10K Club Interview: Viv Grannell's Sonic Mania Green Hill Zone! (Best enjoyed with a Chili Dog)
Coming into the 10K Club FAST, it's Viv Grannell (aka toastergrl on LEGO Ideas) with their Sonic Mania Green Hill Zone product idea. Hear from Viv in this interview. But don't forget to enjoy a tasty Chili Dog while you read! Be sure to congratulate them in the comments down below too.
- Who are you?
- Where are you from?
I was born in the UK, but my family is as Irish as it gets!
- How old are you?
23 years old.
- What do you do for a living?
I’ve just completed four years study in the field of Computer Science, and am currently exploring my next steps.
- What hobbies do you have?
I like messing around with various artforms. I’ve drawn pictures, written short stories, placed pixels, and done programming for a number of hobbyist video games – and I definitely want to continue pushing more of my creative boundaries when I can. I don’t read all the time, but when I’m in the mood books get absorbed in a matter of hours. A similar situation with music and games, too. I’m also a collector of various figures, and as you’d expect I love building LEGO!
- Do you have a personal LEGO portfolio website that you can share with us?
When it comes to my LEGO creations, the best way to see it all is via my Flickr.
- 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?
There are two models I’ve created since coming out of my dark age that I love for vastly differing reasons. One of them is called “the open backed dress” – an exploration of vulnerability and self-discovery, and an attempt to work a fairly specific Ninjago spinner piece into a unique build.
The other model I’ve put a lot of love and care into is “Another perfect day in space”, a diorama taking place in a classic space landscape. I simply adore these funky little technicolour astronauts, and have made it my mission to collect as many as I can – but it feels a little unethical to just put them in display cases, so this is my way of making sure they’re free range. I shared a previous version last year, but I’ve expanded the build further since then!
- How and when did your interest for LEGO come about?
My brothers before me loved it, so when I was born it was only a matter of time before I found my way into their bricks. My grandmother had a box of Technic in her cupboard, and my cousin had lots of Star Wars parts under his bed, so my family (both extended and immediate) are totally responsible for helping cultivate this! Eventually System felt a bit static, though – it wasn’t until the Mask of Light and Legend of Metru Nui sagas of BIONICLE with its action functions, complicated titans and movies that I ended up truly hooked, with Exo Force serving as a tasty side dish. My dark ages begun a little after the line was shuttered in 2010, and while I picked up a few sets here and there through the years, it took until the LEGO Movie to remind me how much I loved it as a kid, and the second one pulled me in completely. Now I know it’s just as grown up as I am!
- What is your favourite LEGO theme (current or past)? Why? And has any theme inspired your building style or preference in any particular way?
How can I pick just one? As I said, BIONICLE and Exo Force were the standout lines of my childhood, but Knights Kingdom II (the System sets, not the action figures) and the later Adventurers stuff were really fun too. My brothers had a bunch of Western stuff as well. Classic Space is the best line from before my time (with Paradisia close behind) and is reflected in many of my MOCs, while both Hidden Side and DOTS are doing some really great and innovative stuff at the moment. Minecraft and Spongebob Squarepants are two nice licensed themes of the present and the past, a solid blend of each of their aesthetics coming together with LEGO’s, and you can see a lot of their sets’ DNA further mixed in my product idea. I missed Nexo Knights entirely, but if I had been fully in the fold any sooner I would’ve been all over it. Unikitty! was very sweet, and I love how Hawkodile is built. And, of course – Ideas, both original and IP-based, always offers a lot to love!
One line I’m hoping to dip my toes into going forward is Creator Expert. They’ve always been just tantalisingly out of my budget, but with the release of the downright gorgeous looking Modular Bookshop it’s only a matter of time before I succumb!!
- What is your favourite official LEGO set? Why?
