Contact (sorry for the syntax ― trying to aviod spam): ribic dot oton at g mail
Lego collection: ~28400 parts
Brickshelf name: Legoism
As for my LEGO activity and myself, instead of cramming the stuff with all kinds of disorganized information, I'll just go the easy route and paste the updated interview from MECK, a small local mechanical education magazine.
First, let us know a bit about yourself. Who are you, what do you build, and for how long have you been doing so?
I devote most of my LEGO time to Technic and Mindstorms, though occasionally I like venturing into Fantasy, Town and Classic Space areas. I was a pretty active Technic builder in my teens, and after the typical personal dark ages, I've returned to building in year 2010. Apart from LEGO, I'm an industrial & IT engineer, and live in Croatia for the moment. I was born in 1980.
A good old unavoidable question: any favourite sets? Or colours, or in your case, mechanisms or techniques?
Yes, I'd single out the 6929 Starfleet Voyager as that one set that made me really love LEGO as a child. It was the largest set I got and its playability was beyond the level I've experienced with the previous, small sets. Later, it was the 8865 Test Car which turned my attention into the Technic direction, where it's still heading today.
As for the techniques, I like clever gearboxes and linkages, and combining multiple mechanical concepts (e.g. pneumatics, linear actuators, power functions) in the single model. My favourite colours are probably red and DBG. I also like black, but from a purely practical point of view, it is usually horribly difficult to photograph nicely.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
From just about everywhere. From the impressive MOC's of other builders, historical albums, new parts being introduced, YouTube of various stuff that may be completely unrelated to LEGO, and so on. Sometimes and idea pops in my head and I start planning a MOC around it. Of course, many turn out to be mistaken, but some do not. Also, I follow the activity of various top-notch builders such as Sariel, Nathanael Kuipers, Nico71, Crowkillers, etc., and they often act as catalysts for my own stuff. (Thank you guys!)
Speaking of other builders, are you a member of any LEGO clubs or organizations?
Yes, the Kockice club has recently recruited me as a member. It's the main LEGO User Group in Croatia. I'm also a writer for the HispaBrick Magazine, affiliated with the namesake LUG in Spain, in fact I visit their events in Spain. I'll take the opportunity now to invite other LEGO builders to join the LUG's and communities because it really helps in the long term.
Let's be more specific for the readers that may be considering it ― in what way does it help?
In many ways. It speeds up exchanges of ideas, and allows for planning MOC's which are simply beyond capabilities and workload of a single person. It lets one exhibit, travel and meet other LEGO fans (which is a fantastic experience), and often also procure LEGO much cheaper than an independent builder could. I don't say it is mandatory to be a member of a community to progress, after all there are awesome independent builders, but the bottom line is that it helps.
That doesn't mean the community is perfect. It regards something people love, and therefore are often very emotional ― or make that "irrational" ― about. Also, we need more women, because they are excellent builders and see the things differently than the majority of us chaps. LEGO is still slightly too much a boys' toy, which even the LEGO Group itself silently acknowledged by introducing sets specifically targeting girls. Notice that no such sets were ever required for boys. But I repeat, I definitely recommend any LEGO enthusiast to at least consider joining the community in one way or another.
Let us return to building. Can you single out a MOC which was the most complex for you, or the most satisfying?
Complexity can take many forms, especially when one gets into Mindstorms. But overall, I think I'd go for the Red Raccoon as the most complex MOC I've built. It was an SUV, approximately 1:10 in scale, crammed with functions. It had full independent suspension, four wheel drive, independent front and rear steering, independent front and rear continuously adjustable ride height, independently lockable half-axle and central differentials, a five-speed sequential gearbox, and every single of these controlled remotely. I've spend dozens, possibly over a hundred of hours constructing it. But despite its devilish complexity, it wasn't particularly satisfying after all.
Because all those crammed functions actually reduced its offroad capabilities. Differential locks, independent ride height adjustment or five-speed gearbox sound great, but they turned out to be required very rarely if at all, and yet they made the car everything heavier and weaker. So, while equipped like a spaceship, it actually had worse offroad performance than some simple yet sturdy cars. A fine showcase car, so-to-speak, but not as capable in practice.
