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.

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.


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!

Orion Pax: I have no idea why Germans now own LUGNET. – Boilerplate and Beyond Vol. 23

This week’s builder should be well known to constant readers of TBB for his outstanding genre-spanning models. Whether you know him as Alex Jones or Orion Pax, you are probably familiar with his many eye-catching builds often based on popular media. From Transformers to The Munsters to Breaking Bad, the one constant is quality. I met up with Alex in Berlin, the the most “bombed” city in Europe, where he took me on an early morning tour of the city’s important pieces by Alias, Bimer and El Bocho. We talked about 99 Luftballons, Frederick 1 Barbosa vs. Frederick 1 of Prussia and which of our nations is ultimately responsible for David Hasselhoff

The Build

KG: Talk about your experience as a contributor to the book Constructed Styles, from first contact to print. There is a great shot of you posing with Kjeld and Jørgen, how was this connected to the book, and did you guys talk about bombing? It is difficult to imagine those two suits being down with that type of artistic expression, even if it is in LEGO.

My 30th Birthday

AJ: My experience with LEGO regarding the book, my work with the company (projects/concepts) has left me with different feelings. For sure the whole thing was a big hit in the beginning. In 2009 when i started with LEGO as a concept designer for concept lab, was about the same time that Cole Blaq and I met for the first time. We spent hours on thinking what we could build that is new and never seen before. Since we both have a graffiti background the decission to try and build a graffiti with LEGO came very soon. After my collegue Henk Holsheimer who is also the main author of the book came across these styles he saw something new in it and wanted to push it a bit further. The first exhibition was the Constructed Styles event in Munich 2009. The book is all about that exhibition and the artists that were part of it. The picture with the two “suits” was taken in Nürnberg at Toyfair 2010. It was my 30th birthday and LEGO has a “LEGO people only” aftershow party where they usually present the new product lines. On that event we had the chance to present the models we built for the exhibition to the guys from TLG. Also you can see in the book that I gave two different LEGO graffitis to Kjield and Jörn. It seems they still have them in their office, I have been told… When LEGO started to approach the big market with the LEGO art thing, they opened up a gallery in Berlin where I was first invited to present my stuff. But when the opening event was taking place I was no longer invited. A berlin company worked together with TLG for the LEGO art box and thought my stuff was to much street art related and wouldn´t sell anyway. That was about the time my contract with LEGO ended after two years as a freelancer with them and i decided it was time to move on.

PAX Illuminati Style

Read the full interview after the jump!

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!


Read the full interview after the jump!

Cagri Yuz: We can actually make our dreams come true without too much hassle. – Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 21

This week’s builder is a hot mess from Ankara Turkey whose clean builds and steady leadership has helped define the burgeoning LEGO fan scene in his venerable country. Cagri Yuz isn’t content being married to one theme, preferring to jump around from trains to sci-fi to micro builds of Turkey’s many world heritage sites. I caught up with Cagri at the Fairy Chimneys in Cappadocia. We talked about the timeless mystery of baby shampoo, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk vs George Washington and muscat grapes. We also talked about LEGO.

The Build

KG: Talk about your recent model “Misogyny”, the inspiration, the approach and do you plan to build more models in this style?Misogyny - 02

CY: I was suffering from a builder’s block and I did the only logical thing I could do. I came up with a surreal creation which nobody could object. People ask puzzled questions about the nature of this MOC and they’re all worried that they have failed to understand the logic behind it. It’s funny to watch how insecure the humankind is when we face a slightly confusing problem. It was just a pile of bricks really, nothing else. Joking aside, it’s not an entirely meaningless creation. I wanted to point out the hatred against women among men and hence the title “Misogyny”. I may have done this somewhat brutally but it is what it is. I had a similar creation titled Reconstruction and I may build more in the future, why not? But don’t ask the secret behind Reconstruction, there isn’t any. I simply enjoyed the colors, simplicity and arrangement of parts.

