Ted Talks – LOZ 4 LULZ

Hey Kentucky! Welcome back to the Manifesto and more importantly to our regular feature Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes shares his wit and wisdom on a wide variety of topics.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

“I’m just waiting for my man.”

Many regrettable life decisions have been made after an acquaintance says something like, “Hey. I’ve got something really cool that you might be interested in.”  It is usually something taboo, like in those cautionary tales of an “after-school special”, or shown in a public service ad; “Just Say No.”.  Of course YOU would never consider doing such things, and yet here you are.  It is no longer hypothetical. Someone has “the stuff” conveniently placed in front of you, right here, right now.  What do you do?  There is no harm in having a little taste, right?… But that little taste is all it takes.  You have just become another statistic, jonesing for your next fix.  I’m not talking about the dangers of playing MMORPG-style video games, or putting back a couple shots of Malört.  I’m talking about what lurks in the deepest, darkest, yet most adorable corner of the LEGO clone brick underworld. I’m talking about LOZ.

 “Ahhhh… That’s the stuff.”

For those not familiar with LOZ, here are some links to their websites.  I would guess that the vast majority of you reading this would walk the path of the righteous, and not give these parts a second thought; “Yet another Chinese company blatantly knocking off LEGO sets?  And knocking off the alt-build designs of AFOL’s too? Boooooo!!!” That’s what I had thought too… but there is a catch that you might not have expected from seeing the photos of their pirated sets; all of their parts have been shrunken down to 3/4 the scale of their LEGO sized counterparts.

Customer Site: LOZ Diamond Building Blocks iBlock Fun | Loz-blocks

Corporate Site: http://loz.en.alibaba.com/ (scroll down to watch their corporate video)

Zhenfeng toys – “20years – Plastic toys, Building block & Baby potty / With Rich Professional Experience”

Based on their corporate website, it looks like LOZ is mainly focused on targeting the European markets.  The numbers seem too evenly balanced on their map (almost everything is set at 10%), so who really knows for sure.

Flint Griffin (a.k.a. “Random Vector”) was the acquaintance giving out demos at Brickworld Chicago to anyone who wanted to give them some play; “You want to see the most adorable bricks ever? It will blow your mind!” he said, or something to that effect.  “If you build something cool with them, I’ll even let you keep the MOC.”   The first time he beckoned, I was still busy getting that darned speeder coaster to work.  Once Saturday’s public display hours had ended, however, I needed a little something to take the edge off.  “Give me a hit of that micro play brick, will ya?”

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“Psst. Over here….  Aren’t these the most adorable bricks you’ve ever seen?”

Huddled around a back table at Brickworld, we gathered and played with Flint’s random pile of LOZ.  Once the visceral reactions to these being pirated bricks had subsided, the novelty of these pint-sized parts shined through. For those of us that have the LEGO parts catalog ingrained into our psyche when we build, the transition to using LOZ was relatively seamless.  Whenever I started wondering if LOZ had made such-and-such a part, sure enough I found it on the table; Pneumatic T’s? Technic bricks? Clips with bars? Click-hinges? Dishes? Travis (Jr.) bricks? Printed BrickHeadz eyes?  Yes to all.  LOZ has made a three-quarters-scale copy of most new LEGO parts you might wonder about… and of course in the typical LEGO colors.  It really was just like building with shrunken down LEGO parts.  (I’d be curious to see the reactions of people who thought they were actually buying standard scale LEGO knock-offs, only to find much smaller bricks upon receipt… priceless).  They even have some of the parts you always wished LEGO would make, like double-sided plates with studs on both sides.

This sharing (plagiarizing) of the LEGO parts catalog is both a blessing and a curse.  Many times sitting at the table, I was thinking “I’ll just stop here and finish the rest at home with my own LEGO parts… Oh wait. I can’t. These aren’t LEGO, and mine won’t work with them.”   Putting random pieces together, I noticed that the part quality was really good. The only breakage I had witnessed was on a small chain linkage, which was understandable. The parts can be really difficult to both assemble and separate at that scale, so having their 3/4 scaled brick separator would have definitely helped at the time (they do actually make one!).

Before playing with these LOZ bricks, I would never have given them a second thought.  No way would I ever be interested in messing with them, let alone buy them. Who needs them? Who cares?…  But in the setting of a brick convention, they made for the prefect curiosity; a jigsaw puzzle, drawing like-minded builders around a table together to “MOC and chill”.  Part, part, pass.

“Stop and think about everyone you are hurting.”

LOZ were brought back into my consciousness a couple weeks ago, after I saw a post on flickr about the latest LOZ set; a knock-off of the LEGO VW Beetle and Gerald Cacas’s alternate build.  Here are the links to do the comparison; LOZ  Vs  “My alternate MOC was cloned!!!”

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“SHAME!!!  … SHAME!!!!”

