Tag Archives: Lego building

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.

 

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Recombination

LEGO isn’t just a construction toy. In a sense, it’s a mode of thought.

The particular genius of LEGO bricks, of course, is that they can be anything. The model on the box is a starting-point, but any kid will tell you it’s after that model gets broken up that things get interesting.

Now, I know that there are apparently people (even kids) who build what’s on the box, play with that (or display it) and never ever break it up, but to me, this has always been incomprehensible and missing the point. I’m sorry, people, but you’re doing it wrong…

The whole genius (in its original sense of “presiding spirit”) of LEGO is that any and all bricks can be put together in any and all ways to build (almost) anything you can conceive of.

Part of this among the various FOL (Fan Of LEGO) communities is the urge to use different elements in unique and interesting ways. Banana elements become claws, ninja swords find new use as windscreen wipers, people make mechs piloted by a frog, a monkey, a roast chicken…

I personally have a long-standing ambition and intention to somehow use the horse element in a spaceship model. Whenever I finally build my SHIP (Seriously Huge Investment in Pieces), don’t be surprised if it’s in there somewhere. If I can make it work. And I’m probably not building a farming colony ship transporting livestock.

It’s not just individual elements, though. Whole official themes have partaken of this recombinant spirit, melding different genres together to come up with something new and exciting. Nexo Knights is the most recent example (though I still think the fusion of Castle and high technology could have been handled much, much better), but the old TimeCruisers theme did it to the max.

As a kid on the cusp of TFOLhood at the time, I always thought TimeCruisers was a bizarre theme. I was always fanatical to the point of OCD about colour matching and making things look right in my creations, and the TimeCruisers sets were the weirdest hodgepodge of elements and building styles imaginable, with Town and Castle paraphernalia jammed into some kind of not-sure-what-it’s-supposed-to-be vehicle with Pirate and Spaceship features and a semi-randomised near-Rainbow Warrior colour scheme my admittedly OCD colour sense thought was vile.

But if any theme before the LEGO Movie truly expressed the genius of what LEGO is, TimeCruisers was it. It’s the same sort of wacky laser-armed icecreamtruckplane or chomping trashcompactorspaceship idea, only perhaps even more so. It’s like the Master Builders’ submarine from the movie, with different sections of the vessel expressing the different personalities involved.

Recombination. Combining various diverse elements into a new unified whole. Isn’t this what LEGO is all about?

The recombinant mode of thought that LEGO building encourages and promotes is highly sought after in some careers. Enough that the LEGO Group developed the “Serious Play” concept using LEGO building to encourage out-of-the-box thinking in office and career environments.

For a lifelong builder, Serious Play is probably superfluous. Anyone who spent the bulk of their childhood with a carpet of plastic bricks on their floor has probably been marinated long and deeply in the central concept: things don’t have to go together any one way.

While for me, TimeCruisers still pushes things a little further than I really like (too many styles and elements mashed together and not enough finished unity of the final model), I do like to fuse genres together in new and interesting ways.

As an AFOL re-entering the world of LEGO building and discovering LDD and other digital building programs, one of the first things I built digitally was a series of Classic Space dinosaur-inspired vehicles (They look primitive and studdy compared to more recent creations, but I’ve grown considerably as a builder over the last two or three years). My username on the old LEGO Message Boards, Saurianspacer, reflected this fusion: dinosaurs (saurian) and Classic Space (spacer).

More recently, there have been the spacedozer, the Elemental Dragon of Classic Space, the Constructodragon, and my forthcoming project, the Mechnotaur.

Then, too, as an aspiring writer the impulse to take two or more genres and see what happens when we insert Tab A into Slot Þ307ð serves for a lot of inspiration, and it’s something I usually enjoy reading as well. Eric Flint and Ryk Spoor’s Boundary series is a sort of answer to the question “how can we get dinosaurs and the planet Mars into the same story without rewiring the universe’s fundamental workings?”; Dan Simmons’ Ilium and Olympos dyad does the same for space robots and Greek mythology.

