This week’s builder is a MOCpages luminary who has racked up countless hits, comments and fans since his online debut in 2007. Known as much for his inventive and humorous Sci-Fi storylines as his clever building, Rob Ludgonious has a unique style that continues to evolve. I sat down with Emperor Ludgonious of the Ludgonian Industrial Union (LIU) in a washing-machine sized conveyance inside the Gateway Arch in his hometown of St. Louis Missouri. We talked about Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom”, Stratocasters vs. Telecasters and the enduring legacy of Elton Mayo. We also talked about LEGO.
KG: Talk about your theme the LIU, its beginnings and what is it about the theme that gives you seemingly endless inspiration to build?
RL Believe it or not, the LIU is a variation of a theme I created as a child. My three siblings and I had a large LEGO town in which each of us controlled one family. For some reason that I still don’t understand today, economics and money played a huge role in our town. Even our families were named by their economic rank. Being the oldest and having the most bricks, my family was known as the ‘First Richest’. My next oldest sibling, controlled the ‘Second Richest’ and so on. My family, the “First Richest’, owned a company called LLL that had a monopoly over transportation, fuel, communications, and other vital services. At one point, we started forcing each other to pay for various town services in LEGO (usually in LEGO coins). Being the richest and most powerful family, I never had problems obtaining the few resources my other siblings controlled. Eventually their businesses folded, and the LLL assumed ownership of the entire town.
I went through a semi-Dark Age during college, mostly because I was away from my collection. I never really lost interest in the bricks, so I began searching for LEGO online. It was then that I stumbled upon MOCpages. I became particularly interested in some of the totalitarian space themes, including the Iron Reich. When I eventually returned to LEGO, my first instinct was to modify my childhood economic theme (LLL) into my own space theme, the Ludgonian Industrial Union (LIU). The greatest thing about the LIU is its scope. Being an entity that controls an entire galaxy and billions of planets, there is really no limit my inspirations. Some citizens live on ultra-high tech worlds with all the amenities, while citizens on an adjacent agricultural world may be living in medieval squalor. This broad range allows me to take inspiration from nearly anything imaginable.
KG: A casual comparison of your first offerings in 2007 and new work reveals a distinct progression in not only building prowess but also presentation skill. Was it just a natural 5 year evolution, or did you make distinct efforts to improve in some areas?
RL I made a distinct effort to improve. When I first returned to building, I got overly excited about posting things and telling a story. I often rushed to throw together a MOC just so I could post it. On MOCpages, this was sufficient enough to elicit several comments of praise, and there was really no motivation to improve. I was reaping rewards for some pretty sub-par builds (I cringe when I revisit some of my older stuff). After a while, the euphoric feelings I got from the comments started to wear off, and I started to see my builds for what they really were, crap. At that point, I made an effort to improve both my building and presentation skills. I befriended some of the more advanced builders on MOCpages and joined Flickr so that my builds would be truly scrutinized, and I could get some honest feedback. I slowed down and started focusing on quality instead of quantity.
KG: You are one of the rare builders that values the story as much as the build itself. Describe your process: does the building or part restrictions limit what you write? Is the story complete before you build? And has there ever been an idea you couldn’t bring to life?
RL: I always start with a basic idea and maybe a few plot points. Every build is a little different in this regard, sometimes I have more of structured plot, other times, I just have a really vague idea. The story really starts to take shape after a I build a few scenes. These first scenes set the tone for the whole story. I find it’s easier to develop settings, characters and a plot after looking at the beginning builds. Sometimes, the story develops and some of the initial scenes don’t seem to fit anymore. I have a folder with a growing number of scrapped scenes.
Part restrictions don’t usually restrict what I write. If a part is that important to the story, I’ll usually buy it. In the past, I’ve changed or altered a story when a build didn’t turn out the way I envisioned. Sometimes my ideas are too grandoise.
There have been ideas that I could not bring to life in the scale that I initially envisioned, but I’m still able to bring a them to life in some form or another. Size and space seem to be my biggest restrictions, but I also find it harder to photograph large MOC’s. These factors often limit the scale in which I can bring an idea to life.
KG: Your primary online residence is MOCpages, when most builders of your generation have moved on to Flickr. Why do put up with the slow load times, viruses, invasive advertisements and frequent outages? Do you ever plan on bringing LIU over to Flickr in its entirety?
RL MOCpages is a great site, but it isn’t without its problems. I’ve never experienced any viruses in my five plus years on the pages, but the page load speeds and advertisements can be frustrating at times. However, I have yet to find a better format for posting moc’s with a story, especially one that is free like MOCpages. Because the story aspect is just as important to me as building, I find MOCpages to be the best site. Flickr is great too. I imagine one day I’ll upgrade my Flickr account and start posting more LIU creations, but for right now, it’s a lot lower on my priority list.
