SHIPrites Vol 4: Play-sets or Display pieces?

The Manifesto is proud to present the fourth installment of a month-long series by friend of the blog and creator of SHIPtember, Simon Liu.


Hey everyone,

Welcome to volume 4 of SHIPrites, the Super Sunday SHIPtember spectacular!

So far we have talked about the Journey and the path that is SHIPtember, we talked about some of the history of SHIPs and the question of Interiors.

There was some good debate among the commentators last week regarding interiors.  While my original thought was that a lack of interiors meant a significant break from the ‘old school’ style of SHIP building  it was aptly pointed out that many of the SHIPtember era SHIPs have extremely complicated shapes and cladding which necessitated a lot of internal structure, thus preventing the inclusion of an interior. This effectively asked a new question, which is ‘better’: Play-sets or Display pieces?

Let’s take a look back, shall we, to the short history that is SHIPtember?  Here are the first three SHIPs to win SHIPtember:

2013: Nathan Proudlove – Arrested Development


2014: Tim Schwalfenberg – Hurricane Battlecruiser


2015: LEGOLIZE IT MAN – muulla – This SHIP also I believe has the notable privilege of the most FAV’d SHIP of all SHIPtembers with 422 (Happy Keith? NUMBERS!)


With the exception of Nathan’s first year entry, the collective judges all choose Micro SHIPs, and even the special judges from Homeworld Dev team’s top picks from last year were microscale. Looking back at the first year, there were quite a few minifig scale SHIPs with interiors, and part of me wonders if that was a hold-over from the old Era of SHIP building – the pre-SHIPtember era. But what we saw that first wonderful SHIPtember was a lot of MicroSHIPs, and a definite shift towards crazy and hyper detailed SHIPs.

Even with the behavioral engineering effect of naming a Minifig Scaled Interior SHIP as the inaugural Best SHIP in 2013, the flood of Micro SHIPs seems to be unabated. The gene bottle was smashed opened so to speak, as people saw the amazing Micro SHIPs that came out of that first SHIPtember. Factor in the time constraints and the extra design requirements and structural hotdoggary required for some of the more complex textures and designs, it’s easy to see why MicroSHIPs seem to achieved prominence.

Even old school spacers are getting into the action: zachmoe in the first SHIPtember was in my mind as the one that really pushed me to start thinking of SHIPs more as display pieces and less like play-sets (though I don’t think I realized it at the time). His mundane sounding entry of a Octan Fuel Transport is just simply technically brilliant and makes even the most micro builders giddy with his details:


But it’s just not the judges that were swayed by the Micro-side, arguably the most important trophy (cause I can win it!) is People’s Choice, the award that the builders and community votes on. This, to me is the real litmus test of how epic your SHIP is. Judges can be swayed to box in SHIPs by this and that, and have potential agendas and soft spots, but the people, they’re brutally honest in voting on the coolest SHIP – which actually isn’t a bad criteria.

In fact, this is so important, that People’s choice comes first. To me, it means more to have the community proclaim their favorite than a secret cabal of judges appointed by a few.  So let’s see what the people liked in terms of SHIPs:

2013: Jacob Unterreiner – Phoenix (with possibly the best SWOOSH! ever.


2014: Damien Labrousse – untitled


2015: Tim Schwalfenberg – Vaygr Battlecruiser (Again! – will he three-peat in the best SHIP/People’s choice?)

So let’s take a closer look, again it looks like it’s a Micro-sweep, so not only have the Judges and builders shifted radically away from the Play-sets and into Display pieces, but also the community at large.

But wait! Look closer at Damien’s SHIP  I tricked you! That’s not actually MicroScale, it’s MINIFIG scale – you can see the little red pilot. But it LOOKS like it’s microscale, doesn’t it?

And maybe really that’s the point – scale isn’t the determining factor of cool or not. It’s the so-called micro-detailing that is wide-spread on MicroSHIPs (cause you kinda have to have micro details on microSHIP – duh) that is really the new trend. And microSHIPs tend to be smaller than Minifig Scale equivalents – which means the extra parts required for such detail to be far less than to build with a minifig Scale equivalent – But that’s not to say it can’t be achieve, Damien and Nathan are great examples. Another blast from the past, and one of my all time SHIPtember fav builds from 2014 is [Stijn Oom] with his absolutely drop dead dropship (Keith is totally right, everyone loves a good VTOL dropship…everyone):


(and I stand corrected, this appears to be the highest Fav count at 722 and counting…. … yeah)

So what now? The super detailing trend will continue and I’m sure we’ll see many amazing minifig and micro scaled SHIPs this year and subsequent years. For me, I think I’m hatching a plan for next year already, after so many hours pondering for SHIPrite fodder, it really kept making me really want to build NEXT year’s SHIP. Not that I don’t like this year’s (I do have serious issues with it) , but I’ve had so many ideas while trying to review the past few SHIPtembers and honestly some realizations I never had till I had to really had to think about it … SHIPtember 2016 … I want to do a micro-scale-detailed-minifig-interior-SHIP.

