Category Archives: Creatures

Morituri te Salutant

We who are about to die…

So I built a Roman gladiator.

Well, technically gladiator denotes a warrior that fights with a gladius, or Roman short sword, and this guy is armed with a trident, but the word has come to refer to any arena fighter from the Roman era.

This type of gladiator, fighting with a trident and a weighted net, was called a retiarius. Apparently based on a type of ancient fisherman, the retiarii‘s mobile, hit-and-run style of fighting placed them towards the bottom of the various gladiatorial styles’ pecking order. The crowds apparently favoured styles that would get in close and trade blows, not hang back and jab with a spear.

Technically, retiarii didn’t wear helmets and were armed with daggers as well, but I didn’t find this out until after the model was complete. However, I probably would have taken the historical liberty of putting a helmet on my gladiator anyway; I don’t think he’d look nearly as good without his helmet.

For once I’ve made a more effective kilt or loincloth-type wrap rather than just put up with the problematic wasp-waist of balljoint connections. Between that and the knee-high boots, I’ve managed to effectively hide the balljoint connections on the legs quite well. The arms, less so. The black and grey parts are supposed to represent gauntlets, but they work only so-so. Especially the hand grasping the trident, which proved incredibly difficult to make work without being totally oversized. A Bionicle or CCBS figure hand would be just the trick here, but I don’t have one. What I’ve done is probably as good as I can manage without. Hopefully it’s not too much of a distraction.

The other hand, the one grasping the net is better. The forearm still looks a little funky, but the three fingers grasping the rigging element of the pseudo-net actually looks fairly naturally posed.

The post title, of course, is the Latin for “We who are about to die salute you”. It’s not a very seasonal creation in terms of the one celebrated by the majority at this time of year, but the first of November is All Saints, and so many of the First Century followers of Christ were put to death in the arena that it makes a sort of sense. Yeah. That’s my excuse.

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LEGOtiel

Readers of my other blog may remember that our household recently acquired a cockatiel.

Chewie likes LEGO. Specifically, Chewie likes to chew all the tiny elements that look like brightly-coloured food.

Initially we thought Chewie was a boy bird, but a couple of weeks ago she started laying eggs. So she’s a Chewbeaka, not a Chewbacca.

Apparently tiels kept as pets will normally lay eggs a couple of times a year even without a male bird to fertilise them, but they say you have to let them sit on the eggs for around 21 days otherwise they’ll keep on laying trying to replace the lost eggs, and that’s bad for their health.

Anyway, wanting to build something that wasn’t a spaceship I was casting around for something to build when those long grey rotor blade elements caught my eye and made me think of tail feathers.

LEGO Chewie doesn’t look nearly as good from the front, somehow, but I’m unsure what I can do about it. I think it’s that the head is too wide, or possibly the body is too small relative to the head, but from the side it looks fine. Judicious selection of camera angles and you’ll never know. Shhh!

The wings move quite a bit but they aren’t the most stable or robust design, so they have a tendency to fall off. All hail AFOL building techniques. The head moves… incrementally. There’s a balljoint in there, but the visual requirements of building a cockatiel necessitated an extremely restricted amount of movement.

If I had any light yellow, a cockatiel build would have been the perfect place to use it, but I don’t. Even using regular bright yellow would have meant a very different, studdier and more angular build, but thankfully cockatiels are variable enough in plumage that the LEGOtiel is still basically accurate.

Into the Mesozoic…

I have no idea why Stegosaurus is my favourite dinosaur.

I mean, I love my heroes to be men and women of wit and skill rather than sheer mindless brawn. The mentor/wise counsel type characters are often personal favourites. How does that work to then turn around and love a dinosaur that has a brain about the size of a chicken mcnugget?

I suspect it’s my general liking for misunderstood creatures. The sloth, the warthog (so ugly it’s cute), the weasel (lithe grace combined with unparalleled ferocity)…

The Stegosaurus seems to fit right in with that.

(Hey! I just realised that this spellchecker knows the word “Stegosaurus”! That’s pretty cool!)

It’s been theorised that since the Stegosaurs’ bony back plates were attached to the skin rather than jointed to the skeleton, that they might have been far more mobile than previously suspected. It’s currently a controversial theory, as I gather, but I must say I rather like the idea that the plates might have folded down to protect the creature’s back and sides in combat.

