Blog or Die! The Manifesto’s First Contest

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Tell Your Story” image courtesy of Chris Maddison

Constant reader, the time has come for the Manifesto’s first ever writing contest.  So if you’ve been too shy, too busy or too lazy to join in on the action, now is the time to live your blogging dreams on this… the smallest and shabbiest stage in all AFOLdom.  Yes, this is your chance to join the vaunted brotherhood of Liu, Hoffmann, Andes, Rutherford, rountRee, Prasad and Oohlu.  Tell your story…blog or die!

Continue reading “Blog or Die! The Manifesto’s First Contest”

When a Pen and Brick Unite (Blog or Die! Entry #4)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Werewolff

Word Count: 1822

When a Pen and Brick Unite

 

Good morning/ afternoon/ evening all (time zones, amiright?)! The Manifesto’s resident sufferer of lycanthropy here, glad to finally be able to spin some words for your eye-holes. Now then, I’m sure you’re all simply rapt as to what I’m going to present for you today, and I’ll admit I was unsure of what to talk about myself. I mean, I could waffle for a thousand words about poetry, but I just couldn’t get myself motivated and, to be honest, it would be pretty dull.

So, it came down to the two other things I kind of, sort of, know how to write about.

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However, after careful consideration, I realised that the masses may not be able to understand the benefits of breaking down the comedy found in only the best Australian television show ever made (oh, and the fact that I’d have no idea how to link it through to LEGO.)

So, option two it is. Ladies, gentlemen and Rowntrees, I give you today’s piece on… Story Writing.

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Now before you vault out of your seats like the qualified gymnasts I’m sure you all are, let me clarify what I mean. Fictional story-telling is one of the biggest parts in my life (besides a severe lack of exercise, Vegemite and the constant nagging by my co-workers to get a real hobby). A good book to me is like a glass of fine wine to many others; it’s what excites me, captivates me, forces me to think and act. And absorbing all of this information eventually led to me taking up writing, to the point where it’s literally almost everything I’ve posted when it comes to Lego.

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I, like many others, see Lego building as a form of expression, of passion, of emotion. When I start building a minifig, I start thinking way too hard about it. What is this person’s name, what’s their story? Do they come from earth, or somewhere unheard of? Are they human, monster, something in between? Where do they sit emotionally, and where do they end up? What’s their personality like? Would I like to share a drink with them, or smash said drink over their head? What would be their stance on the world they inhabit?

I’ll admit, that’s quite a long train of thoughts from a few bits of plastic with some horribly inaccurate proportions, but it’s what drew me to the community in the first place. I’ll go to the grave thanking Keith, Ron, Michael and Matt for Decisive Action 2, for providing the opportunity for a young scamp like me, with zero experience, to join the world of online MOCing. However, it wasn’t what kept me invested in the brick during the years beforehand.

No, in actuality it was a Lego story that I stumbled on purely be accident back in 2009. Pretty low-key series actually, not sure if you’ve heard of it…

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Besides utilizing some incredible set pieces filled with mind-boggling brick usage, I was captivated by AP’s Rise of the Mage. Never before had I seen someone utilize what was essentially a toy (in my young, foolish mind) to craft such a seamless and brilliant story. Never had I thought that a simple double-sided head could convey so much emotion, never had I seen an amalgamation of pieces become the fiercest threat the world had ever known.

After that, I threw myself into building my ideas, my own stories. The humble brick provided me with the form of expression I’d been searching for, and suddenly my characters where physical beings, my locations could be felt, could be seen, my worlds existed outside of the admittedly bizarre place that is my brain.

And I loved every moment of it.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that story-telling isn’t for every builder. In fact, many believe that a write-up isn’t necessary and that the build should speak for itself. But, regardless of the lengths of paragraphs, I’m sure everyone can enjoy when a Lego story-build is done right! AP’s work is one example, but Ludgonious’ LIU Atlas is another. And it’s this story that I want to use as an example for some of my top tips for crafting a Lego story. Note that this isn’t for writing stories outright, but specifically those that use the Lego media.

Now, without further ado…

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TIP 1: Building Supports Your Narrative.

Obviously, the BIG advantage Lego story-telling has over traditional pen and paper (or finger and keyboard) is the visual aspect. Suddenly these characters or places aren’t merely thoughts, they actually exist. Obviously, comics fall into a similar category, but I believe there’s just something more… solid about a Lego image accompanying a paragraph. Immediately, you know the scale and the skill at work, and can see the effort that’s gone into it from the get go.

Therefore, the building should be key when you begin to craft your story. Too often, I see builders publish something with some absolutely fantastic writing, but the accompanying pictures seem to suck the ‘epicness’ out of the scene. They may be of a poor quality, or too dark to make out, or maybe were just shoved aside in favour of the narrative, with next to no thought put into them.

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A good example would be this old gem of mine (Excuse me while I cringe dramatically.) A decent write up on the backstory (if you take the time to read it) with even a little bit of thought-provoking prose. Overall though, the whole thing is overshadowed by the build. It’s lacklustre, flat and boring, and it’s pretty clear that there was next to no effort put into it at all. And the figs! You can tell I just wacked them on there straight out of the box. Even the supposed ‘shocked’ Duke’s wearing a smile! What’s that about?

Now, for a comparison at what a story-build with some effort can look like. Let’s take a look at this relatively recent entry of LIU Atlas, Haruspex.

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Look at that set! Fantastic right? The buildings nicely contrasting with the ground thanks to their wooden panelling, the gradual gradient within the orange river, the white leaved trees, it all just…works. Even the minifigs are great and unique, and instantly you feel absorbed in that world. Already, you want to know more about this strange place, what the blue cones on the trees are, why the water’s orange and why the middle building seems more important than the others.

And that’s the strength of the build, helping to draw the reader in, to see the physical space the characters and the world take up. However, when it comes to building…

TIP 2: It Doesn’t Have To Be Complex.

