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2017 Retrospective: Top 10 Personal Best

2017 has been a good year for my building. Looking back in this blog’s archives at some of my creations from the beginning of the year in preparation for this post, I’ve been amazed at how far my building technique has come in only a year. My photography seems to be improving as well, with the use of card backgrounds, less blurriness and a slightly more professional touch. I still use the same 7-year-old digital camera (which might need an upgrade as it has about the same pixel resolution as my mobile phone) and I could do with a better approach to lighting, but my earlier pre-background build photos look very strange to me now.

Anywho, I thought it would be fun to do a sort of retrospective as my final post of the year, picking out my personal favourites among my builds of 2017.

The usual disclaimers apply. This is my personal list of favourites, and I’m using a fairly idiosyncratic set of choice criteria. These are not necessarily those builds that are technically most innovative or most complex. I’m sure I’ll miss some builds that other people remember with fondness; I did have a hard time restricting the list to just 10.

My other difficulty was ranking them. Some of the relative ranking of these builds is completely arbitrary, and there are several models in joint eleventh and twelfth place that could easily have made the list and didn’t; among these are the Beagle space rover, the steampunk SHIP Dark Pegasus and the Blacktron A’Tuin-class dropship. Other Honourable Mentions: the Ice Cruiser Zycon-IX and the Starfleet Voyager 2.0.

On the list are two dragons, two other creatures, four spaceships and two mechs, which is a fair summary of my building style right there.

Ready? Here we go…

10: Buck Rogers Thunderfighter (August)

You might have to be an AFOL to fully appreciate the nostalgia value of this, but I’m still quite proud of my work on this. Incorporating minor Technic functionality (something I stink at), this LEGO version of the iconic fighter from the early 1980s’ Buck Rogers in the 25th Century represents one of only a handful of times I tried to produce a LEGO model of a spaceship someone else designed.

Among a selection of models that did or could have won a place in this list, the Thunderfighter’s Technic functionality shut out the A’Tuin-class Blacktron dropship with its complex hexagonal construction to come in at number 10.

9: Blacktron Thunderbolt (September)

 

While neither of my two SHIPs made the Top 10 list, two of my sub-SHIP large space vessels did. Both my first SHIP Liberator and to a lesser extent Dark Pegasus suffered from being overextended and a little contrived in order to meet the 100-stud base requirement of SHIPhood. When I forget about the 100-stud limit and just concentrate on having fun building a large model I seem to end up with a better class of product.

The Thunderbolt was more primitive in technique than my other large spaceship on this list, but I do like the way it looks. And that humungous dinosaur-killer railgun on the front seems perfectly suited to the Blacktron.

8: Elemental Dragon of Classic Space (January)

I was actually amazed to discover that it was this year that I built this thing, as it seems like it was ages and ages ago. Nonetheless, there it is in the January 2017 Archives, and it just had to make the list.

I had unreasonable amounts of fun with building this, combining as it does two of my favourite things to build: dragons and Neoclassic Space. I still love the whole concept of a Classic Space dragon, and it might be fun to reprise the idea with the more advanced building techniques I use these days almost a year later. It’s the unremarkable technique on this, in fact, that means it’s stuck at no. 8, though I considered it my best model for a considerable part of the year and it’s still one of my lifetime favourites.

7: Centaur (December)

Pulling out all the stops in built-figure modeling, my recent centaur edges out the Classic Space elemental dragon by virtue of superior technique and the way it’s proportioned. Centaurs are challenging no matter how you build them, and I flatter myself that this might be one of the better ones at this scale. It even has a suggestion of abs.

6: LEGOtiel (October)

Easily winning the “Longest I’ve kept a model in existence before breaking it up for parts” award, my LEGO cockatiel lasted almost a full two months on the current-model display shelves. Cockatiels aren’t a common subject matter for building, if the all-seeing Eye of SauronGoogle is to be believed, and I was pleased with how this turned out, even if it was a little more fragile and a little less poseable than I’d really have liked. Completely different to my usual run of overgunned Blacktron cruisers and ferocious mythical creatures, but a lot of fun to build. Our real-life cockatiel was a bit freaked out by it, though.

