We’re now in our second month of interviews by Keith Goldman. For our fifth installment, we delve into the cabal of mysterious builders known only as LUGPOL. Take it away, Keith!
LUGPOL… You’ve heard the name whispered in every corner of the internet, sometimes in fear, sometimes in awe, always with respect. Until now, this group of expert builders has been content to remain quietly in the shadows, hatching byzantine schemes to control your LEGO. This week’s builder is willing to break the iron-clad code of silence and give us a rare glimpse into Poland’s LEGO scene.
In the real world he goes by the name of Maciej Koszyka, but Flickr-users may know him better as “PigletCiamek”. I sat down with Maciej in the Wieliczka Salt Mine amidst various religious icons sculpted from salt. We drank Okocim beer and talked about Disco polo, Stanislaw Lem vs. George Orwell and why Polish people marry the youngest within the European Union.
Keith Goldman: You build in many genres, do you have a favorite, and do you find any particular genre more difficult than the others? Also, you have built several models inspired by Polish history, is there a particular period that you find interesting?
Maciej Koszyka: The three themes that I most often exploit are Castle, Pirates and Military (If I can call the last one a theme, as there were never official sets). The Castle and Pirate sets from the 80’s and early 90’s were the most beautiful designs in my childhood. I loved to look at them in my LEGO catalogs and I was a happy owner of the 6276 Eldorado Fortress. It must have had an impact on my AFOL interests. I make military MOCs because I was always interested in modern military aircraft. Later I got into WW2 era planes and armor.
I definitely find it more difficult to build a model of an existing vehicle or aircraft. I try to be as accurate as possible, while simultaneously being happy with the functionality of the model. It sometimes takes over a dozen tries to build a particular section of a model and often requires Briclink / PaB ordering. Generally it takes anywhere from one (PZL P.11c) to six (Sherman) months to finish a model.
For Castle or Pirates models I’m not so precise. Although I sometimes use reference material or a general knowledge of how something should look like, it’s mainly a work of my imagination. It takes me far less time to complete such a model. A good example is the Neptunine which took me about two weeks to finish.
I rarely buy bricks specifically for a Castle or Pirates MOC and I always disassemble them, which is very uncommon for the military models. Well, I still keep some of my helicopters in a cartoon box, even though by today’s standard they are not great models (you know – the bunches of studs sticking out everywhere).
I’m not a historian, but I’m interested in World War Two.
The Polish historical dioramas you mentioned were made for a local (LUGPOL) contest about the September Campaign. It was great motivation for me, as I always wanted to build something from the Polish 1939 arsenal, but was always afraid to start.
The Invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union is a very important and tragic event in our history that took away our independence for 50 years.
I was worried about the result, building a model of a Polish plane should be thorough and with great attention to detail. It is very important that the final product doesn’t make us (Poles) feel embarrassed, even if it is only in front of the small world of AFOLs. I may sound a little pathetic but I feel an inner duty to depict my country’s history and military equipment as “professionally” as possible. It might serve as a kind of tribute. PZL P.11c is a symbol of Polish defense in IX 1939 and I think my model fulfilled my requirements for a proud commemoration.
More of Keith’s interview with Maciej after the jump:
KG: How many rebuilds does your average model go through before we see it online? I have found that the last 10% of a build takes most of my time, what aspect of building do you spend the majority of your time on and why?
MK: It depends on what I’m building. When it’s a model of a real thing, either a military or civilian it takes far more time than anything else. As I mentioned, even a tank or plane can take half a year to complete. The design is constantly modified and developed. It is common in the process that one day I can think ‘wow, that parts combination is very good – it’s just like the real one!’, and the next day I take a look at the model and think ‘oh no, that is totally unacceptable’. Then I disassemble the module that I’m working on, and try to make out something better. Finally when I’m quite happy with the result I might have to make some BL orders.
I can agree about that last 10% when talking about other themes, especially when I build a Castle or Pirates diorama. The whole display is made very quickly, just out of my mind, but finishing details, placing minifigs and creating ‘action’ takes most of the time. That was definitely the case with one of my latest creations: Celebrating Victory. It’s a very simple scene, without any fancy techniques. The most time was spent on placing and posing the pirate figures.
KG: How much of your technique is taken from LEGO sets or other fans and how much is through the trial and error of building?