Look, as much as some of us like to imagine, our Lego box isn’t limitless. We’re always scrounging for that one piece that we’re sure we saw only a minute ago (when we didn’t need it), and we’re always finding that we own far too many tyres to be reasonable (or is that just me?) Needless to say, though we realize the importance of building, we can’t always get our story build to the scale or detail that Ludgonious can.

But we don’t need to! So long as the build is considered and prioritised, the set doesn’t have to be the greatest thing conceived by anyone ever. It’s nice when we have the parts or the time to build something like Lud’ can, but a good story can be told with even the smallest scene. Take a look at another episode of LIU Atlas, specifically this image here (warning, contains scenes of alien torture):

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Again, the build has clearly been considered heavily, but this time it’s nowhere near as intricate, or as large. It’s all basic colours and pretty simple techniques, yet it still works remarkably well, and sucks you into the room. Immediately, you’re thinking about what the alien’s feeling, or what Doog’s going through, successfully sucked into the world. Another example would be the following, a teaser from a good buddy of mine, Marley Mac:

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This one’s obviously more complex technique wise, but it still uses pretty common pieces and isn’t exactly large. However, it fits the mood of the story perfectly, and carries the same effect of drawing in the reader and representing the character’s ‘presence’, which is the ultimate goal of the build.

However, whilst builds are clearly important…

TIP 3: Remember That This is a STORY.

I’ve prattled on about building so far, but all of that means squat if the story doesn’t match up with the bricks. The reason why Ludgonious and Marley’s builds work so well is because the story is lined up exactly with what’s being shown. The mood and tone are the same in both, and the reader is successfully absorbed.

However, if the story wasn’t there, then what are you left with? A great MOC definitely, something that can be OOHed and AHHed over at a local con. But how much better is it with the story? All of a sudden, these figures are characters, with emotions and thoughts and goals. All of a sudden, a ship is a home, with a thousand personal touches and a hyperdrive that doesn’t work.

Now, this isn’t me saying that EVERY great build deserves a great story, but that when great builds are utilised for a narrative they need to link in with said narrative. I won’t go into the intricacies for writing a good story as it’s wonderfully subjective (and mostly luck, to be honest), but if you are using the Lego medium to express it the two need to be linked like a pair of eagle lovers.

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So, there we have it. When it comes to writing story’s through the Lego medium, make sure the builds aren’t merely shoved in to tick a box, but are instead welded to the narrative, regardless of the technical complexity and scale at work. With those tips at your side, you’ll be reading to dive straight into the Lego bin of creative possibility, and who knows what awesome story will come of it?

Well readers, I thank you for making it all the way to the end. Hopefully I’ve been interesting enough to keep you in those seats (though I see you there Keith, ready to unleash your triple standing backflip on us), and hopefully I’ve been able to pass on a little knowledge to those aspiring Lego -writers out there. Well, I’ve run out of things to say, so I suppose I’ll leave you with this:

The humble brick, a simple thing

Placed with guided hand

But when the pen and brick unite

The results are truly grand.

 

Sorry Matt, I just couldn’t help it. XD

 

-Wolff

 

 

 

 

Glomshire Knights: A tragedy of Errors (Blog or Die! Entry #3)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Dennis Price

Word Count: 2063

Glomshire Knights: A Tragedy of Errors

 

Ewart was supposed to die.

The length of his mortal coil was set, his flame was to be snuffed, his clock had run out and his fate was die horribly at the hands of Mordock the Malignant deep within the hidden shrine of Melvin the Wizard King.

Except he kept writing the best jokes.

If I would have killed him off as I intended, it’s doubtful that Glomshire Knights would have achieved its pseudo-legendary status in the annals of brick comics.

Perhaps some context is in order. GK was a Lego-based webcomic that appeared on MOCpages and on Comicfury from 2009-2015, and for the first (and likely the last) time, I’m pulling back the curtain and revealing the history of how it came to be and why, after 577 episodes, I let it languish into obscurity.

I’m No Spielberg

I started off with a desire to use to make stop motion animations then I realized that there are middle school boys who would eat it, or at the very least would engage in that time-honored activity of throwing it at each other like spider monkeys fling — well, I’ll leave THAT to your imagination. That was when I turned to Lego, which I’d never had as a kid. We stopped into Toys ‘R Us and I bought a tub of basic bricks. Opened it up in the basement, realized I had no “Lego men” and no vehicles, so I went to Lego.com and ordered a people pack and some small vehicle sets. My sister got wind of what I was up to and offered up a small tub of Lego the nephew had sitting around from when he was a kid (he just turned 40 this year). I poured it out, picked up a classic yellow spaceman, and I was hooked.

That’s right, my entrance to hobby came well into adulthood and quite by accident, but that’s not the point. I cleared out a small space in the garage and tried my hand at animating. My first effort is still out there you can watch it at your peril.

My second film was The Quest for Space, and it actually took some planning and effort. There were some glitches in the process, and a serious computer crash, that caused me to shorten what had been planned to be a 10-min film, but I’m still satisfied with it. While the film doesn’t come close to the quality of some films I’ve seen, it does reveal something very important: my sense of humor. Sir Robert of Goddardshire is the ancestor of Bob the Wizard, who would shortly shuffle onto the stage of my little morality play.

After completing The Quest for Space, I came up with the idea of an evil wizard taking over a kingdom in some sort of medieval Monty Pythonesque ripoff that probably would get me sued, or at least victimized by the Fish Slapping Dance (oh, I wish). There were actually two Glomshire films made, but more computer problems and poor production values — not to mention the lack of a proper studio space to control light — brought my film career to a screeching halt. I knew enough that I could help the kids make their own films, and that was when it snowed.

BLAME IT ON THE WEATHER

Snowy winters aren’t necessarily the norm where I live, but every now and then those cold wintery winds will bring us more than a dusting. When that happens, schools generally close for a day or two. Such was the case in January, 2009, not long after I discovered a software program called Comic Life. The following is the result:

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In the meantime, I had recently started lurking around on MOCpages and was wetting my feet there with a little picture story about what happened when President-elect Barick Obama failed to take the oath of office at precisely noon on Inauguration Day in the United Bricks of America, or some claptrap like that. After Snow Fun, I started using Comic Life to tell that story, which was called “The Ascension” and is still available in that long abandoned electronic ghost town if you want to see it. I was interested to see if others were using Lego for storytelling, and that’s when I stumbled upon Legostar Galactica, The Brick House, and Tranquility Base (all webcomics).  Then and there, I decided to forgo brickfilming altogether and thus, he wrote pompously, Glomshire Knights was born.

