Trip Report: Brickworld 2014

I went to Chicago a couple of weeks ago to attend the Brickworld LEGO convention, one of the largest such events in the world. As you probably know I am the president of Bricks by the Bay, our local convention here in the San Francisco bay area, and it’s good to get out and visit other conventions to network, pick up new ideas for our event, and just see what the rest of the AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) world is doing. This was my third Brickworld; I had gone in 2009 and 2011.

I arrived Wednesday evening at the convention and checked into my room. They were having a reception in the hotel bar area, and I hung out there until after midnight chatting with people, including convention organizers from Brickworld, BrickFair, and PhillyBrickFest, and the editor of BrickJournal. They had provided pizza for the reception, but I’m lactose intolerant, so I ordered a chicken sandwich from the restaurant.

Thursday morning I went down to the convention area and got my badge. I looked in on the Great Ball Contraption workshop briefly and went to breakfast in the hotel restaurant with some friends including a guy from the Netherlands I had met the last time I went to Brickworld.

After breakfast I went up to my room and worked on my slides for the talk on Brick Geometry that I was scheduled to give the following morning. Once I had that ready to go I went back down to the convention and sat in on the tail end of the animation workshop being presented by David Pagano and David Pickett. David Pagano is going to be giving a workshop and keynote speech at Bricks by the Bay so I wanted a preview of his style and content. After the workshop we talked a bit about BBTB and what he’s going to be doing there.

At that point it was lunchtime and the World Cup opening game was on, so I went to the hotel bar and hung out with friends watching Brazil’s first game. Following the game I went down to the exhibit hall and wandered around talking to people and checking out the vendors and exhibits as they were being set up.

Later that evening I attended the opening ceremony, featuring David Robertson, author of Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry which is a story about the business turnaround made by the LEGO company about ten years ago, when they were sinking towards bankruptcy and are now growing wildly. I had seen essentially the same speech at BrickCon in Seattle last year, but it was still good and he touched on a few different points this time.

Immediately following the opening ceremony, we had a build challenge sponsored by BrickLink where everyone was given a small baggie of parts and 45 minutes to build anything we wanted. I hadn’t signed up for the event in advance, but they had extra kits so I was able to build one. I built a small bird.

When that was done I took it to the exhibit hall, and then went and got my camera and started photographing things. I took pictures of all the BrickLink Challenge entries, and started going around taking pictures of MOC displays and vendors as they were mostly set up at this point.

Friday morning, I had to give my talk at 9am, so I went down early for breakfast and then went to the room I had been assigned. There was some delay due to the projector not being in the room yet, but once I got going it went over really well. I’ll post an entry here shortly with a link to my slides from the talk.

Once my talk was over I spent the rest of the morning going to various talks and roundtable sessions. I attended a roundtable session about BrickLink, where we basically spent the entire time brainstorming about things that need to be done to improve the site. I also went to the tail end of a talk about the LEGO Movie.

I took a lot more pictures of models in the exhibit hall before and after lunch. I ate while watching the World Cup in the hotel bar again. Around 5 I went to my room and was feeling really exhausted so I took a little nap, then back downstairs to take more photos.

I ran out of battery power in my camera that evening and went into full panic mode when I couldn’t locate my charger!! I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to complete my mission of photographing every MOC display without being able to recharge my camera, and I started researching local camera stores, posting on the Brickworld Facebook group, and asking people at the exhibit hall if they had a Panasonic camera charger I could use. I even had an announcement made on the PA system that evening, and again the next morning, looking for someone with the right kind of charger. Friday night I gave up and joined some people playing Cards Against Humanity.

Eventually, David Pickett got the word Saturday morning, and it turned out he had the right kind of camera. He went out to his car and got it for me, and I ran it up to my room and started charging my camera.

After all that, I remembered something. When I flew to Chicago, I had decided to put my camera bag in my suitcase. But because of the possibility that the suitcase might get lost, I carried my camera in my carryon backpack — and I had also tossed the battery charger in my backpack too. Friday night I had looked all throughout my suitcase and camera bag, but totally forgot about the backpack. After I got David Pickett’s charger I suddenly remembered this and sure enough, it was in my backpack all along! Somehow holding his charger in my hand may have triggered a memory of putting it into my backpack. When I went back downstairs I sheepishly told David the story and gave him his charger back.

I went back to the exhibit hall to take pictures. The crowds were there because it was open to the public but I was still able to take some shots over people’s shoulders and through gaps in the crowd. I took a video of the Great Ball Contraption in operation. One of the volunteers working the booth held up the bridge for the start of my video and I walked all the way around the layout. Only I had failed to properly engage video mode, so I ended up with just a snapshot of her, and was just watching the viewfinder doing nothing as I worked my way around all the people. Dumb me. Anyway I did another take, this time with the video running properly, and this time I was inside the crowd barrier so I didn’t have to deal with working around all the people. I’ll try to get that up on YouTube soon.

After being in the crowded hall for a while I was hungry and tired, so I got take-out from the hotel restaurant and went to my room to watch World Cup soccer (Costa Rica v. Uruguay).

I went back down to the exhibit hall after 4pm to be in the group photo. We brought as many people as we could into  a cluster around the Great Ball Contraption display, and Joe Meno from BrickJournal went up to a little balcony overlooking the exhibit hall and took a photo of everyone. I did more photos, except for a brief pause when they showed The LEGO Movie to go see the start of that.

At 10pm they shut off the lights in the exhibit hall, and all the models that have light effects in them were able to be fully appreciated. Lots of people had LED lighting, glow sticks, blacklight, etc. in their displays and these looked great with the lights off. I took photos of most of them, but they didn’t all show up as well in the pictures as in real life. I ran out of camera battery power and space on my card just as I finished those pictures so I went up to my room to upload photos and charge my camera battery. It was already like midnight but I went back downstairs anyway to take yet more photos. I finally got everything and went up to bed around 4am.

Sunday morning I slept in late, and hung out during the public hours, then went to closing ceremony.

At the closing ceremonies when they announced the winners I was surprised to hear my name as the grand prize winner of the BrickLink building challenge! Amazing since I only did the contest on a whim and didn’t really put a lot of effort into it…

Finally, it was time to go home. I shared a taxi to the airport with a couple people from Seattle, and flew home. My flight home was delayed due to heavy winds at SFO, but eventually we landed and I realized due to the delay I had missed the last BART train. I ended up taking a SuperShuttle and got home around 2am.

My photos from Brickworld can be seen in an album on Flickr.