Part of me wonders whether these authors were LEGO builders as kids; it’s a very LEGO thing to do.

For me as an aspiring writer, the part I have the most fun doing is the worldbuilding. Again, that’s very LEGO, and very old-school 1980s-theme LEGO too. The long-running Classic Space theme had no stories or characters or very much definition of any sort. You built a world; what the LEGO people were doing in it was up to whatever you wanted at the time. It wasn’t like it is now where there are plotlines everywhere and named characters and TV shows and story. It was building worlds first, then deciding what the story was.

Take my current building project, the forthcoming Mechnotaur. Building a giant steampunk mech shaped like a minotaur is a classic example of my LEGOlike tendency to recombine genres. But then my love of worldbuilding kicks in and I get inspired by my own creation for the background for a tale. Or at least, a story-world; I’m currently in-progress on a story attempting to fuse steampunk with ice-age beasts and Russian Central Asia and I really don’t need to get into another complex story at this time.

What kind of world could make a steampunk mecha-minotaur reasonable? Well…

I’m tentatively calling it “Labyrinth World”. A place in which a race of self-appointed “Gods” use a combination of immortality/longevity treatment (“ambrosia”?) and high steampunk technology to keep the mortals in forced ignorance and slavery.

Though united in their oppression of the rest of humanity, the gods bicker and fight among themselves and against the remnants of their predecessor Titans, near-gods who also kept the mortals in forced technological ignorance but did not claim godhood or desire to be worshipped. These struggles provide openings for the Prometheus, a struggling band of mortal technologists who oppose the tyranny of the so-called gods using the left-over mechanical constructs of the Titan War and their own engineering…

It sounds like a cool story. In fact, it sounds like a story much cooler than I can actually write; I’m sure I’d ruin such a high concept with mediocre characters and crappy dialogue and a wandering plot. Like I said, the worldbuilding is the part I most enjoy; I write because I get to develop a world, and I write sci-fi/fantasy because it gives me the most scope for doing so.

And so I come around to the realisation that what I really want to do is not so much write stories as it is build worlds. I want to play at being the Creator. I want to create the story-universe, the milieu, the Wookiepedia of the fusile interior of my brain… And I think I’m pretty good at it, too.

There’s got to be a way to make money off this weird skill I seem to have, but I’m blowed if I can tell you what it is. Author might be a fairly good match if I can develop the rest of the craft, but what really springs to mind is “LEGO theme designer”.

In the meantime, here I sit in the real world with a heavy-construction day job and a strange mind…

Steam Wars

Microscale Star Wars steampunk. I love LEGO.

Steam AT-ST

Steam AT-ST

Stam AT-AT

Steam AT-AT

                          I started out just seeing if I could build a semidecent steamAT-ST at a scale at which the white ice-cream-ball elements work for steam clouds. This (to the left) was the result.

Ok, the feet are too big and the legs attach in the wrong place. Work with me here; it’s hard to model something that small and still end up with something vaguely realistic.

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Then I decided to build a steamAT-AT at the same sort of scale.

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They aren’t quite at the same scale as each other; the AT-ST would have to be about two thirds its present size for that. But the pairing sort of works.

SteamAT-ST feet would feel like a better visual fit, but the mechanics wouldn’t work with some of the structural decisions I made elsewhere in the model. But the whole looks suitably steampunky while remaining recognisably an AT-AT.

All-in-all, an enjoyable bit of microscale work.

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Beetlemania is Back

Next to spaceships, I think creatures are one of my favourite things to build.

I’ve built dinosaurs, owls, giant ground sloths and other creatures in the past, and the first LEGO set I bought myself as a married adult was the Red Creatures Creator 3-in-1 set.

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There are no major new piece uses or fancy building techniques used in this big red guy, but I’m quite pleased with the effect nonetheless.

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Beetles and insects are quite satisfactorially LEGO-able, what with their jointedness and hardshelled nature. It occurred to me that now that my stock of those curved shell elements has increased significantly, I might use them as insect leg parts.