MK: At the beginning of my AFOL life, I was building just like a kid. Later, when I discovered that there were other adult freaks out there, playing with LEGO, I started to watch and learn how things can be made with bricks. I began to experiment myself sometimes and developed a mental list of techniques that I reckoned would be usable in the future. I think that the design of the original LEGO sets has developed very much in the last few years, and now use SNOT more widely.
KG: LUGPOL is seen by many in America as a mysterious, powerful, Illuminati-like organization bent on world domination through awesome models. Talk a little about your involvement in LUGPOL, its best builders and how your LUG differs from others around the world.
MK: Yes, you are right. But don’t tell it anybody.
In fact I think that we all pay more attention to the better MOCs and when we are looking at them, we take more notice on their authors and LUGs. As LUGPOL has many talented builders, we are starting to gain recognition. The other thing is that some of LUGPOL’s members don’t publish new MOCs very often, but when they do, they always show us something great that hits AFOL blogs and forums.
I joined LUGPOL when it began, in June of 2004. It wasn’t even called LUGPOL back then; it was just a Polish LEGO fan forum with a dozen users. Now we have nearly 500 users, and I think that about 100 are consistently active. Three years after taking out my bricks, I was pleased to finally be able to share my passion with other poles.
The most recognizable LUGPOL member might be Misterzumbi. He is a great builder of minifig scale cars, who reached ‘paradise’ by starting a career as a LEGO set designer at Billund. But we have more talented people involved in cars – V1 has made some wonderful models lately of PRL era autos. Havoc loves to build trucks in Model Team scale and Mlonger can even make MT trucks fully functional. Nexus systematically expands his town of Karlgoro and Zgrredek shows us many dynamic urban dioramas.
There are many Castle builders like Hippotam (Klocki editor), Kris Kelvin who has been in top form recently, Qworg made a wonderful fantasy castle at last CCC or Lolas who publish very rarely, but always outstanding works.
We have Pit (specialist in armor models) and Crises (master of the vignettes). In the Sci-Fi division there is Jerac (he is an alien who use his own tentacles to make the most complicated brick joinings you would ever see), and Dmac who is known by his lifetime developed project ‘Endor’ featuring his Lambda Tydirium Shuttle.
And last but not least (ok, I mention them just to be kind to the Technic fans) we have great Technic builders like Sariel (he’s even guest blogger at the official LEGO TECHNIC Design Studio), Makorol whose young age don’t stop him to be author of great looking and functional models, and of course Żbik — one of our Administrators and a maker of very big, hard working machines (to be honest – they all just move some beans from one place to another). There’s also a great number of Truck Trial participants like Aro_kal, whose trucks are not only functional but also beautiful.
I mentioned just a few of LUGPOL members but we have much more great builders here!
I don’t have a big knowledge about other LUGs, but I think that LUGPOL would be quite similar to other national LUGs. The most important aspect of LUGPOL is our forum where we converse, publish our models and discuss them. The forum is divided mainly into theme related sections but we also have organization, administrative, contests, marketplace etc. It is a very popular place with 100 – 200 new posts every day. We also have our own IRC channel, where members can chat about anything – not only about bricks. Since 2006, we have had one general face-to-face meeting connected with model exhibition for an audience. We had 3 shows at the Play and Toys Museum in Kielce, and in 2009 at the Riwiera – Polish Navy Club in Gdynia. This year we are planning a show at the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. Apart from that, we have many local ‘integration meetings’ in the provincial cities, where we talk and watch our MOCs during a lunch or a dinner in a restaurant. There are also many Truck Trial racing matches that are strong community joiners. When we had one in Wrocław (the city where I live) I spent whole day watching the competitors, despite that I don’t have anything in common with trial trucks.
KG: Do you feel as though LEGO had done enough to reach out to the Polish fans? Give me one thing the company is doing well, and one thing you’d like to see done better.
MK: I think that things are going in the right direction. In the online world I believe our group is recognizable and growing. We joined the list of happy Shop @ Home countries in late 2008 and Lugpol recently entered the Bulk Order Program. The company also supported us at the Kielce 2008 event. I think that some years ago LEGO Polska wasn’t even be aware of our existence, but now they are helping us in the upcoming event in Warsaw. I hope that in future TLG will increase its support both materially and organizationally to the fans, either directly or through LEGO Polska.
