else out there. Coupled with Karf’s vision, I think we could make a really fun layout :)

(Which I guess leaves me to sort brick and get them donuts?)

KG:Name a famous person living or dead who would have made great LEGO-nerd.

SL: I’m going to steal Carter‘s answer and say Stephen Colbert. Persona aside, he seems to be a really big kid, and I could see him really enjoying playing with LEGO.

KG: Who controls the action?

Who controls the British Crown?
Who keeps the metric System down?

7 comments on “Simon Liu: What do you mean it disintegrated in my suitcase? – Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 22

  1. lego_paige

    This was a fun interview. Thanks for doing this one Keith. Simon’s a great guy. Hanging out with him at the first Brickfete was fun. He has amazing patience with youths. I can’t beleive he didn’t kick me square in th nonads! I’m annoying as hell.
    Congrats Simon. Always knew you were talented from the first time I saw your MOCs over two years ago.

  2. eilonwy77

    Wait, what? Since when are you not fanboy enough to ask for autographs?? ;-P

    And Guy does have a way of finagling people into getting what he wants….

  3. si-mocs

    @Lego Paige – X was not annoying at all. You on the other hand….

    /COUGH/ I forgot about that… I mean, that was regarding my first con: Brickworld, I did not ask for autograph…. and at Brickcon, I only asked cause I didn’t think you could physically sign a cheese slope.

    Next challenge I need to get derfel cadarn to sign a 1×1 round plate.

  4. si-mocs

    @Josh – /blush/ I’d be honoured to sign my interview!
    I’ll bring a sharpie, you bring your iPad.

  5. eilonwy77

    @Simon — and here I was thinking I should ask you for suggestions of what I could have you sign. But I’ll have to come up with my own ideas, since I don’t have an iPad.

    I’ll need to get an ogre for Josh to sign; or better yet, make a mosaic of his head and leave some blank tiles. :-)

Comments are closed.