But still, it must have been fun building it? Do you still have it?
No, I've disassembled it years ago. I can't afford keeping such a large MOC built, as I require parts for other things. I always shoot tons of high quality photos of my MOC's to allow them being exactly rebuilt if need arises, and once or twice I did, but I don't keep stuff assembled except for a short duration while it is exhibited, or awaiting a contest, etc.
So you need more parts, then?
Nah, the basic point of LEGO is to use and re-use parts. My collection is not particularly large, about 28000 parts (* at the time of writing), but it is sufficient for having one good, probably grey or red MOC at a time. I know there are builders with their building arsenals reaching well into six-digit numbers, but I'm trying to avoid that.
Because you mean the increase of possibilities reduces creativity?
Not for that very reason, though it is in itself a valid one. Rather because I want to keep my building practical and efficient, and let everything fit on my one large building table. If it goes much further, I will need to start stowing some stuff away, then rumble through boxes when I need it, etc. Anyway, my current collection is, I feel, a pretty good balance between the possibilities and practicality. Of course, I will keep adding some stuff, especially new parts, but pumping up the collection just for the sake of pumping it up, is not my cup of tea.
You are also a Mindstorms builder. Don't you agree with a part of the community, that Mindstorms actually isn't "true" LEGO, as it requires software engineering and other skills that are too remote from the basic experience of building with your hands?
A difficult question. I suppose I understand, and occasionally follow, both schools. Often it is part of the challenge to construct something complex, such as GBC modules, without using "smart" systems and automation. And, for many things standard Power Functions are just enough. Mindstorms allows, on the other hand, building very impressive and useful things, but only if one is ready to devote plenty of time not only to building, but to programming and adjusting as well. An engraving robot, for example, would be completely impossible without Mindstorms. Both ways work for me.
In that respect, what do you consider your best or most original ideas?
Within the Technic realm, likely the pure-LEGO working submarine. And in the Mindstorms field, the embroidery machine or possibly the aforementioned engraving robot. But that should rather be judged by the readers.
What about the Classic Space? Is it a dose of nostalgia, or...?
Well, I cannot deny there may be some nostalgia present, as the Space theme is the one I've played with throughout my entire childhood. But I'm not rebuilding the spaceships I've played with then, but rather doing some different stuff. When I begin, say, building a spaceship today, I try to make it as believable and sensible as possible, with room to move inside, power source, fuel tanks, means of maneuvering, etc. I'm pretty much a fan of Sci-Fi in general, so the Space theme feels like my natural habitat. And the Classic Space is where I can find my way about the easiest.
Perhaps a weird question to ask an adult, but ― do you actually play with your MOC's?
In the case of the Classic Space or something similar, no. The building process itself is the "playing" part for me, and once it is finished, I photograph it or perhaps sign it up for an exhibition, and that's all. However, when I build, say, a remotelly controlled racing car, I take it for at least a couple of test drives at home or around the neighbourhood, and I've got to admit having lots of fun doing it.
Let's move on to more general topics. What do you like, and what do you dislike about LEGO today?
I can only speak for the areas that are related to my activity, e.g. I don't have any opinion on Architecture sets of Friends, for example. What I like is the amount of focus the LEGO Group has in developing new sets. As opposed to the situation in the noughties when the company's future itself was under a question mark and the sets, particularly Technic, were bleak, today's situation seems crystal-clear, and the relations to the AFOL community are rather strong. I also like the policy for introducing new parts, which I think is well balanced between overdoing, over-specializing everything and boredom of generic parts.
On the other hand, I dislike the occasional slightly narrow spectrum of ideas. Nearly all Technic sets, and the flagships almost always, are vehicles. And why do the Mindstorms sets have to be based around humanoid robots? From the point of view of a salesman I can understand both these things (playability, child appeal, etc.), but sometimes I feel things are unnecessarily predetermined. Bring back the idea books! Check out some of the older idea books and you can find ideas and models that would seem insanely creative and original if they appeared on the shop shelves today.
You have mentioned generic and specialized parts. Do you feel that building Technic nowadays is easier thanks to a wider spectrum of parts than years, decades ago?
