A couple months ago, we had the opportunity to talk to one of our favorite builders, Takamichi Irie, about his work. He is most notably known for his use of minifigure parts to achieve life-like shapes in creations ranging from insects to household items. His excellent attention to detail gives his creatures character. Enough character, in fact, to have several of his bugs featured at the LEGO House in Denmark.
Takamichi’s builds have been featured several times on our site, such as his exceptional motorized BB-8, based on the character from the Star Wars franchise. After writing about his Dipodidae, we knew we needed to learn more about his creative process, and ask him about his life and inspiration.
Tell us a bit about yourself! What got you started with LEGO? Was there a dark age, and if so, what brought you back?
I’m a student who studies Architecture and Landscape Design in Japan. When I’m asked about my passion for LEGO, I always say that I’ve been building with LEGO or Duplo since I was born, because I have an older bother. In my childhood, I asked my parents for only LEGO as birthday presents every year. But I couldn’t buy much LEGO for myself with my small pocket money when I was in junior high school. I only bought some of the small Star Wars sets for their minifigs at that time. That moment was my darkest age, and after that I started building and uploading my own creations on the internet.
How long have you been building your fantastic LEGO creations, and what inspired you to do so?
I’ve been creating things in many fields, not only LEGO, for a long time. I think the reason is that my grandfather is a graphic designer and an artist. I grew up with his works and he is still inspiring me to decide themes such as my animal series. I’ve been building creations like these for about 8-9 years, and I’m trying to build better creations and take better photos every time.
You have a few of your builds in the LEGO House; tell us about that experience. How did you feel when you were invited? What did you do to prepare?
I was really surprised by the invitation, of course. It was the first year for the LEGO House and everything was fresh for everyone. I knew about that new attraction for LEGO but I didn’t know about what kind of builds they were looking to display. I was building my Insects series last year, and at the same time, the LEGO House was looking for nature themed creations for their Yellow Zone, which is a floor for developing children’s emotional skills. It was a coincidence to be there. So I basically just built additional stands and effects to prepare displaying.
Is there a particular theme of LEGO that you gravitate towards? Star Wars?
Haha, yes I basically buy only Star Wars sets. It is for my minifig collection. But also, new parts that I want to use in my creations are usually in Star Wars sets. And now my drawers are getting full with grey parts!
Which build of yours is your favorite that you think deserves more attention?
“Wanna be cool?” is my favorite of all time. I built it the same year that I joined my first LEGO User Group, and it is also the first creation that I got a request to sell. It’s in Russia now. I can’t say I sold it for a good price, but that experience was a trigger for me to find good opportunities to connect with many people in many ways.
You seem to have a knack for building animals and creatures; is there a particular reason for that?
Early on, when I first began uploading photos on the internet, you’ll notice that I built things from movies or shows, especially Star Wars. One day I felt that I wanted to show a greater number of people what I could do, not only Adult Fans of LEGO. Then I remembered my grandfather’s works. He made lots of animals with paper. Those creations are popular with many people all over the world, so I decided to make them with LEGO to reach many more.
If there is just one element that you could choose as a favorite, what would it be, and why did you choose that piece?
Of course I like useful new elements, but 2×1 trans clear brick is my favorite recently, because I feel that the brick gives creations life. It allows animals to be able to stand, fly and jump by themselves. I believe that the 2×1 trans clear brick is one of the most effective to expand our imagination.
Lots of our readers are probably adult fans that long to be able to do what you do; is there any advice you can give to budding builders?
Think how to build by yourself. Many people ask me how to build. It is very easy to comment or send messages to builders now. I try to give them instructions if it’s small and easy to make. But I recommend to younger builders to think by themselves. In the process of thinking, I believe that they can find their own style. That is much more fun than just copying or building sets.
What other activities do you do outside of spending time with your LEGO hobby?
Watching basketball games. Steve Nash is my favorite player ever. I’ve been to the US to watch NBA games live in LA. As you know, the NBA series has ugly minifigures that are kind of “dark age” for LEGO, but I loved them when I was younger. Of course, I have the complete collection.
If you had one thing to say to LEGO, what would it be?
Following the same topic as the last question, I really want to see new NBA minifigures! When the German football team became a Collectible Minifigure series, I saw a little hope at the same time. And if it becomes true, we can see James Harden’s new beard piece!
In the past you’ve mentioned traveling and not having access to all of your LEGO, hence your micro builds. You talked about how the experience challenged you and how you grew from it. Is there anything else you would like to say to expand on that?
I can say that I realized how important it is to use diagnosing or NPU (Nice Parts Use) in builds. I think that it’s not so difficult for most Adult Fans of LEGO to make something by copying real things. So I’m trying to develop a new technique or NPU after my travels.
You use a great deal of minifigure parts in your creations. Some of the techniques are pure genius! Other than not being able to take much LEGO with you in your travels, what first gave you the idea to start dismantling the minifigs to use in other ways?
My Pokemon series are the first creations where I used minifigs’ arm pieces. When I made Charizard and Blastoise, I wanted to give their heads a smooth shape. I had no hesitation in dismantling the minifigs.
You seem to have some experience with motorised builds, i.e the BB-8. Do you experiment with motors much? Are there things you have learned that you can share with others?
I had Mindstorms set 3804-1: Robotics Invention System 2.0 with my older brother when I was younger. I used to play with motors or gears, although I hadn’t used those parts since then. But when I saw UCS BB-8, I thought the next step would be to make the build motorized faster than everyone else. Now recently, I started to make brick-built automata (called KARAKURI in Japan). I discovered how much fun it was to make builds motorized when I made BB-8.
Some of our favorite builds of yours are the Stag Beetles and the Hornet! They are quite impressive and lifelike. What were the challenges behind those particular builds?
Thank you! I wanted to make something everyone feels familiar with, not only Star Wars or robots. Especially in Japan, everyone has experiences of chasing bugs in the summer, and Beetles are special insects for everyone. I thought I could attract more and more people’s eyes with those creations.
We saw your pictures and videos of your one of your latest awesome builds, the flying stag beetle. We love it! What was your favorite part, and what was most challenging?
I loved the gimmick of stag parts. I used two rubber bands to make it work. It was difficult to do but also my most favorite part of that automata. The most challenging part was not using gears or Technic parts in the moc. I wanted my style to be different from others using Mindstorms or Technic.
Why did you choose this bug versus one of the others?
Actually, a big reason is because most of my bugs are in the LEGO house now. I only had the Stag Beetle and Rosalia Batesi left. And then I thought the Stag Beetle would have a better look when it moves. I think my next challenge is making automata with other animals like Fish or Dinosaurs.
A huge thank you to Takamichi for his time, and for gracing the world with his beautiful creations. If you like reading about interviews with awesome people, stay tuned for more from our favorite builders, like Arjan Oude Kotte! Want to read a past interview? Scroll over “Categories” and click “People” above. Or check out our interview with TBB’s 2017 Creation of the Year builder, Jeff Friesen!