After Hours: Lego maniac Henry Lim
In this installment of "After Hours," a series about faculty and staff with fascinating, all-consuming hobbies or side jobs, meet Henry Lim, an assistant in the UCLA Music Library and an extraordinary Lego artist. A master of rectangular shapes, he has sold dozens of life-size Lego sculptures, re-created mind-bending M.C. Escher structures in 3-D for a museum and rendered family portraits in Legos. Henry Lim with the 14-foot-long Lego stegosaurus he built. Click here to enlarge. Photos courtesy of Henry Lim.
Name Henry playing his Lego harpsichord at home. Click here to enlarge.
: Henry Lim
Title: Technical services assistant for the UCLA Music Library
Hobby: Lego sculptures, mosaics and models
A childhood dream: Giant-Lego-art inspiration struck Lim at the age it strikes most people: when he was 7. That's when he made his first attempt to build a giant Lego stegosaurus. "I spent all day on it and used up all my Legos. That was only enough to build a foot." In 2000, the then-28-year-old tried again, and in seven months built the towering 6-foot-tall, 14-foot-long Lego dino that dominates the living room in his apartment. You can't miss it – it's the one by the fully playable Lego harpsichord.
Lim's contest-winning Lego Queen Amidala ("My apologies to [actress] Ms. Portman," Lim joked). Click here to see her full-length.
What set him off: Lim was drawn into Lego sculpture in 1999, when the first of the new Star Wars movies, "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace," was released. When he heard about a competition to build Star Wars characters out of Legos, "it got me nostalgic for things from my childhood," Lim said. He spent a month building a 5-foot-tall statue of the character Queen Amidala using more than 55,000 bricks and won the competition. He would have stopped there, but admirers began to submit requests.
An unexpected freelance gig: "I had no idea there was a market for it. It started as a passion. I kept going because it became a business."
His personal favorites: It wasn't until after Amidala in '99 that he pursued his childhood dream to build the dino in 2000. "People are amazed. They walk around it and try to grasp the number of pieces. I never counted." Friends of friends and even Lim's landlord bring their kids and grandkids over to see the stegosaurus. "All my neighbors know me as the Lego guy." The dinosaur and the Lego harpsichord he built in 2002 are his favorite pieces. "Those were my personal projects. I don't have anything else I need to do."
Legomania: Lim's most requested projects involve turning treasured family photographs into 3-foot-wide Lego mosaics, where each Lego becomes a pixel in the image. The bricks, which he buys in buckets of a thousand at a time, cost him hundreds of dollars per project, and a mosaic takes a month of weeknights and weekends to complete. When he's not giving them to friends as gifts, Lim charges around $1,000. He also gets requests from all over the world for statues of famous characters.
A few examples of the Lego mosaics Lim has created.
Lim's Lego rendering of M.C. Escher's "Relativity" stairways. Click here to enlarge.
A sizable problem: Transporting the statues to the post office for shipment gets tricky. They're too heavy to move or mail in one piece – Lim found that out when Queen Amidala fell on his foot – so he builds them in two snap-together pieces. "I'll have half a full-sized Lego person in the car on the way to the post office. People stare, especially when I wheel it in on a hand cart, but my post office knows me as the Lego guy, too."
And then the museums noticed
: The Hong Kong Science Museum commissioned Lim to build Lego models of mind-bending M.C. Escher prints
(just try to figure out how the pillars connect), and an art museum in Finland featured his mosaic of the Beatles
in an exhibit about plastic. "I chose the image from the inside of the Sergeant Pepper album because it's one of their most colorful images."
Ringo, John, Paul and George in Lego. Click here to enlarge.
A houseful of Legos: "I don't really count them. The stegosaurus is the biggest one I've built, and I'd guess that's several hundred thousand Legos." He also keeps several thousand loose bricks in bins around the house for projects. Lim sells or gives away all his projects, though. The only ones he has kept are steggy and the harpsichord.
Hard to tune Lim's playable Lego harpsichord. Click here for additional photos and details about construction.
: It makes sense that someone who works in the music library would have a passion for music. And Lim does. He plays the guitar, drums and piano. "I wanted to build a piano, but it was just too big. The harpsichord still works, but it needs to be tuned. It's tricky to get the tension in the strings right with the Legos. That's several hundred pounds of tension. There's a reason pianos are reinforced with steel."
Building twice: "Most traditionalists don't use glue, but then, they don't need to ship their pieces around the world and have them arrive in one piece. The glue is unforgiving. It melts the pieces together, so there's no fixing any misplaced Legos. I build twice: once to get it right, then to glue it."
An artist's vision: Lim prints out pixilated guides for his mosaics, but usually, his plans for his sculptures are in his head, and his work is freehand, although he drew plans to ensure precision in the case of his harpsichord. "I've been asked to give lectures at Lego fan conventions about how to make these, but honestly, I have no idea. I see the world, and I see how it would look in Legos, and I just build."
Are you a Lego maniac, too? Check out Lim's website
for more pictures and details about how and why he builds.