Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Drowned Lego

UPDATE: A new, final version of this project can be found HERE.  It's a little bigger, a little more accurate, and really, just better all around.  I highly recommend that you go check it out rather than stay here with this version, which now exists essentially as an archival curiosity.

Now that The Drowned Man has come to an end (or, if you're reading this in the first day or two after I post it, is about to come to an end), I'd like to share a little project I've been working on. If you do happen to be reading this before the end of the show, please be aware of this MASSIVE SPOILER warning. I will be revealing details of the entire set – so if there are areas you have not yet seen and would like to see fresh at the final show, take that into consideration before you read on.

Now, to business: shortly after my 13th trip to Temple Studios, on New Year's Eve 2013, I was struck by two completely distinct, yet ultimately complementary urges. The first was to track down some sort of record of the world that Punchdrunk had created within the walls of that old postal sorting building near Paddington Station. The second was to create something – some sort of tribute to the show - to go along with the wonderful fan art that was starting to crop up around that time. Satisfying the first urge proved fruitless - there were maps and a very small batch of of official photographs, but for the most part the only record of the space that I had access to was the one within my own skull (since then, the amount of reference material has ballooned greatly - but that's how it was at the time). The second urge proved equally problematic, in that I have essentially no innate skill or, for that matter, experience in field of graphic arts. I can barely paint, and my drawing skills are but a single step up from “stick figure.” I'm a halfway-decent photographer, but that wouldn't prove much use given that a) photography is not allowed at the show and b) I was half a world away from it anyway.

A few weeks later, a certain wildly successful animated film was released, which planted an idea in my head. A way for me to kill two birds with one stone. If there was no real record of the space, I would create my own. And if I had no capability to adequately create it from scratch, no matter – I would build it out of LEGO. Everyone can build things out of LEGO.

First Floor
The preliminary steps proved troublesome. I wanted to scale it to the minifigures, but minifig scale is a slippery devil. The figures themselves are roughly twice as wide as they should be, based on normal human proportions (or, arguably, half as tall as they should be). Would I scale it to their height or their width? Ultimately, I settled on something roughly approximating the width – with caveats. On these models, the width from the center of one stud to another stud represents one foot. Correspondingly, I settled on a height of seven bricks for nearly all parts of the model, which works out to just a smidge over 8 feet. I realize plenty of areas have higher ceilings than that, but I found it worked best to stick with a standard. Of course, using this scale, the minifigures themselves are only about 3.5-4 feet tall, so in many cases, I had to fudge the vertical scale, trying to split the difference between the true height of the objects in the room and the goal of making a world in which a minifig could conceivably be placed without looking absolutely ridiculous. Then there was the matter of the props and parts that existed as single pieces – telephone receivers, flowers, bottles, wine glasses, doors. . . the list goes on. I had no control over their scale, and just had to work them in as best I could.  The doors were especially frustrating. With the exception of the shop doors and the big wide ones that I used here and there, they're all way too short – but any time I had to choose between matching the horizontal scale and the vertical, I chose the horizontal..

Ground Floor
At this point, I was still vaguely thinking of actually building this – but a few calculations quickly put paid to that idea. At the scale I settled on, each floor would occupy a roughly 5x6 foot area, and would be composed of multiple thousands of pieces. The baseplates alone – that is to say, the surface on which to build, without any pieces of the actual model, would cost me around $300 for each floor! And of course, there was the matter of space – where would I put 120 square feet of LEGO? It was not only unfeasible - it was massively, insanely unfeasible. But then another option presented itself: LEGO Digital Designer. An official, free program from LEGO that was originally designed to allow people to create their own model virtually, then purchase the pieces direct from LEGO. It was the perfect solution – digital space is unlimited, and you can't beat a cost of “free.”

Top Floor
In the end, the model wound up being far from an exact replica, even beyond the height/width scale disconnect. Some degree of abstraction was required due to the medium – you just can't create tiny details at this scale. This is actually part of what made the project possible, by forcing me to treat it as a bit more of an “artist's interpretation” of the set. If I had the capability to replicate it more exactly, I never would have even attempted to do the whole thing, because I wouldn't feel comfortable with the results unless I was working off of a photo reference – in which case, what would be the point? Another thing that compromised the results a bit is the fact that I limited myself to working exclusively with pieces that actually exist – that is to say, I designed this so that it could actually be built, if someone had the time, money, and space to make it happen. This manifested itself largely in forcing me to use a limited color palatte, so that a lot of things are not perfectly matched (and again, the doors were the biggest culprits here). There's also no such thing as bricks that have different colors on different sides, so in cases where walls were painted differently on each side, I had to get creative – and, in some cases, just let it go.

I also got things flat-out wrong. Not for any particular reason, but just because my memory got jumbled or faded, or I never took a good look at certain things in the first place since I have a tendency to focus more heavily on the people within the show. I don't know, at the moment, what those things are (else I would fix them), but I know they're in there. Probably a lot of them. But that's okay – to me, at least, these spaces “feel” right, even when they're not quite there. I do intend to do some updating after visiting the show for its final week, and I'm happy to accept and incorporate any criticism or suggestions in the meantime.

I based the layout for this project largely off of the floor plans included in the public planning applications, as well as the maps drawn up by Aaron Jacob Jones on the spoiler group (which were, in turn, based on the floor plans). I estimated the scale using the official square footage measurements. All other details come from memory, from notes that I took during twelve subsequent shows, from the limited photographic and video documentation available online, and from a plethora of friends and fellow fans who have been incredibly helpful in describing rooms and answering questions for me. I'd like to thank Virna, Eugene, Fiona, Rebecca, Alexandra, Hannah, Sarah, Katy, Sally, Alexis (the king of set investigation), and a whole bunch of others I'm forgetting right now for helping me out with this. You guys are the best.

This was a massive project (over 33,000 LEGO pieces!), and the final documentation is equally massive – I've got more than 150 shots to share. As such, I'm going to split each floor out into its own post. Follow the links below to take a closer look.

1 comment:

LNR said...

That is utterly amazing! Totally enjoyed reading that and reliving my visits, while making a checklist for my final visit on Sunday. Thank you :D