Tag Archives: Interview

The people behind the fascinating LEGO models we feature here are just as interesting! Read interviews with notable LEGO builders, LEGO book authors, LEGO set designers, and many others right here on The Brothers Brick.

Exclusive Designer Interview & Review of Set 70008 Gorzan’s Gorilla Striker

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Ever since I saw the preliminary photos from last year’s New York Toy Fair, I knew I was going to buy this set and do a review for the blog. I also immediately knew that this set had to be the work of Mark Stafford. I asked Mark if he would be willing to answer a few questions for me to include in the review. Not only did he graciously agree to do so, but he also gave me some exclusive development photos (see below).

So first the review and then I will get to the interview:

One word for this set, FUN. Whether you are a 32 year old man-kinder like myself, or a 6 year old LEGO maniac like my oldest son, chances are you are going to love this set. I am not even going to get into a lot of details in terms of price per part ratios, collectibility of the minifigs etc. Instead I am just going to say, “Buy this set!”

The build itself is rather brilliant, with a lot of clever techniques for achieving a robust mecha of a satisfying girth. There is also a great selection of parts in fresh colours like dark azure, and a whole shwack of brackets, which I seem to always be running out of. But in all honesty, I am going to find it hard to take this thing apart to steal bricks, it is simply too much fun to play with (as evidenced by the video below).

Set 70008 Gorzan's Gorilla Striker - PLAYABILITY

So long story short boys and girls; I highly recommend this set whether you want something to play with, or you want a good selection of highly useful parts. And don’t even get me started on how awesome the new Gorilla tribe weapons are!

Now on to the interview (& the exclusive design pics!):

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TBB: What was your initial inspiration for this set? Apart from the obvious
gorilla influence, I must admit that the first thing that came to mind upon
seeing the images of the set was the Iron Mecha Challenge that you were a
part of in the Mecha Hub flickr group a couple years back, did that have any
impact on the design?

Mark Stafford: Wow, yeah, the Iron Mecha 2 challenge was a bit weird, at that point we were already into early Chima development and myself and Jordan Schwartz had made ourselves stop building ‘FabuForce’ MOCs because it was too similar an idea. But I had promised to source the inspiration picture for Iron Mecha and LEGO Designer Luis Castenda had told me he had a Mecha image from his portfolio I could use. I got it from him at the last minute – and it was Gorilla inspired! I almost called the whole thing off, but figured that would be even more suspicious, so we went ahead with it. I built almost exactly what was in Luis’s picture, no real exploration of Gorilla’s or anything too far from the original image as I knew that this might come up soon at work! Sure enough, though Gorilla’s were not in the first launch I was asked to make a Mecha for the summer releases and I still had a ton of ideas I hadn’t used ready to try out!

TBB: How and when did the Chima cartoon factor into the design process of these
sets (if at all)? Because when I saw those gorilla mechs in the final
battle scene, I thought you may have been behind them, so it came as no
surprise when I found out that you were the designer of this set.

Mark Stafford: We need to send images of the main vehicles through very early in the process, pictures are taken of our sketch models on a gridded background for the animation company to start building 3D interpretations of, and from that point on no matter how many pieces change on the model its overall shape and dimensions should remain roughly the same. Once the TV guys have started work it’s very time consuming for them to change things. There was only one major change with the Gorilla Striker in that the original sketch had a glass cockpit, but this was just too far from the look we had established for the rest of Chima and of course this meant a modification of the TV model needed to be made.

TBB: I recall you telling a story about how you and the others designers of the
Ninjago line would toss around ideas for character names (some rather
hilarious ones resulted if I remember correctly). I am picturing a similar
situation for the development of the banana cannon, any funny story behind
that, or is it simply a creative stroke of Stafford genius?

Mark Stafford: Oh yes, the one eyed snake I wasn’t allowed to call ‘Trowza’… though that was nothing compared to the two hour giggle fest meeting because every single suggestion for the names of Power Miners vehicles sounding like an innuendo!

