Mononoke LEGO...

Quite often I am asked what the inspiration is behind various LEGO sculptures that I have completed. I fear that I usually disappoint with a vague answer such as, 'uh, I don't know... I just looked at this-or-that and decided I could build it out of LEGO bricks.'

On this page, however, I present a model that certainly does have a specific evolution of inspiration.

Friend and fellow LEGO sculptor Henry Lim and I have discussed what 'makes a good subject for sculpting.' A couple of qualities are: 1) an object that uses bright, primary colors, and 2) an object that is part of 'pop culture' -- something that is easily recognized by most people, whether constructed from LEGO bricks or not.

Thinking this, we both realized that many characters from the world of Japanese Animation (Anime) were prime subjects. I soon began to think that it would be fun to build such a character.

Now, I'm no expert of Anime. I'm familiar with some titles... but few specifics. In fact, the only one I was really aware of upon until earlier this year was Sailor Moon (and, no, I can't name all of the 'Sailor Scouts' as I think they are called).

A quick glance at some websites about Sailor Moon and company encouraged me as the color schemes seemed perfect. Again, bright, vivid colors.

What the hell, why not build a 'life-sized' Sailor Moon?

Then, a persistent question arose once again -- one that comes up whenever I do human-based sculptures out of LEGO: what color should I make the skin?

LEGO 'people' or mini-figs traditionally have been yellow.

I have also used white bricks for skin (qv Alice).

Then my enthusiasm got the best of me and I thought, 'why not use tan LEGO bricks?'

The obvious answer to this is that tan bricks are not particularly easy to come by. A few pop up in various LEGO sets, and certainly private individuals collect and sell them on eBay and BrickBay and the like. But compared to the six 'standard' LEGO colors (black, blue, green, red, white, and yellow), collecting enough tan to make a life-sized human model (or at least it's arms and legs and face) seemed to be an almost prohibitive challenge.

San While I was pondering all of this over a couple of weeks, a friend of mine rented a videotape copy of Mononoke Hime (aka Princess Mononoke) by Hayao Miyazaki. Tim (the friend) and I had actually seen this film in January of 2000, but it had been forgetton in my mind until seeing it again on tape.

After watching (and enjoying) it again, I thought, 'hmmm... here's an example of Japanese Animation that I've actually seen... maybe I could build a character from this film instead of Sailor Moon.'

This was the turning point... my LEGO experiment was about to take a turn down a long (and expensive) road...

After a bit of consideration, I decided I would try to build a life-size sculpture of San, the heroine-raised-by-wolves in the film. I settled upon a particular picture (right) for guidance.

I would build San, and I would use tan bricks for her skin.

And brown bricks for her hair.

And light and dark gray bricks for other features.

Suddenly, my hunt for a LEGO subject based upon vivid, primary colors and warped into a whacky experiment of constructing a large model of traditionally rare colored bricks.

Tan, brown, dark gray?

Anyone who collects LEGO bricks at any level should have known better.

I should have known better.

But once I get an idea in my head... it sticks.

This was my goal.

It was the beginning of summer, and I had a few other LEGO commissions that demanded my immediate time (The Desk being the main one). While working on them, I casually started to collect bricks of uncommon color.

One hundred dollars spent at BrickBay.

Another fifty dollars from The Sanburn Systems Company.

Tan... brown... more tan.

Finally, in mid-September I had the time to start... and I thought I might have enough bricks to make a go at it.


I began with the feet, and worked my way up.

The legs were completed in about a week or so, and I then realized that my supply of tan bricks was going to fall short.

Way short.

So I bought more.

After the legs, I started on the dress and wolfskin-cape. Whew... common colors: blue and white. I had plenty of those.

Lego Mononoke Heh.

To build the cape I used the same 'organic' randomness I had employed on Alice's hair in an attempt to convey a 'softness' or 'furriness'. This is not particularly easy to do, but with enough bricks (mainly 1x4 bricks), it can be done, and the final result is quite effective.

And I had lots and lots of white 1x4s bricks.

Other challenges began to appear at this point in the model. Most notable was that, unlike most of my other sculptures, this one was topologically complex. The cape was to be separate from the torso -- joined only at the bottom and shoulders. The same was true for the arms; they formed 'loops' in the the overall model... joined at acouple of places, but fully formed features in their own right.

The challenge was met, of course, and over the span of several more weeks I ascended toward the shoulders.

To my disbelief, not only was I running out of tan bricks, but my supply of white 1x4s for the cape started to get drastically low. One reason for this is the fact that, unlike the picture, I decided to extend the cape all the way down to the floor. This was to address issues of balance. The cape was proving to be quite heavy compared to the rest of the model. With the cape touching the ground, I established a tripod configuration between it and the two feet. I could then proceed without fear of San tipping backward.

By the time I got to the shoulders and finished the cape, I had had to buy many, many more white bricks. In the end, the cape used about 4000 1x4 white bricks. Additionally, about two thousand blue 1x4s and 2x2s were also used not only for the dress' exterior, but also for the complete infrastructure.

This had past the point of nuttiness.

Finally, at the shoulder level, I was done with the white and blue, and I could start on the head. More tan, and now all of those brown bricks were needed.

Furthermore, getting the face right was very, very important. Japanese Animation has a definitive style, and I was very happy with how closely I mimicked it with combinations of bricks, plates, slopes, and other varieties of LEGO elements.

Finally, during the night of 16 November 2000, I stayed up late and used nearly all of my brown bricks (including several hundred 2x4 browns). After building and rebuilding many times, I was content; I placed the head on the shoulders, and my model was done.

Completed, it is 163 rows high (5 feet, 1 1/8 inches). It probably weighs over 80 pounds. It is completely glue-free. It is my favorite sculpture to date...

And I will never, ever, be so stupid as to try to build another rare color sculpture again.

Not until the next time, at least.

A complete tour of the pictures is available with this link.
Postscript: within the last couple of weeks of construction, The LEGO Company finally started some bulk ordering of tan bricks. But since they only offered 2x4 and 1x2 sizes, it would not have helped reduce my costs overall (though I did buy several hundred of those two sizes).

Back to Eric Harshbarger's main LEGO page.