Holly Webster (aka Hwachtman on LEGO Ideas) brings Coraline's Pink Palace Apartments from the big screen to little bricks! Well, quite a few little bricks. Hear from Holly in her 10K Club Interview.
We hope you enjoy this interview be sure to congratulate Holly in the comments below too! :D
- Who are you?
Holly Webster (aka Holly Wachtman)
- Where are you from?
I think I’ve lived in Portland, OR long enough now to claim that I’m from there.
- How old are you?
39 going on 12.
- What do you do for a living?
I’m a visual effects artist at LAIKA’s animation studio.
- What hobbies do you have?
My main hobby is collecting hobbies. Photography, knitting/crochet, video games, baking, hiking, snow-skiing, and of course LEGO building are my usual go betweens.
- Do you have a personal LEGO portfolio website that you can share with us?
Hwachtman is my LEGO-related username on most platforms, including Flickr, Instagram, and Facebook.
- 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?
After Coraline’s house, my next big build was “Susan”, a Sasquatch from LAIKA’s fifth Oscar-nominated film and Golden Globe winner “Missing Link”. I spent two years working on the film and felt inspired to do something special for its theatrical release. It was my first attempt at a more sculptural style of LEGO design. I displayed it at a convention where it won the award for “Best in PopCulture”. I’m extremely proud of the awards for both the film and the MOC!
- How and when did your interest for LEGO come about?
I still have the few LEGO sets I played with as a little girl. I had to beg for them and only ever received them on special holidays; otherwise, I had to save my own money to pay for them. The flame was rekindled some time during college as I was studying 3D design; it started with a few Star Wars and Batman sets. The LEGO collection has grown exponentially over many years, especially since having my own children.
- 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 a huge part of my life these days. No longer a closeted builder, I frequently share my love of LEGO with others; it’s been a common thread between so many amazing connections, and I have LEGO IDEAS to thank for the motivation. I go to LUG meetings and display at conventions as much as possible, but I also enjoy quietly building at home. It’s great as a creative outlet, a group activity, or just to unwind. It covers so many bases for me: art, design, engineering, tech, and play.
- What is your favourite LEGO theme (current or past)? Why? And has any theme inspired your building style or preference in any particular way?
I’ve always liked the spooky stuff! I grew up on Castles, Pirates, and Fright Knights. As an adult, my interest was peaked by Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. I was always hoping for a haunted house set and finally got around tomaking my own; I guess that was my first MOC. About a year later LEGO released the Monster Fighter theme. I was ecstatic about that series and couldn’tget enough (although I loved the monsters and didn’t care much for the fighters).
- What is your favourite official LEGO set? Why?
The Haunted House, set #10228 from Monster Fighters, of course! It’s not only wonderfully creepy but very charming; I love the architectural style and clever details. I especially like the dollhouse style opening. It really invites you to play but still looks good from all angles and it’s something I adopted for Coraline’s house. I hope we see more of that in LEGO’s buildings.
- What is your favourite LEGO element? Why?
I get asked this question a lot and my answer sometimes changes depending onwhat I’ve recently built and challenges I’ve had to overcome. I find that jumpers, hinges, and brackets are most often in my wheelhouse of problem-solvers. They kind of act like decimal points in a mostly whole number system.
- Is there a LEGO designer (official LEGO designer or fan designer) who you are inspired by and look up to? Who and why?
Oh, there are sooo many! I feel inspired by nearly every designer I meet in different ways. I couldn’t possibly name them all. Justin Ramsden is a rather clever designer at LEGO; I appreciate some of the unconventional connections and parts usage in his builds, as well as the overall aesthetics and attention todetails, especially the obscure ones.
- Is there one or more particular LEGO related websites (not official LEGO websites) that you visit often and/or are inspired by?
My homepage is Brickset.com. I’ve been using this site as a source for news, reviews, cataloging, and sourcing instructions for a long time. Otherwise, I never run out of inspiring content on my social media feeds.
