Smashing LEGO like a Rock Star: a conversation with Canadian Iron Builder, Tim Schwalfenberg [Interview]

This week we headed up to our great neighbor to the north to track down Tim Schwalfenberg. Tim lives in Canada, is 21 years old and is currently studying Materials Engineering at his local university. He also likes to publicly smash his LEGO builds too, but more about that later.

TimSchwalfenberg

TBB: Hi Tim! Can you tell us a little about yourself and your relationship with the Brick?

Tim: Sure! I have found LEGO to be a great creative outlet when I need a break from all my calculus or physics courses. While I’ve been building almost as long as I can remember, it wasn’t until my first year of university that I started to look at LEGO with the intention of making anything beyond the rainbow-warrior spaceships of my earlier years. Through a combination of some inspiring creations I stumbled upon through MOCpages and finding myself with too much free time on my hands, I decided that to try out this LEGO thing more seriously. Thousands of pieces and hundreds of creations later the LEGO hobby has become an incredibly important part of my life. The itch to build has become a constant companion that is easily rewarded by long hours tinkering away on a table-scrap covered table.

Micro GARC Collection

TBB: It’s a persistent itch! You build in a wider range of scales and genres than most builders. How would you describe your work?

Tim: That’s a hard question to answer! I think that part of what drives me to build in different scales and genres is the challenge of building something new, or at least something I’ve never done before, though it’s certainly more difficult to find those the more I build. Sometimes I’m inspired by art, video games or movies. At other times, I just build whatever’s knocking around in my head. The biggest thing that draws me to build LEGO is the fact that I simply enjoy doing it. The process of breaking down an object, ordinary or fantastical, into its basic parts and capturing it’s essence in LEGO is a journey of creativity, iteration and problem solving that I’m willing to take again and again.

The Belt of Champions

TBB: I’m glad you do. You’ve participated in the Iron Builder competition couple of times. How do you feel about that experience?

Tim: Iron Builder is a LEGO contest like no other. Plenty of contests challenge people’s creativity and building skills. Few do so with such intensity. Iron Builder is long and grueling. Being forced to create non-stop in a head to head competition, for a whole month, is as exhilarating as it is tiring. Despite all of that, I’ve learned a lot about myself as a builder throughout the competition and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to compete. It’s resulted in some of my favorite builds and forced me to build outside of my comfort zone.

Battle Ready

My first Ironbuilder was against Matt Delanoy using the Silver Barbell piece. While I did end up winning that round, it was a close battle all the way through. I made 28 creations that month including a large SHIP, which somehow also managed to win people’s choice in SHIPtember that year. Having won an Ironbuilder, of course, means that you have to compete in another. My second round was against Jonas Kramm using the silver technic pin. I made 52 creations that month, but ultimately (and deservedly) lost my crown to Jonas.

Under The Sea

As far as preparing for Iron Builder, I always made sure to have my collection sorted and my schedule as free as possible. Then it’s a matter of opening the mystery part, thinking “what the heck am I going to do with that!?”, brainstorming ideas like a madman and building as fast as humanly possible.
Would I do it again? Probably not. Iron Builder, at least in its current form, takes a huge time commitment. As much as I love LEGO, building for a month straight certainly left me feeling burnt out at the end of it all. And while I enjoyed the pressure of the competition, I’m quite content to be able to build at my own pace now that it’s over.

The Last of Us: Joel and Ellie

TBB: You recently posted a very impressive build entitled “The Last of Us”, which depicts a beautifully built, abandoned city-scape. It seems to be different from your other builds…more immersive and intense. Tell us about this build…what inspired it, the challenges of building it, what it means to you. What do you hope people take away from it?

The Last of Us: Streetview

Tim: When I first started getting involved with the online LEGO community, I saw plenty of impressive post-apocalyptic builds (also known as “apocalego”). Over time, the theme seems to have faded into obscurity, but I’ve always been fascinated with the decrepit, abandoned buildings featured prominently in those builds. I’m also a fan of the video game “The Last of Us” and the post-apocalyptic world that was portrayed in that game. Funnily enough, I haven’t actually played “The Last of Us” (I don’t own a PS4), but I’ve seen enough about it at this point that I feel as if I have.

The Last of Us: Park

Using those two points as inspiration, the stage was set for me to build. From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to create as much of the scene out of LEGO as possible. I spent around a month planning out various aspects of the build, experimenting with techniques and ordering the bricks. The actual build itself went together over the span of three and a half weeks (you can find a detailed overview of the build process on my website).

