Welcome to the first in TLCB’s new interview series;
How to Become a Lego Professional
In this series we’re interviewing builders who have taken their hobby to the next level, and who are now earning an income from their Lego building, either via a full time career, or via side projects such a commissioned creations or book publication. If you’re interested in a career working with Lego, these builders can help you, because they’ve made it happen. Let’s get started…
Pro No.1 | Sariel
Here at TLCB Towers we’ve been taking it in turns to flick through a rather beautiful new book. It comes from the renowned Technic builder Sariel, and it’s available to buy via No Starch Press from this month.
Sariel, fill us in – Incredible Lego Technic is like The Lego Car Blog for your coffee table – only far better written – how did you manage to get so many brilliant models from builders around the world involved?
Well, apparently the fear of small obese rodents is more widespread than you thought, or – on a more serious note – we simply have the privilege to be part of an amazing community. To some people it may seem that Lego builders are natural competitors to each other, but in reality I think our community was always about giving and receiving help. Just think of Jennifer Clark and her elaborate articles published with every single of her models. I’m sure they were immensely helpful to countless Technic builders – I know they were to me. I’m very proud to be part of this community, seeing so much respect and selflessness among its members on a daily basis. We are simply a pleasant bunch and this is what made a book like this possible.
Believe it or not, but I never once heard “no” when reaching out to various and usually rather busy individuals. Even though I was asking for a lot of work and effort, including filling some boring legal documents and using work “deadlines” in every second sentence, everyone was happy to contribute – in fact, some builders, like Sheepo, not only joined the project but actively helped me to reach other people. Other people went out of their way to help, too – e.g. Crowkillers did quite a bit of driving to get his models back from exhibitions, Nico71 has rebuilt some of his models from a scratch, and several people were kind enough to take photos of their models according to my specifications. And then there is Blakbird, without whose help I simply wouldn’t dare to make this book.
Of course I had my hands full coordinating the work of over 40 people – that is the builders, Blakbird and the No Starch Press crew. I believe I’ve sent no less than 4,500 emails in the process, that is over 25 emails per day, every day for six months straight. But in the end I just can’t stress enough how much help I received from our builders. So let me put it this way: without all these folks, I could maybe publish a pamphlet.
Quality photography is one of our key reasons for blogging creations. Incredible Lego Technic’s images are amongst the best we’ve seen – how were they created?
Thank you. This was the goal from the very beginning – we wanted something quite different from my first book, the Unofficial Lego Technic Builder’s Guide, which is a helpful book but one that looks like an MIT manual and thus is not accessible to everyone. The task we set for the Incredible Lego Technic is inspiring the people who are part of this hobby already, and – even more importantly – luring as many unsuspecting victims as possible into getting creative with the little plastic pieces. And I can’t think of a better, more accessible way to do this than with some proper eye candy.
Again, there’s a long list of people who ought to be thanked for what you see in the book. There are the builders, many of whom are accomplished photographers in their own right. There are many of them, but let me just mention Drakmin and Mahj – they have both provided material on the “I can’t possibly make it any better” level, and I’m saying this as a graphic designer with 9 years of experience. Barman76 is also to be thanked for helping others with photos, and so is RoscoPC who went as far as to involve a professional photographer, Marco Angeretti, to do his models justice.
Then there is Blakbird whose merits were nothing less than crucial. Apart from creating the amazing renders you can see in the book – and which he has released for free – he has actively helped me to pick the models for the book, to contact the builders, and provided advice pretty much every step of the long way. And then there is the talented No Stach Press crew, including designers and compositors who were a delight to work with. I’ve set some guidelines for the look of this book, and while following them somehow they were able to come up with a result far better than anything I’ve had in mind.
Again, I’ve worked hard on these photos too because I wanted them to meet very high standards. I’ve probably handled a few hundred of them, actually more than you’ll see in the book because some were left unused. You can see where this work started and where it ended at the example of VFracingteam‘s amazing tugboat. But in the end the results are good because the source material from the builders was good, and I can only repeat the pamphlet thing again.
Many of our readers are interested in a career in bricks, and you’ve made it happen! Tell us how you got started…
I’m not sure I would actually call it a career. I’m simply one of many, many good builders, I was lucky enough to get a chance to write some books, and I enjoy making videos way too much to stop. I have a regular job and life outside of this, so for me it’s still a hobby. If you wonder how I find time for all this, I guess I’m just well organized and I avoid wasting my time on e.g. watching TV. Besides, I’m one of these people who explode when forced to do nothing 🙂
I guess up to some point I was just a regular kid with a handful of Lego sets (I remember how being limited boosted my creativity) and then just a regular guy coming out of the dreaded Dark Age and pulling some dusty boxes back from the attic. When did this become something more, I honestly can’t say. Some of my early decisions, like publishing my MOCs in English, probably helped, but there was also a fair bit of luck and snowball effect involved. So I can’t say it was a predetermined process, I remember that I made my first YouTube video specifically because someone wanted to see if some simple car of mine was really as fast as I claimed it to be, and I started my website largely to satisfy my obsessive need to catalog my creations for future reference. It helps me to build when I can go back and check stuff like “how much did this that fast car from 3 years ago weigh and what gear ratio was in it?”. And as for the YouTube, well, I simply make the kind of videos I’d like to watch (and for some reason there’s more people who enjoy the bricks/rodents/weird humor mix). But that’s only because Mahj, my video guru, doesn’t publish often enough to keep me watching all the time 🙂
All things told, I consider myself simply an avid enthusiast who got some recognition, much of it by luck. But there are others out there who deserve no less. I hope the Incredible Lego Technic book will do them some justice.
