Following the publicity of my giant LEGO Nintendo Controller in early 2013, I was personally commissioned by Nintendo of America to create a store display for their flagship location at Rockefeller Center for the release of LEGO City: Undercover in spring of that year! A lot of these projects were custom built especially for the store, while others were Nintendo-related projects of mine built prior to the event.
January 2013: I had just released one of my greatest LEGO creations of all time — a giant 5-foot replica of a NES controller, that’s actually functioned to play games. The controller was immediately published on a variety of online sources who praised my work. Among its acclaim and promotion, the whole project caught wind of Nintendo of America. One day while working at my day job as a graphic designer, I received an authentic e-mail from a representative of the New York City Nintendo World flagship store at Rockefeller Center — an e-mail asking if I’d be interested building a custom store display for the forthcoming release of the Wii U game LEGO City: Undercover. Well, once I managed to calm down get my head together after going berserk, I immediately followed up and told the rep that I’d be more than glad to help out, to say the least. We negotiated back and forth over the design concept as well as payment arrangements, and soon we worked on a design plan.
His idea was for me to construct a LEGO replica of a Wii U system, along with a mosaic sculpture of the game’s protagonist Chase McCain. I suggested bringing it up a notch and constructing a mosaic platform of game sprites for the system to rest atop, as well as more mosaic walls of Nintendo branding. We agreed, and I was also asked to bring as many of my Nintendo-related LEGO models as I could — in other words, my glorious transforming Game Boy robot Domaster would be proudly showcased in a glass case along with the Operation Desert Storm battle-damaged Game Boy model!
Throughout January and February 2013, I acquired hundreds of pieces to construct both the Wii U replica and the mosaics, whilst making some minor repairs to my other Nintendo-related models in anticipation for being showcased. Although this was a paid commission, due to red tape with Nintendo of America’s billing department I actually wasn’t given the check until later in May. And although I was working a full-time decent-paying job when I was first contacted by Nintendo, I should also point out that the job was merely a temp-to-perm position, and I was in the middle of negotiating being hired on permanently as a salaried employee. Unfortunately, my contract expired and I wasn’t hired on full-time for reasons unknown — despite otherwise being a “rockstar designer” amongst the others and getting positive feedback from the company president. That being said, I was actually unemployed for most of February and doing some freelance work to get by — hence I had to tap into my savings to acquire the pieces for this project during that month. The original scheduled release for the game was set to be in March 2013, right around the time I started a new job — but luckily the date was pushed back to April, thus giving me extra time to save up money and get more pieces.
Virtual composite image of my idea for the display.
In my first draft of the display, I intended on having a flat platform of Mario sprites for the Wii U system to rest upon, with a composite of Nintendo sprites to the left side, and with a mosaic Wii logo and Chase McCain on the back — thus resembling a box with some sides missing. The Nintendo rep liked the idea and wanted to go with it, but asked me to revise it to fit the Wii U logo; by doing so, I couldn’t fit Chase McCain, and thus built an entire right side panel for his sprite image. Also, I’d eventually revise the platform to be little more elaborate by including Mario, a Bullet Bill, and some fireballs. The mosaic walls were pretty straightforward to built. Chase McCain’s portrait was rather difficult, however, since his uniform required several shades of blue — many of which were rare and hard to obtain. The Wii U logo panel actually took several revisions to perfect properly, as I kept making the “U” portion of the logo appear too square instead of round.
The model Wii U that I built was revised multiple times, as I had nothing to base it off aside from images I found online and some specs from Wikipedia. Since the Wii U was a relatively new system, I never owned one in the same sense as I did with a Game Boy — as in, I’ve never seen a Wii U in person at that point. I’m strictly a retro video gamer — making the LEGOformers like Vantage and Ultra Hexacon was rather simple in terms of ascetics, as my thumbs have made quite a bit of contact with a Game Boy Advance and Nintendo 64 for years. I made the screen on the model Wii U’s controller have a sprite of Luigi, since he’d often been neglected in my works (as well as everyone else’s). A little joke about the eventual final display of the replica Wii U system is that you’ll see it being played by a dozen little minifigures: the joke is that it’s not supposed to be a regular-sized system being played by tiny people, rather it’s supposed to be a miniature model of a gigantic system being played by regular-sized people — a subtle nod to my then-recent giant LEGO NES controller!
I like big buttons and I cannot lie.
