Monthly Archives: July 2017

Anchors Aweigh

Normally when I post my kids’ creations on here, I’m posting my son’s work.

Of my three, he’s certainly the most LEGO fan-like, and the most prolific builder, for all that he’s the youngest.

But I also have two daughters. The younger of them builds only occasionally (though often incredibly creatively), but the older one is quite a builder in her own right.

She’s less into the spaceships and rovers and mechs that are the mainstays of my own building universe; she’s more likely to build gardens or swimming pools or palaces.

This ship is one of hers.

Crewed entirely by female minifigures, because Girl Power, I don’t think she’s even bothered to name it, but the shaping of the hull is right impressive for a 12-year-old.

Add in the rudder and tiller (sadly they don’t function together) and the sail with its helm wheel (patterned after the one on Naida’s Epic Adventure Ship but built differently because we’ve misplaced the gearbox brick) and it seems to me like a marvellous piece of work.

Admittedly I’m biased as a parent, but this is still pretty cool, no?

The harbour wall with its guards is properly monochrome, too, not a Rainbow Warrior. She’s my daughter enough that she dislikes those fairly strongly; the ship is actually unusual in that regard.

Anyway, here’s one of my daughter’s builds. I hope you find it as impressive as I do.

Where the AT-ATs Roam

Sooner or later, every LEGO builder who’s any sort of Star Wars fan is going to attempt an AT-AT at something more substantial than palmtop scale.

This is my first try.

Star Wars vehicles, scenes, characters and battles have been modeled again and again to such a high standard of accuracy and modelling that really, you need massive chutzpah to attempt anything from the Star Wars universe. Especially something from the films; especially from the Original Trilogy.

This obviously isn’t going to be winning any prizes on Eurobricks’ Star Wars forum or anything, what with its general studdiness and too-long back end, but as a first attempt, “you-too-can-build-the-AT-AT” model, it’s reasonable.

I actually wasn’t really considering building an AT-AT at all; this whole build started out with the microscale snowspeeder (with which I’m actually more pleased than the big Imperial walker).

But having built this little speeder, it occurred to me that it might be possible, with my household’s relatively-limited-for-an-AFOL brick inventory, to build an Imperial walker to proper scale with the speeder.

Official LEGO’s never done this. I’d actually love to see someone build an AT-AT to full minifig scale based on the size of one of the snowspeeder sets, but the sheer size of it probably prevents all but the most dedicated builder, and with all the expanses of plate armour the hull’s actually fairly uninteresting at that scale.

Still, what I can only dream about at minifig scale I can finally actually build at microscale.

If I was building it again I’d correct that too-long rear end, but I don’t possess enough tiles to successfully destud it having used this construction method, and I don’t possess enough grey 1xwhatever bricks to build it using the other main technique family for producing a smooth finish.

Ah well. Steps on the path, my friends. Steps on the path. This build was mostly about getting past the intimidation factor of all the really huge $120+ official AT-AT sets and the even huger and more detailed Imperial walker MOCs; a figuring-out that really, building an AT-AT doesn’t have to be that hard.

I think a lot of my mental hangups come from my childhood attempts to build one back when The Empire Strikes Back was a new film and we were still waiting with bated breath for Revenge of the Jedi, as rumour had it the next film would be called.

Trying to make an articulated All Terrain Armoured Transport that would actually stand up back when the black Technic friction pins were a nonexistent brick was way beyond my youthful skill level. I wasn’t about to build a statue; if I was building it, it was going to move. But I couldn’t find a way to keep it from sprawling on the ice like a giant robot Bambi, so I eventually gave up on the idea as an impossibility with the bricks of the era.

And I’ve carried that sense that building AT-ATs is one of the hardest challenges facing any builder with me through all those years.

So here’s an AT-AT. Not a very good one, perhaps, but here it is.

And it really wasn’t hard at all.

Now, a Mon Calamari battlecruiser, with all those lovely stylish curves? That would be truly difficult!