… tune in next year to see how that goes.






14 thoughts on “SHIPrites Vol 4: Play-sets or Display pieces?

  1. I never found SHIPs that impressive (aside from the “investment” aspect) until I saw Pierre’s work. I think a lot of the older minifig-scale SHIPs just cut corners because no one expected that much attention to detail at that scale. Thanks to SHIPtember these things are everywhere now and size alone doesn’t cut it anymore. Looking back, I see a lot of those older-style SHIPs as missed opportunities, including Proudlove’s above. If you can achieve the same shapes and details at less than half the scale, what’s the point in making it that big? Minifig scale SHIPs can have just as much detail when done right, but I think too often builders get hung up on the scale and end up sacrificing the design.


    1. Chris man, you should ghost write for me, elegantly stated.

      Though I think. ‘cutting corners’ may be a bit harsh, out builders, myself included are bounded by our collection, even my pretty stupidly large collection can get strained during SHIPtember… I’ve already gone through my bag of 100 1×16 technic, and I had to borrow 1000 1×2 plates, after exhausting probably double or triple that.

      And that’s today, 5, 10 years ago when the first SHIPs came out they didn’t have the accessibility to brick like today.

      That being said, the standard is soon high these days, part of me is scared every year going in. Monster builders like Pierre, Jonas, Ryan, Rim are always going to be there and pushing the envelope of epic ship styles and hyper detailing…

      And you’re right, a lot of people start focusing on size, and especially with interiors the exponential size increase required to detail and design a mini fig scale SHIP is a significant investment, even in today’s afol world.

      But wouldn’t it be so exciting to see it done more often? Or an old school SHIP with today’s hyper detailing?

      I should also point out that for younger builders, they have similar problems with detailing micro scale SHIPs, and they suffer from the hang ups. So it’s super refreshing to see someone like Noel, who has a tiny collection pump out things like this :
      SHIPtember WIP - Day 13

      He clearly put detail and design first, and is at a A level building. Though I’m not sure his collection can sustain this for a whole SHIP, he, like Keith decided to take the high road and build the best they could….


      1. Perhaps that was a bit presumptuous of me, never having built anything on this scale before myself. Hell, I barely know how to build a wall out of basic bricks (or a cock and balls, for that matter). I also acknowledge that I am judging these rather unfairly considering the time frame involved and the previously established idea that SHIPtember isn’t about the end result. I merely chose Proudlove’s SHIP as an example of the old style within reach. But none of that should stop me, you, or anyone else from acknowledging their flaws for the sake of making them “mo’ bettah.”

        Fair point regarding the limitations of one’s collection. HOWEVER, the flipside of that is having the forethought to choose a design that your collection can handle, or is at least doable within reason (and budget). We all know that Keith underestimated the strength of his orange bin for Matango! this year and chose a less than ideal design in terms of width. Again, I’m ignoring the actual purposes of SHIPtember here and the self-imposed challenge in taking the “hard road.” I prefer to be limited by my imagination rather than my collection, and this is why you’ll probably never see a SHIP from me, at least not under a time constraint. You guys have an ambition that I lack.

        Returning to the matter of Proudlove’s SHIP, I don’t know the man or his bricks, but my gut feeling is that his design is a far bigger resource hog than, say, Jacob’s Phoenix. The former contains a massive amount of black brick and is not only 100+ studs long but also fairly tall. Maybe Proudlove had all that ABS lying around from a previous project, but that’s irrelevant to my point. The Phoenix is sleeker and uses a hodgepodge of slopes and bricks in multiple basic colors with gaps in between, which is not only less taxing to the average collection but also creates more visual interest in the way everything is arranged. You may classify it as hyper-detailed, but look at the greebles; there are hardly any. But the few that are there are placed with meticulous care and thought. It’s not the amount, but the ATTENTION to detail that’s changed. And that’s where I think a lot of the earlier SHIPs were lacking, limitations considered, old standards and techniques disregarded. I don’t mean to imply that the creation of such a spectacular design as the Phoenix is by any means easy or even accessible, but I think it’s a prime example of making the best of one’s limitations.

