Today we're interviewing Rufus, the special themes mod, as well as a Reviewers Academy Teacher.
EBSWF: Thanks for doing this, Rufus. Firstly, how did you get started with the LEGO hobby, and how great is your interest in LEGO Star Wars, as opposed to other themes?
I’ve been a LEGO fan since I was about 5. I inherited a number of rather beaten-up 1970s sets from my brother, and started my own collection with some of the beautiful Classic Town sets from the early 80s. My first true love though was Classic Space, and I built up quite a sizeable space base from these amazing sets.
Of course, being a child of the late 70s/early 80s, I was also a Star Wars fan. I remember trying – and failing, miserably – to build a Millennium Falcon from some Classic Space grey wedge plates! I never dreamed that, 20 years later, it would be Star Wars that got me back into LEGO. You can blame the original Snowspeeder 7130 for that! I’ve been collecting LEGO Star Wars ever since. For a loooong time, it was ONLY Star Wars, and initially only the UCS sets – I have nearly all of them. Then in about 2006, I was at a conference and a little bored in the evening, so I bought two sets – the A-Wing and the Tie Interceptor – and that got my into System Star Wars and the minifigure addiction caught hold!
Recently, my LEGO interests have broadened greatly and Star Wars is no longer my over-riding passion, mainly because the Clone Wars and Expanded Universe sets don’t appeal to me that much; also I have got into MOCing in a big way and it’s difficult to MOC Star Wars without falling foul of the accuracy fiends! But I still collect the OT and PT sets and will continue to review them. It amazes me that after 13 years of the SW Licence, TLG are still putting out great sets; even though they are nowadays mostly improvements on previous ones.
EBSWF: How did you find this site?
I spent many years thinking I was the only AFOL in the world! Imagine my surprise when I discovered there was a whole community of people like me out there. I first discovered From Bricks to Bothans, but I kept following links to this ‘Eurobricks’ site, and it seemed a much more lively and interesting place, so I figured Eurobricks was for me. Like most people, I lurked here for a long time before finally signing up; what convinced me to join in the end was that I was working on my MOC of the Lambda Shuttle (which still doesn’t have a good System version), and wanted to show it off.
EBSWF: What do the people around you think of you being an AFOL?
Not many people know, and those that do don’t know the true extent of it! Close family and friends know, of course, and I think they look at my LEGO hobby as an eccentricity – an image I don’t try to refute! My wife also being an AFOL is both a blessing and a curse – it’s great to share the same hobby, but we don’t have anyone to moderate our spending. LEGO is inexorably taking over the house!
EBSWF: Aside from LEGO, do you have any other hobbies?
I’m a little bit of a musician. I play the guitar (reasonably well) and the saxophone (extremely badly). Till recently I played in a band doing rock covers in a variety of pubs around London – it was great fun until the usual ‘musical differences’ got in the way! Oh well, I have more time for LEGO now.
EBSWF: How much time do you spend on LEGO related activities?
Too much! Unfortunately, as the collection grows, so does the amount of time required to sort all the parts. Like most, we’ve been through every permutation of sorting technique and still haven’t found the best way.
I probably spend equal amounts of time MOCing, reviewing, sorting, and doing online stuff like moderating. Keeping the variety is important as doing exclusively any one of these things can leave you a bit stale. I have a bajillion things I mean to do – particularly on Eurobricks – but rarely the time to bring them all to fruition.
EBSWF: Has the LEGO hobby changed/impacted your life? Do you have any practical use of LEGO in your daily life?
It has thoroughly taken over! Sometimes at the expense of real life things like mowing the lawn. Mostly, it’s a positive influence – we’ve made a load of great friends around the world through Eurobricks, who started as virtual friends and thanks to the things like the Eurobricks Event and Brickworld have become real friends. Otherwise, I’ve learned a lot through the hobby – particularly with regard to photography and photograph editing with Photoshop.
I did consider building a life-size set of furniture from LEGO, but decided that was a step too far. So no, I don’t really have a practical use for all the LEGO!
EBSWF: Have your moderator duties on EB effected how you relate to LEGO? Why or why not?