Depends on your viewpoint. I can say from my own experience that building top-notch stuff is at least just as difficult as it was back then. But the expectations and possibilities have expanded.
What do you mean?
I mean that building, say, a driven, steered, independent portal vehicle suspension was at the outermost limit of what was possible back then, and required immense skill. Today, thanks to some specialized parts, it is much easier and well within the grasp of an average Technic enthusiast. But now there are other, more advanced things that define the limit ― for example, twin helicopter counter-direction rotors with independent pitch control. Today it is just doable, and was absolutely out of the question back then. Though the possibilities increase, each era, so-to-speak, has its own master challenges.
Do you expect this trend to continue in the future, then?
Yes, absolutely. Perhaps the twin rotors will soon be commonplace thanks to a couple of new parts now in the waiting, and other new things will define the outer limits. Submersibles? Fliers? Turbines? Who knows! LEGO community, especially the Technic crowd, is often crazily creative when it comes to parts usage.
We should not forget that the AFOL's are an extremely demanding audience, and typically those that push the boundaries forward. But LEGO lives from manufacturing toys, and it's children and their parents they need to appeal to. Not us, the wacky and crazy minority of adults, albeit I don't feel neglected by the LEGO Group, either.
With your intense LEGO activity, have you got time for other interests?
A bit. I play drums in a rock band. Also I'm an avid pool billiards player, particularly the rare 14.1 straight and one-pocket variants. I travel and photograph a lot, follow motorsports, love cryptographic riddles, etc. But if I had to, I'd still probably single out LEGO as my primary hobby. And photography is anyway pretty much a requirement if you are a serious LEGO builder, as the projects need to be presented well.
Yes, that stands in the publishing business as well ― regardless of how great things one does, it is all in vain if it is not presented in a likeable, interesting manner.
Certainly ― but that's the case with nearly everything, is it not? Occasionally I stumble upon other builders' MOC's that may very well belong to the absolute peak of LEGO, yet they remained buried in an obscure Internet gallery somewhere, completely undocumented, and photographed very poorly. Good ideas need a good presentation, and that is an undeniable fact. It has nothing to do with style being above substance. I mean that documenting a MOC well with photos, text and even videos should be a normal phase of its creation. It does not, contrary to a wide belief, require lots of talent neither expensive equipment. The only requirement is a bit of thought and care, and after all, if one has spent dozens, hundreds of hours building something fascinating, it is wrong to deny it an extra half an hour to shoot a couple of nice photos and perhaps write a paragraph or two on it. Note that all the widely acknowledged top LEGO builders pay lots of attention to presentation finesse, or get at least half-decent photographers to do the job for them.
Mentioning this extra work, how does a typical building project look for AFOL's? I presume you don't just sit at a table, spill the bricks out of a bucket and get building whatever comes up to your mind?
I think it is a very varying, personal thing. There are AFOL's that do just that ― start with a pile of parts and see what they come up with. Actually I've met a guy who is brilliant at it, coming up with ideas on-the-fly, and ending up with something that looks like it just came from the official LEGO brochure.
Admittedly, I'm lacking such a talent. Of course I do occasionally pick up some bricks and start playing with them, see whether I can come up with something, but I succeed only rarely. Instead, most of my projects have begun with a bit of planning and analysing, sketching, some calculations if necessary, and then finally building, with lots of undoing and retracing.
Do you find it, in a way, wrong? I would imagine the fun playing with LEGO is just picking up bricks and building, without such accurate and detailed analyses and preparations.
Yes, perhaps LEGO loses a bit of this immediacy and spontaneity once you become an AFOL, or at least for a large portion of us. There is perhaps less excitement. But this is rewarded and, to my mind at least, compensated with much better results one can strive for. This applies to any complex MOC, but of course, is even more important for the patient guys who build accurate scale models and replicas. They need to devote even much more time comparing blueprints, selecting parts, etc.
Kinda like cooking, for example. It's often just fine to open the refrigerator, bang something together among the ingredients available, and ― with some experience ― one can cook a nice improvised dish nine out of ten tries. However, finest delicacies do require careful planning, shopping, preparation, timing, etc. Unless you're a 3-star chef, that is.
