Friday, April 30, 2010

Cake toppers as relationship signifiers

I have a theory -- that extends back at least a half an hour -- that you could probably encapsulate where your relationship stands based on the cake topper you'd select for your wedding.

When my now wife and I were first dating -- I'm fairly confident we wouldn't have even had a cake topper. This is considering the one time a hotel employee delivering room service asked if we were married and both of us couldn't shout "No," fast enough.

A few years later and Kate was likely envisioning a standard cake topper, while I would have been busy constructing an elaborate back story for the figures and marching them across the table.

As for right now, it's a no doubter, I'd have suggested a LEGO cake topper.

Image via Folded Fancy's Etsy page.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I'll have to revise my recommended age range

The book has started leaking out onto tables at bookstores and folks' front porches. And although I thought my readers might be a bit older, it appears as though this one is a hit with babies. The good news is that children are entering the digital age sooner than ever and so far all of my PayPal transactions with infants have gone smoothly.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Comics, bricks, and Jake Gyllenhaal

With the book slated to come out on May 3, I've begun to make the rounds on the Internets, offering sarcasm or sincerity depending on the virtual stop. In real life, I'm trying to find the balance between LEGO bricks and books for in my suitcase for next weekend's Brick Magic. So while I try to figure out whether I really need socks, here's where my keyboard has taken me recently:

Chris Howard has brought my character/me back in his LEGO comic, The Brick Side. He has captured how I sit beautifully. Chris also interviewed me and cover artist Nathan Sawaya on his LEGO building technique blog -- Bricks A Billion.

Brand Freak asks why are "humans, so immensely, insanely obsessed with Legos [sic]?"

The Brothers Brick has an excerpt and some nice words about the book.

And I challenged Jake Gyllenhaal to a battle for the holy grail in a guest post on the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The new LEGO economy

If Second Life introduced the concept of a second or virtual economy, perhaps LEGO bricks could offer up a tertiary economy. The Baltimore Sun has a link to Punk Rock Gardens -- a community gardening blog that covers gardening tips and interesting stories in Pennsylvania.

The blog's recent topic of choice? The intersection of landscape design and adult fans of LEGO. Your lawn has never looked as green as when it was rendered in LEGO bricks. The entry looks at how an adult fan has been inspired by a garden designer and vice versa -- it's a cool bit of people benefitting from each other's expertise.

I've been amazed to discover the number of ways in which people are customizing and accessorizing LEGO minifigures, vehicles, and sets. Welcome to the new LEGO economy.

Image via Punk Rock Gardens.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Q is for...

The Brick Encyclopedia is entering the home stretch -- meaning the tiny wordsmiths who run this place have begun to slow down, nobody likes to put themselves out of a job. But with promises of cake in the break room and a good word with HR, they're back to cranking out entries.

And so, Q is for...

Quatro -- a short-lived LEGO theme for children one to three years old that lasted only as long as its recommended age range (from 2004 to 2006). Quatro bricks were four times the size of standard bricks.

Quik -- the Nestle rabbit was immortalized as a LEGO in two promotional sets for the chocolate maker. The Trix bunny still hasn't gotten over the slight.

Qa, Misa -- a Japanese builder, who produces beautiful LEGO animals that evoke the style of origami.

Qui-Gon Jinn -- two versions of this Star Wars Jedi exist -- one in flesh tones, the other in Simpsons' yellow. This is the only way that Liam Neeson could ever be captured.

Image via Brickshelf: Misa Qa.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Marvel and LEGO? Could it have been?

What ifs are like horseshoes, everybody has one. But this "what if," caught my eye, if for no other reason that I'm looking for a new video game.

Game Rant points to a recent Tweet from Jon Burton of TT Games, which suggests that a LEGO Marvel game was a real possibility until MEGA Brands (the makers of MEGA Bloks) deal for the Spider-Man franchise. And once Spider-Man was out of the picture, the game stalled.

At a brick convention several years back, I saw an Iron Man minifig with a glowing LED light in his chest and I have to tell you LEGO Marvel characters are pretty fantastic. Or the makers could go in a completely new direction and employ the use of CubeDudes -- equally excellent superheroes.

So here's hoping the two star-crossed franchises can one day be together.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

As good at it gets

Two copies of the book arrived from the publisher yesterday and sat inside an envelope for an hour and a half as I waited for my wife to come home from work. That was a long wait for someone who habitually struggles with patience.

