Last weekend, something magical was coming together at the Glebe Island Exhibition Centre, thanks to LEGO artist Bricktascale. It didn't really look like much at first -- a big, grey LEGO backboard with a smattering of red squares across it -- but over the course of the weekend it started blossoming into something beautiful: and the world has Excel spreadsheets to thank.
I had been talking to Bricktascale -- also known as Drew -- about this project even before I turned up to Oz Comic Con last weekend, but I still didn't expect it to be quite so huge. Drew has done other geeky LEGO pieces that I've had the privilege of seeing in person before -- some created from cosplayers' photos, others of pop culture icons like Wonder Woman -- but usually they're around the size of a large poster.
This monster had a 2.7 x 1.5 metre frame that looks like a giant easel from the back, but walking around to the front you can see that it's actually cobbled together from 28 separate LEGO baseplates. The design wasn't going in by single pieces, either, but in 6x6 squares that everyone at the convention was invited to come and assemble.
Plenty of curious visitors made a square or two before going on their way, but others still got a taste for it, coming back multiple times and building as many squares as they could. I never once saw the LEGO stations empty while I was there, but Drew and his team still had a long way to go. For the entirety of the first day, the design remained a bit of a mystery. A smattering of black, brown and greenish squares on the grey background weren't much to go on -- but that might have been precisely the reason why people kept coming back to build.
I popped back in on day two, heading straight to the LEGO work-in-progress to see how much they still had to finish in a day. There were still more empty spaces than there were full -- but the picture now had a face, and the beginnings of a ridiculous three bladed lightsaber. That's right, this wasn't just a giant communal LEGO artwork, but a giant communal Force Awakens' Kylo Ren LEGO artwork. George Lucas, eat your heart out.
"The image was only released on Force Friday, September 4th, so this was one of the quickest designs that I’ve ever put together." Drew tells me, also letting me in on the secret of how he builds with such precision when putting together a perfect picture using only 20 colours of LEGO. It's all done in an Excel spreadsheet -- in this case two, as the sheer number of squares needed was slowing down processing when it was all in a single tab. In fact, most of the numbers in this project are pretty staggering to hear: somewhere around 64,000 separate pieces went into the full picture, made up of 1792 assembled squares. If you're wondering how you get your hands on 64,000 separate pieces of LEGO -- Drew ordered his directly from LEGO's warehouse in Denmark.
The next time I came over to check in was mid-afternoon on Sunday, when the team had run into a problem. "We're missing pieces," Drew says, and as we speak he's already putting together squares for the missing blocks. Missing a handful of the guides that he had printed out for every square, he instead seems to be making these ones up as he goes along, estimating with surprising accuracy. Yet even with Drew utilising the best of his master-building abilities, time is still against poor old Kylo Ren.
At 5pm on Sunday -- with the convention finishing up for the year at 6pm sharp -- drastic measures are required. When you're building a 2.7m tall homage to Star Wars' most recent villain, who else do you call for help but the mighty 501st Legion? The legendary costume group may have been out of kit, but they still rocked up as the convention was coming to a close, knuckling down to build LEGO blocks with all the dedication -- and hopefully a little more accuracy -- of a stormtrooper tasked with tracking down a rogue Jedi. The piece was coming together much quicker than it had been all weekend, but at some point you just have to accept the fact that the bad guys never get to win.
Announcements over the speaker system were already encouraging vendors to start packing up, and asking all attendees to head out of the building. The piece didn't get finished, but over the 16 total hours of Oz Comic Con, Drew, his team, and over 1000 convention goers who stopped by to help had managed to build a crazy 1500 out of the 1792 squares that the picture required. Before I got kicked out of the convention centre by security people who just want to go home, I asked Drew for a picture with his (almost) finished piece. "Can I cover the missing squares with my hand?" He asks as he takes his place next to the mammoth -- but unfortunately never-to-be-completed -- picture.
I asked Drew what happens with the picture now that the day was over, and they had reached their effective deadline. "I'm going to take it apart again," he says, shrugging. Well, Kylo, it was nice knowing you. Here's hoping that attendees at EB Expo this weekend have better luck finishing Drew's next big piece.
This story originally appeared on Gizmodo.