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Rapa Nui

Easter Island

It’s the beginning of Advent and the start of the runup to Christmas, so obviously I’m going to build Easter…

…Island.

I don’t have a lot to say about this, but I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.  The blank microfigures are proportioned just right for the stone heads, with their large head and short body layout.

The ship I’m also quite pleased with, though I think it would be nice if I’d been able to build a proper Polynesian catamaran or outrigger at that scale.  Alas, way too tiny.  Still, a regular sailing ship works too.

Aerial view

It might also have been better if the stone heads were all grey, but I’m too lazy and impatient to wait for Bricklink orders every time I want to build things.

Here it is, then.  Easter Island.  At Christmas time.

Enjoy.

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Becoming a LUG nut

I managed to make my second DFWLUG meeting over the weekend.

Having been the only one to bring a model to my first meetup at the Rogue Brick Builder’s Lounge in Fort Worth, I chose not to bring anything to this meeting at the LEGO brand store in Frisco, TX. I didn’t have that much built:- the Sphinx transport, the Patrick Moore rocket and the Lunar Excursor together might have made a suitably impressive display, but I’d already figured the big dragonship was just too delicate to transport well and broken it up for parts. Stuff doesn’t stay built long in these parts.

In retrospect I wish I had brought it. It wouldn’t have been a contest-able build (more on that later) but it would have been impressive.

Most of the people who were there were also at January’s meeting at Rogue Brick, but apparently this brand store is the usual meetup hangout, and there were several more attendees as well. And according to sources (one of the regulars who actually runs the store) this was a small crowd. Maybe this DFWLUG crowd is more of a community than I had realised.

Judging from the models brought, the group certainly has a higher level of building skill than I had realised. I should have expected that any group of adults committed enough to LEGO building to show up in person to a group aren’t going to be slouches in the talent department, but the timed build contest at Rogue Brick in January had lulled me into a sense of puffed-up superiority that was utterly, utterly false. There’s all the difference in the world between hunting through a 60ft jumble of all kinds of bricks to build something in a defined timeline and building something over an extended period out of your own collection that you know exactly what’s there.

The contest was a “MOC the Set” contest: take a $20-$30 (US) set and build around it or with it or something. But of course, I wasn’t at last month’s meeting so I knew nothing about it.

For future reference it seemed like a fairly decent gauge of the collective talent of the group. And I have to say it’s high. Far higher than I’d got the impression from the timed build contest at Rogue Brick, that I won handily. I guess that sort of contest is one that favours my building style because I build relatively quickly in a fairly unplanned, fluid manner and I’m fairly used to (and good at) the element-hunting process due to the semi-sorted jumble that is the household brick inventory. And I picked a smaller set to build around, giving myself time to build something more impressive. Naturally I won.

Give the others their due here, though. I’m pleased to announce that they’re better than I am. All of them, I think. This is the group I wanted; one I can learn from and be inspired by.

In multiple ways I’m realising that the January meeting was unusual. In a new location at more of a distance from the cluster of builders in the North Dallas/Plano/Frisco area (but closer to me :P), building while we’re there rather than bringing something, informal-to-the-point-of-anarchy in the then-absence of the figure who appears to be a de facto leader.

Now that I have a job which doesn’t require me to work on Saturdays every week (yay!), I hope to be able to make the meetings on a more regular basis. Apparently this “MOC the Set” contest happens every June meeting; next month’s contest is a free-for-all build whatever you like. Next month’s meeting isn’t until July 14th because of BrickFiesta on Independence Day weekend (that I can’t go to because family coming in), but when I got home I was inspired enough to build something that I’d like to take to it already. A month and a half is an incredibly long time to keep all those bricks out of circulation, though. We’ll have to see how my discipline holds up.

Much of the meeting was taken up with logistical details for upcoming events as communicated to the already-in-the-loop; I felt completely out of it, but that was probably inevitable. I wish there had been some sort of more formal introductions for anyone new, but a lot of people find that sort of thing embarrassing and awkward. Unfortunately I’m sufficiently introverted that the process of just informally finding out the names and spheres of building interest of an entire 20+ member group is way more intimidating.

On the other hand, maybe I managed to exude sufficient cool and confidence as not to look like a noob in need of introductions.

