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Interview: Catching up with Ben Caulkins (Benny Brickster)

Recently, I caught up with Ben Caulkins, who we interviewed last year. Over the course of a few days, we talked about his Halo Spartan/Master Chief armor, the Halo series, and Brickworld 2011. Let's get started!

MB: Ok, so, it's pretty much been a year since last "talking" as far as an interview goes. Catch us up on what you've been doing. In what ways have you seen your building, or your Lego community experience change and improve over the course of a year?

BC:"Well, the greatest change was made through a recent creation of mine: my Master Chief costume. Before I had even finished, it brought me a great deal of attention from the internet and LEGO fan community, and, I dare say, gave people a reason to take me seriously as a MOCist. But that just stemmed from another change, namely my tendency to build exclusively Halo MOCs. In my last interview I mentioned several MOCs that I wanted to build, yet none of them involved Halo. Unfortunately I never did actually build any of the MOCs I listed, but rather built several new Halo creations. I'm not sure why I became addicted to Halo: maybe its the angular look of the UNSC vehicles, and the contrasting smooth and reflective look of the covenant craft, but either way, it stuck with me. I don't regret it either,
otherwise I might not have ever built the Master Chief costume.

MB:Yeah, I've certainly made claims of MOCs I'll build and then never build them, and build something else. I find though it also shows me where my building priorities are.

(Moving away from Lego for a bit) Since you build heavily in Lego Halo, would it be safe to assume you grew up with the Halo franchise on the classic Xbox? Or did you not start playing it 'till later in life? Have you never played it? Overall, When did you encounter the games?

BC:"My story with the Halo franchise is actually a strange one. I never had an xbox, and I never even knew what Halo was until a few years ago, but I can remember the first time I played it. I was so young, I didn't even know what I was doing, who the bad guys were, or how to operate the controls, but I remember what it looked like: it was the level in Halo CE where you have to reenter the covenant's flagship, of course I didn't figure that out until many years later. After that, several years later, I met a guy while on vacation in Maine who I'm now good friends with. He had an xbox and Halo 2 with him, so we played that. We never actually played it to win the game, we just sort of played it. I was still pretty young, and I payed no attention to the storyline, so I had no idea what was going on. Fast forward to spring of 2010. That same friend from Maine was at my house, and we were on the floor building, and I told him, "name something you want me to build." He said, "a warthog", so that's what I did. From then on, I started to delve deeper and deeper into the Halo franchise, and then, last summer, I was again on vacation in Maine, when I went over to my friends house, and as usual, we played Halo 2, but this time we actually played to win. Its not as if we had literally agreed to play it to the end, but rather there was now a determination to finish that hadn't been there before. Sure enough, within the two weeks I had been there at about one hour a day, we beat Halo 2. Then over the course of the last year, I bought Halo CE for my computer and played Halo 3 at a different friends house, so now i can finally say that I've played the essential trilogy."

During E3, we found out during the Microsoft conference that they will be releasing two new games. Halo 4 and Halo:CE Remastered. Are you excited about these new games? Do you think they will inspire you to create more Halo MOCs? Do you think they will inspire other Lego community member as well?

BC:"When I saw the Halo 4 trailer, I was very disappointed. To me, Halo ended with the Chief floating towards that distant planet. What made it so cool was the mystery, the lack of knowledge of the Chief's next adventure. Now that there making a Halo 4, that mystery is lost. Plus, 343 industries is known to handle the expanded universe side of the Halo franchise, publishing the novels and stuff. What worries me about their taking over of the project is that they're going to try and force a personality onto the Chief as they do in the novels, to try and make him into a different character than what we all imagined. Part of what makes Halo "Halo" is that we know so little about the chief so that we can imprint our own personalities onto him. Also, how can you make a Halo game without the covenant, which is exactly what Halo 4 is going to have to do. 343 better have some big tricks up its sleeve, otherwise I'm going to pay this game no mind. As for the Halo CE re-release I am very excited. Still though, all there doing is giving the old Halo a spit-shine, nothing really all that special. As far as inspiration for MOCs goes, will just have to wait and see what new surprises Halo 4 has in store for us."

(Back to Lego!)What led up to creating a full body suit of a Halo spartan? When did the idea start the project happen?

BC:"The root for the idea I guess could be my first attendance of Brickworld last year. The things I saw there really heightened my standards of building and I realized, if I was going to get any attention at all, I was going to have to go big! It was on a walk when I was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming that I really thought of a specific thing to build: a Master Chief suit made entirely out of LEGO. Why not? Simafol had done it. Of course, it took a lot more thinking before I actually thought it would be possible."

MB:So once you had the idea, where did you go from there?

BC:"I knew I wanted to start with the helmet, so that's what I did. It took me three weeks and was an instant hit with the blogs, but that only lasted for so long before I was back to work. From that point on it was months of work constructing all of the different segments, and as I progressed I gained more experience, so some of the pieces of armor that I finished later in the process are actually of a higher quality than some of the earlier pieces. But in the end, it all came together beautifully."

