Blog |

10K CLUB INTERVIEW: VIA Rail Canada - The Canadian by Nick Lafreniere

One of Canada’s most famous icons, running from Toronto all the way to Vancouver, in operation since 1950, Nick Lafreniere presents his 10k product idea - VIA Rail Canada - The Canadian. Please welcome Nick aka NickLafreniere1 in 10k Club! Learn more about him and his idea. He has a lot to share!

 

ABOUT YOURSELF

  1. Who are you? 
    Nick Lafreniere
     
  2. Where are you from?
    Toronto, Canada
     
  3. How old are you?
    26 years old
     
  4. What do you study or do for a living?
    I do electronics repair, as well as a wee bit of product development, for my small e-commerce business.
     
  5. What hobbies do you have?
    I enjoy building LEGO Ideas projects, listening to music (classic rock & funk), playing retro video games (Nintendo), making art, and watching comedy movies. 
     
  6. Do you have a personal LEGO portfolio website that you can share with us?
    All of my LEGO-related work is on LEGO Ideas. I don’t really make MOCs – everything I build is either a LEGO Ideas product idea or a contest entry!
     
  7. Have you created any LEGO MOCs (my own creations) that you’re particularly proud of? What is it, why are you proud it and do you have a photo of it?
    Of all my builds so far on LEGO Ideas, my favorite would be my VIA Rail Canada – The Corridor model. I absolutely love the bold colors, the shaping, and the stickers I made for it. I actually built the locomotive with physical bricks myself and it was a tremendous experience to have my digital design come to life.  This training model is also sentimental to me as I take this train when I visit my family in my hometown, Ottawa.
     
  8. How and when did your interest for LEGO products come about?
    I have been a LEGO fan for as long as I can remember. When I was a little kid, my brother and I had quite a bit of LEGO from the late ’90s and early 2000s.  Ever since I was 4 years old, I have subscribed to the LEGO Club Magazine as well as the holiday catalogs. I would spend countless hours looking at every picture of LEGO I could get my hands on. I would dream about getting sets I didn’t have, and I would often try and build the sets I didn’t have with my own pieces by copying the pictures. I would also try and make my builds as “professional-looking” as possible since my inspiration was all the official LEGO pictures.

    I made some great stuff in the past, but sadly never took any pictures of my creations. I also always preferred to build from my imagination instead of the instructions. Usually, after completing a set, I would destroy it after like 30 minutes and start building my own thing.

    As a teen, I discovered Brickset.com, which opened me up to the entire history of LEGO sets. I would browse through every set ever made, and just absorb the information – techniques, pieces, instructions, etc.

    When the LEGO Ideas platform was new, I had an interest in participating. When I was younger, I thought about being a LEGO designer, but never thought it would be a real opportunity. With the LEGO Ideas platform, anyone has the chance to try – for FREE, anytime you want! I knew that if I didn’t give this my best shot, I would be kicking myself for the rest of my life if I never tried.

    I started building digitally with LDD several years ago and now use Stud.io to design some LEGO models in my spare time, whenever the inspiration strikes. I enjoy buying a couple of new LEGO sets each year, but I mainly like building my own creations on the computer. 
     
  9. What is LEGO for you? What does it mean for you? How does it fit in your life? E.g. build, display, meetups, play the games.. or 'just' watch the cartoons. 
    LEGO is an art medium. I consider LEGO models to usually fall into 3 main categories: building, vehicle, and sculpture/object. The elements and principles of art & design all apply to LEGO – form, proportion, texture, color, contrast, perspective, etc. 

    I think that LEGO is the most accessible art medium available. When you buy a LEGO set, everything you need is included in the box. You do not need tools, or glue, or paint – you just use your hands. You do not need to learn techniques/skills to assemble the model, you simply just click one LEGO piece to another without any tricks involved. Anyone can build LEGO, even if they have never done it before.

    Recreating an object in LEGO is kind of like solving a puzzle. Selecting which piece to use is logical since your choices are limited by the measurements of various parts of the model. It’s very satisfying when I finally finish building something and I end up with a little piece of art after I complete it! 
     