Well, I’ll be back next month, anyway. Maybe I can make more progress in actually getting to know some of my fellow members a bit.  It was definitely worth going back to, even if only for the inspiration for what I built when I got home.

Brightly-Coloured Tyranny

Blacktron bad, dark, evil, chaotic. Classic Space/Futuron/Space Police good, light, ordered.  It’s pretty much standard for interpreting the (lack of) story behind the shared universe of the earliest LEGO Space themes.

But what if we’re wrong?  What if the Blacktron are the good guys?

Yeah, they wear black and have ships with slightly sinister-sounding names like “Invader” or “Renegade”, but so what?  Batman wears black.

This would make the Space Police an evil instrument of tyrannical oppression, which TLG weren’t going to do back then (still probably aren’t) because they don’t want to be accused of teaching kids that regular street cops are villains.  However, we’re AFOLs, and we can do things with LEGO’s products and universe that might not be completely kid-friendly and inoffensive.  The idea of a tyrannical government and oppressive police force isn’t a new one and ought not to shock anyone.  It’s even been used in children’s literature: CS Lewis The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had the tyrant Witch Jadis’ chief wolf Maugrim be “Captain of the Imperial Secret Police”, to say nothing of more recent vintages like The Hunger Games.  I think even quite young kids can separate out police in a story from police in real life, especially in a fantastical or futuristic setting, though I can see where a toy company like TLG making their own, non-licensed merchandise with no tie-in to a particular story might not want to go there.

The more I looked at those old catalogue pictures and all the smiling happy faces of the astronauts, the more they looked like Lord Business’ propaganda in The LEGO Movie.  Maybe it’s because I spent some time in the former Soviet Union, but I was suddenly struck by a sort of New Soviet Realism take on the old catalogue images, complete with potential sloganry:  “Working Together For The Greater Good”, or “Bringing Peace To The Galaxy”, or “Be Happy; You’re In Spaaaace!”.  Unhappiness punishable by disappearance.

Developing the idea, I was originally going to call my Classic Space dystopia a “Federation”, inverting the moral polarity of the term that’s been adopted by fans for the Classic astronauts’ political unit ever since Reid and Goddard’s LEGO Space: Building the Future.  Possibly before.  But when I started thninking about how it might function and what the different suit colours represent (genetically determined caste system?), I had an alternative idea.  What if the “Federation” isn’t really a thing at all?  What if the different industries that make the civilisation work are divided up between massive megacorporations run by single corporate dynasties – a sort of Ayn Randian hypercapitalism gone horribly wrong, administered by the Yakuza and the Mob, with a Soviet-esque approach to information control?  Each suit colour might represent a different megacorporate First Family, with different industrial specialisms; for example the white suits might represent some kind of energy/resource extraction corporation – a TransOctan, if you will – whereas the blue suits might be an information-controlling media and communications giant – Bencom? – that manages the propaganda machine.

Welcome to the transcorporate brightly-coloured tyranny of the System.

In such a world, you can imagine that the Revolution picked black as a unifying colour, and countercultural, aggressive ship names that stand the shiny oppression and corporate propaganda of Dark Side rogue hypercapitalism on its head.  The Blacktron movement might be something akin to a political revolutionary movement – not socialism per se, because it’s the future and I’m sure they have new political movements.

Cernunnos-class Blacktron mech

I’m trying to write a story set within this universe, something like Peter Reid and Tim Goddard’s Building the Future, but kind of inverted.  I doubt the LEGO Group would fully approve of what I plan to do, but there are advantages to having no real plans to publish…

Like Reid and Goddard’s book, but unusually for me, all the action happens within the Solar System.  Even as a kid I usually interpreted the Classic Space theme as taking place on an interstellar level rather than merely interplanetary, but the requirements of story overrule.  However, my version of the Solar System is a lot more extensively colonised, including outposts on Mercury, asteroid bases carved into the interior of Pallas, nitrogen and hydrocarbon harvesting on Titan, and of course the usual suspects on the Moon, Mars, Ganymede and in orbit.

Exploring the surface of Mercury: the “Hellsuit” mech

Earth has an orbital ring (which I may try to build a section of): the Bifrost Ring.  I was initially considering multiple space elevators until a friend suggested this concept, and after doing some investigations I have to say I’m sold.

Massive megacorporations control everything, which is less cool, but that’s the essence of this universe.  There is a rebellion in the shape of the Blacktron Alliance, because stories thrive on conflict and I’m not going to leave the future in the hands of evil corporations if I can help it.

