Hello, and welcome to Episode #15.5 of Classic-Pirates.com's 'Behind the Helm'. This is a special text edition of ‘Behind the Helm’, I'm Izzy Kilmartin and for this interview I had the great pleasure of asking [the World's first and only freelance female Lego artist and writer], Mariann Asanuma a few questions. Mariann has worked as a Master Model Builder for Legoland California, has written instruction books on Lego building and creates her incredible Lego sculptures for different companies and occasions.
Enjoy Me Hearties!
IK: Can you tell us a little about yourself and when you started building with LEGO?
MA: I'm 32 and I've been a LEGO fan as long as I can remember. I got my first LEGO when I was 6, it was a mixed bag of bricks from a thrift store. My first actual set that I remember having was the Homemaker Kitchen, although it might have been with the original mixed bag, I don't remember ever having the box. As for who I am. I'm half Japanese, half Caucasian. My dad is from Japan and I've visited there four times, including living there for three months. I don't speak Japanese fluently, but I do speak enough to get around Japan by myself and understand about half of what they say on the Anime I watch. I have several Japanese themed models I'd eventually like to build that I haven't gotten around to yet.
IK: What else do you enjoy doing when you aren’t building with LEGO?
MA: A lot of people might think that LEGO is my only hobby, considering that is all I write about on my blog and building LEGO models and writing LEGO instruction books are my job, but that is not the case. I have lots of other hobbies. I read (mostly Sci-Fi and Fantasy), play video games (my favourites are puzzle and music games like Guitar Hero), quilt (in fact I was a Quilt Teacher before I became a Master Model Builder), sing, write (of course), watch a lot of TV and movies, draw, and play Capoeira. Capoeira for those of you who don't know is a Brazilian Martial Art that is a combination of martial arts, gymnastics, and dance. Not only do you learn the movements, you also learn to play the instruments that accompany it and sing the songs in Brazilian Portuguese. I started doing it about the same time I started working at LEGOLAND over seven years ago and both changed my life dramatically.
IK: For those of you who have not yet seen it, Mariann has created a most spectacular Guitar Hero controller out of Lego. You can admire it here on her blog page. So Mariann, what is your favourite Lego theme?
MA: My favourite theme when I was a kid (and still one of my favorites today) was Classic Castle, especially the Forestmen. I made lots of Castles and Forestmen Hideouts, always fully furnished and with lots of secret doorways.
I also made a lot of houses, again fully furnished. Although, I kind of built them in a different way. I almost made them like blueprints, all one level and with no roof so that you could decorate and play in all the rooms.
IK: How did you become a Master Model Builder and is that something you always wanted to do?
MA: Ever since I saw an article in Brick Kicks (the precursor to the LEGO Magazine and Brickmaster Magazine) about the Master Model Builders I wanted to be one. I saw all the fantastic LEGO sculptures and creations and dreamed of doing that as a job. Of course when I was a kid I never thought that I would ever actually get to become a Master Model Builder. The nearest LEGOLAND was in England and even the US headquarters was in Enfield, Connecticut -- way to far for a California girl. At least that is what I thought when I was young.
IK: How was it like being a female in a predominantly male world?
MA: I didn't really think too much about it. When I started working in the Model Shop I was the only girl working there. It did really feel like a boys club and it took me about 6 months to really feel like one of the team. One thing that I did notice was, the fact that Miniland seemed like mainly men had designed it. I don't know if that is true, there are women model builders in Europe. But it just seemed like Miniland needed a "woman's touch." Over the 4 years I worked there I added small little details in my scenes, things men might not think about. By the time I left LEGOLAND there were several women working there.As for in the AFOL community, well, I always knew that I was the odd woman out. When I was growing up I didn't know any other LEGO builders, so being one of just a few women that build wasn't really a surprise to me. I know that because of the fact that I do arts and crafts such as quilting, cross stitch, and tatting -- all mainly women's hobbies -- that that has influenced the way I build and design time and time again.
IK: Are you working on any sculptures now?
MA: My latest sculpture that I just made last week was a six inch sculpture of a head. Making realistic heads is one of the hardest types of sculptural building. Getting the expression and the "life" of the sculpture just right is the trickiest part. It is actually part of my second book as an inspirational model and possibly the subject of a future book on LEGO faces. The model took me about 6-8 hours. It is kind of a sculptural and more "realistic" version of my LEGO avatar Model Gal.
