All Terrain Elf Transport

Forward the AT-ET!

In a rather different vein from my previous Christmas build with the candle and the angel, this one is pure fun and silliness.

As a Santa minifigure is still on my list of “stuff to get at some point”, my options are almost as limited for the other kind of Christmas build as they are for building some any sort of Biblical scene.

We’ve got some elves, though.

Okay, they’re the Emily Jones variety, not the Santa’s Workshop variety, but up to a point an elf is an elf is an elf. It’d be rather amusing to have Santa Claus leading a whole clan of Legolas’ kin into battle on dragons, but that’s another build. And I don’t have a Santa yet to do it with.

The words “Christmas elf mech” bounced through my mind like a rogue superball…

I’ve built an elf mech once before, but not a Christmas one (though it was posted on the old LEGO.com Galleries not here), and I thought about several options for making it Christmassy. I initially contemplated a steampunk Father Christmas mech (somehow a steampunk Santa has to go by his British name), but if I was going to use an elf for a pilot that didn’t seem quite right.

“Maybe I could make it shaped like a reindeer or something”, I thought, and the idea of a sort of chibi AT-AT popped into my head.

Of course, the All Terrain Elf Transport has antlers and a red nose, and somehow Santa Claus red seemed the only possible choice for a main colour. It’s not really in keeping with the colours of the various LEGO Elves, but that’s okay. They’re not necessarily in that world right now, and Santa’s colours overrule here anyway.

Farran’s green outfit made him the best choice to actually drive the AT-ET, but Azari wanted in as well. As hers was the only cold-weather mantle fabric element I could find I let her.

Anyway, have a rather reindeeroid AT-AT derivative, and enjoy!

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Trans-Siberian Spaceship

As I mentioned last time, I’m something of a convert to Russian space vehicles. Underappreciated in the West, they are frequently dismissed as low-tech, clunky and unfinished, and I’m a serious sucker for the underappreciated. And the stuff undoubtedly works. Gagarin’s Vostok capsule was bigger and more sophisticated than the tiny American Mercury spacecraft, and the venerable, reliable Soyuz is still going strong as one of the major servicing vehicles for the International Space Station. So what if it looks like a steampunk tin-can beside the sleek American Space Shuttle or the new Orion capsule? It travels in vacuum. You don’t get extra points for streamlining. Indeed, I suspect the near-steampunkiness of the Russian design aesthetic is part of its charm for me.

I decided to take my enthusiasm for Soviet Space Race-era vessels and see if I could build something in the same sort of style but for a grander purpose. What would a Russian-designed near-future crewed interstellar spaceship look like, for instance?

Исстребитель-1 (Isstrebitel’-1; “Explorer 1”) is the result. Using Coruscant planet elements and balloon segments I’ve tried to retain the multispherical, modular look of vehicles like the Soyuz capsule, but on a larger scale.

The vessel has a nuclear drive, possibly a variant of the 1960s American NERVA design in keeping with the typical Russian approach using lower and more reliable technology with a bit more brute-force-and-ignorance and a bit less experimental bells-and-whistles. However, even a nuclear rocket isn’t going to provide enough thrust to make interstellar flight practicable for human crews. It’d be like trying to cross the Pacific in a bathtub powered by an outboard motor: even leaving aside weather and waves, the amount of fuel you’d need would result in you having to tow a nearly aircraft carrier-sized barge, and an outboard motor just can’t reasonably accelerate that much mass. Space engineers call this the “rocket equation”, and it’s the reason we need magic spacedrives for galactic sci-fi. A NERVA-style nuclear rocket alone isn’t going to cut it for interstellar.

Taking my cues from Eric Flint and Ryk Spoor’s Boundary series (specifically, the second book Threshold), I’ve chosen to provide Исстребитель-1 with a “dusty-plasma drive” (or “Nebula drive”, to use the poetic name) in addition to its nuclear rocket.

I like the idea of the dusty-plasma drive. Consisting of a mass of reflective near-nanite “smart dust” particles suspended in a magnetic field around the ship, it combines the low-mass advantage of the magnetosail and electric sail with the greater accelerative capacity of a solar sail. It’s an elegant concept and not that far beyond our current abilities. And when it comes to taking strange fever-dreams and making them a reality, Russian engineers really are something else. Exhibit A: the Tsar tank. Exhibit B: Obyekt 279

Between the constant acceleration provided by the dusty-plasma drive and the strategic boost from firing up the nuclear rocket at the proper point in a slingshot orbit around Jupiter (and potentially Nemesis, if it even exists), the transit time between stars might even drop to something halfway reasonable like decades rather than hundreds or thousands of years.

