Category Archives: Creatures

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.

The Ninja and the Dragon

We have my six-year-old son to thank for the fact that this is a whole diorama and not just a model dragon.

You see, as I was in the process of building it, he asked what I was making. Having just assembled that red and gold curve that forms the sinuous belly of the beast, and not having built the Ninjago Ninja of Fire his own dragon in a while, I replied “a fire dragon”.

However, as I built I found myself radically altering the orientation of that curved section from what I had expected, so that the dragon was to be posed standing upright. Upright is not a good orientation for a dragon that’s expected to support a rider, so I of course didn’t build it to seat one.

I finished the dragon model and showed it to my son. “I meed to change it a little,” he says, takes it out of my hands and removes a small piece of the back so that Kai can sit on it.

Not what I had in mind, son. Great thinking, but I don’t think this dragon’s supposed to have a rider.

After he went off to do something else I undid his well-meaning modification and thought about it. “Well, maybe it can’t seat a rider, but there’s no reason I can’t include Kai in the scene,” I mused, and posed the Fire Ninja on a rocklike element facing the dragon.

The composition, almost accidental as it was, struck me as a good one with great potential. “I can work with this,” I thought.

Now, normally any background scenery I build is something of an afterthought. Just enough to give the impression of some surroundings against the underside of a chessboard that I use as a photography backdrop. I’ve only really tumbled to the potential of scenery to add dimension and emphasis to a model fairly recently, and I rarely think initially in terms of a whole scene. In that sense I still build like a kid or a TFOL, I suppose. AFOL techniques, but all the focus is on the vehicle or creature. The household’s LEGO brick collection is such that it’s difficult to put together a really good SNOTwork base in a reasonable colour palette without rainbow inclusions, so my instinct is normally to go with the limited background option.

But in this case, I knew I had to do better. This had too much potential to skimp on.

Tan is both a good colour that works as landscape and a colour we have a halfway decent selection of 1xwhatever bricks in. It also goes well with a variety of other colours like dark tan, grey and brown to add just enough visual interest to be engaging without detracting from the diorama’s main focus, the encounter between the ninja and the dragon.

Add a small temple or shrine, because Eastern dragons guard temples the way Western ones guard treasure, and some foliage because my skills need work, and there it is.

What struck me most and triggered the whole diorama idea was the ambiguity of the composition. Is the dragon an adversary barring the ninja’s way to the temple, or a wise counsel instructing the ninja, or something else entirely? Is that even Kai, or is it just a generic ninja who likes to trim his mask with red? All of this is possible.

There’s a story here, and for once I’m deliberately not telling it. It would ruin the diorama to tie down its meaning.

If Only Construction Equipment Was Like This…

I’m not sure where the inspiration for this came from. Kind of a conceptual hybrid between LEGO’s City Construction subtheme and my own Classic Space elemental dragon, it’s effectively part bulldozer and part mythological creature.

With a wyvern bodyplan like the Green NRG Dragon set, this thing uses the feet from that one and builds up from there.

Yellow is quite an unusual colour for dragons, but for a constructodragon there’s really no other choice as a primary colour. The black lower parts also echo a lot of real and LEGO construction equipment, so that works too.

The thin neck seems to work surprisingly well on this model. Normally I’d be grousing about wanting it to be more muscular, but somehow the scrawny, almost cockatrice-like look seems apt, especially with the support-strut wings and the relatively small head.

The grabber-claw tail isn’t as fully articulated as I’d normally accept in a dragon tail, but for a constructodragon it really seemed like the only acceptable solution.

The caterpillar treads around the wing mounts were an afterthought, but I think a good one. It makes the whole thing much more constructiony and in keeping with the theme. They necessitated a fairly extensive rebuild of the upper body to make them work, and the body is now much higher and bulkier, but that also works as a constructodragon. And remarkably, it doesn’t make the neck look unreasonable.

Is this the start of a whole series of weird-themed dragons? Perhaps. Policedragon? Pirate dragon? Race car dragon? Underwater exploration dragon? Only time can tell…

Real Unicorns Don’t Poop Rainbows

Say “unicorn” and the image usually conjured is the epitome of delicacy and, well, girliness.

Hasbro and the irritating My Little Pony line are only partly responsible for this, but they certainly haven’t helped any: being horsy sorts of creatures, they’re in there, of course, along with pegasi, regular(ish) ponies and winged unicorns as well. It’s from here that we get the modern cliché of pooping out rainbows.

But look at almost any period European art and you’ll find its unicorns are gracile, impossibly slender beasts with long legs, spiral horns and blinding white coats. They symbolise innocence and purity, and they’re associated with virgins.