Yes and no. How's that for an answer? Mostly no, because it hasn't changed my LEGO interests much; though I've probably focused more on Architecture than I might have, and it leaves a little less time for other interests like SW. In some ways it has broadened my interests, because sometimes as a moderator you have to go into forums you wouldn't normally visit, so come across things you wouldn't normally see; in Special Themes I've come to appreciate some of the amazing Arty and Military MOCs out there which I might not have looked at before. Mostly it leaves a little less time for my own interests within EB; for example, I do less in the Reviewers Academy (and less reviewing) than I'd like to.
EBSWF: Why did you choose 'Rufus' for a username?
This has been a secret since I joined EB – do you really want me to reveal it? Prepare to be disappointed! I’d like to say I’m named after the character Rufus in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, or after my Fabuland sigfig, but the truth is rather more mundane.
Around the time I joined EB, I was playing an Xbox RPG called Fable II. You run around with a cute dog who finds stuff to dig up while you shoot bandits. My dog was called Rufus. Told you.
EBSWF: Do you have a favorite Star Wars character?
That’s a toughie. I imagine everyone picks Han Solo, but Han is far too obvious a maverick hero. I think for the Rebels I’d pick Lando – he makes the best of a difficult situation, and works hard to make up for his deal with the Empire.
For the bad guys, I always really liked Admiral Piett. He has a quiet, calm dignity so often lacking in the stereotypically English-accented baddies. You won’t hear him cackling maniacally, or prematurely celebrating his moment of triumph. And he utters the immortal line, ‘Bounty hunters – we don’t need that scum.’ Shame his LEGO figure isn’t so great.
EBSWF: You always make excellent reviews, but how do you go about making them? And how do you decide which sets to review?
Thank you! This question is best answered the other way round.
Generally, I buy sets I like, and review the ones that I feel would benefit from an in-depth look, or which haven’t had a quality review done before. Sometimes I get sent a preview copy of a set to review, which hopefully removes some of the bias inherent in only buying sets I like, but this isn’t likely to happen with Star Wars sets any time soon.
Reviewing is a time-consuming process. For a mint set, I first take pictures of the box, then the contents, then spend far too much time arranging parts neatly. I think this is an important step though: the parts selection may be a factor in many people’s decision to buy one set over another. Then there’s the build process: shooting every few steps of the build, whilst keeping the nascent model and camera in the same positions is a painstaking process, but it does force you to think about the build as you do it.
Once the model is complete, I take pictures from every conceivable angle, and show every feature of the set; for Star Wars sets in particular the minifigure selection is often at least as important as the model itself. I probably only end up using about a quarter of the pictures I take.
Finally, there’s writing the review: for me this can be the hardest part, and writers’ block strikes more often that I’d like to admit. There’s a limit to the number of different ways you can describe the box art of a series!
EBSWF: What was your favorite review?
Oooh, that’s a tricky one. I’m very fond of the UCS R2-D2 review, and indeed some of my earlier UCS reviews (the Snowspeeder was my favourite for a long time, but I think I’ve improved since then. On balance, I’d have to say the 8129 AT-AT review – I went a little over the top, perhaps, but I had great fun posing the AT-AT.
EBSWF: How do you make such great pictures for your reviews? (What's your setup; what camera do you use; what picture editing software do you use; etc.)
Again, thank you!
Mostly it’s down to practice. A reasonable camera is essential – you can’t do it with a webcam or a mobile phone. I use a bottom-of-the-range Canon 1000D, with the basic lens that came with it, but the equipment I really swear by is the tripod. With a tripod, you can use the best ISO setting and a narrow aperture, and just leave the shutter open for ages (never use the flash!)
My ‘studio’ is simply the dining room table, with some white posterboard and the overhead lighting in the room. It’s really simple, but it did take quite some time to find a setup which produces consistent results every time. This produces a rather yellow raw image:
For the processing, I use Photoshop Elements. I always recommend it (and I promise I get no commission from Adobe for this!) With Elements, you can do about 90% of what you can do with the full Photoshop for about a sixth of the price.
About 30 seconds of editing turns it into this: