Thursday, 14 August 2008

Interview with Chris Doyle, creator of the world famous Lego Mini-Mizer

"Sushi" © Chris Doyle


Mission Statement of Chris Doyle's reasonablyclever.com:

Reasonably Clever strives to be just that: Reasonably Clever. To be an on-line time waster of national renown, to entertain as well as instruct, and maybe...just maybe ...create world peace through effective use of LEGO bricks.


Funny, I've only just seen that mission statement and it looks like Chris and I have been thinking along the same lines for years...


I've always been a huge fan of Lego. I've been playing with it since the mid 60s and I still buy Lego now, for me to play with, and I'm nearly fifty.

For the past six years I've been using an online tool to create yourself in Lego called Mini-Mizer. I create an online Lego self-portrait on average once a year. It's a far cheaper and more instant way to get an accurate snapshot of what's going on inside your head than going to a shrink or as we say in the UK, going to see a psychotherapist.


Self-portrait, May 2002. Going through a nightmare of a second divorce. Ready to be creative but too distressed.
© Jude Calvert-Toulmin

As well as being lots of fun, building yourself in Lego is also in my opinion a serious tool for self-analysis. For it to work as such, use the Lego to express how you feel without worrying what anyone will think. This is just for you; you're aiming at a realistic self-portrait of how you would look if you had the option to have a mermaid's tail, light saber, wings etc.

After this intro blurb I am deeply honoured to present an interview with the creator of the world famous Mini-Mizer, Chris Doyle himself, but if you're dying to get stuck in and build yourself in Lego, then here's the link to Chris's reasonablyclever.com Updated Mini-Mizer so you can see where your head's at before returning to read the interview with Chris! If you've been into Mini-Mizer for years like me you may want to use the old school version, Original Mini-Mizer which is far lower res but with different options.

So I thought I'd email Chris with some interview questions in the hope that he'd reply. He did, and the interview is below, just scroll down through some Mini-Mizers of me, my partner Brian and my son Jasper over the last six years so you can see in context how progressively over time Mini-Mizers do reflect the state of a person's life:


Self-portrait by my partner Brian, May 2002. Ready to defend his new damsel against the world. "Insult my woman and you'll get this tomato and lettuce sarnie in yer face, luv." © Jude Calvert-Toulmin


Self-portrait by my son Jasper, May 2002, not liking very much what is going on in divorce-land. © Jude Calvert-Toulmin


Self-portrait, May 2005. Living with my beloved Brian near the woods, just started writing my first novel and feeling like anything is possible.© Jude Calvert-Toulmin



Self-portrait, May 2006 - Finished my novel, MY ADVENTURES IN CYBERSPACE (due for publication 2009) having spent a long time examining characters and writing about flame wars in the Wild West days of cyberspace at the turn of the millenium. My son Jasper chose the Wonder Woman headband for me which is telling. © Jude Calvert-Toulmin


Self-portrait, September 2006. Brian has now copy edited MY ADVENTURES IN CYBERSPACE and I'm looking for a publisher. Still got an itching to design the cover myself though (note artist's palette.) © Jude Calvert-Toulmin



Self-portrait, August 2008. Ready for take-off. In the process of setting up my own publishing company, having written a second novel purely to meet market demand, with the satisfaction of having designed my own cover and the book's layout. Here I am carrying the prototype proof copy of Mother-in-Law, Son-in-Law, which is currently undergoing a final edit and will be published in September 2008! © Jude Calvert-Toulmin




Self portrait by Brian, August 2008 by Brian - a happy craftsman.
© Jude Calvert-Toulmin



Self-portrait by Jasper, August 2008 by Jasper- a happy teenager.
© Jude Calvert-Toulmin

Interview with Chris Doyle, creator of the world famous Lego Mini-Mizer.

Jude: Hi Chris, I'm a huge fan of your work, I built my first Mini-Mizer in 2002 and am planning a new blog article about the use of Mini-Mizers as a tool for self-analysis. Would you mind doing an interview for the article?