Seeing the blatant plagiarism of Gerald’s design, the reactions from the building community were as expected, including the suggestion that he “sell instructions so they lose sales.”  However that is not exactly a counter move against LOZ, since they are selling a 3/4 scale version, using 3/4 scale bricks. The only way that would impact LOZ is if they in turn have their own knock-off competitor, also making all of the LEGO parts at their 3/4 scale size (is that meta enough for you?).

Gerald mentioned that he tried to reach out to The LEGO Group (TLG) to let them know, but he said that they just shrugged their shoulders. It makes you wonder what TLG ‘s strategy is in defending their intellectual property (IP) when it comes to LOZ:

  • Did TLG balk since their main brick patent had expired, and the 3/4 scale parts are not a direct 1-for-1 knock-off (unlike the worst offender, LEPIN)?
  • When the cloning is being done in China, is the Great Wall of government protectionism and red tape is not worth the effort to surmount?… or is it a situation of “Sigh. We know. Just add it to the pile.”?
  • At this stage, what IP does TLG consider the most vital to protect? The LEGO trademarks? The set designs?  Their other individual part designs? The minifig? … We all know how they feel about anyone calling the building blocks “LEGOS” vs. “LEGO bricks” (to protect the brand), and any photo leaks of to-be-released set designs (to ensure they are first-to-market before any bootlegs can surface).

On top of all of those TLG specific considerations, there are also all of the licensed themes that LOZ have made into “Brickheadz”, Disney’s catalog being a MAJOR one. Does LOZ actually have the licensing to market these sets?  I can’t see how. For TLG to be paying a licensing fee to Disney, one would expect some kind of contracted exclusivity so that TLG is the only company licensed to produce building-block sets of the licensed theme.  So then that means that LOZ are REALLY thumbing their noses at not only TLG, but a bunch of other mighty big companies.  That’s crazy… Crazy like a fox.

LOZ might be taking the approach of “any publicity is good publicity”. Want to get the attention of the largest hive of building bees?  You could plant some nice original designs of flowers or something to attract them… or instead you can kick the hive!  This plagiarism of part designs, set designs, and licensed themes is a sure fire way to drop a cherry-bomb into the hive and get those bees to take notice (and maybe one even writes a blog article, despite knowing full well that he is playing right into their hands…). Sure, the bees all want to sting LOZ now, but it still creates a buzz that will draw at least few new people in.

All of their blatant plagiarism was a hard conflict for me to overcome in buying anything from LOZ.  As with all creative endeavors, I want to ensure my support goes directly to those who developed the IP, as best that I can… however, the small scale of those LOZ parts themselves were still very intriguing.  After much deliberation, I finally decided to purchase a couple of sets as research for this article… and for the lulz.

“Treat every customer with your heart”… as for everyone else, well…

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I ordered 3 LOZ sets; the aforementioned knock-off VW Beetle (with its equally knocked-off alternate AFOL design), Spongebob Blue Hero, and a yellow Transformers Scorpion.  Their sets were priced cheaper if you bought them without their packaging, so that is exactly what I did.  LOZ offers free shipping on orders over $25 US too, which is amazing for international shipments. I placed my order on August 2nd, and the box arrived in my mailbox in Kentucky 11 days later.  That’s pretty fast for a shipment being sent half way around the world.

The shipping box was made from that rice paper cardboard that most recycling centers in the USA refuse to take (the fiber length is too short to be reprocessed back into paper products… now you know). It was also the kind of shipping box that your postal carrier will have no reservations in trying to cram into your much smaller mailbox, because they are too lazy to get out of their vehicle and walk to your door.… Just “crease, crumple, cram”… You ‘ll do fine.

Inside the box were all three sets and their instructions, each placed in their own plastic zip-bag. I wasn’t actually planning to build any of these sets, but for the sake of this article I sucked it up and built the knock-off VW Beetle (to me, the only thing less enjoyable than sorting is being obligated to build the set first… it’s why I have a growing pile of unopened LEGO set boxes collecting dust). Each complete LOZ set comes in unnumbered ploy-bags, so if you plan to build them you WILL have to do some sorting first.

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What’s inside?…

Their instructions are printed on a movie poster sized fold-out, harkening back to those massive fold-out roadmaps that many of us used before car-mounted GPS navigation became all the rage.  The instructions themselves were straight-forward enough, apart from an odd 1×1 round plate that they wanted me to attach onto a hidden underside somewhere.  Each step shows a lot of parts added at once, so you will need to pay close attention.

Part separation is still an issue with these parts, so place them thoughtfully.  This is especially true if you didn’t get a part separator included with the set – the one I found was included in the yellow “Transformer” set. There was a moment or two where I thought I might be missing a part, but everything was accounted for in the end.  After the ‘Blue Beach Car’ was completed, there were tons of parts left over too.  That made it a little deceiving as to how much longer it would take for me to complete the build. I assume most of those extra parts were used for the alternate knock-off build, but I think LOZ also erred on providing extras just in case.  That deserves a “LOZ size” bit of praise.

