We’re excited to have LEGO icon Keith Goldman conducting several interviews for us with fellow LEGO fans. Take it away, Keith!
This week’s builder is Tony “SavaTheAggie” Sava, who broke onto the scene the same time as I did, which automatically makes him interesting because he had a front row seat for my meteoric rise in the LEGO hobby.
One of the first models by Tony that captured my imagination was Stonebarrow Keep (right).
Now, before you snort and say “I can build better than that” or “I see castles every week better than that”, realize that this was created seven years ago and was considered an amazing build. Tony is currently working on a model of the Cathedral of St. Francis:
I sat down with Tony at his ranch outside of El Lago, Texas, where we enjoyed ribs, Lone-Star beer and firing his collection of antique shotguns. We also talked about LEGO.
Keith Goldman: You primarily build castle and train models, do you find one more challenging than the other, and do you use fundamentally different approaches when building each?
Tony Sava: I find different challenges in each (oh come on, you gotta give me that cop out). Castles, typically, are primarily studs up creations, but they’re very organic, so finding that balance between what is “made by man” and “made by nature” can be tricky. SNOT is typically reserved for detail work, such as windows or flooring. Trains, on the other hand, can be studs up, or no studs up at all, and have the engineering aspect of being animated and navigating track. Steam engines, especially, I view as a prime mix between artistry and engineering, and it’s a challenge I enjoy quite a bit. It takes quite a bit of time to not only get the shapes correct, but to get all the wheels to navigate the track while the pistons fly around them.
More of Keith’s interview with Tony after the jump:
KG: What is your biggest gripe with The LEGO Group where trains are concerned?
TS: I’m full of gripes… well, full of something, anyway. I was initially adamant against the new Power Functions, but I’ve been turned to the dark side, and frequently use my dark influence to turn others. Truly my biggest gripe with LEGO has always been how much they say they value the LEGO train brand, and yet barely advertise it. I’ve never been to a LEGO event where a layman hasn’t come up and said “I didn’t know LEGO made trains.” Granted, trains are typically a product with a higher price point, but that doesn’t stop parents from buying them for their children. I can remember dozens of lesser quality, higher priced flotsam and jetsam my parents bought to placate me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a commercial for LEGO trains, and sets no longer come with the comprehensive catalogs listing all of the other LEGO products like they once did.
KG: Is there an element you’ve always wanted to use but have thus far been unable to? Also, do you have a “go-to” element you rely on more than most?
TS: At the top of my list is actually a part that hasn’t been released yet. The 3×3 quarter sphere (or whatever it will be called) that acts as the awning attached to the front of the new Grand Emporium set, if it’s ever released in another color such as light grey or black, will become highly useful for the nose of a streamlined boiler. I can’t really think of a part I have that I’ve never been able to use, outside of wanting it in another color. 1x3x2 curved half arches, for example, would be nice to see in a larger variety of colors.
I do have a go-to part: The 1×3 curved slope. I can’t seem to not use it on a train MOC, and I’d probably consider it a crutch. Still, it’s hard to replace it with something that looks half as good.
KG: You’ve participated in several fan conventions. Give me one aspect of the format you are tired of, and any ideas you’d like to see incorporated were you to run Sava-Fest.
TS: This is a tough one. I’m not going to make any friends with my answer, but in the spirit of Goldman smack I’m not going to pull any punches. Of the fan conventions I’ve attended, I have grown very tired of the reliance on the LEGO company. Here we have a huge event full of LEGO’s most fervent and loyal customers and (in most cases) inviting the public to come see the free three-day LEGO infomercial, but still the convention organizers must shell out huge sums to fly and lodge the LEGO executives at the event. I’ll admit the first time I saw Kjeld I was a giddy little fanboy for a few moments, and I even got the opportunity to chat with him. He and the rest of his employees are great people, don’t get me wrong, they’re all awesome folks. But if they wanted to attend – they’d attend, they wouldn’t need financial incentive to show up. I say welcome them, but leave it there; as it is they serve as a major distraction, what with the unwashed masses clamoring to be close to them. The fan conventions, in my mind, are not about celebrating LEGO, the product. That’s what Brickshelf, Flickr, Lugnet, and the myriad of fan websites are all about. The fan conventions, in my opinion, are about celebrating the community that connects us – the camaraderie, the support, and the formation of new friendships that last long after the convention ends. The LEGO company, the work of Jake McKee, Jan Beyer, and Steve Witt not withstanding, has done little to create or build upon the LEGO fan community – it’s all been done internally ourselves, and that should be celebrated.
[Ed Note: Steve Witt has contacted us to let us know that the above contains statements about The LEGO Group’s participation in public events that are not accurate. He informs us that LEGO pays its own way to conventions.]
It’s undeniable just how awesome Sava-fest would truly be, but I’m not sure the world is ready for any of the crazy ideas floating around in my noggin. Giant, on-site collaborative builds, events where the only MOCs on display were the ones built on-site, sack races… it’s a never ending stream of ideas that are before their time.
KG: Aside from a more focused subject matter, is there any real difference between a LEGO Train Club and a LEGO Users Group? Do you prefer one over the other and why?
TS: Unfortunately I don’t have much experience with LEGO train clubs – I’ve only been twice directly involved with two of them (NETLTC and MS-LTC), but from what I’ve come to understand with those interactions, and seeing documentation and the websites of LTCs vs. LUGs, I get the impression that LTCs are much more display-oriented, with much less emphasis on meetings with mostly social significance.
