Blog or Die!: Official Contest Results

THANK YOU!

Yes indeed!  Thank you, to everyone who participated in making the Manifesto’s first annual Blog or Die! writing contest a big success, to include the 11 participants, 3 interviewees and everyone who took the time to comment on the entries.  At it’s best, this blog is all about the conversation and you folks made this past month and a half one of the most talkative periods since we opened for business.  Since you know I love the numbers, at the time of this posting the contest generated 4,074 views and a staggering 425 comments.  In the beginning I set an informal, unspoken goal of twenty entries and even though it didn’t seem like we’d hit that mark until the very last day, we even managed to squeak past it.  The quality level was delightfully high, there wasn’t a bad entry in the group and I’m delighted we were able to feature a variety of new voices and topics on the blog.  The only superior outcome would be if some of you stick around in the coming weeks and months and keep delivering the goods that made this contest special  As I’ve said many times over, both publicly and privately to the writers: the Manifesto door is always open for your contributions. I’d like to offer a special salute to Caleb and LettuceBrick who entered all thee categories and everyone who had multiple submissions: Cameron (who had 4!), Aaron, Ted, and Jake.

Let’s get on with it already!  These are your official Blog or Die! results.

Continue reading “Blog or Die!: Official Contest Results”

73 Questions (Blog or Die! Entry #21)

Accepted entry for the “Interview” category.

Author: Cameron (-Primus-)

Word Count: 3,218

Judge’s Notes:

* This entry was submitted before the deadline (Mon, Jan 15, 2018 8:41 pm), but I didn’t have a chance to post it until today.  In fact, I somehow lost it and had to be reminded by the author himself earlier today.  My apologies good sir, I was asleep at the wheel!  The entry is valid and accepted for final consideration.

** This is the last official entry, the deadline has come and gone.  Formal reviews of each submission will follow throughout the week and final results will be posted no later than (Sun, Jan 21), in a dedicated article that will include every review for easy comparison.

*** To all the intrepid writers, interviewees and comic designers of the Blog or Die! contest I thank you for your participation, effort, skill, entertainment and patience. The Manifesto salutes you!

It’s en Vogue

 

Because I haven’t seen many (if any) entrants into the interview category, I figured I’d give it a go, constant reader. And what’s a better way to structure an interview than to parrot the style of a popular magazine (Vogue)? Or at least, I think it’s a popular magazine? IDK, my girlfriend reads it. As a forewarning, this is gonna be a long (but hopefully enjoyable) article, constant reader. It may even give Rutherford a run for his money.

Anyway, here’s 73 QUESTIONS, featuring the illustrious Jayfa.

  1. What’s your online handle? Jayfa
  2. What’s your IRL handle? Joss F. Woodyard
  3. What’s your age? 20
  4. What’s your location? Newcastle, Australia
  5. Are you in school/college right now? University Conservatorium of Music, Newcastle (University of Newcastle)
  6. What do you study? Bachelor of Music
  7. If I wanted to find your works, where would I look? @jayfa_mocs on Instagram; Jayfa on Flickr
  8. How long have you been building with LEGO? Probably since I was 5 years old or so. My parents tried getting me into Lego even earlier but I wasn’t interested until my older brother got a Bionicle for his birthday and I was like “I need that.” And from that point onward I’ve kinda been consistently into it.
  9. What’s your secret to taking Instagram by storm? Probably just posting frequently, responding to critiques, getting consistently better over the course of the year. There’s probably a bit more to it than that.
  10. What’s your favorite LEGO theme currently? Probably Elves, honestly. Like, I don’t buy it for the sets but the parts they come with are so, so good.
  11. What was your favorite Lego theme previously? I mean, that’s pretty obvious. It’s always been Bionicle whenever it’s out. I was so stoked when Bionicle came back in 2015. I bought ever single set over the course of the two years. That includes ones that weren’t even released in Australia.
  12. What’s your favorite MOC of yours? Um, it’s probably a tossup between Dagon & Dragonfly

 

  1. Why are they your favorite? Dagon it’s kind of just been my golden goose and everyone seems to have liked it. Dragonfly I feel like is one of my most solid and well-built MOCs in a long time. because it seems
  2. What’s your favorite MOC of someone else’s? One of my favorite MOCs I’ve ever seen is Kulgai by Brickthing. I thought that was so cool when I first saw it:

