Bricks LA Update (Part 1)

It’s been two weeks and a day since I committed to attending Bricks LA, and as I mentioned in this self congratulatory post, I’ve begun work on a diorama to share with my fellow attendees and the great unwashed masses who will pack the Pasadena Convention center in desperate search of a Lego fix.  I can hear the familiar questions now…is this Star Wars?  Is this Halo?  How long did it take?, How many bricks?, Do you live in your parent’s basement?,  are you sure this isn’t Star Wars?  As I mentioned in the first article, I’m planning on taking advantage of my SHIPtember offering from earlier this year, the BSL Marcus Garvey and use it as the centerpiece of the diorama.  I don’t typically keep models assembled for any length of time and one of the downsides of that policy is that I don’t have a catalogue of creations to draw from in an “emergency”.  I have managed to amass a decent sized collection of models by a rogues gallery of fellow builders, but I’m hesitant to use them for several reasons.  The most obvious one is that with very few exceptions the models in question have been previously posted and unlike Rutherford I don’t really dig trotting out a reliquary of greatest hits.   And of course, most of them don’t really fit the vibe of this current project. The Garvey is only a couple of months old and it’s never traveled to a convention so I figured it’s fair game.

Because experience has taught me that people are not really into my smaller builds (for better or worse they expect me to show up with the big action), I’m planning on a 4’x8′ layout that encompasses the entirety of my Legoratory table.  It’s the same footprint as Bucharest, Logan’s Run and Zero Hour but this new effort will certainly lack the vertical impact of those dioramas.   When your starting point is a 132 long ship, you need a large background to give it any sense of scale and perspective.

As of the time of this posting, I have a barely adequate 37 days and 35 minutes remaining to accomplish this task and for that…I must unfortunately embrace the boilerplate wholeheartedly.  That means there is no time for fussing about trying to come up with a new fancy technique or waiting patiently for artistic inspiration to strike…like lightning!  There is no time to conjure the muse, she’s a capricious wench at the best of times.  No, building under the guillotine of a hard deadline means reaching into the back-catalog of ideas and hopefully rearranging them into something that at least vaguely resembles a new build.  If something truly creative or original happens along the way, so much the better but the fundamental approach is different without the luxury of unlimited time.


When building a diorama for a SHIP, you basically have two options for the setting, rural or urban.  Sure you can mix the two but in my experience one style is usually dominant.  I’m kind of burned out on the classic futuristic hangar approach or some kind of techno-ziggurat so I opted for a more natural setting.  I’ve amassed a decent quantity of dark blue tile over the past few years and I was itching to put them into use.  It made sense to start from the lowest point and build my way up (unlike my usual random approach to building things) so I tried to work in a subtle curve into the flow and break things up with little islands of mud.  Normally I’d at least try to break the grid and float some terrain at odd angles but in this particular instance, the baseplate is my friend. Things can get alarmingly jostled during interstate travel and I want to give the layout the best possible chance of survival on it’s way to the venue.

I wish I had enough dark brown to line the lower banks with, but looking at what I have on hand, a combination of old/new brown was the most logical choice.  I’m not ruling out a Cracklink order but I’d like to avoid it if I can, to save money for other things like SWAG and on-site refreshments.  After the mud went down, it was time to get a little elevation into the mix, so I began work on a rocky terrace.  I’m not a huge fan of your standard issue rock-vomit that features slopes going every which direction so I opted for this simpler one-direction technique I’ve used a couple of times in the past to good effect.  it’s not very inventive and certainly not state o’ the art, but I enjoy the look and it has the benefit of allowing me to gain elevation quickly.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be happy just to cover the entire footprint and I’m not terribly worried about the vertical aspect of the diorama.  In a normal situation, planning for an eye-block would be of primary importance in these early stages, but I’m just going to let it emerge on it’s own as the project advances.  I did begin an olive green retaining wall in the background, with small gaps between the slats, but I’m not convinced yet that it will still be around by the time the building is complete.  I might take advantage of the gaps by putting some indirect lighting behind the wall, but it’s just a vague notion for now.


There has been one alarming development, in laying all that brown plate for the terraforming, I was amazed at how many 1×2 plates snapped like the bones of a brittle old man with osteoporosis.  The photo below is just a small sample of the carnage, I’d conservatively estimate that I lost 25-30 of these basic parts over the course of decidedly routine usage.  They were all of the newer reddish brown variety, I don’t think I lost a single example of the older color.  It’s disappointing, not because of the cost (they go for about 2 cents a pop), but rather because I expect a higher quality standard from our benevolent Danish overlords.


The biggest challenge I face with this project is a familiar one for me; the lack of an overriding creative vision to guide me.  Simply put, I have no freaking idea what this thing will, or should look like when all is said and done.  I know I want to use the bulk of the SHIP to divide the scene into two separate areas, each with it’s own character.  I know I want a largely rural setting, and some lights and motion…but what the final form will look like is a largely a mystery and so is the story that will go along with it.  Instead of planning like a normal person, I started laying brick without a guiding blueprint.  This isn’t unusual for me, I typically start blazing away in the heat of inspiration and worry about the details later, safe in the knowledge that I have the luxury of time for a re-start or two along the way to get things right.  I have no such luxury for Bricks LA, the reset button is broken and I have to push past indecision and uncertainty to make the deadline.