Mistakes Were Made

I believe I had some builds sitting around from an attempt at joining the building contest over at Classic-Castle.com, which unbelievably is still going strong. My building skills, however, haven’t progressed either. I tossed that junk I had on the table together, set up some lights, shot some pictures, crammed it into Comic Life with some text and pushed it online. Don’t believe me when I say it was tossed together out of table scraps? Look for yourself:

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Ah, the memories — and what I believe was the lone appearance of Saxby.

Not realizing what I was doing, I meandered into the story, which basically involved the hunt for a relic that was supposed to thwart an evil prophecy that foretold the doom of Glomshire, which is the name of a kingdom and a great walled capital city. (Come to think of it, I never did get around to making that clear.)  Misadventures followed, as they say, and eventually the bad guys were defeated. I’ll let you read it, rather than spoil it. Since the supreme overlord of The Manifesto demands contest entries of 1,000 or more words, I’m going to need to fill the rest this thing with something. Therefore, let me bore you with more meandering musings on the making of Glomshire Knights. (Wait! Should I use the word Lego more in this post, Keith? Lego! Lego! Lego! Lego! Ah, shaddup already!)

Meager Skills = Mediocre Content

Similar to the way I build MOCs, GK was fairly free-form: I never meticulously planned out every episode. Some comickers, if that’s even a word, block out and script every panel in details fashion. I work in a fashion similar to the way Stan Lee worked with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Don Heck and others at Marvel Comics back in the day. Here’s an interesting blog post by John Rozum that will save me from explaining it.  As for my process, I had an ever-evolving plot summary filed away on the computer. Important bits of dialogue, such as a particular punchline, would be included or summarized, as would directions for specific shots I wanted. I also would note any specific builds I might need, such as a peasant’s hut or throne room. There were “dream builds” that never came to fruition, to be sure, and some builds were simply beyond my somewhat limited skill set. Additionally, due to limited space and number of bricks, no setup was kept intact except for Bob’s quarters, which is now just a memory thanks to a cat. It really didn’t matter since so many of my  panels were a fig or two with simple wall as a backdrop. The real problem with doing a Medieval strip was that so much of the action happened outdoors. I tried to break up the horizon line formed by a flat baseplate and wall behind it with some construction paper. It worked, but I grew to hate it as well. I never have learned how to build a more organic looking landscape, but I also haven’t taken the time to try. Color me lazy.

Once the photographs were taken, I’d plug the shots into Comic Life and write the dialogue. There were times when I’d have to reshoot some shots to reflect dialogue, and since my process was so loose in planning I had the flexibility to come up with new jokes/situations as I built. This explains why the plot seems to wander over the course of the series, but I always knew that there would be a massive battle with an Mordock’s netherling army at the end of that first story arc.

The End of Glomshire Knights?

The defeat of Mordock and Hiryxzan, and the death of Xnder (pronounced Mike, silly), was not supposed to be the end of the strip. I planted the seeds of at least four or five new stories (or more) along the way, plus opened up other opportunities with Bob “reading” tales of Glomshire’s history.

I just grew tired of it. Making a webcomic can be a grind, although it is fun, but the hardest thing in the world to do is be genuinely funny. I think I can be funny in a snarky, smart aleck sort of way, but being funny is hard work. I truly think anyone can write something coherent with just a little effort, but to be funny on a consistent basis is exhausting. That was a big part of it, but a slim readership base and inconsistent output coupled with, sadly, my father’s illness and passing over that last six months of the strip made it hard for me to even consider diving back into that rabbit hole. Plus, I never really felt respected, appreciated, or outright hated for my aspect of the Lego hobby at conventions or online, and I had more than one person say to me, “I don’t read, I just look pictures of models.” This happened at least three or four times over the course Brickworld 2015, and that probably sent a signal that it was time to quit. (Note: This negative vibe NEVER came from people who know me or took the time to actually try and talk to me, just rubes that wanted to rub in my face that they were jackasses when they realized that I made a webcomic, I suppose. I actually hinted at this sort thing in a 2013 post I had already wrapped up the storyline and started working on where the strip was going next, so I published the rest of what I had and that was it. No grand finale, no tearful group hug, no rocks spelling out “Goodbye” or other such nonsense.

Aftermath

I’m not complaining about the lack of attention or readership — I did the strip for fun, and I wasn’t having any. Besides, MOCpages, where GK got its start, was already dead in the water and the strip wasn’t getting much traffic on Comic Fury either, so perhaps it’s for the best. My story was told, so I kind of think of those plot threads and dropped storyline in a similar light to the cancellation of Gilligan’s Island – we just stopped where we were. Maybe there’ll be a TV movie in 10 or 15 years or so, ala Rescue from Gilligan’s Island!  Check out this link if you have no clue about one of the unsung influences on GK. I have kept a low profile for the most part ever since, and I haven’t built more than a few MOCs sdf since I closed up the shop.  I’m not a world class builder by any stretch, so no loss to the community, such as it is, on that front.

Gil, Ewart, and the gang are still tucked away in their craft organizer home, ready to burst forth for adventure should the urge strike.  I can’t bear to mix them into that tub of assorted minifigs I keep tucked under the computer desk.  That strip was my brainchild, the thing that led me into the hobby for real.  There’s also a certain yellow classic space fig in there; it holds a special place in my heart because he was part of a Christmas gift I gave my nephew in the early 80s – long after I had outgrown toys and was making my way as an adult.  I have toyed a couple of times with trying something more long form using that fig and others I’ve collected over the past six or seven years.  It would be more like a comic book, and pushed it out into the world as a .pdf every few months to download for your reading pleasure on a website or maybe even the manifesto – but don’t bank on it.

