10K Club Interview: Meet Stephan Niks of Anatomini
Here's an insight into the mind of fan designer Stephan Niks (aka Stephanix), creator of 'Anatomini'. Packed with advice, animations and anecdotes. Here is his 10K Club interview.
Be sure to congratulate Stephan in the comments down below!
- Where are you from?
I live close to the beautiful city center of Gouda in the Netherlands. Very dangerous to live there because the coolest LEGO shop is there.
Me in front of our house. The poster is the first hint on reaching 10K.
- How old are you?
I am 48 years old, but inside I'm a kid! (Time for a fun fact from Stephan!) Did you know all your cells renew in 7 years (except the brain cells) So we are all young.
- What do you study or do for a living?
I am a visualization artist. I graduated as a building engineer 22 years ago with my design of an airport in the North Sea. This started my career as a visualizer of airports. Nowadays, I also do ports, shipyards and other big things.
- What hobbies do you have?
I like to make animations of my LEGO Ideas projects. This is the first time that the 10K interview is packed with animations. Of course, I like real bricks too. Next to that I like to design and build my own furniture. Do some cycling, canoeing and sailing. I must admit that the past 4 years I plunged into LEGO Ideas. As a single dad, I raise 3 kids and love to play games with them and watch animations. I guess I am a bit of a busy bee. When I am tired after all these things, I love to watch science shows on TV. Oh, I forgot to mention that I also do voluntary Technic lessons at my daughter’s school… with LEGO Technic.
- Do you have a personal portfolio website that you can share with us?
I use LEGO Ideas as my portfolio, especially the update section which I used as a blog. I have my little YouTube channel: Stephanix. Since the launch of Anatomini, me and my friends (Bilge, Erik, Jip and Lisette) got active on Facebook, Twitter (Stephanix3D), Instagram (Stephanix3D) etc. to promote the little yellow fellow.
- How and when did your interest for LEGO come about?
For my fifth birthday I got the Basic Set no. 5. I was hooked. One day, my teacher did a home visit and saw me playing with it. A week later we had LEGO in the classroom. I still remember the 1977 LEGO catalogue. I was staring at the last page for months. I switched from trains and ships to LEGO Technic. In my head I was always busy designing, therefore I always asked for LEGO sets with specific elements. On my fourteenth birthday, I got more interest in radio controlled cars and planes. I remember combining my RC servos with LEGO elements. Somehow, I entered the dark age. At 33 I got a LEGO Technic race car which reignited the hobby. From LEGO Technic I went into modulars, trains and winter village. In 2014 I got addicted to LEGO Ideas. All other LEGO activities (except teaching) are a bit on hold.
My first LEGO set, 24th of April 1975
- What is your favourite official LEGO set? Why?
What is your favourite movie, music, book, meal, color, body part? It changes from time to time. The LEGO 850 forklift changed my life and formed me into the engineer I am. I guess that must be the one.
The Technic set that changed my life, 24th of April 1978
- What is your favourite LEGO element? Why?
You can find the answer in my third LEGO Ideas idea. I made a 10 minutes animation about it. The funny fact is that it got only 54 votes. It’s always a laugh at events or presentations I give. You can see it here:
- Is there a LEGO designer (official LEGO designer or fan designer) who you are inspired by and look up to? Who and why?
I really look up to other LEGO Ideas fan designers. Because it takes a lot to reach 10K. At my first LEGO event I met Robenanne (The Old Fishing Store). I asked him to take a look at my project. He was flabbergasted and said: “When you reach 10.000… And you will, you'll go nuts!”. I always kept the motivating words of this half-god in mind. On another occasion (in that LEGO shop in Gouda) a young lady looked at Anatomini for minutes. I was looking from a distance and noticed the sparkle in her eyes. I asked her if she liked Anatomini. She said: “Oh yeah, I like him a LOT”. I started my pitch. Then she said: ”I have two sets on the shelves.” I stumbled: ”You awwhre… Alatariel” (Research Institute and The Big Bang Theory). Very coincidental. She lives in Sweden. Together, these 2 giants reached 10,000 supporters 9 times.
Robert Bontenbal and me at my first LEGO event
Me, Alatariel and Anatomini at Playtoday in Gouda
- Is there one or more particular LEGO related websites (not official LEGO websites) that you visit often and/or are inspired by?
For what is going on in the LEGO world I go to Brickset, New Elementary and for the Dutch: https://www.bouwsteentjes.info/.
For inspiration I look around in the real world and what I coincidentally come across on the net or TV. My kids, friends and colleagues also come up with ideas. Sometimes I get suggestions from AFOLs or visitors at events. So keep your eyes and ears open!
About Your Project
- Where did your interest in this particular model come from?
I was putting my son to bed and asked him: “What shall I make tonight for LEGO Ideas?”. He said: “A skeleton”. I thought that’s weird and asked him why? He told me he just learned a bit about anatomy at school. My ex-wife is a nurse at a dialysis centre and she always speaks about the complexity of the human body. As an engineer it's hard to understand the medical language. So, I visualized the human body as a machine: A framework with sensors, servos, a big pump, chemical plant, a lot of pipes, a supercomputer and an extreme graphics card. With that machine in mind I designed Anatomini. While studying the anatomy I became more and more aware how careless we take our health for granted.
I hope kids and adults can learn a bit from Anatomini. A lot of doctors and teachers, kids and AFOLs showed their enthusiasm on the LEGO events, medical events and schools that I went to.
- What special challenges did you face creating the model? What was the most difficult part to recreate?
I designed in LDD. When building I always lay aside interesting bricks. Like the oil lamp for the hearing, the big yellow arch for his face and Buzz Lightyears helmet to make an accessible skull. It’s useful to design in LDD extended mode to see more “crazy” pieces.
