Two for Tuesday: Ryan Rubino


Good evening constant reader, its happy hour and our bartender Lloyd is setting them up neat, just the way you like it. Tonight’s V.I.P. in the Manifesto lounge is one of my two oldest Cronies in the hobby, Ryan Rubino. While he might not be known to many of you, I like to think Ryan represents a certain demographic within the hobby, a quiet guy who builds well but whose efforts go largely unrecognized.  Along with our mutual friend Rutherford, Ryan and I go back to high-school and I can’t think about my earliest days in the hobby without thinking of Rubino.  We began building with Lego right before internet use became widespread and we would get double-prints of our photos developed and snail-mail them to each other.  We are indeed spoiled now to easy and instant gratification when it comes to sharing our models, but back then it was an annoying process that took weeks. The upside was that we were really only building for laughs and to entertain each other, not some greater audience.  I have referenced BricksWest 2003 on the blog before as my first convention experience, but without Rubino that experience doesn’t happen.  I can vividly remember standing in the hotel lobby holding our cardboard boxes full of models and debating: should we just bail on this thing and go see a movie?  If it were up to me, we probably would have bailed because BricksWest was a poorly run, unfriendly shit-show that bears only a surface resemblance to the conventions we enjoy today.  My point is that Ryan has always been an encouraging and often steadying influence on my Lego experience.  Without him pushing me  I wouldn’t have written my first post on LUGNET when I did and I would have bailed on BricksWest after we were treated like low-guys at the door.


As you know, Tuesday means double-shots and the first model we’re going to examine is Ryan’s best remembered model, the “Battle of the Leviathans“.  This image has over 300 favorites on Flickr and it appeared on all the usual blogs and in two different coffee-table books including Beautiful LEGO 2: Dark.  The build represents a breakthrough for Rubino, who’s creativity was liberated by the advent of the curved slopes that make up most of the whale’s impressive shape.  Although he had experienced success before with “The Omicron Weekend” collaboration I’ll talk about next, he was unfortunately overshadowed by Rutherford and I, in part because Ryan is content to reside just outside the spotlight and in part because Rutherford and I have big mouths and we like to run them.  The “Battle of the Leviathans” was a different story though, it was widely praised by the community and it belonged entirely to Ryan.  There were big plans in the work for an entire Predator & Prey series, but as you’ll see, things didn’t quite work out as planned.


For the second shot I had to go with the most defining and fulfilling collaboration I’ve ever participated in, “The Omicron Weekend“.  Rubino designed the wheel-shaped research station that drove the entire effort and at the time it was the biggest object he’d attempted by a wide margin.  Originally Ryan was developing the structure for an independent project, but once we three merry idiots decided to take a collaborative effort on the road, the wheel quickly became the focus of the build.  Even though it was placed to one side, it was the thematic center of the diorama and we went through several ideas before we settled on the final configuration.  Unfortunately this is one of the best photos we have of the wheel, there are some better quality close-ups, but photographing the diorama was a real pain in the ass and the final shots really didn’t do justice to the project.  The 4ft diameter wheel was over a year in the making and featured a fully decked-out interior with removable roof-panels to display at the BrickCon 2007 convention in Seattle.  Beyond the build, Ryan was indispensable on the trip to Seattle and just like our first convention experience, he was able to keep the project moving forward after a near disastrous fist day on the road and a bad hotel experience. Once again, Ryan was able to keep me on track when my urge was to bail out or stab someone with a rusty knife.


If it seems like I speak of Ryan entirely in the past tense it is because we’ve lost him…no he hasn’t died…he’s quite healthy, but like many great builders before him (Jon Palmer), his job has murdered any interest in building for fun.  Since 2010 Ryan has worked in the Merlin model shop, just a short drive from Legoland California.  If you have visited any of the Legoland theme parks from Carlsbad to Dubai and everywhere in between, there is a good chance you’ve seen Rubino’s work.  We used to think that Omicron was pretty big until Ryan started working on some of the biggest Lego builds on the planet.  From small ambulances to giant temple complexes to full-sized great white sharks, Rubino has had the opportunity to build a diverse and challenging set of projects over his six+ years with the company.