Just like the previous question, I have multiple answers. In the field of constraction, it’s 8593-1 Makuta – the big bad of the original BIONICLE story deserved a terrifying titan, and this nasty man was really good at looking imposing and bulky while having a powerful build. While there’s very little shared parts between the two, my product idea’s giant mech plays off all the same character design principles. For small system builds, it’s 70841-1 Benny’s Space Squad, because it kicked my adoration of the vintage spacers into high gear and I have like five copies now. When it comes to bigger ones, I’ve already talked about my budget being a bit tight for all the gorgeous Creator Expert style models, but the ultimate “one that got away” was 10020-1 Santa Fe Super Chief! I spent so long staring at that train in the catalogues…
- What is your favourite LEGO element? Why?
The “Mixel joints” ball and socket system, as they’ve been affectionately termed. The figures of BIONICLE were well-loved, but they had absolutely nothing to do with System. The mechs of Exo Force were fantastic, but they were always a bit clunky to incorporate into characters. The Mixel joint technology is *perfect* for all the smaller builds I’ve wanted to undertake before, but not been able to until now!
- Is there a LEGO designer (official LEGO designer or fan designer) who you are inspired by and look up to? Who and why?
Mark Stafford (Nabii) is the ever-present entry I see in these interviews, and his sheer versatility across his contributions is impressive enough to earn this reputation, but Niek van Slagmaat (toothdominoes) has done a LOT to catch up to him in his comparatively short amount of time spent working at LEGO. I mean, look at Ideas Voltron. I sadly don’t own it, but to do THAT, staying within the LEGO Group’s exacting standards for quality and stability – that’s absolutely next level.
Unfortunately, I’m a little less directly familiar with fan designers on the whole, but there’s one friend in particular – one of many in a group chat that 100% had my back during my project’s “Gathering Support” phase – who I want to mention here. His name is Philippe de Jocas (Locoman) and he comes up with some truly fantastic creations - exploring a retrofuturistic world, making some charming modernised classic space designs, and adapting Exo Force to the standards of today. It’s always a pleasure when he has something to share!
- Is there one or more particular LEGO related websites (not official LEGO websites) that you visit often and/or are inspired by?
You canNOT go wrong with New Elementary, which offers fantastic and frequent deep-dives into the exacting geometries of new entries into the System, and it’s my favourite blog by far. Brickset is where I usually get the latest news and reviews, while Eurobricks is my favourite discussion forum and I see some lovely MOCs there. I don’t go to The Brothers Brick very often, but when I do, I tend to spend an entire day diving deep into their archives to see all the incredible things that have been made since I last looked!
About Your Project
- Where did your interest in this particular model come from?
I’ve loved the Sonic series since I was a kid – his vibrant, colourful world fit my sense of aesthetic perfectly, the wacky antics of his multiple cartoon series (on reruns at that point) endeared me to the characters, and the compelling but not punishing platforming titles such as Advance 3, Heroes, and CD (through Gems Collection) engaged my brain at a formative time. Back then I never got all those Chaos Emeralds or Time Stones, but more than made up for my lack of skill at the harder elements with my excitement to play, play, play. Despite his super speed (and occasionally disappointing outings) I never stopped keeping up with the blue blur from that point onward! I’ve worked on so much fanart – sprites, game mods, etc – by now that my passion is self-evident from it.
Of all of the titles I’ve enjoyed from his series, none has been more positively received by the wider gaming community than Sonic Mania. Itself developed with the help of committed fans-turned-professional, it brought the original 2D momentum-based gameplay – having only appeared in a handful of new titles since the days of the Gameboy Advance - back into the limelight. I personally really enjoy the 3D titles, but they can be an acquired taste – so to see the vintage stylings recreated with this much fidelity and love was a treat for sure! It was so popular that the previously digital-only title got a physical release a year later, with extra content including an artbook and six online cartoon episodes. Independent research also suggests it continues to get new physical media printed all the way into 2020 alongside the new movie, which incorporates some of the music and pixel art as well. That’s pretty rare cultural staying power for a Sonic title in our day and age!