And now your book is available to buy! How did you get your work published by the guys at No Starch Press?
That’s actually a funny story. A few years ago I wrote a long tutorial on Lego gears and gear ratios, and it caught the eye of an editor working for the NSP. He emailed me and I was half-convinced it was some sort of spam, but there was nothing about enlarging your body parts so I answered after all 😉 I did that exactly at the moment the NSP were relocating their offices, and my answer got lost in the process. I didn’t think much of it back then, but two months later I decided to write again, just not to leave this thing hanging. This time they weren’t relocating.
The nice thing from NSP is that they essentially let me pick what kind of book I want to write. I have assumed this could be a once in a lifetime chance, so I went for a book I believed would be most helpful to our community: a book telling pretty much all I learned about Lego Technic. It was a very ambitious plan and I had no prior writing experience, so I can’t thank NSP enough for letting me do this (not to mention I was writing in my second language). There were some doubts, as you can expect from reasonable people, but in the end they appreciated the quality of my writing and offered a great support. They also had a considerable input into shaping this book but respected my creative control. We enjoy working together and we have a very good chemistry now – I mean, what other publisher would tell me “this book needs more hamsters”? 🙂
For me, the very first step to having a book published is putting together a draft that tells what kind of book it’s going to be, who is it for and what should it look like. I won’t get into details, but I can tell you that the end result is always far better than my initial draft. Once the draft has been talked over and agreed upon, there follows a formal contract and long months of hard work and sending out ungodly amounts of emails. I’m kind of surprised they haven’t shut down my Gmail account yet.
While I can only say good things about my publisher, it doesn’t mean that getting these books done was easy. They are both rather ambitious and, more importantly, unprecedented. Each of them was kind of a shot in the dark because we’re doing new things, things whose end results we can’t possibly know for sure, and all of this while trying to respect the economic reality that determines how long a book can be. It’s all kind of a friendly struggle, with me striving to make a book that lives up to the highest expectations I can think of, and the publisher trying to keep my feet on the ground. For example, I tend to notoriously go over the planned pagecount and NSP lets me get away with that, but obviously to a reasonable degree. With Incredible Lego Technic, that degree was 30 extra pages, I believe.
I’m very happy with how Incredible Lego Technic turned out, but the whole “shot in the dark” thing means that I wish we had a few more pages for every model and showed a few less models of mine. You see, on one hand it was very difficult to plan the exact length of every model’s entry and to anticipate how much space various other elements such as e.g. the Builders section will take. On the other hand, we wanted to maintain the number of models we promised, so when near the end of the whole process a few models dropped out due to technical reasons (problems with photos, mainly), the quickest solution was to use some of my models instead – it spared us a lot of legal paperwork because I was the only builder in the book from whom formal permissions to use anything were not required. I would much prefer to show less of my models and give more pages to other builders, but oh well… Ideally, the book should include some 200 models, each with 10 pages for the main entry and complete building instructions included. But then it would be the size and weight of a regular car, and with a similar price, too.
We’re very glad it all worked out – the Lego community needs books like this one! Finally, we can’t finish this interview without asking two very important questions; 1. What’s your favourite creation featured in Incredible Lego Technic? and 2. Will there be an Incredible Lego Technic II?
I can’t possibly pick just one favourite creation – I have 74 of them 🙂 They’re all my favourites, which is exactly why they’re in this book. Each of them was just as challenging, inspiring and rewarding to work on and I’m proud I could do something to show them to a broader public.
As for another book like this one, I suppose it’s possible but not anytime soon. I haven’t really talked to the publisher about it yet, primarily because I still have some ideas for a book quite different than my first two, so why serve the same dish when you can cook another? I imagine a few years have to pass before there’s enough material for a book that would provide no less content of no lower quality. But then you can never have too many opportunities to show Lego-riding hamsters 😉
A huge thank you to Sariel and No Starch Press for taking the time to join us here at The Lego Car Blog. Incredible Lego Technic is available to buy now, and is the perfect glossy coffee table book for all fans of Technic, vehicles or quality engineering – click here to get hold of your copy.
You can read our expert review of Incredible Lego Technic via TLCB Reviews page, plus you can read more about many of the builders featured in Sariel’s book by visiting our Master MOCers interview series.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into how a Lego fan just like you turned his hobby into a profession, and we’ll be back soon with more wise words from another amazing builder who has turned his Lego building into a paid career!