When I started building I didn’t envision this project as a collaboration, it seemed rude to ask people to spend time and effort building something in a creative vacuum, without a clear picture of the target to inform their work.  Building for a convention is a unique monster though and it has been my experience that involving cronies in the mix is essential to the collective onsite experience.  Things are always better with like minded idiots.  With that in mind, I’ve asked friends of the blog and WackLUG members Jeff Cross and Andrew Lee to come along for the ride if this WIP shot looks at all compelling to them. I’m also hoping Zach Clapsaddle will defy the odds and show up, bringing along  his special brand of magic, but that seems to be up in the air for now.  As for rowntRee, he’s (of course) invited to participate but he’s got his own kettle o’ fish to deal with, working on a racing pit for his engorged Victor Viper.  I hope it all fits in the van, buddy.

If, by chance, you find yourself planning on attending Bricks LA, let me know and I’m sure I can find some pace on this bloated layout for your contribution as well.   I’ll update you on the progress in the coming weeks.  Any advice or constructive criticism you have is welcome in the comments, but if your words of wisdom require a massive revision or restart, don’t expect to see them implemented.


34 thoughts on “Bricks LA Update (Part 1)

  1. Looks like that terrain is shaping up really well. That reddish brown is the absolute worst color for breakage. Seems like it breaks on everybody… that said, those broken bits could make for some good excavation debris (or mud splatter)… Maybe have a giant mudworm (ala Dune’s sand worm) breaking up through the surface? Or perhaps a heard of beetles running through… just spit-balling ideas…


    1. Ted….Ted…are you really trying to sneak in a great steambug migration into my diorama? How dare you. I hadn’t considered using the broken plates, I’ll have to give that one some thought. I’m not sure that it wouldn’t be distracting to the viewer and it would probably generate a shit ton of annoying questions on public day. And since Rutherford is unfortunately probably not making the journey with us, I don’t have the advantage of a rabid hype-man to play carnival barker to the masses. Nobody digs the public action as much as Rutherford. The Dune idea is probably a bit too boilerplate even for this mundane affair, and I’m too lazy to go back and tear up the plating to make it look right. I do appreciate the suggestions though Ted, at least when it doesn’t involve great steambug migrations.


      1. Perhaps I haven’t detoxed enough from that steampunk display… But I was thinking more organic. Like what would this “away team” be coming across on the surface… Maybe some kind of mud-man/creature growing out of the surface (like Terminator 2 out of the floor… But bigger/blob-ier


      2. I actually like the bug idea, as long as it’s steam-free. Ditto the mud-man idea, as long as it’s not a steamy mud-man. I’m afraid most of that will be in the hands of the collaborators. I’ll be lucky enough to complete the sandbox without worrying about building the Tonka trucks. I’ll kick the idea out there though, you never know who will bite. Rutherford needs something to build and he does love steampunk.


  2. More blue. That’s a great color. Are you are breaking up that brown with a lot of foliage and color? It just looks a bit more like a muddy stream. I like the big industrial vs organic plant matter idea. Let me know if I can help with random color or pieces. You know we have a boatload of loose brick over here. Not sure if it will make a dent with this undertaking however.


      1. Gotcha, I keep meaning to trade somebody all my prefab conifers, I doubt I’ll ever make a Christmas tree lot diorama. I’m not the greatest with build-your-own trees, but there are some good examples out there to steal from. It will all come down to time, but it’s a good call and I appreciate the input.


    1. I wish I had more of that dark blue, but even if I did beg, borrow or steal some, I’m not sure it’s worth the time to rip up all the brown plate and resculpt the terrain around more water. I am planning on adding some plants, although a part of me really likes the barren look, it’s probably a little too bland. I’ve got a bunch of dark tan and olive green plants Ill try. I think the primary colors might be too contrasting but I’ll play with both to see what looks good. I appreciate the offer of part support, I’ll definitely let you know if / when I hit the wall with something, at least you’re close enough that the time lag is no big deal. Thanks! Haven’t heard from you a while on the site, it’s good to see your name in the comments.


      1. Doesn’t have to be green trees. You could work a yellow / orange tops with black trunk look. It may soften the brown but still keep that blue nicely visible.


  3. The blue and brown work super well together; I’m betting on this being a memorable dio on all accounts. Not sure what’s goingon with that wall of olive yet but I’m excited to see this finished!
    Sucks about those brown plates too, I had at least three 4×6’s in that color break on me during my last build. Something’s fishy down in TLG quality control.


    1. Aaron my friend, I wish I shared your confidence because right now it feels like some shameless, rushed boilerplate. Hopefully I’ll have just enough time to give it some visual interest before I have to pack it up for LA. Not sure about that wall either but I like it enough to keep around for now. If you’ve got any ideas as things progress, I’m all ears. You always come at design from such an original perspective I’ll be happy to have your take. It’s good to know, weirdly, that I”m not the only one with the breakage, I thought it might be the arid conditions here in the wasteland. Lego rubber bands only last a couple of months here before they become brittle and useless. I wonder if TLG is working on it. If only we had an ambassador to ask…


  4. I’ll add some more anecdotal evidence of reddish brown being shoddy. I’ve had some dark red break a lot on me too, which is pretty close in color so it makes me wonder if they’re related. I like Ted’s idea of using them as mud splatter, though it looks like use will be limited to how much clutch power they still have.


