Iain Heath (AKA OchreJelly) is a character, and I mean that in the best way. From his quirky sense of humor, his funky building style to his hilarious and excellent website, The Living Brick, Iain never fails to entertain. Iain's character-based MOCs are a blend of meme, pop culture and strait up humor. From his unexpected viral sensation LEGO Stephen Hawking to Bilbo Baggins and Gollum, Iain has bridged cultural and language barriers and made people laugh all over the world.
Iain is just as funny in person as his MOCs would lead you to believe. He is also a good friend. BrickNerd is happy to let you all get to know him a little better.
Tell us a little about yourself, how did you get started in the hobby?
Like many people, LEGO was around my entire childhood and I was hooked on it from an early age. It’s such a great “go to” toy because of its infinite re-purposability. I’ve been collecting sets and keeping up with the new themes on-and-off my whole life. But as an adult, I felt there was something missing. Just collecting and building the official sets seemed limiting in some way. And I could never figure out what to build from my own imagination. That changed about 7 years ago when I shared my collection with my kids, carefully separating out all the weird bricks – and most of the minifig components – in an effort to keep things ‘pure’. That’s when I stumbled across the idea of creating characters. I started with the miniland pattern from the theme parks, and adapted it to build characters from stuff on the TV that we were all into at the time. Then on a whim I created the now-famous Stephen Hawking model. That went viral, and as a consequence of all the positive feedback it generated, my eyes became opened to the existence of the AFOL community, and from there I just dove right in. I realized that I loved the challenge of creating something very organic (ie. people and creatures) from this very rectilinear medium. So from there I decided to just focus exclusively on character building, since other genres, like spaceships, were already pretty well-covered by other fans.
What is your earliest LEGO memory?
My earliest LEGO memory is also one of my earliest anything memories… Getting the “Baggage Trolley” set (from 1970) for Christmas when I was about 4 years old. LEGO has been pretty much an integral part of my life since then.
What drives you to create?
For me, the drive comes from the inception of the idea behind a model. My models are pretty much all parodies of internet memes, or homages to characters from film and television. I am continually monitoring popular culture for an opportunity to do something creative around something that has just entered entering the public consciousness. It also needs to be a topic that I’m passionate about, such as a show I’m currently really into, or a meme that just makes me laugh! After that, the next biggest driving force is that challenge of actually taking some mad new idea and making it a reality. I’m something of a perfectionist and set very high goals for realism and accuracy in my models. In fact a few years back I switched from a 4-inch to a 12-inch scale specifically to keep myself challenged, and to take my models to a whole other level of detail. At that point, it just becomes a lengthy and meticulous puzzle to figure out, which is fun in yet another way. But that idea of starting with nothing, just an idea in my head, and turning it into something, is just so rewarding. It’s like a drug.
Would you call yourself a purist (no cutting, painting, knockoff)?
In terms of construction, yes. The public has this peculiar fascination for art created out of LEGO, compared to the myriad of other materials out there, and in my opinion this is only valid if you’re doing things with the bricks that they actually were designed to do. Otherwise you’re misleading people. That’s why I have a kind of distaste for these ‘professional’ builders that create immense LEGO sculptures that can only exist because every single brick has been glued. I myself only use glue if I am making a model to be given to someone else, so that it can last forever, and the design of the model never relies on the glue. I generally wouldn’t endorse cutting or painting for the same reasons. Although having said that, I am currently experimenting with some (non paint-based) ways to recolor bricks. I can tolerate the use of stickers, since sometimes its just not feasible to build that detail using bricks, especially with small models. With my Quorra (Tron) model, I really wanted to build the ‘light stripe’ details using actual LEGO parts, but it just didn’t work, and after much agonizing I decided to apply thin strips of sticky label instead. But stickers are a slippery slope, so I don’t make a habit of that!
Do you have any favorite parts?
Funny you should ask that - we just posed that very question to everybody at our last SeaLUG meeting! For me it’s a coin toss between yummy cheese slopes, and part 87087, which is a 1x1 brick with an extra stud on the side, or “younger gentleman’s headlight” brick as I like to call it. That brick made a lot of what I do with SNOT a helluva lot easier.
Do you have a wish list of parts?
I use a lot of basic brick so I don’t have a wish for any exotic new part types, but I’d love to see a wider variety of part types in some of my favorite colors like dark tan, dark green or dark orange.
Who's your favorite builder(s)?
I could probably just look to see which builders I’ve blogged about the most over the years, but for me the obvious stars of the craft are Tyler Clites and Bruce Lowell, since they are both great at character sculptures. I’m also a big fan of Japanese builders, in particular Moko and Misa Qua.
Do you ever look back on old MOCs and say "if I only…"
The thing I tend to dislike the most about my previous work is the photography. I struggle a lot getting my photography at the level I’d like it to be. I do wish my original photo of LEGO Stephen Hawking had been done using a plain background (and in retrospect perhaps had a watermark too!).
Tell us about your building area.
It’s a small spare bedroom, not much space, but at least it’s a dedicated space so I can make full use of it and leave stuff out while a project is in full swing. Just a couple of work tables, and all my brick is stacked in clear plastic tubs along one wall. Unlike many ‘serious’ AFOLs, I actually sort my brick by color first, part type second, since that just works best for the kind of stuff I build. I don’t like using tiny tool drawers for organizing bricks either, so within each ‘color tub’ things are separated out using small zip-lok bags. When working on a model, I tape lots of photos of my subject matter to the wall, as a reference guide. My build room is also my photo studio – the previous owner installed a rack of bright halogen lamps in the ceiling, that I have added to over time, that provide a great light source. Although once I have my photography ‘furniture’ set up, there is literally no room to move in there!
Do you listen to music while you build?
Yes, almost continuously. I just listen to streaming internet radio, covering a variety of electronic genres. Sometimes I’ll also switch to BBC Radio One. Because of the time difference, I usually catch the weird late night shows where the DJs just jabber on about a whole load of nonsense, which is nice because it feels like being back in the UK again.
Do you keep all your MOCs? If so, do you display them?
No, I tend to recycle the majority of my MOCs, usually after they’ve been shown at a couple of conventions. And I’ve been known to recycle them very publically and destructively, too! I only keep a few personal favorites, for posterity. But even then I tend to keep everything packed away. For me the finished photographs are what should live on, not the models themselves.
What is your all time favorite LEGO set?
Probably 8860, which was the second “car chassis” technic set, released in 1980. As a pre-teen I was heavily into technic sets and also classic space. The car chassis had a ton of cool functions such as a gear box, suspension and differential gears. I was really into engineering and mechanics as a kid, and the early technic sets helped me really explore that passion. Strangely though, I have absolutely zero interest in Technic or Mindstorms or NXT these days, for some reason – I’m all about organic stuff now. Funny how we change as we get older!
If you could pick a single creation of yours for permanent display somewhere notable, what would it be?
Ah, so many of my creations have obvious homes! I’d love to see my Totoro installed in the Ghibli theme park in Japan, or my Sheldon secreted somewhere on the set of Big Bang Theory. I have been fortunate enough to have my Space Kraken permanently installed at the place I work. It’s in front of the elevator doors, so hundreds of people get to see it every day. Whether they want to or not!
Which of your creations would you say personifies you?
They all carry something of me in them. My Freddie Mercury and Monty Python creations reflect my deep fondess for my British heritage and nostalgia for the British culture of my youth. Whereas my zany and irreverent sense of humor is reflected in my LEGO parodies of Grumpy Cat, Star Trek the Next Generation, and Epic Meal Time.