It's a wonderful feeling to hold a book you've written in your hands. It's official, I'm a published author. I love books and I'm overjoyed that my book could be on someone's bookshelf now.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

LEGO Certified Professional Sean Kenney takes a walk on the wild side -- Part Two

And we now return for the exciting conclusion of our two-part interview with LEGO Certfied Professional Sean Kenney. When we last left our intrepid blog writer, he was in the middle (THE MIDDLE!) of a Q&A with Kenney on his wondrous new exhibit -- Creatures of Habitat: A Gazillion-Piece Animal Adventure -- at the Philadelphia Zoo that is raising awareness of endangered animals through LEGO sculptures.

Was there anything that surprised you, once you began building the models?

I created three rainforest dioramas... They were scale models that showed, first, a healthy rainforest, then the bad guys cutting down the trees, and finally the good guys replanting the rainforest. As with all my models, I had to first plan them out and figure out what kinds of parts I'd need and how much of each. For the healthy rainforest, I figured "Okay, I'm going to need about 25 trees to fill this area. So I made varying-sized and -shaped trees to fill the space. When they were in place I stepped back and said, "I need 50 more!" It really gave me an appreciation for how dense, lush, and populated the rainforests really are. I kept adding more trees, more animals, more underbrush, more rocks, more more more... eventually I had to stop, because even though it was looking more and more true-to-life, it was becoming so dense that you couldn't actually see into the diorama to appreciate the wildlife!

Building the rainforest dioramas also made me realize what's going on in those arts of the world and why, specifically. We've all heard the campaigns, "save the rainforest" all our lives and, we all say "yes, sure, it's terrible" but we shrug it off because it's so removed and distant and abstract. But actually seeing these little scale models specifically shows you what's going on and seeing it with your own eyes makes it clear and obvious. And better yet, the info-graphics at the installations explain to kids what they can do in their day-to-day lives to make a difference... easy things like choosing certain brands of shampoo or pencils over another.

While art is one part of the animal pieces, there's also a focus on raising awareness about endangered animals. Do you think LEGO bricks are a good medium for
achieving that goal?

Actually, I do. At first blush, it might seem unusual to use fake animals to promote the welfare of live ones ("didn't we come to the zoo to see REAL animals?"). But it's eerily poignant, because if people don't commit to helping save these creatures' habitats, there may not be any left to ever see in person. And soon. One bird we created, for example, doesn't even exist in the wild anymore; it only exists in zoos.

Plus, kids have fun at zoos .. animals are cool, but learning about them is usually a drag. These exhibits are like playtime! Kids will come up thinking, "wow, what's this all about?" and before long they're learning the stories about conservation.

I think that LEGO bricks are a particularly green toy. Have you ever known anyone to throw one out? How many toys will stay relevant to a child from the age of 5 to the age of 12? Most kids are sick of a toy after 6 months and it ends up in a landfill, but you'll be giving your childhood LEGO collection to your grandkids.

Got a favorite animal among what you built?
I really like the installation we did of the Golden Lion Tamarins. They are very tiny monkeys that are only about a foot long. We set them up in a real animal habitat, so as you're walking along looking at reptiles and Macaws, you stumble onto this habitat with 12 bright orange monkeys built with LEGO bricks. They seem almost frozen in time... climbing on branches, grooming each other, perched atop rock faces, and trolling through tall grass. It's a lot of fun because of all that, but monkeys in particular are so expressive, and so looking at their facial expressions is great too... one monkey is holding a stick up in front of his face, examining it curiously with one eyebrow raised.

Monday, April 19, 2010

LEGO Certified Professional Sean Kenney takes a walk on the wild side

The Philadelphia Zoo unveiled, "Creatures of Habitat: A Gazillion-Piece Animal Adventure," a few weeks back, causing a minor Internet sensation over the LEGO-ized versions of endangered animals designed by LEGO Certified Professional Sean Kenney. The exhibit will run from April 10 to October 31 of this year and I caught up with Kenney -- author of Cool Cars and Trucks -- via e-mail to talk about how he tackled the project that required 259,450 LEGO bricks and 121 pots of coffee to build [Part one runs today, Part two is tomorrow -- yup, it's a cliffhanger.]

For a project of this size, where do you even start?

This project was a very large undertaking, over five times more involved than anything else I'd ever done. About a year ago, The Philadelphia Zoo contacted me about putting together an exhibit. They wanted to tell children about animals that are losing their habitats in a way that might grab their attention and hopefully make it memorable. And more importantly, show kids how they can even do something to help.