In the end, I’m quite happy with how the build turned out. It’s certainly the largest creation I have completed to date, but I was most happy with being able to maintain the same level of texture and detail that I would put into a small build throughout a work as large as this one. The subdued color palette also worked to convey the sense of loneliness, and isolation that I was looking for. If there’s one thing that I would hope people take away from the build, it’s that apocalego is still cool and full of possibilities. I think there’s plenty of room to explore new techniques and textures that aren’t often touched upon in other genres.

The Last of Us

TBB: It is really a masterpiece. How do you decide what scale or techniques you are going to use in a new build? Does the concept come first and the specific techniques follow or do you discover new techniques and work on finding a concept where they fit?

Carrier has Arrived

Tim: Hmmm. It really depends. Sometimes I work from a piece of concept art, or an image I’ve been tossing around in my head. At other times, I ‘m inspired by a small table-scrap that I have sitting on my desk. When it comes down to it though, I think that most of my builds start with a concept and end with execution. Techniques, if I do come up with any, are usually just a means of achieving that concept as realistically as possible within the LEGO system.

Hurricane Battlecruiser

I usually don’t plan out my builds unless I’m working on something larger where I have to order specific parts. Even then it’s usually just a rough sketch or the working out of some techniques before I’m off to build. Of the builds that I’ve made, the two that I can remember planning out before hand are my first SHIP (the Hurricane) and The Last of Us. Even then, there’s a lot of the final build that’s left up in the air to work out when the bricks start clicking together.

TBB: That totally makes sense. Is there one of your builds with which you are most satisfied?

Wizard's Gate

Tim: I don’t know if there’s any build that I’m fully satisfied with. There’s always something that I wish I could improve when I look back, but I think “The Last of Us” stands out as my favorite build to date. It’s also the build that I’ve invested the most time and effort on, which probably has something to do with it. On the other hand, there’s a number of Iron Builder creations (I won’t name any specific ones) that I’m not too proud of. The drive to post as many creations as possible, as quick as possible, made the quality of some builds a little lackluster. Some builds are more of a struggle than others, but I find that with enough time and creativity, LEGO usually provides a way to make even the most odd or peculiar concepts come to life.

Fire Truck

TBB: How important is the LEGO fan community to you and your builds? Are you only involved online via Flickr or do you attend conventions and/or a local club or LUG?

Brickworld Chicago 2016 GamerLUG crew

Tim: It’s extremely important to me. Not only is it a source of constant inspiration and encouragement, it’s also a place where I’ve been lucky enough to make many friends over the years.

They Ride No Longer

My involvement with the LEGO community started on MOCpages, though over the years, I’ve shifted to Flickr. When it comes to conventions, I believe that it was Simon Liu who first haggled me into heading out to an actual LEGO convention to meet some builders face to face. I am very glad he did. While online interaction is nice, nothing beats hanging out with fellow brick-addicts for a couple of days. There’s also nothing quite like the rush of putting the last minute touches on a collaboration for the final reveal. I’m involved in a number of LUGs, both online and offline. On the digital front, I’m a member of InnovaLUG and GamerLUG, while at home, I’m part of my local LUG, NALUG. Being a part of these groups has been a great experience. Like most hobbies or activities, LEGO building is much more fun with others than alone.

Vaygr Destroyer

TBB: Absolutely. What is the most memorable interaction you’ve had with someone regarding your LEGO hobby?

Tim: Probably swooshing one of my spaceship fleets around the convention center at Brickworld. It was quite the sight seeing a whole bunch of grown men making “pew pew” noises and running in circles with a bunch of plastic toys. We definitely got some strange looks.

TBB: That is awesome! I noticed some video of you smashing one of your builds at a convention. What was the event and what is going there?

Vaygr Fleet

Tim: Ah yes, the sinking of the Vaygr fleet – may it rest in pieces. During Brickworld 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in a fantastic collab called BattleSHIP. The goal of BattleSHIP was to play a live version of the classic battleship game using custom LEGO spaceships, including one SHIP as the “carrier” class. There was a catch, of course: if one of your ships was sunk, you were required to smash it.

Ratatata

Many bricks were scattered, some pieces were shattered (literally), and much fun was had by all. We had quite a crowd of spectators during the rounds as well. It’s amazing how the destruction of LEGO can bring people together! There’s a certain bittersweet thrill to smashing a creation and I’m glad to have shared some of that with my fellow AFOLs.

