By Julius von Brunk
Project built from July-December 2012, photographed in December 2012, article published in March 2015
UPDATE September 10th, 2015: I’ve finally rebuilt this massive model to have better ascetics and improved electronic circuits!
Initially conceived in the late summer of 2012, this titanic brute was been gradually worked on from July to December and finally completed towards the end of 2012. Various obstacles, such as work-related and/or financial problems halted its production, but nonetheless I managed to complete this giant controller, in both its LEGO structure as well as electrical functionality.
Resting atop a large folding table in my attic workshop, the controller is built of light-grey LEGO brick walls with large removable tiled plates for the ceiling. Like previous works, I’ve used custom glossy stickers for the labels originally, but in 2015 I modified it slightly by removing the labels and using LEGO pieces to create the text. The innards are mainly hollowed with some trusses and support for the buttons; the buttons are spring-loaded modules using LEGO Technic pieces to make the large buttons reciprocate when pressed. Below the large LEGO buttons are small momentary pushbuttons soldered to the actual circuitry board of an original NES controller, which is then linked to a USB converter to play Nintendo ROMs on my computer. When the large LEGO buttons are pressed, the bottoms make contact with the pushbuttons, which then send the electrical signal back to the controller’s circuit “brain”; the LEGO Technic spring suspension system prevents the large buttons from getting stuck in place. For the record, I do in fact own hard copies of each ROM that I used, and the controller can also work with an actual NES. After this creation was published and posted amongst numerous websites, I was personally contacted by Nintendo of America to create a store display for Nintendo World Store’s release party of LEGO: City Undercover in spring 2013. Currently I’m looking forward to showcasing this mighty monument at some video game conventions.
The photos in this set below were taken by Gene Kennish in December 2012:
Production History with Work-in-Progress Photos
In the summer of 2012, I was contacted by a PR agency rep for Ripley’s Believe it Or Not in Times Square. I was referred by a good kemosabe of mine, Albert Cadabra: a well-known NYC magician and performer. Albert was genuinely impressed by my creations and put in a good word for me at Ripley’s, in the hopes of my talents being put to good usage for the good of greater man and whatnot. Their idea was to have me do some sort of publicity stunt to draw a crowd, like a live performance of me building a huge creation non-stop. I suggested constructing a LEGO statue of Nikola Tesla from feet to head over the course of a weekend, in time for Tesla’s birthday in July. My idea was rejected due to lack of mass appeal, so I proposed the idea of building a giant LEGO Apollo astronaut for the anniversary of the first moon landing on July 20th, which we almost went ahead and decided to use until the agency suggested we do a crossover promotion for the forthcoming premiere of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20th. The idea was to have me make a giant Batman statue — however, FAO Schwarz already had one that was pretty monumental, meaning I could never compete with its awesome size! We negotiated some more, and eventually talked the idea down to a Batmobile model, to be made roughly 5-6 feet in length and spanning over a table.
I then acquired thousands of black and grey LEGO pieces en masse from the LEGO Store in Queens. The idea: that I would set up on Friday evening, and completely organically and arbitrarily (with no guides) spend the next 24 hours consistently assembling a huge LEGO Batmobile. I would of course be expected to take men’s room breaks periodically, and naturally I expected my close allies to serenade me with pizzas and cans of Monster Energy drinks. Everything was almost ready to go, and I was geared up to push myself to the limits; we were even considering to have this live performance event featured on Good Morning Amerca, with a possible TV interview upon completion of the Batmobile (which would feature a dazed and distraught Baron von Brunk who’s no doubt delusional and cranky from consitently assembling a LEGO model for 24 hours straight). Then one fateful day on the morning of July 20th, I saw the trending topic “Aurora” on Twitter and soon had a rude awakening when I learned of the horrible shooting rampage at the movie theater in Colorado. As you can guess what happened next, the agency contacted me to tell me the event is scrapped due to the negative stigma attached to The Dark Knight Rises.