Argonaut-class Explorer Cruiser

Pushing my personal “largest LEGO creation” boundaries in my ongoing quest for SHIP status, I present the Argonaut-class Explorer Cruiser.

Argonaut-class: after aspect

My previous largest ship, my 6929 Starfleet Voyager update, was exactly 50 studs in length, which is a respectable size but hardly a breakthrough into the world of Seriously Huge Investments in Pieces. Likewise my previous largest microscale, the Diomedes, which was again 50 studs long.

The Argonaut is half again that size, at a few millimeters over 74 studs in length. It uses practically all of my dark grey and a good 3/4 of my dark red, and I already have a third highlight colour in the shape of the light grey, so there’s no simple way I could expand this any further. I might be able to add more light grey, I suppose, giving a slightly more patchwork look to the main spine, but probably not enough to matter. This is about as long as is reasonable to build while maintaining this width and height. Assuming an 8-stud average visual width (4 to 6 studs real hull width plus additions), that’s a little over a 1:9 ratio of width to length. To maintain that same ratio or less, a 100-stud creation needs to average at least 12 studs wide, probably 8+ studs real hull width with additions. And I generally prefer squatter, less elongated designs, in the 1:5 – 1:6 range.

Translation: Building a SHIP really does take a butt-ton of bricks.

That’s an official SI unit for LEGO bricks, by the way 😛 (Truly monstrous creations like this awesome Blacktron space carrier or this immense Classic Space explorer ship are measured in the kilobutt-tons, while my own more modest starships merely in the centibutt-tons).

I’ll get there, though. I’m going to build a SHIP. Sooner or later. I’ve been working my way up to it for a while, and while I’m not there yet, the gap is closing.

And I managed to build this while I still had my first reasonable-sized (ie bigger than my palm) AT-AT built, but more on that next time.

Argonaut-class: Forward aspect

The Argonaut-class Explorer Cruiser is a relatively generic starship type built by the Interstellar Commonwealth as a long-range exploration ship.

Part military cruiser but with substantial cargo pod space, the Argonaut is less suited to combat than most dreadnought battleships and less adapted to heavy cargo haulage than, for example, the Commonwealth’s Trader-class Bulk Carrier.

However, the combination of both cargo capacity and military-grade weaponry and sensors is exactly what the explorer ship class demands, so the Interstellar Commonwealth produces and operates a whole series of these intermediate vessels.

The Argonaut-class is on the small side as explorer ships go; cheaper to deploy than the massive Copernicus-class while still containing enough equipment and supplies to do the job of exploring a new star system.

The forward section contains most of the laboratories and sensor equipment, typically set up for planetological, astrogational and xenobiological research at the very least, and often including cultural xenology, linguistics and comparative technology labs as needed.

What appear to be guns at the wingtips are in fact gravitational sensors and communications antennae, while at the very tip of the nosecone is a sophisticated medium-range probe deployment system. The “wings” are completely useless for manoeuvre in vacuum, of course, but they are composed of thick crystarmour plate sections providing at least a modicum of protection to the vulnerable lab modules.

Argonaut-class: Detail, forward section

Dorsally amidships is the main small craft hangar bay, featuring in-line funnel-shaped entry/exit ports equipped with powerful tractors to guide the various small craft back into the hangars. A dedicated hyperspace communications array sits atop this hangar deck, the triple-pronged bladelike design typical of such.

Argonaut-class: Detail, central spinal section

Along the central spine from the Argonaut-class’ forward section are the main optical observation deck, the central cargo pod handling area and the construction/repair centre. The optical observation deck is a massive windowed area with a transparent glassteel viewport several stories in height. Many optical instruments such as telescopes are set up in this area, which is also popular with the crew as a relaxation area and features one end dedicated to restaurant dining.

Observation deck area

The cargo pod handling area includes space for four of the standard near-cubical bulk haulage pods in standard mode, or up to eight without the extended-range fuel tanks and docking/refueling rails. Proceeding without the tanks or rails is an unusual step, however, and almost never happens.