We looked at a lot of different animals --- all of which were important to the zoo's conservation efforts in one way or another --- and narrowed down the list based on importance and logistical model-building feasibility. We also had to think about where in the zoo these sculptures would be installed, and where visitors would be able to see them. And zoos aren't set up the same way that LEGO displays would be set up. After all, for a LEGO model, "don't get too close" means three feet... to a zoo, "don't get too close" means 300 feet.

Once we narrowed down exactly what we'd build, I started doing a lot of drawings. Creating animals is different than cars or logos... the pose, expression, emotion, and demeanor of the animal all help tell a story or paint a picture of what's going on. Should the polar bear be sitting down, bewildered? Lying with his head down on folded paws, dejected? Sniffing around for a way off the ice flow, confused? I did this sort of thing for all the animals, and working with the zoo staff we came up with some final poses by late October.

It was going to take a lot more time than I had, so I hired several assistants to help. They didn't have "LEGO building" backgrounds (other than their childhoods, perhaps) but they all had backgrounds in the visual arts. So I spent a few weeks training them on the basics of how to build good sturdy LEGO sculptures, how to duplicate from a prototype, gluing, and so on, leveraging their experiences in sculpture, drawing, and so on.

In November, I started designing and building the models. We did the polar bear first because it needed to be ready for photography and marketing things that would be prepared prior to the exhibit opening. The first step once the scale and pose were ready was to get an armature made. The bear is built around a steel armature that acts like a skeleton ... it helps prevent the sculpture from breaking or sagging under its own weight if it's bumped around in a truck or jumped on by kids. We all spent a lot of heads-down time just building, building, building... usually about 4 or 5 of us at once for 10 or 12 hours a day. (And weekends.)

The bear was done by the end of December, so after New Years we started work on the other animals. My assistants and I worked on all the different animal sculptures over the coming months .. penguins, monkeys, birds, etc, as well as some mosaics and scale models. Everything was finished right on schedule, amazingly! (Granted we pulled a lot of long days and weekends towards the end! I computed that 121 pots of coffee were consumed over the course of this project. That's about 1 cup of coffee for every 300 bricks) :) So we packed everything, trucked it 100 miles from New York to Philadelphia, and set it up in the zoo in late March.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Karate Champ and a Swedish band

In an effort to not have this blog reclassified as a drain on society, similar to the day after the Super Bowl or the NCAA Tournament; and since I don't know how to make a 'Boss' button that creates a fake-looking spreadsheet about LEGO bricks, I've decided to limit the amount of time required for interactivity today.

All you need is 3 minutes and 45 seconds. Because with those 3 minutes and 45 seconds (plus the time it takes you to read these few paragraphs...oh, man...I never should have wasted time with this parenthesis....but I did...and now the little brother in me just wants to keep stalling) you could change a child's life. I'm working on my infomercial pitch...

Since I've effectively buried the lede -- here it is, a new music video from the Swedish rock band, Rymdreglage. The song, 8 Bit Trip, is perhaps a bit easier to pronounce. It's a stop motion animation video using LEGO bricks that apparently took 1,500 hours to make. And with a man turning into LEGO pieces and Miniland size versions of the Karate Champ figures, this one is amazing.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tune in to The Nightly News at Nine With Phil and Sherry

As the Digital Underground once told you -- "stop whatcha doing, cause I'm about to ruin, the image and the style that ya used to..."

Your morning productivity? Gone. The next half-hour of your life? Owned. Meeting your first weather dragon? About to happen.

Tubefilter News has a profile and 23-minute video of 'The Nightly News at Nine With Phil and Sherry.' A mock news program, done entirely in animated bricks and minifigures, this show finds the right balance of whimsy and attention to detail. Creator David Pickett -- based out of Chicago -- talks about the painstaking process of stop-motion animation and where the series is right now.

In the world of fake news, this show sneaks into the top 5, which considering The Onion, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart are locks, that's a pretty big accomplishment.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Legoholic or Trackaholic?

There's an idea floating around that we are becoming "trackaholics," supremely focused on keeping track of everything we do. It's no longer enough to know how fast we're running a mile, now we must know exactly when we fell off pace, if certain music inspires us to run faster, and just we're stacking up against the members of our virtual running club. For the record, I do not run, but I am getting into speed cheese eating.

As one who has a book coming out, I've had several friends with pens suggest that I avoid checking Amazon or Google Alerts to see what is happening. This is good advice as I can see how one becomes so focused on what is/has happened, that you forget to continue to do work.

