BTB: Checkmate! How The Rook Won The Match

Two weeks ago, I excitedly wrote about “The Rook”, a large-scale MOC by an AFOL aptly named ROOK. Even before posting that, I knew that this was a MOC worthy of a “Behind The Build” interview, as it’s packed with so many details and clearly took a lot of thought and planning to accomplish. What follows is one of the most extensive interviews with a creator on Ka-GO to date. You’ll not only get the low down on how this behemoth came to be, but also get to access some exclusive shots not available on ROOK’s Flickr stream. To zoom in on any photo below, click to your heart’s content. Trust me, Chess has never been this cool, nor has a MOC’s backstory ever been so deeply touching.

I gather that the concept behind this MOC is Chess-related. Also, “ROOK” is your AFOL name as well. Is there a story there?

The user name/character ROOK has about as many layers as does this MOC. [First off, it's] part of my actual name. [Secondly,] I love to play the card game “Rook“. [As far as Chess goes] I love to play. With my game, [I generally use] the Knight to destroy my opponent’s Pawns [while] the Rook and King [are used] for the Checkmate.

Ahh…I’ve actually never heard of that card game, but yeah, I guess the name and title “Rook” is truly multi-layered. Putting that aside for a second, in general, what inspired this amazing MOC? It’s got a very clear feel to it. It has this gothic, moody sort of space-station-meets-medieval-dungeon vibe. I definitely see the Star Wars influence, but was there anything else going through your head?

I’ve always loved my dark side. I think it is there to bring balance to my personality. For example, I collect LEGO and tribal knives. The imagery of this can be seen in some of my favorite literature and media:

Finally my dad and middle brother are into Birding. Growing up I was exposed to birding, but I was never interested. [However, I] love the imagery that comes with different birds, and, for those that might not know, a “Rook” is black bird, similar to a raven or crow, depending on where you live. [It's] slightly more elegant in appearance and sound, in my opinion.

Wow…again, I’m realizing how little I know about the word “rook”. With a small hop of my imagination, I can totally see how these influences have worked their way into this MOC. So, now, how did the Chess theme translate to this amazing sci-fi scene? Oh, and is the Star Wars imagery deliberate or are the minifigs just meant to be general sci-fi-style characters?

The Chess theme [came] in [through] the Clone Army Builders Guild forum (CABG). One of the things the creator [of] the forum wanted was [for] builders to write their parts of the Star Wars Universe (SWU) story. So you create a factious Legion or Sub-Faction and write your storyline that runs along with Lucas’s, while creating MOCs for this storyline.

Interesting. I have to admit I actually didn’t know too much about folks using LEGO to make their own SWU fan fiction. For the readers who might be a little confused, you’re essentially talking about folks coming up with their own stories that take place in the Star Wars Universe—with all its characters, backstory, etc. Who knew? It’s pretty great to think that there are “writers” out there who are doing what we all did as kids—make up stories while playing with LEGO—all within a shared universe. And to extend the idea, you all are actually “illustrating” these stories, or better still, you’re creating minifig scale models to previsualize scenes for a film that will never be made. Sorry to geek out on something that’s probably no big deal to you, but when I think about it from this perspective, it’s pretty interesting to see the creative lengths people can take LEGO. Very cool. Can you tell me more about the particular SWU story you’re telling with “The ROOK”?

So in this MOC, I’m basically putting my life into LEGO SWU. This is part of a storyline where I’ve woven in “Darth PLUR”, my wife, who is currently battling breast cancer. So as she’s lying in bed recovering from [chemotherapy], I’m busy pouring myself into building to kind [of] keep the fact that she’s [fighting] for the right to live out of my mind. So I’ve created our “summer cottage” in the SWU which is [a] Gothic Cathedral Fortress [that's] armed and ready, yet balanced with a Zen-style crystal garden and rave-style club scene.

Wow. I had no idea that there was such a powerful story underpinning this MOC. I’m sorry to hear that you and your wife are going through this struggle with cancer. For what it’s worth, I wish you both the best. I commend you on the use of LEGO both as a creative tool as well as a therapeutic one. You really are doing some amazing stuff with LEGO. So when you began, did you set out to make such a large project? How do you even begin to conceptualize such a large undertaking?

