Meet the pro Merijn van den Berg a.k.a BananenbuurmanJanuary 30, 2019
For our new series ‘Meet the pro’, we interview Merijn van den Berg from The Netherlands, a.k.a Bananenbuurman. Merijn runs a popular YouTube channel with over 123.000 subscribers, on which he builds incredible LEGO® railways. We asked Merijn about his favorite projects and his inspiration sources.
ToyPro: to start with, which of your own YouTube projects are you proudest of and can you tell us about the greatest challenges you faced when building these projects?
The DreamRide is my best project. I got the idea for DreamRide from my wide interest and passion for techniques. I discovered my own creativity in finding possibilities for the use of background setting elements, as you can tell from the DVD doors. I consider myself a multifaceted artist, and as such, I own a lot of stuff I can use when building the rides. It is not just about building backgrounds, it is in fact a complete arrangement: the exact timing of the pictures to the music, the atmosphere of the music, the order of the themes, highlights during the ride, technical aspects concerning electricity, light, sound and movement. We have thick cable cords running through the entire house. And there is such a lot of invisible technique. It is an all-encompassing project, very nicely assorted to my expertise. Of course, I do not know everything and I am regularly confronted with problems. But I consider them a challenge.
The DreamRide has been watched over two million times now. In the way of earnings, it is more like a hobby project, because I have put so many hundreds of hours into it. All the same, this project is so close to my heart that I have now started building a complete DreamRide studio. I have rented space to this effect, and have been working on it, of and on, for over a year now. I want to automatize everything in this new version and have already built several electronic systems with Arduino's, a.o. I have also been writing software in order to direct the ride and all the elements. The new DreamRide will hold 32 cameras to follow the train automatically, mostly to check the ride and to program all the elements. However, this project is nowhere near completion yet, because of the amount of work. Something an amusement park might pay millions for, I try to build for a few thousand euros.
LEGO® Train Vertical Loop
The idea for the looping came up after I had created a 6 m long ramp in the stairways, in order to set up a train crash. This was my girlfriend Laura’s idea. I made the train crash though a glass window, through a pie, against a train filled with coins, and against window blinds. While building that ramp I wanted better effects and thought: ‘wouldn’t it be cool if the train went through a loop-hole, too?’ And not just a tiny little railway carriage – the whole train, such as you can buy in a shop, should perform a looping!
The making of video of the LEGO® Vertical Train Loop
This turned out to be quite complicated and building it took me about 6 months. New problems kept popping up. I had done some math to calculate it should be possible. But I would never know whether it would work before actual completion. Suppose it didn’t, then all the hard work would have been for nothing. I had never built such a large object yet, it only just fitted into our staircase. Fortunately, the neighbors didn’t mind stepping through the loop-hole now and then, when coming in or going out! And more fortunately: the looping trick worked, except for a few times, and it produced spectacular crash images!
The greatest challenge, besides building the looping trick, was retrieving all the bits and pieces flying into every direction after a crash. I soon got myself a so-called donor-train, to be able to continue recording quickly.
LEGO® Underwater Train
At my parents´ place I had built a little railway tracks around the garden pond. During preparations and setting up I had the idea to involve the pond itself a bit more. It seemed so cool to have the train cross right through the pond. The water was muddy, the pond leaked and needed replacement. I decided to get on with it and to build a temporary pond in the meantime for my LEGO® train. It was difficult to send a train full of electronic equipment under water. So I thought of the solution where the train runs through a glass tube: it would stay dry and we would be able to see underwater anyway.
The making of video of the LEGO® Underwater Train
The greatest challenge was to make both ends of the tube watertight. But I managed to find a solution, with the aid of the inner tube of a bicycle and pipe clamps.
LEGO® Train at the Train/Tram Hotel
I am always on the look-out for new locations to run my LEGO® trains. The surroundings are very important, as they will become part of the background, the views from the train. I search everywhere for these spots, and on the internet, too, and of course this was a fabulous spot. A site full of old trams, a train, all sorts of railway accessories and other interesting stuff.
The greatest challenge here was to involve all the trams in the video. The site was simply enormous! In the end, the LEGO® train does not pass by a single tram. You have to choose, check what is feasible. Wind-force 7 caused problems concerning the drone shots, and thus we had to come back for 2 whole days to take the drone shots.
LEGO® Train Spiral in Romania
I got to chat with one of my YouTube subscribers. He mentioned this very big LEGO® project he was working on. It was a 3 meter high LEGO® train spiral he was building as an attraction for the owner of a toy shop in Romania. I saw the first photo, did not hesitate for one second and booked a ticket for Romania.
The greatest challenge was to prevent the accidental collapse of the spiral! One nerve wrecking moment came up when the train holding the camera derailed when it was at the top of the spiral. It was all the way in the back, a spot difficult to reach, even with a very high ladder. The train with the camera fell all the way down and crashed onto a LEGO® pirate vessel. Fortunately LEGO® allows for complete reassembly – there I was, on my knees in the toy shop, piecing a pirate vessel back together again! The camera had continued shooting during the crash, which of course produced some spectacular takes!
ToyPro: when did your passion for LEGO® begin?