Cargo pod handling area and main long-range fuel tanks

Detail, aft hangar bay entrance seen over cargo pods

Aft of this is the main construction/repair area, with smaller container pods and dorsal zero-gravity cranes for the construction of hyperjump portals and smaller orbital stations. The cranes can also be used for larger ship-repair tasks.

Argonaut-class: Detail, main construction bay

The rear section contains the primary engine rooms, antimatter reactors and main weapon systems. There are a further two hangar bay ports, these for repair and maintenance drones, plus four medium-calibre laser turrets for defence.

The concentration of weaponry at the rear of the ship strikes many observers as a little strange, but after the loss of the Navigator-class explorer ship CNS Saint Brendan to hostile fire as she attempted to withdraw from the system, the Commonwealth began to follow a pattern of concentrating its explorer cruisers’ firepower aft. These are explorers, it was reasoned, not combat vessels. Their first instinct when under fire ought to be to withdraw.

Argonaut-class: Detail, aft weapons clusters

Finally, the engine itself. A massive Tachiro-Shinsekov-Chimbote metagravitational drive allowing both normal-space cruising and manoeuvre and metagravity hyperjump, the engine features no less than four separate Shinsekov coils and can produce a normal-space acceleration equivalence of three hundred and sixty-seven gravities at eighty percent power.

Main engine showing Shinsekov coils and central Tachiro-Shinsekov-Chimbote metagravity accelerator

License to Build

I have to say that coming back to building as an AFOL it took a while for me to come to terms with the presence of licensed themes.

Jurassic World. Disney sets. Simpsons minifigures. Scooby Doo. Angry Birds movie. The horrible SpongeBob in LEGO form. Even awesome franchises like the superhero universes and Star Wars.

When I contemplated all the time and pain I went through trying to make old-style hinges and trans yellow Space windscreens work for a proper X-Wing, the fact that there’s a set for that now seemed almost like a betrayal.

I probably sounded rather Grumpy Old Man about it: “Eee, lads, in my day we used a black-suited Classic astronaut holding a trans red antenna brick, and that were our Darth Vader. And we counted ourselves lucky to have a black spaceman! You young whippersnappers don’t know how good you’ve got it! You’d be better builders if you had to work it out and imagine like we did!”

Licensing? Bah!

Of course, the attitude is rather hypocritical, because I would have cheerfully strangled small furry animals to get my hands on a real X-Wing set at that age if there had been such a thing.

It didn’t help me come to terms with licencing that my inspiration initially flowed better in the direction of nonlicensed and classic themes. Classic Space was my first LEGO love, the pre-theme “theme” that really got me hooked on LEGO. Naturally as an AFOL I want to build with a Classic Space vibe.

Getting into storytelling using the LEGO Message Boards, I gravitated to non-storied, older themes or stories with only a tangential connection to LEGO. The part of storytelling I most enjoy is the worldbuilding, and there’s just less scope for that in a theme with an established story. Which includes every single licensed theme there is.

Still, I have to say that licensed sets do give you options for MOCmaking.

It’s basically impossible, for instance, to build a minifig-scale Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter or a steampunkified Batmobile without a Darth Vader or a Batman to work with. Since they exist, people want to see the real figures; a black-suited Classic Spaceman is not going to cut it as either Vader or Batman.

That led to a gradual re-evaluation and acceptance of the various licensed themes. I’m still pretty sparing in the licensed sets I’ll purchase, because licensing costs money and the Star Wars theme, for instance, are some of the most expensive ways to buy bricks when calculated on a price-per-brick basis.

I still can’t imagine willingly putting down money on a SpongeBob or Angry Birds set, just because I can’t imagine ever having a use for those minifigures.

But as my kids (and especially my son) gravitate to Star Wars and Batman and the Avengers and other things, our household stock of various licensed minifigures has grown to the point where it’s actually not unreasonable to contemplate a Star Wars-themed creation.

