Friday, March 8, 2013

Model Maniac - Some Fancy Brickwork

On a monthly basis I like to write about a different side of scale modeling. The models I'm familiar with come out of a cardboard box and include instructions but there is a world out there full of people who think outside the box when it comes to modeling. It is their creativity, and sometimes insanity, that I wish to highlight here. They are what I call, Model Maniacs. Enjoy!

Who remembers playing with Legos? Of course you do! The hugely popular line of construction toys has been around since 1949, so most people should have some experience with the little interlocking plastic bricks. When I was a kid, I used to have a ton of Legos. You could say that the first model I ever built was a Lego set of some sort. I don't remember exactly what sets I had as generally they all wound up falling apart any way, and it wasn't long before I started building my own creations out of the bits and pieces that were in the community Lego bin in my room.
Eventually, I picked up on scale modeling as my hobby of choice but some people, like Ralph, never lost their passion for those brightly colored bricks. I had the opportunity to correspond with Ralph recently, to ask him about his work, and he was generous enough to let me use his responses and some of his photographs here. That is why he is my Model Maniac for the month of March.

This is the first Model Maniac that I have had the pleasure of interviewing. It is a brief question and answer interview, but his answers are interesting and give insight into the depth of his work, and passion for Legos. If you've never given Legos much of a second thought, maybe you should think again. Take a look at what he has to say:

The Combat WorkshopWhen did you start building such complex models from Legos?

RalphI started building as a toddler and never stopped. There were times when I didn't build much, for instance when I went to university, but I always kept building and the models kept getting more and more complex over time as I learned new tricks and Lego kept introducing new pieces that allow me to do new things.

TCWDo you build plastic models at all?

RalphLego bricks are made out of plastic, obviously, but I know that's not the sort of plastic models you mean. I used to build 1/72 and 1/48 scale aircraft as a teenager, but I was never very good at it. I was too impatient and there was just too much painting and sanding and gluing involved and waiting for to dry. I still have a few unbuilt kits in cupboard somewhere, but I think the last one I built was probably 15 years ago.

TCWHow do you plan out each build considering you aren't following any set of instructions? With so many moving parts I could guess this would be quite difficult.

RalphThere are a few things that come together. I've built lots of aircraft models over the years, for instance, including ever more complex working landing gears, so I've got a lot of experience to fall back on. I normally start with the difficult bits. On an aircraft that typically is the landing gear and, because of the difficult shape, with complex curves and whatnot, the nose section. Once I know I can get those bits right, figuring out how to build the rest is easier. I also use three-view drawings to work out the dimensions of various things, say the width of the fuselage and the span in numbers of bricks' widths and use a lot of reference photographs to get a good view of the details and an idea of the shape in three dimensions. Photographs of scale models come in very handy, because they are often taken from angles that you don't get to see on the real thing.

TCWHow long does a typical build take? Say, your F-111 for instance.

RalphPlanning for a new aircraft model and sourcing the parts that I think I need usually takes from a few weeks to a couple of months, but once I start building, things happen quickly. The F-111 was about 95 percent complete in 30 hours or so and then sat on a shelf for a few weeks, with me looking at it every now and then and fine-tuning small bits. The shape of the area in front of the cockpit gave me some trouble, for instance, and it underwent a few changes. I'm pretty sure that's fast by scale-modeling standards. It's one advantage of not having to glue, sand or paint anything.

TCWCan you explain what SNOT is?

RalphSure. It's a somewhat silly acronym used by LEGO fans. Your basic LEGO brick is rectangular with studs on the upper surface that can connect to the bottom of another brick stacked on top. SNOT stands for Studs Not On Top and it's a name for techniques in which LEGO elements are mounted with their tops, where the studs normally are, pointing in another direction (sideways, upside down). I use SNOT techniques to build the sides of radomes for instance, to get them to curve towards the tip nicely. Mind you, SNOT doesn't mean that there should not be studs on top of your model. Most of mine are covered in studs. This may not be to many people's liking, because the model would probably look more like the real thing if they were all covered up, but I like my models to still clearly look like LEGO. Somebody left a comment on one of my pictures on Flickr that summed it up nicely: "your aircraft models look as though they could be LEGO sets, if LEGO were to make modern military things."

TCWWhat motivates you? or how do you decide what your next project will be?

Ralph: For me, building with LEGO is a great way of unwinding after a long of work. That's the main thing. However, I always try to be original in a way, certainly with the aircraft. I want mine to be a better representation of the real thing than is already out there, obviously within some limits of the scale and budget. This stuff is not cheap! Beyond that I like my models to fit into a larger theme. I've had a period where I was reading lots of books about WW2 and this went hand in hand with building aircraft from that era. Right now I'm on a bit of a Cold War trip and am building aircraft as they appeared in 1978. It's a year in which many fascinating aircraft served side-by-side. There were still Century Fighters around and beauties such as the RA-5C Vigilante, but aircraft like the F-14 Tomcat and the F-16 were also already in service.

TCWEvery modeler has their master piece, which one is yours?

RalphYour question doesn't have an easy answer, because I have a hard time picking one. I hope you don't mind me picking two instead. I'll leave it up to you which one is more interesting. 

The first would have to be my Su-27 Flanker. The real-life aircraft has beautiful lines and it was a joy to recreate them in LEGO. Another reason is the camouflage scheme. LEGO has been progressively introducing new colours in the last 15 years or so. Back when the first decent pictures of Su-27s started to emerge they only made one blue tone, which was a sort of royal blue, really, far too saturated for the Flanker. Later they started making lighter and less saturated blue colours. It took me a long time to gather enough parts in those colours to be able to build the Flanker's camouflage scheme and I was well-pleased with the result. (Click HERE for more pics)

The second is my B-52. Building it took a few weeks, but planning for it and buying parts took a few years. It's the biggest jet I ever built, with a span of more than 5ft and a length close to 4ft. Apart from the number of parts required, the size also posed structural challenges. Building a sufficiently strong wing this long with LEGO parts isn't easy, especially since I don't glue anything. I'm very proud that the wing construction is stiff enough for the outrigger wheels to not actually touch the floor. (Click HERE for more pics)

TCWWhat's your next build?

RalphThat's a difficult question. I've got a long list of things I'd like to do, but the next aircraft is likely to be a USAF Martin EB-57E Canberra. Those were still around in 1978 and you've got to love day-glo paint.

You can see the tremendous amount of work and detail Ralph puts into his models just based on his answers, and the few photographs I have included here. His Flickr account is full of hundreds of photos detailing the many Lego creations he has completed over the years. The level of dedication it takes to create some of these models to scale using little blocks, and no instruction sheets certainly justifies the Mad Physicist moniker. Of course, some of my favorites are the military models he has built, like the aircraft of the 366th Wing (right). 
But other unique work includes the A-Team, complete with van, British Mounted Police riding an articulating horse, and a Lotus Exige. I can't even begin to list all of his models here, you'll simply have to check them out for yourself!

Visit the Mad Physicist's photostream on Flickr to fully enjoy the breadth of his work!
Mad Physicist  

If you are, or know someone who would fit the category of Model Maniac and would like to be featured here, feel free to contact me!
Thanks for reading.

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