PC Player magazine interview

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your civilian life and your relationship to computers in general?

I'm 32 years old, married, and a senior UNIX systems administrator by day but an avid modder almost every night. I started playing with computers and video games before I was even a teenager, but was always attracted to the more unusual systems. While everyone else had an Atari 2600, I had an Odyssey 2. When most people had a Commodore 64, I had an Atari 800XL. Others had PCs or Macs, I had an Amiga.

I started modding around 3 years ago when I saw some simple mods (acrylic window, baybus, etc.) and thought they looked "cool". All my co-workers and friends thought I was crazy, and perhaps I am a little, but today it doesn't seem so strange anymore!


What about gaming? Have you ever been an avid player or have you kept to designing cases and dabbling with hardware? What is your favorite games of all time?

I've always enjoyed games, but I could never say I was very good at them. In general I would play them for a while, maybe a week or two, then look for a cheat so I could see the other parts of the game I would never see otherwise. That being said, games I actually complete without any help I cutout the box art and hang it on my wall.

My favorite games are usually sci-fi simulators. My all-time favorite game was a spaceship game called "Deep Space" for the Amiga. I loved that game, especially the incredible final level where you went up against a death-star clone! "Star Raiders" for the Atari 5200 is a close second.


Now onto the actual casemodding projects. How did you get involved on the casemodding scene (first project, who contacted you, how did you learn the skills of the trade etc.)? And also: Why? Many people probably do not understand the fascination.

As a child, I was into building plastic models with my brothers so I knew my way around a can of spray paint and other arts & crafts tools/materials. When researching components for a new computer one day (my Celeron 450a just wasn't cutting it anymore) I stumbled across a site that detailed both how to make case windows and a baybus. That was just too cool - I had to try it out myself!

I went ahead a purchased an aluminum case (wow - it's so light!) and a window-kit from one of the few case modding sites that was around then. After that, I built a baybus to control a CCFL light and some fans. Then I painted the front of my optical drives silver to match the case. Then a blowhole. Then a strip of EL-tape around the outside as a racing stripe. Then an LCD display. As if it isn't clear, I was already hooked.

Why? To be unique, to get recognition from my peers, and to have something cool to look at. People spend hours finding the right background image for their desktop, even installing spyware ridden software to display cool landscape scenes. Why not spend a little time on the outside of the box as well?


You've done several casemods, made a DVD and even written an extensive book on the subject, Going Mod: 9 Cool Case Mod Projects. What inspired you to commit yourself to these undertakings? Basically - why? And is there a market out there for DVD's, books etc. on casemodding?

Each project basically grew from the project before it - there was no master plan. The first case mod was built simply for myself because I needed a new computer. The next mod was a system dedicated to play MP3s in my living room. The next project, the Millenium Falcon, is what really started it all though.

I had decided to build a mod for fun, one of those really wacky mini-itx things I saw all over the net. About the same time I came across a service on the net at http://www.customflix.com that would take a DVD you created and handle selling it - taking the orders, duplication, shipping, etc. I thought it would be cool to watch a mod being built - so I created a DVD showing how the Falcon was built and put it up for sale.

Just when I had almost finished the Falcon, I came across a posting that TechTV was looking for some mods to show on-air. Since I was local to them, I submitted my mod and they came over to my apartment and filmed it. From there, Wiley publishing contacted me about writing a book for them. The rest, as they say, is history.

The reason for all this was simple - as my skills grew and the attention received grew, I wanted to push the limits even more. As for a market for mods and modding supplies, there certainly is one. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be so many modding sites online and so many unusually colored and shaped cases for sale.


What is your motivation? Are there any economic incentives to stay in the casemodding niche?

Case modding, at least right now, is certainly not going to make anyone rich. In most instances, modding won't even allow you to break even. I always mod for myself, although commitments to other people (and the occasional check) certainly give me a little push in the right direction.

There will always be a select few people who get paid to create cases for companies or such, but that's very rare.


Can you tell us a little bit about the different casemods you've done? What inspired you to do them, how long did it take and how did the casemodding public feel about them?

I've done quite a few mods (check out http://mods.xkill.net), but the most attention I've received has been for the mini-itx "theme" cases I've done such as the Millenium Falcon or the Aircraft Carrier PC. Both those cases took around 3 to 5 months to create, and have received a pretty good share of attention.

Most of the reaction to my cases is positive, but there are always critics. Usually these people are just negative "why would anyone do something so silly" type of detractors, but they don't bother me too much. I view modding as art, and not everyone likes the same things. They could be more diplomatic in their responses, but that's their problem - not mine.