Computer reconstructions of the Stegosaurs also show that they had far more flexibility in their vertebral columns and tails than most other dinosaurs – an adaptation for swinging that thagomizer around? Yes, there’s a specific word for the stegosaurs’ clusters of tail spikes. Because they’re that awesome.

So, extreme flexibility, special weapons, origami armour – this is sounding more and more like a sort of dinosaur Ninja.

I can respect that. You should, too.

And as for the small brain, maybe it just didn’t need a large one for its lifestyle. It’s a herbivore. How much brain does it take to sneak up on a tree fern? Dinosaurs are supposed to be related to birds, and avians seem to be quite capable enough even with tiny brains. No-one messes with an ostrich, and that’s a pea-brain.

~~~

So I built a Stegosaurus. The tail’s not nearly as flexible as it ought to be, and the legs are a little chunky, but I actually managed to stagger the plates a bit. And they’ll fold down over the back for that origami armour look.

Only Stegosaurus itself of all the stegosaurs has its back plates staggered. In every other member of the family they’re neatly paired. I have no clue why that is.

Rockin’ Out

Rock Monster

It all started with a big club-armed rock monster.

I’m afraid I kind of reverted to type for the big guy, neglecting everything I learned last time I built a mech about frames and advanced joint techniques. But in my defence, to a certain extent a silicon-based lifeform ought to be stiff and craggy, not slender and machined-looking.

And I think even with the limitations of balljoints rather than more complex built joints, I’ve achieved a properly silicareous, animated-boulder look, complete with asymmetrical body detailing and encrustations of lichen.

Having built the rock monster, though, the idea struck me to give him an electric guitar. A rock monster that digs rock music may be a bit obvious, but it’s funny obvious.

Rock Monster Rocker

And naturally, that led to a whole rock band.

The diminutive drummer was next. With that flattened, round head he looks like he’s the same type of rock monster as the big guy. Who I decided was the bassist, because making a rock monster with enough of a mouth to make a good vocalist with the remaining dark grey elements wasn’t happening. The drumkit’s fairly simple but you get the idea, and at this scale it’s not easy to build a drumkit at all.

And lengthening the big guy’s guitar into a bass left an opening for a lead guitarist as the final member of the trio. For the rock guitarist I succumbed to the siren call of part availability and used CCBS balljoint limb struts, despite the rather artificial look of it. I was out of small trans neon yellow elements for eyes, too, so the guitarist’s eyes are pink. Maybe she’s a rock chick, I thought, and promptly built her a plant ponytail. I think she still looks craggy enough to be a living boulder, but perhaps the differences are those of gender. Der Stein; die Steinin.

Lastly, of course, a small group of knightly heavy metal fans (including a goblin and a wizard, but alas, no dwarves or elves because I don’t have any) moshing in the audience. And stage lighting. And speakers.

I had fun building, in other words. I hope you enjoy viewing.

The Manticore

It’s been a while since I built something that wasn’t space-related. But between my large starships and my Neoclassic Space Vic Vipers and my Blacktron space trucks I’m pretty well spaced out right now, in a manner of speaking.

Mythological creatures are another favourite thing of mine to build, as evidenced by my several dragons (like this one, this one, this one and this one). So I thought I’d have a go at a manticore.

The manticore comes to us from late Greek mythology. It was believed to inhabit Persia and India, and is described as lionlike with a tail full of sharp spikes or quills that it shoots arrowlike at its enemies.

Greek legends don’t really feature the manticore in any tales; it’s one of the few beasts Hercules didn’t encounter. In that, it’s similar to the gryphons that the Greeks believed to inhabit the Scythian steppes.

Dungeons and Dragons and its ilk have interpreted the manticore as a lion with bat wings and a scorpionlike tail, and that’s the pattern I’ve followed. Sometimes the manticore is depicted with a human head or face, but I didn’t think I could manage that without it becoming cartoony.

Hybrid creatures like this are more difficult to pull off than dragons or sea serpents. Dragons can more or less look like anything and no-one can tell you you’re wrong, unless you’re building a specific dragon like Smaug or Saphira. Also, they’re usually scaly and armoured, which is simpler in bricks than shaggy or hairy.