5: Spacewhale (August)

Highest-placing large (50+ stud length) ship on the list, the Spacewhale is a mere 24 inches long: practically a minnow next to the 37 3/4 inches of a 100-stud official SHIP. It’s by far my most complex and advanced sub-SHIP, though, with proper internal framing, a pleasing shape, a unifying colour scheme and lots of interesting details.

And it marked my first ever construction shots and multiple-day build, something I still find difficult to do.

4: The Ninja and the Dragon (April)

April’s The Ninja and the Dragon was one of the first times I paid almost as much attention to building the scenery as I did to building the model itself. Along with the fact that this has an upright-posed Eastern-style dragon (both less common than the alternatives), I think it’s the subtleties that really make this build. There’s a story there, and for once I’m not going ahead and telling it; the model works all the better for the lack of having its meaning tied down.

One of my first explorations of LEGO-as-art as well as LEGO-as-a-hobby, this comes in at number 4.

3: Repainting the House Divided (November)

Part of the attraction of Classic Space, apart from the nostalgia of it, is its innocence and everyone-getting-along spirit, and I tried hard to capture that in this build. Definitely the build on this list with the most overt “message”, it still works as a model because the message is subordinate to the build, which works on its own terms.

I still find the idea of a Blacktron and a Classic Space astronaut falling in love charming, and the way they are getting ready to repaint their own section of the corridor in each other’s colours adds a nice layer of subtle message to the build.

It’s also my highest-placed scenery build and the only model on this list that doesn’t involve some kind of vehicle or creature (Minifigures don’t count).

2: Mechnotaur (May)

“What? Nothing steampunk made the list?” I hear you cry.

Well, at number 2 we have my birth month’s steampunk mecha-Minotaur, without which the list would definitely be missing something. If I’d built a better Theseus battlesuit to go along with it this might have made number 1, but the unfortunately leggy and slightly messy Theseus suit dragged this down. That and the fact that the balljoints in its legs wouldn’t support the weight of the body to allow me to pose the Mechnotaur fully.

I still love the concept behind this, and as far as story potential goes it’s the Mechnotaur that takes the number one spot. It’s a minotaur. It’s a mech. And it’s steampunk. What more could you want?

1: Q-Mech (November)

Number 1 is last month’s Q-Mech, from my self-invented Classic Space universe rescue service Q-Tron. Advanced techniques in the cockpit shield attachment, enough greebling to look functional without being overwhelming, an original concept… This model has almost everything in it that I like. And it’s space. And it’s a mech.

Given the amount of people that have pinned this since I shared it on Pinterest, other people seem to favour it as well. Mind you, they also like the Isstrebitel’-1 and my model of the Vostok space capsule, and those are considerably further down my personal list.

The Q-Mech has since been broken up for parts, of course, but it’s still my favourite of my builds of 2017, and probably of all time (so far).