Chris: I'm quite honored that you're interested in the person behind the 'mizers. I'm also quite fascinated by your insightful use of them - this is the first time I've thought of them in terms of "tools" rather than just "time wasters." That said, I'd be glad to answer your questions. :)

Jude: Thanks for getting back to me :) Believe me the honour is all mine, I think you're a total legend! When did you first start using Lego? Back in the 60s, a Lego era defined by various white window frames and red and blue roof tiles, or later?

Chris: Actually I was LEGO-deprived as a child. My parents were beyond reproach in most every way, but they did make the mistake of buying me the Sears Knock- off "Brix Blox" instead of the (admittedly more expensive) LEGO brand. As I child I swore that - if I ever reached adulthood - I would buy an entire room full of LEGO bricks. It was around 1998 or so when I finally started working on that childhood goal. Better late than never, I suppose...

(The full story and pics are here: http://www.reasonablyclever.com/lego/room/index.html )


Jude: What was your favourite Lego set as a kid?

Chris: I remember lusting after most of the Space themed sets - I was a big science fiction fan as a lad. I don't recall focusing on any one in particular, though. Even then I was more interested in the range of pieces available in the sets, rather than the suggested model. I wanted to make my own stuff! Well, okay, I wanted to make Battlestar Galactica ships. But you have to start somewhere...

Jude: What do you think of the way Lego has progressed since the early days with the current tie- ins with movies and books?

Chris: Personally, I like the tie-ins. Hitching on to popular movies and trends means more shelf-space for LEGO at the store, which translates into more new sets and thus interesting parts for me to create with. LEGO remains very good about introducing and expanding their own in-house themes, too.


"Flesh-Peddler" © Big Daddy Nelson

There have been some controversial developments due to the tie-ins, though. For example, the 2003 NBA sets introduced the concept of "flesh tones" to LEGO mini-figures. Since then, LEGO has decided to produce all of their media tie-in characters in "correct pigmentation" rather than the previously-universal yellow. I found the addition of diversity to the line as welcome - but there's a large purist fan base that despises the "fleshies".


Peer Pressure © mijasper

It's not shocking I'm on the diversity side of the fence - the Mini-Mizer was already offering skin toned minis back in 2000. ;)

Jude: (Asunt to readers: Way. To. Go. Ahead of his time as usual.)

Who is your favourite comic book hero?



Chris: I've always been a big fan of Green Lantern. I liked the idea of a normal human who was able to use his imagination so directly - being able to will-power his ideas into reality. Plus, his costume was a lot cooler than Superman's.


Jude: What do you think of The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker?

Chris: I enjoyed both. Ledger's Joker is the most interesting take on the character to date - it was the first time I saw him as a truly menacing force, rather than a bit of overplayed camp.

But I still liked Iron Man more. ;)


Above, Iron Man from the recent movie.


Jude: How many emails do you get a week from fans?

Chris: One or two? I do have some daily interaction with visitors in my blog, but direct-to-my-inbox communication is fairly rare. Those few emails, however, tend to be more than just a quick "kewl site!" or "you suck" comments. I'm quite content with the signal-to-noise ratio.

Jude: Do you manage to answer much of your fan mail?

Chris: I try and answer everything, although sometimes it's a few days before I get a chance to type a decent reply.


Above: The Moon from The Major Arcana of Tarot Cards in Lego © Chris Doyle

Jude: Do Lego know about you and would you ever consider working for them?

Chris: A few years ago I had incorporated the LEGO logo into the header art for my LEGO tarot set. I got a very nice email from LEGO-Legal telling me to revise that particular graphic. So I knew at that point I was on their radar!


Last year I was contacted by LEGO to possibly help them design an in-store figure creator. They were obviously quite familiar with my mini-mizers at that point, and some of the folks I talked to told me they were fans of my other LEGO creations. It seemed some sort of collaboration was in the works, but something happened on their end and I was cut out of the loop and my emails stopped being returned.

