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by Jean Macou

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Interview: Ben Builds LEGO

Ben Builds LEGO builds micro and skyline style models. His skyline models include Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Disney, and more. You can check out Ben’s Flickr account, here. Read on to learn more about his work as part of ArchBrick Daily’s tenth interview.

Ben, thanks for taking part in the ArchBrick Daily Interview. Can you tell us what led you to create your amazing skylines and micro models?

I have loved the official LEGO Architecture sets since they were first introduced; however, I believe what truly motivated me to start building seriously again was building a micro LEGO Reichstag. The Berlin Reichstag is my favorite building in all of Europe; it has played such an important part of 20th century history, and I’m fascinated that the design manages to blend neoclassical and modern styles of architecture. I bought instructions for the Reichstag from a German builder, Thilo Schön (http://www.thilo-schoen.de/lego.html). This build really introduced me to a lot of cool building techniques, and I credit it with beginning my journey back to building LEGO regularly! These days I am mostly building LEGO in the computer using the Bricklink Studio software. Using Studio was an incredibly freeing experience since you are given what amounts to an infinite supply of LEGO bricks!

Do you ever build any of your models with physical LEGO bricks?

I currently do not design with physical bricks due to lack of space and pieces; however, there are definitely times when I wish I were building with physical bricks since Bricklink Studio has its own set of limitations.  

The most common headache in the computer is creating more complicated angles. With your hands, it’s only too easy to just tilt the bricks where you want them to be, but this can be a bit more difficult in Studio. 

Another pitfall that has to be avoided is the weightlessness that exists in the computer. In real life your build will fall apart if it is not sturdy, but in the computer you have to be more mindful as to whether the connection you are making between pieces would hold up in the real world. I remember I was a little worried about how sturdy my “Hercules” vertical skyline would be in real life. I ended up acquiring the pieces to create it, and I was happy to find that my design held up well with the Technic lift-arm support.

I’m also currently strapped for space and have resorted to digital building. I recently made the switch from LEGO Digital Designer to Bricklink Studio and am loving it! Moving along, how do you decide what skylines to build?

I have an ever-growing list on my phone of future ideas, and I’m always open to people throwing new ideas my way. Unfortunately, my ideas list is growing faster than I can build! While I do consult this list and I try to mix up what I’m building, it can still just come down to being struck by inspiration. For example, I built a micro version of Paddy’s Pub from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” That certainly wasn’t on any list!  I just felt strongly (and very randomly) compelled to see what that could look like in LEGO form.  

When I do decide to build something off my list, I first need to have a strong conception of the overall aesthetic and an general idea about how I will design the key components. One good example of this is my “Harry Potter” Hogwarts skyline. I knew I wanted to include a lot references to some classic locations, but I did not want the design to become overly busy. So I drew a couple of (very rudimentary) sketches to come up with a symmetrical design that I thought would not be overwhelming to the beholder. 

I’m really glad you discussed your design process, as not many builders tend to reveal their thoughts. What has been your favorite build so far?

That’s a really tough question since every build has its own unique challenges and lessons. Every single build teaches me something new – whether it’s a new technique or just re-imagining the utility of a certain piece.  

However, I do think the most fun build was my recent Disney World skyline. It was a unique challenge to capture the four icons of the parks on such a tiny scale. The most daunting icon was Cinderella’s castle since it’s the most iconic; however, to my surprise, the Tower of Terror became the most difficult to realize on a tiny scale since it’s really quite a bizarre looking building! On my first attempt, I over-engineered its messy and chaotic look but that just turned out just too…messy and chaotic. So I ended up stripping down the extraneous detail and I’m happy with how the final look came out. It was also fun to include a basic mechanism on the backside of the Tower where you can recreate the famous elevator drop! 

Can you give us any hints on upcoming projects?

I’m constantly building so we’ll see what comes next!  One overarching project I have been working on is creating a skyline for each of the Star Wars films. I am building each skyline with the same dimensions (36 studs wide and 8 studs deep) and including the three most prominent planets/icons for each film. The end goal is to be able to line up all the skylines and you can chronologically follow the basic plot of the entire Star Wars saga!

That sounds amazing! Do you have any tips or tricks for new skyline builders?

Honestly, at such a small scale where every piece matters, it comes down to knowing the LEGO pieces themselves. The greater LEGO vocabulary you have, the more easily you will be able to identify which pieces and which pieces in conjunction with one another will help you achieve the look you are aiming for. This is where Bricklink Studio is a great learning took since you can scroll and search through the pieces with ease! 

As far as general tips go, I believe understanding the 2:5 ratio helps out tremendously when building using Studs Not On Too (SNOT).  

Great tips! Finally, do you have any closing thoughts?

I’d just like to say I’m so grateful for the awesome online LEGO community! When you start out you never know how people are going to respond, so I’m just incredibly thankful that people have responded well to my builds. I also definitely credit your site and Instagram page with inspiring me to get back into building regularly, so I can’t thank you enough. Happy building, everyone!

You can check out more models by Ben Builds LEGO, here.