One arena I can't seem to shake is Twitter and that is because, in part, people continue to talk about LEGO bricks in interesting ways and I suddenly find myself having looked at links for the better part of an hour. Here are the finest, prescreened Tweets from the past day:

@GrantImahara (Grant from MythBusters) -- Happy Monday, people! Here's a little fun for you: VIDEO "How Lego is Made"

@cpm -- Life-size lego animals at Phila Zoo? I want to go to there.

@adamatomic -- some spectacular micro-scale Lego MOCs

@cloverest --
I want to work/live in the Lego office. Not just for the toys - it is gorgeous.

And finally, we have a new holiday:

@hellonw --
Because on Thurs. he gets to open some Legos Grandma got for him, Noel just told me tomorrow is "Lego Eve." Did he just invent a holiday?

Image via Kennymatic.

Monday, April 12, 2010

File it under 'D' for Donut

While city and castle and pirates and space get all the attention, I think there is a LEGO theme that is not getting its proper due. So with that, I give you -- LEGO Donuts:

-Here is a simple video guide to building a LEGO donut.

-Here's a take on a Banksy (the artist who sneaks his work into museums and creates irreverent interactive art pieces) heist print with a donut and some stormtroopers.

-Sometimes a guy just wants to buy a donut, but the next thing you know he's fighting off zombies.

-A sweet (in many sense of the word) LEGO donut creation.

- I know I'm older than six, but next year I'm asking for a LEGO and Donut Party for my birthday.

And no, a LEGO donut is not a transaction that requires a receipt.

Friday, April 9, 2010

P is for...

The longest recurring theme on this blog returns day -- The Brick Encyclopedia. So, ready your Kindles or printers, or however it is you kids digest the new media these days. Let's get to it. P is for...

Palpatine (a.k.a. The Emperor, a.k.a. Darth Sidious) -- the Dark Lord comes in four different variations of LEGO minifig. I may have pretended all of them could shoot lightning out of their hands while making a crackling noise.

Pig -- It's featured in a new set -- the Pig Farm and Tractor -- and as a customized element from BrickForge. It's a LEGO pig's world, we're just living in it.

Pick A Brick -- the chance to literally get to pick your bricks. A selection online or in retail stores, where you can fill a container with any of the available elements and then you pay a set price. This is as close to a candy store for adults as possible.

Pepper Roni -- Parents saddle their children w/ unfortunate names. Pepper Roni is perhaps an extreme example, but the ill-named, skateboarding offspring of Mama and Papa Brickolini at least got to star in his own video game.

Power Miners -- A LEGO theme introduced last year that features human minifigs with oversized drilling machines battling underground rock monsters. Rock monsters are apparently repelled by the heavy use of lime green parts -- a theory that is advanced by the lead scientist among the Power Miners. His name? Brains.

Image via The Brothers Brick.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bet You Can't Build Just One

I had no idea how people would react to the book -- and I still for the most part, don't -- but one of the most exciting things to hear from earlier readers has been that LEGO: A Love Story is inspiring a lot of them to build again.

It's like having plenty of candy on hand when you sit down to watch Willy Wonky & The Chocolate Factory, the stomach wants what the stomach wants. While it's too late now, I feel like we should have had a disclaimer on the book, something like:

Warning. You may discover that you enjoy playing with your children's toys more than they do and find yourself stealing them for projects of their own. Your teeth could be slightly sore from trying to separate bricks. And your imagination might get kick-started, which could lead to all sorts of projects that you long ago that you had decided not to attempt.

Image via pasukaru76.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Jess Gibon talks about AFOL: A Blocumentary

AFOL A Blocumentary from AFOL on Vimeo.

Jess Gibson dipped into the world of adult fans of LEGO in his new documentary, AFOL: A Blocumentary. The 30-minute video talks to adult fans about why they build and is a well-crafted introduction to the amazing sculptures being built by the community. I caught up with Jess by e-mail to talk about why he chose adult fans as a subject and what's next for the video production maven, who is based in Portland, Oregon.

Can you tell me a bit about how the documentary came about?

My friend Roger Cameron works at LEGO [you can see his work on LEGO Club TV]. He mentioned something might be happening. I sort of forgot about it and then two months later he called and said "make a video". We had a few broad ideas and not a lot of time. I thought investigating adult builders sounded interesting. The first thing I shot was Jason Ruff and his Mantis at Brickcon.

What surprised you once you began filming?

How nice everyone was. At first a couple people weren't sure but then it was open doors. These people brought me in and shared a lot.