And the very first ventures beyond the Solar System are taking place:

Orion One transsolar explorer flying by planet Futuro

One Brick On Top Of Another

12×12 is a nice size for a scenery square or room corner. It’s big enough that you can exhibit repeating patterns and really give a sense of a larger area, but small enough to be manageable.

I originally built this to showcase my Classic Space robot George, only to realise that light bluish grey wasn’t necessarily the best background colour on which to display a light bluish grey robot. Honestly, you’d think I was slow-witted or something.

Still, I was quite pleased with my scenery-building, because it’s something I always feel like I suck at or don’t have enough pieces for. And once you have a piece of scenery you can use it for numerous purposes. It doesn’t have to be a display case for any one thing in particular.

 

The three 2×2 jumper plates with which I graced the top of the walls were originally placed there because I couldn’t find enough flat tiles just then, but then I realised that it would be quite easy to build a stackable second storey to be held on those 3 studs.

And thus began the modular stackable space scenery.

The balcony storey came next, because I liked the idea of an upper walkway overlooking some cavernous room of which this is but a corner. At only 3 studs wide, there’s not a lot of room up there, but it does its job. I think my favourite part of it is the handrail, actually.

After that I built a roof, and then, running low enough on 1xwhatevers in light bluish grey for more walls, I decided to shift colours and go to a rough-hewn dark bluish grey mining area.

So now I have 3 storeys of stackable modular space scenery, ready for whatever I want to do with them…

Sarlacc Reimagined

“You will be taken to the Dune Sea, where you will be thrown into the Pit of Carkoon, resting place of the all-powerful Sarlacc. In his belly you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.”

I remember the original Sarlacc. The one before they started messing around with their digital remastering. Before that weird three-way snapping jaw got added in the centre of the Pit of Carkoon.

I’ll grant you that it’s a fairly cool piece of CGI. There’s no doubt but that the modern Sarlacc is a much more actively threatening beast, better suited to engage the fear circuits of modern filmwatchers.

However, there was something subtly ominous about that original yawning pit ringed about with inward-facing teeth, at the bottom of a conical sandtrap over which those unexpected tentacles roved. It didn’t need to snap at you. It was just there, ready to swallow up anyone and anything that stumbled within range. Huge. Deadly. Implacable. Mysterious.

Sarlacc, my version

If other people can reimagine iconic Star Wars vehicles in LEGO bricks, then I surely feel free to do the same with the Sarlacc.

My version locates itself in a rockier area, presumably bedded down in a fissure in the ground. Its tentacles are more cephalopoid than the flattened, elongated meat sacks of the original, equipped with rows of suckers that may well parallel those of the Colossal Squid, bearing rings of razor-sharp shearing teeth, or maybe even their own miniature mouths.

Watch out for the horrible pointy teeth

Like the original, I’ve kept the inward-facing teeth, but I’ve removed the extraneous protruding snapping mouth within. Sarlacc is the ultimate sessile ambush predator; a cross between a sea anemone, an ant lion and a carnivorous plant. Poking its head out to snap at potential prey when something comes by is a sure way to alert them to their danger and make them flee out of range.

My version’s ring of teeth will actually bite down, though. That’s reasonable.

How the Sarlacc attracts prey is an open question. On a desert planet like Tatooine, I’d suggest that extruding just enough moisture to be carried on the wind would be a suitable lure. Everything’s going to be attracted to the smell of water. And along comes a herd of wild banthas, down to the “water”, and into the mouth of the beast. Or maybe just the smell of dying beasts does it, attracting Tatooine’s scavengers the way the La Brea tar pits attracted direwolves.

Anyway, here’s the Sarlacc, as reimagined by me.

Rogue Squadron

So, I went to the DFWLUG meetup.

For my first ever in-person meeting with other AFOLs I was understandably a little nervous, but it turns out I needn’t have been. Everyone was perfectly friendly, of course, and it was delightfully informal, even to the point of a bit anarchic if you want the truth. The DFW LEGO Users Group doesn’t really seem to have much in the way of a formal leadership or structure, so I fit right in.