Ryan’s unexpected decision to sell off his entire collection (minus the whale & squid) had a much bigger impact on me than I expected and was part of the reason I took a break from the hobby the last couple of years.  It felt like an important era had come to an end, and although we’re still great friends, one of my two best cronies in the hobby doesn’t have much use for it anymore, even as a spectator…and that sucks  So the purpose of this article is to give a farewell toast to Rubino, a largely unsung AFOL, who was my photo-editor, convention wing-man and constant source of encouragement with my own building.  I always used Ryan as a litmus test for Lego nerd groups.  If a good-old-boy’s club like the original Builder’s Lounge or the short-lived Sci-Brick wouldn’t have him as a member then I wasn’t interested either.  So knock back your shot in honor of Rubino and all the unsung builders who give this hobby life.  Also, if you’re interested in working for the Merlin model shop, then let this be a cautionary tale because as I mentioned before, Ryan’s story is not unique.  Building for a living is great fun and you do amazing things, but it just might kill your interest in building for yourself.  One final note, if you’re into great animal photography Ryan is still a pretty good follow on Flickr, he’s really developed his skills and has developed a much bigger following in his new hobby than his old one.


For this particular feature on the Manifesto I like to conclude the proceedings with a photo of the builder in question. I do this to help you put a face to the name and sometimes with the express intent to take the piss out of the builder. This is one of those times. Please recall that a precedent has been set in this ongoing series that we will be reviewing the fashion choices of each builder. Ryan, much like the subject of last week’s Two for Tuesday is kind of like an action figure.  While he does not have the physique or lustrous hair of a typical action figure, he is always found in the same basic garb.  And no, constant reader this isn’t his work-only look, this is the man in his natural state, regardless of location or situation: baggy jeans, discount hiking shoes and a raggedy movie-themed T-Shirt.  In this case a T-Shirt promoting a film about a bunch of oily Greek dudes enjoying a murder-festival and true bro-mance. I’m sorry Rubino, my good chum, but the verdict is clear…


18 thoughts on “Two for Tuesday: Ryan Rubino

  1. He’s skillful at photographing birds (I mean real birds, not the variety I have in mind).That takes quite amount of patience to accomplish.


    1. Yeah, Ryan has really taken time to learn how to use a camera and he invested the money from selling his Lego into a really nice camera rig. He has some amazing shots of birds snatching fish out of the water and in flight, just to name a few.


  2. I remember “Battle of the Leviathans” from my formative years as a TFOL. It was one of the first creations to make me feel something: terror and awe. The setting and scale genuinely evoke the same sense of helplessness I feel when viewing titanosaur skeletons or whale sharks.


    1. It really is a striking model that seems fresh 7 years later, I’m sure Ryan will dig your comment when he finds his way here. I’m using this article as a test to see if anyone in the Carlsbad shop reads the blog, because Ryan doesn’t read this or any other Lego blog and he doesn’t really talk to anyone in the hobby besides me. I’m with you though, whale sharks are creepy.


  3. Such fantastic work! The Leviathans is truly masterful and really looked right at home in Beautiful Lego.

    I must say that his talents are not lost by working for Lego and his photographs are a beautiful expression of that itch he needs to scratch. So, in that respect, it is not a sad story, merely a different path. I can certainly relate. I wanted to work for Legoland when I found out about the Carlsbad project back in the mid 80s or so. I remember making the conscious decision to not turn my passion for Lego into work. Although satisfying on multiple levels, it just wouldn’t be the escape I needed it to be (so instead I studied art and learned to despise working for artists or trying to deal with the malevolent business practices therein. Lose, lose. 😛 At least I get to weld and work metal all day.)

    Ryan looks like a cat with some juicy secrets I wouldn’t mind sharing a beer or eight with. Great spotlight, although the cautionary tale seems to have turned out for the best in spite of the loss of communication with the AFOL community. At least the work remains to continue talking to all of us.


