Category Archives: Mechs

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.

Muscle Mech

I don’t often build “white period” Classic Space creations.

What I call the “white period” isn’t really a specific time period within the Classic Space proto-theme as such, but refers to the group of secondary colour palettes that ran alongside the “classic” blue/grey/trans yellow. Predominantly white with trans blue windscreen elements, these secondary palettes used blue or grey or sometimes black (like a sort of proto-Futuron) as secondary or accent colours.

It’s not that I don’t have the bricks for it. Between my store of trans blue screen elements acquired from early Bricklink forays and the white bricks garnered from the Sensei Wu dragon, various Elves and Friends sets of my daughters’ and other sets, I’m quite well off for the bricks I’d want in the colours I’d need. No, it’s not that I can’t, more that I prefer the classic blue/grey/trans yellow colours. If I’m going to build a white space creation with blue windows, normally I’ll go ahead and add some black accents and call it Futuron.

What I call the “white period”, then, is something different and out of the ordinary for me. And out of the ordinary is almost always a good thing.

In the vehicular triad of spaceships, rovers and walkers, my last two builds (aside from the little Independence Day windowsill ornament I built) were a Blacktron rover and a Classic Space Federation spaceship. It must therefore be time for a mech.

Still in Classic Space mode (otherwise known as “my normal building mode”) due to enthusiasm over the newest additions to my personal small Astronaut Corps, I elected to build a Classic Space mech, but in the 6929 Starfleet Voyager’s white colour scheme.

Due to some discussions with a friend over the alternate-universe possibility of a heroic Blacktron rebel alliance and a tyrannical Federation, I’ve built something that I think is vaguely ambiguous. It’s heroic white and has a friendly round windscreen, but it also has that hand laser-cannon and cuirass-like chest pseudomusculature. I could see this in either heroic-defender-of-freedom or nasty-instrument-of-oppression role.

The round chest plates are actually one of my favourite parts of this. They were fairly easy to do, but they go along with the windscreen and the upper thighs and some other parts in a whole round-element visual subtext.

As far as naming goes, I’m calling this the “Titan Explorer Mech”, running the ambiguity for all it’s worth between the classic peaceable Federation nature of “Explorer” and the slightly oppressive sound of “Titan”.

I’ve used a green astronaut as the pilot, as the only one of my six (2 red, 2 white, 1 blue and 1 green) Classic astronauts not in use in either the Starfleet Voyager update or the Independence Planet windowsill ornament. I ought to have another green astronaut which I got with the Exo-Suit, but Pete the Robo-Turtle Feeder went missing over 2 years ago before we moved.

Anyway, in the various astronaut suit-colour representational schemes, green astronauts have been variously represented as being mech drivers, support workers, environmental techs and rookie spacemen, but here I’m using him as some sort of space marine or trooper. Or whatever interpretation you want to put on it. After all, they’re only in one set: the Neoclassic Exo-Suit mech. All you can say from that fragmentary evidence is that green suits probably aren’t starpilots.

