Pitfall! for the Atari 2600 came out in 1982 and introduced the side scroll-er genre, but it was Super Mario Bros. by Nintendo
in 1985 that defined the genre and a generation. Mario instantly became synonymous with Nintendo and every Nintendo gaming platform since the NES has launched with Mario at the helm. He has spawned a multitude of games (35 current titles available right now at mario.nintendo.com
) and practically has a cult following. For my generation Mario is both a hero and legend. I still remember my first experiences every time I played a Mario game on a new console.
The idea for doing a Mario themed LEGO creation started bubbling in my mind back in 2005 when I came out of what Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOL’s) call the dark ages. The dark ages represent the time period between when you quit playing with LEGO as a kid and rediscover it as an adult. I had gone to a convention and been amazed by what I saw people building. I went home that day, dug out my boxes of bricks and began scheming for what I would build for the convention the following year. The plan, which has yet to be realized, was to create a life size television with a NES attached to it created entirely out of LEGO bricks. The screen of the television was going to be a mosaic of Mario that could be swapped out for mosaics of any number of other Nintendo games. I quickly realized that given the size of a LEGO brick it would be difficult to get a proportional representation of the games on a model of a 13″ television. It wasn’t until a last summer that my friends Allison and Leland steered me towards the full size model. I had been working on a series of cross stitched hand towels featuring Mario where one stitch equaled one pixel. While telling my friends about the hand towels we began playing with the idea of doing what would be the equivalent of television screen worth of the the level in LEGO. From there it was an easy leap to creating the entire first level. To my knowledge no one has done the entire level before, and most the mosaics of 8-bit characters don’t adhere to a one brick per pixel ratio.
PB: What were some of the LEGO product lines you designed for yourself when you were younger?
ZP: The very first line was a series of spy vehicles. Cars with hidden machine guns, and vans that opened up to reveal one man helicopters. In 1989 when Batman came out I instantly began doing dozens of versions of vehicle and movie set related themes. When I was 14 and began getting passionate about architecture I switched to doing models of houses and monuments. But my favorite line was probably the balanced breakfast. I created a TV tray filled with bowl and box of cereal, a plate of toast and a glass of orange juice. I even included a spoon. In retrospect that models were pretty rough but it was really fun to make and I will probably revisit the project someday.
PB: Do you feel LEGO has become a neglected form of play/expression?
ZP: Not at all. I think that the idea of playing LEGO bricks is alive and well. All you have to do is spend five minutes at LEGO convention or in the LEGO aisle at a store watching kids stare and point, to know that the spirit lives on. There are a lot of choices for kids these days but I think that The LEGO Group has done a great job of trying to keep up with current trends and themes. Their partnerships with other intellectual properties like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and the upcoming Lord of the Rings sets have really added to that success. Given the opportunity to buy a toy that is both LEGO and Star Wars is a win/win that I never had as a kid and that I revel in now.
I try to to take every opportunity I can to foster the passion for building with kids. I have designed some sets for the children of friends and give my godson Lucas bricks every chance I get. My sister also works for an after-school program which runs a LEGO centric summer camp that I will helping with this year. I think that there is something innate about our desire to create things, and LEGO bricks offer a infinite number of possibilities to foster that creative need.
PB: How long do you estimate construction of the piece will take?
ZP: That will depend on how many people want to help build it. The sample section that I built used 1600 bricks and took me a few hours to fabricate. Certain sections like the ground will be easier and quicker to build because of the repetition, so that will speed up the process. If I were building it by myself it would probably take 200 – 300 hours, but I think I will get a lot of people that want to be a part of the building process which is exciting. Everyone that contributes to the project will get invited to building sessions.
PB: Will Mario be present in only one location, or several panels throughout the piece?
ZP: That is still up in the air a little bit. Mario has 28 different poses in the first level of the video game. I will either include one of each of those all at once so that each panel of the project will have one Mario in it, or I will swap out the Mario models at different times during the duration of the display so over time Mario will actually progress through the level, smashing bricks and stomping Goombas along the way. It kind of depends on what the contributors want to see.
PB: How do you buy your LEGO sets? Are they available in bulk? What is the typical cost for a set?
I acquire LEGO bricks in a number of ways. Most of the sets that I buy, I will purchase directly from the LEGO store or from LEGO.com
. Older sets I will usually get from second hand vendors like Bricks and Minifigs
. Bricklink is also a fantastic way to get individual bricks if you have that one piece that you just can’t find or if you need a couple hundred of it. For this project since I need a substantial amount of brick that is all identical I will get it directly from LEGO. They have a great selection in the LEGO store that you can buy in bulk by the cup, though I am a little beyond what will fit in a cup. I have found that a good rule of thumb for pricing a typical set is about ten cents per brick. So if you get a 200 brick set, expected it to cost about $20. There is some fluctuation depending on licensing fees for cross market sets like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, but it doesn’t get too ridiculous. You can also find bricks on occasion at Goodwill
. They are often mixed into random bins of stuff sold by the pound. It takes some work but you can come across some good finds.
PB: Can you tell me a little about how the project relates to the foundation you would like to start?
ZP: To see how Mario ties in, I need to explain a little about how I see the organization working. The goal with the foundation is to create an environment where I can partner with the pediatric wards of hospitals and businesses to work together creating projects with the kids. The way that it will work is that I negotiate a partnership between the two entities. The businesses will provide financing and the hospitals will provide access. I will go in to the hospitals and work directly with the kids to get them excited about the project and work with them developing a project that they would like to build. Then I will flush out the structure and design of the piece back in the studio. Next comes the critical element. I will bring participants from the businesses into the hospital to actually build the project side by side with the kids and to hand out LEGO sets for all the kids to keep. I think it will create a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved. The kids get to take part in project that will become a permanent part of hospital, and the businesses get a chance to give back to the community.
Epic Mario creates an opportunity for me generate get the word out about my larger aims of starting a foundation while tapping into my community at large and the large LEGO community for support in creating a noteworthy project. There are are couple of ways that Epic Mario will give back to the community. A portion of the net proceeds will get funneled back into Kickstarter to support projects in the Portland area and the areas that my contributors are from. After the project travels for a year, several panels from the project will be donated to the annual auction at Child’s Play
. Child’s Play is a charity that was started by Mike and Jerry at Penny-Arcade.com
. “Child’s Play seeks to improve the lives of children in hospitals around the world through the kindness and generosity of the video game industry and the power of play.” They raised over $3.5M in contributions last year. I hope to someday develop my foundation something of that scope, or to partner with them to create a LEGO centric wing of their organization. The conventions that Epic Mario will be displayed at also help contribute to their local communities as well. Many are run by Non-Profit organizations like Bricklandia, Inc. which puts on Bricks Cascade
here in Portland. Lots of these organizations run programs to foster the building spirit with kids of all ages.
PB: Any ideas on what you’d like to illustrate next?
I have a few projects that have been percolating over the last few months, and one that has been on the back burner for a couple of years. in 2009 I created a life-sized bust of Bender from Futurama. I would like to finish the rest of him and create a free standing model. That piece would be about 5’8″ when completed. I also have plans in the works for a couple new architecture models like a Minifig scale version of the zombie proof house
designed by KWK Promes, or Case Study #22
by Pierre Koenig. Really I am just in the infancy of my LEGO aspirations. There are so many amazing builders out there in the LEGO community. I would really love to apprentice under some of the master builders like Nathan Sawaya or Adam Reed Tucker to develop my skills further.