'Super Mario Bros. 3' airship gets LEGO-fied
February 28th, 2012
05:05 PM ET

'Super Mario Bros. 3' airship gets LEGO-fied

Ever since the 1988 release of "Super Mario Bros. 3," gamers have obsessed over its intricacy, its difficulty, and the fact that it's one of the most fun, memorable video games ever created.

In 2007, it was even named alongside such classics as "Zork" and "Tetris" in the Game Canon, a Library of Congress-inspired list of games that ought to be preserved because of their lasting impact and importance to the medium.

One big addition to the world of "Super Mario Bros." in this third Nintendo Entertainment System game about the two adventurous plumbers (fourth if you count the original "Mario Bros.," of course) was the creation of the airship levels. The continuous scrolling and the need to move quickly, at times, from one side of the screen to the complete opposite side – all while dodging bullets fired from cannons, of course – made for one of the most challenging video game experiences yet, at that time.

Now, Julius von Brunk, of New York, New York – who calls "Super Mario Bros. 3" the "Cadillac of games" – has captured one of the famous airships, complete with Mario and Luigi, in a format most appropriate for video games: Lego blocks (just the latest geeky creation with Legos, mind you).

CNN Geek Out spoke to von Brunk about his creation.

CNN Geek Out: So what is it about "Super Mario" that captures the imagination, anyway?

Von Brunk: When I was 6 years old, the original "Super Mario Bros." game was the first game I had for NES - and since then, I've been true to the franchise up until the era of 3-D Mario games. I still played some of the GameCube titles when they were launched (in fact, Dr. Mario was my chosen Super Smash Bros. Melee fighter), but frankly, nothing can compare to the thrill and replay value of the primary series for NES and SNES!

"Super Mario Bros." was an early platform game with dozens of levels, power-ups, enemies and depth, which made it an ideal universe for me to latch-on to and create many tributes to in my artistic media. The series itself is like nothing else the world has seen previously, with so many original themes and elements - from the music to the game synopsis. Sure, at the end of the day, the games boil down to a standard "hero saves the princess" cliche, but it's the deliverance and originality of the worlds and characters which makes it unique on its own; let's not forget the Lewis Carroll-inspired ideas which went into the original game's creation - which of course is an endless stream of imagination in its own respect!

CNN Geek Out: And what made you decide to create this airship?

Von Brunk: As a child, I was so obsessed with this game, that I began drawing fan art and conceptualizations of building my own real-life version of the Koopa airships. When I realized I was merely a kid with no money - and no engineering savvy, I ultimately scrapped the idea for obvious reasons. Flash forward to my adulthood years, where I have time, money and moderate work space, and behold: a small replica of those airships, but made from more practical means - in other words, the closest thing I could do to actually building a real airship!

CNN Geek Out: How much work went into this?

Von Brunk: The idea of building a giant airship from Lego first came to me in October 2011 some time when I was at a burlesque show, and zoning out whilst thinking of making a "huge" landmark art piece or diorama - to put my name on the map, so to speak. I first messed around with some of the faux-wood Lego pieces I had to see if it was practical and possible to build an entire ship, then as soon as I calculated building costs and made some primary sketches, I immediately ordered hundreds and hundreds of reddish-brown pieces. Next I built some small mockups and test ships later in November, then went into production with the finalized ship itself throughout December. The ship was "done" and table-ready by January, minus a few details, such as the metal girders, the clear stanchions, the electrical components, the anchor and such. All in the all, the total time spent was basically every weekend from November 2011 – February 2012. And just a little side note: the elaborate method of having the side panels riveted (which resemble logs) and facing sideways - as the ship's floor faces upwards actually took quite a long time to engineer - and when I stayed up all night one Saturday in November, the solution to making the ship's sides actually came to me as I was drunk! By the time I was sober (and awake) the next morning, I discovered a small mockup of the ship's side panel rivet method on my bed, which I apparently completely figured out and built after several beers!

CNN Geek Out: How many Lego sculptures have you made?