I can’t remember who first suggested the banana cannon for Chima but once it was an idea there was no way it was not going to be on this model whoever got to build it! Plus I knew from Power Miners that bananas work for kids; I included a banana in the Crystal Sweeper set after a kids test where we couldn’t find a prototype dynamite element and I threw in a banana instead, the kids played for an hour with the rock monsters stealing it and the miners having to get it back. Something about a banana in a set triggered a lot of imagination. This Striker has seven! In an ammo belt! Genius? Far from it, but definitely fun to play with!

TBB: The new weapon elements for the Gorilla Tribe minifigs look quite amazing.
Were you directly behind or involved in the design in any way? I ask this
because these elements seem like they were designed with the intention of
them being highly useful in alternate builds as opposed to being strictly
minifig weaponry.

Mark Stafford: The part designer for both the Gorilla fist and the Hammer elements was Gabriel Sas, like all of our new elements they have to fit into the LEGO system. The entire Chima team had brainstormed weapon ideas, coming up with a Gorilla Hammer and power fists. Then later we get to give input into the parts and we made some suggestions for what would be nice to include, but time is tight with these parts and I think there are a couple of things I would change to make them even more usable as building elements if I had the chance now. That’s always the way though, and they are still very nice and they are going to be hugely useful for details and for microscale builders or minifigure character makers!

TBB: How many prototypes did you go through for this set, and was there any feature from
your initial prototype that you had to sacrifice that you wished you could
have included in the final design?

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Mark Stafford: There were about five serious redesign loops on this mecha – and that’s not counting the sketch models some other designers did before I started. There’s this one by Maarten Simons which was the first built with the banana cannon idea included and this grey futuristic one is by Soren Dryhoj and I stole ideas from both for my version. One of the things I hated dropping was the Chi-crystal being in the chest instead of on the chest flap, but I just couldn’t find a way to have it that way around without the door knocking it out of place every time it was closed. I also kind of wish the final version had a closed cockpit over the pilot, but I guess it would look like he had a transparent skull!

TBB: As a LEGO set designer, we know that you have to work within design
constraints in terms of balancing pieces, price and playability. What part
of this design did you find the most challenging in that regard?

Mark Stafford: It was the Raven’s lookout post. It grew and shrank constantly throughout the design process as expense came and went from the Gorilla Striker. The final version is not the largest that it got to, but it’s far from the smallest, and I think it gives plenty of play value – and a few extra cool new parts/colour changes too.

TBB: Over the years you have designed a lot of fantastic sets. How does this
one stack up to you personally in terms of your own favourites?

Mark Stafford: This has a few touches I’m pretty proud of, the locking of the body around the arm sockets and the way everything fits in around and through each other in the torso for example, and I’m really happy with the beefiness of this one, I don’t think I can make a heavier two legged mecha either, or at least not without fully locking the legs. I’m also happy to get more Dark Azure out there, I really like this colour!

TBB: This set certainly has the largest amount of dark azure parts out
of all the Chima line, did you include this colour because you feel guilty
about killing teal? (sorry, couldn’t resist throwing a teal question in
there ;)

Mark Stafford: You can explain how I killed teal (*), (it was a colour I really liked, that’s why it hurt so much) but yes, the two new Azure blues are in a similar part of the colour wheel and I like them both a lot, particularly Dark Azure, so I’ll use them whenever I get the chance, if it makes sense for the model. I don’t feel guilty about teal though – after all I saved purple!

*Mark’s first set as a LEGO designer, was the Exo-Force Dark Panther. He had the choice of making it in either purple or teal, and whichever colour he chose, the other would be cut from the colour palette. Obviously he chose purple. Hence, Mark Stafford Killed Teal.

TBB: Thanks again!

Mark Stafford: No problem.

Buy @ Amazon.ca

Fully functional LEGO crossbow really shoots!