I was paid the money for buying the parts for the Batmobile, and was told to keep them for a later event (that we never decided upon at that moment). Later that day, I did some brainstorming and came up with a Baron von Brunk of an idea: I realized that exactly one week later (July 27th) was the 25th anniversary of when Legend of Zelda was released for NES in North America. Hmmmm. . . I had all of these black and grey pieces. . . The NES controller was grey and black. . . GREAT SCOTT!!! Well, of course I contacted the agency, and they rejected my idea to build a giant controller for the anniversary of Zelda due to possible conflicting licensing issues with Nintendo — but that didn’t stop me from actually building the freakin’ huge controller myself for fun! Of course I immediately checked online to see if any giant NES controllers have ever been built — when in fact there were several tutorials from a few years ago which describe how to construct a large controller from wood, but with electronic circuits of a hacked-apart NES controller. I thought to myself, “Hmmm, apparently giant functioning NES controllers are nothing new — but that doesn’t mean I can’t build a LEGO version of one!” And so, I did some experiments with Technic shock absorbers to see if I could make large reciprocating buttons — which was a success. Then I purchased a ton of light grey bricks, lots of tiles, and broke ground for this monumental hunk of plastic.
First came the buttons, which were deliberately made first so that I test and see if it were possible to have a reciprocating spring method to make the buttons retract. Since the remainder of the controller was pretty straightforward and essentially a giant rectangle, the engineering for that was more repetitive and rudimentary than sophisticated. The A, B, Start and Select buttons are made of rounded bricks, whilst the D-pad is a square plus sign resembling a German Balkenkreuz. Coming up with a way to integrate the momentary pushbuttons with LEGO parts was difficult, as I try to avoid glue, cutting and sanding when possible. While watching Ghostbusters 2 one night, I figured out how to keep the Radio Shack buttons in place by having a small LEGO chassis to hold each button down, with clearance for the wires to slide out the front. The large buttons would slide up and down and make contact with the small Radio Shack buttons held in the small LEGO holders I rigged up.
Next came the construction of the outer walls and the base: I used several 32 x 32 green baseplates on top of a large folding table, and constructed the four walls from thousands of light-grey bricks. Fun fact: if you call up the LEGO Stores and request to purchase an entire box of one type/color of pieces [used mainly for store stock in the Pick-a-Brick section], they’ll sell ‘em to you for $70 each with free FedEx shipping! Let’s say you want to make a giant LEGO castle, you could easily get a few $70 boxes of entirely grey bricks, rather than sorting through pieces online. Thus, I bought about six or seven boxes of light-grey 1×4 and 2×4 bricks to make the walls.
The walls have the most pieces, but surprisingly didn’t take too long to put up. In fact, I slapped each brick-on-brick together like masonry bricklaying, and with its flat rectangular shape with little deviation, I breezed right through assembling the four walls. As mentioned previously, I had at my disposal several boxes of solid-color bricks I purchased in bulk from the LEGO Stores in New Jersey and Long Island; piling on the light-grey bricks meant simply dipping in the boxes and repeating the brick-on-bricklaying method.
The original idea was to use a fixed roof, with the front opening like barn doors — hence in early photos you can see hinges on the front, and multiple columns throughout the structure. Halfway through the project I realized the sheer improbability of having a fixed roof with front doors; my idea was to open the front doors and somehow slide my hands inside to make electronics repairs. I eventually rebuilt the front to have the doors removed, and instead made the roof removable by having five separate large plates which could slide off. The plates were reinforced with several layers of plates, and had smooth tiles for the tops. The ceiling plates took a while to build, however; they had to constantly be removed and adjusted to slide in place securely. I also had to keep reinforcing the under portions of the roof plates to make sure they didn’t warp in the middle. The tiling process was also very tedious and time consuming.