Those "delicacies" built by the top builders usually surpass even the official LEGO sets in their looks, functionality or both. Do you feel the official flagships should do better to match that?
I'm not sure. I suppose the current flagships are what floats the LEGO Group's boat, as a well-judged balance of price, complexity, playability, aesthetics and functions. We should not forget that they are a company, not an AFOL appreciation society as we often like to fool ourselves, and if they suppose that increasing complexity would actually reduce sales, we've got to accept that reason as a very valid one.
On the other hand, yes, a couple of times I got the impression that some flagship sets simply were not developed enough, or were declared as flagships only because of their status or relation to a franchise, whereas they weren't particularly interesting to play with or to build. Take the Technic Porsche 911 as an example ― undeniably beautiful and impressive, but panned by more technical-minded critics, and staggeringly expensive for any set, let alone a set without electric or pneumatic functions. Perhaps it was just rushed to the market.
Has LEGO succumbed to the commercial pressure, then?
Perhaps in those rare instances it has. But otherwise, I've got to grant LEGO high quality standards and intense attention to detail. Nearly every set launched to the market leaves the impression of having been seriously thought through, tested, well judged in terms of colour, playability, complexity, etc. As said before, LEGO has a strong focus on these things, and fortunately does not let the market pressure blur it away. That is perhaps the reason why the exceptions, when they occasionally occur, seem so overblown.
Yes, perhaps we are all a bit too spoiled. Did you ever consider, or even apply for a job at LEGO?
I did both actually, though it was a rather crazy hit-or-miss attempt some years ago. It is an undoubtably cool and creative job. But truth be told, as I've met some professional designers and community members in the meantime, I'm less convinced about it now than I did back then.
It is not all butterflies and unicorns, right?
Exactly. We, the enthusiast LEGO community, often like to portray being a professional LEGO designer as being paid to build wonderful stuff eight hours a day, with virtually unlimited number of parts at disposal. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that this job includes building and designing sets, but this is only one among many tasks one is expected to do. There's lot of modifications, redesigns according to the wishes of marketing, manufacturing and other departments, as well as being constrained by commercial aspects and feasibility. As AFOL's we like to dream about castles built from tens of thousands of bricks, or Technic cars featuring twelve motors, three battery packs and meters of wires. Such sets are simply out of the question. As a professional Technic builder, you're much more likely to be expected to come up with a 150-piece pure-mechanical set which contains no expensive colours nor exotic parts. It is challenging and requires creativity, no doubt, but is different from what we, the freestyle AFOL community, are used and accustomed to. I'm no exception; hardly any MOC I've built would be a reasonable candidate for being converted into a set.
Are you working now on some such MOC?
This very moment not, as I have just recently finished one: the new Competition Crawler. As opposed to the earlier chassis that were slightly over-engineered, this is a clear return to the roots, with simple dual free axles and portal hubs, but with a twist: the wheels can be driven independently. Judging by how much I've managed to test so far, it allows for some weird steering angles and tricks. But I'm not yet ready to declare it successful off-road, as it requires some more testing, or perhaps trials.
You do LEGO Truck Trials?
I did and possibly will again, but I've got to admit that I'm perhaps getting very slightly tired of the concept. There is not enough action and excitement for me, as the trials usually progress very slowly. It may look great on the highlights video, but in reality I would like more things happening. It is a challenge for the builders, but there are other challenges that may provide just as much fun.
Currently I'm considering other new forms of LEGO vehicle competitions. Racing perhaps, on an asphalt surface, all together at once, with limits set to propulsion, scale and total size. I'm still mulling it over and perhaps in the foreseeable future something of the sort will take place indeed.
Maybe you should go all the way and organize a boat race? A regatta?
Actually I've thought about that for a while, but although it sounds super-fun, it is in fact hampered by three problems that are rather difficult to solve. Firstly, any bumps between the boats (and it would happen sooner or later, have no doubt) would likely result in at least one of them breaking down and taking all these valuable parts down to the bottom. Then, the specific parts required are not within many builders' collections, and I'd dislike forcing anyone to place exotic part orders only for this competition. And perhaps just as importantly, the range of the infra-red controllers would allow only a regatta indoors or in very small waters.