This mind-blowing working compound crossbow is completely LEGO, and made by builders extraordinaire Sean and Steph Mayo (Siercon and Coral). Be sure to check out the video of it in action! Not only does it shoot, even the cables are made from LEGO train electronics wires.

Viper Compound Crossbow

Viper Compound Crossbow (Video)

The Brothers Brick snagged a quick interview with Sean and Steph about this awesome creation:

The Brothers Brick: Where did you get your inspiration?
Sean and Steph: We wanted to use LEGO to shoot a projectile, building something other than a catapult or a trebuchet. We’ve seen lots of epic brick built guns online, and thought it would be tons of fun to create a custom Lego compound bow. This quickly evolved into crossbow for extra stability, as the bow is under tons of tension.

TBB: How long did this build take?
S&S: We probably spent a week playing around with the different mechanics. We had a lot to figure out about the flexibility of LEGO pieces under stress, how much the train cables could take, and which pieces would be useful for the cams. Once that was sorted the actual construction in a couple days.

TBB: Why a compound Crossbow, wouldn’t it have been enough to just create a bow?
S&S: A regular bow honestly would probably have been more effective as a lot of the natural flexibility of the LEGO pieces makes them more conducive to a recurve bow rather than a compound bow. But for ages we’ve been fascinated by the cams, idler wheels, and the mechanics of a compound bow, so we wanted to give it a try!

TBB: How many pieces did you use?
S&S: We usually don’t count the pieces we used, and have no clue how some builders do it, but we estimate around 1700 pieces.

TBB: How far can it shoot/how much would it hurt?
S&S: Disregarding the outliers, it can shoot around 40 feet. As a bow without the compound element it could shoot farther, but we couldn’t resist trying to build the cams. As far as how much damage it can deliver, we’re not entirely sure. We have yet to shoot anyone with it, and it is tipped with a flexible rubber lego (both for the competition this was built for and to minimize any accidental injury). It can likely stick into drywall with a sharp enough tip, but not much else.

TBB: What is it designed from? Is this from a video game or something similar?
S&S: This is an original design, but influenced by the Spartan Laser aesthetic from the Halo series. We also wanted to use the green spikes as viper fangs, so we tried to stick with venomous snake inspired highlights. We picture this to be something a Green Arrow vigilante might carry around.

Be sure to check out some of Sean and Steph’s previous insanely awesome creations, like the giant sushi roll and Cortana hologram.

“...and keep my shameful LEGO secret hidden like a trunk full of German magazines.”

King of cars and all around hellraiser Lino Martins is no stranger to TBB; in fact it is a rarity when one of his models doesn’t make the big blog. Although I’ve thrown in an obligatory model, in this case the somehow overlooked Obi-Wan’s Jedi Starliner, the real purpose of this post is to direct you towards a recent interview with Lino conducted by the boys over at Beyond the Brick. Forget your typical interview boilerplate like “I love Legos, they bring me back to a happier time in my childhood when nobody yelled at me and everything I did was special.”, Lino brings some much needed wit and braggadocio to the process that is sure to delight the hot-weather crowd.

Obi-Wan's Jedi Starliner

If nothing else, you should check out the interview to see Matthew Kay’s new serial killer haircut…I can’t call him a cherub anymore, but the new look has somehow made him much more talkative. On the downside, the audio isn’t the greatest for this installment, but to me it somehow adds charm to their Wayne’s-World style approach. This is one of the greatest segments of the long-running series and probably my favorite.

Talking Heads

I laughed until my prodigious gut hurt when I laid eyes on the latest model by TBB fixture Iain Heath (Ochre Jelly). I didn’t need to read the text to immediately recognize everyone’s favorite cherubic interviewers Joshua and Matthew from Beyond the Brick TV; the likeness is uncanny and even more proof of Iain’s genius. Iain is the subject of Episode 78 of the long running series and as usual, the interview does not disappoint. Look at those faces!…I can almost hear the uncomfortable pauses and softly murmured “yeah…cool…” at the end of segments.

