Tolkien’s Rivendell comes to life with 200,000 LEGO bricks – exclusive interview with builders Alice Finch & David Frank

The last time we checked in with Alice Finch, she had just unveiled the world’s largest LEGO Hogwarts built from several hundred thousand LEGO bricks. Not content to let sleeping bricks lie, Alice has teamed up with David Frank to recreate one of my favorite locations in Middle-earth, Rivendell, “the last homely house west of the mountains,” where Elrond hosts both Bilbo and his dwarven companions in The Hobbit and Frodo and the Fellowship in The Lord of the Rings.


The Brothers Brick is pleased to unveil official photos from the two builders and an exclusive interview with Alice and David.

The Brothers Brick: How did the two of you meet?

Alice Finch & David Frank: The July 2011 meeting was our first SeaLUG meeting, and I remember David brought a part of his Dragon Knight Castle. Even though we were both relatively new to LEGO, it was clear that he was already building like an expert. We got to talking about castles — those that we’d seen in person and those that we wanted to build out of bricks — and we both mentioned how we thought building Rivendell would be the ultimate challenge. We’re both avid readers and dedicated Tolkien fans, so our friendship began with a thorough discussion of Elven architecture.

Over the last two years, we’ve had other projects that we focused on: David has built several castles, one with accompanying village and market, we both participated in a collaborative build of Hobbiton for SeaLUG’s display at Emerald City Comicon, and Alice built Hogwarts Castle. after our building skills had been honed on our own big builds, and with the second Hobbit movie about to come out, we decided 2013 was a good time to take on the challenge of building Rivendell.

Rivendell with David Frank and Alice Finch

TBB: In the movies, Rivendell is simultaneously sprawling and highly detailed. How do you even start a daunting build like that?

Alice: Our first task was to do research, which began with the laborious task of watching The Fellowship of the Ring — again. We got together and looked at the models in the movie, screen by screen trying to figure out how the buildings fit together and how we might approach the swooping arches and colorful roofs. Alice looked through all the “behind the scenes” and “making of” books on LOTR and found some of the original sketches for the models.

David: And I found a souvenir model that Weta Workshop made of Rivendell. It turns out that when they were making the Weta model, they had to do some serious research themselves because the film never really established what scenes happened where. The model was key as it allowed me to map out 48×48 sections in a Visio diagram to figure out roughly what size we would need to build it to.

TBB: Elven architecture in Tolkien’s artwork and Jackson’s films is very distinct, with swooping curves and intricate details that don’t easily lend themselves to accurate representation in LEGO. How did you approach this project from a design standpoint?

Arwyn's TowerAlice: By the spring, I started studying some of the more interesting and potentially difficult parts of the model. The first thing I experimented with was the iconic tower from Arwyn’s building (far left of the model). I wanted to try out some of the large wedge pieces I had left over from some experiments I’d done for Hogwarts and thought they might just work. Again, it took some wrangling to figure out how to attach them, but I was really excited about getting that particular challenge ticked off my list.

I also did some studies for the roof design — 1×1 tiles, 1×1 round plates, and “cheese” slopes were all options to achieve the patterned designs. I tried them all — alone and together — and found that all cheese was by far the best and also had the most color options. Ideally, it would have been nice if LEGO would have churned out a few thousand sand red, sand purple, and sand blue cheese for me, but at least I had a drawer full of sand green to pair with the dark green, dark red, dark blue, and tan cheese. After all the patterned roofs were completed, I think we figured that there are about 8,000 cheese in the roofs and another 2,000 or so in the mosaic bridges and courtyards.

Arwyn's bungalow and waterfall tower

David: I had less actual buildings in my sections, so I really focused on blending what I had with the landscape. My main building really emerges from the rock and was built After the landscaping had taken shape. The actual buildings were very different than anything I have ever done as they needed to be airy and sweeping, so I focused on a more open design and heavily utilized odd angles to get a different look from the brick.