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This large predatory beetle is the result.

I guess with that horn on his carapace that he’s some kind of rhinoceros beetle relative, but rhinoceros beetles are herbivorous and this guy’s jaws make him a predator.

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I’m significantly pleased with those jaws, actually; the multiple articulation of them is one of my favourite pieces of creature functionality that I’ve made in a while.

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After I finished Big Red, I looked at the abdominal carapace and wondered if I could articulate that, just like real beetle wing cases.

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The smaller dark blue guy was the result of that experiment.

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He’s not quite as finished as Big Red; in particular his abdomen under the wing cases is a little underbuilt. But there was no way to make properly-scaled folding wings that would fit under those covers; I decided to forego the wings.

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Little Blue’s antennae were going to be all-black, but I was having trouble locating the black “finger” elements so I used gold instead, and decided it made a pleasing contrast to the rest of the predominantly dark blue and black beetle. Big Red doesn’t actually have antennae, because for the first half of his construction he was going to be a spider, and spiders don’t have them. That’s also why he appears to have more than two eyes.

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It’s not the most seasonal of builds, but I’m singularly uninspired for autumnal and Thanksgiving-y stuff. Have some beetles instead.

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Oh, Had I Wings…

100_5437The Eos-class is an advanced spatial flyer known for its variable-angle wings, foldable landing gear and agility in transatmospheric operations.

Named after the ancient Greek goddess of the dawn, the Eos-class’ wings give the craft utility in atmosphere as well as in vacuum, where the three magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters give it a high speed and excellent responsiveness.

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Some versions of the class are unarmed, but the most common version incorporates a quartet of proton cannons for asteroid cleanup and antipiracy work.

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The Eos is usually employed for scouting duties or as a transatmospheric superiority fighter, where its agility can be maximised to good effect.

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I think the part of this I’m most pleased with is the folding landing gear. The drop wings are nice, and the cockpit works well with the generally curvy look of it, but the landing gear? Mmm.

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I’m showcasing my new blue Classic Space logo element (I just bought three from Bricklink), so now I can make Classic Space ships with the appropriate emblem.

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I really ought to get some more trans yellow window elements, but they’re so darned expensive.

Out of the Kiddie Pool

As some of you will be aware, I’ve been on the LEGO Group’s site for a while now (as well as here), posting creations on their galleries and writing stories on their Message Boards.

It’s a great community in a lot of ways, and I’ve made some good friends there. Yet it’s not without its downsides.

One of the big ones is the amount of control you agree to cede to the LEGO Group when you post something. If you post a creation on their galleries, for instance, the fine print says that they have arrogated to themselves the right to use that creation however they wish, up to and including basically copying it wholesale in a new set without any recompense for the creator at all.

I’m not sure I like this very much. I build primarily for my own amusement rather than trying to make the next Ideas set, but this seems a little extreme. I guess it’s there so that they aren’t subject to intellectual property disputes if someone builds a similar model or uses a similar technique to one they have in the pipeline. Still, it’s a little scary to consider how many rights you don’t have if you use their site.

The other main downsides mostly concern being an AFOL (Adult Fan OLEGO, for the less-informed) in a forum full of kids.

Don’t get me wrong; I said it’s a great community and I mean it. I’ve got some very good friends on the Message Boards, mostly among the TFOL community, though it’s absolutely forbidden to let out anyone’s real age so I can’t be sure. It’s mostly a pretty good place, all things considered.

But the LEGO Group’s site is designed to be child-friendly and there is no lower age limit on getting an account and starting posting, and this can cause friction for an AFOL like me.

On the galleries, this is one sort of issue. There’s an awful lot of stuff that gets posted that’s, for want of a better word, crude. Not crude in the sense of indecent potty-mouthedness or Donald Trump, but unrefined. Primitive. “Spaceships” that consist of six plates stuck together with a minifigure perched on top, or LEGO-themed drawings that look like the sort of thing my art teacher always handed back and said “now finish it”.