My next build, however, will hopefully eclipse the Q-Mech and really show what I can do. The answer to “what’s your best build?” is nearly always “the next one”, after all.

~~~

And that’s the full list. I’ve provided links to the original posts (the titles) so you can trip with me down Memory Lane.

It’s been a good year for building, and a whole new year of possibilities is just around the corner. Who knows what I’ll be looking back on this time next year?

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Christmas 2017

Merry Christmas from this corner of the universe!

Our household didn’t have a massively LEGO Christmas this year, but we acquired several new sets including a number of element types we didn’t have before.  I’m looking forward to the MOCmaking possibilities!

The Master Falls and Darth Vader Transformation sets were mine, and our first LEGO game (Minotaurus) and CCBS figure (Baze Malbus) were acquired by my son, also a second-round Nexo Knights set, one of the small Classic boxes and the Ninjago City Chase set.

Some of the pre-Christmas MOCs will return to this blog tomorrow or the 28th, and I may even review one or more of my sets from a MOCmaker’s perspective.

A belated Merry Christmas, friends, and a Happy New Year!

Cave Inimicum

Apologies for the awful Latin pun, but I was running out of creative post names.

Stretching my rockwork and vegetative skills here, I had a picture in my head of a cave with a tree growing over the top of it, and I decided to try and build it.

The result is some fairly decent small-scale rockwork and probably one of the two best trees I think I’ve ever built.

The cave opens up at the back as a sort of play feature (ish), though there’s really not a lot here to play with. There is a fairly large crystal and half of a skeleton back there, though, adding some visual interest.

I don’t have a huge amount to say about this build, but here it is. A small chunk of scenery from someone who seldom builds such things.

Battle Stations!

Scenery-type builds aren’t something I do a lot of. I have some ambitions in that direction, but I always feel like I’m stymied by lack of appropriate pieces.

Flight deck of the Liberator

This model, for instance, would be vastly improved by being properly tiled, but my stocks of tiles are small and not conducive to paving large areas. Getting hold of a supply of 6×6 and 2×4 tiles is on my list, but it has to compete with all the other stuff I want. It hasn’t happened yet.

You’ll remember a few posts back me raving about some forgotten starship from an obscure 1970s TV show? Well, I decided to have a crack at building the flight deck.

Flight deck of the Liberator

Even the show’s terminology was different. Star Trek would have called it the bridge, but in Blake’s 7 it was a “flight deck”.

Its unique auditorium-like design with those various control-station pods was dramatically unlike anything Trek ever came up with, but it works. Every one of the crew has a good view of the viewscreen and can see what’s going on, unlike TOS’ Enterprise, which had several of its bridge crew facing banks of flashing lights or staring into microscope-like devices.

Alternate, more head-on view, from Season 1 Episode 13, when the crew acquire ORAC.

In addition, Liberator‘s flight deck doubles as a sort of crew lounge area. With most essential functions under the control and direction of the ship’s computer Zen and a vastly smaller human crew, the lounge element meant that there was a place where the crew could relax and still have near-immediate access to the ship’s systems in case of sudden attack by Federation pursuit ships.

Also, Blake’s 7 was produced by the BBC in the ’70s, which means very low-budget for such a high concept, and putting the crew lounge and the flight deck together meant they only had to build one set.

Anyway, I built the Liberator‘s flight deck, including the armatures of the manual flight controls at the central pilot’s station. It’s rather studdy, and it should really be dark brown or black rather than grey, but it’s ok for a first try, I guess.

Minifigure head and hair availability mean that I need to build the non-racially-diverse early crew, with Blake (in the lounge area), Avon (lower right), Vila (lower left), Jenna (pilot’s station), Cally (upper right) and Gan (upper left). The fact that Gan’s still alive and the box-of-flashing-lights supercomputer ORAC is on his table place this in the first half of Season 2, because ORAC wasn’t acquired until the final episode of Season 1, and Gan was killed off halfway through Season 2.

Tnat’s another thing Blake’s 7 did better than the original Trek: main characters weren’t immortal, and deaths had consequences. It took at least 2 episodes for the crew to get over Gan’s death; they weren’t all happy-happy back-to-normal the next week, or later that same episode, like when a Trek redshirt got offed in order to prove the situation was serious. Of course, Liberator‘s crew were civilian rebels rather than pseudo-military like Starfleet. I guess you could argue the Redshirts signed up for getting shot at or eaten by monsters.

