Welcome to another installment of "Meet The Modders"! This month TBCS' own jdbnsn got together with the one-and-only Frenkie for a chat about some of the amazing casemod's he has produced over the last decade. Frenkie was courteous enough to discuss his methods, inspirations, and where he thinks the next decade or so will take him. Read the full interview below:
Thanks for meeting with me to help the community get to know you better Frenkie!
It’s my pleasure!
The first question that pops into my mind when I see a modder with so many creations is; how long have you been modding?
Well, I started modding in 1999. My first mod was nothing compared to what we do today, but even then, I had some radical ideas
After looking at some of your earlier mods, it appears that most of your ideas/innovations were based on practicality. You advanced from airflow effectiveness in RAGcase to mobility of Piloten Koffer. What were the thought processes that got you started in generating those ideas?
Good question. I guess the first ones were indeed based upon creating more efficiency then aesthetics. I was always looking for better airflow in my cases, I wanted my hardware to keep a cool head, so to speak. In those days, we used a lot of the cheaper AMD CPU's, which were always overheating. I tried to not burn out my CPU's in my days, but not too much. I was fascinated with the cooling of the CPU for a long time, and my first mods were based around that idea. I even made my own copper heat sink to replace a standard aluminum heat sink, long before the commercial market copied it and mass-produced it. I am still convinced that many hardware manufactures did follow our every move on the worklogs, and "stole" the best and practical ideas from us. For example, I build my own case fan, with LEDs, toke me a month to get it right. After a few weeks I learned that the lighted fans were for sale in Hong Kong for a few dollars. . Still, having to build one myself gave me great satisfaction.
I can certainly relate to both the perception of industry borrowing from the artists and the level of satisfaction gained by DIY work. So is it safe to assume you are an avid overclocker as well?
No, it is not. I never have overclocked my hardware. Seems strange, because I do like to "over-cool" my hardware. I was cooling for example all my hard drives with special constructions and air ducts, until not so long ago, someone tested the influence of heat onto hard drives. It turned out, it doesn’t make ANY difference whatsoever. So all the hard drive-cooling gadgets out there are 99% aesthetics (according to the test) which is actually a bit of a shame, as it takes some very cool gadgets out of the equation. My Machine Mod and my R2-D2 Mod both use the very cool looking Zalman hard drive cooler with heat pipes. I will still use them in my mods, but the thought behind it, is gone.
Do you recall where that test was performed, or by whom?
uhhhhh I think I know, but I have to look into it. HardwareInfo.nl I think it was...
Eduardo Pinheiro, Wolf-Dietrich Weber and Luiz Andr´e Barroso. "Failure Trends in a Large Disk Drive Population"; Appears in the Proceedings of the 5th USENIX Conference on File and Storage Technologies (FAST’07), February 2007
So following along your projects, you stuck with the practical side of PC modification and began tinkering with minor aesthetics like plexi windows. After that, you spent some time focusing on the concept of "stealthing" your PC's. Then suddenly, there was a dramatic shift modeling with "Dragon's Lair". Can you explain how this transition occurred?
Yes about Stealth. In the scene, people were doing beautiful things to CD drives with stealthing. I always wanted to do -new- things instead of copying another man’s work (well I try it anyway) so a CD or DVD stealth was not good enough for me. I toke a standard case (I reused my black tower mod) and I made an entire front out of one piece of stainless steel. Not even a LED hole in it. It looked sweet and I made the top and left side cover in the same material. Looking at the left-front side of the case, you couldn’t see anything. But alas, it was a good idea for a piece of art maybe, but a terrible idea for a working case. I made the entire inside of that case looking out the back so to speak. So the DVD drive was coming out of the back, etc... As with more mods of mine; It looked cool, but was amazingly impractical to use. Moving on into my modeling interest... my 3rd casemod was quite radical back then; one half of a cube in 10 mm plexi and one half in 3 mm hard-aluminum. And my 5th mod was a complete plexi suitcase which toke me months to build. But I get your point. Dragons are soooo cool. I guess it started with using "action toys" in my mods. In the plexi suitcase I had a "figurine" of a Quake monster. From monsters to dragons is just a little step. What a big step was, that I used a material which was rarely seen; plaster bricks. The bricks came from silicone moulds, which were intended for diorama building like Warhammer uses. Sure there were A LOT of LEGO cases, but admit it; that’s way too easy. The pouring of the bricks to get a decent amount to cover a shuttle took me several months. A Shuttle mod was quite rare then, it was quite new to the scene, and because of its size a lot of people thought it was nearly impossible to make a decent mod of it. I tried to take that a step ahead of the competition and make a total mod of it.