Of course, there’s also stuff that isn’t, but you do have to wade through the primitive to find the exquisite. And I don’t actually mind most of the time. Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and genius master-builders don’t spring fully-formed ex nihilo overnight. A six-year-old making “cool spaceships” that look like something an eight-year-old would do is remarkable rather than rancorous; besides, if they’re having fun, who am I to tell them they can’t?

No, it’s the Message Boards where the fact that it’s a kid-friendly place has bitten me on the butt a few times.

See, I couldn’t say that on there, because it’s heavily moderated and they’d reject it out of hand. And probably rightly so. As a parent, I approve of the desire of the LEGO Group to maintain a site that’s a safe haven for children where they aren’t going to be exposed to anything objectionable. But as a writer and AFOL, it does have a tendency to bite me in the arse.

It’s never because I’m intentionally putting out “mature content”; it’s always because something I said that I considered basically innocent triggered a Mod rejection.

The classic one for gathering rejections for me personally has been killing off characters in my stories. I was quite disconcerted in my first story when I had an episode rejected with the abrupt and slightly unhelpful message “No killing and death in your stories”.

The issue was not that I vaporised a minor character’s spaceship with an alien death ray; it was twelve episodes or more later when I mentioned in passing that he had been killed.

“What?” I exclaimed. “I already killed him on-camera, as it were! You’ll watch while I do it without saying a thing, but then balk at me mentioning that he didn’t walk away when his ship became a cloud of atoms? Absurd!”

The arbitrary nature of the rejection and the disconnect between what fan users are allowed to post and what the LEGO Group themselves will endorse by making a theme out of might have turned me off of the whole Message Boards if I hadn’t been in the middle of a story. I mean, Jurassic World has people being eaten alive. Star Wars has armies of people being mown down with laser beams and entire inhabited planets blowing up. Harry Potter has a strong “death” subtheme with the Philosophers’ Stone, the Horcruxes, the Deathly Hallows. And yet “No killing and death in your stories”. 😛

After I calmed down again, I realised that if they’re going to have the Boards be safe for all ages of kid and maintain their traditional nonwarlike stance, they have to be a bit arbitrary and blanket about it. Not everyone’s going to be able to off a character gracefully and in a more-or-less kid-appropriate way, and if they let me get away with it, they have to let everyone. Otherwise JediMasterWicket (or insert other crazy made-up username) is going to justifiably complain that “You let him do it!”

But still, it’s illustrative of the hoops you have to jump through. “Kill” is automatically disallowed, except for a very few minor uses like “kill the lights”, but “smash” is acceptable instead, despite how much messier it sounds. “Stab in the back” as a way of saying “betray” is unacceptable, and the mods suggest the completely illogical “stab at” as an alternative despite it not meaning the same thing at all. I’ve since developed ways of saying “we’re all gonna die” without using “kill” or “die”, but the very fact that I have to is rather artificial. I’m doing an end-run around the rule, because the way it’s written and enforced is arbitrary to the point of silly, but I am disobeying the spirit of it, and I will continue to do so. It’s hard not to. Without conflict, there is no story.

For all that, though, I am a parent, and I do wholeheartedly approve from that perspective.

Actually, it’s the presence of so many kids on the galleries that’s getting to me right now.

As I said, objectively I don’t mind at all. I’m glad there’s a place where any kid of any age can post their creations. I’ve told my five-year-old son that as soon as he can read and write he can get his own account, and then you’ll see some cool primitive models!

But as an AFOL, is it really the best thing for the LEGO galleries to be my primary, near-sole creation-posting forum?

Perhaps not.

I’ve been toying with the idea of joining MOCPages for a while now. Technically I have an account, if I can remember the login, but I’ve always held off from posting anything, partly from nerves and partly from logistical reasons, so the account has languished unused and even unvisited for months.

Nerves, because MOCPages is a much more capable and adult forum, and when you’ve been a big shark in a kiddie pool, it’s a little nerve-wracking to venture into the deep ocean and swim with the fishies that are even bigger and much more badass at building than you. (Yes, there are plenty of people on the LEGO Galleries who I consider equal or superior builders, but they are a minority of the whole, not the majority of the community).