Each of the crew had a sort of role, but not exactly an official military-type one like Communications Officer or Chief of Security. They were more like the team roles in a quest party in an adventure game, but not quite that, either. Blake was the group’s leader (though Avon would occasionally dispute this, he usually followed anyway), the one with the real burning desire to take down the Federation. Avon I described before as an anti-hero; he was also the crew’s resident computer genius. Since most of the crew were convicts, he had been placed on the shuttle to the penal colony for a massive computer fraud scheme. Vila was an expert thief, something of a loveable coward, and smarter than first appearances. As he said, “there isn’t a door I can’t open, if I’m scared enough”. Jenna was an expert pilot and Blake’s other chief lieutenant. She’d been sent to the prison planet on a smuggling charge, and was one of the more committed to Blake’s cause. There were fan rumours of a romance between her and Blake, but you never saw anything on screen. Cally was an alien and a telepath (though she looked human), and the only one of the original crew not acquired from the group sent out to the penal colony Cygnus Alpha. And Gan was the team’s muscle; a massive bruiser of a guy, but one with a cybernetic “limiter” implant that made him unable to kill.

Anyway, here it is. The flight deck of the Liberator. I hope you like it.

Liberator

“Activate the force wall; clear the neutron blasters for firing”

The Liberator

Though now obscure beside better-known sci-fi like Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr Who, for a certain generation of British science fiction fans Blake’s 7 was unforgettable.

Chronicling the adventures of a band of freedom fighters with an advanced starship from which to fight, Blake’s 7 was a sort of Robin Hood in space, and the Liberator was the crew’s iconic starship.

The original Liberator. One of the most unique starships in any sci-fi TV show

Though plagued with continuity errors by comparison with Star Trek, Blake’s 7 scored over its high-budget American rival in one important respect: its characters and their conflicts.

If you were expecting a Trek-style humanist utopia of morally-advanced beings in brightly-coloured uniforms and miniskirts, Blake’s 7 had all the subtle power of a kick in the teeth. Their Federation was an all-encompassing tyranny complete with information control, kangaroo courts, penal colony planets, drugged populations and fanatical militaro-police agents using cybernetically-rebuilt “mutoid” troopers to hunt down the remaining dissidents.

And the good guys were sometimes just as bad. The eponymous revolutionary hero Roj Blake could be fanatical and sometimes callous, and would not hesitate to stoop to buying the help of organised crime in his crusade against the corrupt, oppressive Federation. His effective lieutenant Kerr Avon was possibly one of the first antiheroes on TV: a man who prided himself on being self-serving and mercenary, who would hit women (this was the 1970s. You didn’t do that) if they deserved it, and whose obsession with logic formed an interesting Dark Side counterpoint to Spock.

If Star Trek was the philosophical offspring of the 1960s’ hippie flower-power era, Blake’s 7 had more in common with the punk movement: dystopian and anarchic.

Flight deck of the Liberator, showing the original crew: (clockwise) Vila, Cally and Jenna, Gan, Avon and Blake. The hexagon of blinking lights is the flight computer, Zen.

The Liberator was a lovely ship, though. Looking from the outside as though it had been designed by angels, it was run by that peculiar British sci-fi institution: a sentient flight computer with enough personality to warrant a name. Zen – his personality matched his name – managed the ship’s flight systems and self-repair system, allowing the crew of six to effectively fight a battlecruiser that was in all probability larger than the USS Enterprise.

The engine section was a weirdly-pulsating glowing green ball, a design that makes just as much sense as the Trek universe’s warp nacelles but makes some people think the back of the ship is the front.

I’ve done the best I can with the trilateral symmetry and the sphere of the time-distort drive, but there are several details I wasn’t able to get right. The ball is technically too big, and try as I might I couldn’t get enough small green and yellow bits in to completely fill the ball.

The backs of the outer pods are square, and the wider forward sections are too short, but this is recogniseably Liberator, bane of the Federation and hope of the inhabited galaxy.

Beowulf’s Bane

Grendel-class Interceptor

A strangely-shaped little space fighter needs a strangely-shaped name, and the monster from the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf seemed to fit the bill. Best of all, with that name it can then be based off a space carrier mothership called Grendel’s Mother.

I’ve been concentrating on microscale ships like the Thunderbolt and the Zycon-IX recently, and it seems like I haven’t built a minifigure-scale space fighter for some time.

The Grendel-class interceptor came about almost accidentally as I played around with a triangular cockpit design. I liked the emerging result enough to put some engines and descending wings on it, and the final ship is as you see.