    1. You mean, Beautiful Lego: Dark. Because it’s so very…dark. “Sunshine is my destroyer!”

      I’m not saying Ryan was wrong for taking the job, he’d been out of work for too long and it was much, much better than his other options at the time. It’s a completely selfish stance, the whole thing was good for Ryan I just wish the cool job hadn’t meant no more Lego shenanigans for the law firm of Rubino, Rutherford, Goldman. Since he’s committed to the long haul at Merlin, I thought it was high time for a final toast to that time period.

      Tell me more about despising artists! As much as I embrace and appreciate art, why is it that so often artists are insufferable, miserable people?

      At least you get to work with metal all day, you’re the hephaestus of the Lego community. Quick rountree, another lightning-bolt to smite mankind!


      1. Insufferable, miserable people. Well, I wish I had an answer for you because I cannot explain it. I have found it funny that the ones that aren’t that way are the ones that are not really making art but rather are making a living. There is a sense of humility in them and, fortunately, they are the ones I deal with mostly nowadays. Occasionally we get someone barfing out “juxtapose” or “dichotomy” or some nonsensical babble made up on the spot but that is rare out here in AZ. Western art: Indians, horses, cows, cowboys, Indians on rocks, cowboys on horses, cows on Indians, horses on cowboys, same old same old. Once in a while, something will actually be pretty good and strike a nerve, the other 98.3% of the time it won’t. I think most of the stuff is them trying to justify everything in their own mind. Also why they’re paying off a ninety thousand dollar loan for art school. The other aspect that is important to remember is that they have to sell art. In order to sell art, they have to sell themselves. In order to sell themselves, they have to accommodate the audience. In big cities, pretentiousness is a given and actually encouraged; out here in the ass end of horse country, that shit is stomped into the ground. Which means that all the art is safe. The more prevalent voices are the ones that have mistaken their nonsense for the actual art. Answers without questions. Effects looking for a cause. All bombast.

        Hephaestus? Oh, there is NO god of the forge, there is only the forge. I pay proper homage to the fires and revere their song. It is the kiln that governs and the furnace that executes. The crucible gives us the answers and we sacrifice our body and souls to its truth. Metal is the master, and I am its servant. The heart of the earth calls, I must obey. From the clay, I will smelt. To perdition, I will strike. To the ore, I will proclaim myself not pure. To alloys, I will pray for strength. Metal is the definition of man. And my pride in speaking its language is tempered by my respect for its indifference thereof. I am a metal worker only by name for it is the metal that works me. Amen.


      2. Ah Western art…people are either all-in on that style or way the fuck out. I always found it incredibly cheesy, even when it’s done well…I laughed at your description “cows on indians”, having been in enough “western art” stores and shows, I think you’re absolutely right. That is some tired, tired boilerplate. It’s interesting to get your perspective on the topic, it’s kind of a shitty trade-off that to be an artist you have to sort of disconnect with the rest of humanity, that they think it gives them license to be unpleasant. Your insight about how the western art becomes safe, that’s a really shitty process, I wouldn’t want to have to deal with it. I suppose some of the shitty behavior is a reaction to that paradigm. The people buying the art (seem to me) to be rich old whitey with more money than taste in art. Our trip to Sedona a couple of years ago was a real eye-opener, the shit that sells for big money is amazingly mundane. Everything starts to look the same after a while, it’s like suburbia, how do you tell your house from the neighbor’s, they are all the same. At the risk of repeating myself, you should really write a column for the blog, you practically do it anyway in the comments.

        There is only the forge.

        There is only the forge,

        There is only the forge.


      3. “This you can trust.” You have no idea how true that rings with me and those like me. It is not atheism and it is not misguided reverence; there is only the forge. This is a topic of absolute importance to me and not something I take lightly. It is a marriage of man to earth in every respect. And when you bond with metal, it marks your soul. I wish I could explain it further without sounding fanatical or fearful; because I am both, and I am neither.

