Friday, February 25, 2011

TBs TechTalk 05 - with Nathanaël Kuipers (Part II)

[Part I]

Lets proceed to the last part of the TBs interview, with Nathanaël Kuipers.

TBs: How do you see the Technic builders community from today? Do you agree it has developed significantly in the recent years?
In your opinion what has most contributed to this development? A wider set of parts available, the easier online contact and the ability to share creations with each other?...

NK: Online communities have made the world so much smaller these days. A decade ago Technic seemed to be a niche market for only a selective group of people. Nowadays it's much easier to find like minded people all over the world. Sharing creations online has inspired many, both young and old, to start building too. As a result Technic has seen a big increase in users and the platform has become much more mainstream these days.
That Technic LEGO has evolved over the years, giving us more possibilities, has likely contributed to this growth as well, even though the learning curve for building MOCs is steeper compared to the older Technic platform.

TBs: If one dreams to become a LEGO Technic Designer, based on your experience, what would you recommend him to do?

NK: A good start is to have a degree in industrial design and arts/ engineering. Building a lot will help too. The trickiest part however is to get noticed by the right people, which requires some luck. To increase your chances, display your own creations at exhibitions, and share them online with high quality pictures and/or movies. And last but not least, try to stand out and be different by creating your own style and speciality.

TBs: Is it mainly a men job? Or did you use to see women as LEGO Designers during your stay at TLG?

NK: The Technic designers at TLG are all male. In most other themes it's the same story. Yes, there are luckily also a few female designers at TLG, but they definitely form a minority. I have to add that to compensate this a lot of women are working in other areas of the development process, who are equally important. This way there is a good balance between the sexes within the company.

TBs: What do you feel, when you see that the models you have developed almost a decade ago as an AFOL, still raise lots of interest among the community?
So that they are still a subject for new stunning renders, and recently your Supercar from '04, still motivated a fan to invest huge time on producing the respective building instructions!
It is remarkable, if we stop to think how the parts and building techniques have evolved since then.

NK: It is indeed remarkable, especially considering that those models were my first Technic MOCs. I find it hard to believe that even today there's still a decent interest for them. Looking back, I personally wouldn't rate them higher than average; they have many flaws and are built inefficiently. For me it was at TLG when I started to learn what real building was about.
However, this doesn't take away the fact that I feel very fortunate that those older models are still much appreciated!

Notice this is not the same Nathanaël's Supercar as referred above and shown in the first part of this interview, but his GT Sport also based on 8458 and 8466.

TBs: As we often assist also with other renowned builders, when the builder and his models surpass a certain popularity level, praise and criticism accompany them along.
Your modular concept for cars (Concept and Concept 4x4) was no exception! Some give big praises, others say there is no innovation in it, at all.
Would you like to explain us, which were your aims when you developed these models, your sense of accomplishment and how do you think we all can benefit from them?

NK: One thing I have learned over the years is that we can not criticize someone else's work if we do not know what the original intention of the designer, or in this case builder, was. Of course we all have our preferences, but if someone's model doesn't match my expectations, instead of expressing being underwhelmed, I'd rather not comment.

But I can understand that certain people think that the Conceptcar is not innovative when you look at the functions. Innovative functions however was never my intention with this project. What I was trying to achieve was a re-imagination of the classic 8448 supercar, but with contemporary design, and exploitation of modularity.
Just like with real cars, modules can be (ex)changed with personal customisation. This was actually the reason why I specifically chose not to introduce all kind of new functions, and only present a basic platform to work from, just like with set 8448. The 4x4 version I presented shows one other example of what is possible, but what can be achieved in the end is all up to the imagination of the individual. That's the power of LEGO; if you don't like things, you can add or change something and make it your own!
After I presented this model, I have seen several other esteemed Technic builders starting to create similar modular supercars as well, so in that respect I think the Conceptcar was innovative and a trendsetter.

