The people behind the fascinating LEGO models we feature here are just as interesting! Read interviews with notable LEGO builders, LEGO book authors, LEGO set designers, and many others right here on The Brothers Brick.
Set 64044 Ardun Observatory is part of the new wave called Mythic Machines in the Dragon Lands theme, and features a semi-circle three-tiered castle with astronomical equipment in the tower. Arrayed around it are the forces of evil, orc-like creatures with a battering ram, small catapult, and a fearsome red dragon. Play features include hidden passageways, spring-loaded catapults, a working drawbridge and portcullis, and breakaway walls.
Not familiar with LEGO set 64044? That’s because you can’t buy this set from the LEGO company, or anywhere else — it comes from the mind of Aaron Newman.
64044 Ardun Observatory by Aaron Newman
Aaron Newman doesn’t simply look at his LEGO collection and wonder what he can create; instead he looks at his bricks and asks, “What if LEGO sold different sets?” A 21-year-old UCLA theater student, Aaron’s got a knack for designing LEGO creations to fill his own alternate universe where LEGO produces the sets he’d like to see. And he’s got a fantastic sense of style. Aaron’s models center around a castle theme called Dragon Lands, which is a hybrid of LEGO’s official Vikings and Fantasy-Era Castle lines. He creates sub-themes to mimic LEGO’s habit of releasing sets in waves, and includes a set designed for each price point. His latest sub-theme, titled Dragon Lands: Mythic Machines, features crude orc siege machinery pitted against dwarven and elven strongholds. And, of course, there are lots of dragons, because no Castle theme is complete without them.
I recently had the opportunity speak with Aaron about his unique style and learn a bit about how he designs fan creations that look like sets.
Carl Greatrix‘s Caterham 7 was recently revealed as the next LEGO Ideas set. The announcement was met with almost universal approval, mixed with some surprise that such an obviously adult-oriented and complex model had made it through the review.
The Brothers Brick got in touch with Carl to get some of his thoughts following the announcement…
TBB: So, you’ve got to be delighted about the news. How does it feel to have an official LEGO set coming out? Carl: I’m obviously super-excited. It means that everyone who wanted one, will now be able to get one. The realization is slowly but surely sinking in — the fact there will be an official LEGO set, available in practically every LEGO shop around the world, it’s quite a humbling thought and feels like a huge achievement.
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 Castle theme has a long history within the LEGO community, and builders all over the world have produced magnificent creations in every size, shape, and color. Luke Hutchinson (Derfel Cadarn) is one of the originators of the now-common “ramshackle” style, characterized by the odd angles and an organic approach to the scene. His beautiful creations inspired me to start building with LEGO and posting my creations online many years ago.
So, naturally I was very excited to see a glimpse of his latest creation in a teaser pic a few months back. He continues to improve his own building style, pushing his creations further and further, influencing many other builders in this theme.
We had a chance to talk to Luke more about his creation and his approach.
Seattle builder Dave Sterling has built a LEGO version of London’s Charing Cross Railway Station as it appeared in the late-Victorian period. Dave’s creation formed part of an international collaboration entitled Around the World in 80 days which was displayed at Brickworld Chigaco. Dave has really captured the intricate details and elaborate exterior features representative of Victorian architecture.
A replica of the 70ft high Eleanor Cross was built in the forecourt of the station in 1865, and this is very nicely depicted in Dave’s build by the ornate tall ‘cross’ complete with tan microfigs, masonry bricks and arches.
It’s time to travel to Discworld and enjoy this fantastic series of characters from the works of Sir Terry Pratchett, brought to us by Pate-keetongu (Eero Okkonen). Eero started these shortly after the death of Pratchett in March this year. His first build was a large-scale creation of his favourite Discworld character, Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully (back-row, far left in the photo below).
The Archchancellor, Professor of Unusual and Cruel Geography, Dean, Librarian and The Luggage.
If you’re not familiar with Terry Pratchett, he was the author of a series of 41 comic fantasy books that take place in the Discworld, a flat circular world that rests on the backs of four elephants who are standing on the back of a turtle.
I simply must point out a few of my favourite parts, although it is hard to narrow this down to only my top three. In no particular order: the Archchancellor’s ‘winged’ beard; bananas used to represent the peeled banana skin held by the Librarian; and the dark red windscreen used as the Luggage’s tongue! Well one more… look below, Commander Vimes toes are minifigure legs!
Susan Sto Helit, Granddaughter of Death
Now that Finnish builder Eero “Pate-keetongu” Okkonen has completed his LEGO Discworld characters (well, completed them for the moment, he happily admits), TBB asked him a few questions about the experience:
Josh Hanlon from Beyond the Brick interviewed Keith Severson, who talks about his work with the LEGO Community Engagement and Events (CEE) team and how they are planning to better serve the LEGO community.
Ever since I saw the preliminary photos from last year’s New York Toy Fair, I knew I was going to buy this set and do a review for the blog. I also immediately knew that this set had to be the work of Mark Stafford. I asked Mark if he would be willing to answer a few questions for me to include in the review. Not only did he graciously agree to do so, but he also gave me some exclusive development photos (see below).
So first the review and then I will get to the interview:
One word for this set, FUN. Whether you are a 32 year old man-kinder like myself, or a 6 year old LEGO maniac like my oldest son, chances are you are going to love this set. I am not even going to get into a lot of details in terms of price per part ratios, collectibility of the minifigs etc. Instead I am just going to say, “Buy this set!”
The build itself is rather brilliant, with a lot of clever techniques for achieving a robust mecha of a satisfying girth. There is also a great selection of parts in fresh colours like dark azure, and a whole shwack of brackets, which I seem to always be running out of. But in all honesty, I am going to find it hard to take this thing apart to steal bricks, it is simply too much fun to play with (as evidenced by the video below).
So long story short boys and girls; I highly recommend this set whether you want something to play with, or you want a good selection of highly useful parts. And don’t even get me started on how awesome the new Gorilla tribe weapons are!
Now on to the interview (& the exclusive design pics!):
TBB: What was your initial inspiration for this set? Apart from the obvious
gorilla influence, I must admit that the first thing that came to mind upon
seeing the images of the set was the Iron Mecha Challenge that you were a
part of in the Mecha Hub flickr group a couple years back, did that have any
impact on the design?
Mark Stafford: Wow, yeah, the Iron Mecha 2 challenge was a bit weird, at that point we were already into early Chima development and myself and Jordan Schwartz had made ourselves stop building ‘FabuForce’ MOCs because it was too similar an idea. But I had promised to source the inspiration picture for Iron Mecha and LEGO Designer Luis Castenda had told me he had a Mecha image from his portfolio I could use. I got it from him at the last minute – and it was Gorilla inspired! I almost called the whole thing off, but figured that would be even more suspicious, so we went ahead with it. I built almost exactly what was in Luis’s picture, no real exploration of Gorilla’s or anything too far from the original image as I knew that this might come up soon at work! Sure enough, though Gorilla’s were not in the first launch I was asked to make a Mecha for the summer releases and I still had a ton of ideas I hadn’t used ready to try out!
TBB: How and when did the Chima cartoon factor into the design process of these
sets (if at all)? Because when I saw those gorilla mechs in the final
battle scene, I thought you may have been behind them, so it came as no
surprise when I found out that you were the designer of this set.
Mark Stafford: We need to send images of the main vehicles through very early in the process, pictures are taken of our sketch models on a gridded background for the animation company to start building 3D interpretations of, and from that point on no matter how many pieces change on the model its overall shape and dimensions should remain roughly the same. Once the TV guys have started work it’s very time consuming for them to change things. There was only one major change with the Gorilla Striker in that the original sketch had a glass cockpit, but this was just too far from the look we had established for the rest of Chima and of course this meant a modification of the TV model needed to be made.