TBB: If you could be in charge of one thing at the LEGO company and push it through to completion, what would you make them do?

Tim: I’d love to have some 3D printing filaments produced by LEGO in their official colors. I have a 3D printer that I experiment with to make bricks, but it’s difficult to find plastics that match the very specific colors and hues used by the LEGO group. Having a whole set of LEGO colors at my disposal would really open up the uses of 3D printed bricks.

On Track

TBB: Interesting idea. What question have you been hoping I won’t ask?

Tim: Why does your LEGO have bite marks on it? You probably know the answer…

TBB: Biting LEGO? Now I have to ask, which color is the most tasty?

Tim: Based on my collection, white bricks apparently look far too much like ice cream.

Grillin' and Chillin'

TBB: Thank you very much for taking the time to sit down with us. What is the next adventure for Tim Schwalfenberg?

Tim: I don’t have any specific builds planned out right now, but you never know when inspiration will strike. I’ll be moving away from my LEGO collection for the 8 months this year, so it’ll probably be a little quieter on the build side of things. However, I do hope to make it down to BrickCon this year and to meet some new faces!

TBB: Awesome, I hope to see you there!

Firestorm

The post Smashing LEGO like a Rock Star: a conversation with Canadian Iron Builder, Tim Schwalfenberg [Interview] appeared first on The Brothers Brick.

World’s largest LEGO store opens in London’s Leicester Square [News]

Today the world’s largest LEGO store opens in Leicester Square, within the bustling heart of London. The Brothers Brick were invited to an exclusive pre-opening event to take a tour of the new store, preview an exclusive set, and talk to Glenn Abell (LEGO’s Vice President of Direct To Consumer) about the future of LEGO’s retailing.

The London flagship store is the largest in the world, covering 914 sqm over two floors, and features a number of signature brick sculptures — all themed to the City of London. The doors open onto an archway with the classic London Underground sign stating “Leicester Square” and a map of the London Underground lights up one wall.

There’s a life-size brick-built Tube carriage, 2m high and 5m long, made of over 600,000 pieces where you can have your photo taken seated between a Grenadier Guard and William Shakespeare.

A stunning 6.5m model of Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben dominates the main window. This huge model is made from over 350,000 bricks and tips the scales at over a ton. The model features a working, backlit clock which chimes with a replica sound of the real Big Ben.

Upstairs there’s more sculptural fun with a giant version of Brickley the dragon weaving his way through the wall, and a life-size classic red telephone box with larger-than-life telephone inside. Tantalisingly, the phone rings but the receiver cannot be picked up. A huge London skyline mosaic also adorns the wall of the store staircase (which apparently took over 90 hours to build).

The new Architecture skyline set 21034 is exclusive to this store for the rest of 2016, and will undoubtedly be a popular set along with the 40220 Creator London Bus, 21029 Architecture Buckingham Palace, and 10253 Creator Big Ben. TBB were kindly given a copy of the new London skyline set from LEGO and you can find out more about it in our forthcoming review.

The store also features a Pick-a-Brick wall with Pick-a-Model section, a brick play area, Build-a-Minifigure station, and a touch screen catalogue. One press of the ‘Assistance Required’ button on the screen and a helpful Apple Watch-wearing LEGO store employee comes scuttling over.

The London store is also the first in the world to offer a completely new experience — Mosaic Maker. This offers the opportunity to purchase your very own, one of a kind, personalised LEGO mosaic portrait. The machine captures your image and in under ten minutes printed instructions and the bricks required to complete the LEGO portrait are supplied to the customer. This new technology essentially looks like a photo booth but rather than a photo, a 48×48 stud baseplate and a couple of bags of 1×1 plates come out of the slot. Mosaic Maker costs £90 a set.

Lester, that quintessential English gentleman, a tea-drinking, bowler hat-wearing chap appears throughout the store as a slightly eerie talking minifigure, and a larger-than-life sculpture ready for his photo opportunity. The Lester minifigure has been released as a scratch card prize with only 275 made — rather disappointing for those who expected the minifigure to be available as an in-store purchase.

 
During the buzz of the pre-opening event we caught up with Glenn Abell, LEGO Vice President for Direct-To-Consumer for Europe, Middle East and Africa. We quizzed him about the importance of brick-and-mortar stores, the theatre of good retailing, the Daily Mail, and his fondness for the 2×4 brick…

TBB: Here we are in your new flagship retail site in the centre of London. How important is this sort of store to LEGO?