And just to reverse roles in keeping with my alternate-universe “brightly-coloured tyranny” interpretation of the Classic Space and Blacktron themes, I have the armed Classic Space Titan mech attacking the unarmed Blacktron space truck, defended by a couple of Blacktron spacers who are probably only a couple of stomps away from what the LEGO Message Boards euphemistically used to call “smashed”.

~~~

Planet R-19 was supposed to be a quiet and relatively safe place for the Blacktron rebel alliance to transship goods. Off the beaten path even in the vast, newly-incorporated Ogel Sector, a ten-a-centicred airless world with only a catalogue number and not even the dignity of a proper name, it was well outside the tyrannical Federation’s usual Space Police patrol routes.

Pete Goddard’s intermodal hauler was the first one to arrive at the rendezvous point, where the four containers would be magnetically clamped together into a single heavy-lift vehicle and launched on to one of the Alliance bases on Battraxus or Provine or Caliban III.

For security, Pete didn’t know what was in his own hauler’s container. The four due to be mated together here at Point Sigma had been snuck in to various locations across the dry maria of R-19 and trucked across the dusty basins to the several rendezvous. Pete hoped the others would arrive soon; right now there was only the limited company of the two Blacktron fighters that the Alliance had posted here for security at Point Sigma.

Pete shrugged at the thought. He understood the need for security; the oppressive Space Police were not known for their gentleness with anyone objecting to the iron rule of the Federation and its happy-happy propaganda. But Avi and Sasha were only armed with Centaurian P72 bolt throwers; what were they going to do against a Space P olice Striker-class cruiser?

Or a Titan mech.

The white-hulled Federation “Explorer Mech” – and wasn’t that a joke? – stomped out from the shadow of a big crater less than a klick away and with a full view of the Blacktron haul truck and the two diminutive defenders. A Coreworlder design used as one of the supposedly-civilian Federation Space Service’s main combat mechs, it was theoretically in service all Federation worlds but somehow never seen outside the Core Worlds and Old Earth. Which was particularly strange as the official blurb on the Titan claimed it was designed for the exploration of potentially dangerous new planets, not established Federation Grand Council members like the Core Worlds.

As the Titan mech approached, Pete watched even the brilliant white disappearing into the razor-sharp shadows of the airless world and wondered who had slipped up in the Alliance’s security, that this transshipment point had become known to the Federation.

Or had anyone slipped up? If there had been a security breach, shouldn’t the place be crawling with Space Police stormtroopers and their euphemistically-named Protector-class battle rovers, not just one lone benny in a Fleet mech?

Avi and Sasha aimed their bolters while Pete sat frozen in the limited protection of his hauler’s roll cage. He had nothing to fight with; no defensive guns on his hauler, only a civilian-grade laser more useful for long-distance signalling than combat. Unless something changed in the next twenty seconds, it was about to be all over for Pete Goddard…

Tiny Giant

Microscale is fun.

I particularly like the very tiny creations that repurpose the smallest elements as something huge.

This is something along those lines. An immense building-sized monster mech attacking the city, battling a pair of valiant tanks defending. All rendered in tiny elements and resulting in a creation that can fit in the palm of a hand.

As a mech, I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.

As an exploration of scale, it’s doubly amusing.

Horse de Combat

Ok, this is rather silly.  But people have made LEGO mechs piloted by frogs before, so I’m in good company.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a battle mech piloted by a horse before.

I  said once before that I’ve had a long-standing ambition to use the horse element in a spaceship, so perhaps this is where the inspiration came from.  But I really have no idea.  Just another of the weird ideas that pop into my head.

They’re Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace

Well, I’m back from my trip back to Dear Old Blighty, and in celebration of the event I’ve built a royal guardsman.

Complete with bearskin hat, red coat and trousers with the stripe down the sides, he doesn’t look all that happy about the prospect of guarding Her Majesty.  Maybe he’a a closet republican.

The hands would be better in either white, for white gloves, or tan for flesh tone.  But I’ve ended up with dark grey, which is buildable and can stand in for gloves.  Likewise, the sword’s a little wonky-looking; maybe one of those long sword blades with the bar attachment point would look better, but I think this works well enough.

I think my favourite part is managing to approximate the red and white cockade on the side of the hat.

 

Blue

I mostly built this little mech to showcase my newly-acquired blue Classic astronaut.

It also includes several other new-acquisition elements, such as the windscreen and the blue Bionicle-style arm/leg shells, but basically it’s a stage on which the blue astronaut can strut his stuff.

Now, some Neoclassic builders eschew the use of any astronauts except the original red- and white-suited ones. I guess this follows the general pattern set by Peter Reid and Tim Goddard, but even they employ yellow-suited minifigures in LEGO Space: Building the Future, so I see no reason at all to have to follow that arbitrary rule for it to be an “official”, “allowed” Neoclassic creation.

Besides, the Classic Space theme included them, didn’t it?

And anyway, I still don’t have a red or a white astronaut to use.

The question of what the different suit colours represent is one of the most endlessly-revisited questions of the whole theme. With no official story for the theme and no official explanation at the time, it was left up to the individual to do their own interpreting.