  10. What is your favourite LEGO theme (current or past)? Why? And has any theme inspired your building style or preference in any particular way?
    My favorite current theme is the Creator Expert/18+ theme, as well as the Ideas theme. The Ideas theme is incredible! It allows anyone to participate, whether you make something, or just vote for a project. You have the opportunity to vote and even talk to the fan designer, and everyone who comments can have an influence on the final product. It’s amazing that LEGO as a company allows their fans to get this involved with product development!

    Some themes I like in the past were the 9V Trains theme. As a kid, I always dreamed about getting those train sets, such as the LEGO Santa Fe train sets. What I like about the Trains theme is that you get so much detail, functionality, realism, as well as special electronics pieces to add to the models. There’s also lots of enjoyment to be had laying down train tracks and making decisions on how you want to lay them to go. There are so many choices to make when you start designing a train layout – straight tracks, curves, switches, bridges, hills, buildings on the side…

    Some of my most favorite sets of all time are the ones based on real-life companies, such as the really cool airline promotional sets, the ferry promotional sets, the Shell gas station sets, the milk trucks, and the Maersk vehicles! These are my favorite kind of set because they are the most true-to-life and have a special, memorable way of obtaining them, which makes them collectible!
     
  11. What is your favourite official LEGO set? Why?
    My favorite official LEGO set is the 10268 Vestas Wind Turbine. This set has everything for me:

    -it’s big and tall
    -includes electronic pieces, including lights!!
    -modeled after a real-life object with a real company’s branding
    -has a bit of Technic in there
    -you get some nature (trees, green hill pieces, flowers, a bench)
    -a pretty detailed vehicle and tools are included
    -you get a house on a baseplate that is inspired by the classic 80’s LEGOLAND house sets
    -there’s even an animal included!

    This was a set that I had briefly owned several years ago. I used many pieces from my own collection and then ordered the rest of the pieces on Bricklink to complete them myself. At the time, this set was not for sale to the public and was only given to Vestas employees, so it was awesome to get it myself. I eventually sold the set though… When I saw that the set got re-released in 2018, I knew I had to get it again before it was too late! I was very happy with my purchase and it’s a set that I will build, then take apart, and then build again for many years to come.

    The other favorite set of mine is the NASA Saturn V rocket. I don’t own it, but I got it for my dad for his birthday a few years ago. He never had his own LEGO set before, but as a fan of the Apollo space program, he really enjoyed the LEGO model. The NASA Saturn V is the best LEGO set ever made – it’s flawless. There is nothing wrong with how it’s built, and it was so impressive to figure out how the perfectly round shape of the rocket was achieved. The price of the set is also such a good deal, that nearly anyone would want to buy it!
     
  12. What is your favourite LEGO element? Why?
    The best LEGO elements are the bricks and brackets with studs on the side, aka “SNOT” (Studs Not On Top). The SNOT elements started to become quite popular around the mid-2000s and were a revolution in LEGO’s development. Before the popularity of the SNOT pieces, most LEGO sets were only built in a primitive method where bricks were simply just stacked on top of other bricks. Now that we have so many specialized pieces to build with studs on the side, we can create forms in all directions, like sideways as well as upside down. Building sideways allows so many more possibilities for adding detail and better capturing an object’s form.

    Now my personal favorite family of LEGO elements is the “panel” elements. I guess the 1x4x3 panel is my favorite piece. Panels are incredibly useful when making vehicles since they give you optimal interior space. I also like that panels can be used as a wall, a window if it’s transparent, or as a surface to place a decoration like a sticker/print. The panel pieces are also very economical – a small, thin piece that uses minimal plastic that covers lots of space. I also find that the “thinnest” pieces can give you the finest details, so they really make vehicles look more realistic.
     
  13. Is there a LEGO designer (official LEGO designer or fan designer) who you are inspired by and look up to? Who and why?
    My favorite LEGO designers are Jamie Berard, as well as Mike Psiaki and Carl Merriam.

    Jamie Berard is a legend. He has started both the Modular Building and Winter Village themes, as well as the various amusement park Creator Expert sets. Not only is he a master builder, but a genius at communication. I have watched every interview with LEGO designers so I can learn about what it’s like behind the scenes, and he by far does the best job describing and explaining what a LEGO product should be. For those familiar with Nintendo’s designers, I consider Jamie to be the Shigeru Miyamoto of LEGO.

