Batman, The Day of the Dead and Pickles: a chat with world-class LEGO builder Paul Hetherington [Interview]

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Paul Hetherington and take a tour inside his head to see how he invents such fantastic creations. Our readers will recognize him as the builder of our Creation of the Year 2016, Gotham Theater Showdown, but his creations span a much greater range in subject and technique than many people may realize. Let’s get to know Paul, shall we?

LEGO Artist, Self Portrait

TBB: Can you give us a little background on how you got into the LEGO hobby and what inspires you to build?

Paul: I’ve been into the LEGO hobby since before you could reasonably use the word “classic” to describe old space and castle sets. I bought my first set as an adult in 1991, which was the Space M-Tron Pulsar Charger. Little did I know back then that I had just taken the first step on an epic journey — one that would introduce me to so many amazing people, and have my LEGO creations be recognized around the world. Because back in 1991, as far as I knew, I was the only crazy adult who bought LEGO sets.

LEGO Sunday Afternoon Tea Train to Tetley

There are so many things that inspire me to build. My first creations were just built for my own enjoyment, as there was no way to share them. Then when the internet came along, all of a sudden a local LEGO club formed which I joined. From that point I had a reason to build. The first years of creating were mainly spent recreating local buildings, trains and hot rods for train shows and museums. I found I really enjoyed doing research to ensure that my creations were historically accurate and to scale. I soon became inspired to add some fantasy elements into my creations. I discovered Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and the works of Antoni Gaudi. Theme parks, Mardi Gras floats, and parades were also a great source of inspiration.
More recently, I had the pleasure to work with the artist Douglas Coupland on an installation and came to the realization that Lego has a place in the Art world. I find the Surrealists, especially Dali, and Pop Art, and Comic book art to be particularly inspiring. In recent years my creations have had more of an artistic twist and I see myself going more in that direction. Architecture will always be at the heart of what I do and is usually the catalyst for my creations.

LEGO Mouse Guard

TBB: You have become known for your intricately detailed builds, many of which are based on pop culture subjects. How do you choose what you are going to build?

Paul: I am lucky to have an active imagination so I never have a shortage of themes and ideas that I would like to build. I’ll be honest, just physically starting a new project is the hardest part. I would rather vacuum my place and clean my bathtub than start a new project. Thank god for deadlines and LEGO conventions — otherwise nothing would get built around here. In the past I have tried to balance out a few pop culture builds with some of my more unique artistic ideas. Prince used to say “would you have drank my coffee if I hadn’t served you cream?” It is good to have a few popular themed models that people can relate to. Then when you build something a little bit more conceptual there is a better chance that people will listen with their eyes.

LEGO Batman vs Joker Gotham Theater Showdown

TBB: With the amount of detail and mechanical/motorized components in your larger builds, there must be significant planning that takes place. Once you have a concept or subject in mind, how do you go about planning the build?

Paul: You are right, there should be some planning involved! But sometimes there isn’t. I tend to work from a basic overall vision which isn’t as clear as I would like. I liken it to an archaeological dig. The more of the creation I “uncover” or build, the more I start to understand what it is that I am building. It is kind of a surrealist approach. When I am finished with a piece, I sometimes find hidden meaning or symbols that I hadn’t consciously put in there. Having said that, The Gotham Theater model was planned out in advance. I knew with the automation that I wanted to show the story of the Joker attacking Gotham with his Joker gas. I also knew that I wanted to feature a stylish 1920’s Art Deco-styled theater and that I wanted Art Deco styling on the base. Then it was just a matter of designing the theater and building the scene around it. Adding the Gotham skyline and Batman comic book logo on top was the final piece. Of course there is always thought put into how the models are going to break apart into sections to travel to shows. There is an art to this as well, but I’ll save that discussion for another time.

TBB: You have attended many LEGO fan conventions. Can you talk about what the the fan community means to you and why you attend Cons?

Paul: The fan community is beyond what I would have ever imagined. From the LEGO conventions to the online support through Flickr and LEGO blogs it is just unreal. LEGO Poseidon, Guardian of AtlantisMy first convention was the very first NW Brickcon in 2002. I attended as public but did bring a model, my Tijuana Taxi to display there. I have been to every Brickcon since. I really feel that it is the support and encouragement that I received at Brickcon that has led me to develop my craft. I really can’t even fully articulate how important that support has been on my journey as an artist. Since that first Brickcon I have also attended several Brickfest PDX, Bricks Cascade, and Brickcan conventions. In the future I hope to go to many more to have the chance to meet more LEGO fans from around the world! Once you have met people that are into the same things you are into and have the same level of commitment and addiction as you it is a match made in heaven. I will probably request that my ashes be scattered at a future LEGO convention when I am no longer here.

Paul Hetherington's Zombie Section at Brickcon 09

TBB: Some of your builds have been for collaborations, such as your Poseidon for a VLC collaboration, as well as “Casa Baron” and “Turns at Midnight” in TBB’s own Zombie Apocafest layouts. How does working in a collaboration or LEGO club differ from building solo? If a builder is considering getting involved in a collaboration, what things should they consider?