But hybrid creatures use the body parts of specific creatures. If you’re building a creature with a horse’s body, it had better not look like a buffalo, because everyone knows what a horse looks like and how it differs from a buffalo or a gerbil or an Apatosaurus. You have to be really on your game to pull some of this off and make it look the part.

I want to say that lions are especially tricky because of the mane. Shaggy is one of the hardest effects to achieve in LEGO bricks, and trying to get any meaningful articulation around all that bulk of hair is quite a challenge.

My manticore’s head isn’t the shaggiest lion head with the biggest, most impressive mane, but it is recogniseably a lion. It was undoubtedly the toughest part of this model to put together, and I made several adjustments and alterations until I was satisfied. Bat wings and scorpion tails are easy, even if you don’t use preformed elements for your bat wings like I did. Articulated lions that look like lions – those are hard.

The bulldog stance with those wide shoulders is slightly unpleasing, but I really do need that extra bulk to account for the mane. And if you pose the creature right, you can hide that part fairly well.

I’m sure you could build a manticore in whatever colour you liked. It is, after all, a mythical creature. But while black would certainly look good and brown would be possible, somehow red seems the only reasonable colour for it to be. I just can’t see it in blue, really.

This is another creation that needed a base to stand on. Not only does it make posing the manticore to hide that slight bulldogness about the shoulders easier, but it also just seems to complete the model. I’ve gone out of my way to not define a scale for this beastie, so there are no shrines or temples or minifigures to give you an idea of how big he is. Also I don’t know how to make a temple look recogniseably Persian. There’s a suggestion of broken Greek columns underfoot, but those could be almost any size.

Anyway, here’s my manticore. Until next time, keep calm and brick on!

Everybody Build the Dinosaur

A 31058 Mighty Dinosaurs alternate build

31058 Parasaurolophus alternate build

Being something of a prehistory enthusiast as well as a fan of LEGO’s Creator Creatures line and inveterate MOCmaker, naturally the new 31058 Mighty Dinosaurs set was on my “must get” list. Not only does the set include instructions three fairly cool-looking dinosaurs (well, “two dinosaurs and one extinct flying reptile”, as my inner precisionist palaeontology nerd insists), but the set includes two awesome new element types including one I’ve been wishing existed for a couple of years at least, and there’s a free downloadable fourth set of instructions to build another dinosaur as well.

Other people have reviewed the set and done an excellent job of it, and that’s not really my purpose here. No; my purpose is MOCmaking.

There are instructions for four dinosaurs (using the populist definition) here, plus there’s an Ankylosaurus MOC alternate build floating around on the Internet with instructions, too. Can we build a sixth alternate while staying with the dinosaur theme?

I think so.

A therapod, a ceratopsian, a pterosaur, a sauropod and an ankylosaur gives a pretty good overview of some of the Mesozoic dinosaur-and-hangers-on families. What else could we build?

Stegosaurus being my favourite dinosaur (swapped out from my childhood fave Triceratops; how it ties in with my ongoing love of heroes with brain to love a dinosaur that barely has one I’m not sure), that was my initial thought. But the stegosaur family have too many plates and spikes and fiddly bits that I can certainly do, just probably not with only the elements from this set. 31062’s relative paucity of SNOTability makes those back plates a major headache.

Next I contemplated a pliosaur. It would round out the triad of land, sea and air nicely, even if the marine reptiles are more closely related to modern lizards and snakes than they are to dinosaurs.

While this is certainly a viable option, and I still might, I suspect that it would end up basically reprising the Tyrannosaurus except with a short tail and fins instead of legs. I can do it, but I’d like my first alternate of this set to be a little more creative than that.

No; I’m thinking Hadrosaur.

Put like that it sounds like an advertising jingle for a Mesozoic restaurant, but the hadrosaurs have a lot of possibilities. They’re a bit underrepresented in LEGO dinosaur sets, probably because most kids would rather build something with cool fangs or horns or tail clubs or flying ability. When your anti-predator strategy is to run like a rabbit or disappear into the swamp, most dinosaur-fan children are going to prefer something a bit more assertive.

Plus they were one of the most successful dinosaur groups of the Cretaceous period. There were quite a number of different “duck-billed dinosaurs” filling a lot of herbivore niches. Your T. rex has to have something to eat, right?