There seem to be a lot of answers -- given the responses of many of the interviewees in the video -- to my next question. But what is about LEGO bricks that you think inspires adults?

Imagination. You can build pretty much anything if you have the right bricks. I'm not sure there is one definitive answer- it's different for each individual. I do think there is something to be said about accessibility. Sure you could do some kind of computer drawing or sculpture but LEGO is more hands on. It's real- it's right there in front of you.

Did talking to LEGO enthusiasts instill any interest in building as an adult?

I had already had an interest and a box of bricks. I do build more often now.

What are you working on right now or what's your next project?

I have a couple videos that are in the working stages that are related to my friend Aaron Draplin. Be warned- if you look him up or come across any of my videos related to him- he uses some colorful language, ie; the videos are rated R. He's an entertaining and interesting dude.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

She's a

At times, LEGO bricks feel like memories trapped in plastic for me. And so this morning, when I discovered that a British teenager had built a bust of Amy Winehouse -- I immediately was brought back to that swinging summer of 2008. Heady times, indeed.

It was just after that summer, in September, when I was touring the LEGO factory in Billund, Denmark. The LEGO Group had caused a sensation by releasing 3-D mock-ups of stars as minifigs, including singer Amy Winehouse to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the iconic little figures.

As I toured the factory with a photographer and writer from a German newspaper, the writer asked our tour guide about the Winehouse minifig.

"Do you have the Amy Winehouse LEGO people here?" she asked.

"No, it was just a promotion, we never actually made them," explained our guide.

"So, do you have them here?" she asked.

It likely happened earlier, but that was one of the moments when I knew I was no longer an objective reporter of the facts as I had to force myself not to intervene on our guide's behalf. I had read months earlier on an adult fan site that the minifigs were never manufactured.

And by that point of the tour, we had reached the first conveyor belt in the factory and LEGO minifig heads were rolling by, so I had much more important matters to attend to, such as not snatching a handful of the heads and making a break for the front door.

Image courtesy of the Sun.

Monday, April 5, 2010

LEGO: A Love Story -- The Book Trailer

The book trailer is officially out on the web. It features me, brick artist Nathan Sawaya and miniland me.

In just two minutes and 12 seconds, you can learn about the book and how the cover was designed and made by Nathan. Since I've always loved infomercials -- which has led to many questionable purchases -- consider this my infomercial pitch.

If you act now, we'll throw in unlimited viewings of the video and the chance to buy a very special book next month. But wait, that's not all you're getting. The book can also slice a tomato, blend margaritas, and make a perfect omelet.

*Note, the author can't guarantee the book's properties in the kitchen, until he has a copy himself to experiment with in his test kitchen.

Friday, April 2, 2010

100 Toy Bananas

When people ask why I wrote the book, LEGO: A Love Story, I often talk about my childhood dream of becoming a Master Model Builder or the happy memory of building the Sears Tower alongside my father. But, in truth, it was also because of the possibility of writing sentences like the following:

He is currently in the process of buying 100 toy bananas.

That quote is from The Bolton News' recent profile of Robert Clarkson -- an adult fan of LEGO bricks and member of the Brickish Association (a British community of adult fans). To start, that's not your average newspaper story. There is humor and a sense of "what the?" that pulls you in to read about why a 52-year-old man needs 100 toy bananas.

And here lies the crux of the story and why I've enjoyed this process so much. Adult fans are irreverent and geeky and funny and are also comfortable existing slightly outside the standard newspaper story. So why did I want to write the book? To ask a guy why he is buying 100 toy bananas.

Image via pasukaru76

Thursday, April 1, 2010

New York, Pirates, and sitting down with the publisher

A visit to New York City and a full scale assault of minifig pirates has left this blog woefully understaffed this week. With the pirate resurrection quelled and no plane flights scheduled for a few weeks, we're back to our regularly scheduled programming.

While on the East Coast -- the non-imaginary obstacle to blogging -- I took the time to visit with my publisher, John Wiley & Sons. The offices are in a well-appointed building in downtown Hoboken, New Jersey. It is both humbling and energizing to see and meet all the people that are working to make LEGO: A Love Story a success.

I was delighted to receive the above bag of LEGO candy. They can actually stack, although a stack too high threatens to pry open my mouth in a similar fashion to a stick in an alligator's mouth. There is great stuff to come that you can enjoy as well -- the book trailer and a contest that are both impressive and due to be out shortly.

In the interim, the book is officially being released next month and I can only hope that it is like a bit of delicious LEGO candy for everyone else.