        I think Noel could take a page from Jacob and put together a fantastic-looking SHIP. That kid is a beast, after all. His work may be a little rough around the edges, but he clearly has the resolve to keep improving and the balls to tackle what I wouldn’t have dreamed of at his age. He’ll probably outclass us all someday.


  2. Nice article Simon! I think you are spot on with the trend being the explosion in level of detail both in micro and minifig scaled SHIPs.

    The next challenge I’d like to explore is more difficult and unorthodox parts selection. I feel while I’ve improved in the micoscale detailing mentioned in the article, I think I keep falling back on more or less the same techniques. I’d love to weave in some really unusual parts. I think Pierre and Jonas are the prime examples of this. Their SHIPs over the years have just been an epic spread of NPU.

    Simon, as you mentioned before, the challenge of SHIPtember is what you decide it is for yourself, and I absolutely love that about it! Cheers!


    1. Ryan…

      Care to double down for Iron-SHIPtember next year?
      I send you two sets of seed parts – and you have to use at least one of them?

      But yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about – the last few years you’ve been stellar SHIPtember builder – and I feel you can keep building the similar Ryan style every year and it’d be gorgeous, but is that challenging for you? Are you stretching your building muscles ?

      I almost feel like SHIPtember is time to experiment, and possibly fail. I didn’t purposefully set out to do it, but last 3 SHIPtembers, I’ve inadvertantly picked or latched onto a different style/technique –
      2014 – Trotta blocking and inset designs
      2015 – Tim technic connection/panels
      2016 – Bendy OMG SO MANY 1×2 curves.

      But I probably would never try any of these for a convention build – that stuff has to get DONE. I can’t possibly fail for that, that massive collab, it can’t be missing the giant SHIP or what not…. plus there’s the secondary satefy net of you – the community helping me out of a jam cause I totally built myself into a corner and don’t have an escape route…

      So yeah, SHIPtember is frustratingly fun – I can’t wait for next year.


  3. I think this is the best of the series to date, your writing sounds the most conversational, like talking to you at a bar. Numers…FINALLY…thank you, and what amazing numbers they are. 722 views on the VTOL best by Stijn is hard to wrap my mind around. Some builders take a decade to get 722 views on their entire body of work and he does it on a single model. Even when you factor in ‘Explore’, or getting on larger nerd blogs, that number is huge, all the more so because it isn’t some Disney/Marvel franchised boilerplate.

    You should take those numbers and be proud of them Si, without you and the challenge, they don’t happen, or at least not at the same rate or with the same intensity. I know people like to say they don’t care about the numbers, but I think they should be celebrated because it means one of us broke through a the hobby’s barrier and into the larger realm of nerd culture. More numbers, please, the stats are interesting. I also appreciated the breakdown of winners, it was nice to see them all listed in one place.

    Maybe I need a ‘swoosh’ video Omnibus, the one you referenced always makes me chuckle.

    This series is killing it, some of the best stuff we’ve had on the Manifesto.


    1. Thanks so much Keith,
      ha, you and your numbers. While you’re right that’s an astoundingly high number of favs (I can only think of another build that is higher than that), and I am glad it happened during my watch – I’m far more proud of the sheer participation in SHIPtember. Regardless of the path people took, 100 studs is not a trivial build even for the one day builders. The collective whole was wildly above my expectations and the continued participation, growth? and general enjoyment by people across the board – that’s what I’m most proud of.

      There are some other great swooshes out there -TR’s ninja swooshes comes to mind. haha.

      Maybe I’ll talk about that next week 🙂


  4. And you all thought I was crazy (well, crazier) when I kept preaching about “what’s next?”. It’s that rash that itches, and you’ve got it, Simon. There ain’t no cure and there ain’t no ointment, just start scratching. Welcome to the diseased, my friend!

    Both your insights as well as Keith’s regarding this maddening salvation have provided the best of what a blank canvas can ever offer. And that is simply a future, a possibility, a potential. There is such a humbleness to your vantage point that it makes Keith’s failing with Matango! more realistic, empathetic, and completely human. And being able to relate to both of you makes this one of the best competitions in the entirety of the Lego community. And the best part of it is that quality has NOTHING to do with the final product. THIS is Art; the SHIP is art. And that is how it should be if this community seeks a future.

    So kudos to both of you! And thank you.


    1. Haha you’re welcome, I think?

      And I agree that this dip into the process makes SHIPtember special. Traditional contests and challenges you just drop off your moc, don’t. If you don’t finish or didn’t like the result, no one knows.

      it takes a bit of bravery to step up and proclaim ‘I’m building for SHIPtember’ arguably a voyeuristic edge to it. But it kind of falls back on the unsung heroes of SHIPtember. The community that keeps the builders going with an influx of comments and suggestions. What’s the point of performing arts If no one sees it?


