Special Interview with Eero Okkonen a.k.a. Pate-keetongu

This weeks guest of honor is Eero Okkonen a.k.a. Pate-keetongu from Finland. He is well known for his amazing large figures and steampunk creations. He also shared many impressive purist custom mini-figures as well. Photos from the work of our guest will be presented between the questions.

Kaplan: We already know you are one of the best LEGO MOC'ers in the world. What can you tell us about yourself other than that. What is your real name? What is your dayjob? Do you have any other hobbies or activities?

Eero: I am Eero Okkonen. I write about my LEGO hobby on my blog Cyclopic Bricks. I’m from Joensuu, Eastern Finland, and I’m currently studying architecture on Tampere University of Technology (TUT). It’s my first year there, and it’s very interesting. I’m planning to graduate as an architect in 2021. My other hobbies include art in general (drawing, oil and watercolour, general tinkering – though my studies include most of them), music (I can’t play anything, but I listen to lot of it and buy records regularly), board games, reading, cycling, hiking… And naturally hanging with friends doing nothing particularly but doesn’t everybody do that. 

K: Do you remember the day when you got your first LEGO set? Which set was it? And How old were you when you started playing with LEGO bricks?

E: No. I played with DUPLO before actual bricks (or pikku-leegot as they are called in Finland, sometimes), and I had plenty of my father’s old bricks from 70’s. But I remember some of my earliest set and these include quite good-looking 6335 Indy Transport (which was released only a year after I was born) and not-so-good 6474 4-wheeled front shovel. I’ve been around 4 or 5 years old back then.

K: What is your best/unforgettable memory involving LEGO?

E: A good question. I remember saving for a long time to buy 7419 Dragon Fortress, the flagship set of Orient Expedition theme. I was 9 or 10 back then and 119€ was ridiculously lot of money. It was by far the biggest set I had and I still rather like it. Another great memory is my first LUG event at Model Expo 2009. It was also our LUG’s first proper event. I met several close friends there for the first time, and it was great to show my creations to the public.

K: If you have to choose, what is your all-time favorite LEGO set?

E: I already mentioned the Dragon Fortress; another one is definitely 7036 Dwarves Mine from 2007/2008. I really like those dwarves (they’re short and hairy as myself) and it had loads of cool play features. On more recent set, 79003 An Unexpected Gathering hogs the cake. It captures excellently the feel of Tolkien’s iconic world. Also has dwarves. Naturally most of the modular buildings and other big exclusive sets are impressive, but they’re out of my price range and therefore I have no proper experience on them; After all, big pile of loose bricks to build something own is better than any sets. I’m not really a set person. I don’t see point of displaying something thousands of other people have too. 
K: What is/are your favorite LEGO theme/s

E: Probably Creator, as it offers great parts with reasonable prices. Aesthetic-wise I like Monster Fighters for their dieselpunk style, Middle-Earth themes for being Middle-Earth based and Orient Expedition for memories. Also some things of Bionicle, which was huge part of my childhood. But only some parts.

K: Did you have a "dark-age"? If you had one when did you return from your dark age and how?

E: No… Not really. Can’t say. I had a half-a-year period of not-so-active building when I was 9 after connecting few Bionicle parts in a way that couldn’t be undone. That vicious trap somehow unsettled me and I ceased to build for a while. A child’s mind is so weird.

K: How many LEGO bricks/sets do you own approximately?

E: My Brickset page says 602 sets and 48752 parts, but I think in reality it’s more like 750 sets and let’s say 100 000 parts. Maybe 100 of the sets are collectable minifigures, though. I don’t buy much sets, and Brickset’s list doesn’t include LUGBULK and Bricklink orders and spare parts acquired from different sources and I haven’t updated it for couple of years. I don’t really inventory my collection. I try to remember what I own. The hard part is to know which pieces are in use. 

K: That's a pretty accurate approximation. What are your favorite top three of your MOCs?

E: Hard question! I build in many different scales, so it’s hard to compare them. But if I have to decide 3… One would be New Century Corner, which is my biggest published project so far (but it’s expanding…). Another would be Porco Rosso, because it’s based on the main character of my all-time favorite film. And third… I’d say Fómhar, the autumn gel of my Seasons project. I like the warm colors and feel of that one. And the hat, the hat turned out nicely.

K: Do you scrap your MOC''s after taking photos or displaying or do you keep them? How do you decide which ones you keep?

E: I usually keep them built. I sometimes must take something apart, but my collection of finished builds keeps gradually expanding. This is somewhat problematic, of course: It means I have less parts available for use, and as I live in relatively small shared student flat there isn’t enough room for all of them. Currently most of my build are stored in my parent’s house 400 kilometers away, and some are on public displays. I keep builds if I like them, or if they are part of bigger series (like my The Hobbit or Discworld characters). MOC's using lot of rare and useful parts are prone to get recycled for new creations.