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  1. Why is it your favorite? It was like before I seriously got into MOCing that I saw it. Seeing his MOCs is what really pushed me to do more MOCing (I only just started posting to the Internet in 2016). What really impressed me was his parts usage, I thought it was cool that he used mermaid tails as leaves. Just really clever parts usage.
  2. What your favorite MOC of mine? Easily the Midnight Dragon

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  1. Why is it your favorite? It’s one that I remember seeing a very long time ago and I always thought it was so goddamn cool and I’ve always been a sucker for parts-spam MOCs. Like, before I knew Bricklink existed it was such a weird, foreign concept to me and like seeing someone do it was like really surreal. Also I just really love that old gold color.
  2. What’s one thing you’re looking to improve in 2018, MOC-wise? Mostly polish on my MOCs because a lot of the time this year I kinda rolled them out without sitting back, looking at it and thinking “OK, are there any last things I want to do this?” Which is why I’ve updated so many MOCs throughout the year as I wasn’t happy with their build.
  3. What’s one thing you’re looking to improve in 2018, not MOC-wise? Probably just being more committed at University.
  4. What’s one thing you’re looking to do less of in 2018? I can’t really think of anything for that, can’t think of any one thing I’m looking to do less of. Being lazy? Do less of being lazy?
  5. What’s one thing you’re looking to do more of in 2018? MOCing, honestly. I’m just going to be doing that all the time. It’s just so much fun. It’s a great escape from everything.
  6. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten about building? Honestly, COLOR BLOCKING. It was pretty late in the year that the concept of color blocking was made apparent to me and since then I feel like my builds have gotten incrementally substantially better.
  7. What’s the best advice you’ve ever given about building? Personally, it’s to be open to criticism and be receptive to it, even if you don’t listen to it to a T.
  8. How do you feel when people criticize your MOCS? I LOVE IT. I will take a really in-depth, harsh criticism any day over a “WOW, nice MOC!” I live for those critical comments so if you got them, please give them to me.
  9. Do you think criticism is helpful when it comes to MOCing? Without a doubt, yes.
  10. Why? There are just some things that you don’t pick up yourself, ya know? Like, there are some things that you overlook when you look at a MOC long enough, you just kinda get used to the way it is in front of you. It can be really really helpful when someone points out that the arms are too short or there is a gap that you might have missed.
  11. Do you often criticize other people’s MOCs? Hell yeah, ratblasting for the win.
  12. Do you think they appreciate it? Most people actually do, and I really like that about this community, especially the small community we have on Master Piece because a lot of the people there are really really open to criticism and are aware of how much it helps them, which I think is really good.
  13. Do you think criticism is healthy for the Bionicle community? I do, yes. I feel like more people should be open to it.
  14. Do you think that the best builders are ones who can take and give criticism? I don’t necessarily think you have to be good at giving criticism to be a good builder but definitely you need to be able to take it.
  15. Do you think that builders that actively ignore constructive criticism are shooting themselves in the foot?
  16. Why? Because it just hinders you as a MOCist. IT’s a barrier, if you will.
  17. Do you think I’m asking a lot of targeted questions? No comment
  18. It’s almost like I have an agenda, isn’t it? No comment,
  19. Do you think that the Bionicle community is more critical than the overall Lego community? Well, I can’t really say so because I’m not really that in with the overall Lego community. Most of the time though I only see the “WOW, Nice MOC!” comments that I talked about earlier, but I’m sure there are a lot of niche subsections where people can get good criticism.
  20. Why? I can’t really judge as I’m not that involved yet.
  21. As a relative newcomer to the community, what do you think has been the biggest boon on your building and why is it criticism? I remember when I first posted a MOC to the TTV message boards, which was the first place I had ever posted anything, it was my self-MOC, and I was like “This is the best thing I’ve ever made and probably ever will make, it’s so good” and when I posted it half the comments were about how certain parts of it looked like ass. At first I was pretty salty, but then I kept posting more and more MOCs and got more and more criticism and decided to finally start listening to some of it and I got better. I got better fast.
  22. Can you name a recent MOC of yours that I can feature it in this blog? I’m probably going to have my Queen Phosperantidae [note: I hope I didn’t butcher that spelling] posted by the time you post this entry so might as well plug that one. [additional note: at the time of this article’s writing he still has not posted the MOC, so the Keithlug audience is getting an exclusive sneak-peak]