KG: You didn’t need an official set to give the world some TMNT action, talk about your approach and the official line.
TMNT - 01

CY: I didn’t really know there was an upcoming TMNT theme. Ever since I saw the claws in 6866 Wolverine’s Chopper Showdown, I wanted to build myself a Shredder figure. Then came the rest of the characters. I’m quite happy how they turned out in the end. I especially like my April O’neil figure. She was my first crush as a kid and apparently I’m still sort of attached to her, even in the form of a plastic toy. I think this last one sounded a little bit weird? Anyways, I’m not particularly interested in the new TMNT line. 2012 series is quite different than the 1987 one which I’m familiar with. I didn’t enjoy the overall design of models and characters. That’s not a bad thing though, I get to keep my brick-money for other themes.

Mahmudiye Camii - 00

KG: That isn’t weird at all, I had a similar thing for Princess Ariel from Thundarr. You know, “Ariel, Ookla, Ride!” and whatnot. Moving on.

KG: Like many in our hobby, you suffer from a rare syndrome that causes you to consume LEGO in large quantities. Talk about this problem, and do you have any other issues with the brick you’d like to come clean about?

Wut !?CY: Hello, my name is Cagri and I’m a LEGO addict. I was first introduced to this menace by my parents when I was a kid and I can’t quit. It has taken all my mind and all my money. Every single coin I can spare in my piggy bank goes to this plastic addiction. I have an unstoppable impulse to build every single thing I see in the world. I loose touch with reality once I start observing things in the streets so that I can build them later on. It’s hazardous for me wander around on my own. I have been subject to many traffic accidents trying to catch a glimpse of things around me. I need continuous assistance to survive in everyday life. I admit, my LEGO problem is injurious… But seriously, LEGO gives us the power to create anything. Everyone wants to shape the world as they wish, that’s just not practical. With LEGO parts, we can actually make our dreams come true without too much hassle. I love to hold that power in my hands. I may be unable to change things in real life but once my shift is over and I go home, I can do whatever I like all night long. I keep building until I get sore eyes. I am the master of darkness!

Read the full interview after the jump!

Andrew Lee: Fueled by cheap beer and cheap Exo-Force sets – Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 20

This week’s builder is a crony of mine going back to 2007 where I met him in a smoke-filled hotel room in Seattle, on the first night of BrickCon. I can’t quite recall everything that happened that night, or the rest of the weekend, but we ended up with matching tattoos and invitations from Seattle’s court system to come back in a few weeks for another visit. You probably know Andrew Lee from his kick-ass models posted on Flickr and his many appearances on TBB, either as a solo act or with his band RoninLUG. Part of what drew me to Andrew online and was later reinforced in person was his irreverence and cutting sense of humor. If you’re throwing an AFOL party, you need Andrew Lee on the list. I sat down with Andrew for some carne asada at his beachfront apartment in Los Angeles, California. We talked about Burning Chrome, Oakenfold vs. Tiesto and CR-Z meets. We also talked about LEGO.

The Brothers Brick is a blog by and for adult fans of LEGO. Occasionally, the people we interview talk about adult beverages and use adult language. This is one such case.-ed.

The Build

KG: Many builders have OCD when it comes to their collections. Do you have any of these traits, and what traits have you seen in others?

Senora de las Sombras

AL: I personally believe OCD like many mental illnesses is present in all people but in varying degrees. AFOLs just tend to have it manifest in a much more visible fashion. I definitely suffer from a mild to severe case of OCD – depending on how you look at it. My collection for the most part is fully sorted by part and/or color. For me it’s an efficiency thing. Builds go quicker starting from a sorted collection and I’m able to store more bricks if they’re sorted. I tend to recycle my builds quickly and keeping everything in order helps that process as well.

I’ve seen the whole spectrum of OCD in other builders. I know people who keep their new and old grays separate (a mild case) and I know people who have museum like displays of every part ever made (an extreme case).

KG: How did you build your collection? Did you have a strategy in mind and do you ever feel like you have too much LEGO? Have you ever had any weird interactions with people in the LEGO section of your local store?