Well once you hit your modeling phase, you developed a style quite unique from any other modder, and it has even been affectionately dubbed "Frenkie Style". Do you try to stick with certain techniques, or is this just your artistic signature?
I guess it is my artistic signature, but of course, some techniques always come back. I guess that not having an unlimited budget makes me look for solutions to modding problems which could easily be solved with money. The R2 on a low budget was a fine example of re-using material. You could say I am a "green" modder, but also the term "garbage-can-scrounger" comes to mind. I hate to bash other modders, but I really don’t like modders that use CNC machines to make a cool mod. I know, I know, I'm stepping on someone’s toes here. Sure I'm lucky to occasionally have access to a conventional milling machine and a lathe, but CNC is a step too far for me. You know who I really admire? The guys out there in Eastern-Europe/Russia, who work with no tools whatsoever. They make some amazing mods with sticks and stones. My favorite modder there is Filimon. He is a modding God.
Yes, Filimon and some of the modders who scratch-build each component do produce mind boggling results. So it sounds like for you, the love of modding stems just as much if not more from the process rather than the end product. Is that correct? And does this appreciation of skills cross over into any other DIY work?
Yes and no. I love working on mods, and making the mod is almost as important as the end result. I am a handy-man, and a lot of DIY work I do besides PC cases with as much joy as modding. My motorcycle is a good example; I love to make it just a little bit more personal then the machine next to it. Just like when we started modding. Also around the house I use the skills to get that something special.
So is it true that modding has shaped the way you approach other projects? Or were you this detail oriented prior to modding?
Both. In my line of work, I have to be very precise and pay attention to very minor details. You could say that my modding is greatly influenced by my work as a fine mechanical instrument maker (medical - surgical instruments).
Wow, that sounds like a job that requires lots of experience to perform well. How long have you been a machinist, and what types of instruments do you make?
Well, I started as an instrument maker right out of school in 1985.... And I stayed in that line of work until February from this year. I repaired, revised and manufactured all kinds of surgical (mechanical) tools that surgeons use in everyday work. I also worked on lasers, and gas-chromatographs. I was a handy-man with a white coat.
That certainly explains a lot regarding your work! I love the dichotomy of your modding approach, a "garbage-can-scrounger" with surgical precision!!! I guess that is what leads to such a wide variety of materials used in your projects?
Yes indeed. I also make it a challenge to use materials that are not often used in “normal" projects. For example, we all have seen mods build from old motherboards. I toke it one step further and obtained industrial PCB boards which were already partly soldered with SMD parts to start with. A great part of the success of my mod Sting is based upon using that unique material.
I thought "Sting" was absolutely genius! How did you figure out the 3D design and what shapes to cut the pieces to fit together like that?
Good question. Sting was actually formed after I got the computer-parts in my possession. By laying them out in a way it would actually work, I -then- formed a case -around- those parts. My rule of thumb with Sting was to make it as small as possible, AND look cool -SMILE-. The height of Sting's body was also determined by the height of the PC inside. After those measurements were fixed, I just had to make a shape within those parameters. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it turned out to be more difficult, but I am never afraid of new challenges.
Ha! So no CAD programs to figure it out for you, just good old fashioned engineering eh?
Right you are. Hehehe, and coincidentally, I am starting a basic CAD course in a few weeks. Mainly for my work, but who knows what mod comes front that too....
Uh oh, I see a home built Frenkie CNC machine in your future HAHAHAHA! Do you think with a newly learned talent in CAD you will stick with the old engineering/problem solving style or just move on to CAD? What on Earth will happen to "Frenkie Style"?
Hehehe don’t be afraid, I'm -old-school- and CAD will be another tool to use. But Frenkie Style is here and always will be.
Okay, I guess we'll trust you on that and see what CAD has to offer your future mods. Regarding most of your post-stealth era of modding, it seems that a great deal of your ideas were based on movies and video games. Do you actively search for ideas to make into mods, or do ideas present themselves leaving you no alternative but "must make a mod about that!"?
There is a fine line between those two options. Like the Command & Conquer mod, I guess there are more buildings in the game that -can- be made into a mod. milotic858 has successfully made a mod out of one building called “C&C GDI War Factory”. I tend to look for new ideas in the games I like to play. I have made mods from the game Quake which I played extensively, from Command & Conquer, from movies like Wall-E and Star Wars. In the near future, you will be seeing a new mod based on my all-time favorite games Half-Life2. You see, I have to have a -connection- with a certain subject, or else I won’t make it.