    Mike Psiaki is a total master of LEGO geometry and capturing the form of models with complex shapes. Carl Merriam has worked in collaboration for many LEGO sets in development and has been heavily involved in the making of LEGO Boost and the new Mindstorms Inventor sets, which are incredible and innovative kits. Together, Mike and Carl work on a whole whack of different types of projects and it’s inspiring to see all the different things they get to design, especially the real-life, licensed Creator Expert stuff!
     
  14. Is there one or more particular LEGO related websites (not official LEGO websites) that you visit often and/or are inspired by?
    I always liked Bricklink.com, since you can browse through the entire history of LEGO’s products. I’ve been checking it out for years! It’s handy to use as a reference when I’m building something.

    NewElementary.com is a blog that shows off the newest LEGO elements and is so useful to find out that a brand-new piece could potentially improve the build that I’m working on.

     

ABOUT YOUR PROJECT

  1. Where did your interest in this particular model come from?
    My interest in the VIA Rail trains came from my personal experience taking the VIA Rail train many times from Toronto to Ottawa to visit my family. I’m not really much of a railfan or model train guy, but I always liked the look of VIA’s trains – they looked magnificent.

    My favourite LEGO theme of all time has always been the expert-level train sets like the LEGO Santa Fe sets, the Maersk Train, Horizon Express, and Emerald Night. I never owned any of those sets though. As a kid, I only had one train set, and it was set 4559 Cargo Railway from 1996, arguably the worst LEGO Train set, unfortunately – it was not realistic and had a bizarre concept. Fortunately, the back of the instructions for this set had some pictures of alternate build ideas that looked great! So after I completed building set 4559, I started taking it apart and built other trains with it. But I always still desired to have a great LEGO train set eventually…

    I always dreamed of making my own, custom, detailed train set that would look like one of LEGO’s official products. I thought that VIA Rail’s trains would look amazing in LEGO, so I started building it digitally on my computer. What started as just a build of one F40PH locomotive… ended up as 2 separate LEGO Ideas projects comprising of 7 train models altogether! 

    What really drove me to start building was the fact that there haven’t been many Canadian-themed LEGO sets in decades. While there are plenty of LEGO sets of things from the USA, UK, France, China, etc, there is basically no representation of some of the most famous Canadian icons. Most of the projects that I have made on LEGO Ideas are Canada-themed.


     
  2. How long was the process of making the project did, and what did you have to research as well. What kind of prep, research and design phases did you go through to produce your creation?
    It took a few years to get this project did. I started making it as early as 2015, and I would work on it occasionally, usually right after coming home from a train trip. I would work on it little by little but then take long breaks. In 2019, I decided that I want to completely finish my build and submit it on LEGO Ideas. I loved how it looked when I was designing it and felt like it was something extra special! I spent more time working on it as I was determined to finish it. I knew that this idea for a train could gather 10,000 votes - I just had to do the work.

    The project began with my yellow VIA F40PH locomotive, which is part of my other project VIA Rail Canada – The Corridor. While I was building that locomotive, I knew that I needed to build some passenger cars to go along with it. At the time, I didn’t really know much about VIA Rail’s trains (other than that they were really cool!) I did some research and began building 2 different styles of passenger cars: the LRC cars that are included in The Corridor, and the Budd cars that are included in The Canadian. I liked both styles equally, so it was then that I decided I was going to make 2 separate VIA Rail projects!

    After I was mostly finished building the yellow F40PH locomotive for The Corridor, I made a similar dark green variant of it (F40PH-3D) for The Canadian. The locomotive is similar, yet has quite a number of differences, and not just color differences. There are few differences in the shaping and it was a lot of fun to design the locomotive.
     
  3. What special challenges or frustrations did you face creating the model? What was the most difficult part to recreate? 
    The hardest part when creating the model was designing the big curve that goes on the side of the locomotive. I saved that part for the very end, as I had to build up my sticker-making skills to get to that point. The big curve on the side couldn’t just be copied exactly from the real train – it had to be adapted to my specific LEGO model. I spent lots of time making sure the big curve would be as optimized as possible so it wouldn’t be too complex, and that it would actually be feasible for an official LEGO set.