Since then, various classification schemes have been floated, one coming from the LEGO Ideas page which is operated by LEGO Group staff, and a different one on the Brickset forum which purports to be from Classic Space theme designer Jens Knudsen.

The fact that both of these have good grounds for being “official”, yet are different, kind of tells us there isn’t an official version and even the LEGO Group of the time didn’t have anything in particular in mind.

To my mind, both schemes have some nonsensical features. “Black astronauts are spies” is my particular “bang your head on your desk” initiator: Spies have their own uniform so you can tell who they are? I ‘ve always thought that black is a very Security colour myself.

The Reid/Goddard scheme has the advantage of simplicity: red astronauts are pilots, white astronauts are ground crew. You can make a reasonable case for this division from the earliest sets, if you’re prepared to classify a lot of the open spacecraft as suborbital “skimmers”, but again, that’s an arbitrary “make it work” fix that is called into question by the names of some sets, like “442 Space Shuttle”.

“Red astronauts are pilots” is borrowed a lot, though, because almost all of the really spaceshipy early Classic Space models included at least one. That makes the engineers the white-suited ones, however, and white just seems a really lousy colour of suit for the grease monkeys. I usually reverse that classification, with the white astronauts being the pilots and the red astronauts being soldiers or engineers.

The yellow astronauts are often assumed to be scientists, again following Goddard and Reid. My first yellow astronauts as a kid came from the 6930 Space Supply Station set; what are scientists doing running the lunar equivalent of a warehouse and pump station? It seems like a waste of talent.  Also, “pilot” red-suits in a ground station?

The yellow astronauts should be something not very cool, because as a kid the yellow-suits-on-yellow-skin made them look too much like they were weirdly naked. With their introduction in the Supply Station, maybe these are the quartermasters’ corps. But it makes little sense for a quartermaster to be piloting the nifty, zippy little Xenon X Craft, either.

However you do it, you’re going to run into nonsense that’s difficult to justify of explain, because I suspect suit colours were really assigned on the basis of “this would be a good set to have this colour astronaut in”.

The green suits from the LEGO Ideas Exo-Suit set are usually assumed to represent mech pilots, but this doesn’t sit well with me. Firstly, “mech pilots” seems wrong when everything else that goes on land has a “driver”. Truck driver. Car driver. Golf cart driver. Train driver. Therefore, “mech driver“, surely?

Secondly, it’s a weird distinction to give the operators of legged land vehicles their own colour suit and is contraindicated by Classic sets like the Astro Grappler from back when green elements came in baseplates and plant parts and that was it.

From the little story fragment in with the Exo-Suit set, I first assumed the green suit indicated that Pete and Yve (the minifigures) were rookies. It was only on connecting with the LEGO community and talking to those who I thought actually knew that I felt constrained to bend to majority opinion.

Having a special colour for rookies makes sense. In the construction industry, we typically mark new hires with some kind of particular mark. In my company it’s a yellow hard-hat rather than a white one. This is because a construction jobsite is a dangerous place and a new hire may or may not have a lot of experience in recognising and avoiding the inherent dangers. It’s a quiet way of saying “let’s keep a protective eye on these guys so that they’ll be around to go home at the end of the day”.

Deep space is at least as inherently dangerous as the worst example of a construction site; it would make sense to mark out the rookies, for everyone’s safety.

But what are the blue astronauts?

Blue astronauts should be something cool, because as a kid I always identified with my blue astronaut minifigure. “Commanders” or “Soldiers” are the semiofficial options, and I’ve already got the black suits as Security forces. The camo effect of black makes better sense than a bright colour like blue, though if that’s the case then they need to make grey suits to be the soldiers.

I like the idea of blue suits being commanders.

You can make a reasonable case for it from inferences from the Classic sets: as far as I can recall no Classic Space set ever contained more than one blue astronaut, and small vehicles like the Astro Dasher would make a pretty good commander’s runabout. The LEGO Group also have a history of commanders or central figures being included in small pocket-money sets: witness the Ice Planet Celestial Sled with Commander Bear.

Besides that, it makes sense for commanders to have their own suit colour. Space is a hostile, dangerous environment; the sort of place where it is vitally important to be able to tell at a glance who is in charge.

Anyway, now I have a blue astronaut again. I’ve actually taken the unprecedented step of placing this minifigure off-limits to my kids. Most of the time I have no problem with the general pooling of the household brick collection, but even with the thicker chinstrap, those original helmet elements are fairly fragile. Not as fragile as the first thin chinstraps, though. Those things had a half-life of about 12 days under real-world conditions.

And I really don’t want my first real Classic Spaceman minifigure acquired as a post-Dark Age AFOL getting lost or stepped on and broken. Those things aren’t all that cheap.

I think the mech would look better with a modern helmet and something other than a classic smiley as a face, but I wanted to show off my new minifigure. And that windscreen element; I do find mechs with properly-enclosed cockpits to look that much more finished, somehow.

I’m looking forward to using that windscreen in plenty more Classic Space-type creations. It’s a nice shape with a lot of possibility.

Right now I’m contemplating a neo-Blacktron Battrax update, for instance. Stay posted…

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.