10K Club Interview: Truman Cheng, creator of Vincent van Gogh The Starry Night and LEGO Doggo
We're headed to Hong Kong this time around as it's time to meet Truman Cheng (aka legotruman), the creator of both the Vincent Van Gogh The Starry Night and LEGO Doggo 10K projects that are in review this time around.
- What is your name?
My name is Truman Cheng. Yes, Truman is my first name :) It’s a little strange, but that’s what my Asian family decided to name me.
- Where are you from?
I am from Hong Kong
- How old are you?
- What do you study or do for a living?
I am a year 3 PhD student, my research interest is focused on medical robotics and magnetic controlled surgical endoscopes.
- What hobbies do you have?
I love drawing. I enjoy both sketching on paper and painting digitally. I love creating new fantasy/ sci-fi characters from my own imagination!
- Do you have a personal LEGO portfolio website that you can share with us?
I post many of my LEGO creations on an Instagram page.
I like posting my smaller, cute LEGO creations there. Sometimes I would also post my IDEAS projects there :)
- 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?
I made a LEGO Baby Yoda after watching the 1st season of the Mandalorian. I love how simple and cute the design turned out. here’s a photo of it:
I love building cute LEGO animals! I have a series of creations based on this theme! The building style is inspired by LEGO Brickheadz. I like the simplicity and consistency it gives to all the animals.
It also kind of looks like plush toys and just makes me relaxed and happy. I hope it does the same for other people.
I am also a big fan of Studio Ghibli animations. I made a LEGO Totoro and Cat Bus last year. One of my favourite creation to date.
- How and when did your interest for LEGO come about?
I remember playing LEGO with my brother since I was a little kid (maybe 5 or 6 years old?). I loved the Deep Reef Refuge set (6441). It’s a submarine research station, where you can open the station in half and play with minifigures inside. There are also sharks, octopus included in the set. As a kid it didn’t feel like playing with toys, it felt like I was inside the station, having an underwater adventure.
- 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.
To me, Lego is more than “toys”, it’s something similar to painting. I can express myself, create characters and sculptures from my imagination. It’s a very relaxing experience where I can forget about the petty troubles in daily lives, and get lost in my own imagination. Yeah, very much like painting.
It’s also like a puzzle game because there are rules and “maths” to how bricks can be connected, so there is “creative limitations” going on too :)
So I guess to me, LEGO is a unique synthesis of artistic expression and puzzle-solving.
- 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 like the Brickheadz series! It has an elegant design, with clear rules to the dimension of characters. It’s like working with a limited canvas space and try to capture the essence of a character within those boundaries.
I had built some custom Brickheadz and many LEGO animals inspired by Brickheadz style. The experience had taught me a lot about creative uses of LEGO parts, and iconic simplifications of characters’ appearances.
I am also a fan of the grand designs in modular buildings. I remember seeing the 10182 Corner Cafe for the first time and was awestruck by how beautiful it was. It definitely inspired me to see LEGO as an art-form.
- What is your favourite official LEGO set ever? Why?
I would have to go with the 6441 Deep Reef Refuge, just for all the good childhood memories :)
- What is your favourite LEGO element? Why?
Classic 2x4 LEGO Brick. It’s elegant, iconic. Makes me think of building LEGO every time I see it.
- Is there a LEGO designer (official LEGO designer or fan designer) who you are inspired by and look up to? Who and why?
For an official designer, I love Milan Madge and Austin Carlson’s work on the “Pirates of Barracuda Bay” IDEAS set.
I also admire Jamie Berard’s contribution to the modular series!
For fan designers, I really appreciate Jacob Sadovich and Jonathan Brunn, for bringing us the “Ship in a Bottle” and “Dinosaur Fossil” IDEAS sets, respectively.
- Is there one or more particular LEGO related websites (not official LEGO websites) that you visit often and/or are inspired by?
I use Instagram for LEGO inspirations. I know the go-to site is Flickr, but there is a surprisingly big and supportive AFOL community on Instagram. There are amazing LEGO photography, pages dedicated to building techniques (tipsandbricks), custom Brickheadz creators (e.g. stormythos), and Giant Robots (afterworkbricks). Just anything you can think of.
About Your Project
- Where did your interest in this particular model come from?
The Starry Night:
Van Gogh’s work has always fascinated me. The unique colours and brushwork just capture one’s imagination. His life story and complete dedication to his art are inspiring to many young artists.
The Starry Night is one of his most iconic work. I had wanted to make a LEGO creation based on the artwork for a long time but never thought of a good execution-style for it.
One day, I was just playing with LEGO parts, and I realized stacking LEGO plates together in random intervals, look a lot like van Gogh’s iconic brush strokes!
I couldn’t help but wonder what the full painting would look like with this build style. I keep building and modifying, and eventually created the model you see in the project :)
I love animals. After getting a Brickheadz from my brother as a birthday gift, I was inspired by the simple and cute design and wanted to make LEGO animals based on the style.
The 4-by-4 head template just seemed right for what I wanted, so I started there. Using the humanoid body looked weird though, so I made a more ‘animal-like’ body.
I made many cute LEGO animals in that style. For LEGO IDEAS, I chose the Doggos, because most people love dogs, and I think LEGO fans would appreciate having a LEGO set that celebrates the bond between human and our best friend :)
- 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?
The Starry Night:
It took a few weeks to complete the design. I had to balance between working on the project and being a research postgraduate east Asia, which can get very demanding. So I spent many late nights to early morning working on the model.
I based the model on the original painting and added my own imagination for the 3D aspect of the design. I worked on different parts of the painting one after another. It may seem more intuitive to start from the background, but I quickly realized I needed the foreground as a reference to accurately scale the model, and get the placing of the cloud and stars right. So I started with the hills, the little village and the cypress tree in the foreground. Then, I used these elements to scale and build the moon, the cloud and the stars. Once I got the structure and silhouette down, I went back to modify the details and colour palette of the model.
The digital building tool comes in handy here. Because I don’t have to break the model apart to change the colours.
This project was completed over about two weeks. I started with the Beagle. There wasn’t a plan to build other dog breeds then. After completing the Beagle design in a day or two, I realized it was really fun, and the template can be used for other Doggo as well, so I just kept going, and got a few of my favourite dog breeds built with LEGO in the following weeks.
- What special challenges or frustrations did you face creating the model? What was the most difficult part to recreate?
The Starry Night:
The most challenging part of this project is scaling. The scale between different parts of the painting has to be just right for the whole picture to work. Sometimes, there may be a good design for one part of the painting, but it did not scale right with the rest of the model, so the part has to be re-designed.
Other than that, the project was a blast to work on, it was really fun and fulfilling to recreate my favourite painting with LEGO parts. It was a good brain tease to come up with tricks and techniques to capture the look of the original painting. For example, the brushwork goes into many directions in the Moon and the Swirling cloud, so there was some creative use of bracket and clip elements involved.
All the dogs are based on a similar body template, so the main challenge is in designing the head to look like the intended breed. This involves getting the ears, muzzle and face shape right.
The scaling between different dog breeds is another challenge. Because the size can vary quite a lot between breeds, and I want the body template and head size to be consistent between the Doggos. So, I used the height of the body and legs to get the impression of different sizes for the breeds.
- 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?
The Starry Night:
I wouldn’t say a thing! It felt like a small miracle to get the model design with such a resemblance to the painting. I wouldn’t want to mess up the spacetime continuum that got me there :)
Use clip parts to angle the ears, it’s the best solution!
- 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?
The Starry Night:
The model took a few weeks to build. On LEGO IDEAS, the project grew surprisingly fast, reaching 10K votes within 3 weeks. So the build time and the growth time was quite similar for this project.
The Doggo took about two weeks to design. It was a smooth and enjoyable process and happened pretty quickly.
On LEGO IDEAS it took 3 days for the first 1000 votes. I had no experience, so I thought I would keep growing at that pace. It turned out other projects would quickly take its place on the front page, and the project ended up reaching the 10K goal after 10 months :)
- How did it feel when you reached the magic 10,000 votes and how long did it take?
The Starry Night:
It was unreal! I had submitted a number of projects before this one, and none of them had grown this fast! The project reached 10,000 supports in about three weeks, it was like a dream!
This was the first project I submitted to LEGO IDEAS. Although I had created it with a lot of love and care, I really didn’t know what to expect.
When It reached the 10K goal after 10 months, I was happy and relieved. I guess it feels similar to watching a kid take the first step?
- Approximately how many LEGO bricks did you use to create your model?
The Starry Night:
About 1500 LEGO parts are used in this model! There are many plates stacking going on to recreate the “brushwork” in the original painting. It’s one of my favourite aspect about the design of this model
The LEGO Doggo project originally included 7 puppies in different breeds. Each takes about 100-120 parts to build, so a total of about 800 parts were used.
- What is your favourite building technique or part/section that you’ve incorporated into your Product Idea?
The Starry Night:
My favourite part of this project is the design for the cloud. The swirling cloud has brush strokes in many directions, and I used some clip parts and brackets to achieve the effect, then built another layer of stacked LEGO plates in front to conceal the clips. For the cloud just above the hills, I used a technic pin to get an incline angle for the brushwork and used some yellow plates on top to get the impression of moonlight hitting the edge of the cloud.
My favourite part is definitely the muzzle design. I used some round edge tiles on top of a 2x2 round plate, then place it at a 45o angle to get the iconic cartoon dog muzzle look.
I also like using clip parts in combination with curved elements to make the ears. There is great flexibility in angles and ear shape using this technique. This plays a major role in getting the head shape of different iconic breeds.
- If you built your model digitally, what software did you use to build and render your model?
I used Bricklink studio to plan the project models. The software is really fun once I got the hang of it. There are many element types in various colours. It’s like building with any LEGO piece in any colour you want!
Of course, in translating to a physical model, there is a process of optimizing the colours and parts used. That part takes some effort, but it’s a fun process nonetheless.
The Rendering tool in Studio is surprisingly good! The outcome is realistic enough, and there is good flexibility in lighting conditions and background colours.
- If you used custom stickers or prints for your design, how did you create them or where did you get them?
The Starry Night:
The project is a test to see if I can re-create the van Gogh painting with LEGO elements, so I didn’t want to use any printed parts in the model. Otherwise, it would have felt like cheating in the test somehow :)
I did, however, used printed parts for the van Gogh LEGO minifigure, and the mini-painting that he’s working on. I think it is fun to have a van Gogh minifigure work on his painting while looking upon the LEGO Starry Night model. Kind of a ‘LEGO inception” feeling, it’s fun!
The project is themed around building LEGO Doggo in a simple and cute style. The design is simplistic, so I did not need to use any stickers/ printed parts :)
About LEGO Ideas
- Do you have any useful advice about creating a successful LEGO Ideas Product Idea?
Just speaking from my own experience, building what you love is always better than building what you think would be popular. When the project is built from passion, there would be much more care and attention to details. The love would translate into the final model! Somehow, it is easy to tell which projects are made with love and care.
- What (if any) methods did you use to advertise and attract support to your Product Idea?
I post many of my smaller LEGO creations to my Instagram page. When I launch a new project on IDEAS, I also post it on Instagram. The response is often positive, but the projects would not get many supporters to just form my page.
However, sometimes the project would get shared by other Instagram pages with a lot more followers than me. I am not sure how many supporters noticed my projects there, but it certainly helped :)
- What is your favourite LEGO Ideas Product Idea (besides your own of course)? Are there any Product Ideas you think have been overlooked?
I love the Dinosaur fossil set!! And the Adventure Time set is simple and fun, plus I love the characters~!
- What is it about the platform that attracts you? What tips would you give to anyone who is thinking about uploading an idea?
LEGO IDEAS gives every LEGO fan a chance to make their dream LEGO set to become reality! To many LEGO fans, seeing their creation in official LEGO stores is a dream come true !
The system of letting LEGO fans vote for ideas they like is also very engaging and makes sense for a platform that encourages AFOL participation in the production process.
- 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?
Yes! I am working on a project I am really excited about. It is themed around medieval knights, and the style would be similar to the “Ship in a Bottle” IDEAS set!
- 10k club
- 10k club interview
- truman cheng
- vincent van gogh
- van gogh
- starry night
- lego doggo