Everyone knows Keith hates to read.

 

Bricks LA Update (Part 2)

The master life clock (no, not that life clock) is counting down to Bricks LA and there will be no extension, there will be no mercy for the tardy. If I don’t finish the diorama in time for the convention those microscopic charges lodged in my neck are going to blow, and open up both of my arteries.  At the time of this posting my watch is reading 27:18:40:19 and I’m starting to experience the horrible tyranny of the clock.  While I have no doubt that I’ll be able to achieve my primary goal of covering the table in an interesting way for the cronies to decorate, the jury is still out concerning how good it will actually be.   I started a list of things that I’d like to revise but quickly trashed it because it contained every major feature of the diorama.  The only way is forward, at least for now, I’ll look back later with a critical eye if I have the luxury of time for revision.   27 days and change may seem like a decent interval to work with, but once you mix in the business of the holidays and a little traveling there is not much time for building at all.

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As you can see in the photo below, the cliff-line has doubled in height since the last update and now features a narrow staircase in the back.  The scene really needed a transition between the layers and it creates another interesting space for to give the minifigs a sense of motion.   While I like the idea of two distinct zones within the layout, I don’t want them to be completely isolated either. I considered building a ramp or small road instead of the stairs to accommodate small vehicles but it changed the frontier vibe too much.

I’m not sure I made the right call with the placement of the staircase and if I have time for one of those major revisions I mentioned earlier, I might relocate the whole thing closer to the viewer.  Where it sits now it’s actually very difficult to see from the front of the table.   Most of the attendees on public days are kids and as much as I’d like to say I don’t care about the audience, it would be cool if the kids could actually see what’s going on.  It doesn’t help matters that the table I’m bringing with me is a good bit taller than the standard convention folding variety.  That’s not going to change though, I’ve grown quite fond of my setup and it’s ease of transport. I guess the stairs will be a bonus detail for the cronies who end up hanging out behind the project as they inevitably do in these situations.  Experience tells me that there will be at lest two or three guys sitting back there eating sandwiches and consuming various beverages at any given moment.

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I’ve just recently borrowed more of those sweet corner tiles that you see in use near the base of the staircase, so I’ll go back and add those along with some jumper plates so the minifigs don’t slide around so much.  I’m also not completely sold on using dark gray for the steps of the staircase, it might benefit from a contrasting color to make things a little more visible.   I considered using the same sand-green 1×2 plates you see at the top of the plateau, or maybe more dark tan if I have enough.

In the dozen or so conventions I’ve attended over the years I’ve never seen a MOC card design that I liked, they always seem intrusive where dioramas are concerned and just too flimsy.  I think they work best with small stand-alone models but even then they can look odd, out of scale or distracting and sometimes because of sloppy placement they don’t communicate the information effectively either.  Why spend time and effort to create a scene just to drop a folded piece of paper on top? With that in mind I decided to build the MOC card into the left hand corner of the cliff.  As of now we don’t have even a working title for the project so I left the top lines blank.  The provisional focus of the action is going to be a sort of back-woods sci-fi wedding, where  a myriad of human and alien contingents converge on this desolate frontier location to witness the secret nuptials.  If you have any suggestions for a suitable title don’t hesitate to express yourself in the comments.

As you can see I’ve moved the Garvey to the back corner of the plateau, where I intend to use it as an eye-block for the minifig wedding action in the fore-ground.  To further serve the narrative I’m going to switch the hatch & ramp feature to the opposite side of the ship and have the bride and her father walking down said ramp to the assembled throng of alien tribes waiting for the ceremony.  I could leave it the way it is now and simply turn the ship around, but I also want the flag of Ghana to be visible to the viewer because it’s one of the ships best features. If nothing else it’s a good opportunity to take advantage of the ship’s modularity, and the switch-out shouldn’t take too long (fingers crossed).  This is likely not the Garvey’s final position either, I may straighten it out completely and have it run along the back edge, it all depends on how Zach’s new freighter will fit into the picture, and how much space is left over.  I don’t want to create too much unusable land behind the Garvey, as whatever I put in that awkward triangular space will be largely invisible to the viewer unless I make something rather deliberately tall.  While envisioned as a solo venture, this project has morphed into a collabo and as a result the focus has shifted away from the Garvey and it’s ultimate placement will reflect that.

And finally there is the matter of the cave.  I’m not sure what’s going on there yet, how far back it will ultimately go or what the minifig action will be.  For now it is slowly developing at it’s own pace along with the rest of the model.  I tend to work on it when I’m bored of the repetitive plate and slope stacking.  There is certainly enough potential room down there for a good sized tunnel or additional chambers, or maybe even a road or railway.  Because the roof of the cave is so low, it’s difficult to see back very far, so I’m hesitant to put too much effort into that area which (like the staircase) will likely not be seen by most viewers. Just like the cliff wall, it seems intuitive that there should be some transition to the surface, so I’d imagine another rough hewn staircase would be in order.  I’m also not sure about the color of the cave floor, something with better contrast might be in order.  This area also seems like the best opportunity to include some lighting elements.  No matter what the final look and function of the cave is, at least the kids will have the best view for this particular detail.  With that in mind it might be a good chance to inject some comedy into the proceedings.

I’m not authorized yet to show the pictures, but Jeff is working on a sort of flat-bed hover tow-truck thing and Andrew Lee is working on a biker gang.  Brendan Mauro has jumped in on the action to contribute a cool parabolic satellite dish and hopefully some other details if he has the time. As for rowntRee, he has his own fish to fry but I’m still hopeful he’ll come up with something for the party before all is said and done.  And Rutherford….well he’s more worried about crafting a presentation for the convention than contributing to the diorama. But that’s to be expected really, Mike is more into talking about building than actually building.

Unrelated, I just noticed that Miro Dudas is attending the con so there is a decent chance of having 4 SHIPtember offerings in the house, which I’m sure you’ll agree is pretty damn cool.