Beyond The Brick

Of Helicopters and Hooligans

In January of this year we featured Ryan McNaught’s (TheBrickMan) king of helicopters, the Erickson Air-Crane Elvis. As many of you have no doubt read by now, Elvis was on public display at Cairns Central shopping center in northern Queensland, Australia when the unthinkable happened: a group of misguided “youths” pushed mighty Elvis to the ground with predictable results.

LEGO Vandalism

We’ve all seen accidental damage to models at conventions before, most often caused by enthusiastic butter-fingered youngsters, gawking public day attendees leaning too far over the ropes or rotund builders trying to squeeze between tables…but nothing like this…nothing so deliberate. Fortunately the flight-recorder survived the crash and the authorities are hard at work piecing together the final seconds of Elvis’s life.

LEGO Black Box Flight Recorder

TBB reached out to Ryan for a comment and found him in remarkably good spirits considering the scope of this brick-tragedy and very much willing to speak about it. Because of the ongoing criminal trial taking place with 2 youths charged over the death of Elvis, Ryan cannot get into the specifics of the incident.

“I was asleep in bed when the phone rang, you always know when it rings and its late that its bad, and well it was, I drove about 40 minutes into the centre where it was on display and there it was just as pictured (see my Flickr) to see hundreds of hours worth of work ruined is pretty surreal, and something I’ve never experienced before.

To pull down and destroy your own MOC can be very satisfying, I’ll never forget the Brickvention of 2009 where by 9 foot Eiffel tower was brought down at the end of the show Team America World Police style!

Needless to say I had to pack it up that night after the police came and did their thing, and got back to bed at about 2am. The next morning the media were swarming, but of course nothing to see, so that was fun watching the media look like idiots.

Anyway I was up there building a giant LEGO rainforest where people came along built a bit of the rainforest and added it to the display, I felt it was really important to keep that going so that people could still have fun and enjoy it. As people either asked where the chopper was, or came to sympathize it kind of hit home, the usual anger then sadness kicked in, but that was all fairly temporary, because to be honest its LEGO right? anything can be rebuilt, so whilst it sucks to lose such a big model, its not like its a 2,000 year old Ming vase.

So I’m kind of circumspect about it, and a bit relaxed about it now (my wife holds the anger and frustration for me!) and to be honest, when I rebuild/repair it (who knows when I can find the time) it will be just as cool as what it was, and its got a hell of a cool story behind it.

Plus doesn’t rebuilding it stick it up the nose of those who ruined it? To me LEGO has this thing where its cool to return back to its original form and then become something else, so i guess this is kind of like that.”

I think it does stick it up their collective nose Ryan, but for the violent American inside me…it isn’t quite enough. It used to be the most you had to worry about while displaying your model at a convention was the occasional petty theft or jackassy question, but this is a whole new ballgame. Stay tuned to TBB for a follow up on the court case.

Going a bit crackers – Beyond the Brick interview D-Town Cracka

One of the wackier categories in this year’s LEGO Military Build Competition is “Friends vs. Fabuland,” in which two rather unlikely foes go head to head. Andy Baumgart ( D-Town Cracka), who is one of the judges, was the mad genius behind this one.

Friends Propaganda Poster

He was recently interviewed by the guys from Beyond the Brick. If you’re interested in what makes Andy tick, how he discovered and joined the military build community on Flickr, or want to hear about the pleasures of having your models blogged on TBB, I heartily recommend you watch the interview on Youtube.

Beyond the Brick offers Brickworld interviews DVD on Kickstarter

Beyond the Brick would like your support on Kickstarter to fund a DVD compiling a series of interviews to take place at this year’s Brickworld in Chicago. You can pledge $20 for a DVD or give more for unique incentives such as a custom creation by Tyler (Legohaulic). Check out the details on Kickstarter.

Career Thoughts interviews LEGO Master Builder Steve Gerling

Master Builders, Master Model Makers, or Master Model Designers are people who work for LEGO or LEGOLAND to design and maintain large-scale displays for the company or theme parks. We’ve taken you behind the scenes at LEGOLAND with the charming and telegenic Gary McIntire, but what’s it like to work as a Master Builder for LEGO’s North American headquarters in Enfield, Connecticut?