About Your Project
- Where did your interest in this particular model come from?
I began working at LAIKA, a primarily stop-motion animation studio, over adecade ago when the film “Coraline” was in production. It’s a story based on the children’s book by Neil Gaiman about a girl who’s exploring her new home and ultimately learns the hard way that the grass is not always greener on the otherside. The entire story takes place in an old Victorian mansion that’s been converted into apartments where some kooky neighbors reside. I remember the first time I saw the fabricated house on set, I was completely blown away by that beautifully crafted, over-sized dollhouse. It made such an impression I knew I had to eventually try and capture the charm and intricate details with LEGO parts; it’s an iconic building I had to have for my town. As I was sorting bricks one day, I discovered a pink bay window; this was the seed part.
- 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?
You would think working at the studio that created “Coraline” I would have the reference readily available, but that wasn’t the case. We have to quickly turnover sets for the next film in queue and the house was long gone by thetime I started my LEGO design. Fortunately, I was able to get a rough floor plan from the set designers, but continuity is often an issue with film-making as things tend to move around to accommodate specific shots. I had to watch the film many, many times to feel for the flow of how Coraline moves through the house and then figure out a compromise for a layout that made sense for a LEGO playset while staying true to the source. I made some rough sketches and notes as I watched the film and blocked it out from there. Just as I was finishing up the design, there was a LAIKA exhibit at our local art museum where the original house made an appearance. That was a great opportunity to gather more reference and finish up the last details.
- What special challenges did you face creating the model? What was the most difficult part to recreate?
I was exploring LEGO design with various digital tools and decided to try and build the Pink Palace as a test project. I didn’t necessarily expect to get far in the process, I just needed a subject matter. LDD was starting to enter a latent phase and Bricklink’s Stud.io (as it was called then) was in its infancy. It was a very painful process at that time. I’m used to very sophisticated modelling tools in my line of work, and this wasn’t quite the same. I would often have to set the project aside, but I could see the potential and appreciated the advantages enough to persist with using the software. I powered through, got involved insome of the development, and the tools continued to evolve substantially!
The most challenging part of the design was trying to work out how I was going to include the portal that Coraline travels through to get from the ordinary world to the other world. After many attempts at a tunnel, I conceded that it wasn’treally necessary. I was specifically building the other version of the house, and according to the practical floorplan a physical tunnel would sit between the livingroom and study, which wouldn’t work anyway. So, I placed the secret door on ahinged wall and bricked up the opening, which is still sort of a film reference. So I guess you’ll just have to use your imagination to create another dimension. Another ongoing challenge, not helped much by the digital process, was trying to figure out all the angles inherent to Victorian style architecture. I don’t have alot of experience MOCing, so I’m still figuring things out mostly through trial and error. It was sometimes frustrating trying to get things to align just right.
- If you could talk to yourself before you started on this project, whatwould you tell him/her? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Just when I was starting to feel discouraged, I found a random card near my MOC at a public event that said ”Don’t Give Up” and I wondered where it came from. Maybe that was from my future self from some Other world. Anyway, I really had no expectations going into this; I certainly had doubts that there would be enough of an accessible fanbase to carry it through. Campaigning became a bit of a drag there for a while and I thought for sure about halfway through that it wasn’t going to go much further, so I gave it a rest for nearly a year while I focused on other obligations. I wish I’d been more confident that it could reach the finish line so I could have maintained the energy earlier on.
- 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?
Experimenting with the digital process certainly set me back. I had no target deadline in mind through much of it and it was mostly R&D. It wasn’t until the10 year anniversary of “Coraline” was creeping up that I became motivated to finish the project, and that’s when it occurred to me to share it with fans on LEGO IDEAS. I have no idea how much time I spent on it; I have files that span a couple of years, but the bulk of the design was done in 2017 and I debuted the MOC at Bricks Cascade in 2018. The promotional campaign was actually longer and more arduous than the design process. At LAIKA, it takes several years to make each film, so I’m used to things moving slowly and methodically. It seems fitting actually.