A so-called Bathtub Cup, right? But joking aside, it seems that the competitions, not necessarily of the racing type, keep many builders interested and active.
And we are all rather lucky that the LEGO Group has itself recognized their importance, hence often supplying the prizes for free. Some builders have occasionally criticized competitions due to their limited scope, but regardless, it is altogether still a very positive thing.
I understand their viewpoint, however ― if one is, say, a devoted Belville or Aquazone builder, it is difficult not to get annoyed by the fact that probably 90% competitions include only a handful of the same, recurring themes. But the underlying point is that the aim of the competitions is to collect as many contestants as possible, and that simply requires going for one of the obviously popular options. Fortunately, there are certain competitions that allow any theme and style as long as it is LEGO and adheres to a certain story or setting.
There have been some interesting robotics championships we have covered in the past, and the robots presented there, mostly based on Mindstorms, were pretty advanced.
To get back to Mindstorms, there is ample proof that, with enough patience, incredibly complex and sophisticated stuff is possible. The previous NXT generation allowed a lot, and the community just went mad with the more powerful, recent EV3 set. I've given it a try as well, though most of my robots were not built to entertain but rather to perform a task useful beyond LEGO. Engraving, embroidery I've mentioned earlier, fabric tailoring, milling, etc.
The limits I've encountered doing so, however, had nothing to do with the processing power or the logical circuitry, since everything was controlled from a PC anyway. The constraints I came across were actually related to the specialized parts, or rather the lack of them.
You mean, parts specialized particularly for robots and machines?
Yes, kind of. Long, simple but accurate linear racks, Mindstorms motors with little or no backlash, or even linear motors would allow, or at least vastly simplify, building advanced automatic machines. It is possible now, but requires plenty of massive reinforcements and clumsy workarounds to wrestle with the backlashes and structural weaknesses. Admittedly, such parts would be expensive, and therefore I doubt we will see them coming out of the LEGO factories.
But another, independent team has recognized the need for such parts, or at least it seems so to me. The guys behind the MinuteBot project, manufacturing the custom Technic baseplates, exactly mention such precise mechanical parts on their website. They do not manufacture them, at least not yet, but it seems they ran into similar problems and came up with these parts as a possible solution. If not them, perhaps someone else will pick up from where they left.
Do not get me wrong: the standard LEGO linear actuators are fine, but their range of about four centimeters is simply too short. The newly introduced linear sliding racks, though still somewhat suffering from backlash, may be a pointer in the right direction and announcement of what is to come in the future. Let's wait and see.
So what kinds of new mechanisms and robots do you expect to be possible once when, and if, such new parts become available?
Full-size plotters, large robotic hands, CNC machines, even simple household helpers ― you name it. A whole new horizon of possibilities emerges and, should these parts become reality, rest assured we will witness a storm of crazy and brilliant new ideas. They may go as far as to seriously enter the professional sector.
Isn't LEGO, and especially Mindstorms, already present in the business, at least to an extent?
In fact it is. I am aware of at least two instances where LEGO robotics were used directly as an aid for an industrial engineering prototype, and probably there are dozens ― if not hundreds ― of others. After all, why shouldn't they? It is nearly universal, reusable, easy to program, reliable, simple to modify and repair, and taking into account how much standard industrial robotic cost, extremely cheap. Actually, a couple of times I have watched YouTube videos of electromechanical machines in the industry, which could have been done just as well using a standard LEGO EV3 set. Perhaps the professionals are simply not aware of the possibility, or are afraid of being criticized by the others for using "toys".
Perhaps the LEGO Group should take notice, and if it fits within their strategy, create a new, professional theme completely separate from the rest, and market it as such. LEGO Pro Lab, or something of the sort, offer those aforementioned exotic new parts (as their price would still be relatively small for the professionals), and back it up with plenty of good software which we already know LEGO is capable of developing. I don't see any reason why that would be impossible.
Now that you mention it, the GBC's are a lot like industrial processes and mechanisms...
Exactly. If anyone still needs a proof that LEGO can do complex mechanical tasks, there it is, in large quantities. Who knows, maybe this entire concept is closer than we think.