KG: Talk for a moment about comments. Describe the best kind of comment, the worst and the strangest. How much do comments matter? and what is your philosophy when leaving them on the works of others.
RL I love getting comments where someone points out an obscure detail that I didn’t think anyone would notice. It lets me know that they spent some time really viewing the creation. I also enjoy comments with honest critiques. It helps me improve as a builder. The most random review I ever received on MOCpages has to be, “Remember that time when we slept in Uncle Frank’s bed and we found a pickle under the sheet? That was weird.” That one always sticks in my mind for some reason. I also enjoyed a comment on a Flickr creation that stated, “How is babby formed? How girl get pragnent?” It’s good to know that our youth brings these important questions to random LEGO builders instead of their parents. Comments have lost some of their importance as I have matured as a builder, but I still enjoy getting them. Who doesn’t? I think I’d be less inclined to post creations if I never received any kind of acknowledgment. I’m notoriously bad at commenting on others’ works. Due to time constraints, I only get few hours a week to check out all the new creations on MOCpages and Flickr. When I do get time to write a comment/review, I try to leave something that I would enjoy receiving.
KG: The number of dioramas online has really grown in the last year or two. What do you see out there that you like, and what do you find annoying or odd?
RL I like dioramas that convey action and movement and almost make me forget I’m looking at a static photo of some plastic bricks. The various sections of these dioramas each tell a small story, and you really get a sense of what’s going on. They’re not necessarily annoying or odd, but dioramas that have too much or too little action don’t seem to give me as much enjoyment. I feel like the story is lost or there isn’t really a story at all.
KG: What does the future hold for the LIU and how long do you think you can keep it going?
RL I’m lucky enough to have a job that only requires me to actually ‘work’ two hours during my eight hour shift. I spend a lot of my free time at ‘work’ daydreaming, researching, and planning more and more episodes of LIU Atlas. I have over twenty episodes pre-planned, so I’m sure I’ll be able to sustain the fictional TV show for a few more seasons. I still really enjoy this sub-genre of the LIU, and I don’t have any plans to stop anytime soon. I’ve also been working on some other LIU projects that will hopefully come to fruition in 2013.
KG: Through your main character “Doog” you’ve conducted a fair share of interviews yourself. Would you ever consider conducting builder interviews? Who would you interview and does Doog have any advice for the Boilerplate & Beyond series?
RL Doog and I share a lot of characteristics (except for the STD’s, I’m good there), but we’d really differ on interviewing styles. Where he is abrasive and gets to the point, I‘m a little more shy and would probably only ask the easy stuff. I’d be less offensive, but you might get more pertinent information from Doog. So, I’m not sure if I’d ever conduct an interview myself.
Doog’s advice, “Always receive ‘services’ before making payment. Huh? Oh, you want advice about interviewing? I’ve got nothing. I sort of just wing it.”
KG: If you lost all your bricks in a tragic zeppelin accident, would you rebuild your collection or move on to something else? How deep does your passion for LEGO run?
RL I’d be pretty devastated at first, but once all the hush money from the zeppelin company comes rolling in, I’d definitely start rebuilding my collection. I really enjoy the creative outlet LEGO provides, and be pretty bored without it. What would I do at ‘work’ without it? I do think that I would be smarter about building my collection. I’ve wasted a great deal of money on buying tons of one part that I only used in one build.
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?
RL That’s a tough question. If I had to chose, it would be my Queen from the Baby Factory on M31-P5. I think I was able to capture the ruthless, profit driven nature of the LIU in this small, simple creation. On a personal level, it’s symbolic of my rebirth as a builder.
KG: If The LEGO Group invited you to design an official set, what would it be?
RL It would have to be something involving space, but not a traditional star fighter or exploration vehicle. I always wanted a more industrial space set, like a Space Cargo Vessel or a Fuel Refining Station. Of course, these industrious workers would need some relief after work, so any set would have to include some type of Space Bar/Brothel.
KG: Taking time, money and proximity out of the equation, name 2 builders that you’d like to collaborate with on a project?
RL Hmm, I don’t ever think I’d be up for any collaborations. I’m a solo kind of guy, and I don’t like to share my bricks (perhaps a result of fighting with my sibling over bricks in my younger years). DON’T TOUCH MY LAYGOES! If the Collaboration Police pulled me kicking and screaming from my house, I guess I would have to pick Legoloverman and Shannon Young (S.L.Y.). I love Legoloverman’s industrial style and all its greebley goodness. I like how a lot of his creations have a functional look to them, something I strive for. I’m not sure if Young is still active these days, but I’ve always enjoyed his builds, creativity, and write-ups.
KG: Name a famous person living or dead who would have made a great LEGO-nerd.
RL I’m going to go with futurist Jacque Fresco. I recently watched a documentary about his life and work, and I couldn’t help but to imagine what kind of great science fiction themes and builds this guy could come up with if he were a LEGO-nerd.
KG: Who controls the action?
RL I do, weather permitting.