Messing around with the leftover parts, I discovered that LOZ bricks are actually compatible with LEGO bricks. At the 3/4 scale, the LOZ anti-stud tube is the same diameter as a LEGO stud. This means that a LOZ tube can fit inside of anyplace that a LEGO stud could, and that a LEGO stud can fit into anywhere that a LOZ tube would.  Here is a pic illustrating this fact (along with showing the 3/4 scale difference side-by-side in a 2×4 plate, and the brick separator).

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LOZ vs LEGO bricks

There is no real point in reviewing the ‘Blue Beach Car’ design itself, as it is just a slightly altered version of the original.  Instead, I think a rundown of how LOZ Brickheadz compare to LEGO Brickheadz works just as well…. And plagiarizing the plagiarizer’s mouth-piece blogger while doing it… (with my own added comments in parentheses)

  • LOZ offers characters that LEGO doesn’t – we think that’s awesome! (well of course you would, since you blatantly ignore international copyright and product licensing laws)
  • Both sets had easy-to-follow instructions with colored illustrations (meh. I guess you got me there. LOZ’s instructions were indeed colored)
  • LEGO pieces are chunkier which *may* make handling/building easier for novices (Oooooh. Hear that, novices? LOZ are hard to handle now…)
  • LOZ Brickheadz have more detail and more play-factor (play-factor? You mean that mask that flops up to imply that all Brickhedz are all androids? A classic knock-off toy company move, if there ever was one)
  • LEGO Brickheadz are ideal for model collectors who want to create a display (Um… okay? Care to explain this point?…wouldn’t LOZ be better, since you could fit more of them on a shelf?)
  • LOZ Brickheadz have “daintier” proportions which may make them less suitable for kids (HEY! NO TOUCHING!)
  • We had a ridiculous amount of fun building both models! (I have no counterpoint for that – they ARE copying the original designs from LEGO, so it stands to reason they would be equally fun)

“Be gone, foul demon! The power of Ole Kirk Christiansen compels you!”

For the final chapter in this morality play, I took the ‘Blue Beach Car’ model and the loose LOZ bricks to recent meeting of local builders for some show-and tell. You might remember Charley and Nate from reading my BrickUniverse Louisville 2018 round-up.  Charley is a dyed-in-the-wool LEGO man through and through; he has the original LEGO brick patent number memorized, celebrates Ole Kirk Christiansen Day every year, prefers to set our local meeting times to those printed on the LEGO clock tiles, etc. You get the gist – Everything is Awesome… if it’s LEGO!  Nate is more of a pragmatic man, and falls near the other end of the building-block spectrum.  He’s open to whatever is readily available, and he has been working the Duplo like a boss.

When I originally mentioned LOZ blocks to Charley three weeks ago, his baseline reaction was the equivalent of “wake me up when I care.”  Seeing them in person didn’t change his opinion that much, but he didn’t come down on them as hard as I thought he might either. It turns out that he is a “live and let live” kind of guy.  His feeling is that someone was considering LOZ, it would be when they cared more about building the set-model than about what parts they were actually using to build it.

Nate thought the LOZ were intriguing, but our conversation led to a discovery that was even more intriguing to me.  I learned that Nate is working on a massive Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles MOC exclusively using Mega Bloks.  As a challenge, he is purposefully going to exclude any LEGO from the MOC.  Because of that he thought it wouldn’t be kosher for him to bring it to the next BrickUniverse Louisville (mark it on your calendars everyone – January 19th-20th, 2019!). I told him, “Bring it! You definitely need to bring it!” If someone is purposefully buying Mega Bloks by choice to build an individual MOC layout, then LEGO purism be damned!  That is something I just have to see!

“No matter how hard I scrub, I still feel so dirty.”

My original intent in writing this article was to take a hard look at how LOZ sails the seas of piracy, and I ended up telling someone to bring Mega Bloks MOCs to a brick convention.  What a crazy turn of events (I think I need help).  I have certainly used my fair share of 3rd party LEGO-compatible parts when LEGO didn’t currently have a viable solution; Big Ben Bricks train wheels, the CDX rollercoaster, BRKS baseplates, custom stickers and printed parts, and who can forget butcher paper!  Using a majority of non-LEGO building blocks has never been in consideration for me, but should that mean everyone else has to build that way too?

So what say ye’, constant readers of the Manifesto?  Would the novelty of LOZ’s 3/4 scale bricks mark an exception to your purist ways?  If you planned to build a certain LEGO set model, like the VW Beetle, do you think you would be tempted to buy a 3/4 scale version of it from LOZ (and at only 45% the cost, depending on location)? Ignoring the long list of corporate ethics violations and moral dilemmas for just a brief moment, I can’t find too much to take issue with in the actual part quality, the price, or the service. Their discovery that they are semi-compatible with LEGO parts also made for an intriguing development.

In the end, however, the facts remain.  I simply can’t ignore that LOZ are pirating set designs and disregarding copywrites (no matter how well they “treat every customer with their heart”).  As informed consumers, we should all strive to be patrons to the creative design originators, rather than those who are knocking-off their works. For me, this first LOZ purchase will most likely be my last…. The shame… -=scrub=-… -=scrub=-… the shame just won’t wash off…

PIRATKOPI GODT!!!