Actually, in [my] mind [I] was thinking [that the MOC would use] four 32×32 [plates as the base], but when I sketched it out I realized that this would leave the living areas “unplayable”. So I went with four 48×48’s and suddenly I was building a much larger MOC than I had originally planned. The summer cottage became a summer mansion.

Yeah, that’s 133% of what was initially in your head. Pretty big jump! Were the smaller components—the hover-type vehicle, the mech, the chess board, etc.—always meant to be a part of this larger scene?

Yeah. Actually, I’m currently building in a specific style to go with this theme. On the CABG, I’m currently a member a of a small user group of about 6-8 people that are focusing on creating Sith-type characters in the SWU theme during the Clone Wars Era. So all my MOCs for a few months have had this mix, feel, [and] color scheme of the Dark Side using mainly dark grey, black, and dark red.

Was there anything that was planned that was cut from the finished project? If so, what were they and why?

Oh yeah, totally. The ground level inside the rock structure was going to be [filled with] fully detailed hangar areas. However, EuroBricks has posted a contest that I want to enter and, sadly, most of my pieces were being consumed in this project. So I stopped production about 2 weeks earlier than I should have. Also, when I started the project, I had aimed to be completed by my birthday at the end of April, so, mentally, I’d reached the end point/deadline.

What about the transforming functionality? Did you plan on being able to do the Rook Mode and Tower Mode from the start? What was the idea behind that and were there any particular challenges that needed some special problem solving?

Yep. I was actually sitting in church and grabbed a small piece of paper and sketched it out. (Yes, the sermon was boring that day. Sorry, Pastor, but it was.) As I started to sketch the cathedral I decided it would be easy to have it open up like Knight’s Castle #6080, one of favorite childhood sets.

While drawing in the arrows to depict the movement of the base plates, I realized that the cross-shaped cathedral’s central spire would be split into four smaller spires. [Those] would then move to the four corners if I pushed the plates all the way around to their maximum points, then turning the cross-shaped gothic cathedral into a gothic Taj Mahal of sorts. Fitting that I was making this for my “fictional” version of my wife’s and my love story in the SWU.

The main problem was building doorways in the ground level that would connect the quadrants in both modes. I wanted nice double-sided, Star Trek-style sliding doorways, but there simply wasn’t enough space. I instead had [to] settle for single-sided, vertical sliding external doorways in Tower Mode and single-sided, horizontal sliding external doorways in Rook/Castle Mode.

Nice. Yeah, I figured there’d be quite a ton of problem solving for a project like this. For those of us who’ve never undertaken such a large project, could you share a little bit about how one goes about securing the right pieces, etc.? Or do you have all those pieces on hand? If you do, what can I do to convince you to share? Kidding.

Ah….buy a crap load over 30+ years. My collection is made up of my two older brothers’s and my childhood collections…small, but [it has] some great classic pieces. Plus [there's] a little box of my wife’s childhood collection [included] and then 10 years of me abusing our childless bank account.

I do share. I actually sponsor contests on CABG pretty regularly. [We give away] small prizes, but [for a while there] we were actually [hosting] monthly contests for the first 2.5 years the site was open based solely on a few AFOLs and a lot of TFOLs spending their allowances. In the last [few] years we’ve cut back to contests about every three months.

I’ve always appreciated that sense of community that happens in AFOL forums. Back to the MOC…is there a particular reason the four towers have different spires? For the sake of my own geeky imagination…do each have an implied function?