Von Brunk: I've been working with Lego throughout my life as long as I can remember - hence my two Lego mini-figure tattoos (of a Castle forestman and a Space Futuron astronaut)!

However, I've only been making refined, serious dioramas/projects since early 2008 some time, when I began using my master collections for online displays and exhibition. Prior to that (in my preteen to adult years), I'd merely build sets, models and mini-figures in the privacy of my bedroom, show them to my friends and family, and then immediately dismantle the projects when I felt like building something else. Those early projects were almost never photographed nor documented. My Tumblr page has most of my best "polished" work since 2008, and leading up to my recent work today.

CNN Geek Out: Why do you think Lego sculptures have taken off lately in nerd culture?

Von Brunk: In my opinion, the advent of the internet - which includes (but isn't limited to) social media, blogging, digital cameras, and auction websites almost certainly created a large boom in Lego-related art as a medium.

Back in my younger days as a builder (the early-mid 1990s), making an MOC (my-own-creation) literally meant using a 35mm camera to get some wing-and-prayer shots of the models you built, only being able to use parts available in stores at the time, getting your mom to develop the photos at the grocery store film-dropoff, submitting them to the Lego Builders' Club magazine, and hoping to get featured. Nowadays, with such technology as reliable cameras, imaging software, Lego fan sites, and LEGO pick-a-brick websites (notably Bricklink.com), builders such as myself have infinite resources and abilities to share our work with the world - in addition to acquiring virtually any specific Lego piece ever manufactured. Based on this, amateur builders and rookies can feel inspired by our work, and subsequently make their own creations to display for feedback and criticism; this alone more than likely caused hope and aspirations to those unaware previously, hence the fandom.

I mean, when I was 11, if I wanted a rare piece for custom model, I'd have to hope I'd get a specific model for Christmas and extract the part - nowadays, I can simply log into Bricklink, search for an individual piece (by year, size, color, or type) and order as many available from a vendor! This technology more than opened the doors for aspiring builders and veteran brick-craftsmen alike - comparable in the same sense that YouTube and Facebook have given an edge to indie musicians to whom would have to pass out demo tapes to record managers about 15 years ago.

For a more detailed look at von Brunk's work, click here.

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soundoff (39 Responses)
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    September 8, 2012 at 6:30 am |
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    July 22, 2012 at 7:02 am |
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    June 1, 2012 at 11:48 am |
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    March 31, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  5. SCDad

    The original Legend of Zelda was the best game ever. SMB3 was the 2nd most difficult game ever, behind Ghosts-N-Goblins. 1hit= game over

    March 1, 2012 at 6:24 am |
  6. sailorDoom

    I miss the original Koopa kids. Bowser Jr. is too much of a wannabe.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  7. GloriainFla

    This is my nephew, and his name is Julius Brunk. As far as I know, he has not legally changed his name.....just has called himself Baron von Brunk since he was a kid. And he never said thank you when I sent him all of my daughter's legos, years ago. I guess it is good that he finally did something with them.........

    February 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • D Paul

      I'm sure your nephew will be thrilled with your snarky comment on CNN.

      February 29, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
      • GloriainFla

        I hope so. He is oblivious and/or dismissive to any of the contact that other family members have tried to make with him, especially my brother, his father.

        March 1, 2012 at 10:56 am |
      • fender

        This woman is crazy. She has no right to disclose any of her weird and personal comments so please ignore anything she says on here. Julius made that ship with 100% custom ordered parts SEPARATE from his personal LEGO collection.

        March 1, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • ashleyk78

      I can see why your nephew would not want to associate with you....

      March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
      • GloriainFla

        Thanks for all of your input. Nice to see he has some friends. And no, I am not crazy. Is it crazy to mourn for the lack of family contact through the years? And I have every right to disclose and talk about what ever I want on this public site. Julius, and his sisters, know who and where I am, as well as their other aunts here in FL and in MI. I wish they would have contact with their father, and not just to try to scam him and us again................you know who you are.

        March 3, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  8. cavepainter

    I wonder which koopa designed that monstrosity of aerodynamics. It's amazing it ever flew... but sure made for a cool level.