        I may take you up on that article gig as I will likely have plenty of time in the near future. 😉 I’m not sure what to write about.


    2. “Ryan looks like a cat with some juicy secrets”

      What? Dude, Ryan’s idea of a juicy secret is hiding grapes in his pocket! It’s astounding, the stuff this guy can hear and see, while remaining totally uninterested. I know nobody else in the world possessed of a more singular focus. He really is like a one man recon element from another planet… except he has amnesia… and he was disinterested in the mission to start with.

      That said, I can think of no greater loss to the greater AFOL culture than Ryan. His Lego animals put many of us on notice that we are NOT taking most of the world seriously. Choosing instead to fixate on armored vehicles, album covers, anime, and small street scenes. He took on topics most builders would never even consider! Unlikely shit like whales. And having done so, he would then build, re-build, and re-re-build until he had squeezed all the fidelity of the bricks, totally and unambiguously ROCKING those subjects. I mean, really… that whale swims man! He built a spider that makes my skin crawl every time I see that giant spindly black bastard (the spider… not Ryan).

      Whatever the reason for his leaving the hobby (an undeclared but also unmistakable reality) we are the lesser for it.

      And yea… his animal pictures rock as hard as he Lego building ever did.



  4. History lessons and cautionary tales are always welcome, Keith. Years ago, I used to want to be a set designer, but changed my mind when I realized that I wouldn’t get to make what I wanted (airplanes). With my luck, I would get stuck making DUPLO sets, or the umpteenth iteration of a police station (next year, Lego City Volcano Police, mark my words). I know of two builders that went to join the company. Mike Psiaki was a prodigious builder, and then he just kind of died, figuratively. Corvin Stichert is still around and posts, but I wonder for how long before he burns out.

    The thought of selling off a collection freaks me out, so I guess the takeaway here is don’t turn your hobby into a 9 to 5. I’ll pour one out for Ryan next time.


    1. I hear you, I’m sure the job is cool and has huge perks but I’ve never really wanted the gig with the company, as soon as I met someone who did it and found out the details. I mean it beats a lot of jobs, but for the pay and what you actually do, it doesn’t sound as fun as it should. I hadn’t considered it, but you’re right, the designers go through the same thing as the shop-crew, they don’t want to build all day (on a computer or with brick) and then go home and build at night too. I’m also not trying to discourage anyone from pursuing a dream of working for Lego, it’s a fine goal to have. Afols have infiltrated every part of the company and it’s easier than ever if you’re motivated and have the right resume. My rant was more personal and selfish.

      I like the Volcano-Cops! Keeping Legoland safe from lava and larceny! I can see the small kit now “Lava Lock-up!”

      I think anyone with a decent size collection has thought about selling at one time or another. I know people who have done it and walked away without a regret, and others who had to start again from scratch because they realized it was a mistake. Its a dicey proposition and not a decision to be made lightly. Thanks for pouring one out for my homie.


  5. Ryan’s whale is one of the coolest pieces of art I’ve ever seen. Must be quite a sight in real life. I have to say the bottom lip completely baffles me; I haven’t the slightest clue how it was done.

    Unto the building as a job subject, I for one am really not interested in it. There’s several reasons for this, but first and foremost I feel I’d give up creating art to end up creating children toys (I’m specifically talking about designing sets). Then you’d probably end up building stuff that don’t interest you, with severe limitations, sacrificing aesthetics for the sake of durability and playability… I don’t know, it seems more like a chore than fun.


    1. Yeah, it’s pretty cool in person, as most models tend to be. I was hoping he’d throw it in with the collection but that single item was non-negotiable. I gave me his brick-badge, a section or two of the wheel and some WIP pieces but no whale. I’m sure if you shoot him an email he’d gladly answer your question about the lower lip. I can’t remember off the top of my head. I’m with you when it comes to building with Lego as a job. It would be incredibly fun to do for a limited time, but it does seem more like work than fun and I always want building with Lego to be fun.


      1. I think those are minifig hands pushed into the back of headlight bricks, the white looks like SNOT. Brilliant!


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