Ah, yes! [Each is named after] four of [the] six types of Chess pieces—King, Queen, Bishop, Knight—[and together they] form the Rook. Here’s the breakdown of the spires:

Quadrant I: The Knight

  • Ground level: The Club (Power Functions: Light and Movement), Wet Works, & Speeder Bike Bay
  • Main Level: The Galley
  • 2nd Level: Detention Level& Missile Array (Power Functions: Movement)
  • Spire Level: Airship Docking Level (Cruiser Class or larger in Tower Mode)

Quadrant II: The Bishop

  • Ground level: The Armory and Jump Rhyder Landing Pad (Power Functions: Light) & Speeder Bike Bay
  • Main Level: The Lounge
  • 2nd Level: Barracks Level
  • Spire Level: Gun Deck I & Security Bots & Ground Sensor Array

Quadrant III: The Queen

  • Ground level: The Garden (Power Functions: Light) & Speeder Bike Bay
  • Main Level: Special Operations Command Center
  • 2nd Level: The Mistress’ Suite
  • Spire Level: Queen’s Rhyder & Communications Array

Quadrant IV: The King

  • Ground level: Star Fighter Landing Pad (Power Functions: Movement), Wet Works, & Speeder Bike Bay
  • Main Level: The Chapel
  • 2nd Level: The Master’s Suite & Missile Array (Power Functions: Movement)
  • Spire Level: Gun Deck II & Twin Ion Pulse Generators

Awesome. That’s quite a bit to wrap one’s head around. And to think you’ve got all the Power Functions going on as well, including the lighting. The lighting on The Bishop Quadrant is beautiful. What’s it like to wire / light up a MOC? Any special considerations there that you can share?

Ah, yes. Be very aware of you lighting source. Most lights give off enough heat to melt LEGO, so stick to LEDs. ;) Also, hiding the wiring and power source and remote control receiver are a must. But, keep in mind you also have to be able to access the power switch, and a small part of the remote receiver has to be visible to work.

The lit-up shot of The Queen is also quite good. How is that set up? What are you using for the fiber-optic looking branches?

Ah, after having spent some time staring into fiber optic lights in my youth, I thought I should build one in LEGO. These clear tubes are the clear tubes from the Exo-Force theme. The power source this time was a simple light up pen, because I don’t own enough LEGO Power Functions yet. :(

Thanks for being so willing to share your building secrets. It’s all very inpiring. I’m always curious how long it takes for people to work on projects. How long do you think you’ve been working on this?

I’m guessing about 100-200 hours between late January 2011 to April 2011. I kept track of some of my earlier large-scale productions, but honestly, it takes longer to track more info. For example: height, weight, pieces, times, number of minifigures, etc. I typically build for about 10-30 minutes in the morning (while my wife is busy with hair and makeup), 10-40 minutes on my lunch breaks, and 10 minutes to several hours on evenings and weekends depending on my other responsibilities. If I’m lucky I might actually get 3-5 hours straight on Sunday or non-family centered holidays.

So what’s next for you? Do you plan on another big project or will we be seeing some smaller things in the future?

This summer I’m looking forward to building a lot small stuff. I want to touch the Space theme a couple times this summer. I loved Space when I was kid but my parents were pretty poor. [I am the] youngest of 3 brothers and mom was a stay home mom mostly until I was 13. So I’m looking forward to building some of those LEGO dreams that I had when I was kid but never had the pieces to do so. For about 3 years of my youth (prime LEGO years) my dad was actually only making about $250 USD a month for a family of 5, and my mom wasn’t working. So now that I make my living, I’m enjoying being able to buy most sets that I want. I’ve steered clear of most of the UCS sets…still too expensive for me. But each Fall I plan to do large-scale building projects starting in September and ending in time for Christmas: My gift to the CABG and the larger LEGO community. Most likely I’ll be building “Darth PLUR’s” capital ship since this last fall I built my “Rook Runner”.

Imagine the beauty of a butterfly on cool spring morning dancing from flower to flower while unleashing enough wrath and flurry to create a blackhole in [the] center of the universe so big it sucks up galaxies like [an] old school game of Hungry Hungry Hippos®, in LEGO. :D

Huh? Hahahahaha. Actually, that is a pretty cool mental image. Thanks.

1 Comment to "BTB: Checkmate! How The Rook Won The Match"

  1. May 10, 2011 - 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic interview! ROOK thanks for sharing.

    I also wish you and your wife all the best during her recovery.

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