To a certain extent, what kind of drive system it’s got is irrelevant. I’m only building a LEGO model. But the clunky realism of Russian spaceship aesthetics sort of promotes a hard-science sort of ship, so I feel like I want to use something that’s at least a reasonable near-future possibility. Maybe they get an additional boost from a double slingshot around Proxima and Alpha Centauri A and B, and push their velocity up to the 60%-plus-of-lightspeed range…

Anyway, this is my neo-Russian interstellar space probe, Исстребитель-1. I hope you like it.

Vostok-1: The First Spaceship

Vostok-1 with Yuri Gagarin

One of the LEGO books in my small collection is called “Brick Wonders” by Warren Elsmore. It follows what seems to be a fairly typical format for such books: several pages of introduction to LEGO building in general and its terminology, large glossy photos of completed large-scale models (in this case, of various Wonders of the World including the original classical Seven plus extra sevens selected by the author, of “Historic Wonders” from non-Mediterranean cultures, “Modern Wonders” and “Natural Wonders”), plus photos of smaller builds with instructions generated through one of the various something-like-a-CAD-program-for-LEGO applications.

Unfortunately, these instructions aren’t always easy to follow (especially where blue and black elements are involved) due to the small size and dark colours of the printing and the fact that multiple steps seem to occur at once. Well, and the sometimes questionable required brick inventories. I mean, who of the people likely to be wanting instructions is going to have 86 grey 2×2 macaroni bricks laying around to build an Iron Age roundhouse with?

However, flipping through the book for inspiration, one of the small builds associated with the author’s International Space Station “Modern Wonder” build caught my eye.

The model was of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and through the mystical workings of chance I (a) had all the required bricks, (b) in a colour scheme that would work even if it wasn’t the author’s one, and (c) actually had instructions where you could see what was going on. I decided to give it a go, especially as I’m something of a fan of the underappreciated Russian spacecraft.

The author’s Soyuz capsule is a relatively simple model, a bit more angular than a real-life Soyuz but using the clever trick of utilising one of those cup-and-ball mounts as the spherical crew module on the front. It’s not bad for a start, but I thought I could do better. I decided to have a go at Vostok-1, the very first spaceship as flown by the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Actual Vostok capsule

Russian/Soviet space hardware has a very definite style to it, usually characterised by disparaging adjectives like “clunky”, “unfinished” and “not very stylish”, and I remember as a kid being rather put off by the bristly, exposed-wiring appearance of things like the Vostok space capsule and the Lunokhod robotic moon rover. It was just so darned difficult to draw, for one thing.

However, I confess to have become something of a convert to the “vacuumpunk” Russian design aesthetic, and there’s no denying the stuff worked, as evidenced by the long string of Soviet space “firsts” prior to the American Apollo moon landings. Indeed, despite its more primitive appearance the Vostok space capsule was both larger and more sophisticated than the cramped American Mercury capsule, whose astronauts often commented that it was “worn, not piloted”. The Soviet 2-man Voskhod spacecraft was substantially the same as the original Vostok but with a backup retro rocket attached to the re-entry module.

At any rate, Gagarin’s Vostok-1 capsule seemed like a cool thing to attempt.

After a very Brick-Wonders-Soyuz-derived intermediate model to testbed aspects of the design, I set about building a larger-scale version.

Working at this larger scale, I had to work out a way to build the sphere rather than using a cup-and-ball mount, but that’s not beyond my capability. I wanted something smoother than a Lowell sphere, and though I think it would be improved if I had a fifth 4×4 dish in dark grey, I do like what I eventually came up with.

I got the service module’s broad cone shape a lot closer to right in this larger version (though the fact that I neglected to photograph the smaller version before I broke it up for pieces for this one prevents a comparison shot), including at least some of the antennas that bristle from the craft. The forward-facing antennas on the capsule itself are sadly missing with no place to attach, but the possibility might exist of building an even larger version using a planet sphere for the capsule, and that could be made to carry antennas.