This month’s meeting took place in a new “building lounge” in south Fort Worth called Rogue Brick, and it was the first time I’d been in one of those that wasn’t at the local LEGO Discovery Centre. The proprietor seems like a great guy, and to my surprise (and earning him my abiding respect) I got to see one of his builds in person that I know I’ve pinned on Pinterest and I think I’ve seen on Flickr as well – part of a large modular Jedha City display model.

I don’t know how typical Rogue Brick is – it’s my first time seeing one of these “building lounges” – but it’s a really cool place, and their “pick-n-mix” boxes may have just become my favourite ways to buy bricks. Just $10 got me the chance to pick through the 3’x30′ LEGO building table and fill a housebrick-sized box – a steal if ever there was one in terms of value for money.

The DFWLUG group said on their website that “participants are encouraged to bring something they are working on, or have built”, and I faffed around for most of last week trying to decide what to bring. As it happened I needn’t have worried as I was the only one who brought anything, but that gave me another worry as I had no-one else’s models there to compare myself with. No-one’s saying very much; are they impressed or just being polite?

Much of the meeting time was taken up with a building contest organised by Rogue Brick’s proprietor. Given an assembled LEGO Star Wars set, our task was to build a display background for it.

From an AT-ST, a Clone Turbo Tank, a Landspeeder, a Yoda’s Jedi Starfighter, a Y-Wing (one of the regulars is a big fan of Y-Wings and got to this before I could), the Ghost, a Wookiee Gunship microfighter and some sort of diminutive Stormtroopers’ walker (maybe one of the Imperial battlepacks?) I picked the Landspeeder, because it’s not that big, and proceeded to build some of my best ever rockwork to make a snippet of the Jundland Wastes on Tatooine.

Y-Wing attack run. I like the guy that did this’ taste in space fighters!

Clone Turbo Tank on desert terrain.

Kashyyyk beach scene. This guy’s a relatively new builder and he can already do trees at least as well as I can.

Desert terrain; presumably Tatooine or Jedha. I love the Stormtrooper falling off the edge into the sinkhole.

AT-ST attacking a village. Yoda defending. I don’t think the woman who built this is much of a Star Wars fan, so this is pretty good.

Indiana Jones tank chase. One guy didn’t arrive until we were all building, and I guess there weren’t any more built Star Wars sets to do a backdrop for.

The Ghost refuelling/service station. Apologies for the blurred image; I was on my phone and didn’t realise it was blurry until later.

Jakku. I love the nearly-dead foliage and the way it looks like dust being kicked up at the back.

And it turns out I might be one of the better builders there, at least when it comes to timed contests, and I won!

My winning entry. Really quite proud of that rockwork.

I totally wasn’t expecting this when I decided to go; I thought I’d be dealing with all and only elite builders of the sort who exhibit at conventions and I’d be some sort of near-noob who’s only just tumbled to SNOTwork baseplates.

The Clayface Splat Attack set that I won is now built, and makes a highly MOCworthy addition to the household brick inventory. We didn’t have more than a handful of bricks in the dark flesh that’s the set’s primary visible colour, and now we have a load of interesting elements in that colour and several in brown. Plus all the fun stuff I picked up in my goodie box.

There was perhaps not quite as much getting-to-know-you talk as I might have liked, but it was a really fun time building together. And winning is always nice.

I look forward to the next meetup, and to Rogue Brick’s Grand Opening next Saturday, with another AFOL contest after the time I get off work, which I shall try to win again, though the flyer says it’s architecture-themed which isn’t my usual thing. Maybe I’ll build a stone circle on Mars or something…

Would You Like To Connect To This Network?

Thus far in my building as an AFOL, a lot of the time it’s seemed like I’m over here doing my thing more or less independently, while somewhere over there there’s a network or actual community of other AFOLs with whom I have little to no contact.

You know. The recognised names. The ones that all seem to know (or at least, know of) each other. And I’m over here, in a box virtually by myself. This blog has a following, but it’s a very limited one, and I’m too recently on Flickr and Pinterest to have acquired anything like a following or the connections I’ve found I crave.

This separation isn’t really by design, but if it’s anyone’s fault it’s mine. Natural introversion and a whole string of personal hangups mean that I’ve never felt any good at the whole meeting people and making friends thing, and it doesn’t seem to make much difference if that’s online or in person. And long job hours and limited online time mean I don’t have that much time to devote to it anyway. I don’t get to practice much.

Needing more in the way of connections, though, this seems to be the year I go in search of community. Yes, I would like to connect to the network.