All this is largely informed by the narwhal tusks brought back by sailors and passed off as unicorn horn. Having a real bruiser of a creature with a horn like that just looks wrong.

Venture into Eastern Europe and Central Asia, though, and you may hear of a rather different single-horned beast. And this one sounds like a real creature.

The Russians call it Indrik, the Chinese qilin seems similar. It’s said to be huge, powerful, like an ox, a big bruiser of an animal. More like a rhinoceros than anything else.

As it should happen, there was an extinct rhinoceros species that might fit the bill: Elasmotherium. Native to Eurasia, it stood nearly as tall as a woolly mammoth at the shoulder, with what most scientists agree was a huge single horn, not on the tip of its nose like modern rhinoceros species but further up its face between its eyes.

It had long legs like a horse, too, and appears to have been adapted to a horselike galloping gait. African rhinoes can charge at 30mph; imagine something four times the mass with a horn almost as long as an adult man, bearing down on you on legs proportioned like those of a horse. What speeds would it be capable of, do you think?

Elasmotherium probably went extinct around the end of the last ice age, so humans definitely encountered it. And if it was going to hang on anywhere into recorded history, the wilds of north Asia is a fairly good bet for where it might, which would explain those Russian and Chinese (and Yakutian) stories.

Elasmotherium has been on my mind of late, as a story I’m writing features Central Asian Turco-Mongolian-type tribesmen riding around on them in a Russian-influenced steampunk universe. (“Why?” you ask? Because ice-age beasts are awesome, and steampunk is awesome, and Central Asia is somewhere I know a little bit about).

So anyway, I decided to build myself one.

My Little Pony this ain’t

I used a new technique for the lower legs, and I like the way it works even if the ankles are really too spindly. The thighs are suitably muscular.

The humped body form follows the French cave drawing believed to represent the creature (as the only known single-horned rhinocerotid in Europe at the time, it’s a reasonably safe bet), and the horn is up between the eyes where most scientists agree it should be.

Unfortunately even for an Elasmotherium it’s too monstrously huge to be minifig-scale, which is a pity but hardly unexpected. It’s not too far off, but it still manages to look too big against a minifigure.

I toyed with the various 1×1 tile eyes, but they all looked too cute and not fierce enough. Which again, was not unexpected. I went with trans neon orange studs to add a note of fire.

Anyway, here’s my real-life unicorn. Any mention of rainbows will result in the commentator being trampled in LEGO effigy.

…And I thought they smelt bad on the outside!

With this model I return to something I usually seem to enjoy: small models.

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Luke Skywalker riding a tauntaun is hard to pull off at minifig scale; at least, when you don’t have a proper tauntaun. I’m fairly happy with how this built one has turned out.

You’ve got to admire a creature that can handle Hoth’s extreme cold better than an unmodified speeder; remember that when Luke didn’t get back to Echo Base, they couldn’t go and look for him in their speeders because of issues with adapting them to the cold.

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We see that even tauntauns can keel over and die of hypothermia, but the fact that you can take a tauntaun out into weather that will ground a speeder is impressive. Hardy little beasts, these things are. And they don’t need much in the way of support infrastructure the way machines do.

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It’s actually one of the better features of the original trilogy. High-tech blasters and space fighters work alongside domesticated animals, which are used in the sorts of situations in which you’d be likely to find them: poor, lower-tech regions and situations in which you might not want to reveal your presence with too many high energy signatures.

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Anyway, here’s Luke on a tauntaun. Enjoy.

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Prey of the Wampa

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Star Wars‘ own Abominable Snowman, the Wampa, obviously, is native to Hoth. My guess is that it preys on wild tauntauns and whatever other lifeforms Hoth manages to support.

If its approach to Luke is at all typical, it’s an ambush hunter that has the interesting habit of bringing excess food back to a suitable ice cave and hanging it from the roof by freezing its feet into the ice.

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Also, it’s apparently none too concerned whether its prey is fully dead before dragging it home either.

If the legs seem familiar, it’s because I modified them slightly from the ice mech. They seem to work even better here.

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I think I’m most pleased with the horns. The forward-curving horns of the original are difficult to reproduce well in LEGO bricks, but I’m quite proud of what I’ve managed here. They’re technically coming from a little low on his head, but we ca work with that. Actually building these creatures isn’t easy, you know.

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I’m not sure if those legs aren’t actually too big and powerful, but you never really get a good profile of the creature in The Empire Strikes Back, so I’m declaring artistic license to interpret it how I like. Powerful legs for a short dash or pounce from ambush would fit the Wampa’s shown lifestyle.

What with me moaning last time that most Star Wars creatures aren’t all that well-thought-out, the Wampa’s one of the better ones. It actually feels like a real(ish) creature.

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