Crack is whack! (bonus link to the classic, and highly improbable “Just say no.” ad)

Ted Talks – “Brickworld 2018: A Con Odyssey”

Hey Kentucky! Welcome back to the Manifesto and more importantly to our regular feature Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes shares his wit and wisdom on a wide variety of topics.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

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The monolith

Evolution

In the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a large black slab of extraterrestrial technology is discovered by our presumed hominid ancestors, causing a considerable shift in their evolution and marking the dawn of mankind.  Thousands of years later at Brickworld 2017, another significant discovery was made; a number of “White Brick” monoliths had been placed around the display hall, sometime during the dawn of Sunday morning.  Sure enough, they appeared yet again at Brickworld 2018.  Perhaps they are the harbinger of another shift in our evolution… an evolution in both the LEGO convention experience and in the community of builders at large.

The White Brick

“I think that white brick is really the heart of what we all want the community to be and represent, rather than the manufactured recognition that pretty much all awards have disappointingly come to be.” – Matt rowntRee

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The “White Brick” monoliths are the same size and shape as the red, brick-built trophies given to the winners of each Brickworld awards category.  As with the monoliths in “2001: A Space Odyssey” these “White Bricks” also contain many mysteries.  One of which is that these bricks are actually hollow boxes that contain a surprise MOC inside, many times personalized to the receiver.  So where did they come from? Why did they start showing up?

Since the “White Bricks” closely resemble Brickworld trophies, the easiest explanation for their appearance is to recognize noteworthy displays that had been passed over for a nomination.  If you haven’t attended Brickworld Chicago, the award nominations are doled out in predetermined categories; Best Vehicle, Best Spacecraft, Best Mech, Best Building, etc.  People certainly build MOC’s to purposefully fit them into these categories, while others consider the categories after the fact (and some even make them fit on a lark).

For those people who just want to “build something cool”, many times they don’t know what awards category their builds should go into, if any at all (…and I’m not sure why it is up to the builder to decide that for themselves).  As a result, many epic builds fall through the cracks when it comes to award nominations. They either don’t fit well into any category, get lost in the sheer number of displayers… or perhaps for other reasons?  Like “so-and-so never gets nominated, so let’s throw them a bone this year”, or “so-and-so always gets nominated, so let’s nominate a different builder instead.”  Rather than merit alone determine the nominations, politics and popularity creeps in (there was one such dubious nomination in “Best Spacecraft” this year).  You can play the game, but as you live by the sword, you die by the sword too.

The “White Brick” started appearing last year on such un-nominated builds. In 2017, Andrew Mollmann and Cecilie Fritzvold were two recipients of the “White Bricks”.  Andrew had built a most excellent “Grand Budapest” façade that year.  I’m not sure which of Cecilie’s builds that her white brick was placed in front of (perhaps for her “Goomba”?), but she did have a banner year in 2017.  She had received a Brickworld award nomination for best vignette, and was also part of yet another “Best Group Layout” win for the Eurobricks collective (they won this year too – 3 years in a row!).  She even defeated Chris Maddison in “Iron Builder” earlier that year, which was no small feat.

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Cecilie Fritzvold’s “Goomba” – so what’s in the box?

This year, however, the “White Bricks” weren’t only placed in front of un-nominated builds. Learning who else received them has led to an important discovery regarding their true meaning; The “White Bricks” recognizes those people who make the Brickworld experience special in some way, not only through creating displays but also through meaningful engagement within the community.

One such “White Brick” was given to Victor at Eclipse Graphx.  At first he had thought a customer accidentally left it behind.  When he opened the box, however, he discovered his Eclipse Grafx logo placed inside. Victor has always been a great supporter of the building community.  He definitely stepped up in a major way for us during the speederbike contest, by creating those custom printed tiles that we distributed to worthy participants. Victor receiving a “White Brick” was great recognition and well deserved, and I know receiving it meant a great deal to them.

Our friend Simon Liu received a “White Brick”, although technically it wasn’t actually white.  It had been built using trans-clear and trans-red bricks, and integrated into it was “The Heart of Brickworld”.  There is no doubt that this brick belongs on his shelf.  From my very first Brickworld, and probably from his first, he has set a positive paradigm for others to follow; inclusiveness, generosity, kindness, always build something new and fun, etc..  I was happy that I could extend some of that hospitality back to him prior to Brickworld this year.  Simon was so taken in by the charms of Louisville, KY during his 2017 “Pub Scouting” trip that he made a return trip.  We got the chance to hang out the weekend before Brickworld, along with Alec, Caleb, and Evan who joined him on this year’s “Brickworld or Bust 2018” tour.  I guided them to rockin’ local distilleries, hot-chicken joints, brick stores, escape rooms, and a meet up with John Klapheke too.  Good times.