Anatomini was designed in 3 stages: skeleton, Minifigure shell and organs.
1) The skeleton:
The first brick in mind was the L-shaped technic beam to serve as a rib which also determined the scale. The idea was that the skeleton should be strong yet flexible, like in real life. Most difficult part was the hip structure.
2) The Minifigure shell:
The skull defines the size of the head. After measuring a Minifig and Maxifig the scale was set approx. 10:1. This is also the scale of the Maxifigures in shops. The arms were the most challenging part to design. I made 10 designs for the hands.
After finishing the shell, I remodelled the skeleton just a bit to fit.
3) The organs:
The toughest thing in LDD was to bend all the veins and nerves into position. There wasn't much space. Bending tubes in LDD is not difficult until you want to put the tubes inside something. It took some long evenings to create support constructions to accomplish it.
The LDD file was exported to 3D Studio Max via a Java script. In 3Dmax I add material, light, hierarchy (to pose, walk etc) and animation. Finally, the images and animations were rendered in 3D Studio Max. The “10K Thank You” animation is made in Lumion.
Redefining plastic surgery
Building the real thing from the LDD model went very straightforward. Like in the design phase the built can be split easily. For stability, I had to fix the skeleton to the base. In version 2.0 the skeleton can be picked up from the base. Building the organs was the coolest part. I guess it feels like being a real doctor doing that.
- How long did it take to complete the model? Did you finish it fairly quickly, or did it take a long time?
It took 200 hours for version 1, which I squeezed into 3 months. All in the evening hours. (You won’t believe how much time you have if you forget about TV and Netflix). Plus 30 hours for text and visuals. Ordering and building the real one took another 60 hours.
The model developed as a 3-stage rocket. After the skeleton was finished I checked for other LEGO skeletons. I came across Jason Freeny, an artist that makes sculptures of cartoon figures and their anatomy. I loved the idea, but I did not want to copy him. I got the idea to make 2 shells. Like a sarcophagus or a babushka. Jason gave me a thumbs up. I was still building for fun and challenge. I had my doubts about putting the project on LEGO Ideas until I spoke to my doctor. He asked about my hobby. He pointed me on the educational value. That in mind it seemed to be logical to add the organs.
During the promotion campaign I spoke with a lot of people and decided to give him a face, posable arms for the shell, new hair and most importantly new organs. This took another 80 hours or so. Just before 10K I uploaded the video about Anatomini V2.O He is now more playable thus more eductional. You can check him here:
Version 2.0. Just in time before hitting 10K
- How did it feel when you reached the magic 10,000 votes and how long did it take?
It was an emotional moment that Wednesday the 6th at 4.53 in the morning. To compare it to the medical field: It was exciting as becoming a dad at a delivery. I thought, I was alone, but it seemed that my friends and a lot of unknown people were, like me, staring at the screen. I felt overjoyed, relieved, proud and a bit empty inside after 18 months of campaigning.
6th of February 2019, 4:53 AM (Check out what's on the piano!)
The way to 10K was a bumpy one. In the first 3 weeks Anatomini got 2000 votes. Which was more than all my previous projects together. I started to believe. The hardest part was from 4K to 5K and from 6K to 7K. I checked the progress daily and planned action when it dipped. At 7700, I was at the LEGO World event. That helped a lot.
I spent a lot of time creating fun updates, technical updates, social media, videos animations, events and analysis. I always believed in the project, which kept me going. It was a fun and learning experience.
Daily statistics to plan actions
- Approximately how many LEGO bricks did you use to create your model?
2128, the brick count is between The Old Fishing Store and Voltron. Lots of people think it is more until they see him in real life.
About LEGO Ideas
- Do you have any useful advice about creating a successful LEGO Ideas project?
1) Be yourself, be original, don’t think commercial (Already tried that)
2) Is your idea already on LEGO Ideas? If not, why not? Is it allowed?
3) Discuss your design with objective people.
4) Raise the bar on your design, pics, text. Once posted, think of updates.
5) Most important thing is to have fun. Have a laugh about the fact that not everyone was waiting for your “genius” idea. Pick up the pieces and move on with your next idea. Anatomini was my 8th.
- What is your favourite LEGO Ideas project (besides your own of course)?
I have collected all 24 sets and like them all for their diversity. Wall E is my favourite. At LEGO events you hear a lot of EVE imitations. I bet you said “Wall Eeee” by now. If I may choose a project that deserves attention to go 10K, it would be Mr_Kleinstein’s working and self-winding wall clock, I think such a genius idea is what LEGO Ideas is about.
All 24 LEGO Ideas sets & a wannabe!
- 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 the opportunity to be a LEGO designer for once. Your own box sold to a happy (big) kid half a world away. That is a childhood dream. In the particular case of Anatomini, it would be so cool to see him being at help in a classroom. Biology lessons will be fun and interesting for the more technical kid, while the less technical kid learns to build. When visiting a doctor or a (children’s) hospital he can serve to break the ice and to explain a kid his/her medical issue in a way kids understand.
What lasts is the advice everyone is waiting for, the holy grail to reach 10K. Here is, after a lot of mishaps, statistic research and analysis my top 10 in random order:
1) The first pic counts. Look how others have drawn attention.
2) Form a team of volunteers to help you, to motivate you or to slow you down.
3) Step out of your comfort zone (I dislike that guru stuff but it’s true)
4) No 10K without promotion, even with an IP idea.
5) So, go to events. It is fun to do, you meet a lot of great people.
Thank you all for your, support, help and publications on websites and YouTube. Enjoy building. Please leave a comment to share your enthusiasm. Any questions I will answer ASAP!