    The most challenging part to build was my new and innovative way to couple the train cars together. Although a bit unusual for a LEGO train, my passenger cars are built with small train wheels to accurately depict real-life train cars. The real-life VIA Rail train features passenger cars that were lower to the ground and had smaller wheels than the locomotive, so I did my best to recreate that. As a result of using the small train wheels, I could not use the regular magnetic train coupler pieces since they wouldn’t fit. Instead, I used my own method which involves connecting Technic elements to the single stud on the magnetic train coupler piece. This coupler piece has been around for several years, yet I haven’t seen anyone use the stud on it to make connections as I have. When I built a test model of my coupler physically with my own pieces, I couldn’t believe how strong it was! It’s like it was meant to do this all along!


     
  4. If you could talk to yourself before you started on this project, what would you tell him/her? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
    I would tell myself to go for it, even if it takes a ton of work and a long time to complete because the finished result will be something to be proud of.

    I now know what it takes to fully complete a LEGO Ideas project. You not only have to build, but you also have to design stickers, make a bunch of renders, photoshop those renders, and then share it as much as you can without being too annoying to people! 
     
  5. How long did it take to complete the model? Did you finish it fairly quickly, or did it take a long time? And how did the build time compare to the time you spent promoting your Product Idea to reach 10,000 supporters?
    I originally began the project in 2015, but only in the summer of 2019 did I start to really buckle down and work on it every day. I submitted it in May 2020 and the supporters grew quickly. After 8 weeks, it hit 5000 and was the fastest-supported LEGO Ideas train project at the time. Then it took some time but still coasted to the goal of 10K in February 2021.

    I spent a lot of time in the beginning promoting it, talking about the details, and answering as many questions as I could. There is so much going on in my set that the 15 picture limit for LEGO Ideas wasn’t enough to describe all the features of my product idea. I made 80+ pictures and would post updates that would take you on a detailed tour inside each train car, which helped keep people intrigued and waiting for the next update. 




     
  6. How did it feel when you reached the magic 10,000 votes and how long did it take?
    It took almost 10 months for the project to reach 10,000 votes. It felt great to read everyone’s comments on my project! I’m so glad that there are many people who really want my train to get released.
     
  7. Approximately how many LEGO bricks did you use to create your model?
    I used 2,312 pieces in total for The Canadian. Recently, a new curved roof LEGO element has been released in a 2021 set that would be incredibly useful for The Canadian and could potentially reduce the piece count by about 200 pieces, if I were to implement it now.

    Although this set has a bit more pieces than the Creator Expert trains such as the Maersk Train, Emerald Night, and Horizon Express, this train contains 1 locomotive and 3 passenger cars...which isn’t too much to ask! Especially when you consider that this train features less of the expensive train pieces, like the pricey train wheels, magnetic couplers, and specialized train plates – it’s still quite reasonable!
     
  8. What is your favourite building technique or part/section that you’ve incorporated into your Product Idea?
    The best building technique in The Canadian has to be for the dome roof on the Skyline car. Some people have made dome roofs in LEGO before, but never to this level of realism. The dome roof features many individual panes, can easily be lifted off the train in one piece, and also features a custom-printed windshield to finish the look. I nicknamed this printed windshield the “Star Wars windshield” as it reminds me of the old LEGO Star Wars Snowspeeder windshield. A commenter even asked if that piece was from a Star Wars set, so I’m not the only one who thought that! Some of my favourite LEGO pieces are the special-printed windscreens, so it was very cool to design one myself. It was a bit challenging since the piece is curved, so I had to make many iterations of the design until it finally aligned with the rest of the LEGO build.


     
  9. If you built your model digitally, what software did you use to build and render your model?
    I used Stud.io to design the model, as well as render the model. 
     
  10. If you used custom stickers or prints for your design, how did you create them or where did you get them?
    I used the Parts Designer program that comes with Stud.io to make the pieces with custom stickers/prints. I used GIMP, a free Photoshop alternative, to design all the graphics.