AL: I, like many others, have built my collection in an organic fashion. Sets from my childhood are mixed in with pick-a-brick purchases, cracklink orders, retail deals, LUGbulk scores, comfort purchases, and secret supplier hook-ups. From a macro perspective there’s very little strategy for growth. I tend to buy parts for whatever current project I’ve got going on or am wooed by the latest additions to the parts palette. You can never have too much Lego if it’s properly managed. The tell-tale sign of having too much Lego is if it’s easier to buy a new set for a part you already own. I’m looking at you DanR.

Costa ConcordiaI try to not interact with people in retail stores period. I did however almost have a throw down with a weird collector dude over a Ninja Turtle action figure once but that’s another story . . .

KG: Do you ever build in an altered state? We both enjoy a good bowl of soup from time to time, do you think it enhances the building experience, and if so, how?

Brickcon 2012AL: I build all the time in an altered state.

Caffeine, alcohol, and loud music are all frequent contributors to my building process. I really don’t think you can quantify the risks or rewards of building in different mind states except through personal experience.

That being said I notice that I am more creative and free with the bricks when I’m chilled out.

As for soup I’d recommend going with the chicken tortilla with a healthy dose of fresh cilantro to get that mojo brewing.

The Community

KG: You are a founding member of RoninLUG. How did this LUG come to exist, describe its membership, and how does it differ from traditional LUGs. What happened with the famous “stickering incident” in SF?

AL: RoninLUG came to exist because of a common love of mecha, samurai, and cold beer. The core founding members are myself, Paul Meissner, and Fradel Gonzales who years ago started kicking it at each other’s pads and messing around with each other’s bricks. One fateful night fueled by cheap beer and cheap Exo-Force sets we formalized RoninLUG as the name of our informal brotherhood. Paul and Fradel even lived in the same place for a period of time which became the default headquarters — imagine the Ninja Turtles’ sewer lair with slightly less pizza and a ton of Lego.

BBTB 2011 CyberCity collaborative project

We differ from traditional LUGs in that we just do our own thing. There are no official meetings, no formal organization, and definitely no rules. Our membership has grown rapidly and organically since those early days but everyone involved gets the common vibe. It’s a special thing to be a Ronin.

Ah the “stickering incident of 2010” — well, let’s just say some of our younger members got a little overzealous with expanding our epic cyber city layout. It didn’t help that they stickered some crotchety train dude’s MOC with a Shepard Fairey sticker who then proceeded to throw a huge tantrum. To be honest I wasn’t even really involved in the incident itself or the resolution — I think I was out in the parking lot with a bunch of hooligans at the time.

there, I fixed it

Read the full interview after the jump!

Jim Garrett: The analog aspect – Boilerplate and Beyond Vol. 19

This weeks builder gives the people what they want, epic scale buildings with meticulous detail and a side order of architectural history. Detroit’s own Jim Garrett has an ego inversely proportional to the size of his skyscrapers and a quiet approach that deserves your worthy attention. I met Jim next to the Spirit of Detroit statue outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit Michigan. We talked about The pitfalls of urban exploration, The Temptations Vs. The Four Tops and Disco Demolition night at Tiger Stadium. We also talked about LEGO.

The Build

KG: Talk about the challenges and epicness that is your Penobscot Building, the one you couldn’t assemble all at once inside your domicile. Is that the limit of manageable size, or do you plan to push it further?

Penobscot Building modelJG: While the Penobscot is my tallest model, it is not the largest. The Penobscot Building model’s main difficulty was figuring out how to pack all of those setbacks on the upper floors and still stick with the near-minifig scale of the model. Detail was not too much of a problem since architect Wirt C. Rowland was expressing a certain modernist simplicity. The model is designed in 12 sections which, when I transport it to a train show, almost entirely fill a Jeep Cherokee including its front passenger seat. It weighs about 165 pounds and provides a small workout to set up especially since it is now usually displayed as part of my model of the entire Penobscot Block. The block has four other buildings ranging from 1 to 6 feet high that bring the total weight to about 400 pounds and requires a full size Ford Econoline van to transport. Since many people outside of Detroit are probably not familiar with the Penobscot Building, I will simply mention that this 47 story structure was the 5th tallest office building in the world in 1928 and its design may have partially influenced the shape of the Empire State Building which was built in 1931. Google it if you have to.