Career Thoughts has an interview with Steve Gerling, who brought a more-traditional artist’s eye to the Model Shop 17 years ago.

Steve Gerling with a LEGO great white shark

Kevin Spence: Did you find that a lot of [your sculpture background] translated?

Steve Gerling: Oh, it all translated. Absolutely. Despite the fact that I worked primarily in relief, the sculpture principles were all still there. They were trying to upgrade their models that had human and wildlife themes at that point. They were trying to get something more realistic…. It was a new sculptural medium. We had little pieces of clay that happened to be square.

Check out the full interview on careerthoughts.com.

Mike Doyle builds massive city of Odan from 200,000 Lego bricks [Interview]

Mike Doyle spent over 600 hours to create this majestic fantasy cityscape called Odan. The creation depicts the peaceful contact of extraterrestrials with a race of highly spiritual humans. The diorama measures 5′ high by 6′ wide, but more impressive is its consistent quality in every corner as is characteristic of Mike’s focus on detail. We interviewed Mike about his work, which you’ll find below.

CONTACT 1: Millennial Celebration of the Eternal Choir at K'al Yne, Odan

The Brothers Brick: How did you determine the visual style of this creation, since it lies half-way between fantasy and science fiction?

Mike Doyle: The visual style evolved over time along with the theme. At first, the intent was to do a piece that was of a medieval society on a spiritually awake planet. It was to be sort of LotR with meditation and the spiritual arts. I was looking at castles for inspiration at that time. You can see the first part of development in the earlier Flickr shots of this.

After creating the Sanctuary Gate (Issis Elb’ien) at the top of the falls, I realized the style of this structure was more appropriate and interesting. It has a bit of an eastern feel or Angkor Wat look. This felt more spiritual to me. So, I went back in and pushed the detail further on the things that I had created and worked to bring in some Asian influences. I also began looking at Mesoamerican structures for inspiration which I later integrated in the piece. Additionally, the theme went from a medieval culture to a space faring one which changed the look a bit.

TBB: What drew you to this style?

MD: This piece corresponds to a new point in my life where spirituality is of high concern to me. I have begun meditating and am working on astral travel. As well have been researching many phenomena that have been reported in the ancient Vedic, Vedic Sanskrit, near death experiences and more. Funny enough, this led me to research ufos which goes hand in hand to all these concepts of spirituality. Inspiration for this came from Dr. Steven Greer, founder of the Disclosure movement and CE5 (close encounters of the fifth kind) protocols for vectoring ETs to his teams’ location. The ufo research transformed the piece from a medieval culture to a spiritually and technically advanced one but still remaining squarely in the spiritual realm. So, I began integrating landing pods (made from metallic Bionical shields. I loved the look of these as they appear like floating lily pads or something organic.

Because the city is an ancient one, I had wanted the main city structure to look somewhat cobbled together as if it had evolved over time. There is little symmetry to it beyond local additions. The style also progresses a bit from the more direct interpretation of castle look on the bottom, to more unusual as you go up.

CONTACT 1: The Millennial Celebration of the Eternal Choir at K'al Yne, Odan

TBB: How did you plan this massive build? How does the finished product compare to what you initially imagined?

MD: There was not much planning at all beyond looking at some castle artwork. I knew I wanted a castle on a hill and an older city that would work its way up the hills. The process is an organic and intuitive one. I build for a few hours and then stare at it for a while and begin to see what should come next. It is not a totally smooth process. There are areas in the landscape where I pulled up everything and started over. I really only knew I wanted it microscale and very large. I approach each session with prayer as well which seems to help put me in a positive state of flow. I try not to think too much when I build but rather let things happen. I think planning is more like hiking up a mountain. I know basically where I want to go and simply follow a path one step at a time. I don’t know ahead of time the particulars of the trail and try to keep focused on the moment. Generally, like hiking, the path is revealed to me at each twist and turn. Eventually, I find myself at the top of the mountain. Also, if I’m honest with myself, I really stink at planning. Inevitably the process is more a natural one for me to achieve.

