When I first saw the amazingly detailed 7,500-piece Millennium Falcon the day after Christmas, I knew right away that it deserved worldwide attention. The model was built by someone who went by the screen name “Marshal Banana“, whom I recognized as the builder who’d created the wonderful 10,000-piece Jawa Sandcrawler back in 2011. Less than two days after I’d posted the Falcon, my prediction came true and the Falcon was everywhere, from “geek” sites like Kotaku and GeekWire to major news outlets like Time Magazine and USA Today. But we still knew almost nothing about this talented builder.
Now that he’s back from a well-deserved holiday, I’m pleased to bring our readers this in-depth interview with Hannes Tscharner, builder of both the Falcon and Sandcrawler.
Hannes shares a bit about himself, along with tips on photographing LEGO models and editing the photos for presentation. We also learn how he organizes his collection, what he uses to add lighting to his models, and more.
The Brothers Brick: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where do you live and what do you do for a living?
Hannes Tscharner: My full name is Hannes Tscharner, I am originally from Switzerland and am 32 years old.
I’ve always been interested in drawing and art. Therefore, my dream was to work one day as a graphic designer – which luckily has come true. Some years later I used to work successfully as an art director for design and advertising agencies. Currently, I’m fulfilling my role as a creative director for a global technology company based in Munich, Germany, where I’m responsible for the image of the company in general and particularly for concepts and realization for product design, corporate design, user interfaces (for apps and websites), directing photo- as well as videoshootings and casting models for our advertising campaigns together with our design team.
In my private life I enjoy together with my wonderful girlfriend exploring the Bavarian capital Munich and the close Alps — hiking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter months. We have been in a relationship for almost 7 years.
TBB: Did you build with LEGO as a child? How long have you been building as an adult?
HT: I loved playing with LEGO. My favorite themes were Castle, Pirates, M-Tron and Space Police. As I grew up in a small village in the Swiss mountains, it was fun to “explore” my surroundings with my models and to play in my mom’s garden. When I grew up to be about 17 years old, other things in my life became more important and I stopped building for years until 2009.
I rediscovered LEGO with the gigantic 10179 UCS Millennium Falcon. I invited friends to come over and help me with the model – which was a lot of fun! When I discovered the community and saw all the amazing creations, of which some were true pieces of art, I decided that this was exactly what I wanted to do for myself. I appreciate the work on long-term projects, problem solving, thinking out of the box and the kind of meditation that comes with it.
TBB: How does your girlfriend feel about your LEGO hobby?
HT/BL: My girlfriend is very supportive and patient. Even when I was building late in the evening (which happened a lot in the last month of the Falcon build, as I planned to finish the model ahead of the movie’s release). She says that whereas others are watching TV I am building LEGO which needs a lot of imagination, creativity and patience. Those were characteristics which she appreciates and loves about me among other things (that was kind of a quote). Probably she was a bit shocked when we first moved in together that it has taken a whole room in our apartment to fit in all the LEGO.
TBB: Do you have a dedicated build space?
HT: I managed to get a room in our apartment for my hobby – my “man cave”. Although the space is shared with our home office, it’s officially called the LEGO-room.
TBB: How do you organize your LEGO?
HT: You can buy special sorting systems most people use for organizing tools. Instead of tools I use it for LEGO pieces (a common habit). I have selected most of my bricks by color and some smaller stacks by type. But I’m not too fancy about organizing my collection.
TBB: How does your job as a graphic designer affect the way you build?
HT: As a graphic designer you have to be in love (not to say obsessed) with details and have a good sense for proportions. I assume this helps with LEGO creations in general. I also try to use unusual parts (such as the suitcases for greebles on the Falcon).
To be a graphic designer and being interested in LEGO got me as far as being invited to Denmark for the recruitment workshop (I applied for a position in the design team as graphic designer and illustrator), which was an awesome experience! To be able to see the company from a totally different point of view and the crazy talented people behind it was both exciting and thrilling! In the end it didn’t work out for me, but nevertheless it was a lifetime experience – which I’m very grateful of.
TBB: I’ve always been impressed with your photo editing and “action shots.” How has your job prepared you to present your finished models?
HT: Thanks. I’ve always liked the box art of the official sets and with my action shoots I’ve tried to recreate such scenes or famous movie scenes for my own models. Touching up images is one of the tools you learn in your apprenticeship, also the basics of professional photography and illustration among others. These are all skills which come in good use on a daily base in our work life as designers. As I present my models in a digital format it is essential to put a lot of work into a nice presentation.