I think all the pieces are pretty obvious to put together from here, right? I love Sonic and I love LEGO, and have done so for both since I was young. LEGO Dimensions gave us a single minifigure and absolutely nothing else. Mania is the impossible dream, an oxymoron harnessed – small enough of an experience that it’d only need one set design done well to cover reasonably comprehensively, while large enough of an event that I could gamble 9,999 other people would agree with me. Vintage enough for the older generation to recognise it and find nostalgia in that recognition, while recent enough for the younger generation to have tasted the magic and want to seek it out. Familiar, yet fresh. Old, yet new. And yet, in all of this, still distinctly Sonic – the man of the year, cherished by the gaming public as the underdog king. So, since I didn’t know anybody else taking the task on in the way that’d give him a fighting chance, I got to work.
- 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?
Honestly, I’ve been training for this moment my entire life. I have an almost obsessive ability to vacuum up information about my special interests and commit it to memory, and the excitement of the Minecraft theme coming out of Ideas (formerly CUUSOO) back in 2011, and the disappointment of the Portal 2 project failing the panel review not too long after already had me well acquainted with many of the possibilities the site could bring. I think I spent a few days discussing it back and forth with my friends, reading up and down and left and right on all the rules, looking at a bunch of prior art uploaded to the site and ruminating on construction techniques before I dived in deep to start building for the rendition I would launch in February 2019.
While the project was accumulating support, I had to look back at the main design every time I went to the project page to see how many people had helped me out lately (before the Statistics page was added). Familiarity can sometimes breed a little bit of contempt, so some decisions I kept on ruminating over and ended up building a mental list of changes I’d want to incorporate, alongside feedback from others. I was planning on doing it as just an Update, but when the Ideas team added a way to change the main pictures for product ideas, I stepped up my game and started putting brick to canvas; this process ended up being the January 2020 redesign.
- What special challenges did you face creating the model? What was the most difficult part to recreate?
I’ve been very vague about pre-publishing timeframes in the previous question in preparation for this answer. The biggest challenge of all was that just as I was finishing up the first iteration of the project, the Ideas platform changed the rules on me! “No product ideas based on active licenses”, I remember the diff being. I’d already created an entire set of renders at that point and was working on writing up the description when I found that blogpost. And yes – Sonic was an active license at the time back at the beginning of *2017*, thanks to the previous LEGO Dimensions wave. It was taken off the list around the beginning of 2019, so I was able to move forward eventually. Ultimately I’m glad that happened – It was based off a less interesting part of the game and I had no solid plan to promote it at the time, both of which I now know is desperately important to Ideas projects.
In terms of difficult stuff to recreate, I think Dr Eggman’s mech is the main contender. Everyone who works on Ninjago makes mech design in-System look effortless, and it absolutely isn’t. How do you make sure your titan will be able to stand upright when you don’t have the budget to get all the parts in the real world, AND it’s supposed to hold a character who is larger than a minifig? A lot of careful preplanning and intuition-led guesses of System and Technic math, that’s how. It’s the only thing I totally redesigned both between 2017’s concepting and the 2019 pitch, and AGAIN for the 2020 January Update, and if my product idea is lucky enough to be selected I fully suspect it’d change once more.
I’d also say the ”Encore mode” alternate build was quite a challenge. Lots of the pieces in the main build are quite reusable, and you can totally incorporate a few more specialised ones in fancy ways – but making sure enough of them are used to make the alternative build worthwhile was an exercise in micromanagement.
- If you could talk to yourself before you started on this project, what would you tell her? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
You can do it, but please take care of yourself.
- 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?
By raw day count the initial development was about 3 months, with most of the progress being scrubbed at around the 1 month mark. From start to finish, those three months were separated by a little under two years (see two questions ago). I don’t recall enough to be able to break it down by hours, but I didn’t have much of a social life for the second part so I’d guess this effectively consumed most of my recreational time then. In the same vein, the January 2020 update took about a month worth of work too.
The Gathering Support phase, meanwhile, took a year, two weeks, and a day. Way more or way less, depending on how you cut it! It’s advisable to do something each day when pushing an Ideas project forward, but I definitely dedicated at least a few hours a week to it, with this consuming more and more of my time as we headed into 2020 and most of my other hobbies reaching natural resting points.