As far as comparison to my original vision. It is bigger than what I had originally thought it would be – that is for sure. Also, I didn’t expect it to take a technological twist. Beyond that, I didn’t have a clear picture in the beginning so it’s about what I had hoped it would be.

TBB: What was the most challenging aspect of this project?

MD: I think patience can be difficult. I had expected this only to take 3 or 4 months, but ended up being double that. Also, simply funding this is really tough. I never seem to have enough pieces or enough of the right ones. This and waiting for the orders to come in can be frustrating.

TBB: You did a Kickstarter for this creation once before, that didn’t succeed. What are you doing differently this time on your new Kickstarter project?

MD: Well, I think a few things. Firstly, I have a finished work this time around. This much better capture people’s imagination and interest, I think. In the first attempt, the piece was perhaps only 20% complete and much less impressive. This time around I’m also offering more interesting rewards. For instance, I have five buildings from the model that I have replicated for DIY kits. These kits range anywhere from 220 pieces to around 3000 pieces and include a small fine art print as well as a history of the building in context. Finally, I lowered the funding goal to a more achievable level.

Sanctuary Gate: Issis Elb'ienDawn's Light Residential Tower

TBB: What will you do with Odan now that it is finished?

MD: The piece itself is in the process of being disassembled for use in future mocs – again, it’s a money thing. As for the series, I changed the original theme from “Odan” based to “Contact” based. The Contact series is designed to promote the beauty of all intelligent life forms as extensions of our family – children under the same creative force. This broadens the whole experience to far more subject matter. I am thinking that my next work will be a representation of expanded consciousness – which will be more abstract in nature. Other pieces could range from tender ET moments – like mothers caring for their young – to contact events to other fictional pieces as Odan was. The story might include a beautiful old Dutch style image of spiritual fruits which some near death experiencers have seen in other worlds. Or perhaps future mocs will simply cover other exotic ET locals. I hope to be interviewing contactees to see what worlds they have seen in their expanded consciousness.

Seer's Meditation Tower

TBB: We noticed that your upcoming publication called Beautiful LEGO features Odan on its cover, can you tell us more about what’s in the book?

MD: The book is a celebration of all the beautiful work I see on the web. It includes work form about 80 designers and has around 380 different pictures of mocs. The book has been treated like a fine art book – which I think is new to LEGO themed books. Pages will have usually 1 or 2 images with a good deal of white space and a simple credit on the bottom. The idea is to elevate building to more of an art level. While many of these mocsmight be familiar to the readers, I have retouched most the pieces – color balanceing and adding complementary backgrounds to freshen the pieces up. To me, many of the mocs seem new simply because the presentation is so much better.

Video interviews on Beyond The Brick TV

Josh Hanlon of Beyond The Brick has been posting video interviews with well-known fan builders. If you’re not aware of his Youtube channel, here is a list of video interviews posted so far. Josh also covers Lego news, events, and reviews.

Beyond the BrickLogo by Si-MOCs

Alice Finch builds massive LEGO Hogwarts from 400,000 bricks [Photos & Interview]

Last October at BrickCon 2012, Seattle-area builder Alice Finch unveiled what just might be the largest LEGO structure built by a single person, a near-complete minifig-scale rendition of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books and the corresponding movies.

Hogwarts

Alice’s Hogwarts took home both “People’s Choice” and “Best in Show” – a rare combination that demonstrates not only how massive Hogwarts is (“People’s Choice,” voted on by visitors during the public exhibition, invariably goes to the single biggest LEGO model in the exhibition hall) but also just how well-built and detailed it is (“Best in Show” is voted by all convention attendees).