      1. Feedback and community are in my mind the most important part of SHIPtember. Which reminds me of another area: The early August build. This year, a large portion of my September was unavailable, so I decided to take advantage of the early build window. While I did get some really nice feedback that helped me a lot on my ship during construction, let me just say that the early build SUCKS! It almost felt lonely building early. While I’m not quite to Keith’s level of vitriol for the early build, I do have to say when comparing to my prior 3 SHIPtember builds before this, it completely pales in comparison to the camaraderie and FUN that happens during the actual September builds!


      2. I like how you didn’t accept my challenge for Iron-SHIPtember. 😉

        Wow, I didn’t really ever think of that – I generally try to treat the PRE-SHIPtember guys the same as SHIPtember, but even I can say this year my commenting is falling behind a lot – I think 3 days over due in the last batch of poking around.

        But it’s interesting to hear it’s such a big gap between Pre and ‘regular’ SHIPtember. I guess the community isn’t as nice as I am LOL. But seriously – that’s another one of these ‘obvious’ realizations that never really occur to me till I thought about it, much like all the things I’ve talked about in SHIPrites. I also think(?) this year had a far fewer uptake on the early bird special than last few years, though main SHIPtember seems to be growing strong ? (I haven’t started adding up the NUMBERS yet – Keith). But it definitely felt like fewer early birds, that and you basically dominated the show this year in AUGtember (Augmented SHIPtember? haha)


  5. The interior/no interior debate doesn’t have to be the same as Minifig/Microfig. I remember saving photos of OG SHIPmaster Paul Baulch’s work in 1996 or so…you were lucky if there were two photos over 360 pixels of the same build. Needless to say, an interior pic was not in the cards, but that didn’t lessen the influence.

    I’ve built three SHIPs in the last 15+ !? years, all Minifig scale, each time with fewer exposed studs and less interior.

    The first spaceplane was built organically, one section at a time. When I had several pieces of it built, I had to figure out how to put them together into a cohesive whole. I’m sure many SHIP building first-timers have made the same mistake. This was in the early days of Brickfest and digital cameras, so the “playset” aspect was very much in effect. I entered this in a contest Paul Hartzog ran, and one of the judging categories was interior. But I think I managed to keep the shape and role fresh…even (or especially?) then most big Lego spaceships were Navy battleships transported into space.


    The second spaceplane was built specifically with convention travel in mind…the SHIP broke apart into pieces that fit the duffel bag and suitcase I was bringing to BrickCon. Learning from the previous experience, I also spent more time planning the shape, including roughing out ideas in Solidworks. To show off the interior of a SHIP at a con, you have to take it apart or open it up, which doesn’t have the same across-the-room impact. I figured why spend any time on an interior if no one is going to see it? It freed me to build the exterior details using whatever technique worked best. The minifigs in the cockpit aren’t even complete…they have their arms and legs removed to fit. Is the build any lesser for it?

    I did build this in protoShiptember fashion. I think almost all of it was built in the month before BrickCon. Maybe without the end date deadline I would have thought more about populating the inside. After


    This one was specifically built as BrickCon diorama filler (and incidentally, actual Shiptember)…I wouldn’t have been upset if it hadn’t come home in one piece. Besides the skull and a few other details, this is the definition of boilerplate, to use Keith’s favorite word. But it was supposed to invoke a Viking longship and a spaceship at the same time, so getting too fancy might have spoiled the effect. Definitely no interior.

    Critique or argue away.


    1. You’ve sort of proven my point! A lot of people equate scale to detail. Mini fig scale is less detailed than micro scale. Especially in the bounded context that is SHIPtember. But there are obvious exceptions, yours included.

      The other fallacy is that mini fig SHIPs should have interiors, but as you and others have pointed out that it restricts the structural space that’s available to support a lot of structures.

      And excellent point about con vs non-con SHIPs. Depending on travel method, it totally constrains the design and approach to building a SHIP.
      Not to mention who can actually see inside the SHIP, even with removable panels. Though Giddens, bless his heart still builds the old school way, with new school thought to design and details.

      His last behemoth was just amazing, with totally removable panels to show off the interiors to the kids – but he is few and far between to be able to pull it off.

      And I just love your comment and walk through of your own progress, as it seems to have mirrored a lot in the prevailing mentality of the Community with respect to building SHIPs.

      The same realizations and realities of ditching standard norms for the next more optimized design….

      Bravo sir. You’ve always been a leader in SPACE!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s