K: What do you think about custom or third party pieces in MOC's?

E: I stick to purism. I think it’s more interesting to find solutions only using parts TLG has produced, and it’s easier to showcase 100% LEGO builds in exhibits. But I can enjoy other people’s creations that use custom parts, too.

K: You are especially great at building large figures. Your techniques and presentations are unique and recognizable. Can you give tips about building large scale figures?

E: It’s important to get proportions right; It makes character MOC's more life-like. I’d suggest people interested in character builds to study human proportions: How long legs should be compared to the torso and so on. The facial features are very important, too. Humorous faces are easy and fun to build, but graceful ones are very tricky! Sometimes simplifying does the trick for them. Posable neck joint is also great tool for bringing character MOC's to life: There’s something very human in a slightly tilted head. For clothes, I use lot of curved slopes and wedges. They create organic shapes that traditional bricks can’t achieve. Boat stud is another key piece for character builds and generally one of my favorite pieces.

K: We especially like the beards and hairs of figures done using different pieces (wings, slopes, plates etc.). Where do you get the inspiration?

E: I usually first decide the color and then go through the parts I have in that colors. Wings, for example, have very hair-like pattern and are therefore suitable for beards. Slopes and plates are basic parts, but can be arranged in interesting ways, like in Agatha of Four Colors. 

K: Your custom minifigures are also very impressive. And also as much as we can see you are using yellow colored figures more than flesh colored ones. What can you tell about your customs? .

E: Making minifigures (mine are purist) is light-tempered tinkering-about compared to “real” building. But it is admittedly fun to come up with interesting combos and backstories for characters. I’ve ceased to buy collectible minifigures due to price rises and more MOC-oriented LEGO budgeting, but I still might make an occasional barfs and new figs for minifig-scale dioramas or vignettes. I like yellow for being more traditional, having more variety and being generally cheaper.

K: Bionicle/Herofactory-part based MOC's are not very common among AFOL's and you have built some nice related MOC's. What can you tell us about those? How difficult or how different is building with those pieces?

E: It’s very different from SYSTEM building. With SYSTEM you can work with quite easy math, or a sort of a grid – studs, plates and bricks with some occasional half-plates. But Bionicle/HF parts are strange and complex, so it’s impossible to plan builds in advance. You just have to grab the pieces and see if they fit each other. But in other hand, construction figures are sturdy yet flexible. Often I try to get the best of the both worlds, using SYSTEM for details and Bionicle/HF for limbs and joints. I build hardly anything purely Bionicle or Hero Factory based these days.

K: Do you have any suggestions for the new MOC'ers?

E: Browse MOC communities, look for blogs and sites for inspiration, steal techniques (but give credit). Publish your work for feedback. Commenting other people’s work makes them usually more likely to comment your work. Activity in the community is often rewarded! And be original for ideas. For example, there are dozens of Millennium Falcon and Helm’s Deep MOCs, and they have to be REALLY good to impress. I think I found my niche with the character builds. Some of my early work feels rather primitive by now, but back then they got positive feedback and inspired me to build more. It’s nice to see yourself becoming better.

K: Are you currently working on some MOC's or other LEGO related projects?

E: Always! I mentioned my New Century Corner’s expansion earlier; I have been working on it since July. Now I have two and half weeks to get it completed for an exhibit. Back walls are giving me a headache. I’m running out of basic bricks on several colours at once!
On top of that, I have several character build WIP's, including couple of Discworld characters.

K: Do you member of a local LUG? Do you participate in collaborative builds?

E: Yes, I am member of the Finnish LUG Palikkatakomo Ry. And not only a member: I’m our LUG Ambassador and long-time member of the LUG administration board. I do participate in collaborative builds from time to time, usually in our biggest annual exhibit on Model Expo. Last year my New Century Corner, Atelier, Dragon Dance and Nux-imitating Terror Rod were part of our large modular town. I’ve also taken part of GBC once. Our LUG is having our next event in one and half weeks and in three weeks we’re going to start a two-month exhibit on local museum centre; I’ve been organizing it as I live near by. My New Century City Block project will be there along with several character builds.

K: And our final question: Tiles or studs?

E: I use both… But maybe tiles, if possible. They look nice with curved slopes. But sometimes, usually when using lot of wedge plates, studs looks smoother overall than the rigged edges of tiling. It’s a depends on the build. I’m not a fundamentalist on this issue.

K: Thank you very much again for participating.