There’s a certain irony to Alexander Folkertsma creating a Lego gold mine video that has been viewed more than 4.7 million times on YouTube.
Folkertsma, you see, is from the Netherlands, which has never had any commercial gold mines. It did once have mines that produced coal and marl (a sedimentary rock once used as fertiliser), but even those have been closed for years.
“As a teenager, I loved watching Gold Rush on Discovery, which was my first introduction to the mining industry,” Folkerstma said of his inspiration for the gold mine build.
“The marl mines in our most southern province called Limburg are not in use any more. But they are now open for visitors.
“I have participated in a bike tour through one of these marl caves, which was an amazing experience.
“But the main reason I decided to make an animation about a gold mine was the Lego sets – as an animator, these sets were begging for an animated adventure.”
The effort Folkertsma put into creating his video – which follows the adventures and misadventures(!) of father-and-son heroes John and Jimmy in a shuttered gold mine – is truly eye-watering.
The mine itself incorporates vehicles from Lego Mine sets 4204 and 4203 and a wide variety of other parts sourced from online marketplace Bricklink. There are ore-carrying trains, conveyor belts, crushers of sorts, underground shafts, wash plants and even a mining manager keeping a close eye on the books.
The attention to detail is quite incredible, including changes to the mine train to run on a wide gauge, and the entire thing took 80 hours to assemble.
But that was really only the start of Folkertsma’s work. The video actually consists of 7600 individually taken photos, which are then animated at a rate of 15 frames per second.
The upshot of that is another 300 hours invested in animation and 60 hours spent editing, for an entire project duration of five months.
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If that sounds like a slightly crazy amount of time to put into a Lego set-up, then it’s perhaps worth thinking about Lego on YouTube has meant for Folkertsma and his career and lifestyle.
“I started getting interested in Lego from an early age and the possibility to build whatever I wanted was the thing that attracted me the most,” Folkertsma reflected.
“At a certain point in high school I thought it was time to quit playing with Lego. But it was at this exact moment when I found out about Lego stop-motion animations on YouTube.
“As soon as I realised that I could make movies like these with just my Lego and a camera, I decided to try it myself.
“While I was still a student, I didn’t have much time to spend on making animations, so I only made one per year, during the holidays.
“However, I had the wish to be a full-time animator, so I decided to put my study on hold and try making animations for a year to see how it went.
“I quickly discovered that my videos got plenty of views to make a living, and I never got around to continuing my study!”
Folkertsma isn’t kidding when he says his videos get plenty of views.
The gold mine video’s 4.713 million views are plenty impressive – but pale in comparison to his swimming pool (25 million), bowling alley (52 million), Lego arcade (40 million) and construction site (34 million).
Folkertsma’s channel, Alexander Studios, now has a million subscribers and more than 392 million total video views since it was launched in December 2011.
“My first ever stop-motion attempt became the first video on my channel,” Folkerstams reflected.
“Its quality is bad, but it was from this point that I started improving every video I made.
“It took 10 months before I got my first subscriber and another two years until I reached 1000 subscribers. I was already very happy with this number, not knowing that within two years I’d quit my study and become a full-time Lego animator.
“I’ve never had any goals as far as subscriber count goes, but I would never have believed it if someone told me that one day I’d reach one million subscribers.
“That amount is hard to comprehend, but one of the ways it shows is during an upload – within a minute after publishing a new video, I’ve already received dozens of likes and comments from people all around the world who are happy to see a new video from me.
“And that’s gives me a great feeling.”