Paul: That is so cool that you remember Casa Baron!! That was my first “Best in Show”, and signaled a return to form for me. I had been quite disillusioned with the whole color change to Bley, which seems a bit silly to say now. But at the time it was quite dividing for many people. So in many ways I have The Brothers Brick Zombie Apocafest to thank for bringing me back to the LEGO community.

I have a unique approach to collaborations which could be of value to a couple of your readers. It is a bit sneaky and is really a tutorial on how to collaborate without collaborating. I build in a different scale so that my model will have to stand alone. I then convince everyone that because my model is more sculptural, it is the perfect choice as a title piece for the collaboration. Dirty secret #67 for master model builders revealed.

TBB: I love that “dirty secret” about collaborating. I may have to give that a try. If I’m banned from future collaborations, can I blame you?

Paul: You can either blame me or thank me depending on your perspective!

Lego Batman and Robin, Joker's Funhouse

TBB: Is there one of your builds that is your favorite or one that was particularly satisfying to build?

Paul: There are two that stand out for me. The Joker’s Funhouse was just so much fun to design. I put myself in the role of the Joker and built it from his perspective. It really isn’t a Batman MOC. It is all Joker! I have to smile when ever I watch the video just seeing how all the automation came together and how the crazy color palette works.

LEGO Steampunk, Unchain My Heart

Paul: My other current favorite is Unchain My Heart. I just really like that it doesn’t look like LEGO. I’m really drawn to the new pearl chrome and gold parts. Mixing them with Bionicle and Hero Factory parts was a good challenge and came with some interesting results. I also get a kick out of realizing after the fact that I subconsciously built Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album cover with a steampunk twist. Oops!

TBB: Which of your builds was the most difficult, challenging or just didn’t turn out the way you wanted?

 

Paul: One of my most recent ones, The Edge of Glory just didn’t turn out quite as well as I had hoped.
It is still cool, but I had hoped to have more of the skeleton buildings visible from the front. I wanted it to look more like the Land of the Remembered instead of just a giant Mayan LEGO Day of the Deadskeleton. I now realize that it looks a bit like Iron Maiden’s Powerslave album cover with a Mexican twist. Hold on…..I’m starting to see a pattern forming!? Arrrhh!

TBB: Which Iron Maiden album cover are you recreating next?

Paul: The Number of the Beast is perhaps the greatest album cover of all time. So obviously The Trooper will be the next one I will surprise myself by building.

TBB: I saw a picture of you surrounded by most of your larger builds. Do you keep everything you build together?

Paul: That picture was so much work to set up!! I do keep them all built, which is not all that common I understand. That is why I thought I was in a unique situation to do a picture like that. Kind of a greatest hits picture. Unfortunately, I have to keep them in storage so I rarely get to see them in person. But once in a while I can bring out an older one for a show.

Fabuland Fun Fair

TBB: The word on the street is that you hate pickles. Can you elaborate on this? All pickles or just pickled cucumbers? If someone paid you to build a giant motorized LEGO pickle would you do it?

Paul: I absolutely hate pickles! Doesn’t everyone?!? Why would you want to do that to a poor cucumber? That cucumber was doing just fine without your help, thank you! Lets be real. Vinegar is the real culprit here. That stuff should be banned. I don’t even use it to clean my bathtub.

TBB: So I take it that’s a big, resounding ‘No’ regarding a motorized pickle build?

Paul: While a motorized pickle sounds like it could be an amazing idea for a MOC, I suspect I won’t be the one to build it. As soon as someone invents a pickle that has nothing to do with vinegar I’m in.

TBB: This is the second time in this interview that you’ve mentioned cleaning your bathtub. Is this something we should be concerned about?

Paul: I don’t think we should be concerned. I think we should be impressed that I tied bathtub cleaning into two separate answers which creates a continuity between responses.

TBB: Nicely done! What other hobbies are you involved in when you don’t feel like building with LEGO or cleaning your bathtub?

LEGO The Ridge Modern TownhousePaul: I really only build with Lego when I have a project in the works. I just try not to go into my LEGO room most of the year. So when I’m avoiding my LEGO room, I like go for hikes. I have done West Coast Swing dancing for 15 years, which is fun and has a great community. I also enjoy art shows, reading books, and watching music videos on YouTube. I’m also not going to lie to you: shopping for LEGO is a pretty big hobby too. It is way more fun to buy it than to build with it.

TBB: I always find it interesting to hear about the other hobbies in which LEGO fans are involved. Swing dancing is quite cool and I know for a fact that you aren’t the only one who has a love/hate relationship with their LEGO room and the brick. I know I certainly do.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and we can’t wait to see what you create next!

Paul: Well I can tell you with extreme certainty that it won’t be a pickle! Thanks so much, I will always relish this time that we have spent together.


Read more about Paul’s amazing creations on TBB:
Gotham Theatre Showdown [TBB’s 2016 Creation of the Year]
Joker’s Funhouse
Unchain My Heart
Modern Townhouse
Mouse Guard
Tintin and The Land of Black Gold
Fabuland Fun Fair
Lady Gaga, Highway Unicorn
FUN HAUS!
Atlantis and Poseidon

 

1 comment on “Batman, The Day of the Dead and Pickles: a chat with world-class LEGO builder Paul Hetherington [Interview]

  1. Ryan

    Crazy that all the models are still together; I incorrectly assumed that at the scale he builds that each project would feed into the next.

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