Last week, I saw my “childhood” flash before my eyes. Thanks to Cygnet over at The Ugly Duckling, the exquisite work of Mike Napolitan was revealed unto me. [Cue angelic choir singing, "Aaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!"] His artwork is epic, and can be found on his Flickr stream as well as his own blog, The Legion of Mini Figs. Mike’s fascinating take on Marvel Comics, 70s/80s/90s Sci-fi television, and G.I. Joe action figures in the LEGO minifig aesthetic was a no-brainer for this AFOL; I’d even go so far as to say that, as a kid, my interest in the three aforementioned worlds far outweighed my love for LEGO. (Whoa, right?) So I just had to connect with the person responsible for such beautiful LEGO-related creations, some of which are shown below. Click the thumbnails below for a larger view or visit the sites linked above. Anyhow, the conversation went a little something like this…
I was really excited to come across your Flickr stream after reading a post on The Ugly Duckling, being both a huge Marvel Comics fan and LEGO fiend. It looks like your work mostly revolves around this kind of work, with the exception of a few Star Trek and DC creations. I’m curious how you decided to start combining these worlds?
I took a class a few years back to learn Maya, a 3D modeling/animation program. One of the first things I tried modeling was a lego figure since it was just basic shapes: square, cylinder, etc. I was a big fan of the Lego Star Wars games (and the Indy and Batman ones), so I made him into a Luke figure. Then I thought, “if there’s Lego Batman, why not Lego X-Men?” And from then on I just started making anything that I thought would be cool.
Your use of CGI is great. Is this something you do professionally? What tools do you use?
I’m a full-time web designer, so unfortunately Maya is something I don’t use in my day to day job. I use Maya to create the actual figure, and then use Photoshop and Illustrator when needed to create the texture maps.
Can you describe your general approach or process? How do you decide what you want to create? With so much to choose from in terms of comic characters, movie properties, etc., how do you prioritize what you want to spend time on?
This is my biggest problem, deciding what to make! I think I have a mild form of ADD because I’ll see a character I want to make, and then halfway through pick up a comic and then think, “no, wait, I want to make THIS character!” So I really try to stick with what I’m working on at the time before moving on to something new. Usually what happens is I’ll be reading a comic, and then pick from it which character I’d like to make.
So when you do settle on a subject, do you sketch things out first? Do you create the 2D texture maps before the modeling? I’m just curious how it all comes into being.
I have a standard figure template that I start with. If there’s anything I need to add such as a mask or weapons, I’ll create those first. Then I move on to doing the textures. I don’t sketch anything out unless I’m doing a scene with multiple figures. Then I’ll do a few quick sketches just to try different layouts and compositions.
That’s great. Essentially, with the masks and weapons, you’re creating custom minifig accessories, the likes of the custom houses like BrickForge or BrickArms. Has this ever translated into you trying your hand at real-world minifig customizing?
I have tried creating real-world custom mini-figs. One was of the Punisher and the other was Deadpool. The former I think came out really nice, the latter…not so much. I’m still experimenting with water slide decals, but I don’t like the way my printer prints them. Again, I wish I had the time for it, it’s really fun.
So do you play with real-world LEGO much these days or are you making LEGO creations mainly digitally?
I have a few small sets, mostly Star Wars related. I’d love to get into building bigger sets, I just don’t think I’d have the time for it. I have too many hobbies already, lol! I have a friend who does some great stuff, he recently created his own custom city, complete with an elevated subway train, brownstones, and it was just amazing I’d love to try doing something like that.
If it isn’t apparent, I love that you’re essentially mining my childhood world of play—G.I. Joe, X-Men, Avengers, Star Trek, etc. I assume that’s why you chose these as well. What are some other properties that you’re interested in LEGO-fying?
Oh yeah, and I still love all that stuff! And there’s so much out there to Lego-fy! I’m a big Beatles fan, so I think some Sgt. Pepper Beatles would be fun. Ghostbusters, too. Battlestar Galactica, Akira, Gunsmith Cats, James Bond…
Oh crap. With the exception of Gunsmith Cats—I’m not familar but will Google soon—all of those you mentioned are, I swear, pulled right out of my brain. Do you take requests? (If so, I have some. Ha.)
You know, no one has ever requested anything, so sure!