Construction of LEGO model of Guardian Building, Detroit, Michigan - Part 1

If I was younger, I would probably move on to a 17 foot high model of the Chrysler Building (it would have looked good in Detroit) in the same scale. As it is I will have to be content with the my upcoming model of the Guardian Building (“only” 8 feet high).

KG: Talk about your love of Detroit’s architecture that goes beyond the brick. What brought you out of your dark-age, and did you already have a list of buildings in mind before you started accumulating bricks?

Tower of Orthanc at Isengard, Middle EarthJG: My interest in architecture ironically had little to do with the ending of my LEGO dark-age. What got me back into LEGO was Peter Jackson’s LOTR and in particular Alan Lee’s design of Orthanc. After seeing “The Two Towers”, I dragged out what was left of the LEGO bricks from my childhood and tried to build a LEGO model of Orthanc. While I thought I had a large LEGO collection as a kid, it really wasn’t when you try to build a 4.5 foot high tower completely in black. I found myself purchasing new LEGO for the first time in many years. I recently replaced this, my first AFOL creation, with a more accurate 8 foot high version.

After the original Orthanc model was completed, only then did I turn my thoughts to what to do next. That is when my love for architecture kicked in and I soon decided to build Detroit. I was not able to travel much when I was younger and so the only large city that I was really familiar with was Detroit. There is something about those old Art Deco towers reaching skyward that captured my imagination. New York has all that and to a much greater degree of course but it is not “my” city.

KG: What are the biggest challenges to building on a scale that is usually reserved for theme parks. Do you employ any glue or non-LEGO support elements?

JG: Money and organization. My construction techniques are usually pretty straightforward; I use SNOT and other methods but only when traditional brick construction will not suffice. None of my buildings use glue or non-LEGO parts; paired technic beams with 2×8 or 2×16 plates above and below make pretty strong structural elements. One lesson I learned early was not to employ used LEGO bricks, since they create a “weakest link in the chain”; my first version of the Fisher Building collapsed in ruin when I tried to move it because of a few 30 year old bricks.

Read the full interview after the jump!

Interview with LEGO Classic Space designer Bjarne Tveskov on MOCPages

David Alexander Smith recently interviewed former LEGO designer Bjarne Tveskov, responsible for creating many of the iconic LEGO Space sets from the “Classic” era of the 80’s and 90’s, including favorite themes like Blacktron.

LEGO 6876 Blacktron Alienator

DS: Was the reverse engineering required to build the alternative builds considered a play element (I loved making these models just from the pictures).

BT: To some degree, yes. Mainly it was and is a question of ressources; it’s takes a lot of time and effort to create building instructions, so for LEGO play themes there were generally only one main model. But especially with the smaller sets the customers had a decent chance of reverse egnineering the B-models. I recall doing the B-models for the Blacktron Alienator, a set with a really nice assortment of elements. I still quite like this set and the alternative models are rather different from the main model. (Also like how the box design guys made the footprints on the space surface at the image on the back of the box, even though the model isn’t actually able to lift it’s feet from the ground!)

Read the full interview over on MOCPages.com.

Matt Hamann: Funky dynamic brake blisters – Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 18

As a young Train-head, this week’s builder is a rare beast among our tribe. You may know Matt Hamann from his fine assortment of model engines and rolling stock or from his entertaining writing on the Twee Affect, but you’re about to know him much better. I sat down with Matt on a bicycle made for two about halfway through the Wabash Cannonball Trail in northwest Ohio. We talked about Los Campesinos!, Huffy vs. Roadmaster and the persistence of chain-slap.