- How did it feel when you reached the magic 10,000 votes and how long did it take?
It took about two years to finally reach the goal of 10,000. It really picked upsteam near the end and I happened to catch the final countdown during a livestream with TrickyBricks on YouTube. It’s been thrilling, but I’ve also became really anxious about what might happen next. It’s a roller coaster.
- Approximately how many LEGO bricks did you use to create your model?
It is my nature to push limits. The limit was 3,000 parts, so that’s where I had to stop. And then I added a basement. I don’t think I used the number of parts very efficiently, some of it due to color options; I probably could have reduced it down quite a bit, especially with some of the internal support structure. I was aiming for sort of a Creator Expert Modular standard, which are typically about 2500 pieces. The exterior scale is comparable, but I may have overdone it withthe interior details. The entire story takes place in the house, so there was a lot of material to cover. The basement apartment was initially eliminated because it didn’t work for my plan to add this to my lineup of modular buildings; but aftermuch consideration, I decided it needed the addition to feel complete. I was already so close to 10K by the time I added the basement that there wasn’t enough time to redesign for the target part count.
- What is your favourite building technique or part/section that you’ve incorporated into your Product Idea?
It was an afterthought, but I added a gear mechanism for spinning the piano around with a hand crank or motor. I’ve been inspired by Jason Allemann (JKBrickworks), who incorporates brilliant functions into his builds, and I was pretty pleased with myself that I managed to squeeze that in there.
- If you built your model digitally, what software did you use to build and render your model?
As mentioned before, I started with LDD (LEGO Digital Designer) and then navigated through a few different programs before landing on Bricklink’s Studio. Being able to upload my list of items from the digital design to their database for ordering parts was extremely useful when it was time for the practical build.
- If you used custom stickers or prints for your design, how did you create them or where did you get them?
Customizing was a lot of work, but all necessary details. I sourced a couple of pieces of original artwork from work, created some of my own, and also had some help polishing the finished look. I used sticker paper and hole punches for creating the Pink Palace Apartments sign and the painting of the “Boring BlueBoy” above the fireplace. I also created a sticker for Mr. Bobinsky’s flag and used waterslide decals for the apartment mailboxes. I used a combination of waterslide decals, paint, and Photoshop for customizing the minifigure prototypes. I later had more professional looking parts made by a couple of other people with better skills and equipment that held up much better on display. I had two full sets of custom minifigures made, one of which Henry Selick, the director of “Coraline”, now has in his possession. It’s a long story.
About LEGO Ideas
- Do you have any useful advice about creating a successful LEGO Ideas project?
Originality, skill, passion, networking, timing, and luck are all keys to success. Ifyou have an idea you want to submit to LEGO IDEAS, first thing you should do is search to see if it’s something that’s already been done. It’s harder than you might think to come up with an original concept. If it’s already been done, it might still be worth submitting if your concept is significantly different. Before submitting anything to IDEAS, ask friends and family for feedback. If you’re not an experienced LEGO builder, you should study other models and practice before that next step. You should feel confident that it’s worthy of consideration; it’s not the best platform for critique. If you are passionate about the subject matter, it makes the process of promoting so much more worthwhile and the enthusiasm will make a genuine impression. Networking has been a really fun part of it forme. This project was my gateway to the LEGO community and I’ve enjoyed meeting new and interesting people. It’s been such a joy to talk with fans and to introduce “Coraline” to new audiences. I’ve been amazed by how many great opportunities present themselves if you’re open to them. Be nice to people. That’s generally good advice, but especially when you’re counting on others to help support and promote your project. Timing is tricky. Your project should be relevant, relatable, and ideally timeless. That’s a tough combination. IDEAS is a great resource for suggesting niche subject matter, but it takes a long time for a LEGO set to get from concept to production. You want to think about how your project will stand the test of time. Luck is a big part of it. You might have areally good looking model and a popular subject matter, but getting it noticed is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity. Sometimes it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. So just go for it and cross your fingers that a celebrity happens to discover and share your project, but also be ready to work for it.