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Simon Liu: The “Heart” of Brickworld

The rowntRee received one too, with his containing a dick with crabs inside… Wait, what!?! … I haven’t seen any pictures, but maybe I don’t want to. I guess that makes him the “STD of Brickworld”?  On the surface it definitely sounded insulting, but leave it to rowntRee to see the deeper symbolism in all things. He declared it the “Dick of Brickworld” brick and a badge of honor, showing that he doesn’t care about preconceived notions or anyone else’s perceptions. It is recognition that people in the community who “call it like they see it” are a necessity, however bluntly they put it, and he will own it and wear it with pride…  Honestly though, anyone who thinks rowntRee is a dick is way off base (or he’s merely reflecting back what you are projecting). I shared a room with rowntRee this year, upon Keith’s unwavering endorsement, and I concur that the main is worth his weight in gold.

Lords of Acid: Crablouse (lyrics are NSFW, but the beat is a rager… )

Lastly, I myself was honored to receive a “White Brick” placed in front of “The Shadowlands” collaboration.  We didn’t receive a Brickworld award nomination, but I wasn’t really expecting one… although I definitely hoped we would for our contributors’ sakes (I was happy to at least see Barbara Hoel get a nod for Brickworld Master Builder). I simply wanted to put on “one great show” this year, and the “White Brick” was a great recognition for all our efforts, creativity, and innovation…

However, the ever-insightful rowntRee saw that it was actually recognition for much more than that.  Inside the brick-box contained a cool little Portal MOC.  I hadn’t thought that deeply about why that was the MOC inside, but rowntRee saw it as a metaphor to how I opened up the way for so many others to join in on the fun.  It’s true that I could have done a solo layout, but what’s the fun in that?  It’s so much better to “open it up”, to be inclusive, and share in the experience.

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I do strive to recruit at least one new person to Brickworld each year.  In both of my first two Brickworlds I successfully inspired, or convinced, at least one new person to come to their first LEGO con; Christopher Hoffmann and I shared our first in 2016, then it was Jen Spencer last year.  This year I thought I could get Jake RF to cross that threshold, but it was not to be.  But the streak is technically still alive.  Saturday evening an old friend that I used to work with, Jina, happened to be in the area.  Seeing a Facebook I made for the collab, she decided to check it out.  Special thanks to Barbara for providing one of their family’s unused full-registrant badges so that Jina could stick around and walk the floors with me after public hours (and it turns out that she and Barbara are neighbors!).

Those thoughtful touches are what make the “White Bricks” all the more thoughtful and impressive.  You have to look beyond the surface and see the deeper meaning inside of them.  I admit that I was originally a cynic when they first showed up last year, and judged these books by their cover.  I was blind, but now I see … It also makes you wonder how many of them were premeditated (like Victor’s and Simon’s), and how many were created on the spot. For example, was rowntRee always destined to receive the “dick with crabs”, or was it pre-built and looking for a worthy recipient? Looking back at the MOC that Cecilie received in 2017, perhaps that random “ant” wasn’t so random either.  It could be recognizing her quiet unassuming demeanor, yet you can’t help but notice all of the things she ended up dutifully building, carrying a building load 100 times more than expected.  To date, I don’t think the interior MOC’s have ever been repeated… Questions abound…

 So far as I know, the mysterious distributor(s?) has yet to be identified or step forward. Noticing how personalized the “insides” of the bricks were this year to the receiver, is the distributor someone that all of the recipients know?  Is there a “White Brick Illuminati” watching over us?  Being that I’d prefer that the anonymous distributor(s) remain anonymous, these are questions best left unanswered.  The mystery is what makes it even more special (and because if they do get unmasked, the locusts of nomination seekers will certainly descend upon them).

I think non-official trophies like this are the way of the future. We all need to show better appreciation of each other’s creativity and contributions, rather than fall into the self-centered trap of an awards competition. These types of awards also reward creativity and innovation more than those boilerplate, predetermined nomination categories are capable of doing.  To the innovators should go the spoils!

“The Race at Shadowlands”:

 “Damn, this is cool. The concept has come a long way from the butcher paper 2 years ago.” – Christopher Hoffmann

Video by Dennis Price

Indeed the speeder-race concept has come a long way from the butcher paper deserts of the Tech West.  Although my 2016 speederbike rally collaboration was cool, especially having pulled it all together in only single month, I just had to revisit the speeder race concept and set it to motion.

For each of my Brickworld collabs, I try to recruit a new person to join in the fun. It is putting into practice Keith’s boiler plate interview question, “Name 3 builders whom you would like to meet and build with someday”.  It was really awesome to get Barbara Hoel involved this year, with her alien botany, and I am so glad she joined in.  I had learned that she always considered her plant sculptures as “space” creations, so it was serendipity. I also learned some of her techniques in how she lays out her landscaping, which I can now use to hone my aesthetic eye (clusters of odds and creating visual triangles, among other things).

A huge thanks also goes out to all of the other “Orphans & Outliers” who contributed to the project; Dan Church, Gil Glomshire (aka Dennis Deathdog1), and Michael Frost (Kingdomviewbricks) played major roles in bringing this display to life (and Micah Beideman who was on the ready to fill in any last-minute landscaping needs). A huge thanks also goes out to Rowntree, Adam Myers, Noel Peterson, Paul Wolfe, Noah McDonell, Matt De Lanoy, Sean Mayo, and Simon who all helped round out the display with a crowd of fun spectators. Everyone’s efforts and support really turned this display into a crowd favorite.

