Building A Scene With Lego

03 May 2016

Lego fires up the imagination of kids and adults alike. We meet two fans who have created fascinating worlds out of Lego, proving that it’s more than just a toy.

When you hear the word ‘Lego’, what do you imagine? An inarticulate potpourri of colourful blocks built by a child? Or maybe a slew of licensed sets, inspired by the tent poles of pop culture?

For some, Lego is a form of expression. Builders find inspiration and create customised builds of their own, big or small, to showcase their keen eye for detail. Two such builders are Adly Syairi Ramly and Kevin Ong.

Adly is a Malaysian media stalwart whose vignettes have been featured in the New Musical Express, Time, Billboard and The Huffington Post, among others. He creates mini-panoramas highlighting bands, streetwear and even movie posters, capturing pop culture in bite-sized pieces. Even more impressive is that it’s all done with nothing more than Lego minifigurines, a few parts and an iPhone camera.

The process that’s taken to create his vignettes is no small feat. “I normally start with a picture of a subject to be ‘Legolised’. Then, I compose each character using elements, like the hairpiece, face, torso and legs, that are in my collection.”

“Once I’m happy with the ‘Legolised’ version of each character, I start toying with composition ideas. Is it a promo shot? Or a scene from their live shows? I start taking photographs using my iPhone. I normally shoot on a white background; a white mounting board works like a charm. There’s no special lighting. Just your normal ceiling lights. Additional editing for T-shirt designs and logos are done on my iPhone using the Superimpose app.”

“All the pictures do not go through any desktop editing. Everything is done on my iPhone. It takes between 30 minutes to an hour to come up with a ‘Legolised’ shot, depending on how much work is required.”

The work he does comes from a place of passion. “I try not to get sucked into the world of making money from your hobby. I rarely do commissioned work. To date, the ‘paid’ commission work I’ve done was for Astro. I created a few minifig dioramas for Astro’s Strawberi Karipap franchise, as well as two sets for the Polis Evo movie.”

Adly’s passion can be seen in his work, which speaks for itself. “I did the lookbook for Pharrell Williams’ clothing line, Billionaire Boys Club’s first ever kids collection. I did The Beatles’ Songs Legolised for NME Magazine, and artwork for The Pixies’ official band merchandise. I also did a Greatest World Cup Moments Legolised [series] for Highsnobiety and Movie Posters Legolised for The Huffington Post. These are collaborations I did solely out of fun and personal satisfaction.”

“I’m currently working on two upcoming collaborations. One is a three-way collaboration between local streetwear brand Mutha Puaka and the Crossover Concept Store; and the other one is for international streetwear brand SSUR. I’m also pitching for some potential cover art for The Pixies’ upcoming album.”

For Kevin, his love for Lego began as a six-year-old with a Deep Sea Barracuda Pirate Ship that his parents had bought him for Christmas. Now 30, the Director of the Acappella Suite Hotel is a budding Lego creator with eyes on building his own designs.

The inspiration for Kevin’s first Lego build came in 2013, while on his pre-wedding photo shoot in Penang. His wife had remarked about how a shophouse had caught her eye, and after pondering over what his first build would be, the pieces clicked together. His MOC (My Own Creation in Lego terminology) was a Christmas present to his new bride. Since then, Kevin has constructed five more builds – but it’s that shophouse that still means the most to him, as it was created with his wife in mind.

When it comes to getting inspired, Kevin turns to real-world aesthetics, rooted deeply in Malaysia’s past. It lends a lot to his customised builds. “My designs are largely based on actual Colonial-era styled buildings around Malaysia. I’ve always taken a great interest in culture and history, and I decided to go with my passion for such buildings. I strongly believe it brings to life the rich architectural heritage left over from days past.”

The process in which Kevin creates his builds is straightforward. He’s also the first to admit that he’s not a “designer”, per se. “I’d rather draw a design based on existing buildings with unique architectural features, as architects do a better job at actual designing! Upon settling on a particular design, I use Lego Digital Designer to plan out the structure and internal layout. With LDD’s access to most Lego parts, I create a virtual build to know the exact parts to get. But this does come with limitations, as it does not allow you assurance in terms of the structure’s stability. Many a time, it would be back to the drawing board.”

It’s not difficult to imagine that as a man, Kevin would be so entrenched in Lego, from the moment he held that pirate ship as a child. His words of wisdom to budding self-taught builders is a simple one.

“The greatest advice I could give is to go back to the basics. Lego started with just the basic bricks and plates which form the basis of any build. Lots of features in my builds look very complicated. But they are really just made from basic and common parts, combined with build technique.”

By Ian Tai
Photos of Adly’s creations courtesy of Adly Syairi Ramly

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