    February 29, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Wiola

      Definitely agree with Dave about the palpable meance of the Mario games. I remember nearly wetting myself the first time that big hand grabbed me off the bridge in world 8 of SMB3. And dreading crossing it every time thereafter. Those mask things in SMB2 that chase you really bothered me. And let's not get started with the creepiness of Birdo. Super Mario World was the first cheery Mario game. I guess we could argue about whether Miyamoto *intended* the earlier games to be cheery but was prevented technically from doing so.One thing that really struck me about this ad is how aggressively the viewer is encouraged to view the game activities as representative of real world activities. If only you used your imagination, going into that 8-bit triangle was just like exploring a real pyramid! We've become game-literate enough now that ads can just let gameplay speak for itself, but back then it was almost certainly necessary.

      September 14, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  9. EP Sato

    I never got the appeal of Super Mario 3. Super Mario 2's graphics compared well to the 16 bit systems of the time (Turbo Grafx and Genesis- with Super Mario 2 reminding me a bit of Bonk's Adventure), but 3 felt like a throwback to pure 8 bit, with an oddball set up.

    Super Mario Bros. was a game changer (no pun intended), but the series really petered out after that. Thank goodness for the various spin offs! The Mario Kart games in particular come to mind, as do the highly addictive Super Smash Bros series.

    February 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Mark A.

      Srsly? Mario 2 was so orphaned from the series and made no sense. Who really wants to play as Toad for pete's sake? Mario 3 had neat mini-games, expanded the cast of characters and do I even need to mention the MARIO SUITS?!? P-WING 4 LIFE.

      Anywhoos...amazing ship!

      February 29, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • lol

      They were 8 bit games in the first place you clown.

      February 29, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  10. jon

    What is lego and who is Super Mario?

    – That's what a ten year old might say.

    February 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Mark A.


      February 29, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  11. Chitown Jason


    February 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  12. zappafrank

    Pong was the pinnacle of graphics.

    February 29, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  13. chris

    Alex Kidd > Mario

    February 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  14. Levi

    wth are you people talking about best game ever. maybe with an atrophied brain... Things have only gotten better since we were young. Play the new zelda on wii. It wasn't that great but it dwarfs this old eye sore

    February 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Dan I.

      Graphics aren't everything my friend.

      February 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
      • nitemarebyme

        This is the reason for the popularity of Minecraft 🙂

        February 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • cavepainter

      Are old classic books outdated and worse because they had a smaller vocabulary to work with? Plenty of words are added (and lost) to every language over time, but that doesn't mean the past works didn't use what was available well, even by today's standards.

      February 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  15. tatatoothy

    Nothing will ever trump the original Super Mario Bros. Two and Three were good, too, but the first was best. Also liked Contra...

    .... up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, b, a, Start (or select start for a 2 player game!!!).

    February 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  16. KajinPL

    Heavy Barrel was the game for me. Liked it more than Contra.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  17. PantyRaid

    My favorites were the Castlevania and Contra games for NES.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  18. Pete

    How much does that LEGO set cost? $200?

    February 29, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Robot

      Mario is intellectual property, so he's technically not allowed to sell it for profit.

      February 29, 2012 at 11:33 am |
      • Jack Kieser

        Untrue. This would be a work of expressive art in a different medium, so he could sell this for profit. If this were done as a level mod for LEGO Star Wars or something, then that would be different.

        February 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
      • Robot

        You are wrong, Lego recently closed down it's Design-by-Me shop. A website where you could build a digital Lego model using the Lego Digital Designer, then have the parts shipped to your home. When they had the shop open they were aggressive about removing copyrighted material from the gallery and not letting you design copyrighted works for you to order. Take that.

        March 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
      • Robot

        By your logic this guy could mass produce the work using bricks from brick link and sell it legally.
        Or he could create his own line of Lego Mario Products. Or Lego Mickey Mouse or whatever.

        March 1, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  19. Alex

    Awesome! And yes, Super Mario 3 is the best game ever!

    February 29, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  20. Talkic Social

    Best game...ever.

    February 29, 2012 at 12:48 am |