When thinking of a name for this project, I turned to my Facebook fans. Two possible names I considered were “16-Bit Chapel” or “Wii The People” — the latter of which being the name I chose. Unfortunately, when I was given the actual specifications from Nintendo World Store, I realized I wouldn’t have had adequate space to fit this entire project. As I previously negotiated over the phone over the design and concept, I didn’t bother asking about the space to use, as I falsely assumed this would just go in some big glass case about the size of a fish tank. However, the actual glass case spanned over several counters, and although had adequate width, they didn’t have necessary height — I was unable to place the tall mosaic walls in the case as planned.
Moments before the event, I constructed a model of Deku Scrub Link to have as a last minute addition, since there wasn’t enough height in the case to fit the Lakeside Laboratory Scientist. Luckly, though, there was room in the glass cases of the mini Nintendo museum behind my main display, in which I had room to place two of the walls. The remaining Chase McCain portrait was kept in a different section of the store, and eventually near one of the cash registers.
On the night before the event, I put everything into a huge storage bin, called a car service van, and had the driver take me and my cargo to Rockefeller Center. A few Nintendo World employees came outside and helped me bring the case inside, and we stayed there from evening to night setting up all of my creations. Unfortunately, some of the mosaics became severely damaged in transport, as well as did some of the sculptures (since I refuse to glue my LEGO creations together). This was actually at a point in time when I didn’t own a smartphone yet, hence I had to use my basic Keyocera cell phone to scour my previous social media posts in search of photos of the individual LEGO models, so that I could determine where repairs would go!
The next Saturday morning I woke up (late) and moseyed on down to Rockefeller Center for the release party. . .
The event actually went rather well, and I met lots of new people and fans. For the duration of the party, I stayed by the glass cases and interacted with people, as if I were an employee there. A couple of single moms even asked to get pictures taken with me! Some fellow video game nerds were totally in awe of my tattoos, as I flaunt the nerd flag proudly with two arms covered in ink to represent both LEGO and Nintendo. In addition, a bunch of younger LEGO builders were stopping by and asking me pointers on design and construction for making original models; I encouraged them to ignore the instruction manuals and to build whatever they felt like making — that’s the magic of LEGO.
The particular creations of mine which received the most feedback (and had the most people taking pictures of) were the Lego of Zelda models — especially Deku Scrub Link and the Skulltula. People also checked out the issue of Nintendo Power in the glass case and recognized my face in the photo!
Chase McCain is a personal friend of mine.
Although the event lasted just a few hours, my projects were intended to be kept on display at the store throughout the entire month until April. Around the start of May, when I anticipated removing the display, I received an e-mail from the store manager with some apparent “good news and bad news” — the bad news is that they’d like to hang on to my stuff longer than expected — the good news was that it was because the overwhelming positive feedback of store customers who loved my work! This actually encouraged me a lot to take my projects seriously, and that I had succeeded in developing a following.
The photos in the section below were taken by the store’s museum director Ashley McIntosh:
I finally came back to the store to pick up my creations on an afternoon in early June 2013. The store employees had already dismantled all of models and individually wrapped them in bubble wrap for me, hence I wasn’t there for much long. As of the time of this article, Nintendo World Store still has my mosaic Nintendo Wii U wall on display in their museum in the section for contemporary Nintendo systems, whilst my replica Wii U system is somewhere at the store — and none one knows what happened to it. Everything else on the other hand was repatriated to my collection.
Getting back home with all of my creations, however, was a difficult task: I stood on 49th street to hail a taxi cab, and none of them felt like driving all the way to Flushing, Queens. I finally found a taxi cab and got carsick on the way home (I have severe motion sickness)!
If you recall, when I stated in my article about the Fireflower Airship that I dreamed of showcasing my best Nintendo-related LEGO models at an art gallery in New York City, but alas never succeeded at that point — but upon completion of the LEGO City: Undercover release party, I certainly lived up to my hopes after all. I mean, I got to exhibit some truly wonderful creations to the general public in one of the biggest, busiest cities in the world — except rather than trying to get studio space for a gallery, my favorite video game company took care of that task for me. I tell you what: there was certainly quite the thrill when my check finally arrived from Nintendo of America — I can assure you when I was a child, I never imagined getting personally asked by Nintendo to build video game themed LEGO models to display at one of their global flagship locations.
I’d certainly do it again. You’re next, FAO Schwarz!
-Baron von Brunk