Licensed themes aren’t, in fact, destroying creativity. I’ll grant that a tile printed with the symbol of the Empire doesn’t lend itself all that well to a non-Star Wars build, but like balljoints or Travis bricks or pneumatic T-pieces, the sets open up possibilities. In this case, possibilities for modeling those worlds that just wouldn’t be there very well without the licensing. Who’s going to drive your replica Batmobile if there is no LEGO Batman?

So I’ve basically come to terms with licensing as a general principle of the LEGO Group’s operation. It has its downsides, particularly in the amount of time and energy the Group seem to pour into licensed themes versus nonlicensed ones, but I’m no longer feeling like my youthful not-very-good-but-using-what-was-available X-Wings and AT-ATs have been betrayed by the existence of sets for that.

I think in some ways I’d prefer it if there were proportionally a few less licensed themes, but I understand that the LEGO Group are a business and that’s where the money seems to be.

Advanced Mech-Building 101

Up until this point, most of my mechs have been relatively simplistic affairs.

Oh, I’ve done what I could to make them look interesting, but in terms of the actual structure, they’ve been fairly basic. I’d tended to use balljoint elements almost exclusively, with occasional use of those clickstop universal joints, and that’s forced several design constraints on my mechs that I barely even realised I had.

Also, I’ve tended to construct the torso all in one piece, and there’s only so much you can do with that.

I like mechs in general, even if I’m not very good at them. Well, except for some of the Japanese-style Gundams and Anime mechs, which always look strange to me. Yeah, I know I’m dissing the two most influential mech source materials in the universe, but I honestly don’t like those massively overbuilt shoulders and weird flanges and fins and wings all over the place, and the guns bigger than the mechs themselves and all that. There’s a definite Japanese style to many mechs, and if you’ve seen many you know what I’m talking about, but frankly I prefer something a little less Anime-derived.

Having said that, there’s obviously a lot I could learn from the hows of some of these Gundam/Anime mech architects. So I’ve been doing something I almost never do with my LEGO building: I’ve been watching building instruction videos and mech-building tip compilations on youTube.

For all that I overuse balljoint elements with studs, I’ve been noticing for a while how few of the really good mechs that give you even a vague clue as to their joint mechanics actually use balljoints. They use clip-and-bar hinges, pneumatic T-pieces, or other strange joint forms I’m still coming to grips with.

So I’ve been watching and learning how it’s done.

This new raft of joint-building techniques is only half of what I got out of what I’ve seen, though. The other main aspect of what I got from the videos is more deeply buried. It’s the idea of an underlying skeletal frame.

Anyone who’s built the large Bionicle/CCBS figures will probably grasp this by instinct, because I’m told that that’s where most of the building creativity lies in those things, but I don’t Bionicle any more readily than I build advanced mechanical functions with Technic, so you’ll forgive me for being a little slow on the uptake.

Anyway, I built a new mech, deliberately choosing to use some of what I’ve learned.

It’s far more articulated in the spine than any previous mech I’ve built, actually having an approximation of a spine for a start.

The construction of the legs deliberately eschews “normal” balljoint connections, and still has most of the range of motion I’d actually want out of a set of mech legs.

I was initially not planning on giving the mech arms as well as those shoulder weapon pods, but it didn’t look right without them, so I adapted the design a little, but the weapon pods seemed like the only reasonable attachment point.

The result looks something like a cross between a linebacker and a chimpanzee, and is just as topheavy and overbuilt in the shoulders as any Neo Evangelion or other Manga mech.

The claws combine with the black colour and the stick-thin arms to give it a slightly arachnoid look, and so between that and the simianoid remainder of its looks, I came up with the name for it: the Blacktron Monkey-Spider class Mech.

It isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s a long way from it, and I actually prefer the looks of last time’s Space Police Enforcer class.

But I offer it up here as a testimony that I’m learning new things and finding better ways to approach the building of stuff like mechs.

The Long Legs of the Law

Enforcer-class Space Police mech

The Space Police aren’t an aspect of LEGO Space I’ve gone into building very much before now. I’ve had a brief flirtation with the organisation in digital format, but aside from a single “crashed wreck” build to go with my neo-Alienator, I’ve not built a single Space Police construction before in real bricks.