I’ll close with yet another invitation for you, constant reader, to join us at Bricks LA when the master life clock reaches zero.  If you find yourself in the greater Los Angeles area the weekend of January 5th, 2018, you should swing by the Pasadena convention center and introduce yourself.  We’ll have SWAG and beverages and you can tell Rutherford in person what a terrible gas-bag he is.

Friday Night Fights [Round 28]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another pear of anguish edition of Friday Night Fights! This week’s bout is the battle of intercessor, with veneration and beatification on the line.  Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from the mean streets of Moscow, it’s “Ravager” Red and his “ST. 5065746572“.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from the far shores of Aqua Magna, it’s in the wasteland of MOCPages, it’s “El CarniceroCameron  and his “ST. 4142524148414D.

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As usual, constant reader, you are tasked with deciding the outcome of this pugilistic endeavor and determine who will receive a week’s worth of bragging rights.  Simply leave a comment below and vote for the model that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner.

Last time, on Friday Night Fights….

It was the battle of The Bard, with casting autonomy and posh theatre bookings on the line.  In the end, with the help of a last minute vote, “CatastrophicCampistron  and his “Rebuildable Theatre Stage” scored a narrow 5-4 victory over James “Pile Driver”  Pegrum and his “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar“.  Capistron scores his first victory (1-0) while Pegrum runs his record to (0-1).

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Ted Talks: “Sweep the Leg!” (Blog or Die! Entry #2)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Ted Andes

Word Count: 2090

Ted Talks: “Sweep the Leg!”

 

If you are a “constant reader” of the Manifesto, you may have read past articles about award motivation (“Give me the prize!”“), or about tips for throwing a good building contest (“Party Hosting Tips”)… But what about how to actually win them, you ask? Gather round, young grasshoppers. It’s time for me to lay down some advice on how to compete at the highest level, and how to take down those heavyweight champions of the world.

Who am I to give that kind of advice? I’m just some bum in a fedora hat and black leather jacket… a bum who clawed his way out of the unwashed masses of “also-rans” to win 7 building contests (and counting) and place in the prize categories of at least 5 more. Yo Adrien! Be warned that once you are armed with this advice I’m about to give you, victory is still never assured. It is still dependent on how the contests are judged and who else shows up to compete. However, if you DO want to be a champion of the MOC-tagon, then it’s time that you started training like a champion. Now “Bow to your sensei!

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Hit the gym
Your gym training ritual is still built on the foundation of becoming a better builder: “Wax on. Wax off.”… Oops, I mean “Build your collection – Build some contest MOC’s – Get critiqued – Repeat”. Over time, you will develop your signature style and a bevy of NPU techniques in your personal arsenal. Whenever you lose a bout, put down those sour grapes, pick yourself up, and learn from the builders who are winning these contests. What have they got that you haven’t got?…

Know your enemy
For each contest you enter, study the genre, the judges, and the competition (and the rules too; don’t be “that guy”). See what has been done before. Learn what defines the genre. Learn the judges’ style preferences. Learn the techniques and tricks of the top builders of the genre… then look for their blind spots. What haven’t they done before? Are there any ruts that your competition have fallen into that you can exploit? Will they be overconfident and rely on their old bag of tricks? Can you anticipate what they will do?

Choose your “finishing move”
Aw man! You just thought up the most awesome idea for the latest contest? Good… Now get it out of your system and think up a new one. Odds are it was the most obvious idea that half of the other entrants will end up building too. You can either try to be the best at executing that obvious idea, or instead you can kick it up a notch by adding a twist. Most of my winning entries were never that first idea that I had.

For that added twist, I try to think up a “fusion” idea that takes the contest genre in a new and different direction. For the “Rock n’ Roll Steampunk” contest, I built a snow covered floating island instead of the typical verdant grassy knoll. I also merged a steam train with a steamboat. For speeder bikes, I fused them into the Wild West setting of the “Lone Ranger”. Judges tend to gravitate towards builds that have a good mix of both the familiar and new.

Don’t “settle” for second best
Now that you’ve finally come up with your true killer idea, it’s time to get building. As your build comes together, remember that what’s “good enough” to meet the rules is not necessarily “good enough” to beat your competition. You aren’t competing against the contest rules. You are competing against your fellow builders. Be aware of what they actually do, and make any needed adjustments during the fight.

I see too many builders who appear to settle. They give the impression that they think their contest entries are like raffle tickets. They think they have an equal chance of winning as long as they just enter something good enough by the deadline that meets the rules. Nope. Building contests are won on merit (typically), and not random chance (typically). The folks who settle like this are the contest’s cannon fodder, barely worthy of a participation brick badge. It’s even worse is when they are the “turd polishers” too, writing elaborate descriptions and backstories for their inferior MOCs. If they put that much time and effort into the building as they did in overcompensating they might stand a better chance. So keep buying those raffle tickets, chumps. I’m sure you’ll win someday… Or you can wake up, like I did, and tighten things up. “Push it to the limit!

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As I’ve said in a prior article, I used to think 2-3 really cool NPU ideas/shapes for a build were good enough, and I “settled” by neglecting the details on the rest of it. That all changed with my M-Wing victory. I realized that you have to give equal importance to the entirety of the build. Now I’ve established a “one day” rule for myself; Every time I think the build is done, I let it rest at least 24 hours. If I don’t come up with any further improvement ideas in that time, then it likely is done.

Get some good sparing partners
Getting an early critique from others on your WIP (work in progress) can be helpful to identify those areas of your MOC that you might be “settling” on. This isn’t something that I normally do during a contest, but I know it has helped others. You can send a pal a private e-mail with the WIP photos, or use the private image feature in flickr and send a link. You can even expand these sparring sessions into some live build-chats with a bunch of other folks from your ‘dojo’. This can really raise the level of competition, amp up the competitive spirit, and be a helluva lot of fun… but it may also lead you astray from achieving victory if you get too caught up in it. Remember this when you join up with the Cobra Kai dojo – YMMV (your mileage may vary). In the end, it’s Johnny that gets to the finals and is still the dojo’s favorite to win.

