In today's 10K Club Interview, we meet a LEGO Ideas member and creator who was inspired by the Japanese animated fantasy of the same name - Spirited Away in his latest build. The set features the iconic “Bathhouse” from the animation, with 8 unique rooms showcasing memorable scenes from the story.
- Who are you?
Hello, my name is Truman Cheng. :)
- Where are you from?
I am from Hong Kong.
- How old are you?
I'm 26 years old.
- What do you do for a living?
I am a Ph.D. student - my studies focus on medical robotics.
- What hobbies do you have?
Aside from building with LEGO, I like drawing/painting.
- 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 LEGO 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 of it and do you have a photo of it?
I have made some custom LEGO Brickheadz for many Studio Ghibli characters, and the legendary animation director himself, Hayao Miyazaki!
- 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 are “creative limitations” going on too. :) So 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 modular buildings! They are so detailed and well designed. I can feel the passion and effort the LEGO designers have put into those models. There are also many amazing LEGO Ideas sets in the past few years. I love watching the designer videos on LEGO’s official YouTube channel whenever there is a new modular building or LEGO Ideas set released. It’s really fun listening to the designers talk about the techniques, story ideas, and fun easter eggs.
- What is your favourite LEGO element? Why?
I would have to go with the 6441 Deep Reef Refuge, just for all the good childhood memories. :) I used to play this set a lot with my older brother. For a kid, the experience was not “we are playing with some toys”, it was more like “we are having a great underwater adventure! Look at all the sea creatures swing around!”. Sometimes I miss how easy it was to play with imagination or “make-believe” as a child.
- Is there a LEGO designer (official LEGO designer or fan designer) who you are inspired by and look up to? Who and why?
For Fan Designers, I like Pablo Jiménez(Bricky_Brick), Ivan Guerrero (bulldoozer), Hachiroku24, JKbrickworks, and Lepralego. Pablo and Ivan create amazing Minifigure scale projects. Hachiroku builds beautiful vignettes. JKbrickworks is a master in moving models! And I wish Lepralego becomes an official designer for modular building. :) For official designers, I admire Jamie Berard’s contribution to the modular series!
I love all the designers who worked so hard on LEGO Ideas sets and modular buildings. Any designer video with Carl Merriam, Sam Johnson, or Austin Carlson in it is a guaranteed fun time!
ABOUT YOUR PROJECT
- Where did your interest in this particular model come from?
I love Studio Ghibli animations. They are pure magic, and the worlds are so immersive and fascinating. Building LEGO models of Ghibli characters/world just seemed fun. I had previously created a LEGO model for Totoro and the Cat bus. The idea of building the bathhouse from Spirited Away had always been in the back of my mind, but for a long time, it just seemed too grand and challenging. After I created the Starry Night LEGO model, which seemed impossible in the beginning, I gained more confidence and was ready to tackle this Spirited Away project :)
- 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?
It took a long time, I can’t remember exactly how long, only that it took longer than designing the Starry Night model. I rewatched the film (Spirited Away) to feel the atmosphere of the world and paid attention to the color palette. Then, I decided on the keys scenes and characters I wanted to include in the model. There are some I had to cut (Like the giant baby room), but I am pretty happy with what I managed to include. The train scene with No face, the boiler room, and the garden with Haku was a “must-do” from the get-go. They are some of my favorites from the movie. While building, I paused the film and scrolled through the timeline for hours, so I can see all the angles of different places inside the world. I also borrowed the art book for the animation from a friend. The artwork/ design sketches in the book helped a lot.
- What special challenges did you face creating the model? What was the most difficult part to recreate?
Building the vignettes (the sceneries) was really fun. Building the bathhouse itself took a long time and many references, but it was straightforward. The biggest challenge for me was fitting the sceneries of small buildings inside the main model (bathhouse exterior). I wanted the smaller builds to look like rooms of the bathhouse, and the colors to be harmonious when they’re displayed together. The scaling of the model and fine-tuning the color palette was a real challenge!
- 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?
Instead of building the bathhouse with an open back, try making a model with a hinged back. And don’t overblow the scale of the bathhouse.
- How did it feel when you reached the magic 10,000 votes and how long did it take?
It was magical. I love Studio Ghibli but was unsure about its popularity among LEGO fans. Turns out there are many LEGO fans who share my wish for an official Spirited Away LEGO set. The love and support from the community are amazing! The project reached 10K supporters within 2 months!
- Approximately how many LEGO bricks did you use to create your model?
The model used over 2000 bricks! I think the detailing on the bathhouse exterior took more parts to make than I expected. If I can revamp the model, I think I would downscale the bathhouse a little. :)
- What is your favourite building technique or part/section that you’ve incorporated into your Product Idea?
I built all the smaller sceneries as their standalone model. It is easy to take one of the “rooms” from the bathhouse and play with it on its own. Each scenery is made as a mini vignette that looks like a movie scene even outside the main model. There are background and many cool details in each one of them.
ABOUT LEGO IDEAS
- Do you have any useful advice about creating a successful LEGO Ideas project?
I think the best way to do it is to build something you are genuinely interested in/passionate about. The love would show through the model, there may be more cool details and easter eggs because you know the movie/theme really well. And the building process would be a lot of fun for you too.
- What is your favourite LEGO Ideas Product Idea (besides your own of course)? Are there any Product Ideas you think have been overlooked?
It is really hard to pick a favourite. There are so many amazing LEGO Ideas sets in the past few years. Pirates of Barracuda Bay, Dinosaur fossils, the Ship in a Bottle, and the Grand Piano are my personal favourites!
- 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 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 of what that might be?
Yes! There are a few LEGO Ideas projects I am working on. I am keeping the subject matter secret. :) All I can say is they are no less cool/fun than any of my existing projects.
- 10k club
- 10k club interview
- truman cheng
- spirited away
- studio ghibli