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

KG: You were part of an infamous smackdown with TBB’s own Nannan Zhang. Talk about the evolution of this conflict, how it resolved and builder-vs-builder competitions in general?

AL: Somehow I knew I couldn’t get interviewed without this coming up… Well, strap in cause this one’s a doozy.

So back in 2009 I was invited to be part of the exclusive Builder’s Lounge forum. I accepted the invite as I knew a few builders there (yourself included) and found myself dismayed by the general level of elitism bandied about. It was particularly disconcerting that a forum based in elitism had mediocre builders within its ranks. I figure if you’re going to have a secret club it might as well have standards right? Yet it appeared that politics and who you knew were the key to getting in. Anyway, I was never real active there until the first Iron Builder contest got under way.

I figured I had a beef with the Zhang and what better time and way to settle the conflict through an epic building smack down. I decided that some good natured ribbing was in order to prompt the action and I took a cue from the one and only King of Smack. I then issued my challenge on both the lounge and publicly on Flickr. At the time Builder’s Lounge was a publicly viewable forum – this has since changed. Unfortunately the dirty plebeians among your readers who aren’t part of the in-crowd will never be able to see the original post or thread. In fact I believe the whole thread was deleted by the admins when I left the forum shortly after.

So Nannan accepted my challenge, the mystery part was picked (UCS Falcon dishes!), judges were nominated with some confusion as to how many votes a particular celebrity judge got, deadlines were set, and the smack started to flow. The ultimate stake was placed on the table with contest coverage promised to be carried by this very blog. Smack continued to flow and the contest thread was closed to comments by Nannan using his administrative powers shutting down the verbal sparring until our entries were ready.

Fast forward a few weeks and the deadline approaches. I’ve built a gigantic model space station carved out of an asteroid that houses a micro scale city with an arena at its core all sheltered by a giant space dome. Within the arena two opponents challenge each other for ultimate glory. Microscale ships surround the station to take in the action. I built iconic representations of Nannan and myself for the ultimate meta build off within the arena’s walls and to this day I count it as one of my best models.

On Approach to Solaris 8

The deadline came and went and I had unveiled the story I crafted through my bricks on both the lounge and Flickr several hours prior accompanied with plenty of smack. Nannan then posted two pictures on the contest thread using The Brothers Brick’s server as an image repository just before the deadline passed. The photos were not posted to his much used and viewed Flickr stream nor were they made public outside of the lounge. It should also be noted that at this time the admins closed the lounge off from public viewing despite one of the judges not being a member. More smack ensued. A few hours later Nannan made his model public.

The next day Nannan posted additional pictures and some clever spectators were apt to point out changes and improvements to his build which occurred after the deadline. More smack ensued and I posted up a comparison shot of the build originally posted and the new and in my opinion illegally improved build. It was also at this point that I called him a cheat. The crowd once thirsty for blood seemed to realize the spectacle was getting out of hand and feelings were going to get hurt if not already. The judges then denied victory to either the Zhang or I citing poor sportsmanship on both of our parts.

Fortress of Solitude

Once the dust settled Nannan and I made our peace. I even built a mash-up model combining our two entries which I called the Roaring Squid Fucker. In hindsight I probably would have guaranteed my victory had I let the Zhang’s actions speak for themselves instead of articulating them for all to see. I however have no regrets about making the challenge, the MOC, or the smack involved.

You took it too far son

As for what I think about builder-versus-builder challenges in general — they are awesome! I enjoy seeing the Iron Builder challenges which still continue today and I feel it’s much more impressive to enter the fray with a single opponent than to face the faceless many. I also like talking a lot of shit.

KG: You’ve garnered your share of trophies over the years. What do you think of the politics involving awards, and should the US consider the Australian model that boycotts the award process entirely?

AL: Keep in mind that my experience is limited to the handful of West Coast cons that I’ve attended, so I haven’t been exposed to the more unsavory politics that I’ve heard of at other conventions. There does seem to be a bias based on size and subject matter popularity when it comes to winning awards and less of a focus on technique or quality of build but I’m not sure how to remedy that. I tend to bail out on much of the awards ceremonies these days anyway so it’s not like I’d miss much going with the Aussie model.

The Future

KG: Rules governing the behavior of participants at LEGO conventions seems to be tightening up. What is your position on drinking at conventions in general, reaction to the conflict between a kid-friendly event and the need for adults to pursue adult activities, and what direction would you like to see conventions go in?