Glenn Abell: It’s very important to us to present the LEGO brick in a different way. We have 131 stores around the world and the retail side of our business is very important. A store like this offers us the opportunity to build a 600,000 brick Tube train, or a 350,000 brick Big Ben. These are unique features to London – we always want to be part of the community wherever we open. And these big stores allow us to present innovative new ideas like the Mosaic Maker – a booth that takes your photo and prints it out in a LEGO mosaic pattern, then you can buy a set and create your own personalised brick portrait. This store is special, it’s our largest store ever, and it’s an engaging place for people to really immerse themselves in LEGO bricks. We have building opportunities, big “wow” models, and the largest assortment to choose from. And a lot of exclusive models you can only find here. We want this to be an experience for our visitors and fans, and that’s why the retail arm of LEGO is so important – walking into a store like this makes you feel like you’re part of the LEGO brick, which is cool.

TBB: There are obvious profit margin differences between in-store and online sales. Does LEGO believe the theatre provided by brick-and-mortar retailing will always be worth it?

Glenn Abell: There’s a balance to be struck between the commercial side and the experience. We have to be mindful of that – we need to pay the rent and keep the lights on to make sure people can come here. But most importantly, the money we’ve invested in this store is designed to delight people and to give them an experience they can’t find anywhere else.

TBB: What’s the most important element in giving people that experience?

Glenn Abell: Our staff. The people we have in this store, their passion and knowledge about the LEGO brand, the brick, and our products. If visitors see and feel that they’ll leave with a positive experience and they’ll come back. Maybe they come back to this store, maybe they buy online, they may even buy somewhere else – but they’re buying bricks and enjoying building with them. The staff in our stores are crucial in that recipe we’re trying to get right here.

TBB: LEGO has been in the news in the last week, particularly in the UK, regarding its ending of the promotional relationship with the Daily Mail newspaper. Like with the Shell campaign, this seems to show LEGO changing policy in response to online pressure. Where does LEGO draw the line? There’s always someone complaining about something online. At what point does the company decide to respond?

Glenn Abell: It’s difficult to get the balance right in these things. These sorts of decisions are taken very thoroughly, and at very senior levels in the company. I can’t add anything beyond what’s already been said in the media on this particular issue.

TBB: I notice you’ve been holding a red 2×4 brick all the time we’ve been talking. What’s that about?

Glenn Abell: I’ve been with LEGO for 14 years now and I find myself carrying a brick around with me a lot of the time. I’m sure you know the stats about how many ways a couple of regular bricks can be connected. It’s a good reminder. When I talk to people who sometimes ask me if LEGO is really making sets which drive creative building any more – this brick reminds me of the amazing things people build, particularly the amazing models I see when I attend fan events.

TBB: Thank you for your time. And good luck with the London opening!

Life-sized Halo Master Chief costume made out of Lego

Ben Caulkins (Benny Brickster) built a life-sized costume of the Master Chief from Halo over the past six months. Those who have followed his Flickr postings have seen the suit develop from the helmet down. Now that this epic project is finished, Ben shares his thoughts on the process and techniques behind the build.

Some of you may have noticed by now that over the past six months, I have constructed a full size Lego costume of the Master Chief from the Halo series. It was by no means easy, and I had to put a lot of time and effort into completing it. It required more thought and patience than any of my previous LEGO projects, not that I have done that many anyway.

But I didn’t decide overnight to build a Master Chief costume out of LEGO bricks. The very base of the idea was probably inspired by Simon MacDonald’s (SIMAFOL) Boba Fett costume. Then it was after I saw some really amazing LEGO creations at my first LEGO convention, Brickworld, that I really seriously started thinking about it. At first it was just a fantasy, which is reasonable enough, I mean, come on, a full-blown LEGO Master Chief costume? It is pretty ridiculous. But when I started to take it seriously, I finally realized that it was possible, and I committed myself to it.

I put a surprising amount of thought into which part I would construct first, and I finally settled on the helmet because I thought that if I could do a convincing MOC of the Master Chief’s helmet, and be able to wear it, I could do the rest of the suit.