That makes sense. And it brings me to another question I had about one of your mods. I saw that you devoted a casemod in tribute to one of Holland's artistic Legends M.C. Escher. Does his work with the 3rd dimension have an influence on your artistic approach, both to modding and other projects you build?
Correction, I still have yet to build that mod -SMILE-, but it is on my To-Do list. The work of Maurice Cornelius Escher is a whole different dimension then any other art I've see before. In his era, there was only Salvador Dali which used 3 dimensions, but on another level. I admire the work of Escher very much and in the future, I will build a mod in honor of him. No, it won’t be an impossible building, but it won’t be an easy mod, I know already. If you must know; I have two tattoos on my body, and one of them is from Escher.
Dare I ask if the other tattooing is a TBCS logo? And if not, how much would it cost us to get one tattooed on you?
Hahahaha, I'm afraid the other one is NOT a TBCS logo, and all tattoo requests will have to go first through the proper acquisition channels before getting approved. That channel is sitting beside me on the couch.....
Fair enough, I'll have our people get with her people and work out the details. I want to look back into your first experiences with modifying PC's for a second. Can you recall a specific person or project which first opened your eyes to the idea of customizing your computers, and eventually leading to full-blown mods?
I guess that has to be my computer clan called RAG. It was a group of guys that came together, once a week, at someone’s home. Everybody brought their own PC with them. Everybody had the same grey/beige dull square box with a P1 or P2 computer inside. Stacking them beside each other, all looking the same, made me look to see if I could make mine "stick out of the crowd". That’s when I started my first mod, with cutting the letters R A G out of the side panel. Much later, I was flabbergasted, when I got my eyes on the Chemical Overdose mod from Ferry. That was and is IMO an eye-opener in the world of total modding.
Speaking of _ferry_ and other case-modders in the Netherlands, we've all seen an extraordinary level and volume of Dutch modders. How did modding become so huge in the Netherlands, and is it still growing there?
Another good question. Just to name a few; Franklin, Ferry, Ediejo. All great artists. Why? Because we can make ourselves heard throughout the world-forums? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Dutch speak English quite easily? I mean, the Germans (who outnumber us by far) speak just a little bit English, and the French just plain deny that there is any other language. Honestly, I can not answer that question. And growing? I don’t think so. In my opinion the case-manufacturers these days are pumping out pre-mod cases that 5-6 years ago could have been won at casemod-competitions easily. The need to mod is decreasing when you can buy a beautiful shaped pre-mod case without a sweat.
That is a good point about the language barrier; I've often wondered what great projects I'm missing out on and end up Googling all sorts of things looking for foreign mods. As an American who's grown up here in a pop culture which seems mostly preoccupied with what is on TV rather than art forums or galleries, I find that very few Americans have any idea what I'm talking about if I bring up modding. What is the exposure level in the Netherlands? Is it a commonly known form of art?
Well, it is relatively well known here. I have had several interviews here in The Netherlands, and most of the time the first question is, "what is modding". After several trial-and-errors, I found that the most successful answer to that question here is to call it "pimping" my PC case. It turns out that almost everybody knows the English word "pimping". The television program Pimp My Ride from MTV is the cause of this. Another fine USA product -SMILE-
Hahaha, hey now, I can’t honestly say I’m proud of the MTV pop culture. But they do make some damned nice cars on that show. The last subject I wanted to talk with you about is competitions. You seem to have been quite successful in casemod competitions judging by that pile of trophies. How many have you won, and how has this helped you obtain sponsors for your builds?
Well, not all trophies come from major casemod competitions. There were several smaller competitions, with limited attendees. But winning a large competition, like the BeNeLux Championship ( BeNeLux stands for Belgium + Nederland + Luxemburg ) certainly helps a LOT, when trying to get sponsorship. Overall, it is still not very much I get, and only in hardware. Never in finances, I’m sorry to say. My advice to starting modders; start out with winning a small event ( at the local scouting group e.g. .) then use that victory to ask for a small contribution at your local hardware dealer. Offer him exposure ( that’s the magic word ) in a lot of forums, get yourself in the local newspaper or even local television.
A "garbage-can-scrounger" with surgical precision!!! - this almost comes close to summing up some of the amazing work we have seen from Frenkie over the last 10 years. His work, often competition winning, just goes to show that you don't need access to an unlimited bank balance and a pile of high-tech machinery to produce intricately detailed and mouth-watering casemods. We can't wait to see what comes next from the subject of this edition of "Meet The Modders".
-Interview and banner art by jdbnsn
-Edited and narrated by slaveofconvention