Let's move on to another topic. What kind of effect do you find the Internet did, and still does, to LEGO?
Enormous, simply enormous. I was lucky to have experienced LEGO both in the times without and with Internet, and I've got to confirm it made a huge difference. The amount of ideas exchanged, works published, groups formed and organized was simply unthinkable before the Internet. Everyone was "his own builder", happened to get some ideas from the Idea Books, and perhaps showed own MOC's to a couple of friends. And that was mostly all. There were clubs and organisations at that time, but their scope of activity was much, perhaps an order of magnitude, narrower than it is today.
LEGO played their cards well, too. They took advantage of these new technologies without risking to move too far away from their core business and values. And being able to inspect each set, parts, virtual tours from the comfort of one's own sofa has certainly helped them sell more. And the tools for virtual building, now available to everybody, have helped many create stuff much faster than they would just having real bricks at their disposal.
However, this vastness has itself caused another problem, or a "pseudo-problem", if you will. It is now nearly impossible to follow tracks of everything happening in the LEGO world across all the excellent Internet sites and resources available now. Even for me, following primarily Technic topics requires a non insignificant amount of time if I want to be informed really well, let alone the general LEGO stuff. And the crazy thing is that the Internet community is still undergoing steep expansion.
Many people now talk about the Virtual Reality as the next big thing in technology. Do you feel it may enhance the LEGO experience as well?
Possibly, though probably not as deep as the Internet itself did. However, some applications such as viewing virtual models in 3D or even building them virtually, walking through one's MOC's and similar entertainment may be commonplace soon.
And a final question: what is going to be your next big project we can look forward to?
I'm not sure yet, but possibly I will attempt a large-scale replica of a Ferrari 348tb, loaded with Technic functions. But I'm rather fickle, and may just as well get distracted by another idea that may come up in the meantime.
• • • • •
Sets I own:
• 333 Basic Set
• 722 Universal Building Set
• 1899 Race Car
• 5763 Dune Hopper
• 5771 Hillside House
• 5893 Offroad Power
• 5929 Knight and Castle Building Set
• 6195 Neptune Discovery Lab
• 6371 Service Station
• 6502 Turbo Racer
• 6613 Telephone Booth
• 6366 Fire and Rescue Squad
• 6688 Ambulance
• 6804 Surface Rover
• 6806 Surface Hopper
• 6824 Space Dart-I
• 6825 Cosmic Comet
• 6872 Xenon X-Craft
• 6886 Galactic Peace Keeper (x2)
• 6929 Starfleet Voyager (x2)
• 6941 Battrax
• 6982 Explorien Starship
• 7346 Seaside House
• 7803 Jeep
• 8042 Pneumatic Universal Building Set
• 8049 Log Loader
• 8051 Motorbike
• 8053 Mobile Crane
• 8070 Super Car
• 8090 Universal Set
• 8258 Crane Truck
• 8547 Mindstorms NXT 2.0
• 8653 Enzo Ferrari 1:10
• 8865 Test Car
• 8880 Super Car
• 9398 4x4 Crawler
• 10193 Medieval Market Village
• 10248 Ferrari F40
• 10693 Creative Supplement
• 20008 Tow Truck
• 21023 Flatiron Building
• 21024 Louvre
• 30008 Snowman
• 30302 Spider-Man Glider
• 30304 The Avengers Quinjet
• 30190 Ferrari 150° Italia
• 30197 Snowman
• 30228 Police ATV polybag
• 30247 Star Wars ARC-170 Starfighter
• 30291 Anacondrai Battle Mech
• 31313 Mindstorms EV3
• 40107 Winter Skating Scene LE
• 41021 Poodle's Little Palace
• 41030 Olivia's Ice Cream Bike
• 41537 Jinky
• 42001 Mini Off-Roader
• 42008 Service Truck
• 42043 Mercedes-Benz Arocs 3245
• 60092 Deep Sea Submarine
• 60095 Deep Sea Exploration Vessel
• 60119 Ferry
• 60119 Ferry
• 70401 Gold Getaway
• 70816 Benny's Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP!
• 75081 T-16 Skyhopper
• 160610 Ricky the Rooster PdC Special