Now I have Blacktron astronauts, though, and the beginnings of a potential alternate-universe story where the Blacktron are the heroes and the Space Police are a tyrannical instrument of oppression, I find I actually want to build Space Police. Even the bad guys ought to get some cool stuff.

I don’t, however, currently possess a first-generation Space Police trooper. Or any of the three separate generations of Space Police, but it’s the original Space Police, first genuine adversaries of the Blacktron, that concern me right now.

If I’m going to have a corrupt, oppressive Space Police, SP1 have about the most sinister colours with that black/blue/trans red livery. Seeing everything as they do through visors and windscreens in Sith Red, were they actually subtly intended as evil? They even look a bit like Stormtroopers.

I doubt they were specifically meant as evil, but Futuron’s colours do look so much more regular Earth police-like, as shown by their recyclement in SP3.

Rear view of the Enforcer-class

Anyway, my first Space Police build in real bricks was a corvette-sized microscale cruiser, but that was mostly a minor experiment with a new technique. If I think up a suitable backstory I may post it.

This, however, I wanted to post. Minifigure-scale despite my lack in the trooper department, it’s a walker, because I like them even if I’m no specialist genius mech architect.

I’ve done as much as I can to create a sort of ersatz Space Police stormtrooper, recombining parts from a white Classic astronaut and a Blacktron squaddie, and the result doesn’t look too bad, I think.

The mech may be one of my most adventurous yet. I’ve used several techniques that I haven’t tried before, most notably the sloped cockpit section, and I’ve tried to avoid using box-standard Bionicle/HF balljointed limb elements. Ok, mostly this is because a lot of them are in use on several dragons my kids and their cousins have built, but it’s the actually doing it that counts.

The twin rotary stud shooters are inspired by the six-guns of the stereotypical Wild West lawman, and I’ve used a stickered City element to label the mech as police.

On the roof are a pair of lighter guns, with searchlights mounted to aid in urban pacification. Possibly the roof-mounted guns are high-pressure water cannons, but somehow I doubt it. I have serious questions about the effectiveness of water cannons in a space environment. Wouldn’t the water just boil off into the vacuum?

I’m calling the mech the Enforcer-class walker, seeing it as probably one of the Space Police’s primary mechs.

The Viper, Victorious

I said I was going to build a cruiser in the Vic Viper configuration, and here it is, more or less.

Another corner build using my lone Blacktron quarter panel (I need to get another one of those so that it can become a by-choice deal rather than a by-necessity), it has all the features required for a proper Vic Viper, but in a cruiser format.

The single vertical tail fin becomes a bridge sail section, the twin prongs are in place, and the wings curl upwards because of my decision to use Castle turret top elements.

I’ve been far more sparing with yellow bricks than even my usual approach to the Blacktron; something that many people seem to get wrong is that they put too much yellow in a Blacktron creation, with the result that it looks like construction hazard striping. The Victorious-class goes to almost the opposite extreme. It’s a major light sink, and wouldn’t be easy to spot using optical sensors against the blackness of space.

Thankfully for those viewing, I’m sure, I’ve shot my photos against a white background so that the details are more visible. That’s the problem with black ships and vessels: they’re hard to photograph well, especially with the primitive handheld camera setup I have.

As befits a cruiser of the more militarily-inclined Blacktron Alliance, the Victorious is fairly well-armed, with heavy spinal lasers, lighter defensive pulse turrets and intermediate-size long guns. Much of the armament is exclusively forward-firing, which may be a weak point of the design, but in my “Brightly-Coloured Tyranny” Classic Space alternate universe the Blacktron are a rebel alliance or resistance movement opposed to the corrupt Federation government and its oppressive Space Police. They aren’t necessarily going to have the experience to make perfect combat designs right off the bat.

Anyway, here she is, the Blacktron Victorious-class Cruiser, ready to oppose the Federation and do some damage to as many Space Police ships as possible.