MB:So, walk us through how you would put on this contraption.

BC:"I put it on from the ground up, so naturally the first that goes on are the shoes. The legs can crack in half so I can snap them on over my legs. The thighs don't form a full circle, so those are pretty easy to put on. The belt can separate into two halves, so I put one on usually which sticks using Velcro, and then attach the other half to it. The next part is pretty difficult: the torso. Those thing that loop under the armpits can come off so I can put the torso on over my head, then the armpit loops reattach. Its a pretty tight fit, but it works... mostly. Next is the most hazardous part, the upper arms. I never really thought them through all that well, so the only way to put them on is to slide them up my arm, which is difficult because they're covered in Velcro, and my entire neoprene suit sticks to Velcro. Also, I made them to small, so whoever is helping me has to push really hard in order to get them far enough up my arms. Once, in fact, one of them exploded because it couldn't fit on my arm...oops. Then the most irritating part: the forearms. They can crack in half similar to the legs, but there is a very precise place to put them on, and most of the time it ends up attached wrong, so I have to make my helper take them off and do it all over again. Afterwards comes the gloves, and finally the helmet. In the end, I feel very satisfied, and my helper is pissed at me for being so bossy, but I think he's a little satisfied too."

MB:Oooooh! So it does require an extra person...I was going to ask that. Ok, so let's move on to BW'11...

How did you like general vibe from Brickworld? Was it better than last year's or about the same?

BC:"Its difficult to judge this years Brickworld. My personal experience was very different as I was part of a group layout for the first time, so I got to meet some really awesome people. Also, I got a lot more attention from attendees due to the suit. But, as a person just visiting Brickworld, I'd say it was about the same. There was no serious leap in the total size of the convention or the quality of the MOCs in general, but I should say that the quality of the MOCs is probably beyond improvement as many of them are superb. Now that's not to say I didn't enjoy Brickworld, I did very much, but it's just more of the same from last year, which is a good thing because that formula works."

What was the public's reaction to the Halo armor?

BC:"The public's reaction to the Halo armor was overwhelming. Everywhere I went I was followed by a crowd of people trying to take pictures. I ended up not moving for long periods of time as parents took picture of me with their kids over and over again. Also, I even had a few attendees following me who I had never met, so I guess its akin to stalking. If it wasn't for Nick Jenson (Nick Brick) I probably would have been trampled by a crowd of people, as he was the one made holes in the crowd for me to pass through (also, here's a bit of shameless plugging: check out Nick's Halo weapons, they are sick!). As the man in the suit, I was constantly giddy with joy. Sure it was difficult to walk in and the crowds did get pretty annoying, but still, it was awesome to be noticed like this."

MB:You (and I) attended the advanced mosaics workshop by Roy Cook. What did you think of it? Did you find it helpful, inspiring, or interesting in anyway?

BC:"Although I don't plan on making mosaics in the future, I found the workshop very informative. I found his discussion on how he made his Halle Berry mosaic especially interesting, what with all the unique techniques that went into it."

MB:Did you attend any other workshops or presentations from this year, and if so, which ones stuck out for you?

BC:"My favorite workshop was presented by Jamie Berard (LEGO Creator designer) on what life is like as a designer in Denmark. Not only did it reveal some pretty interesting facts, but it also answered some questions that I had about LEGO product design. Plus it didn't hurt that Jamie is a really nice guy."

MB:So at one point, you were given the epic privilege of destroying this cylinder of Brickworld 2011 made entirely of 1x8s. What was that like?

BC:"To be honest, I was actually kind of nervous. I was mainly concerned with looking like an idiot in this big bulky suit. Secondly, I was worried the suit would break, which of course it did, and I have yet to fix it. When Nannan posted the video of me knocking it down, I was worried that I would look really stupid. But when I watched it, I actually think I did a pretty good job considering the limitations of the suit. The only real problem is that you may notice that part of my knee armor is missing."

^^^ My video of the epic destruction ^^^

MB:Overall, do you plan on attending next year?

BC:"Absolutely, although I don't know how I could possibly top myself next year considering the standards that I have now raised myself to. But my goal is to win some kind of award, because the last two years have been teasing me with two nominations per Brickworld, and I thought I had it this year with the suit, but Ryan McNaught's massive Loveboat bested me at that. Anyway, I can't imagine not going to Brickworld again, because getting to talk to people who genuinely get this obsession with LEGO is such a treat, and how one forget the hundred of awesome MOCs populating the display tables. Yup, I will definitely be going."

MB:Ben Caulkins has certainly made himself a name for himself. How does he top this? Got any grand schemes?

BC:"At the moment, I've got nothing. Or at least nothing on the same scale as the suit. But what I am working on is the first minifig scale Halo 3 Pelican, and I hope to follow this up with a similarly scaled Halo 3 Phantom.

To see Ben's fantastic MOCs, visit his Flickr photostream, here or visit his MOCpages account here.

Many thanks for the interview, Ben! It's always a pleasure. ;-D

And, I leave you with this photo...
^^^ Ben and I, looking epic. ^^^


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