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Commit
The “commit” part is to build your MOCs like you are never going to take them apart… Ever. Get those stickers/parts that you need to finish the model in style. You hear those builders saying “I’m not going to Bricklink any parts this time” for their entry? That mentality is for suckers who don’t want to win, or suckers who want to have a ready-made excuse for when they don’t win (the exception being people who already have a crap-ton of bricks in the first place, and likely already have all the parts they need… if they could only find them).

Starting my collection out of my dark age, I always viewed contests as the “Lego rich getting Lego richer”. The people that have the good parts selection are going to have the good builds. Doing the best you have with what you’ve got usually won’t even get you a cookie. To even that playing field, you have to go and buy those needed parts and stickers that make your model look its best. For the M-wing, I bought the smoke colored canopy, stickers to put on the canopy and wings, and the mini-figure pilot. I do draw the line on cutting parts, and most contest rules do too anyways.

Back to stickers. If the contest allows, get them (or make them) and apply them. What’s that you say? You don’t wanna, because you’re a “purist”? You don’t wanna because you plan to use those parts again for something else? With that lack of commitment, I guess you don’t wanna win either. “It’s a waste of life!

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Making your own stickers is easier that you think if you have a printer at home. This is all it takes – Once you find a cool graphic or font to use, go buy some print-on address label stickers (the ones that are 2-5/8 inch x 1 inch). With the size of most Lego parts, you usually won’t need to print out anything larger. This also allows you to “print on demand” without wasting an entire sticker sheet. Just print what you need, peel, and save the rest of the sheet for later. Generally the white labels are the best to use. I’ve tried out the transparent/translucent address labels, and they are only really good on white or light gray parts.

You may also want to apply some shiny clear packaging tape over them. This is to give the sticker some strength, protect the printing, and give it a shiny look to match the shine of the plastic surrounding it. To do this added step, it is handy to have an already spent sticker sheet that you can use to put it all together. You can temporarily apply the printed label to the left over wax paper, then apply that shiny tape over the label, and then cut around the printed graphic to complete your sticker. I use the scissors of a small Swiss army pocket knife to cut around the graphic, and then the tweezers to peel off the backing and apply the sticker…. “It’s a good thing.”

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You could even go the extra mile and buy some custom parts. I bought some chromed parts out of Europe for one of the speederbike contests, although I never ended up using them (part tolerances, ugh). You could buy some custom screen printed bricks too. For on-line build contests though, I think the stickers get the job done. If your build will be shown in public, you may want to get custom printed bricks done instead (if allowed in the rules).

Discipline your image
This means taking good photos, with good lighting and clean photo editing. This means going the extra mile, stretching the rules, and building sweet dioramas. However don’t let that overshadow the model itself (that can lead you back down the path of “turd polishing”)

Photography and photo-editing merit their own dedicated articles. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you out, especially if you are on flickr. In the end, you will have to find the solution that works best for your situation. To get the win, you will likely need to practice your photography and photo-editing just as much as building.

And finally, “Sweep the leg!”
Well… not exactly. “Sweep the leg” in the context of this article means that you need to do the things that you may not want to do to win… like waking up at the crack of dawn, and cracking open some raw eggs to guzzle down. To have any chance of winning, you can’t be lazy. You have to do those little things that give you an edge, and that sharpen your gladiator sword. It does not mean resorting to underhanded tactics against your competitors, or poor sportsmanship. That’s just bad karma.

What’s even more important that winning the contest is maintaining a good standing within the building community. You want to be competitive, not combative. It’s that community that judges these contests too (especially in FBTB contests with open voting). If you ever want to be invited back to compete, don’t bite off a piece of your competitor’s ear. “Fly high now!

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Victory!
All of this advice alone isn’t enough to get you the win, but it paves the way to become a consistent title contender. Along with this knowledge, you still need that competitive fire within you to improve your building skills, that “Eye of the Tiger”, and a little bit of luck. Rocky didn’t win his first championship bout, but he gave it a good fight against Creed that kept the people talking about rematches and sequels. The Karate Kid took his lumps, and his limp, and eked out a dubiously edited victory (…C’mon man. There’s no way that he actually gets past Dutch).

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“Blog or Die!”
… and what about this “Blog or Die!” contest thingy? “Get them a body bag… yeahhhhhh!!!” because this article just laid the competition flat on their backs. You think you’ve got what it takes? Then get off your backsides and show me what you’ve got! MATANGO!

Hey Mr.Miyagi! We did it! We did it! Alright! Woohoo!”

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Tales of a BrickLink Vendor: Life on the Coattails

Since the earliest days of the Manifesto I’ve been trying to find willing BrickLink vendor to write a column for the blog, without much success.  Either they said yes and never followed up, or provided me with content that was so short and/or bland that I didn’t see the point in publishing them.  Happily, all that changed recently when I happened to make a purchase from the store Bricks on the Dollar, only to receive an email a few days later from long time crony Carter Baldwin saying “Dude, what do you need with 200 of those dark tan helmets?  What are you up to?”.  It turns out Carter was good buddies with the vendor and through that small-world contact I found my man for the article.  As I would soon find out, the vendor in question put out a personalized regular newsletter and seemed to be more involved and excited to help his customers than anyone on BrickLink that I’d encountered over the years.  The guy really knows how to take care of his customers and more importantly for my agenda, he has something to say.

This purpose of this lengthy preamble is to remove any bias you may have towards the author, Chris Byrne.  Chris didn’t seek me out to pimp his store, I asked him to write the following article and I hope it won’t be his last.  Chris was even kind enough to include a discount for you guys, even though I told him it was a terrible idea and begged him not to.  So if you have any burning questions you’ve always wanted to ask a BrickLink vendor, have at it in the comments.

Use the phrase MANIFESTO at checkout to get 10% off your BrickLink order at www.bricksonthedollar.com

Without any further ado, take it away Chris!