     

ABOUT LEGO IDEAS

  1. Do you have any useful advice about creating a successful LEGO Ideas project?
    My advice for LEGO Ideas is to first make sure you fully understand LEGO’s history and business practices. Go research LEGO’s entire product line to see what they have made, and know your sets well.
    Next, research LEGO Ideas. Learn about the rules of how the process works, but also get familiar with LEGO Ideas. Study all the LEGO Ideas projects that got 10k, whether they got approved or not. Learn from the successes as well as the failures. Understand the business side of why some projects get approved, and why some don’t.

    Now, when selecting something to build ask yourself some questions:

    •    Will this idea be an enjoyable, impressive LEGO set that people will run to the store to buy on day 1 of release? 
    •    Has my set been done before? If it has, have I introduced some new kind of building method that improves upon the past?
    •    If my build is based on an IP, (like a movie/TV show) is that IP famous/iconic? And will people who have never seen the IP still be able to understand what it is?
    •    How big should a set like this be? Will people actually buy it at this size?
    •    Lastly, who will my customers be? Is there a large market that I can target who would want to buy my set?
    While building, take your time and go over your model multiple times to keep improving it. Use large pieces to cover larger surfaces, instead of using many smaller pieces to achieve the same look. Make your build as efficient and inexpensive as possible, without compromising on the detail of course. Also consider making some details with stickers/prints instead, if you can do it.

    When finishing a LEGO Ideas project, make your main image the best you can make it. I usually support projects based on the main image alone, and so do many other people. Do your best to communicate what comes in the set, what the cool details are, and how it could possibly look like a real LEGO set. 

    Then when you go share your project, try and find some online communities to share it. Create posts in various subreddits, and contact a list of websites that may be related to the subject of your LEGO Idea. Some people will ban or block you when you post, or criticize your project, but keep trying anyway! If you do not put any effort into sharing your project, you will lose momentum and won’t gain as many supporters as you could be. 
     
  2. What (if any) methods did you use to advertise and attract support to your Product Idea?
    I have posted my projects on Reddit in various communities, as well as a train blog called traingeek.ca. Many of my supporters were non-LEGO fans and came from outside the LEGO Ideas community, and they were still very enthusiastic about the idea. A few of them shared it among their friends and families, as well as some employees of VIA Rail Canada!
     
  3. What is your favourite LEGO Ideas Product Idea (besides your own of course)? Are there any Product Ideas you think have been overlooked?
    There are some LEGO Ideas projects that I think have a great chance of becoming the next sensation:

    -The House of Chocolate by Lepralego. This guy is my favorite builder on LEGO Ideas – all of his projects are equally great and look like real, finished products.
    -LEGO® MINERALS by ddf72. This is a collection of gems built with special-colored transparent pieces that looks very realistic and interesting!
    -The Golden Spike Ceremony by KyloRen. He is a wonderful train-maker, and this is one of the best train-themed projects on LEGO Ideas.
    -Bag End by saabfan. I hope this one gets approved! It is by far, the most professional design I have seen. It looks like a real set!
    -Tutankhamun by Swan Dutchman. Such a great idea, I would love to get this! There hasn’t been any Egyptian LEGO in such a long time and this would be a welcome return.
    -Jazz Quartet by Hsinwei Chi. I love music and art, and this combines those passions into such an expressive model. The design is very classy!
    -Automated Garbage Truck by MochiMaster. This is a brilliant design for a small set and it is jam-packed with functionality. I hope to see it on shelves!
     
  4. What is it about the platform that attracts you? What tips would you give to anyone who is thinking about uploading an idea?
    What I like about this platform is that it gives anyone the opportunity to become a LEGO designer, for FREE, anytime they want. Anyone can attempt to make their dreams come true, and if they don’t they will still have fun and learn a lot in the process.

    If you’re thinking of uploading an idea, and you really do believe in it, do your best work and make it as polished as you can make it. Submit the idea when it is as good as it can get!
     
  5. Do you have plans to submit any other Product Ideas in the future? If yes, can you give us a hint what that might be?
    I do! I have tons of ideas for LEGO sets and will keep making some throughout the years. I will have a few more Canadian-themed projects that will be ready soon, but I will also make some non-Canada projects as well.
  • 10k club
  • 10k club interview
  • 10k
  • lego idea
  • train
  • canada
  • vehicle
  • locomotive
  • passenger train
Published
82 comments
82 comments