- What (if any) methods did you use to advertise and attract support to your Product Idea?
Marketing is a fascinating study; I learned quite a few things along this journey. One of the first tips I was given was to make info cards to hand out to people. I added a QR code that quickly takes people directly to the website. This is useful when talking to people that don’t have a web browser in front of them, particularly at conventions when there’s a lot going on and no one’s staying in one place too long. I don’t advise you just leave the cards out without your presence; you still have to explain what IDEAS is and pitch your concept to most people. I tried to keep my project visible and fresh on social media, but I wasn’t comfortable spamming. I occasionally posted information and updates when there was something worth mentioning, but I made an effort to branch out on different platforms and to different audiences, and then circle back. I had to be reminded that despite how many times I showcased it, someone was seeing it for the first time. It’s a delicate balance trying to appeal to mass audiences without being obnoxious about it. Try to figure out who might be interested inyour project besides LEGO enthusiasts. For instance, I found that my Coraline house appealed not only to fans of the book and the movie, but also to fans of Victorian architecture and dollhouses.The most pivotal moment for this project was having my MOC on display at an exhibit during San Diego Comic-Con. It got the attention of the legendary Neil Gaiman and a single tweet gathered nearly 2,000 supporters overnight. I also had a chance to meet with him and it’s the only time in my life I’ve experienced being star struck. I’ve been a huge fan of his for over twenty years and I couldn’t be happier than to repay him for all his support and wonderfully written work than to see the final LEGO Coraline product in his hands.
- What is your favourite LEGO Ideas Product Idea (besides your own of course)? Are there any Product Ideas you think have been overlooked?
I have favorites still gathering support and some that already went into production; it’s really hard to choose though. Voltron is one of my favorite released sets. There were so many wonderful and engenius things about that set and it’s a fantastic display piece. I was surprised by that choice of IDEAS products, in all the best ways. It’s a prime example of where IDEAS can fill more niche gaps rather spectacularly. There was an excellent submission for a Hasselblad 503CX​ camera by helenfigures that I was really excited about, but unfortunately it expired. I hope they’ll consider resubmitting it. I love vintage cameras and wouldn’t mind having a few LEGO models among my collection.Still gathering support is ​Autumn Fish (Chinese Brush Painting)​ by penpen2012, which I think is a neat concept. We’ve not had many (if any) LEGO art sets that can be hung on a wall, and something like this could be a good IDEAS set. Otherwise, pretty much anything by JakeSadovich77 or JKBrickworks will get my vote. They’re among the IDEAS All Stars and I love their style and ingenuity.
- What is it about the platform that attracts you? What tips would you give to anyone who is thinking about uploading an idea?
How incredible is it that fans get to prototype a product and then weigh in on what we’d like to see a company produce? It’s brilliant! It’s not only an endles ssource of great ideas, but it’s also an opportunity for the company to branch out and appeal to new audiences. The LAIKA fanbase is a great example of a relatively untapped market where LEGO could grab a lot of attention. Before submitting your concept, be sure to carefully read all of the rules, restrictions, and guidelines listed on the IDEAS webpage. You could be saving yourself a lot of heartache by making sure ahead of time that your project is viable and that you agree to the terms. Take your time. Put some effort into photographing, rendering, and editing your photos. Proof-read and checkspelling. I’m not sure if this is still the case, but I don’t think there’s any way to edit the photos or the text on the home page of your project, so your first impression is the lasting one. Don’t expect that you can just set it and forget it. It’s not impossible, but unlikely that your project is going to go the distance without you driving it along.
- 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 might need a minute before I go down that road again. I’m always considering new ideas, but the more novel the concept, the more difficult it may be to gather support. It’s a matter of waiting for lightning to strike. My passion for this project made this a rewarding process, so I might go for it if something sparks again.
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