- How did it feel when you reached the magic 10,000 votes and how long did it take?
Overwhelming on several levels, frankly. While my family knew of the project from the start, they got REALLY invested for the last thousand supporters – so everyone came up to my room to watch the final five tick down with me. These things really do speed up at the end, and it hit 9998 just as my dad was sitting down! Before I knew it, that was that – At 21:29 GMT in the evening of March 10th, I was inducted into one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. A quick message of thanks was posted, then I disappeared to vibrate with excitement away from any screens while all my social media lit up with notifications; although I’ve gotten so many eyes on me in the process of promoting my product idea and can chat up quite the storm when asked to answer questions, it’s still my nature to be a tad spotlight-averse…
- Approximately how many LEGO bricks did you use to create your model?
The main build contains about 700 pieces, while the alternate “Encore mode” build uses about 520 of those.
- What is your favourite building technique or part/section that you’ve incorporated into your Product Idea?
I love the simple charm the brick-built Classic Dr Eggman (aka Ivo Robotnik!) bigfig possesses. So much character, and a healthy amount of articulation to boot! And speaking of boots, his legs being inverted arch brick part ID 18653 is by far the single most inspired part use in the entire project. Runners up prize to the Motobug, who was added to the pitch at the last possible second before final renders and absolutely stole my heart in the process. Along with the Hard Boiled Heavies, scale and fidelity are absolutely not at odds with these cute little designs.
- If you built your model digitally, what software did you use to build and render your model?
The 2017 iteration of this project used LEGO Digital Designer and was rendered with Bluerender. I started with that in 2019, but quickly moved to Bricklink’s “stud.io” software for everything onwards because it’s frequently updated and you can add your own parts to it. The former was necessary because there were pieces too new for Digital Designer I wanted to use, while the latter was necessary because the Sonic the Hedgehog head from LEGO Dimensions wasn’t available in stud.io out of the box. It can also perform renders without having to switch to a second program!
These renders weren’t finished, though. I used GNU Image Manipulator Program (a free, open source photomanipulation toolkit) to finish them off, tweaking contrast and adding prints and stickers. I drew the designs in MSPaint with colours eyedropped from the more saturated images, then added them to the renders using the perspective tool and made the layers partially transparent to allow some of the shine to show through. I’m too much of a perfectionist to do it any other way, but I cannot recommend this approach if you don’t have prior experience with digital art; in that case, Bricklink have another piece of software called Part Designer available to incorporate your prints/stickers into the model directly, preventing the need for any post-processing of your renders.
About LEGO Ideas
- Do you have any useful advice about creating a successful LEGO Ideas project?
You need a promotion plan to get anywhere. You can make the best concept in the world that would basically print LEGO money if they made it happen, but if nobody knows about it, you’re up creek without a paddle.
Likewise, you could have the best advertising campaign ever, but if your concept only has one screenshot of the building mode in LEGO Digital Designer, you’re sunk. That’s the ultimate in low bars you need to cross, especially now that both stud.io and Mecabricks can do lovely renders without needing to leave the building software.
Or if you have both marketing chops and lavish renders with subsurface scattering on the slightly transparent ABS, but the build you’ve showcased is ten two-by-fours and a minifig. You can’t do it. Your build needs to nail its concept on the first try or everyone you’ve caught the eye of will wonder why they’re even looking.
- What (if any) methods did you use to advertise and attract support to your Product Idea?
I mentioned before I’m a longtime Sonic fan, right? My deep connections in the community helped give it a really good start, because I already knew lots of people who were interested in anything Sonic-related I was working on, to the tune of three thousand people out of the 10k necessary in just one week. I was very lucky to have been picked up by several outlets in that time too, including Kotaku, GoNintendo (both of which who also reported on my success at the end of the proceedings) and IGN Spain. I’m also eternally thankful to fansites Sonic Stadium, TSSZ, Sonic The Hedgeblog and last but absolutely not least Sonic Retro for taking a chance on this! Mr Yuji Naka is all right, too – it was unreal for one of the people deeply involved in pioneering the games to like my project.