James Burrows also deserves a huge shout-out. He has a tremendous Jurassic Park themed rollercoaster layout also using the CDX system, and he helped us out EMMENSLY by giving us a ton of pointers in troubleshooting.  It really gave us the confidence that we would get the race track operational.  I learned a TON about getting this system working, and in return I showed how the system could be used in ways that had yet to be explored (or at least publicly).

It was great driving up and back to Brickworld with Dennis too.  Having a great traveling companion always makes the long drive go by so much faster.  Dennis really stepped it up on the Shadowlands collab, and was my right hand man during the entire set up (even during those times when I didn’t know which end of the coaster was up).  Thank you again, sir knight of Glomshire.

Meeting New Faces:

Overall it felt like I really didn’t get to socialize with everyone nearly as much as I had wanted to, due to how much time I spent working on getting the speeder-coaster going (and keeping it running during public hours). It was worth the effort, but I definitely had less time to appreciate everyone else’s creativity than at past Brickworlds.  I didn’t even get to attend any of the sessions.  “Sorry” to all of you that I didn’t get to meet up with or talk with more

That said, I did finally meet quite a few people that I had yet to meet in person.  Notably to readers of the Manifesto I got to meet up  Cameron, our resident “Barnacle” Builder Extraordinaire who delivered quite a few compelling Bionicle articles to us during “Blog or Die!”.  It’s a good thing he was wearing his Manifesto T-shirt during registration so that I could pick him out from the crowd.  His funky chicken even got a nomination for “Best Creature”.  Represent!

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“Do the funky chicken!”

One entirely new face for me was meeting David Slater.  Holy crap, did he build some awesome cars!  His lime green Dodge Charger (or was it a Challenger?) deservedly won for “Best Vehicle”.

I also finally got to meet Shane; I’ve been a big fan of his artwork for some time, and in turn he has been a consistent fan of my builds. He was there for the live demo of “1×5 Games” new strategy game “Clunkers”, and share some of his artwork for a new card game called “Nutpunch!”  If those sound like game names that “rowntRee & Flor” might come up with, you’re absolutely right.

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“Ain’t that a punch in the nuts…”

Improvement ideas and closing thoughts:

In closing, here are just some things that crossed my mind this year…

 “MEDIC!!!” So my lower back was a total disaster after being hunched over the display tables for almost 3 days strait trying to get that coaster working.  I could hardly get any sleep because of it.  I propose that every Con should have an area with those people that give reversed chair back-massages.  I promise that us builders that fall into that over-40 age bracket will pay up, and handsomely.

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Google Images

“MORE (or LESS) BOOZE, STAT!!!” I think a breathalyzer is a necessary addition to any evening of drunken builder activities.  I don’t know the full story, but our good friend Rowntree had to restrain an angry drunk (or at least a badly behaving drunk) that thought “drunk build hopping” was a good idea.  Blood alcohol level thresholds should be set for both “drunk enough” and “too drunk” to participate.  Trust me, passed out and/or puking is no way to spend the aftermath of a drunk build. People pushing themselves towards the thresholds of alcohol poisoning should be discouraged.

“MALÖRT!” … the only needed improvement here is that we need to come up with some Brickworld themed slogans to go along with it:

“MALÖRT! – The rocket fuel that gave birth to Blacktron!”

“MALÖRT! – Tonight is the night you dry hump Captain Marvel!”

“MALÖRT! – Better that chewing on unclean playbrick!”

“MALÖRT! – The real reason why Tyler Halliwell ran away to Scotland!”

“MALÖRT! – Heath made me do it!”

 So that’s a wrap on this Brickworld 2018 wrap-up.  Feel free to chime in with whatever I missed in the comments below, or share your own stories.  Until next time…

“MALÖRT! – It’s like getting a nutpunch to your mouth!!!”

A Little T&A (NSFW)

I have mixed feelings about mixing Lego and erotic themes, which is nothing new under the sun, people have been combining the two since the phallic space-ships of Bonktron debuted over eleven years ago.   It probably goes back even further but that’s the first ‘adult’ series of models I can remember.  Even MOCpages, went through a prolonged stretch in the mid 2000’s when the height of humor was sig-figs sodomizing each other with hotdogs…I’m sure you can imagine the sheer hilarity of it all…  It’s not just the guys who get in on the erotic action, Janey Gunning showed us some in whips and chains back in 2006.  As long as adults have been building with Lego, there have been sexual themes.