TBB: What part combination are you the most proud of?

Alice: In my prowling for interesting parts on BrickLink, I came upon the Gungan shields. My first thought was how they would make some very elegant Elven windows, so I ordered a few to investigate and see if I could make them work in an architectural setting. Figuring out how to secure them was a bit of a challenge, but with some experimentation I figured out how to make them cooperate inside the framing of some SNOT arches.

Bridge Building

Once I figured out how to frame them, I designed the rest of the building around them, bringing in as much sand red and sand purple as possible. I’ve been collecting sand color parts almost since I first started building again, knowing that someday I wanted to do Rivendell and that if I wanted enough to build with, I’d have to gather them a few at a time.

David: Oddly enough, for me it’s simple 1×2 trans-clear plates. I had to figure out a way to represent horses emerging from waves and my part selection was very limited. I am very happy with the result.

Wave of horses


There are many other areas I am happy with, but given what I had to pull off, that would be it.

TBB: Were there any structures you just couldn’t find a way to recreate purely from LEGO bricks?

Alice: I know the purists will cringe, but I used a few pieces made by altBricks because they fit so perfectly with the elegant, flowing style of the Elven architecture. The panel piece is one of my favorite pieces in this model since you can can apply it in so many different settings: tower-top decorations, windows, and balcony railing to name a few. I also used their 1×2 column since I like the fine texture of the fluting and the back has a nice arched opening as well.

David: In the bridge section, the altBricks element was key, since tan telescopes were not available and I really needed to project that sweeping flowy look. I tried to remain as purist as possible, but in a build like this we needed that part to really get the look we wanted.


TBB: What did you struggle with the most?

Alice & David: One of the major challenges with this build was making the buildings truly fit into their setting. Usually when you design a building, you do just that — you do the structure first and then fit it into its setting. In this case, we did all the landscaping first, which involved some significant elevation change and quite a few waterfalls. And since it’s on a total of 32 baseplates, we had to make sure that the joints were as invisible as possible — no small challenge when there are so many different elevations.

Elrond's LIbrary

Alice: Because the landscape and vegetation are so important to the model, I came up with the idea of having it transition through the seasons. We now have so many different leaf colors to choose from that I thought it would be great to be able to use them all, and having it flow gradually from spring on the left to autumn on the right would be an interesting way to highlight the variety of foliage colors. We spent an entire day just building trees.


David came over with his two sons and I had my two boys, and the six of us spent the day experimenting and improving on various tree designs. David has a great tree design that uses technic pieces that is flexible in terms of the variation you can achieve, but also is very strong, something that is really important when you have so many trees and need to move the model around to conventions. We found that we were continuously improving designs and trying out new ones.

Spring Landscape

Even my 5 year old came up with an interesting way to combine the palm top with the technic pieces to create a nicely vertical tree shape which works really well right up next to a rock face where you don’t have a lot of room for a more traditionally shaped tree.

Hadrian's Tree

I needed some tall trees behind the library building but I wanted them to be their own little scene, so I tried out a new style of tree that looks like a birch tree. I thought the combination of black sprinkled in with the white worked pretty well to achieve the right look, but unlike David’s trees, they are amazingly flimsy and will fall apart if you breathe on them too hard.

TBB: LEGO doesn’t make too many “official” elves, but your Rivendell is teeming with Elven life. How’d you manage such a thriving population of elves?

Alice & David: We wanted to make Rivendell feel inhabited by lots of elves and we had some elf pieces to work with, but when I found some decals by Eurobricks member ED-209, I knew I’d hit a gold mine. They are all beautiful and go well with the existing color schemes of sand green and dark green. I ordered up 200 torsos and got to work putting decals on them. We didn’t end up using them all, but you can’t have too many elves!

Crossing the river

TBB: We’ve come to expect large-scale collaborations at events like BrickCon, and you’re both members of SEALUG, but it’s not like you’re neighbors on the same block. How did you coordinate your sections to ensure a consistent display?