The Build:

Corn Syrup Tanker
KG: What is the most challenging thing about building trains? Where do you stand on the classic 6 wide vs 8 wide debate, and do you also pine for exotic track geometries and 9 volt engines like so many Train-heads?

MH:  The most challenging thing about building trains is that you have to recreate something out of a building toy. When building other themes, that is not always the issue since you are working from concept art or your imagination, unless, of course, you are building a scale model of a spaceship from a space opera, or an all terrain vehicle from a movie about dinosaurs. Modern locomotives have odd-shaped details everywhere and weird angles that do not translate easily into Lego; steam engines had greebles everywhere and moving bits that the builder has to selectively compress, yet still be able to make the model identifiable, not to mention that most steam engines are matte, whereas most Lego parts are glossy, which adds another challenge. But that is not to say that one is easier than the other; it is still a challenge to simply create something that is not yet another fighter ship or pile of grey bricks with a parapet, gate, and all your minifigs lined up perfectly in the courtyard.

I build 6 wide trains. When I joined my Lego train club in 2006, it is what my club mates were building and what our layout is scaled to. Bigger trains would just look silly among all the small buildings and cars and I am not about to start my own layout, not in this decade, at least. Bigger models can also be more parts intensive, which, depending on the model’s color and what pieces you are using, can be more expensive than building a smaller models. That point is especially important to me because I am (for now) a full-time student with only a part-time job. More and more I would rather spend my money on things other Lego, like camping gear and stuff for my touring bike, so to build smaller, less expensive models lets me keep doing both of my hobbies. I also like to be able to pull about 30 train cars with just two 9v motors, on unmodified wheels and transformers. Power Functions is changing that, but with the current system, you can’t beat light weight 6 wide trains if you are going for pulling the most train cars. I won’t say that building 8 wide is any easier than building 6 wide or visa-versa, if both are done right. Building a smaller model means selectively compressing more but you have the convenience of a lot of train specific parts (windscreens, grilles, etc.) that are mostly designed with 6 wide in mind.

red centerbeam flatcar

If I had my own layout I would probably pine for a better system of track. Right now I don’t. I know for sure that my layout wouldn’t be 9v. 9v is dead. Power Functions is (supposedly) less expensive than 9v, which helps keep Lego in business, which keeps us AHOLs happy. Power Functions also does not have the connectivity issues that 9v has. Every little break between the tracks means lost current, so on large layouts, you have to have multiple power drops. If I had the resources I would probably build my layout to be in scale with 7 wide trains, since they are the best of both worlds.
KG: Many builders claim that Lego is a great stress-reliever. Do you find this to be true, and if it is, why do so many people seem to get stressed about it so easily?
MH: I am melancholic when I build. It feels great to be struck with inspiration, to solve problems, to finish a model, and to get good feedback and have discussions with other AHOLs, but, since I am so anal retentive, it can be stressful not to come up with a solution for a gap here or the funky dynamic brake blisters that GP7s and GP9s had. It can also be stressful to source the parts that you need, especially when they only came in a $50 Star Wars set from the mid 2000s and you need 20 when only 2 came in the set, in a color that Lego doesn’t make anymore. That scenario seems to happen a lot. With the financial involvement and the contrasting dogmas. it is really no wonder that people stress out.
KG: You’ve tried your hand at Steam Punk, but you failed to embrace many of its popular conventions. Talk about the theme, the good, the horrible and what direction is ripe for exploiting.
Steampunk Walker Mecha Tank

MH:The popular themes among fans draw inspiration from everywhere. Space builders draw inspiration from all the popular movies and series, train builders from the world’s trains, and castle builders from history, fantasy, and mythology. Lego steampunk seems like a giant circle jerk. Instead of looking outside of their community of practice, they have created an inbred style. That is not to say that there shouldn’t be common themes in the style, but that there should be more variety. Put away the parts from your Prince of Persia sets and your Jawa Sandcrawler and tear open those Power Miners sets that, for whatever reason you still keep sealed, and introduce some lime green to your build! Steal some of the Scala and Belville that you gave your daughters and put some light yellow and aqua your model! Look to World War One and interwar vehicles and aesthetics for inspiration. Most Studio Ghibli productions are a great source of inspiration.

