Saturday, December 11, 2010

Interview with Brendan, part 2

This is the continuation of an interview with Brendan Powell Smith, creator of the
Brick Testament. Please also read part 1 of the interview.

GodBricks: Currently you've been going back and recovering some of the stories that you addressed earlier, either expanding them or bringing in more advanced building techniques. How do you balance this versus addressing other parts of the Bible you have yet to cover?

Brendan Powell Smith: I ache to return to illustrating parts of the Bible that I have not yet covered at all. But the ache I felt when looking at my earliest illustrative work was worse, so it has won out for the past several months. I assume many people who come to The Brick Testament start with the beginning of Genesis, and I was just really bothered that my best work was not what people saw when they first visited.

So I feel committed to this re-illustration project for a while. I am not sure where I'll be able to draw the line and feel OK leaving the old stuff there. I kind of want to re-do all of Exodus and The Wilderness, though I know that's crazy. And I think I want to get to new material more than I want to spruce up those sections. Maybe. Haven't decided yet. Definitely have to at least close out the Abraham stories for consistency's sake, and I will very likely do a bit more work on the latter half of Genesis.

GB: Much of what you've done has been fairly straight-forward narrative. Some sections, though, have been less linear storytelling, like the law and the epistles, or used fantastic imagery like Revelation. Of course there's a ton of more poetic material you've left largely untouched, like the Psalms, Proverbs, and the major and minor prophets. Do you plan on tackling these areas? What additional challenges might these pose to you as an illustrator?

BPS: I would definitely like to illustrate a fair amount of material from Psalms, Proverbs, and the writings of the books of the Prophets.

I think people have a very misguided idea that the Psalms are a "nice" section of the Bible because they have heard Psalm 23 and assume they are all poetic praises of how good God is to people. I think this stands in need of correction.

GB: Do you have a favorite scene or MOC from the Brick Testament so far?

BPS: I am particularly proud of how I captured the insanity and horribleness of Revelation, whether it's the fiery balls of blood and hail that burn up a third of the Earth, or all the islands sinking into the sea and people attempting to kill themselves to avoid being tortured by locust creatures with scorpion tails, people worshiping a seven-headed beast from the sea, or Jesus trampling people to death in a giant, gory wine press.

I waited seven years to illustrate Revelation, because I knew my skills needed to be well-honed first, and I think that strategy was the right approach.

GB: Is there a particular scene or MOC that was particularly difficult to build in LEGO form?

BPS: Solomon's Temple took a lot of planning and patience to build inside and out. More recently I remember spending an enormous amount of time setting up a single shot of the victims of The Flood drowning in a watery grave. For the latter, I used a bunch of LEGO-constructed props to hold all the people and animals in place.

The supports themselves I hid off-camera, behind other people or animals, or had to resort to photoshopping out. It's the same technique I had used for the Battle in Heaven scene in Revelation.

GB: As I recall, there were already other niche books aimed at the AFOL community (things like books on Mindstorms programming), but The Brick Testament: Stories from the Book of Genesis was probably the first AFOL-produced book intended for a wider audience. There have since been others, like I LEGO NY, LEGO a Love Story, and the books by Sean Kenney. Were there any obstacles to getting a LEGO book published? Do you have any suggestions for others who would like to turn their hobby into a book?

BPS: The hardest thing is to find a publisher who is as excited about your idea as you are. After the first major press that The Brick Testament got, several people suggested I try to get a book published. I had a friend of a friend in the industry, and got a recommendation for an agent who could shop the book idea around for me. There was a certain amount of interest, but nothing came of it, so I assumed that was that. Then a few months later after some more good press, the president of a small publishing house happened to hear me interviewed on NPR and contacted me, and that turned into a three book series.

So it's hard to know how to give good advice. Make something new and awesome with wide appeal, and things will possibly work out for you.

GB: Do you think you'll ever finish this project? I don't mean will you build a MOC for every single verse in the Bible, but do you think you'll get to a point where you've illustrated all of the passages that interest you? Or perhaps will you simply get sick of this whole project? If so, do you have other projects in mind for the future? Perhaps your take on holy books from other religious traditions?

BPS: I don't know if I'll ever feel done with it, and I'm fine with that. It's nice to have a project I can just keep adding to and improving on indefinitely. Even if, in a few years from now, I've actually gotten around to illustrating all the Bible material I'm interested in illustrating, I wonder if I'll always feel compelled to go back and do a better job re-illustrating the oldest parts of the site. Even if my building, photography, and storytelling skills plateau at some level, it seems as though LEGO will always be putting out a wider and wider variety of minifig faces, hairstyles, outfitting, and accessories that I will wish I had had when I first illustrated a certain story. Or when I illustrated it the second or third time. :)

If I'm not at all sick of the project after nine years, it's hard to imagine that will ever happen, but who can know for sure? There's always the possibility of starting in on a new holy book after finishing the Bible, but I don't feel like I'm nearly as studied in other religions, so it would take a fair amount of groundwork first. I've started reading the Book of Mormon, but haven't gotten all that far, and don't like that it apes the writing style of the King James Bible, making it difficult to follow. I could get interested in illustrating some of the New Testament apocrypha, like the Acts of Thomas it which Jesus's twin goes to India, or the Apocalypse of Paul in which the apostle Paul gets a gruesome and detailed tour of the tortures of Hell.

But I if I had to pick one thing right now, I am most tempted to illustrate the works of Josephus concerning the Jewish-Roman war of 66-70 AD. It is chock full of great little stories very reminiscent of those in the Bible, and in some ways feels like a continuation of the epic story of the Israelites that the Bible begins in 4,000 BC and carries up to about 60 AD. So it's sort of a nice Bible epilogue or final act. And it's just as violent and terrible, but almost definitely more true.

GB: Okay, I'll let you get back to your bricks. Thanks for joining us here at GodBricks!

BPS: OK, back to building! Thanks for the thoughtful questions, and as always, thank you for your continued interest and support.


I hope that you enjoyed this new feature here at GodBricks. In the weeks and months to come I plan to have additional interviews with builders with different perspectives on the intersection between LEGO and religion.

1 comment:

  1. A really fascinating interview. Thanks so much for preparing it and publishing it (and, by the way, great site too - I really enjoy it).