Beyond that initial surge, I made frequent Updates with little extra builds to show I wasn’t just abandoning it to the wolves, which got me to the halfway point after just three months. I shared these on Twitter and Flickr, which helped me a lot, but couldn’t drive things to the finish by itself. I took stock for a while and ended up building a redesign incorporating almost all the feedback I got, and the daily supporter count more than doubled! In the end, Reddit and Facebook were my final twin saviours.
Keep in mind, though – when you enter a space, make sure you treat it with respect. Don’t spam your project – drop it carefully and with consideration for others around you. Posting it endlessly with nothing new to offer will turn people off what you make sooner than convince them to give up, give in and give you what you want. They’re human, just like you. Don’t take human beings for granted. Never treat them as just numbers to build towards your goal. They’re way more than that, with hearts and minds and desires of their own, and the goal is for them to come to the conclusion that they’re desiring what you’ve made, or to endear yourself enough that they’d fight for your passion regardless.
A good example of the human factor is that my project had about 1,600 comments even before the final congratulations surge, when the average for projects that reach 10k is likely about 400 or so. I responded to every question or suggestion asked of me, even if I’d heard it before, and that gave people a sense of loyalty. I proved that their thoughts were cared about, and that their input was valued. And they were, and it was! I knew a lot about LEGO in the first place, but I was taught a lot too, and I love how that interplay ended up working out.
This loyalty culminates in a real grassroots movement. Every individual coming together – from the multiple independent creatives who shared my work with their many fans, to the people with three followers doing their best in the strange and confusing world today, all of whom all believed in me – that’s what made my product idea truly successful, not anything I could’ve done beyond putting the pieces together. When you realise it’s become bigger than you, THAT’S when you know something truly special is happening.
- What is your favourite LEGO Ideas Product Idea (besides your own of course)? Are there any Product Ideas you think have been overlooked?
My favourite already-released set (of the ones I’m able to own) is a solid tie between 21303-1 WALL-E and 21109-1 Exo Suit, for completely different reasons. Chunky robot versus spindly mech suit with a new colour of classic space astronaut in it? How can I pick!?
The final design of Ben Alder’s Winnie the Pooh hasn’t been revealed as of writing, but the original design was quite sweet. Of the sets in review currently, Brick Project’s Ratatouille kitchen is a very strong build, but I will always be loyal to BIONICLE so Sokoda’s design is where my heart lies. :P
From designs that are currently gathering supporters, there are a few that I think are absolutely worth mentioning. MinifiginSpace’s Seatron design is top notch as an original spin on a legendary concept for sure. megaMit (who previously created a Sonic project of his own) has a wonderful Dungeon Man build, based on the character-who-is-also-a-structure from the cult RPG Earthbound. It’s truly a passion project from a creative guy, and deserves your attention! GabKremo’s Dock is very charming, too.
- What is it about the platform that attracts you? What tips would you give to anyone who is thinking about uploading an idea
It’s magical that there exists a way for a member of the general public without any real insider connections to share a passion project with the world, and have it connect with others – to the point that it could be made manifest to give so many more people enjoyment. On a lonely planet filled with so many sources of trauma and pain, it can be hard to see a way forward. When hardship surrounds us, though these things are necessary not everyone has the fortitude to be a fighter, an organiser, a leader, or a healer. It’s the passion and the compassion, the entertainment and the entertainers, the toys and the toymakers that can keep our spirits going in the face of darkness – and LEGO Ideas is a way for truly anyone to harness their skills and become a toymaker. Even if it seems frivolous at first glance, this is the true power of community!
I’ve peppered my more specific advice across the previous few answers in this section, so I’ll just say this: Be prepared for the long haul, and take care of yourself.
- 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?
Nothing in the immediate; regardless of how this pans out, I think a break is in order.
However, I know that my success thus far has tempted some of my closest friends into working on product ideas of their own. If they end up being shared on the platform, my focus is absolutely going to be on having their backs first and foremost, just as they previously encouraged me to keep on going! So even if it’s not directly mine to steward, you may see something with my input before too long…
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