Anyway, I believe I accomplished my personal goal; I have designed for myself a decent substitute for the supercar I never had. What other people may think is up to them, but I'm still pleased with the result.

The Concept Car in its three variants: Gullwing Doors, Roadster and Convertible, along with the 4x4 Concept.

TBs: Which was the Technic model that challenged you most to develop, as a LEGO Technic Designer?

NK: Actually every model was a challenge, and presented its own unique problems. I think I struggled most with the earlier projects, because I was still inexperienced and had a lot of things to learn. First I needed to get used to how to build according to TLG standards, and then get a better understanding of what children at different ages can, and can not do. In that respect set 8271 Front Loader caused a lot of problems. With such a tight budget on small models it was already difficult to come up with an attractive concept with interesting functions. But then to find a way to present such a model so that an 8-year old can replicate it is a real brain teaser!
Of course there was a similar situation when I designed set 8261 Rally Truck, but due to more experience and the nature of the model this was a lot less problematic. I believe that this one should also give the consumer a much better experience.
However my personal favourite of the official Technic models I designed is set 8292 Cherry Picker, because it feels like I was able to make it my own without too much interference and compromise.

TBs: You designed your first Technic sets for the 2007 assortment. The same year when the LPF was first introduced with the 8275, Motorized Bulldozer. The last major breakthrough, for the LEGO Technic theme.
Guess they were exciting times for you and your Designer colleagues, to be able to take part of this advancement, while everyone else out there was not even able to anticipate it. Can you describe the internal excitement in these times?

NK: Back then, together with marketing and design lead, I was myself a bit more involved in developing and presenting the strategy of LPF in Technic for the next few years.
Even though the LPF system can be considered the latest breakthrough, these times might not have been quite the excitement one expects. The LPF system was a project that was ongoing simultaneously with the development of the 2007 Technic assortment, and therefore there were a lot of uncertainties during this period. Because the specifications regarding dimensions, torque and speed of the different motors were not yet fully defined and specified, and we had to work with a limited amount of prototypes instead, we had to take in consideration that this could have a big influence on the final performance and construction of a model. In that respect it was also a stressful situation for the designers, hoping that most things would work as anticipated.
To me the real fun of building with LPF only started when we received the final production samples, which, as far as I can remember, was actually not that long before set 8275 became known to the public...

TBs: I've read that you started to work for TLG as a freelancer (always thought they mostly use to hire for Junior Designer positions) and the project you got assigned was the 8674 Ferrari F1 Racer 1:8.
For me this was your best looking model and the one I most enjoyed building and playing.
Was there any particular reason or previous work done, for you to get such a large challenge as a freelance project?

NK: It's nice to hear you appreciate this model a lot. I also do not know why I was asked as a freelancer. Maybe because I came from unfamiliar territory for TLG as a Dutch designer and labelled as fan, and they didn't want to take too much of a risk. Anyway, I later found out that TLG contacted me initially with the idea to help the Technic department with creating alternative models.
However when this Ferrari project came along from the Racers team, and with all the Technic designers assigned to other models, the decision was made to put me to the test and let me try to develop the model, just to see what I was capable of. I wasn't aware of this and just started to work on the assignment they initiated, giving it my best shot...

TBs: The 8674 had two predecessors almost identical (8458 Silver Champion and 8461 Williams F1 Team Racer). Despite the change to studless design, which other objectives were set for the Ferrari? How did you approach the challenge?