Parasaurolophus seemed to have a good balance between buildability and visual interest, so I started with that incarnation of the Hadrosauria.

Obviously the body shares some basic Bauplan characteristics with the T. rex, but I’ve done several things very differently, in part because I needed the elements elsewhere, but also because I wanted to differentiate it from the official set’s primary build.

And because I’ve learned from the last time I posted one of these alternate builds, when I didn’t have instructions for it, this time I’ve included a set of assembly photos (technically, “disassembly photos”; they were taken in reverse order after I had already built this). They aren’t quite as step-by-step as something the LEGO Group would write, but anyone should be able to follow them to assemble the Parasaurolophus.

On a cautionary note, this model isn’t nearly as robust as any of the originals, but the available elements left me little choice in the matter. It’ll hold together for display and gentle play, but You Have Been Warned.

Best of all, the set also allows you to make at least a couple of additional crests, allowing your Parasaurolophus to be a Corythosaurus or Tsingtaosaurus instead. Or probably an Anatosaurus with no crest at all.  I haven’t included pics of these.  You’re capable people.  Work it out.

Building a Parasaurolophus from scratch myself, I would have done a lot of things differently, but restricted as I chose to be to the elements of this set alone, I couldn’t always do things the way they logically needed to be done. The arms in particular were an unhappy compromise based on what bricks I had left over, but they more or less work. They’re no worse than those of the T. rex, but a couple more small balljoints instead of the clip fasteners would have gone down a treat.

Anyway, here follow those assembly photos I mentioned:

                          

Labyrinth of Steam

Theseus was my second favourite Greek hero as a child, right after the wily Odysseus. I liked my heroes to have a bit of brain rather than just sheer unstoppable brawn. I still do, in fact.

So it was Odysseus rather than that spoiled invulnerable brat Achilles, and the intelligent Theseus rather than the dumbcluck Hercules that received my childhood acclaim.

For all that, though, I always found the Minotaur difficult to take seriously as a villainous monster.

Offspring of one of those weird unions that the ancient Greeks seemed to love, the Minotaur’s mother was Pasiphaë Queen of Knossos, while his father was the divine bull given to King Minos by the god Poseidon. Half human and half bull, he was imprisoned in the original Labyrinth, because apparently King Minos really couldn’t handle the fact that he’d been cuckolded by a livestock animal. Really, Greek mythology’s kind of weird if you think about it too much.

“Moo??!! I’m offended!”

Anyway, as a monster, half man and half bull seemed a bit too much like just a big cow, really. A farmyard animal.

A born-and-bred suburbanite, my experience of farms was the occasional school trip as a younger child, and cows were about as nonthreatening as sheep. Or hamsters. The LEGO minotaur minifigure doesn’t really do all that much to improve matters either. I’m the minotaur. Moo! Not very cool or scary.

So why am I building one now?

Well, my recent birthday Bricklink spree and assorted presents resulted in several new bricks that I wanted to try out in a creation of my own (like the new light brick from the Creator set 31062 Robo Explorer, and two cowcatchers, and a blue Classic Spaceman in perfect condition, and finally some Bionicle/Hero Factory arm/leg shields in a colour other than red, and…).

Those cowcatchers really cried out to my steampunk side as mech shoulder pads, but what kind of steampunk mech? I had no real inspiration beyond that.

Maybe something else, then? The bat wings I bought to replace a broken piece (axle connector snapped off) would look good on a manticore… But red is really the only reasonable colour for a manticore in my head, and my last two creations were predominantly red. Done that. Boring right now. Perhaps something else.

My language-bending brain noted the similarity in the sound of the words “manticore” and “minotaur”. The word “minotaur” cruised through my brain until it crashed into and fused with the idea “steampunk mech”.

Steampunk mecha-Minotaur? Now we’re talking!

Such a beast would have to be Hephaistos’ creature rather than Poseidon’s, but that’s ok. Together with Athena, Hephaistos is about the most reasonable of the unruly, vicious and spiteful pack of hyenas that we call the Greek pantheon (Ares is a coward, Poseidon’s cruel, Hera’s vengeful and vicious, Aphrodite’s just nasty a lot of the time and Zeus can’t keep it in his trousers where it belongs and is a cosmic tyrant), but the forge-god would still make a pretty good adversary. Hephaistos was, after all, god of fire and volcanoes as well as metalworking and the forge. Not someone to cross on a whim.