Read the full interview after the jump!

Carter Baldwin: Just keep the furries out.-Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 17

My next guest is from the post-LUGNET generation, a college-age wunderkind with a penchant for the machines of war. Carter Baldwin is an accomplished builder, collaborator and veteran of the American convention circuit who has inspired a legion of younger builders with his innovative designs. I sat down with Carter at Pat’s King of Steaks restaurant in Carter’s home town of Philadelphia at 3am PST. We talked about wine, women and song. We also talked about LEGO.

The Build

KG: I’ve read a few older builders grousing about how all the fancy new parts take all the skill and fun out of building. React to that attitude or to old cranky builders in general.

CB: I actually haven’t seen this attitude too much within the AFOL community, but I see it constantly whenever a build leaks out onto the wider internet. Invariably, there will be the ‘this is cheating, in my day we only had 2×4 bricks in three colors, and we liked it that way! there’s no creativity anymore!’  I hate that attitude. Tim Gould made an excellent graphic of all the one-use specialized parts that were available in 1980, but I can never track it down quickly enough to avoid remembering that arguing with internet strangers is a pyrrhic endeavor at best.


I’d agree that the ’90s saw a proliferation of useless parts that lead to the well documented juniorization of sets, but the past decade has been a bonanza of amazing new parts. In particular we’re seeing a lot more excellent small parts, which really boosts the fine grain detail that’s now possible. We’re seeing a lot less of the pixelation that used to define Lego builds. Fans of Lego who haven’t picked up a brick in a couple decades can’t deal with that, but I haven’t heard any actually active builders complaining.

KG: How important is it when designing a model that you employ a new technique? Does the want to use a specific technique ever drive a model? if so can you give an example.

CB: It’s become less important to me over time. When I first entered the internet community I tried to do that with every build, do something that hadn’t been tried before, or at least do it better than I’d seen it.

I think now I build shapes rather than techniques. I have enough of a library of tricks that I don’t have to worry too much about how to achieve a connection, but forcing all those connections to form the shape I want is the new challenge. My Golem Hardsuit would be a good example; I knew the shapes I wanted to achieve; the techniques I came up with to get there weren’t particularly exciting or novel.

And, in the end, I cribbed a ton of ideas from Chris and Rabadan.

KG: You recently took part in a popular and imitated Flickr Group called called World In Confict:2070. Describe this group to our readers and your experience as a participant of the group?

CB: World in Conflict started about two and a half years ago as a general repository for the various unconnected faction sorts of things that a bunch of us had floating around at the time – my own NATO faction, Craig’s South American Coalition, Forest’s amoral PMCs, Dane’s biomechanical atrocities, and others. We certainly didn’t start the trend of faction building – NickDean is probably the best known originator, but I’m pretty sure people have been building private armies for as long as Lego has had greyscale bricks.

Once we had all these factions under one roof, naturally the next step was to slug it out. We developed a complex ad hoc system that was part model UN, part wargaming, and part tabletop-style roleplaying and carved out a cyberpunk storyline that meshed with our collective vision for our imaginary universe. Since this was a long-term and long-distance group, we couldn’t simply play BrikWars in order to determine tactical prowess; instead, we built scenes to depict our movements on a more strategic scale.

Drawing the LinesAs much fun as we had with slaughtering the other sides cannon fodder and blowing up tanks/bunkers/cities, the really interesting thing that came out of the game was the storytelling. Due to the interest in the stories of the scenes we built, we created a public group for others to follow the WiC narrative, and I think it’s the persistent narrative of the game universe that inspired a number of similar groups.

World in Conflict is two years old now and starting to show signs of winding down – while the game has always had lulls in activity between spikes of conflict, this latest hiatus has been particularly stubborn and long-lasting. But fans who have been watching the storyline don’t need to worry; there are plans to end at least the current incarnation of WiC with a proper finish.