I don’t object to the adult stuff based on any moral objections or hand-wringing over what the “children” might see.  I admit that I get a little squeamish when I see minifigs engaging in sexual situations, because of the stigma attached to us by the outside world about  men (primarily) who play with a children’s toy.  Showing minifigs boning just throws fuel on that fire and more often than not it doesn’t serve any larger scene or idea, it exists purely to be provocative. This is one of the worst examples, I can’t endorse this image in any way, it’s skeevy, and barely qualifies as a build.  In a stereotypically American way, I don’t have a problem with minifig violence, but showing little dolls having sex is not something I’m want to see. To me, minifig-sex works best when the action is more suggestive than overt.

Once you get away from the minifigs though, I don’t have any reservations at all.  I enjoy watching builders struggle with the human form and the challenge of turning plastic parts into something sexy.  My final objection is that most erotically themed builds are terrible, there is often little thought put into their construction because the builder is too busy giggling about boners or trying to decide which porno to watch next.  I’ve never seen a Bonktron ship that wasn’t absolute crap and all that sausage humor on MOCpages was mediocre at best, it was the same basic idea repeated over and over. For every Letranger Absurde, Ian Heath or Bricks Noir, there are a hundred hacks who don’t really try to make something compelling, just provocative.

All that is a long-winded way to work my way around to a builder who should be familiar to most of you, Bricks Noir.  What separates the builder from the crowd who indulge in erotica is the skill level.  This kind of SNOT work has a high degree of difficulty whether it’s built in the brick or in this case, digitally.  In Bricks Noir’s latest impressive work, “Classic Curves“, it isn’t the anatomy that interests me so much as the Mustang badge on the grill and the subtle curves of the fenders and mirrors.  Sure the lady is attractive, the legs are extremely well done, but everywhere you look in the image you’ll find some delightful detail.   If you slapped a frame on this one and hung it in a coffee joint people wouldn’t know it was Lego, even when they got up close. Sexy and scary are two of the most difficult themes to capture in the brick I can’t commend the builder enough for capturing sexy like no other.29345890883_4c3d0467fc_o

Bricks Noir is one of those rare builders who seemed to spring to life fully formed (like a Greek god) with advanced skills and no awkward initial builds.  Such instant success tends breed suspicion, especially when the builder in question is relatively quiet and provides no information in their profile.  The most clever blogger on TBB, Ian Heath, speculated last year that  Bricks Noir is a pseudonym for an “established builder” but as usual, the big blog would rather play coy about it than make a statement or even an educated guess.  I’m a conspiracy theory guy, so that makes me think it’s probably the clever blogger himself.  Heath certainly has the skill-level to pull it off, and he likes mixing butt cheeks and Lego, so until proven otherwise, I’ll go with Mr. clever.  I would love to hear your take on the true identity of Bricks Noir in the comments, or if you think there is no conspiracy at all.

I can’t help but wonder how far Bricks Noir  will push the envelope in a genre he basically owns.  Will we be looking at blow-jobs and golden showers by this time next year?  Is uncensored erotica something you want to see more of, constant reader?  Is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed?  I kind of hope he or she goes in that direction because the pearl-clutching and moral outrage by the true-believer Lego cultists and the general public would be a wonderful spectacle to behold.

I went down some nasty rabbit-holes while exploring the topic for this article and it almost turned into a long-form Omnibus post because there is so much content.  In the end though, as I complained above, very little of the content was quality building and I thought it would be better to leave the focus on the incredible work of Bricks Noir.  I will leave you with two links, the first is a group (NSFW) on Flickr that specializes in all things erotica, and the second link is to perhaps the strangest thing I found in my research, a customizable Lego butt-plug (very NSFW) which may be the strangest Lego related aftermarket product that I’ve seen.

Constructive Criticism: Why not?

What do you call a person who refuses to title their models or offer a description of any kind?  A true artiste?  A lazy minimalist?  A pretentious contrarian?  Or is it evidence of pseudonym standing in for a more famous builder who doesn’t want to be recognized?  Today on the Manifesto we will be discussing the collected works of Why not?, the mysterious MOCpages builder who steadfastly refuses to engage with his or her fellow hobbyists and is content to let the building do all the talking.

Let’s begin with Why not’s most recent build, a suitably creepy monster with a large wingspan.  I was drawn in by the tilted head and skeletal wings and I lingered to examine the beautifully constructed rib cage and three-toed feet.  Although I enjoyed perusing the image it left me wanting more.  Mostly I wanted a better photo to examine, but MOCpages is notorious for butchering images and I could not find a Flickr account under the same name.  The proportions of the demon seem just a little bit off, especially the legs which  have stunted, insubstantial thighs.  I know the subject is not human and I should probably be careful applying human anatomy to a demon but it just doesn’t look right.  I also wish the wings were a little more developed, a little more bony structure would really provide additional visual impact to the model.  Likewise I think if the arms had been posed more effectively it might benefit the work as a whole and make it look a little less static.