But I have since seen the error of my ways, and see that a good club, needs a mix of both “working” and “for fun” events. As much as I’d like to belong to a local LTC (and I still would), I enjoy belonging to a LUG more. I enjoy our monthly social dinners, and the eclectic collection of themes at our events.
KG: You have been involved in a number of collaborative builds over the years, what do you like about them and what do you find challenging?
TS: I was a cub scout in my youth, and much to my chagrin I never carried on into boy scouts. Friendships are forged in the fires of adversity, and that’s what I really love about collaborative efforts. There’s nothing like a challenging common goal to create a bond between people. At the same time, though, too many cooks can spoil the pot, which is the greatest challenge of collaborations — whose vision takes control, and where do you compromise? For me, I’m too anal retentive, so big collaborations with me almost always require at least a modest amount of pre-planning, usually involving a lot of scrap paper, or hours in LDraw or Track Draw. Fortunately such planning usually irons out any conflicts of egos long before the event begins.
KG: What do you see as the next big trend in public display train layouts?
TS: With the new Power Functions equipment, and all of their adaptive modularity, I think interactivity is the next stage. Having “stations” where viewers can “Goldman the action”; grab an IR remote (tethered to something heavy so it can’t walk off) and make the ferris wheel spin, fire up a train, make a helicopter “take off”, or cause a racecar to start making a lap around a track. This has been done quite a bit with Lionel and other “normal” model railroad displays I’ve seen at train shows I’ve attended.
KG: You’re a big fan of ribs. Do you envision a future where cookouts and conventions combine into a sort of backyard extravaganza? In other words, do you think smaller more personal conventions will replace the rapidly expanding “big fests”?
TS: Have smoker, will travel. Do I think they will replace the big fests? No. But I do believe such smaller mini-fests have a big future in the LEGO community. As the big-fests reach critical mass, there is going to be a feedback that will result in such personal meets. The TexLUG sub-chapters already meet once a month (or thereabouts) for a dinner, where we don’t bring MOCs or LEGO at all (we can; just not required), and we just enjoy each other’s company. I’d love to see a “family reunion” of sorts, inviting AFOLs to gather outside of the LEGO hobby for a weekend of BBQ, trash talk, and beer.
KG: Do you see yourself building into your senior years?
TS: “Get off my studded, ABS lawn, you young whipper snappers!” Given the potential lifespan of ABS bricks, so long as my bricks hold out and the arthritis doesn’t strike me down, I foresee myself continuing to build in the very distant future. I’ve already begun indoctrinating my son into the hobby, and I hope he and I can build together like many of the famous father and son AFOL teams out there.
I joined Lugnet and Brickbay (Bricklink) in July of 2000, some ten years ago. Hell I already feel ancient, what with all the new TFOLs becoming true AFOLs. Like the rec.toys.LEGO folks before me, and as an administrator of a community website (Classic-Castle), I have been witness to a whole new generation of talented (and some not so talented) builders rise up and take the place of the old guard that has mostly moved on to other things, and I hope to bare witness to several more.
KG: If you had to pick only one of your models to go in the great FOL time-capsule, which would it be?
TS: Really tough call. Several years ago, I would choose my giant red dragon redux, where I took one of my original dragon MOCs and recreated him with technic innards, making him more machine than beast.
Even today I consider him to be one of my greatest achievements, but he was built a long time ago – some 7 or 8 years. Since then I have evolved as a builder in so many ways, putting more emphasis on details than I ever have, I’m not sure that MOC would best represent me to future FOLs.
Now, I would probably have to choose my H8 Allegheny steam engine.
Not only because it represent a steam engine magnum opus in its own right, but because it was built with the help and feedback from many very talented builders who pushed me to think in new and different directions and create the best MOC I could.
KG: If you had to pick only one of my models to go in the great FOL time-capsule, which would it be?
TS: Why, I’d chose to put the great Keith Goldman in the great FOL time-capsule, so that his incredible talent, sharp-witted smack, and his sheer awesomeness might never vanish from the earth.
If I had to choose I’d probably pick Zero Hour on Highway 44, not only because it is an incredibly awesome MOC, but it illustrates what can be done, and how it should be done, when many very talented AFOLs work in tandem. I can think of few things more worthy of remembrance in perpetuity within a time capsule. But then again, you’ve several examples of such great collaborative works under your belt.
KG: If time, money and proximity were not an issue, give me 2 builders besides me that you’d like to collaborate with on a project?
TS: Keith Goldman and Keith Goldman. You’re going to get me in trouble… there are so many builders out there with whom I’d love to work. A collaborative effort combining my steam engines and mass of raw castle material, Keith Goldman’s techno-future style and talent for finding new ways to put two bricks together, Takeshi Itou‘s brilliance in combining the organic with fanciful creations, and Bryce McGlone‘s talent for creating the most complex and frightening LEGO creatures might just create the most complex, convoluted, awesome ultra-cross theme LEGO creations ever made.
KG: What’ is your favorite comment or review you’ve ever received on a model?
TS: I don’t mean this as brown nosing, honestly, but my favorite comments come folks like you, Keith. The really talented builders from outside themes, people for whom I hold the utmost respect, and from whom I don’t see too many comments. As if my model was good enough to draw them out of the shadows just to comment on what I’ve done. It’s the sort of thing that makes me think I’ve done something truly noteworthy.
KG: And finally, good sir, who controls the action?
TS: Why… me, of course! I am the Kwisatz Haderach! (the kick ass hat rack).