NK: Due to the success of the smaller 1:10 Technic F1 Ferrari 8386 TLG wanted to launch a bigger more accurate model with several functions which should represent the Ferrari F1 2005 as close as possible, preferably with detachable nose and bodywork. For the size of this model the reference was the wheel of set 8458. There was no budget for the development of new parts so I had to work with what was available. That meant pretty much using the same suspension mechanism as in set 8458, but converting it to a studless design. The first challenge was therefore to create a decent structure for a frame that could cope with the forces of this kind of suspension.
Through the Racers team I received some exclusive reference material from Ferrari on their Formula 1 car. Unfortunately though I had to do it with pictures, because I would have loved to see the real thing!
So at this stage I started to experiment with the body style, where to put different panels and add certain details. Basically the question was what the main characteristics were of the Ferrari F1 2005. One thing I wasn't allowed to do in the official model was using white elements at certain places, because this could be associated with the tobacco industry, something both TLG and Ferrari wanted to avoid.
Once there was an approval of the authenticity of the model from both internally and Ferrari, it was time to clean up the model and improve the buildability, so it would pass the model review session.
The review went well, but there were some small issues that had to be looked into. As my freelance period was over and my holiday already planned, one of the Technic designer took care of them. So if you compare my version with the final model, small differences can be noticed, even though many are very subtle.

TBs: What do you think about the new panels design? When compared to the previous ones, do you find them more versatile and useful or somehow they also bring new building limitations with them?
Can you imagine how the 8674 would look like now, if these were the panels to use?

NK: To be honest I'm not totally sold yet on the new panels, even though it's difficult to explain why. They definitely have several advantages like more connection points so they are more intuitive to build with, and can be used for constructive purposes as well.
The first generation of panels had too much noise and distraction with big open holes and cylindrical shapes. However the new generation of panels are pretty much the opposite. I think they look a bit too clean and therefore lack character in my opinion. They are also less suggestive in which case the panels end up at almost the same place in similar type of models. (Compare for example panel placement on set 8041 vs 8258 vs 8109 vs 8052) The result of this seems to be a decreasing variety and character of models.
Of course the second generation of panels, like I used in 8674, often end up at similar places as well, but to me those panels can be combined in multiple ways, still giving a nice flow of surfaces. Also I believe they are a bit more refined with subtle accents so they look better on smaller models too.
So summarising: the easier to use new panels offer more possibilities in construction, the older panels more in aesthetics.
I wouldn't know what set 8674 would look like today with the use of new panels. Probably not as curvy, but to be certain I should probably try...

TBs: It is about time for a new Technic F1 large car... Either as an hobby, a freelance project or a new position at TLG, maybe this would be a new challenge you would like take!?...
A return as a LEGO Designer, would be something that you would be willing to embrace?

NK: Perhaps now TLG has a deal with Mercedes-Benz regarding the Unimog there could be a possibility for them to develop a Mercedes F1 racer as well. It would indeed be nice to see a fresh one after so many Ferrari's. It's not something I would take on any time soon as a hobby project, but if TLG contacts me to design one again, I wouldn't say no.
Yes, I would like to use and promote LEGO again in a future job, even though this doesn't necessarily imply working for TLG...

Thank you Mr. Kuipers!
Above, the LEGO Technic and Racers sets designed by Nathanaël while he worked for TLG. Most of them were totally designed by him, but there were some cooperation exceptions (those on the right side). Nathanaël made the first concept of the 8272 but didn’t make the materialisation of it (making it buildable and to price target, etc...), which another colleague did. With 8256 it was the opposite; someone else made the first concept and Nathanaël did the materialisation.


Junkstyle Gio said...

Many thanks to both Conchas and Nathanaël.

Part 2 was as informative as part 1.

I wish Nathanaël as much succes as possible in his upcoming endeavors with LEGO.!

Barman said...

I also like the thank Nathanaël and Conchas for making the time to do this interview. I injoyed reading it very much.

Alhough I had a small conversation with Nahthanaël in Legoworld 2008 about the 8292 Cherry Picker, I liked reading about the developement stage of the model and all the other sets Nathanaël worked on, as well as his own MOCs.

Thanks guys ;)

Dornbi said...

This was really insightful, thanks!

DanoG said...

Excellent stuff NK (when your name becomes a well known acronym that says it all!) and Conchas.

Anonymous said...

I was lead to believe that LEGO had issues with copyright on the cable system after another company with a similar cable system was going to take lego to court therefore lego stopped using it....?

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