IK: Have you ever had a ‘Dark Age’?
MA: No, I never had a "dark age." I am one of the very few that just kept on building. Although I was not with out my critics, namely my dad. He wanted to know why I kept playing with "toys" as he called them into my late teens and twenties. The funny thing is that once I started actually working at LEGOLAND and could prove that I could make money at it, he left me alone.
IK: When you were building all day at work, did it affect how much you used LEGO at home? What about now you are no longer a Master Model Builder?
MA: When I worked at the Park my building at home really dropped off. I wanted to do a lot of building, I certainly had a lot of ideas for models, but building all day was enough. I did buy a lot of LEGO of course, lots of Pick-A-Brick and sets. The special 50% off days that they had I was known to have a nice pile of sets every time. Now, even though I'm not a Master Model Builder, I am still a LEGO Artist (the first female in the World in fact), so I build a good amount. But about half of my models I purposely haven't posted online anywhere yet because they are for future books. All the things I wanted to build or couldn't build (like a Nativity for Christmas) at LEGOLAND are still on my to do list. I have many, many books planned down the line covering a variety of topics and themes.
IK: Would you like to see The Lego Group to make a specific theme or era?
MA: If you'd asked me what would I like to see a few years ago I would have said a mermaid, but of course LEGO has already made it. As for a theme, I think it would be really cool to do a Greek or Roman Mythology theme. I've also always wanted an actual dollhouse (in the style of Cafe Corner would be awesome). That's what got me into LEGO in the first place. I'm in the process of building a Miniland scale house right now that will be like a dollhouse. I don't know when it will be done though, since I build on it for a while then work on other projects. Its one of my side projects. As for color, well I'm pretty happy with the colors that LEGO already has (even with that whole grey/bley change). My only complaint is that certain pieces should be made in all the colors. What I mean by that is elements like the 1x1 slope are not made in tan, its one of my most favourite parts and I'd love it to be in that color.
IK: Your blog mentioned an embarrassing little incident (letting slip about a certain ship) that happened at BrickCon. Can you tell us about that?
MA: Well letting the "ship out of the bottle" was more of a misunderstanding than anything else. Since I couldn't actually be at BrickCon 09 I was looking at some of the pictures on Flickr and I saw a picture with Steve Witt holding what clearly was a new set (what turned out to be the 10210 Imperial Flagship). So I posted it on my blog. What no one had mentioned was that they were "unveiling" it that night and it wasn't going to be officially announced till the next day. I like to let people know of upcoming sets as soon as I can, but I also try to respect the LEGO company if they want to keep something secret until its unveiled. Last year when I was at BrickCon they showed us the Medieval Market Village and specifically asked us not to post anything till the next day. So my main fault was just plain not knowing it was meant to be kept back an extra day.
IK: You have published a book, can you tell us about that? What gave you the idea to write the book?
MA: The story of why and how my book came about is an interesting one. What most people don't realize is that when I quit LEGOLAND I wasn't planning on starting Model Building Secrets at all. In fact, another LEGO centered job wasn't even on my radar at all. I just knew that it was time to move on with my life. I was about to turn 30 (yes, I don't mind telling my age default_blink.gif ) and I had worked at LEGOLAND California for over five years. Although actually achieving my childhood goal of being a Master Model Builder was awesome, I felt I had more to offer the world. About a month after I quit and 4 days before my birthday I woke up at 4 am and had the first book laid out in my head. I knew exactly what it looked like, how it would be laid out, and what it would say. I frantically wrote and drew it all down, it took me 4 hours. I had thought about writing LEGO instruction books for years and becoming a writer was another one of my dream jobs, but I wasn't ready to write them until that moment. Without sounding too religious, I honestly believe that the book was a gift from God. It started me on a whole new path and allowed me to continue what I loved doing any way. If I had stayed at LEGOLAND I would never have been able to write my book, my blog, or for BrickJournal. By being a freelance LEGO Artist I have the freedom to do what I want, combine my talents for writing and LEGO together, and I can share it with the world.
Thank you Mariann for sharing your story with us! We really appreciate it!
Keep a lookout for the next episode of Behind the Helm, coming soon to a port near you!