To build a suitable steam mechnotaur, though, I needed to get past the cow thing. No-one’s going to be afraid of a giant mechanical Holstein cow. Then I remembered that the cattle of the ancient world’s mythic age were a lot closer to shaggy wild aurochs than sleek Guernsey milk-cow. I need to channel the corrìda and the ancient Ice Age wild ox rather than the Jersey milkmaid and the child’s toy barnyard. Aurochs were huge and black and hairy and unstoppable, the epitome of untamed strength and power.

Now with the right mental image to work from, I set to work.

On the scale I was planning to work, the huge feet from the Green NRG Dragon set were really the only choice if I wanted them to reasonably support the creature’s bulk, but they’re rather pawlike and don’t really resemble the broad cloven hooves of a bull. Still, I thought I could work this right. Add a couple of claw elements backwards on the outer toes and I think gives the right impression. And still leaves me four claws to use on a hand.

Black and brown with metallic silver and gold highlights gives the right darkling steampunk flavour, with a few red elements just to add a raw, bloody note. I’ve used this design of thigh (originally cribbed from the Jay’s ElectroMech set) on numerous creations before, but it really does the business on a build like this. The upper body’s really a little too heavy to be supported by those balljoints in more than a couple of positions, but clickstop balljoints wouldn’t do what I needed.

Steam boilers and smokestacks go on the back, where they’re more protected and out of the way. Those cowcatchers really do make wonderful villainous shoulder armour, and I’ve added some gear wheels to the upper arms just to make it fully clear that this is a Mechnotaur.

Only having enough of my newly-acquired clip-on claw elements in dark silver left for one hand, it seemed a perfect excuse to use the cannon in place of the other hand. One-hand-and-one-arm-mounted-weapon is almost traditional for humanoid mechs, but in this case I’ve tried to be a bit creative with its attachment, eschewing the normal single-element carriage mount in favour of something a bit different.

The head provided a great excuse to use one of my two new light bricks (duplicate Robo Explorers and a son enthusiastically ripping into box no. 2 and starting building – on my present! – before it could be returned) to make the Mechnotaur snort light-up fire from its nostrils. I managed to get its eyes to light up with the same light brick, too. And of course, the Bionicle spike elements from Cole’s Boulder Bike make excellent horns.

Finally, the body. It actually presented me with something of a dilemma: should I keep the original design concept and make it a mech, with a pilot, or should I turn it into a full-on robot?

In the end I kept with my original idea.  The idea I had for its torso armour as a robot will keep for the next major robot project.

A Mechnotaur like this needs a hero to oppose, though, and putting a single minifigure, even Batman, up against this big bruiser is liable to result in the hero getting what the old LEGO Message Boards used to euphemistically call “smashed”.

Did I hear you say “Theseus mech”?

So that the confrontation is properly heroic, the Theseus heromech has to be substantially smaller than the Mechnotaur. But that’s ok. The Mechnotaur is pretty huge, so almost anything I build as a Theseus battlesuit is going to be smaller.

My son’s got the Jay’s ElectroMech set built at the moment, and between that and the Mechnotaur itself there aren’t too many large-ball-joint-to-studs connector elements left. That determines a lot of the final form of the Theseus mech in and of itself. It’s quite a challenge trying to steampunk a Classical Greek mythic hero; I hope you like what I’ve done.

Ariadne’s thread has become a winch and rope; it seemed apt and was a good excuse to use that languishing element in a MOC. I’ve tried to both stay true to the grimy, sooty steampunk ethos and build in lighter colours than the Mechnotaur, hence the use of light grey.

This is also my first use of that diver’s helmet, which I’ve had since Christmas but haven’t had a use for yet.

And finally, some scenery. No major SNOTwork baseplates or what-have-you this time; the whole creation is way too big for that. But I’ve managed to generate enough to give it a sort of “grimy pseudoclassical” look.

Anyway, that’s the whole creation. And as I said last time, the sort of world that could give rise to a steampunk mecha-minotaur would make quite a good story. Steampunk Greek gods keeping the mortals in forced ignorance; a band of engineer-heroes rising up to fight the mecha-monsters and oppose the tyrannical gods…

Best of all, it means that if I continue to get inspired, there might be more than one creation in this.