Hogwarts- left

There’s a reason it’s been nearly five months between BrickCon in October and the online unveiling of Alice’s LEGO Hogwarts today — assembling such a huge LEGO structure in the family living room and taking decent pictures of it is virtually impossible. But with help from Carlyle Livingston II (whose collaborative LEGO Batcave build with Wayne Hussey we featured here last fall), Alice’s Hogwarts is ready for its moment in the spotlight.

I sat down with Alice before a recent SEALUG meeting.

LEGO Hogwarts Basics

The Brothers Brick: How long did it take you to build your LEGO Hogwarts?

Alice Finch: I spent 12 months building over an 18-month time span (I was out of the country or working on other projects for the other 6).

TBB: Do you have any idea how many bricks you used?

AF: 400,000 bricks give or take a few. When dealing with this large of a structure, it is very difficult to know how many bricks there are. Some experienced builders have said more, some less, so this is about the middle of the guesses. I do know there are about 10,000 bricks just in the big central staircase to give you a sense of scale. It is built in the shape of an L, where each side is about 13 feet (nearly 4 meters) long.

Hogwarts- back

TBB: That’s a lot of bricks. How much did it cost, and where did you get all that LEGO?

AF: I do not know how much it costs and I don’t really want to know, although lots of other people do. I have ordered most of the tan by the box, and many other parts by the hundreds or thousands from all over the world. For example, most of the sand green roof slopes came from Germany.

Planning and Research

TBB: What I love about your Hogwarts is that it’s not just big, it’s full of wonderful detail, both outside and inside. What are some of your favorite details, and how did you approach the inevitable research?

AF: I did quite a bit of research in the books and movies looking for the smallest of details, things like the old fashioned slide projector in Lupin’s Defense Against the Dark Arts class, the location of the potions class, and the wood paneling in the charms classroom.

Defense Against the Dark Arts Potions Classroom

Much of the time, the book and movie don’t align, so I had to choose what worked best. For example, in the book, the Gryffindor common room is over by the hospital wing as a corner tower, but the tower with the four corner turrets from the movies was visually more important than relative location, so I put it in its own tower like the set.

Gryffindor common room interior

TBB: What sort of research did you do beyond the books and movies themselves?

AF: I also went to the Harry Potter studio tour in London to see the sets in person. This was tremendously helpful because some sets are only shown from certain angles and seeing them in person meant I could fill in the gaps and take hundreds of photos from all angles. They even had a room full of the architectural drawings! The last room had the model they built for all the wide shots for everything but the last films. It was quite a sight as it was enormous and meant I could get my own photos of panoramas and small architectural details.

Building LEGO Hogwarts

TBB: You have two young sons, and I’m sure LEGO has been in your house for many years. How did you get into building yourself?

AF: I started building about 5 years ago when I was spending a lot of time with my older son in our Lego room. He was doing the building; I was doing the sorting and putting away. After a while, I realized that I really wanted to build too. I haven’t built since I was a kid and once I started building again, it occurred to me that building with my son had important implications. We were spending time together doing something creative, learning techniques and sharing ideas in a very productive way, and, although I didn’t really think about it at the time, I was showing him that moms can be pretty darn good at putting bricks together too.

The Great Hall

TBB: What inspired you to tackle such a monumental project?

AF: After a year or so of getting back in the building groove, I started collecting the Harry Potter sets, but I soon realized I was not satisfied with them. I understand why Lego makes sets that are only finished on one side and accessible on the back, but I’ve been to many of the places in Oxford where they filmed and I knew what they really looked like and I wanted to build my own version that was architecturally accurate with 4 walls and a roof, minifigs scale, and also playable for big and little hands. I started with the Great Hall, partly because I’ve eaten in the Dining Hall of Christ Church College that inspired the movie set, and partly because it would establish the scale for the rest of the castle. It had to have 4 tables where students could sit, and it had to have plenty of exterior and interior architectural details.