The helmet took more planning than any other element. I started in late October and spent many hours getting the necessary resources and devising what size to make the helmet in order for it to be proportionate with the rest of my body. I think that if I hadn’t done so it wouldn’t have looked nearly as good as it does. But after much planning, I finally started building. I’m generally a pretty slow builder, and I went through a lot of experimenting with parts while building it, particularly for the vents on the “cheeks”. I had decided to use a non-LEGO piece for the visor long before I started building, and I had already purchased a sweet looking motorcycle helmet visor with a nice gold sheen to it, and with a few modifications, it fit like a glove.

So, I had at last finished the first part of my suit, and it managed to garner a lot of attention. I had never really been blogged about before so I was overwhelmed. It was one of the most memorable moments in my LEGO building “career”, and I jumped for joy when I saw I was on the Wall Street Journal’s blog, and then GIZMODO, and a host of other websites including the good old Brother’s Brick.

After the initial reaction died down and all the bloggers finally stopped, I got to work on the most time-consuming part of the project: the torso armor. It was one the most challenging in that it had to be able to take a lot of punishment and look good at the same time. I tried strengthening it where I could, but it still wasn’t enough. After many catastrophic accidents, in which many naughty words were uttered, I decided that I had to use glue. Yes, it was a lazy thing to do, but I just thought “screw it all” and went ahead with it. But it worked, so I don’t see a problem!

I then managed to squeeze the belt in before Christmas break, but I still had a problem: how was I going to achieve the concave shape of the thighs and forearms? It was one day on the bus back from school when I had nothing to do that a solution came to me, and boy was I pleased when it did. It was actually really simple: construct two rings, but make them different sizes, and then construct supports between them that I could put different aesthetics onto. This would achieve the proper concave shape, as it causes the shape to narrow. But before actually building the thighs, I built the arms first and applied my newly devised technique on them.

I’m not entirely satisfied with the upper arms, as they appear a little small when compared to the Chief’s. But I couldn’t make them any bigger, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to flex my arm (plus I couldn’t bear the extra weight). And besides, it still looks good as it is.

The forearms actually came out surprisingly well, though they were prone to coming undone. The reason why was that I had made them a little too small, and so whenever I flexed they would come undone. To solve this particular problem, I attached three rings of Velcro to the inside of one section that could wrap around my arm, keeping the section in place. But, it also would squeeze my arm together, so it wouldn’t bulge as much when I flex, and the other section now stays snuggly attached.

Afterwards I bought a pair of nice Master Chief looking gloves, glued some plates to them, and then built the thighs. The thighs ate up more tiles (smooth plates) than I can count!

At this point the suit was getting pretty close to completion, although there were unexpected delays (Spring break, a small LEGO convention, me getting sick). But in between I managed to get some work in. I always knew that the legs would be difficult on account of their odd shape (take a look at them and you’ll see what I mean). The Master Chief’s leg armor bulges in the back in order to shape itself around the calves, and this was something I had feared doing since starting the project. An idea that I had thought of but didn’t believe would work was to first build a frame for the legs that would follow that actual shape of the Chief’s. Although it appeared crude, I had no other good ideas. So I went about building this frame, and realized that it could work. Yes, it took me several variations, but that was what I ultimately settled on.

It was the next week that the suit’s first trial came: the “LEGO fun at Lyndhurst” festival, a small local event organized by Arthur Gugick, which I have been attending for quite some time. I originally planned to just display the suit and not wear it. Not only did I wear it, I walked around the entire event. This proved that I could move in it without too much damage occurring (one lost piece and one part that came undone). Also, it stood up pretty well against LEGO’s main adversary, the hands of small and curious children. Also, the helmet went through quite an ordeal, having to be placed on the heads of around 100 children.

Now, there was only one thing left to do: the feet, the least interesting part to look at. But I still wanted them to be of the same quality as the rest of the suit, so I went about making the toe look nice and curved by using segmented plates. But you can’t expect me to not loosen up a little bit. If you look closely you can see bits of red and yellow showing through the gaps between plates. Also, for the rest of the foot, I seriously lowered my quality standards, but you can’t really tell because, like I said, who looks at the feet?

I have to say finishing it was sort of anti-climactic, especially considering I had built the coolest part of the suit first, and was finishing with the feet. I’m actually a bit relieved it’s done because I was getting pretty tired of it, and I’m not sure how much longer I could have gone on. But I am glad I did, because now I can say that I’m the only person to (successfully) build a Master Chief costume out of LEGO. :)

For more pictures, visit Ben’s Flickr gallery.