Read the full interview after the jump!

Leigh Holcombe: The masked avenger inside us all – Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 16

My next guest destroys the long held belief in the community that a builder must always keep the proper signal to noise ratio. Although Leigh Holcombe has a stable of well built and some might say handsome models, he may be best known for his numerous postings in various LEGO related fora. Armed with a sharp wit and a willingness to use it, this keen observer of the community has made his own mark through the years. I caught up with Leigh, better known as worker201, on a barren stretch of flatland about halfway between Houston and Waco Texas. We talked about the ELF, the WTO and ELO. We also talked about LEGO.

The Build

J-Flo's Flower ShopKG: Your early builds were mostly in the sci-fi or military genres, but then you switched to chairs and a bit of town with J-Flo’s flower shop. Was there a reason behind the switch, and in a perfect world, what direction appeals to you the most? Do you think builders in general, get too locked into one genre?

LH: I think sci-fi is the geek default, because the designers in that field literally get paid to ignite the imaginations of their audience – being inspired by that genre is so easy. It’s a lot harder to get inspired while walking through IKEA, but I swear it does happen.

Chair Study #2I think this hobby is a textbook cross-section of different levels of obsession and focus – of course some builders get bogged down in a single genre, and some can’t sit still long enough to even have a genre. I’m somewhere in the middle – eventually, I’d like to build something castle or train, but I’ll probably make more spaceships too.

KG: Many young builders begin by recreating the work of builders who came before them. You, however, came in on the ground floor of the hobby or very near to it, so where did you look when you started building?

LH: When I was a kid, back in the late 70s, there was nobody else – just me, the bricks, and the back of the box. I think that’s how it was for most AFOLs. My dark age ended when the Star Wars sets first came out – I couldn’t believe how awesome that first Snowspeeder set was. Then I got on the internet and found Shaun Sullivan’s AT-ST , which was really inspirational to me. He posted instructions for it, and they helped me to remember all the techniques I had forgotten. Realizing that something so awesome was made with basic bricks attached with normal clicking techniques really flipped a switch for me.

KG: Whether it is a job, school, deployment, health issue or even a stay in prison, like many builders, you have been in a position where you want to build for an extended period of time but have not been able to. As the time goes by does it make you think about LEGO more or less? Does it change your mind-set on building, and when you do get a chance to build, does it change anything?

LH: Oh, it’s tough. Lego is a creative outlet and a stress reliever, and not having it is like trying to quit smoking. Plus, keeping up with Flickr and TBB every day puts inspirational stuff in front of me all the time, and I can’t do anything about it. I have so many hypothetical projects lined up, and I’m afraid I’ll never get around to them. The only time I really get to build is when I visit my nephew – and then, I’m mostly making stuff to impress him, like big guns and weird minifig combinations.Grasshopper Drone - 3

The Community

KG: You created a popular and polarizing fan-forum called Stajinaria when the equally popular and polarizing JLUG went down. Talk about those two forums, what they formed in a reaction to, why they ended and what they offered that was unique. Is AFOL 16+ the latest version of this tradition?

LH: I don’t know exactly what Janey and Ross were thinking when they started JLUG, but it pretty quickly became the home of community criticism. At that time, Lugnet and Classic Space Forums were dealing with censorship and leadership issues, and the people at JLUG seemed to enjoy calling out what they deemed hypocrisy and conservativism in those communities. After JLUG disappeared, a lot of its members decided that the group of people was more important than the site, so I took it upon myself to create a new home for “merry pranksters”. Someone accused JLUG once of being a ‘staging area’ where mischevious activists planned their shenanigans (not one of which was planned), which is where Stajinaria got its name.STAJINARIA

Many of the core group are still internet friends today, but the mass migration of the community to Flickr made the forum extraneous, so I shut it down earlier this year. Both sites were based on the sandbox rule – if you don’t like the rules in someone else’s sandbox, make your own sandbox. AFOL 16+ was a sandbox that didn’t allow young kids, who were becoming an increasing annoyance in the Flickr Lego group. I think it started out with a bunch of venom and righteousness, but now I think of it as just another group of people who are familiar enough with each other to kid around and be sarcastic. (I also run Lego 35+, a place where grownups can interact, but nobody ever goes there.)