The Millenium Falcon MOD is a bit of a standout in terms of casemods in general. How did you come up with the idea - and how did you get started? I mean, it must be difficult to figure out which materials work in a configuration and also gaining access to these materials?

As I said before, I was looking for a fun project to do and remembering one of my favorite toys as a kid I though I could fit a mini-itx motherboard in the Falcon. The materials used in the Falcon were a no-brainer for me - the plastic used in the toy are almost identical to the plastic used in the model kits I assembled as a child. The hard part in these types of mods is simply figuring out how to fit everything inside!

Other mods presented other challenges, but part of the challenge is that in every mod I try to do something new. The Aircraft Carrier PC has more electronics than the Falcon (sequenced runway lights, memory card reader, sound circuit that plays the USA national anthem). My current project "Computer Bike" is based on a motorcycle made of wood. Each mod has some new material or feature for me to learn something new.


Obviously both Star Wars and Star Trek have served as inspiration for you (looking at your Falcon and Enterprise mods), but which other movies, comics, games etc. have inspired you and in what way? If you should name some interesting subjects for casemodding, which would they be - i.e., what makes for a good "casemod background"?

Things that have inspired me, besides science fiction movies, are characters with a lot of passion. One of the first movies I ever saw was "The Phantom of the Opera" with Lon Chaney, and I'm considering a Phantom themed case mod right now. I also loved the movie "The Crow" and it's story of vengeance and retribution.

But it's important to remember that anything, done with attention to detail and some imagination, can be a great case mod. The more outlandish a case mod is, the more attention it will get - but the best case mod is one you did yourself. A case mod is a reflection of the artist who created it and as long as he/she is happy with it, that's all that matters.


Besides your own casemods, which recent mods have impressed you - and why? What makes a good casemod-design - many features, simple "less-is-more"-style...?

There are many, many case mods that have impressed me. Case mods such as "The Matrix: Regenerator" or "Doom 3: Mars City" represent the top of the expert class of mods. But there are so many more. Simple ideas, like the "Project: Little Boy" (a nuclear-bomb themed case) are pretty impressive as well.

As for a style that impresses me, the number of "features" incorporated into the design is important - they are clear indictors of much thought went into the design. But the most important is attention to detail - are the lines cut straight? Are there labels for buttons, and do they look professional? Those aspects are very important to me.


How do you go about designing and making a casemod? It is of course a long, detailed process, but could you explain - in short terms - the different vital steps in production? And how long does it take, generally speaking? How many hours do you put in each day?

The process starts with an idea. I spend several weeks thinking about the project and researching materials both online and in person. I go to toy stores and measure parts. I go to home improvement stores and walk up and down every aisle to find shapes or materials to use. Then I start purchasing the bulk of what I need. Finally, I start fabricating and altering the components to fit the theme. Eventually, I reach final assembly and take the mod to show some co-workers - this allows me to gauge people's reactions and find any elements that are likely to break off or have problems. Then I redo any parts that didn't travel so well - this is my form of quality assurance.

The length of time for me to build mod varies, but 3 to 6 months is usually the number. Of course, I have a day job that keeps me pretty busy so I try to get at least 8 hours of modding in over the weekends and maybe 5 more during the week.


What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into casemodding - where does one start? And is it something everyone will be able to learn?

The most important thing is to mod for yourself. Pick a subject that will interest you - it will probably take months to complete a nice mod and you don't want to get sick of it before you even finish. But most importantly, try to have fun. Also, never mod any component that you can't afford to replace.

Everyone can learn case modding. An example - everyone may not be a great painter, but maybe they can draw? Simply incorporate some of your own drawings into your case. I stink at drawing, but I'm a decent modder because I use my other skills. But this is just an example. Everyone has some artistic skill, so just experiment till you find it and use that skill.

Of course, buying a book to teach you some of the basics (Going Mod: 9 Cool Case Mod Projects) would also be an excellent idea!


What does the future hold for Russ Caslis, the modder?

Hopefully I will finish the "Computer Bike" mod in the next couple of months. After that, I hope to get back to finishing the partially complete "Star Trek: Enterprise" mod I've been working on but was put on hold (I'll need a nano-itx motherboard for that one, and it hasn't been released yet).

Beyond that, I'll be moving from my current apartment to my own home soon. As part of that, part of the garage will be converted into a workshop. Finally I'll be able to paint even when the weather is bad (right now a rainy day makes painting impossible). With a workshop at my disposal, who knows what I may get around to!