I suppose I could be bitter about that, but honestly I'm still tickled that they even considered involving me. And, of course, I'd jump at the chance to work with them again should the occasion arise.

Jude: Lego should immediately take you on and put you on a whacking great salary. It's obvious to anyone with half a brain that you're a genius. I think Lego without you is like Tracy Island without Brains. Anyway, when was the last time you built yourself using the Mini-Mizer and have you kept any of your previous results? If so would you send me some to include on the blog?


Chris: I do tend to make little LEGO versions of myself from time to time, but I use real bricks rather than my virtual ones. (The LEGO me has shown up in my comics a few times, for example here: http://www.reasonablyclever.com/bh/399.html )


There are two previous virtual versions on-line, though. First, there's the "mini-me" on the front page of the Classic 'Mizer - the figure on the left holding the rose.


In the newer 'Mizer, my self-image is here in the teaser graphic: http://www.reasonablyclever.com/mizers.html (Black Tiki shirt and jeans. Strangely, that matches what I'm wearing today.)

Jude: My son Jasper recently gave me a Lego treasure chest full of Lego jewels as a token of affection. That is possibly the most lovely present I've ever had. What Lego would you give to someone you loved as a gift and why?


Chris: I created this Vig as a birthday present for my Dad.
This year some of my closest friends had lost loved ones, and that of course prompted thoughts of "limited time" and "don't wait until they're gone". So instead of finding just another DVD set I thought he'd enjoy, I built this little tribute to the bond we share. If nothing else, I hoped it was a step up from the "Macaroni Faces on Paper Plates" he got while I was in grade school.
I wanted a simple image that had a quiet, contemplative feel to it. That's a Mini-Mized version of him standing, the Mini-Me in front is pretty much how I look these days (although the glasses are missing.) This isn't based on any specific moment in our lives, but the whole "looking out over the water in the same direction" thing does resonate with me.
I thought of doing something with a more "junior" me - maybe something from that Macaroni-Face era - but I also wanted to stress that he's just as important to me now as he was back then.
http://www.reasonablyclever.com/bricktionary/father/index.htm




Above: Three views of "Sushi" from the Lego Bricktionary © Chris Doyle



The bricktionary definition for Vodka which was, according to Chris, "Loosely based on a Vodka-Tasting Party a friend and I attended" © Chris Doyle

I urge you to visit Chris's site and look through every page because everything is great. Finally, here are some shots of Chris's Lego room:

"The open drawer holds my current favorite part - a 1x1 tile with a slope on it. (Like a little wedge). It's an awesome detail piece that LEGO only recently started making. This is the sort of detail that I longed for back in '78. Well, better late than never. " © Chris Doyle
"A bin of monkeys! (Haven't you always wanted a Monkey?" © Chris Doyle
"I swore, with all the energy and determination of a seven year old's tantrum, that if I ever reached adulthood I would buy SO MANY REAL LEGO BRICKS that it would take an entire room to hold them all! That I would BUIILD and BUILD and BUILD until my fingers bled!
And, as things worked out, I did indeed reach adulthood. (Note I didn't say I grew up any, though.)
And, as things worked out, I did indeed fill that room with LEGO bricks." © Chris Doyle


In case I haven't already put enough links, here's the home page of reasonablyclever.com.

Here's Chris's Buy-Me-Mizer where you can use existing parts in the Lego range to build yourself and then buy the result!

So another HUGE thank you to Chris Doyle for allowing me to interviewing him. After initially thanking Chris for the interview, he said this:

Chris: I was wondering if I could have one-time permission to reproduce "Rubber Stamp 1" on a LEGO torso - the next time my mini-figure appears in my comic, I'd like to have him wearing a shirt with that print on it.

Jude: Bloody Nora, YES! That's as good as winning an Oscar!



Rubber Stamp 1
© Jude Calvert-Toulmin


Photobucket

Above: 'Mizer me on a promo T-shirt. Modelled by my mannequin Marina (named after Marina in Stingray, of course.)