Alice & David: Overall, I thought the collaborative aspect of the build worked really well. We live within an hour of each other and met often enough to check our progress to make sure our color schemes and roof patterns were staying aligned, building styles looked related but not the same, landscapes matched, and waterways and paths looked natural. The last few months, we were both working really hard.

TBB: How do your families feel about LEGO on such a scale?

Alice: Thank goodness we both have amazingly supportive families who knew we had a serious schedule to keep. I would often come down at 1 am and find an email from him with some WIP photos and I’d respond back. He’d zip off an answer back to me and so a lot of our communication happened in the middle of the night during the final push to the end. We were motivated to get it done for BrickCon, which is the first weekend in October, partly because we hadn’t seen it all put together and we wanted to see what it would actually look like with all the buildings nestled into the landscape.

Library Watefalls at Night

Feasting Hall at Night Waterfall Pergola by Night

David: My wife was very patient and I worked on this through a move from Puyallup to Edmonds. My saving grace was that I involved the kids as much as possible. I have a great deal of water in my sections of the build, and my boys did 90% of the water and had a hand in many of the trees you see in the front. One of the most rewarding portions of the build was the time that our children spent building with us.

TBB: Taking good pictures of a regular-sized model is challenging enough for many of us. Alice, you’ve now unveiled two massive models. Any tips you can share about photographing very large LEGO models?

Alice & David: The last challenge has been photographing Rivendell. Even though it isn’t as big as Hogwarts, this model still spans 10 feet by 5 feet (over 3 meters by 1.5 meters) and it takes a pretty serious setup to get pictures. With two 10-foot rolls of paper and the help of some friends, we gathered the equipment we needed to make it work. The funny thing about setting something like this up is that no matter how much care you take to get every blade of grass stuck down, you can always find more tiny little things to adjust.

Rivendell from the Entrance Tower

So it goes when you have 200,000 or so bricks to wrangle!

21 comments on “Tolkien’s Rivendell comes to life with 200,000 LEGO bricks – exclusive interview with builders Alice Finch & David Frank

  1. Nicholas

    God has blessed the two of you with the gifts of creativity and imagination and then the skill and talent to execute design. Hey after all God was the original “LEGO” builder! He gave David, then Solomon the directions to building his temple as he did Noah and the Ark and Moses and the tents! Even St. John got into the act by describing the final temple in Revelations! Your work is indeed a revelation on many levels to show how LEGO has evolved into an adult pastime as well as a kids toy! Your time, talent and treasure (the cost makes me real!) is more then appreciated. Your giving thanks to your families for their patience is incredible. Your including your children in the project shows LEGO can bring families together. And as a retired educator, I realize far better to turn your kid on to LEGO they’d never need drugs to turn on to! This was a great pre-Christmas Present!

  2. Guss

    You two have a lot of money :D that’s the kind of thing I would do if I had an unlimited budget :/ Sadly even for a 100stud ship I had to improvise and skip some detailing XD Impressive creation, congrats.

    Nicholas : wow… seeing your comment it looks like you needed drugs :D to write it XD

  3. jimmythefly

    Great interview, thanks TBB!

    One thing -might want to proofread again. It appears you at some point changed all instances of “AF” (presumably for Alice Finch) to “Alice”.

    What that did is also change words like “after” and “leaf” to “Aliceter” and “leAlice”.

  4. AK_brickster

    Hey Guss, no trolling in the comments please.

    Alice and David, you guys did an amazing job with this. I am so lucky to be friends with two of the best Lego builders in the world! I wish I had been able to help with this, but you guys were able to far surpass any expectations I had in the early stages, and I’m glad that I bowed out early so I didn’t hold you up. Honestly, I don’t know how this MOC could be any more amazing. This is my #1 build of all time. Kudos to you for your dedication and hard work!

