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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!