The final result is close enough to minifigure scale that I assembled a Gagarin, using the orange deep-sea-diver torso as a reasonable substitute for the space pioneer’s characteristic orange flight suit. Alas, he cannot be placed inside his cutting-edge-1950s-high-tech spacecraft, but he does add a litte something to the display.

It’s not the very best brick-built Vostok-1 I’ve seen, but the intricacies of the Soviet design ethos and generally underappreciated nature of Russian space vehicles mean it’s not something a lot of people attempt. I did. Here’s the result, once again:

Building the Advent

“Down into Darkness”. An Advent build

Bending my personal rule about not incarnating the Son of Man in plastic, I spent the afternoon of the first Sunday in Advent on this brick expression of the idea of light in darkness.

Thanks to our celebration of Christmas being set at what in the Northern Hemisphere is the darkest time of the year around the Winter Solstice, and to Scriptural metaphor about Jesus being the Light of the World, lights are a big part of what our modern Christmas looks like. And if I have personal issues about the undesirability of creating a poseable plastic Jesus, even as a baby in a manger, I can do something connected to the Scriptural story of Christmas without needing to compromise my iconoclasm.

A candle in the dark would be a possibility, and it occurred to me that those 1×1 scrollwork bricks would make a pretty good dribbly candle, especially combined with a couple of 1×1 cones in trans neon orange for the flame.

Building up a suitable dark place was a bit more of a challenge, especially with my other recent black-using build still standing, but with some dark red highlights and quite a lot of black slopes I built a fairly nice caverny chamber in which to stand my candle.

It didn’t seem like enough to just have a candle in the dark, though. My focus this Advent season is on the event of the Incarnation itself: the wonder of God stepping down out of perfect Heaven into our darkness and mess. If I was going to communicate that idea a mere candle wouldn’t do it.

I initially had the idea of something like this build but with a minifigure coming down into the cavern, but even for an ultimately symbolic build that was a little too close to a violation of my personal Plastic Jesus ban, so I thought about candles instead. But candles on their own don’t communicate the whole “coming down” idea, so I needed to work on a way to do that.

Building a plastic angel feels like less of an issue than building a minifigure Jesus, and adding the angel above looking down conveys just the right aspect of descent that I was looking for.

I don’t know whether I’ll do any more specifically Advent builds this year, bringing this year’s personal Christmas Story focus to my building, but I like the way this one turned out.

“The true light that gives life to everyone was coming into the world”.

The Turtle Moves

Blacktron A’Tuin-class Heavy Dropship

Inspired by a model of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld I found recently on Pinterest, apparently not even the World Turtle himself (or herself; matters are unclear) can totally derail my Benny impulse to Build A Spaceship.

For the sake of current colour availability I’ve used Blacktron livery colours instead of Benny’s favourite Classic Space blue and grey, but apparently the idea of a spacegoing giant turtle doesn’t automatically mean a tie-in to popular comic fantasy. Though of course, I had to call it the A’Tuin-class.

After last time’s Classic Space scorpionship, this testudinoid dropship might be thought of as following a theme, but I really have no intention of building a series of animal ships. I just got inspired by the late Sir Terry’s famous World Turtle.

“Dropship”, like “destroyer”, is another piece of spaceship terminology I’ve studiously avoided prior to this point. For all it seems to have become the in-vogue term for what I’d usually call a “landing shuttle”, it’s not one I really favour myself. I believe we’ve got the Halo franchise to thank for its popularity, and I personally dislike Halo and get impatient with what seems an endless stream of associated MOCs from what feels like everyone else in the sci-fi AFOL community. Halo has too much emphasis on tacticool and too many drab colours in my opinion, but what else should I expect from a shoot-em-up videogame?

Nonetheless, somehow I found that “dropship” seemed the only possible name, so this is the A’Tuin-class heavy dropship of the Blacktron Alliance.

The hexagonal shell uses a couple of new (to me) techniques, and I’m rather proud of the domed effect I’ve achieved. Not only did I use 2-part 1×4 hinge bricks to create the base of the hexagon (which is a technique I’ve never tried before and results in a pleasingly nonstandard shape), but I also succeeded for the first time ever in making sloped plates at multiple angles come together in a way that actually looks good. Maybe the techniques for building star destroyers and Millennium Falcons aren’t quite as much of a stretch as I had thought…

The landing legs took a bit of work to make right. Initially I thought that the front legs weren’t going to be able to be angled right for flight mode, and built a pair of flippers.

