10K Club Interview: Meet Ellen Kooijman & Brad Meltzer of I Am Amelia Earhart
Take on the adventure of a life time with this week's 10K Club fan model I am Amelia Earhart created by Ellen Kooijman a.k.a. Alatariel and Brad Meltzer. Based on the kids book "I am Amelia Earhart", co-authored by Brad, this model is a tribute to Amelia and her spirit of pushing the boundaries of what could be done! For those who don't remember, Ellen Kooijman is a LEGO Ideas Hall of Famer, having been the fan designer of the (retired) 21110 Research Institute set as well as the co-fan designer of 21302 The Big Bang Theory set.
Help us congratulate Ellen and Brad, in the comments below, on joining the exclusive LEGO Ideas 10K Club and for sharing their story with us!
- Where are you from?
Brad: Brooklyn, New York, though I now live in Florida.
Ellen: Gouda, the Netherlands, but now I live in Stockholm, Sweden.
- How old are you?
- What do you study or do for a living?
Brad: Novelist and TV host.
Ellen: Senior researcher in isotope geology and head of a national laboratory for micro-analysis in geosciences.
- What hobbies do you have?
Brad: History and comic books are really what my brain revolves around.
Ellen: LEGO building, playing piano, traveling, hiking.
- How and when did your interest for LEGO come about?
Brad: LEGO was my favorite toy as a child. Period. I was a creative nerd. What else would I play with?
Ellen: I have been building with LEGO bricks my whole life with the exception of a few years when I was a teenager (dark age). It was by far the most fun toy when I was a kid. I would challenge myself by trying to build a pirate island out of the parts from a horse stable. As an adult the hobby grew slightly out of hand to the point I have to make visitors to my house sign a liability, because the chance they will step on a LEGO brick is significant.
^ Ellen in the LEGO "Memory Lane" vault with her Research Institute set
- What is your favourite official LEGO set? Why?
Brad: Set 928 – the Galaxy Explorer spaceship. I built and took apart, and rebuilt and took apart that set so many times I could eventually build it by heart. All of it, including the little car. I want that set again so badly.
Ellen: Set 10193 – Medieval Market Village. Castle is my favorite LEGO theme and I clearly remember when I first saw the images of this set. I just couldn’t believe the awesomeness. It was a day 1 purchase.
What is your favourite LEGO element? Why?
Brad: The four-by-two. It’s the serve-all piece.
Ellen: The jumper plate (plate 1x2, w/1 knob). I mainly build LEGO buildings and this versatile part allows you to give a lot of detail to a façade by using the off-set or using it as a decoration piece.
- Is there a LEGO designer (official LEGO designer or fan designer) who you are inspired by and look up to? Who and why?
Brad: Of course Alatariel. But other than her, it’s Nathan Sawaya. As a Batman and Superman writer, his DC Comics exhibit still knocks me over.
Ellen: I greatly enjoy the modular buildings of Jamie Berard. When I saw him biking in Billund it was difficult not to act like a silly teenage girl. I think Mike Psiaki and Carl Merriam are extremely talented too (that Saturn V!).
- Is there one or more particular LEGO related websites (not official LEGO websites) that you visit often and/or are inspired by?
Ellen: My main source of LEGO news is www.brickset.com. This is also where I have all my LEGO sets and parts catalogued. This is a good thing, because being confronted daily with the shameful amount of LEGO sets and LEGO minifigures I own (subtly shown at the top of each page) is the only thing that keeps me in check a bit. www.brothers-brick.com is a great website too..
About Your Project
- Where did your interest in this particular model come from?
Brad: I was tired of my daughter thinking that reality TV stars and people who were famous for being famous were heroes. I tell my kids all the time: That’s fame. Fame is different than being a hero. I wanted my kids to see real heroes…and real people no different than themselves. So we started a bestselling book series - with "I am Amelia Earhart" and "I Am Abraham Lincoln" - that has now become, according to the publisher, the #1 new series teaching history to this young age group. We’ve sold over two million books, with heroes from Jackie Robinson, to Albert Einstein, to Ross Parks, to Jane Goodall. We all need heroes today. And eventually, I realized: Wouldn’t it be great if, in addition to books, we could give kids better toy heroes to play with too? Amelia Earhart always dreamed big – and that’s what I used to do as a kid with LEGO. SO it was a perfect match.
^ Brad with a LEGO sculpture of Albert Einstein, who inspired one of his kids books
Ellen: Brad contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in designing a LEGO set based on his book series. I was much honored that he chose me as a potential designer; there were so many great books to choose from! In the end I chose Amelia Earhart, because I’ve always been a big fan of hers and she is such an inspiring woman.
- What special challenges did you face creating the model? What was the most difficult part to recreate?
Ellen: My LEGO building expertise is in buildings, brick-built animals and vignettes. I had never designed an airplane before so this was a new challenge. I mainly focused on trying to model it as accurately as possible to the drawings in the book, but I also did some research into what the original ‘Canary’ plane looked like to understand the structure of the plane.
- How long did it take to complete the model?
Ellen: I designed the set over a 2-month period, just working in the evenings. This includes photoshopping final pics.
- How did it feel when you reached the magic 10,000 votes and how long did it take?
Brad: I am still flying from that moment. We flew out of the gate, but it took us a bit to get those last 2,000 votes. But once we put the word out, people just wanted it.
Ellen: As often is the case with LEGO Ideas projects the support comes in pulses and the path is not always easy to predict. The final spurt was so fast, the project reached 10k before I realized it. My excitement wasn’t lowered by this though, when I found out my first thought was “we did it!”.
- Approximately how many LEGO bricks did you use to create your model?
Ellen: 186 (virtual) bricks.
About LEGO Ideas
- Do you have any useful advice about creating a successful LEGO Ideas project?
Brad: Dream it and build it. That’s the only way it happens.
Ellen: It pays off to invest time in a good presentation of your idea. In the information age people see so many pictures and photos every day, it’s important your main image immediately catches people’s attention so they will be curious to find out more about your idea.
- What is your favourite LEGO Ideas project (besides your own of course)?
Ellen: I am a huge fan of the buildings of Robert Bontenbal (Robenanne on LEGO Ideas). His Old Fishing Store is amazing and he has a number of other great designs that are currently in review. I’m really hoping another one of those will be turned into a real product.
- What is it about the platform that attracts you? What tips would you give to anyone who is thinking about uploading an idea?
Ellen: I like that the platform offers anyone a chance to see their idea realized in LEGO bricks. Even if you don’t own many bricks you can design your idea digitally and have a chance at seeing your dream become reality!
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