My usual workflow is fairly straightforward: it starts with a clean photo of the model. This time I decided to include some special lighting for the laser beams for the desert chase scene on Jakku. This lighting was realized with an iPad (blue screen). The resulting reflections on the model were recolored in a later step to adapt the color of the beams.
I photographed the model twice, one shot with the effect turned on and a neutral shot, which helps to control the intensity of the effect later in the final composition. I color-corrected both images for a natural look.
Afterwards I painted the mask for swapping the background to a desert scene. A combination of a simple painting in the front, gaussian blur and motion blur effects and a photograph of dunes close to the horizon. It was important to keep this basic, as the star of the shoot should be the model.
Then I combined the shots, painted the laser blasts and added some additional effects to imply fast movement. To finish it up some final touches regarding color and contrast were needed.
TBB: The nighttime photos of your large-scale LEGO Sandcrawler are especially lovely. What do you use for internal lighting?
HT: I’m a purist. This means that I only used unaltered official parts. For the lighting I use the quite expensive power functions LED lights (8870) in all of my creations. There are no custom bricks or third party LED solutions.
I also avoided stickers (although there are some amazing uses of stickers in fan creations). I always try to recreate all details with bricks, because I like the extra challenge that comes with this decision.
TBB: Can you share any tips for photographing LEGO models in the dark?
HT: My second love is photography. Throughout the years I’ve managed to get a professional equipment, which helps (but you can get nice results even with a basic DSLR). Most important is a tripod and a camera that enables you to manually set the aperture and exposure time. Take images in the flexible RAW format and use a normal lens around 50mm, for a natural, undistorted image. It is always helpful to take different shots with varying settings. Just try it!
TBB: I could talk about your Sandcrawler all day, but we’re here to talk about the Millennium Falcon, of course.
You’ve said that you spent about a year planning it. Did it start as an Episode VII project? What reference materials did you use along the way?
HT: Yes, I started the project as I saw the first leaked images and the teaser trailer in November 2014. As there were just minimal changes to the original design of the spaceship, this was enough to start my project. I spend a total net time of approx. 260 hours spread over a year.
I also was influenced by the great work of other builders. I was impressed by Mike Psiaki’s WIP images that he shared years ago and I thought it was worth it to further explore and evolve some of his ideas. Even more so I have to credit Eurobricks member ScottishDave for his radar dish design, which was just perfectly in scale for my model. But my main reference materials where images of the 32″ (81 centimetre) Empire Strikes Back filming model and the coloring guide of the Fine Molds 72″ model which I used to hang up on my wall as guide.
TBB: How much of your Millennium Falcon is based on the 5,000-piece official set?
HT: None. My model is scaled to the cockpit piece of the set 75150 and 102 studs long. It is a 1:1 scale replica of the 32″ filming model and coincidentally also minifig scale. This and aiming for the right proportions have led to a one hundred percent custom build. Just as one example: to get the right angle for the mandibles I had to order some fairly rare and expensive pieces in light bluish grey (8×4 wing, wedge plates) from a bricklink seller in Hungary. These are unfortunately absent in the UCS build. I also wanted to keep the official LEGO model. As I mentioned earlier, it was the first LEGO model that I bought as an adult, therefore it has an emotional value for me.
TBB: Do you have any plans to add interior details?
HT: For the moment I like it the way as it is. I’ve planned it as a new interpretation of the UCS model, also as a display piece only.
As such I’ve realized all internal details which are viewable from the outside. In a complex build like this, it is unhandy to present full internal details.
It is always a problem to show it off in a proper way. Therefore, I would prefer a nice little vignette of the main rooms as an addition to the model. After such a long time I would also like to work on other projects even if there are some aspects that I’d like to further improve (retractable, RC-controlled landing gear!)
TBB: Will you be displaying this at any LEGO events this year?
HT: I would like to visit LEGO events and exhibitions foremost as a visitor, so I don’t have detailed plans, but you never know.
TBB: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our endless questions! Any last words you’d like to share with all the people who’ve admired your Millennium Falcon?
HT: I was very surprised that my Falcon went viral, and was shared all over the Internet. Thanks to everyone who wrote and commented on the model! It is astonishing that you can touch so many people with a toy model creation (based in pop culture). I appreciate this a lot!
Huge thanks again to Hannes from TBB for both the wonderful model and this excellent interview. You can (and must) follow him on Flickr. We can’t wait to see what he builds next!