    1. I haven’t noticed it with dark red, but then again it’s a color I have in short supply. A lot of the pieces are just shards, as you see in the photo. Like I mentioned to Ted, I’m not sure if it would be a cool effect or distracting, I’ll have to play around with it, but now I’m glad I didn’t throw out the shrapnel.


    2. Who needs clutch? If people can just dump a bunch of 1×1 trans rounds on a table and call it water, why not dump these kibbles and bits and call it mud?… Although admittedly, it probably would look more like somebody had the sharts instead… Now there’s some fodder for good public day questions.


      1. The more I think about the idea, the less I like it…Ted I try to be open minded but I just can’t go full communist like you and the rest of the swingers. I just think it’ll look like broken Lego and as you say….the jackassy questions would be never ending.


  5. Well, Lego is not the be all end all, it really sort of sucks. I have a Dino container filled with broken Lego, can’t seem to part with it for some weird psychological reason. The old red cannon holders were notorious for just showing up broken. Don’t know if there is anything to trace through red into brown or into any of the darker shades lately. Who knows?

    I dig the colors together, it’s like looking down on a cold, slow river. Some good fishin’ there. I know if I were on a SHIP for any length of time and found myself in front of a hole like that I would have a line in the water. Can’t wait to slam on the brakes with this thing in the back of a van, really put those 1x2s to the test. 😉


    1. Wow, you are a weirdo, keeping broken parts like that…are you a hoarder rowntRee, is that your problem? I didn’t know that about the cannon holders, that’s interesting. I have a bunch of them…too many of them really, but I almost never use them so I’ve never noticed.

      I think you’re right, some fishing action seems mandatory. And who said you’re driving? You think I’d trust you behind the wheel after the Virgin River Canyon incident on the way to Utah? You’ve lost your damn mind again. I can’t believe I’m even getting in a vehicle with you again, a known cannibal.


      1. Virgin River Canyon? Ah, yes, Virgin River Canyon. I once knew a girl who lived in Virgin River Canyon. Long time ago, when I was a young man. Not a day passes I don’t think of her and the promise that I made which I will always keep. That one perfect day in Virgin River Canyon.


  6. It’s a beautiful landscape, Keith. Really digging those colors. It’ll complement the brightness of the Garvey. I’ll jump on the bandwagon and say you need some wetland action. It reminds me of the Colorado River down by Yuma. A healthy dollop of flower stems (“grass”) pieces would do a body of water good.

    It’s difficult, but when I see this, there’s potential for a romantic vision. Like a platform with the Marcus Garvey on it cantilevered over part of this river, with one member of the crew dropping a fishing line into the water (I’m running with Rowntree here). The goat can use his shore leave to forage in the grass. Perhaps a futuristic fish fry?

    By the way, I never said it but the Garvey is a rocking ship. I love the color scheme, the naval design cues, the Afrofuturism inspiration, and the fact that it doesn’t just look like a large gun.


      1. It’s the terrain and amount of water more than anything. If it were really the Colorado, I think water would be tan… kinda like Yoo-hoo. Mmmm Choco-water!


    1. Cheers Juan! I’m leaning heavily towards using my big bag o’ flower stems, I agree it seems like a good idea. I’m also wary of making the place look too “friendly” and green, I’m kind of digging the starkness of it all.

      One more vote for the fisherman, it will be done, so say we all. As for the romantic vision…we’re leaning towards a back-woods wedding for the focal point of the action. Stay tuned.


  7. What are you thinking about for that lower right hand corner? Is that where the MOC card will go?

    Did I understand you to say that you want the ship to sort of divide two distinct areas in the dio? I like the way it sits right now, asymmetrical… even lopsided. Lends the terrain that sweeping look. Like a scene in a big movie. Genuinely “epic” at a glance. But if the ship sort of divides two sections, then why push it off to one side like that?

    I like this write up. In regard to describing your approach to building a dio, it is simultaneously accurate, typical, and appalling.

    I swear by what gods may be… you…working on a dio… is like this guy… every time!

    Oddly enough it all works out…

    Suffering cats!


    1. I think the idea is that the ship is the focal point of the left side while there’s other substantial shit going on on the right. What that substantial shit is, is yet to be known.


    2. MOC cards are for Canadians and losers, they never look good no matter where you put them, are often misprinted. Instead, I will use printed tiles and build my own “MOC Card” right into the face of the diorama. In your face, motherfucker!

      The SHIP is no longer the dividing line for the diorama. I originally envisioned it as a way to have two separate scenes, one violent one peaceful perhaps, but as you know the direction has changed since last week. Now the Garvey will go in the back left hand corner, as far back as I can put it, where it will serve as an eye-block for some of the action.


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