Read the full interview after the jump!

Gilcélio Chagas: If you die it’s my turn. – Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 15

After a brief hiatus the Boilerplate & Beyond interview series returns with another baker’s dozen of builders from around the planet. This time around we’re starting in Brazil with Gilcélio Chagas who brings a much needed breath of fresh air to the hobby with his diverse mix of building skill, sense of adventure, Latin good looks and as this interview will illustrate, a way with the ladies. I recently sat down with Gilcélio, rocketing across the Third Bridge towards his home town of Vila Velhas. We talked about the Treaty of Tordesillas, Pele Vs. Messi and how Vila Velhas earned its nickname “the land of green shins”. We also talked about LEGO.

The Build

Rescue vehicle Pisten bully.(snowcat)KG: A perusal of your photo-stream on Flickr makes it clear that you love building large-scale cars. How do you approach building vehicles and which vehicle has been the most challenging to build?

GC: I don’t have a rule to make my builds, I always start with the difficult part of the car, that way I expend less time if I can’t make it. Of course it’s more common for me to start from the front, that in most cases has more details and requires more attention.

The most challenging vehicle for me comes from a movie called Gran Torino, directed by Clint Eastwood, the car gives the movie its name, and every time that I see the film I get crazy to make it in LEGO, the curves gives a difficult special touch in this adventure.

KG: When working on a difficult model, how much advice from other builders to you typically ask for, or do you prefer to go it alone? When you give building advice, do you consider the builder’s feelings or try to be as honest as possible?

GC: Sometimes it is important to ask for a second opinion, who is riding puts a bit of feeling in the assembly and it ends up getting in the end result, the second opinion can be used exactly for this, take away the sentimentalism part and assess impartially.

I think I asked for advice twice, the first was the Dodge Charger that I asked the opinion of Lino who gave important tips for the project and the second time was my most important project in the island desalination that I counted on help from Nannan who was a very important aid.

LEGO 1968 Dodge Charger

Thanks Lino and Nannan.

Giving this kind of advice is very complicated without knowing the inventory of the builder. Imagine that you request to modify some point of the project without knowing if they have the required piece or not. When I’m gonna give a tip I try to be honest, of course every project must have the characteristics of the builder.

KG: You have drawn inspiration from the ultimate video game system, the Atari 2600. Is it just nostalgia that drives you to build in 8-bit style or is there something more? Also, what games would you like to tackle in the future?

GC: When I started with Atari 2600 project, I had in my mind the idea to immortalize in Lego pieces the Atari games that a lot of people have never heard before, and I couldn’t let this important part of my childhood die in this way.


What made the Atari so good was the fact that if you wanted to play with someone you had to go into the house of a friend. There was nothing online, it was all in someone’s home and that made the game even cooler this interaction and simplicity of the games. “If you die it’s my turn.”

And that’s the reason that I’ve made my projects so simple, without many resources because Atari was like that, simple and captivating.

The Community

KG: Describe LUG Brasil. How did you come into contact with the LUG and what happens at a typical meeting? Both the United States and Brazil are among the most racially diverse countries on the planet, but unfortunately most American LUGs do not reflect this diversity. Can the same be said for Brazil?

GC: The LUG Brasil is an excellent place for Lego lovers like us, we have great builds there, challenges, meets, tips, and things related with this hobby that we have in common. My contact is basically by the internet and face to face meeting when it’s possible.

We have a good diversity of the Brazilian population, here you can find all kind of races, sex, religions etc. But the LEGO in Brasil is very expensive, sometimes the price is so high as to be 4 times greater in other countries, which makes LEGO access more difficult to the people with less purchasing power.

Read the full interview after the jump!