Great Hall feast

When the Great Hall and the rocks that went under it were finished, I kept looking at it thinking, wow, this is huge! How am I going to build the rest of this since it already takes up my entire Lego table? I tried to figure out how to make it smaller, but since it worked just the way I wanted it to, I just let it be. After the Great Hall, I built the big round tower, and then the building with the challenges for the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Quidditch Courtyard, Hospital Wing and bridge over to the Clock Tower and Courtyard. That is all I managed to finish in time for BrickCon 2011, but I learned an awful lot about substructures, building rocks, and just how much time and material it takes to build a large-scale project.

Polyjuice potion Wobbly Bridge and Stone Circle Clock Tower, Wobbly Bridge, Hagrid's Hut

TBB: The first stages of Hogwarts you shared at BrickCon 2011 were certainly impressive. But you kept right on going!

AF: I continued on by finishing the sides of the courtyard with the Chamber of Secrets and the archway. Even though I took a few months off here and there for various reasons, I was pretty much always thinking of how to solve a tricky building situations, like how to get the beams in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom just right (lots of brown legs) or how to build the Cornish pixies (I looked through all the parts made in blue, ordered the ones that I thought might be useful, and puzzled it out.)

In May I realized that I had so much yet to complete on my ever growing list of scenes that I wanted to build that I had to kick it into turbo build mode or else I would never finish in time for BrickCon 2012. So, from May until October, I stayed up until 1 or so in the morning building lighting into the floor of the Room of Requirement, a forest for the thestrals, library shelves, and a tower of pink cups in Divination,.

Room of Requirement Library
Luna and the Thestrals Divination Classroom

When I could, I’d build during the day with my two boys in the Lego room, doing things like building the layer upon layer of the now even bigger central tower that would accommodate moving staircases and portraits in the walls. I was pretty tired of course after months of staying up late, but I think adrenaline kept me going. I just had to finish and so I kept working until I did.

My older son likes setting up scenes so he posed many of the hundreds of students and professors all over the castle. My younger son helped by testing the sturdiness of the buildings, the usability of the classrooms, and he contributed several charmingly wobbly shrubs down by Hagrid’s hut.

Whomping Willow, Aragog, Buckbeak in the pumpkins

My husband helped where he could with things like the conical roofs (which were drat tricky to build), the harp in the room with Fluffy, giving a second opinion here and there, but mostly he helped by reading to me while I worked. That and never flinching at the enormous number of bricks that kept arriving by the box and oozing into all the rooms of the house.

The Future of LEGO Hogwarts

TBB: Your Hogwarts won both “People’s Choice” and “Best in Show” at BrickCon last October. Now that all these gorgeous photos are online, I suspect it’s also about to go viral. Did you have any idea it would become so popular?

AF: After building on it for this long, and being tired on top of it, I didn’t really have any idea of how it would be received by my peers. I had invested a tremendous amount of effort (and money) into it because I loved building my own bit of reality for the world of Harry Potter and because I wanted my kids to be able to play in all the spaces where the story takes place, but I didn’t really think about how others would view it. Enormous perhaps, but beyond that, I just didn’t know.

Alice Finch and her castle

TBB: What do you have planned next for all the bricks tied up in Hogwarts?

AF: I don’t plan on taking it apart anytime soon. My older son has read the books and has enjoyed playing various adventures all over the castle. Even though my younger son hasn’t read the books, he has seen snippets of the movies and a lot of the books and pictures that I used as reference and so he has gleaned enough to happily play along. When he is old enough to read the books, then the sections of the castle will come out from under their dust clothes and courtyards and forest from their boxes to be played with anew.

Ravenclaw and Astronomy towers

Be sure to check out all 75 photos in Alice’s Hogwarts photoset on Flickr, and come see it in person at SEALUG’s LEGO display at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle this weekend!

Rob Ludgonious: Hush money from the zeppelin company – Boilerplate and Beyond Vol. 24

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.

The Build:

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.

Baby Factory - Station M31-P5

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?

Fuscan City of Tartarus

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.

LIU Ship-To-Ship Medevac

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.

Read the full interview after the jump!