Merijn: as I child I played a lot with Duplo and LEGO®. Later on I also had a LEGO® train, but it was only a short track. 15 years ago I found a place of my own, a little studio. Now that I had a place of my own I wanted a larger railway track, but the actual space was confined. I decided to hang the railway track on the ceiling and to have the train run through the entire place. Thus, I got what I wanted: a long railway track.
Merijn’s first long railway track on the ceiling of his studio.
ToyPro: what is it that attracts you so in building LEGO® railway tracks?
Merijn: You send the train on its way, and it follows the track you have built. The engine is not very intelligent, it moves ahead or backwards. It is built into the LEGO® train model, and the vehicle ‘comes to life’. The magic begins when it reaches tunnels, bridges, switch points, the views along the railway track, and the many carriages peacefully following the locomotive. It is a clear system, it is predictable, and as such it provides a certain peace and quiet: you can see the rails as a metaphor for safety, they keep you on track. In fact, it is what many people search for in life. Railway tracks are more than mere toys. But of course, I mostly enjoy the fantasy aspect, and the large imaginary trips the LEGO® minifigures are taking! The camera inside the train reflects what a train driver would see and almost turns this fantasy into reality!
I have always had a passion for picture and sound recording. This started when my mother explained a cassette can be used for playing but also for recording sounds, such as your own voice. What an eye-opener! Finally I knew what that red button was for! For years after that I always had a cassette recorder with me to record all sorts of things and I made reportages. Sometime later, my mother gave me an old mirror reflex camera and I started taking pictures. This is when my passion for ‘framing’ and telling a story in pictures began. At the time you still had to take your rolls of film to the shop to be developed, and there was no screen on the camera yet. You had to wait for days or weeks to find out whether your picture was a success, and the film rolls and their development were quite expensive.
In 1995 I found an old film camera at a flea market. A simple device. It didn’t actually work but I could see through it, play with the zoom lens and practice my ‘shots’. I made long reportages without any film in the camera, all for good practice. When I was 12, I started making videos with my grandfather’s video camera. At the age of 15 he gave me my own first video camera, a Sony Video8 for the connoisseurs. Again, I never stopped filming around me and soon earned a reputation as 'Merijn with the camera'. In that same year I started work as a volunteer with the local broadcasting organization, as a cameraman and editor. With one of the first computers to assemble films, I produced news items and reportages which were broadcasted on the local TV channel. It is so wonderful when people can actually see your work!
With this experience under my belt I tried to find a job with the Dutch national TV broadcasting organization. I found one via a temporary agency and every day I rode my very old moped 50 km to work as a cable carrier, which consists of walking behind a cameraman and making sure he can film without tripping over the cables. You also fetch him coffee. I had a wonderful time there, today TV has changed. Later on, I did all sorts of different jobs for national TV, gained a lot more experience and in 2001 I started my own company. I filmed and put together reportages, promotional film, commercials, TV-programs and films. But I was always working for someone, for a customer, and thus I never had complete freedom regarding the end product.
After the financial crisis in 2008 when I almost went broke in 2010 I also took on other jobs, set up a few new companies, because TV offered less employment. YouTube was up and coming at the time, and I had always been hoping that one day there would be a platform for me to make money with my own films, and thus ‘create my own job’. In 2012 YouTube introduced the advertising model that allowed film producers to receive part of the publicity generated revenues. The film of my ceiling-hung railway track had been on YouTube once before, and it was viewed quite regularly. I thought it might be good to develop this idea, and that is how my YouTube canal came into being.
ToyPro: have you got any future targets?
Merijn: the YouTube earnings model is rather unpredictable, and producing popular videos for a very large public time and again is not easy either. I make nice train films which cost a lot of time and money while vlogs and hastily made videos seem to be the thing on YouTube.
All this makes growth relatively slow. It is my job and my revenues depend on it. After a bad month on YouTube, I’m sometimes very short of money and unable to buy new LEGO® trains or to visit train locations. It doesn’t matter because I like what I do and that is worth everything to me! I don’t know what future holds in store for me. Probably better, that keeps things exciting! Who knows, it might become so big that one day we will be able to ride a LEGO® train on the moon. Hahaha!
ToyPro: have you got any tips for our readers?
Merijn: be creative and use items already in your possession. Sometimes you needn’t buy anything extra and you can make wonderful little films with simple means and your mobile phone (with camera)! Also, a restricted number of rails can create the illusion of a very long railway just by putting shots behind one another and changing the place of the rails and their place.
ToyPro: which YouTube canals are your own favorites?
Merijn: I myself am a great fan of YouTuber Akiyuki. Akiyuki is not really a LEGO® train builder, but his creations are wonderful.
We wish to thank Merijn for his time and his inspiration. Do you want to keep following Merijn, a.k.a. Bananenbuurman? Then take out a subscription on his YouTube channel.
Do you want to build a LEGO® train yourself? ToyPro has a very large assortment of LEGO® train sets, LEGO® train parts and LEGO® train minifigures. Did you enjoy this article? Please also take a look at our article Meet Arjen Hartsuiker and his incredible LEGO® train world.
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