If you want to learn all about my creative process and how I got into the whimsical world of building custom LEGO models, check out this month’s issue of BrickJournal magazine and read my interview! October is a special video game edition, so naturally my popular electronic Nintendo sprite lamps are prominently featured.
Below is an entire transcription of the interview, which covers my background as an artist, as well as to the technical information on my models:
If you want to see an assortment of video game themed models, a good place to start is the website Baronvonbrunk.com. “Baron” Julius von Brunk is an artist residing in New York who has been building video game inspired models for more than a few years, with some of his models published in Nintendo Power magazine in 2012. Here, he talks to BrickJournal about his builds.
BrickJournal: What do you do outside of building?
Baron von Brunk: Aside from assembling custom LEGO models, I’m also an independent photographer and aspiring animator. I do in fact make some animations with my LEGO pieces, and hopefully some day I’ll launch some short films of my stop-motion animation. Sometimes I incorporate my various artistic hobbies together, such as using my photography along with my graphic arts for print designs.
Career-wise, I’m a professional graphic artist in New York City, and currently I design images and graphic assets for Goldman Sachs in Manhattan’s Financial District. On a daily basis, I typically develop PowerPoint presentations, including creating covers/section dividers in Photoshop. I also use Illustrator and other vector imaging programs to generate maps for investment bankers. Prior to this job, I’ve worked as a designer in a variety of fields — including consumer electronics, fashion, and even major league sports. I started off many years ago by designing packages and labels for third-party electronic devices, and I’ve sort of bounced around between industries whilst expanding my portfolio. I’m actually completely self-taught, and never attended college. My career path has been very long and troublesome, but the way I like to describe it, I took the “scenic route” to get where I am!
BJ: How old are you?
BVB: 33 years old, and I’ll be 34 in October.
BJ: When did you start LEGO building?
BVB: “LEGO” was actually the first word I learned how to spell as a kid — even before my own name! I received Duplo sets at an early age, then around age 3 in the 1980s my parents bought me numerous LEGO sets for Christmas and my birthdays. I’ve consistently been a fan of this toy line since childhood, and even photographed some of my custom creations way back in the 1990s using old film cameras. This passion of mine predated social media by about a decade!
BJ: Did you have a Dark Age? If so, what got you out of it?
BVB: Oh, I definitely had a dark age! Although this is a hobby I’ve liked for most of my life, there was a small moment in my life when I “paused” my fascination with LEGO. I’d say this was during the early-to-mid 2000s, when I was in my late teens. This wasn’t because I grew out of it, but rather because at the time, the dominant models/themes in the 2000s-era LEGO System didn’t fascinate me like in previous years. I personally never liked Bionicle, I was never a fan of Harry Potter, I could never get into Spider-Man comics/movies, and I always despised Spongebob Squarepants. In addition, I could never really get into the Star Wars prequels as much as the originals. With the lack of selection of sets I wanted to buy, I instead focused on occasionally building creations with my preexisting pieces. Also around this time, I didn’t have a job (due to my age and my high school schedule), and the little bit of money I did have I’d use on other things like video games and food.
I got back into purchasing new sets around 2005 or 2006, when the then-new medieval themes were released, along with the Vikings series. This reignited my fascination with LEGO, and I soon focused on creating models and vignettes with medieval themes. At this point I was in my early 20s, and working at various jobs which gave me more disposable income. I’d say 2007 was my definite “LEGO Renaissance”, where my love of LEGO was reborn completely, to the point where it became the dominant creative force in my life, completely reshaping my artistic hobbies and creativity.
BJ: What are your favorite themes?
BVB: For me, the best themes are the late-’80s/early-’90s Space or Castle. Although I played with any LEGO theme since I was young, I was always fascinated the most by spaceships and castles. I’ve had a soft spot for the classic Futurons, M:Tron, Blacktron, and Ice Planet — as well as Black Falcons, Forestmen, Dragon Masters, and Crusaders. To show this, I have two LEGO
BJ: What inspired you to start building video game inspired models?
