Inside the Customizer's Studio: Morgan19

A few weeks ago I was privileged to be able to conduct a series of interviews with customizer JasBrick. Fortune has favored me once again, as I've had the honor to connect with another of my favorite custom designers, Morgan19. Over the past couple of weeks we've corresponded on a number of topics related to LEGO minifigures and customization. Those talks have culminated in the series I share with you now.

I will be sharing segments of our discussions over the next week, similar to my last series. Today we start the conversation by talking to Morgan about some of his work on historical minifigures and his Halloween series. Enjoy!

Since emerging from your 'dark ages' and entering the online scene, much of your work has gained instant notoriety. Your set of historical figures is one of those. What is the story of how these came about and then expanded into the 90+ figures we see online?

"Although I’ve been playing (err, building?) with LEGO for just about my entire life, I believe my Historical figures were the first group of LEGO minifigs I’d posted online, originally to Brickshelf and then Flickr.

In 2006 I was living with my wife in an apartment that didn’t have much space for MOC-scale building, so most of my bricks were (and still are) stored over at my parents’ house. Despite that, I’d always keep my collection of figures around just to fiddle with when I had time, so I was particularly intrigued when I stumbled upon a minifig-centric contest Kaminoan (Jared, from The Fine Clonier) was hosting. The goal was to create interesting historical minifigs using nothing but 100% pure, unaltered LEGO pieces–easy enough, given that that was all I had available to me! So I thought “what the heck,” and started researching famous historical people.

For the next week or two I’d come home from work and either immediately start picking through my minifig parts to see if anything inspired me, or go online and look for photographs that would translate well to an existing LEGO torso or face. I never intended to do 90+ entries for the contest; that was more a side effect of enjoying the entire process than anything.

One of the contest’s rules was that each entry needed to include a link to a reference photo of the actual person. I, being quite economical, decided to utilize my 'graphicdesignedness' and integrate the photo into the figure’s image. But as I went along I realized just having a photo plopped next to the minifig didn’t look “finished” enough for my taste: the figure needed a photo, the photo needed a related background, the background needed colors to tie everything together, a title to identify it all, etc... And that’s how my chracteristic Photoshopping of LEGO figures began."

Your Halloween minifigures all seem to have a passage from a book, a stanza of poetry, or music lyrics accompany them. What often comes first, the figure or the literature/musical reference?

"Like the Historical figures, my set of constantly-expanding Halloween minifigs started because of another Fine Clonier contest in 2007. Beyond having the Photoshopped graphics for each, I had a simple gut feeling that I wanted to add some creepy flavor text to really push them into the next level of presentation– pairing the visual elements (figure, graphics) together with the mental elements (the feel of overall image paired with the mood of the text) to really emphasize each one’s atmosphere.

Because I’m very much a visual person, more often than not the idea of the figure (or the entire completed figure) comes first, followed by some late-night in-depth Googling to track down a poem or lyrics that pairs with it nicely. (The same is usually true for their graphics and names– more often than not I don’t have those decided until the figure is staring at me in Photoshop. As goofy as it sounds, the figure and I sort of discover each its identity as we go.) So although they tend to be rare, there are a few instances where the text inspires the figure. 'The Shattered Maid' is a good example... I had that Evanescence song stuck in my head for months before finally coming up with a figure I was happy enough to pair it with."

Your references are quite varied. What authors/poets/musicians do you find yourself returning to often when you look for design inspiration?

"I wish I could say I had a tremendous backlog of conscious literary inspiration to draw from, but the ideas usually just come straight from my imagination or, more likely, long frustrating hours of staring at my parts bin trying to figure out something fun to make with parts combinations. So I’d say there’s no dedicated “pool of talent” I turn to for inspiration, but putting a creepy movie on while I’m creating or listening to some moody atmospheric music can work wonders to get the creative juices flowing. Evanescence, Within Temptation, Blackmore’s Night, or even my Celtic/New Age station on Pandora are good for that sort of thing."

Please join us again tomorrow when I talk with Morgan about how his background as a graphic designer influences his work with the fig.