The Manifesto is proud to present the first installment of a month-long series by friend of the blog and creator of SHIPtember, Simon Liu.
Keith asked me to jump in and write some commentary during this rite of passage for Space builders. I might not be the best SHIPwright, but I know a few things about building ships right.
I already had a series of articles prepared for this month, a semi useful series of guides and discussions on tackling the SHIPBUILDING conundrum, especially in the tight confines that is SHIPtember, so I was very willing to join. But Keith pointed out, that an article about SHIP building is kinda obvious, the standard blog fodder, and he wanted to hear about me, and my stories. The Manifesto , in my eyes, is about story telling, commentary,criticism, and most importantly: meaningful discussion between builders.
Next week, I don’t know what I’m going to talk about, you tell me in the comment section. You control the action. History of SHIPtember? Trends and current happenings? My favorite SHIPtember success/failures? How I probably fucked up SHIPs for the whole community? The lunacy that was battleSHIP?
The reason why I choose the story of the FK Antrotta is because it’s the truest to what I intended SHIPtember to be. It’s not my favorite SHIP, nor the one I think is my best. But I followed the purest form of SHIPtember: Fly by the seat of your pants, zero planning building action as controlled by you: the commentators.
I actually feel less that it was ‘my‘ SHIP, but ‘OUR‘ SHIP. I may have physically put the pieces together, but it was a bit of a community effort to lead me to where it ended up to.
I’ve always imagined SHIPtember as a kind of community collab, posting WIPs for feedback and direction of where to go. The first year I had a general plan. Year three I based my SHIP off an image, but year two I had zero planning.
The only thing I did prior to SHIPtember was settle on a colour scheme. Skip back to 2014, and easily my favorite build I saw that year, was Forest King’s “Kingfisher“.
Here was a SHIP like none other. Forget the sleek ships of Star Trek, the colourful ships of Homeworld, and the greeble-ladened ships of Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars.
Kingfisher was a beast, it came out of the Bro-LUG cyberpoc ethos in a cacophony of dilapidated paneling. I was actually fortunate enough to witness the primordial sketch that lead to this monstrosity, in a little hotel room on Seattle (now there’s a whole new topic worthy of discussion: the crazy creative concepts that gets thrown around and conceived during or immediately after a convention.)
Suffice it to say the KingFisher left an impression on me, specifically the patches of old gray. I came into to the community with this new bley beauty as the norm, and hoarded the pretty new colour like Nutella. But when I saw how the grey-bleyadients played, I was hooked and vowed my next SHIP would follow suit and I’d order a bunch of old gray.
In fact, I partially named the SHIP after it’s builder, FK = Forest King
But you might be calling bullshit: how could I order parts in a specific colour if I didn’t know what I was building? Half points! I had no clue of what pieces I needed or how much…. so I overcompensated and just ordered a cap ton of plates in 1×4, 1×2 and 1x1s. It should be noted that this decision on what to order (plates) dictated the final design of the ship to some degree: a lot of different paneling and flat surfaces.
So how to start building a SHIP?
I’ve seen several different approaches to this over the years, and each as their own merits. For me though, it’ll always be like how the pros do it: start with framing and build out. It wasn’t until I started writing this article that I realized there actually is a standard methodology of SHIPbuilding: the design spiral:
For a LEGO SHIP the process boils down quickly to: concept, structure, functions and details. There are lots of great resources in the main SHIPyard group on Flickr, just pursue each year’s SHIPtember WIP photos for inspiration and technique. Though this is probably the most useful infomatic on strong frames and here’s a great group with examples of how to add some greeble detail to your ships.
But for the purpose of this diatribe, I’m going to focus on Concept.
Most builders have a concept in mind before SHIPtember, and even post their intended builds in a tantalizing appetizer for what is to come. Some don’t post their concepts at all, instead leaving a breadcrumb of how is that even a SHIP?!? which ultimately leads to a Hitchcockian twist. For year two, I started with no concept in mind. I treated SHIPtember as a pure month-long free flow’n jam session with my buds. Looking back, I realize it’s the most horrific example of the Agile Software design methodology:Short sprints of work, followed by user feedback and testing, then start another round of development.
I basically did this. Every day was a sprint. I did my building, I posted it and you, the clients, provided invaluable feedback on what worked and what didn’t, some even helping solve technical problems (best clients! ) and I took the feedback and iterated the design.
And that was one of my main goals of this SHIP, to go and iterate. In most cases, my builds are basically a first draft, rarely do I refine the build unless it’s going to be mass-produced or handled by others. The year prior to this build I met the great TardisBlue (Nick Trotta) and just like Forest and the Kingfisher, it had a lasting impact on me. His approach could not have been more diametrically opposed to mine: his typical starfighter building method involved hours spent finding the perfect connection and angle. Then he would iterate and try to build it better. I normally try one thing if it works, great! Move on to the next element. But Nick’s constant refinement is what makes his models so immaculate. While some might think he doesn’t really build fast, or much, I think the opposite is true. In terms of the number of iterative sprints he must go through, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a monster of productivity.
So based on Nick’s build style, I knew that SHIPtember was probably never going to be something he would be comfortable partaking of, due to the time constraints. So I stepped in and basically tried to build a SHIP like Nick would… and actively tried to iterate and rebuild sections over and over again incorporating feedback and experimentation.
This cycle of feedback to drive the concept and design worked amazingly well. Yeah I know, I was surprised too.
A good example was this:
It was pointed that I should add something to balance it out, and the black part was neat and I should expand on it. They weren’t sure where, but they suggested more black. As
well the lines were a bit disjointed and pointless …. Okay then! next update:
The power of feedback and criticism.
This may not be arguably my best SHIP, but certainly the most refined. The collaborative nature of this build and the multiple cycles of (Build. Present. Gather Feedback. Repeat) paid off time and time again, as the critical feedback or sometimes even crowd sourcing solutions kept making each iteration that much better.
Which was really one of the tenants of SHIPtember in the first place! I didn’t want another month where people hid and built and unveiled their masterpiece in 30 days. The real drive behind SHIPtember wasn’t the SHIPs.
But the journey.
As we all set upon this journey (or some have already finished and it’s day 3?!?) I implore you not to forget to live in the moment. This collective creative process is what makes SHIPtember special. So post those WIPs, comment on others, take criticism to heart and don’t be afraid to change it up.
Because after the journey all you’re left with is just a pile of LEGO pieces: HINKLE SMASH!
Oh, and Antrotta – Named after Adelle and Nick Trotta, who not only did I try to impersonate, but also had the clutch answer to my striping problem.