Yesterday I discovered a Neoclassic Space Group on Flickr. “Yay! Cool!” I thought. “This is exactly the group for me!” And I clicked on the link.

And quickly became dismayed by the snobby, snooty tone of the group intro and all of their elitist building guidelines: Like the grudging “Bley is acceptable if you really can’t do old grey” – I mean, who can do old grey in any reasonable amount these days, unless you inherited a load of bricks from the ’80s? And no-one calls it “bley” unless they are being dismissive of the newer LEGO colour.

That and the fact that the last group message seems to have been more than a month ago put me off. Not exactly the wellspring of community I’m looking for.

Now, I’m prepared to believe that I’m reading more into their rules and building guidelines than is warranted, but any time anyone starts laying down the law in microscopic detail about what does or does not constitute NCS, I start to get a bit hostile.

I know what Classic and Neoclassic Space creations are supposed to look like. I cut my teeth as a builder on the originals; they were what taught me to build and made me love LEGO. And yes, I know that old grey and what gets dismissively referred to as “bley” look absolute crap when mixed. I know that if it has too much dark grey (old or new) or a wrong-coloured (like trans clear or smoke) windscreen element it’s not going to look fully authentic.

But I’m not into snobbery. If you’re going to tell me that because I use new grey throughout rather than old grey that I’m some kind of second-class builder, then “this is not the community you are looking for”, to paraphrase Obi-Wan.

LEGO fandom is supposed to be about having fun and spurring one another on to new heights of building, not farking snobbery over which type of grey you use in your NCS builds. Loosen up, people!

Now, I’m new to the Flickr LEGO community. They may legitimately need to institute guidelines over what does and doesn’t constitute Neoclassic Space so that they don’t get swamped by people who truly don’t have a clue and don’t care to get one. They may be nice, friendly people who have had to word their guidelines like that to stop random posts of not-NCS Star Wars ships. But I’m not interested in joining a snobby, elitist group just so half of them can look down their noses at me because I use the new version of one of the primary theme colours, and that’s what’s coming across in the Group introduction.

The Neoclassic Space group on Flickr isn’t my only iron in the fire on this new quest for network, though.

At the start of this past week I discovered DFWLUG.

For the uninitiate, this is my local LEGO User Group, or LUG; apparently a community of other AFOLs in my local area. Their webpage is little more than just a vague introduction and a calendar of events, but they say that anyone is welcome to join so long as they do so in person at one of their regular meetups.

The first one of these this year is on Saturday. And I’m going.

I’m very excited at the prospect of meeting other adult builders, but I’m quite nervous at the same time. They say you’re encouraged to bring something you’ve made or are working on, so I’ve been thinking all this week about what to take.

I might have taken Toothless if I hadn’t broken up the house part of the build to make my black neo-Ice Planet interior flooring.

I thought about taking my rocket, Rocket, ROCKET!!!, but my wife’s comment was that “it’s cool, but it’s not your best spaceship. Why don’t you build something new? Something like that spacewhale, or a really good dragon?”

Normally that’s a good idea. I’m always happy to build something new. But of course, it was at that point that all building inspiration left.

So the first model I’m taking to show other builders is my slightly edgy, very mildly risqué Ice Babe 2.0 “Baby, It’s Cold Outside“.

To a builders’ meet in Texas, spiritual home of religiously-motivated prudery. And topless bars.

The Ice Babe model is neither of those, so I hope it goes over well! I also hope it’s not embarrassingly small or simplistic, and that I can make a decent enough showing not to feel completely intimidated by everyone.

I hope these are the communities I’m looking for, because it’s what I miss most about the LEGO Message Boards even though it was mostly a load of kids on them.

We shall see.

Since making the decision to take “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” I’ve got inspired for a new large-ish NCS space freighter, but I’ve made too little progress so far for it to be worth bringing along, and I know already that I’m going to need at least some of the blue slopes from the outer wall of “Baby” in building it. And now I can’t break up the model yet to get at them.

I will report back on how it goes, my friends. Hopefully with pictures, but I’m not sure of the etiquette of these things. I’m coming in nearly clueless as well as being a complete unknown to them, whoever they are, but I can’t even find any way on the site to say “I’ll be there!”

I may be going in blind, but I am going in. We’ll just have to see how it goes…