And logistical reasons because I don’t have a lot of time. Ten-hour work days six days a week are pretty normal for me, especially in the summer, and that leaves me with a lot less time than I’d like for getting on and off of multiple websites in the 30ish minutes of online time I have in the morning before I have to go to work.

(I can write during work hours, in the five-minutes-here, couple-minutes-there sort of way that my day runs between checks of the ground elevations for excavation machinery, but I have limited posting time because I’m marginally tech-averse and I have the dumbest dumbphone on the planet).

I can cope with one posting site, semi-intermittant blogging and my minimalist relationship with Facebook. I have not been confident I can do the same if I add in other sites.

Recently, though, I’ve been getting less and less contented on the LEGO website.

I plan to continue posting, particularly stories, but there’s been a lot of, without trying to be insulting, fairly juvenile-type posting topics, and I’m becoming less and less inclined to comment on the majority of it. There’s apparently only so many times my patience will put up with the same “We need LEGO <insert TV show or computer game I’ve never heard of>!!!!!” or “Who’s your favourite <fill in the blank>?” or misspelled or badly punctuated or whiny or gushy topics before I’ve had enough.

I’m feeling increasingly like both the galleries and the Message Boards are becoming a case of, well, an adult in a room full of kids. I’m doing something that a lot of kids do, so in some ways it’s inevitable, but I’m choosing to do it on the site set up most especially to cater to the kids that do it, and that’s less comfortable. I’m beginning to crave more adult interaction, the company of builders of greater ability who can actually critique my models, offer tips and spur me on to new heights.

MOCPages looks like it might be a solution, but I’m still somewhat hesitant. If anyone has any advice, I’d appreciate it. If you’re actually on MOCPages, what’s it really like? Should I take the plunge, knowing that it might well mean eventually letting my LEGO website account languish if I can’t logistically keep up with both?

Help me, all ye Obi-Wans. You’re my only hope.

Ranger, Space Walker

The Ranger-class Exploration Walker is an armed planetary exploration vehicle of the Federation.

Ranger-class Space Walker

Ranger-class Space Walker

With gyroscopic stabilisation, a two-legged design and space for a single crewmember in its enclosed, spaceship-like cockpit, the Ranger is the perfect choice for the exploration of planets that have hostile or corrosive atmospheres beyond the limits of what a standard Federation spacesuit can endure.

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The forward dish antenna is a ground scanning radar unit, which can be set for topographical scan (typical mode) or for ground-penetrating deep scans. The dish antenna mounted beside the cockpit is a similar unit allowing aerial and near-space scans for more combative deployment of the Ranger. At the rear is the primary communications antenna.

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The Ranger is not very fast by comparison with other Federation walkers, but its robust design gives it a survivability that some of these lack.

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Left and right hardpoints allow the attachment of multiple weapon systems; the standard configuration shown includes a pair of medium-power lasers (right) and a pair of plasma cannon (left). Other weaponry or equipment can be substituted, up to and including heavy plasma assault cannon, or alternatively additional specialised sensor equipment or other exploration gear may be carried.

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It’s been a while since I made a proper Classic Space mech or walker. Owning the Exo-Suit is sort of intimidating for designing your own mechs, unless you’re one of those genius mech architects that specialise in hardsuits and walking vehicles, and I’m not. If I have a specialism, it’s probably microscale spacecraft.

This walker was actually designed around the 4×4 dump-truck bucket that came with my son’s Juniors construction site set; the first time I think I’ve employed that piece in a MOC. That element decision determined the whole configuration of the cockpit, and thus, the walker, as I found creative ways to make an enclosed cockpit for the driver.

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The legs are satisfyingly greebly and have all sorts of suggestions of actuators and hydraulic cylinders and whatnot. Don’t tell anyone, but some of the greebles actually limit the range of movement a little. Ah, the things we do for looks…

All in all, I think this is one of the most satisfying walkers I’ve built in a while. I hope you like it!