Original form of the A’Tuin-class, with front flippers, horned head and no rotary stud shooters.

Of course, that looked weird in landing mode, but for several days I thought it was the best compromise I could build.

However, then I remembered the short Bionicle balljoint elements I have and decided that perhaps my original four-legged design would work after all. It just needed another joint in the front legs.

The big combination landing legs and drive clusters make the A’Tuin-class modeled much more closely on a tortoise than on its turtle namesake (unless you’re American in which case land-going tortoises, freshwater terrapins and marine turtles are all just called turtles), but that’s ok. There aren’t that many fictional or legendary anapsids out there to name a turtleship after, and I would be buggered if I’d call it the Donatello.

The head was originally modeled on that of the evil American terrapin known as the “alligator snapping turtle”, a vicious, nasty piece of work that makes lake-swimming here in Texas where I live something of a game of Russian Roulette with one’s toes. The head-mounted cannons rather disguise that origin, but that’s what I was initially going for.

The cannons got installed on the head after I didn’t like them mounted to the shell. It’s Blacktron. We do excessive cannons.

Speaking of which, after rebuilding the forelimbs I decided to make some more substantial weaponry for the carapace, so I’ve used a couple of rotary stud shooters to make what I suspect are missile pods.

I’m envisioning this turtleship as a sort of heavy landing craft, able to transport the heaviest Blacktron equipment between orbit and planetary surface. It’s probably big enough to transport most of an entire battalion of troops, or the very largest of Blacktron ultratanks or heavy walkers, and with those powerful engine clusters it’s probably a lot faster than what it’s modeled on, too. And it’s fairly decently armed. And it looks like a tortoise.

Not too shabby, though I say so myself. 🙂

Stingship

Federation Scorpio-class destroyer

Modeling your sci-fi vehicles after living creatures is nearly always cool, but the peaceable Classic Space Federation are probably the last people you’d normally associate with the idea of building hardware shaped like a scorpion.

Nevertheless, in a fit of irony I’ve assembled this scorpionoid spacegoing destroyer, and it’s one of the most overarmed spaceships I’ve ever built. Goodness only knows what the power requirements on this thing are when it’s firing all of its guns…

What I’m calling the Scorpio-class destroyer started out as a prospective ground vehicle designed around those front arms. It wasn’t even specifically going to be a scorpion at that point.

It was only after I decided I didn’t like the looks of it as a rover and added the ball cannons that I specifically decided to turn it into a scorpion ship, because those cup-and-ball-mounted guns make wicked legs.

In the past I’ve specifically eschewed the use of the term “destroyer” for my Federation spaceships. It’s always seemed too aggressive and militaristic and, well, destructive. In my version of the Classic Space Federation, larger vessels are typically cruisers and smaller vessels are frigates, both of which terms have enough history as not specifically naval vessel types to sound somehow more peaceable. However, destroyer was really the only choice for a vessel with this many guns on it, so I’ve built my first ever Classic Space destroyer.

With engines that small, I doubt it’s any speedster or hyperagile transorbital combatant, but if its anything like its design namesake it’s at least well-armoured. Warships typically emphasise a maximum of two of the triad of armour, firepower and speed, and I’d guess that what the Federation designers decided to de-emphasise in this particular case was speed.

This isn’t the most adventurous spaceship model as far as technique is concerned, but I rather like it anyway. Who would have guessed that a scorpion would look so good in blue? Or that a scorpion could serve as such a natural-seeming model for a spaceship rather than a surface tank?

Cave Inimicum

Apologies for the awful Latin pun, but I was running out of creative post names.

Stretching my rockwork and vegetative skills here, I had a picture in my head of a cave with a tree growing over the top of it, and I decided to try and build it.

The result is some fairly decent small-scale rockwork and probably one of the two best trees I think I’ve ever built.

The cave opens up at the back as a sort of play feature (ish), though there’s really not a lot here to play with. There is a fairly large crystal and half of a skeleton back there, though, adding some visual interest.

I don’t have a huge amount to say about this build, but here it is. A small chunk of scenery from someone who seldom builds such things.