 

Hey constant readers, my name is Chris Byrne and I have created for myself my own LEGO Life. No, not the app. No, not TLG’s internal newsletter. But a flesh and blood life. In 2009, coming out of my dark ages, I started Bricks on the Dollar, a store on the BrickLink marketplace. Oh do you remember the auctions, the grassroots feel, and Rolf in the chat room? I do. Since then I worked for Brick Fest Live for a two years (“boo! hiss!” eh, shut up, you have no idea what you are talking about), started a LEGO Artwork subscription called the AFOL Poster Subscription Service, curated the Brick Builders Club monthly LEGO mystery box subscription for a year, launched my own LEGO-themed mystery box called Clutch’s Secret Stash, put over a thousand videos on my YouTube channel, and opened an independent LEGO consignment retail store called Warminster Brick Shop. I’m probably forgetting something in there, perhaps I should write a resume so that someone like me could hire me in the future.

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But that’s just it. I have come to learn that I just cannot work for anyone but myself. Riding the coattails of The LEGO Group like so many do, and leaning heavily on the platform of BrickLink, I have made a name, a career, and a life for myself. It has been no easy path and I am not out of the woods yet, but every day is a new adventure with many surprises. I feel that working with LEGO as a business is the only monotonous, day after day activity I could do which would somehow always feel new and exciting. Even when I am doing the same thing every single day (no weekends here), it is still a thrill to take a step back and see what I have created. That thrill keeps be going.

In September, I spontaneously decided to open a brick and mortar Lego store called Warminster Brick Shop. And that’s no exaggeration. It was early September when I left the job I had behind, cleaned up the lobby at the warehouse I rent for my BrickLink store, painted the windows, and opened up shop on September 16th. I filled the store with local LEGO vendors who consign in the store, giving it a very wide variety of items. Warminster Brick Shop features LEGO in every form. New sets, retired sets, vintage used sets, bulk bricks, loose Minifigures, build your own Minifigures, polybags, posters, and more. I have been growing the store over the last 3 months with the intention of someday hiring an employee to watch the counter so I can return my full attention to BrickLink and my other ventures. At this very moment, I am busy with my work and helping customers when they come in. The store has some regular customers which is fantastic. I want WBS to be like Cheers but with LEGO. Maybe, in time, the store can host events and even stock some crazy sodas for purchase.

Keith, who is this guy and why isn’t he talking about cool MOCs?” Ever since I started selling individual pieces on BrickLink, I have been transfixed by the idea of helping AFOLs build their MOCs. I’ve attended a decent amount of LEGO conventions between 2010 and the present day and I have seen some wonderful, wonderful MOCs. While AFOLs are very resourceful and many of them have no need to turn to the ABS dealers on BrickLink, I would like to think that some of these creations would not have been realized without the work that myself and other sellers do. Sure, there’s LUGBulk (black bag drops over my head), Bricks & Pieces (ban hammer falls (read: fell)), or just buying enough LEGO on your own to get what you need, but sometimes it is just easier and quicker to order parts from someone just like you, but who actually enjoys sorting, inspecting, and counting. I have found this to be true even for myself. While I have a decently-sized BrickLink store, I would wager that no single BrickLink store has every part you need at a specific time to fully assemble a specific project. And while I am actively trying to change that fact, I myself have been placing orders on BrickLink of late for my collaboration with Carter Baldwin to product his own line of “Brickmania-esque” LEGO kits called [CARTERINDUSTRIES]. No matter how sorted your LEGO collection is, sometimes it is easier to just order parts from BrickLink in order to get what you need in a realistic time frame. I don’t think any of us would complain about having more LEGO, especially if it is something that you have shown a need for. In selling on BrickLink, I have shipped to all 50 US states plus some of its territories, 55 countries worldwide last time I checked, and to over 9,000 customers. I don’t often hear from my customers about what they are building or if their order in my store helped them in a time crunch, but I definitely live vicariously through the names on the orders received. Some standouts would be Angus Maclane from Pixar, some orders from Billund itself, as well as orders from Adam Reed Tucker, countless orders from Brickmania, and an order from someone who works at LEGOLand California.

Though my building skills are stuck in the late 90s, I pay very close attention to all of the new elements, new colors, and new techniques that I see from sets I part out, even if I don’t ever build them. Though it it purely theoretical, I can often visualize a LEGO build solution from my knowledge of elements in existence. My monthly mystery box features a brand new element which has been released within the last few months as well as an element that is long since retired. The goal is to, hopefully, surprise the recipient with real LEGO elements that they have never encountered. I do collect Blacktron I sets as well as old Samsonite bricks, Citizen Brick customs, sprues, original variants of elements that have seen updates, and non-production parts (when I can afford them). It is certainly a strange collection, but they all have significance to me. Aside from LEGO, I collect art, Beast Wars Transformers, and 1/100 scale Gundam kits. I also fancy myself a Soda Connoisseur, trying every new soda flavor I can find, live on my YouTube channel.

So now you know a little about me. I’m a LEGO-centric entrepreneur, I collect some LEGO fringes, and I have dedicated myself to helping AFOLs get the parts they need. Feel free to ask me any questions! Next time, I’ll talk about my LEGO Artwork project.

 

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Stop, Collaborate & Listen (Blog or Die! Entry #1)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Primus (Cam)

Word Count: 1522

Stop, Collaborate & Listen

 

At this very moment you may be thinking to yourself things like “Wow, they really will let anyone write for the Manifesto,” “I have no clue who this guy is,” and “I’m probably not going to care for what he’s writing about.” And, constant reader, you may very well be right, as I’m going to talk about something near and dear to my heart: Bionicle™ Collaborative Builds. Yes, you read that right, BIONICLE™ Collaborative Builds.

Basically, this past year a bunch of prominent Bionicle™ builders (or, as prominent as you can get for a Bionicle™ builder) have been posting creations based on a common theme.  You may have heard about these builds (unlikely) or you may have seen these as they flooded your Flickr stream (more likely, but still unlikely). At the very least, you may have read the Brothers Brick article about one of the collaborations, which (given the fact that you’ve stumbled onto this article) I think is a safe bet. I’ve had the pleasure of partaking in a few of these collaborations; therefore, I am a leading authority on them. At least, more of an authority than most people. Either way, let’s move on to the interesting stuff.