The main cons would be the value and availability of sets. The prices despite being much higher than in US (and all those sales, that you have there!) are also significantly higher than in other countries in EU. Sometimes the unavailability of sets (e.g. Army Men will arrive in June) compared to the rest of the world (USA!) is irritating. Anyway, the main source of sets is Allegro – Polish most popular Internet auctions platform. As those sets probably come from abroad, we raise sales in countries other than Poland. Once I even got a set with some Mexican markings!
The other problem is lowering quality and absence of elements in sets, but this problem is common to the whole world.
KG: If you have been to a LEGO fan convention, give us your best story. If you have not, what would you expect from a convention?
MK: I’m not sure if our shows could be called conventions. The gatherings were focused mainly on public exhibition and unfortunately the time remaining for AFOLs was rather limited. The greatest event took place on 2008 in Kielce. We arrived on Friday, spent whole day on preparing the Klocki Zdrój display and putting other models in showcases. The whole next day we were providing organizational support for the viewers and on Sunday most of us went back home. So in the future I would expect more time just for us – a full day of admiring other AFOL’s creations, some chatting and some competitions maybe. It would be great to just play with bricks all together without worrying about the show’s opening deadline. I would like to see more theme oriented displays like Castle, Pirates and Space, but that requires more time from AFOLs. This year we are going to present two main displays: Klocki Zdrój 2010 and Grunwald 1410-2010, so we are making an effort to expand. It will take time, however before we achieve size of the US or German events.
KG: What kind of sets would you like to see LEGO produce, and what sets would you like to see them abandon?
MK: I would to see the Pirates line continue, there are so many ideas that could be incorporated in new sets! Abandoning Pirates after just a year is very sad. Anyway, I’m not a frequent set buyer so my voice might be ignored. I’m focused instead on parts and I hope that LEGO will produce more sets using those new orient-related pieces from PoP and Grand Emporium, so they can be widely accessible. I dream about expanded offerings of dark tan bricks and plate, so I would like to see some Creator sets designed for that (something like the 4954 Model Town House maybe?). I think I would be a fan of MMV-like sets if they were going to continue such ideas. I never liked Bionicle sets, so I won’t miss them, but I am aware that many people actually do something with all those strange parts.
KG: Do you think the hobby is growing in Poland and Eastern Europe in general?
MK: In the case of Poland — of course! There are new builders showing up constantly and the general skill level is increasing. We also have more Polish BL shops than a year ago, and don’t forget that Lugpol is bent on world domination. I’m not a big AFOLs scene observer, but I’m aware of LUGs and AFOLS from The Czech Republic and Slovakia (did you know that Czech Truck Trial fans are crazy? – they drive their vehicles through wet mud! And they have brick-boat racing!). I’m also familiar with the LUGs of Croatia and Russia. We had some event invitations from all of them. So in general, yes, the hobby is growing fine.
KG: What is your dream project, and how long do you think it will take to complete?
MK: I always dream about so many ideas that I forget most of them. My recent dream, that I still remember, is a diorama featuring a hilltop castle near a lake and a small village. It would be set in WW2 and occupied by Germans conducting strange experiments. It would be mandatory to have a cable car connecting village with the castle. Think of it as Wolfenstein meets Where Eagle Dare. Completion time will vary from 2 years, up to eternity (probably the second option).
5 Boilerplate Questions
KG: If you had to pick only one of your models to go in the great FOL time-capsule, which would it be?
MK: Pacific Rescue. It featured many elements that I like to build: a quite large diorama, military models, airplanes, studs-up water and Caribbean / Pacific looking scenery.
KG: If you had to pick only one of my models to go into the great FOL time-capsule, which would it be?
MK: It would be Station 62, for a very subjective reason – it inspired me the other day to make a MOC featuring a facility on a tropical island.
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?
MK: I would like Michael Jasper to build some of his great minifigs and furniture to take my creations up a level or two. The second person would be Sariel. I would torture him by forcing to make some Castle themed MOCs as he is not only a great Technic builder but also a great Castle / System antagonist.
KG: What’ is your favorite comment or review you’ve ever received on a model?
MK: I don’t remember any particular comment but generally I like the positive reception my MOCs garner, especially the ones I put maximum effort into. To be honest, I love all kinds of flattery.
KG: And finally, good sir, who controls the action?
MK: I believe I should say that You control the action. Otherwise you might change your mind about publishing this interview.