TBB: I recall you telling a story about how you and the others designers of the
Ninjago line would toss around ideas for character names (some rather
hilarious ones resulted if I remember correctly). I am picturing a similar
situation for the development of the banana cannon, any funny story behind
that, or is it simply a creative stroke of Stafford genius?
Mark Stafford: Oh yes, the one eyed snake I wasn’t allowed to call ‘Trowza’… though that was nothing compared to the two hour giggle fest meeting because every single suggestion for the names of Power Miners vehicles sounding like an innuendo!
I can’t remember who first suggested the banana cannon for Chima but once it was an idea there was no way it was not going to be on this model whoever got to build it! Plus I knew from Power Miners that bananas work for kids; I included a banana in the Crystal Sweeper set after a kids test where we couldn’t find a prototype dynamite element and I threw in a banana instead, the kids played for an hour with the rock monsters stealing it and the miners having to get it back. Something about a banana in a set triggered a lot of imagination. This Striker has seven! In an ammo belt! Genius? Far from it, but definitely fun to play with!
TBB: The new weapon elements for the Gorilla Tribe minifigs look quite amazing.
Were you directly behind or involved in the design in any way? I ask this
because these elements seem like they were designed with the intention of
them being highly useful in alternate builds as opposed to being strictly
Mark Stafford: The part designer for both the Gorilla fist and the Hammer elements was Gabriel Sas, like all of our new elements they have to fit into the LEGO system. The entire Chima team had brainstormed weapon ideas, coming up with a Gorilla Hammer and power fists. Then later we get to give input into the parts and we made some suggestions for what would be nice to include, but time is tight with these parts and I think there are a couple of things I would change to make them even more usable as building elements if I had the chance now. That’s always the way though, and they are still very nice and they are going to be hugely useful for details and for microscale builders or minifigure character makers!
TBB: How many prototypes did you go through for this set, and was there any feature from
your initial prototype that you had to sacrifice that you wished you could
have included in the final design?
Mark Stafford: There were about five serious redesign loops on this mecha – and that’s not counting the sketch models some other designers did before I started. There’s this one by Maarten Simons which was the first built with the banana cannon idea included and this grey futuristic one is by Soren Dryhoj and I stole ideas from both for my version. One of the things I hated dropping was the Chi-crystal being in the chest instead of on the chest flap, but I just couldn’t find a way to have it that way around without the door knocking it out of place every time it was closed. I also kind of wish the final version had a closed cockpit over the pilot, but I guess it would look like he had a transparent skull!
TBB: As a LEGO set designer, we know that you have to work within design
constraints in terms of balancing pieces, price and playability. What part
of this design did you find the most challenging in that regard?
Mark Stafford: It was the Raven’s lookout post. It grew and shrank constantly throughout the design process as expense came and went from the Gorilla Striker. The final version is not the largest that it got to, but it’s far from the smallest, and I think it gives plenty of play value – and a few extra cool new parts/colour changes too.
TBB: Over the years you have designed a lot of fantastic sets. How does this
one stack up to you personally in terms of your own favourites?
Mark Stafford: This has a few touches I’m pretty proud of, the locking of the body around the arm sockets and the way everything fits in around and through each other in the torso for example, and I’m really happy with the beefiness of this one, I don’t think I can make a heavier two legged mecha either, or at least not without fully locking the legs. I’m also happy to get more Dark Azure out there, I really like this colour!
TBB: This set certainly has the largest amount of dark azure parts out
of all the Chima line, did you include this colour because you feel guilty
about killing teal? (sorry, couldn’t resist throwing a teal question in
Mark Stafford: You can explain how I killed teal (*), (it was a colour I really liked, that’s why it hurt so much) but yes, the two new Azure blues are in a similar part of the colour wheel and I like them both a lot, particularly Dark Azure, so I’ll use them whenever I get the chance, if it makes sense for the model. I don’t feel guilty about teal though – after all I saved purple!