As far as I can tell, the first of these collaborations (or collabs as the cool kids call them) revolved around reimagining the Lego™ Bionicle™ Vahki™ sets in the styles of different Bionicle™ builders. Since that probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, I’ll clarify slightly. The Vahki™ were a line of Bionicle™ sets (basically evil robot police) and apparently all prominent Bionicle™ builders have a style (bit of an assumption). As I’m sure you all know, there were 6 Vahki™ sets released in 2004. Thus, 6 builders were contacted by an anonymous person, given the prompt for the collaboration and a date when to post the MOCs. And that’s it. Pretty clandestine. Seriously. I don’t actually know who reached out to us. I thought it was pretty weird at first, but also a pretty interesting proposal, so I decided to partake in the experience.

The builders contacted were Djokson, Red, Cezium, Lord Oblivion, Felix the Cat, and myself (Primus). Definitely an eclectic assortment of Bionicle builders (all of whom I’m certain you’ve heard of).

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Even with this rather open-ended theme, the builders all managed to build MOCs that, once put side-by-side in an easier to understand picture, were all somewhat recognizable as reinventions of the original sets. My personal favorite of this collaboration was Red’s Bordahk (the blue one). If it makes you feel better, I had to Google that name, and I actually build with Bionicle parts.

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I think that he did an excellent job of recreating the shape of the original set while also making a very dynamic and menacing-looking MOC. It exudes power and looks like it could take on a tank. I sure wouldn’t want to be caught in an alleyway with that staring me down! To top it off, his parts usage was outstanding and he really demonstrated a mastery of color. Truly an impressive MOC from an impressive builder. All-in-all, I would deem this collaboration a success, as 6 builders were contacted and 6 people built something, and usually when something like this happens at least 1 person can’t make it.

The next collaboration had a similar theme. This time, as far as I can tell, the builders were tasked with reimagining the Bionicle Rahkshi sets (spooky robot suits for evil slugs). More builders were contacted (by the same person, I’d bet) and, given that they all posted on the same day, I assume a deadline was set.  For this build, Djokson, Cezium, and Red were contacted again, as well as The Chosen One, Sparkytron, Rhymes Shelter, and Gamma-Raay. To my knowledge, this is everyone that posted. From the looks of it, the direction given was a little clearer than last time as they even had a common naming scheme, “The Sons of Makuta.”

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Again, I feel that the builders really knocked this one out, showcasing a wide range of styles and techniques in the builds. I also think that these were a bit more cohesive visually than the previous build, as these are all pretty recognizable as Rahkshi, even before I put them side-by-side. Of these builds, Gamma-Raay’s Panrahk was my favorite (the brown one).

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In this build, he managed to recreate the look of the Rahkshi from the official Bionicle Mask of Light movie (another thing I’m certain you’re familiar with). However, what really made this build the standout to me was the construction of the spine and System integration in the torso. Really excellent shaping in those areas. His posing and photography isn’t too shabby, either, and added an air of menace to the creation. This collaboration was enough of a “success” that The Brothers Brick blogged about (most of) it, which I guess means something. Don’t really know many metrics for success when it comes to collaborative builds.

Assuming that you’re still with me at this point, constant reader, I’ll move onto the next collaboration. This is another one that I participated in and the theme was to build robot saints.  Well, Orthodox robot saints, to be specific. A bit of a departure from the last two collaborations. This time around, the directions were a bit more detailed. The builders were instructed that the saints should be obviously robotic, that there should be a brick-built background that incorporates a nimbus, and finally that the saints should be wearing robes (as saints tend to do). The date, time to post, and naming scheme were also provided and the builders were left to their own devices. The builders chosen this time were Red, Sparkytron, Cezium, myself, and The Chosen One. Red must have really liked this theme, as he ended up building a second saint.

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I found this to be a very peculiar theme to build for, and a pretty challenging one at that, as I had only ever worked with Lego cloth elements once before. However, it looks like some of the other guys had used them before, as they really did a great job with them. Of the builds, my favorite one was from The Chosen One (the one on the far right).

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The subtle texture of the background, the shape of the head, and the inclusion of the “wiring” in the neck area were all great details that made this my favorite of the builds. I also liked how he was able to give the build more volume through the use of the second cape. I thought his execution was very clean and that it was a very well thought out concept. Really, this theme was a very thought out concept, if a bit odd.

To my knowledge, there’s only been one more collaboration this year, so we are nearing the end of this diatribe, constant reader, and I commend you for making it this far. Moving on, this most recent collaborative build, as far as I can tell, revolved around using older Bionicle/Technic parts to make up the bulk of the MOC. Given how they were posted, I would assume the directions were the same (whoever is organizing these is at least very consistent). There were fewer builders in this collab, though I assume that’s because higher education is a thing and there are a lot of final projects and exams occurring around this time. Unless I’ve missed someone, the builders contacted for this build were Djokson, The Secret Walrus, The Chosen One, Red, and Optimus Convoy (who has recently returned to the community from a dark age).

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I really liked the different directions the builders took with this theme. I especially liked how Djokson used the Technic blasters in the legs of his model and how Red used the Toa feet to create the neck for his lizard knight, but my favorite out of all of them had to be Optimus Convoy’s robot.

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For an old-school collaborative build, Optimus Convoy really hammered it home in my eyes. He built a robot that not only used old parts but also old techniques and styling. The teal/grey/trans-neon-green color scheme was very reflective of the time period, and the integration of Throwbot parts was a smart choice. This build might have been a little bit rougher around the edges, but I think that adds even more to its old school charm. Another interesting theme with some pretty intriguing results.

We have finally reached the end of this post, constant reader. I’m glad you’ve stuck with me this far and I hope you now know significantly more about the recent spate of BIONICLE™ Collaborative Builds than you did at the start of the article. Maybe you’ve even found a new builder or two to follow. Maybe you think you’ve wasted your time. Maybe you have questions like “Who is this anonymous person that organizes all of these builds” and “Why haven’t they asked me to partake” and “Why does Primus use so many questions?” But, perhaps most importantly, maybe you’ve really enjoyed reading about Bionicle MOCs for a change.

-Cam