BVB: With video game themes, I always wanted to create models like these since I was young, but at the time I was too unskilled. As a child, I would often get inspired by Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. Probably back when I was 11, I wanted to create a large replica of Dr. Robotnik’s Death Egg, but alas, lacked necessary pieces and skill level. Flash forward to around 2011, after I’ve been living in New York for about a year: I wanted to stake a claim in the geeky/nerd fandom universe by creating some memorable and monumental LEGO creations based on video games. In late 2011, I began production for my massive “Fireflower Airship” — a large replica of an airship level from Super Mario Bros. 3. Around this time, I also worked on creating the first two transforming Nintendo accessories, Domaster and Plasmashock — Game Boy and Zapper, respectively. With the positive feedback from these aforementioned models, I would go on to create many others, which eventually led Nintendo of America to contact me to create a sculpture for their flagship store in 2013.
BJ: What led you to building the transforming game consoles?
BVB: An early inspiration for the transforming game consoles came about from seeing the crossover Marvel/Transformer figures from the 2000s. There was a line of toys that featured superheroes and Star Wars characters transforming into vehicles, such as Darth Vader transforming into a TIE Fighter. This inspired me to create models of Mario and Luigi transforming into a Zapper and a Game Boy. In the early Mario games, Fire Flower Mario was dressed in red and white, and in my early concepts, I planned on making the grey and orange Zapper transform into a red and white Mario, whereas the green and grey Game Boy would transform into Fire Flower Luigi. This proved dubious for two major reasons: the first is that due to space limitations, it would be physically impossible to have the robot modes resemble Mario or Luigi with such detail. The other reason of course is that the Game Boy robot ended up looking short and stocky, with the Zapper being tall and narrow — which would be exact opposite body types of Mario and Luigi! Eventually I just kept the Game Boy and Zapper to be original robots akin to traditional Transformer designs, and then maintained this ascetic theme for subsequent models.
BJ: And what got you into electronic lit models?
BVB: With the electronic models, this started as a byproduct of my Fireflower Airship from early 2012. When I first began construction of the ship in late 2011, I decided to “dazzle” the project by installing lights to give it something special, aside from just being a huge replica. My original plan was to make the back of the ship glow with an illuminated sprite of a Fire Flower, and then to install a sound system to play the Super Mario Bros. 3 airship music on a constant loop. This was because I planned on showcasing the ship at art galleries and conventions, and the idea of a sound system with lights would make the whole ship more interesting to people who’d potentially come to see it at the shows. Sadly, due to stability issues (making it difficult to move without breaking), I never showcased the airship at any shows, and because of this, I scrapped the sound system idea at the last minute. As for the lights, however, I succeeded in installing a very crude light and battery system to output illumination for the rear of the ship. This was prior to when I had any real electrical skills, so my crude circuit barely worked, and the light output was rather dull.
Meanwhile, during downtime of the airship’s construction, I made several Mario-themed models to accompany the ship at potential public art shows. One of the Mario-themed creations was a mosaic sprite lamp, using the same sort of techniques as the glowing Fire Flower sprite from the back of the ship, but to be illuminated via a lamp cord that I could plug into a wall. The design scheme for this lamp contained a cube shape with ? block sprites. The mosaic concept was made entirely with transparent LEGO bricks, thus making the illuminated version resemble a Tiffany Lamp or a stained-glass window. Although the lamps looked cool when glowing, unfortunately the transparent LEGO bricks appeared dull and discolored when the lights were off. This led me to create a new concept of inserting transparent LEGO tiles and plates into Technic bricks, so that when turned off, the lamps would still have their colors visible and vibrant. This new concept was developed by me later in 2013, and I soon created several new illuminated projects based on this “bedazzled” concept. The final designs were reminiscent of the old toy called “Lite Brite”, which allowed people to create glowing mosaic patterns using a dot matrix grid.
Some of my more sophisticated and elaborate electronic creations came about as a result of always trying to outdo myself. For instance, after making projects which lit up, my next logical step would be to make projects that also play sounds in addition to lighting up. With that said, throughout the summer of 2014, I worked tirelessly to learn Arduino and program microchips to allow my LEGO projects to simultaneously glow and play music. Since 2015, I haven’t made too many electronic creations, and instead went into honing my photography skills and eventually getting better with stop-motion animation. I plan on making more electronic LEGO models in the future, but as of lately I’ve mainly focused all of my time and effort into animations.
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