Though it has a Classic Space astronaut for a pilot, it’s obviously not a Classic Space creation, but that’s ok.

I envisage this as a fast orbital-based interceptor, able to dip down into the atmospheres of planets but designed to dock rather than land. With those big engines out at the craft’s extremities, I imagine it’s quite agile, but it gives the impression of not being a very forgiving craft for rookie pilots trying to manoeuvre.

I don’t have much else to say about this, but I find its unusual shape and verticality quite pleasing.

When I Consider the Heavens

I haven’t been super-public about it on this blog, but I’m a follower of Jesus and I take that seriously.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of what I believe that I’ve kept quiet; I have another blog in which I talk (at length sometimes) about faith and life as a Christ-follower from the United Kingdom now living in Texas. This blog is my LEGO blog; it really isn’t for discussions about matters of faith.

Then, too, up until now I’ve kept my LEGO-building and the expression of my faith fairly well separated.

By that, I don’t mean that I somehow become a pagan when I approach my household’s bricks. I’m a firm believer in “whatever you do… do it all to the glory of God”. Including my Benny side’s desire to Build A Spaceship.

No, what I’m referring to is that I haven’t built any creations that could be described as overtly Christian so far.

This is partly a matter of not having the minifigures. I’ve seen the stop-motion Easter Story sequences and Nativity scenes people have put together, and there’s no way I could remotely do anything like that because I don’t have any Roman soldiers, or Castle peasants that could stand in for Judean civilians, or livestock animals (beyond two black horses), or anything like that. Qui-Gon Jinn makes a questionable Jesus (and he’s the closest we come to the “generic Protestant Jesus” look around here), and I’m no better off for the Apostles or King David or Jeremiah or Abraham.

But it’s only partly a matter of minifigure availability.

In the back of my mind, I can’t get away from a certain amount of disquiet over the notion of building a MOC of the Crucifixion or another Scriptural scene, especially one with Jesus Christ in it.

I’m not going to tell you you can’t, but for me at least, I’m extremely hesitant about the implications of a poseable plastic Jesus.

You see, my Jesus isn’t poseable. He’s not someone you can flex and pose the way you want Him, much less someone you can reconstruct however you please. I don’t want to communicate that idea even secondarily, especially not in a build of one of the core events of my faith. The Deeper Magic From Before The Dawn Of Time is not something to be trivialised by building it in LEGO bricks.

And that’s what it would be, because despite every beautifully sophisticated AFOL creation and LEGO artwork using bricks as a medium, there remains a very real perception in the wider society that LEGO is a children’s toy and its creations are fundamentally trivial.

I’ll grant you that all the stop-motion LEGO Easter Story narratives and faith-based creations I’ve seen have been reverently done and come across as true expressions of faith, but I’m just iconoclastic enough to be deeply uncomfortable about doing that sort of thing myself.

But seeing as how I have neither the minifigures nor the will to build Scriptural scenes, that rather puts the kibosh on a lot of the potential expression of my Christian faith in brick form.

Or does it?

A wise woman once told me that there’s no such thing as an intrinsically Christian symbol. Crosses, fish, bread and wine… All of these have Christian associations and meanings, but they also might mean something else. A cross-shaped grave marker might represent death, not Christianity; heck, the X-Men use a cross of a sort as their symbol. Fish could be symbolic of many things, including the sea and ships or the Philistine god Dagon. Bread and wine similarly might represent simplicity, or the fellowship of friendship, or something else entirely. That’s the thing with symbols. They can be used in all sorts of ways and have all sorts of meanings.

And in the same way, it doesn’t have to be a cross or a scene from the Bible’s narrative portions to be a Christian creation expressing Biblical faith. Or in other words, it’s ok to be a bit less blatant and a bit more subtle and symbolic about it.

After all, how many times do I decry the tendency of Christian media to make the point with a sledgehammer? Jesus’ parables show us you don’t need to have labels all over everything.

Thus, this creation.

When I Consider the Heavens…

I’m calling it “When I Consider the Heavens”, an expression of wonder at the Creation and awe in the Creator that works with what I have to build with, doesn’t shout it’s message through a bullhorn unless you know the title, and works as a build independently of its symbolic meaning.

It’s not a huge leap forward in terms of technique or actual building. I’ve used all of these building techniques before including the 3/4 sphere. But metaphysically, this is an important milestone. A recognition that my LEGO building is not separate from my faith, but can be a vehicle for its expression too.