Weeks and weeks of frustrating labor went by, and I had built the bulk of a giant LEGO NES controller. Around fall 2012 I had to stop in order to finish an urgent custom commission for a friend (a TARDIS magic mirror box), and since it was a paid gig, it was high priority. Also around that time I waited anxiously to receive several original NES controllers from eBay to gut out and use the circuits. A few were duds, some were third-party knockoffs with improper circuitry, and above all, my soldering skills were weak during those times, and I made several errors in wiring! Right around that point in history (fall 2012), the tensions between me and my former boss at the company where I worked [Tzumi] reached critical mass: my hours and pay were being cut without my consent, and amongst our turmoil, I was also demoted. With funds rapidly dwindling, I couldn’t afford to keep throwing down money to finish building the controller. I put it on hiatus in October of that year, right before I quit working at that company. At the exact same weekend where I quit my job, my 28th birthday occurred, and Hurricane Sandy struck New York. The fecal matter had made contact with the propeller. Two weeks later, a deus ex machina event happened where I was working full-time again (at a nice office with greater pay), so I had the funds to pick up where I left off with the final touches on the controller.
In December 2012, I made the final touches with the electronic components by using a tutorial I found for hacking NES controllers and rigging up a bunch of parts I bought at Radio Shack. Basically, the old controller has a bunch of its central brain’s soldered tips attached to several wires, which then lead to momentary pushbuttons housed underneath the large LEGO buttons. Pushing the large buttons makes contact with the smaller ones, which then goes back to the central “brain”, which then can either be plugged into a Nintendo Entertainment System or in my case, a computer to play ROMs.
After calibrating the controller, the first game I tested was Contra. Frankly, I’m amazed it worked.
I recall vividly the day I rigged up the wires successfully: I stayed up all one Friday night making a mess with solder and speaker wire, to create a beast of a tangled slapdash electronic circuits as I listened to my classic rock mix playlist in my attic workshop. The next afternoon, I hooked up the USB-out end of the controller to my laptop, put on the theme song from RoboCop, loaded up a Contra emulator ROM, calibrated the controller’s buttons, and voilà: history was made! My seemingly chaotic jerry-rigged wires and alligator clips attached to a 25-year old Nintendo controller were fully-operational, much like the Second Death Star!
After all was said and done, I got on the horn with a photographer named Gene Kennish, who does a lot of amazing work for burlesque dancers in New York. We did a whole photo shoot at the end of December, and I had the entire thing buttoned up along with a promotional video ready for view on New Years Day 2013. Weeks later, the internet was again lighting up and paying tribute to my awesome achievement. Eventually a rep from Nintendo of America actually e-mailed me, and offered me a deal to create a store display for Nintendo World Store’s forthcoming release of LEGO City: Undercover for Wii U in the spring of 2013! This was a most joyous occasion indeed. During the next few months, I acquired the necessary pieces and constructed several Nintendo-related items to put in a glass case at the Rockefeller Center flagship store. When the event happened in April, I met lots of new fans and networked amongst Nintendo’s employees. Although my display was only supposed to be held during the month of April, due to popular demand the entire setup was kept until June!
Now that I’ve succeeded in dazzling the likes of fans and companies, I look forward to building more monumental high-caliber LEGO creations and doing shows. And with my advent of incorporating electronic parts into my models, perhaps this would be my new pigeonholed niche rather than just specifically video game art.
-Baron von Brunk
Thanks to the various tech savvy folks across these internets who originally came up with making giant functional NES controllers. Without their hack/mod skills to make good use of old Nintendo peripherals, I wouldn’t have figured out which wires go where and do what! In fact, check out thisissafety’s from Instructables, and this particular classic wood finish NES table! I used the exact electrical schematic and wiring infrastructure from the former, by the way. Up until this project I haven’t soldered since 11th grade shop class, and working with a delicate piece of Nintendo history took a lot of finesse and practice.
Thanks to Gene Kennish, the professional photographer who came from Staten Island for the photo shoot at my place in Queens. He does amazing work and has reasonable rates; I certainly recommend his services to anyone needing a good cameraman in the NY/NJ area, especially for burlesque shows and headshots!
I’d also like to give a special thanks to my fans – Brunkamaniacs – on Facebook and Tumblr, who stood by and encouraged me from afar to keep building these wonderful projects! Whilst most bastards on the internet would accuse folks of my caliber of being “lifeless virgins” due to the fact that we have a healthy hobby (LEGO sculpting) which uses up a lot of time and money, my fans on the other hand have been very positive towards my creative endeavors.