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Why not’s back catalogue of models is strewn with very intriguing near-misses.  Take for example this  untitled cemetery scene from 2015, it’s a great concept with a unique perspective but too much of the image is dominated by the sloppy looking, studs-out walls of the grave.  My objections isn’t based on an anti-studs rant, I think studs have their place as a good contrast to the smoothness of man-made constructs like the stone cross, but I think all the studs detract from the power of the image.  Graves are not typically emblazoned with the LEGO logo everywhere and I think maybe some wedge-plates would have looked better or at least some smooth sections.  The all-black minifigs are a trademark of Why not, and they work great here to add mystery of the model, but the white sky behind them doesn’t do any favors for the presentation. I can’t help but wonder how the image would look with a gray or blue sky, either photographed outdoors or Photoshopped for that matter.

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Some of Why not’s work recall the early “artistic” offerings from Chairman Zhang, with careful and deliberate use of color (or lack thereof) to make a statement.  Take for example this vignette featuring a naked minifig on a colorful island, surrounded by a monochromatic city-scape and colorless watchers.  I’m not sure what the builder is trying to say here and that’s either the artistic strength of the model or a frustrating weakness where the viewer has to supply all the meaning without enough visual clues.  If I had to guess I’d say the vignette depicts the isolated existence of the creative individual amidst the cold gray society that watches but doesn’t understand the artistic life….but your mileage may vary.  For me, the nano-skyscrapers are not interesting enough in design and the borders where the water meets the city are clumsy.  Even if the purpose of a model is to make a larger statement, it still needs visual interest beyond iconic symbols.

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We conclude our examination of Why not, with a collection of his or her best pieces.  The more I delve into the unfortunately limited body of work by this mystery-builder, the more I appreciate it.  The subject matter is diverse and generally speaking I appreciate the minimalist presentation.  I’d rather have no written explanation than a tedious backstory any day.  Each one of these models has little details that bother me, like the low-res spider on the girl’s face and the thickness of the electric chair’s arms, but there is no denying the power of the images.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the persistent conspiracy theory on MOCpages that accuses the talented and somewhat infamous builder Deus Otiosus of being Why not. The evidence is scant and seems to rest mostly on the notion that Deus frequently comments on Why not’s models, offering an explanation for the action.  I do see some similarities in style between the two, mostly in the clever technique displayed like using wheels for restraints on the electric chair pictured above, but it’s just not enough to pin the pseudonym on Deus.  I reached out to “Big D” for a comment via Flickr and he unequivocally denied the charges.

Ultimately I don’t really care too much about the identity of “Why not?” Every builder is entitled to a pseudonym from time to time.  As long as he or she continues to build thought-provoking (if flawed) models for my consumption, I’m all in.

 

Conspiracy Theory #1: Of Brickheadz and CubeDudes

The Manifesto won’t typically be covering new product releases, at least not in the traditional sense because it just doesn’t interest me that much and I don’t have the kind of access required to scoop other sites who are better at the task anyway.  I like new sets as much as the next builder, but talking about them bores me to tears.  What does interest me is when LEGO introduces a set that bears a more than passing resemblance to a fan-made MOC or building fad.  So let’s compare, shall we, LEGO’s latest pandering to the fanboy market with their new line of superhero “BrickHeadz” to the fan-built figure “CubeDudes” craze from a few years ago by AFOL Angus MacLane.  Angus also happens to be an acclaimed director whose films you may recognize like the Pixar short Burn-E and the recent hit film, Finding Dory.  First up is LEGO, with their stubby little heroes whose design also bears a striking resemblance to the dead-eyed Funko brand vinyl figures that enjoy a large commercial following….for some reason.

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Now let’s check out the fan-made CubeDudes which really should have been CubeDudez for maximum impact with the youth demographic.  Wake up Angus!  Although new builders may not be familiar with the design, 7 years ago everyone was building Cube Dudes, it was one of the biggest fads I’ve seen in the hobby and it continues to this day.  While the Dudes lack the custom printed tiles and soft edges of the BrickHeadz, I don’t see much difference in the two designs.  Sure the Dudes have their heads rotated so a corner of the cube points forward, but that’s about it.  I’m no lawyer and I’m not making any formal accusations, LEGO is highly litigious and just might reach out to a tiny blog like mine with some kind of cease and desist bullshit.  Even if they were inspired by Angus and his CubeDudes I’m sure LEGO changed the design just enough to protect themselves.  Although I’ve never heard him say as much (Angus has been interviewed quite a bit), it’s possible that he swiped the idea from the Funko figures himself.  Hell, I don’t even know if Angus cares about the similarities at all.  I reached out to him via Flickr, but as of this posting he has yet to respond.  If he does, I will update this post.

It’s worth pointing out that Angus and LEGO have worked together before, to produce several official CubeDude sets (both Star Wars themed) that were available only at Star Wars and comic conventions as far as I know. Angus was quoted in an interview speaking about the sets: “I found the whole experience to be a total joy.” So maybe there is no conspiracy here at all, perhaps it’s another collaboration, but I have not seen Angus’ name attached to the BrickHeadz product anywhere.

Always remember that the company we are enslaved to is not your friend, it’s your dealer.  So what say you, constant reader?  Are the BrickHeadz thinly disguised CubeDudes?  I love a good conspiracy theory and I hope you enjoy this regular feature on the Manifesto.