    Also thanks to everyone who helped photograph this. I’m sure it took the better part of a day or two to get all of the shots. It is great to have friends who are willing to lend their expertise in order to better share this amazing creation with the world. :)

  5. Andrew Post author

    @Jimmy: Crap, you’re right. I’d been using their initials in the draft and then changed that since I didn’t like the way it looked. :-\ Thanks!

    @Guss: Now now, behave… ;-)

  6. JustOneMoreBrick

    In all seriousness, this isn’t built with a bunch of bricklink orders surely? For future reference can you ask them what is the best way to source bricks in this scale… Just that process scares me!

  7. Chris

    JustOneMoreBrick: Several of us here at Brothers Brick know Alice and David personally, and I can assure you that yes, a large percentage of the brick they use is sourced through Bricklink.

  8. AK_brickster

    ^ So much so that Alice now works for Bricklink, lol. BL combined with scavenging for piles of clearance sets that have good parts is a great way to source bricks on the cheap. That said, this wasn’t cheap.

  9. mpoh98

    Wonderful Interview, thank you so much TBB, I always love it when you do these!

    Wow, when I saw this, I was shocked and amazed, and this interview answered all my questions! And it gave close up pictures, which I appreciated! Wonderful job you 2, you should definitely collaborate in the future! Looking forward to the next builds!

  10. Mark Borlase

    Spectacular build! Curious if Alice or David read these comments, do you have pics somewhere of it being assembled or of how it you transport it (or of the Hogwarts). I build big and transport, but as you know so much of the design is based off of making it able to be transported. Also curious how long it takes to reassemble?

  11. BippityBricks

    Hi Mark,
    Yes, I’m reading up on the post :) I do have some pictures of it in progress and one that shows it semi- set up. I think it took about an hour to unpack and set up, and then an hour more to set up all the figs and trees that are removed to make them fit in the box. I set it up by myself for the photos and I think that is about what it took, not counting repairs. I learned a lot from packing and hauling Hogwarts and so this model is much easier to move and box up.

  12. Dynako

    Simply Amazing… but all i want to know is where do you get 200,000 lego pieces to play with??? I would love to create something like this someday.

  13. Mark Borlase


    1 hour for each, you are fast and efficient. Do u just use individual cardboard boxes for transporting it (pics?), or do u make wood crates. My Endor which is 16′ x 6′ takes me about 10 hours to set up by myself, and I transported it from my home in Las Vegas to Legoland California. I made a shelving unit and wood crates for transport and I usually have to make repairs to items that break during the haul. I have a large Hoth (12′ x 6″) that still takes about 2-3 hours to set up. Your work (and David’s) is truely outstanding. Do you tear down or will these be stored for display at a later time? Thanks for your time and commitment.

  14. Fraslund (David)

    No duplo in the base. I used straight brick for all my elevation and we had a 9 inch wood platform that I built for Alice’s back section. Her huge mountain is all brick built though.

    Alice introduced me to MDF boards cut to match 48×48 sections for stability and moving and she found some boxes that perfectly fit two 48×48 sections side by side. the nice thing is for larger mocs, you can double up the boxes if you need more height.

    I think we will have this together for at least another year, so for now they are in the garage :)

  15. jimmythefly

    Those WIP pics are fantastic! Makes me realize even more how much went into this build, and how much your work with the vegetation paid off!

  16. BippityBricks

    I got boxes from U-line that are 18 x 36 and come in 3 different heights that work well for transporting. The MDF bases are key to getting them in and out and also making sure they don’t rack when you move them about. They are strong enough to stack and are key to making sure anything that falls off stays with the piece it came from. I put Hogwarts in them also. I think it is probably fairly quick to put together because the edges all are vertical. I put joints on them so that I can align them and they sort of snap together so that the joints are less visible. Maybe I’m being optimistic with how long it took- I put up Hogwarts and Rivendell at the same time so it may have been longer than I think. :)

  17. Mark Borlase

    Thanks so much, do you by chance have a pic of the MDF thing that you use, I may steal the idea if you don’t mind

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