Space Whale WarSHIP

AL: I’m an AFOL — that means I’m an adult fan of Lego. Adults tend to like to drink. As an adult I like to drink. I go to cons to interact with fellow adult builders — not their children. Not to marginalize the younger builders out there; just don’t expect me to alter my behavior to something suitable for little Jimmy’s birthday party. There are retail stores, theme parks, and all kinds of kid-focused events to drag your ankle biters to — they’re also usually free.

I’d love to see a convention that is promoted as an adults-only convention. Granted it’ll be smaller but it might be better. BrickCon in Seattle is moving towards an adults-only model and features several activities that are restricted to adults, which I think it a good thing. I’d also love to see a mashup of convention subjects — I can only dream of a cyberpunk, Lego, lingerie show in Vegas right?

KG: Unquestionably.

Lil Ocean and the Bunnies

KG: The last decade or so has brought many changes to LEGO. Gaze into your crystal ball and tell us what will change in another 10 years.

AL: In the next 10 years we will see the rise and ultimately the commodification of 3D printing which Lego will have to contend with. There’s consumer level machines available today through MakerBot and others. There’s a Staples in Norway that’s putting in a commercial machine for its users. If you look at inkjet printing and how the quality compares to 10 years ago it seems inevitable that one day soon I’ll just download CAD files for the latest kits and print them out on my own. 3D printing will become cheap and ubiquitous. Ingenuity in set and part design will become more valuable as the bricks themselves become less so. There’s going to be a lot of litigation and copyright laws will become even more complex. It’s a crazy world out there.

KG: Given the popularity of the hobby right now, do you think there will ever come a time when there is no stigma attached to a grown man playing with a kids’ toy? What is your wife’s take on your LEGO obsession and do you have any advice for single guys who are struggling with balancing the ladies and the brick?

The Desert is on Fire

AL: “Geek” and “nerd” culture is being co-opted into the mainstream at an alarming rate. Lego is also becoming more popular as the company makes smart licensing decisions. I remember when being a fan of Star Wars was enough of a reason to be ostracized let alone for buying children’s toys based on it. This is not the case today. That’s just the perspective of a 30 year old guy living in Los Angeles however. I’m sure there are still D&D nerds being pummeled somewhere in Idaho. Will there ever not be a stigma? I think it’s more about context than anything. If you surround yourself with cool progressive types then you’ll probably be alright. If you surround yourself with douchebags there’ll probably be douchebaggery abound.

Ballin'My wife is super understanding/awesome and I’m clearly very lucky (shoutout to the missus!). When we first met I was apt to point out my other artwork and how the Lego thing was just an extension of it. She views my wall of Lego as more of an organized artistic medium than a stack of children’s toys which is exactly the right way to look at it.

As for advice for our bachelor brothers out there I’ll just give you this: She doesn’t and probably shouldn’t share every interest you have. You shouldn’t force your hobby on her – it’s your damn hobby. If you’re looking to date someone who’s got all of your exact interests you will be a very boring couple.

5 Boilerplate Questions

KG: If you had to select just one of your models for enshrinement in the great FOL Time-Capsule, which would it be and why?

Sweet ChickenAL: I think I’d go with my rendition of the Vic Viper from the new Battlestar Gallactica series. It’s certainly not my best model or my favorite but it’s the one that I think has had the biggest impact on the community. It got notice from Lego blogs and beyond into the mainstream. It was copied and modified by not only my friends but FOLs across the globe.

We even had 35 of them at our fly-in at Brickcon 08′ which was incredible. I also have a version signed by Luciana Carro who played Kat on the series which is pretty badass.

KG: If The LEGO Group invited you to design an official set, what would it be?

AL: It’d be ridiculously challenging but I’d go with a transformer — one that actually transforms from an alternate mode to a robot. Take that Kreo!

KG: Taking time, money and proximity out of the equation, name 2 builders that you’d like to
collaborate with on a project?

AL: I’ve been involved in several collaborative builds over the years (shoutouts to my Ronins and ChiefLUG boys) so I’d have to go with peeps I’ve yet to meet and chill with. Who knows if we’d actually build anything or just end up taking a trip to the ER but I’d love to build/party with Soren Roberts and Tim Gould.

KG: Name a famous person living or dead who would have made great LEGO-nerd.

AL: I’m an unabashed fan boy so I’ll go with William Gibson.

KG: Who controls the action?


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

  1. Octopunk

    Here, this is funny. I met Andrew at my very first LUG meeting in 2010 and he told me that Smackdown story (because I asked), and then two weeks ago I overheard him tell that same story from the VERY SAME SPOT ON BRANDON’S COUCH. I hope this public interview will put the matter to rest, because that freaked me out. Soup?

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