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.
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).
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?
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.
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!