*Mark’s first set as a LEGO designer, was the Exo-Force Dark Panther. He had the choice of making it in either purple or teal, and whichever colour he chose, the other would be cut from the colour palette. Obviously he chose purple. Hence, Mark Stafford Killed Teal.
This mind-blowing working compound crossbow is completely LEGO, and made by builders extraordinaire Sean and Steph Mayo (Siercon and Coral). Be sure to check out the video of it in action! Not only does it shoot, even the cables are made from LEGO train electronics wires.
The Brothers Brick snagged a quick interview with Sean and Steph about this awesome creation:
The Brothers Brick: Where did you get your inspiration? Sean and Steph: We wanted to use LEGO to shoot a projectile, building something other than a catapult or a trebuchet. We’ve seen lots of epic brick built guns online, and thought it would be tons of fun to create a custom Lego compound bow. This quickly evolved into crossbow for extra stability, as the bow is under tons of tension.
TBB: How long did this build take? S&S: We probably spent a week playing around with the different mechanics. We had a lot to figure out about the flexibility of LEGO pieces under stress, how much the train cables could take, and which pieces would be useful for the cams. Once that was sorted the actual construction in a couple days.
TBB: Why a compound Crossbow, wouldn’t it have been enough to just create a bow? S&S: A regular bow honestly would probably have been more effective as a lot of the natural flexibility of the LEGO pieces makes them more conducive to a recurve bow rather than a compound bow. But for ages we’ve been fascinated by the cams, idler wheels, and the mechanics of a compound bow, so we wanted to give it a try!
TBB: How many pieces did you use? S&S: We usually don’t count the pieces we used, and have no clue how some builders do it, but we estimate around 1700 pieces.
TBB: How far can it shoot/how much would it hurt? S&S: Disregarding the outliers, it can shoot around 40 feet. As a bow without the compound element it could shoot farther, but we couldn’t resist trying to build the cams. As far as how much damage it can deliver, we’re not entirely sure. We have yet to shoot anyone with it, and it is tipped with a flexible rubber lego (both for the competition this was built for and to minimize any accidental injury). It can likely stick into drywall with a sharp enough tip, but not much else.
TBB: What is it designed from? Is this from a video game or something similar? S&S: This is an original design, but influenced by the Spartan Laser aesthetic from the Halo series. We also wanted to use the green spikes as viper fangs, so we tried to stick with venomous snake inspired highlights. We picture this to be something a Green Arrow vigilante might carry around.
King of cars and all around hellraiser Lino Martins is no stranger to TBB; in fact it is a rarity when one of his models doesn’t make the big blog. Although I’ve thrown in an obligatory model, in this case the somehow overlooked Obi-Wan’s Jedi Starliner, the real purpose of this post is to direct you towards a recent interview with Lino conducted by the boys over at Beyond the Brick. Forget your typical interview boilerplate like “I love Legos, they bring me back to a happier time in my childhood when nobody yelled at me and everything I did was special.”, Lino brings some much needed wit and braggadocio to the process that is sure to delight the hot-weather crowd.
If nothing else, you should check out the interview to see Matthew Kay’s new serial killer haircut…I can’t call him a cherub anymore, but the new look has somehow made him much more talkative. On the downside, the audio isn’t the greatest for this installment, but to me it somehow adds charm to their Wayne’s-World style approach. This is one of the greatest segments of the long-running series and probably my favorite.
I laughed until my prodigious gut hurt when I laid eyes on the latest model by TBB fixture Iain Heath (Ochre Jelly). I didn’t need to read the text to immediately recognize everyone’s favorite cherubic interviewers Joshua and Matthew from Beyond the Brick TV; the likeness is uncanny and even more proof of Iain’s genius. Iain is the subject of Episode 78 of the long running series and as usual, the interview does not disappoint. Look at those faces!…I can almost hear the uncomfortable pauses and softly murmured “yeah…cool…” at the end of segments.