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(Image credit: Jayfa)

  1. Please describe this MOC to me: That’s not really a question? Anyway, I bought Nocturn [At this point just assume all of the bracketed bits are notes: Nocturn is an old Bionicle set] about a year ago and it finally arrived before Christmas [shout out to the Australian Post] and when it got here I realized how much I fuckin love glow-in-the-dark pieces. So I decided I was going to order as many of them as I could find from one Bricklink seller. And then I decided I was going to build something with them and this was the result.
  2. What meaning do you derive from this MOC? That’s a weird question. What meaning do I derive from it? It’s a fun build using more old parts than usual.
  3. Do you think this was a successful MOC? I posted it in Master Piece and people seemed to like it there and I’ve posted it on Facebook and they absolutely adored it there, so I’m gonna say it’s been pretty successful so far. We’ll see how it goes when I post it to Instagram and Flickr.
  4. How do you define successful MOCs? Well, honestly, the amount of attention it gets on social media is kinda secondary to me as to what the people I respect as builders think of it. That’s like the biggest thing for me. If I can get someone that I really look up to and take lots of inspiration from to leave a comment on a MOC and say they really like how it turned out, that’s like, that’s what really means a lot to me.
  5. So then you think success is gained via respect of your peers and not through self-awarded accolades? Respect of your peers, easily. I don’t need other people to validate my success, but it sure helps.
  6. Who do you think are the 3 most successful Bionicle Builders in the past year (you can include yourself)? For starters, I suppose I wanna say Alex Park because he’s been whipping the last couple of months of 2017. He’s really starting to pull himself together and I really love the style of his builds recently. He’s been listening to a lot of good criticism, which is really important. I mean, obviously DJOKSON is up there as well, because like, he’s been around for a long time but he still posts so consistently and builds at such a consistent quality, which I really admire. And I can say the same about Red as well. I have been loving what Red has been putting out.
  7. Name a MOC of one of theirs that you’d like to discuss? Kinda leading off of that last question, I’d like to talk about Red’s Chaz Chokkuthruz the Greatspear of the Lizardfolk

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  1. Why did you pick this MOC? Just because it really embodies the use of retro parts. And it’s not even just Bionicle retro parts, there’s like a few really groovy System parts put in there. Like, all of the parts used are from the same era, and it feels so wholesomely representative of that time and yet it is so, so well done.
  2. Do you derive any worth from this MOC? I mean, yeah, I think it’s an inspiration. It’s very well done in concept and execution.
  3. Does it matter to you if this MOC has a storyline? Not really, honestly.
  4. Why? It’s kinda neat to see some kind of background to a MOC every now and then. I’ll be like “Oh that’s cool that they thought that out,” but it’s definitely not necessary for a good MOC. I consider it like two separate hobbies really. By all means if you like to write and you like to MOC then go for it, but I don’t think you need to have one to do the other.
  5. Does it matter to you if this MOC has more than one picture shown? Not really, I don’t mind if MOCs only have one photo as long as it’s a good photo.
  6. Why? I personally suck at doing that because I feel like I want to show off my MOC’s poseability, but if it is meant to be a statue, which is totally fine if it is, then it’s totally fine to have just one photo.
  7. Do you think that you have a distinct MOCing style? Not really, honestly. I can vary in styles a lot, mostly because when I build I tend not to mix System, CCBS, and Bioncle all at once. I kinda just pick two of them at a time, which I think can lead to very varied looking stuff. That’s just my opinion though, to others I might have a very distinct style.
  8. In 3 words or less, describe your MOCing style? I can’t say this without sounding like a pretentious asshole, but “Varied and Unique.”
  9. Do you think I have a distinct MOCing style? I think back in the day you kinda did, like if I look at your older stuff from the early 2010’s and older, it’s very clear you did. It’s really interesting to see how much your style has changed and you’ve been branching out with your past few MOCs, but I really like that. Nice to see more color usage too haha.
  10. In 3 words or less, describe my MOCing syle? Builds Black Robots
  11. Can you name a MOC of mine that you’d like to discuss? I’m just gonna say the teal TechnicFig dude with wheel feet

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(Image link)

  1. Why did you pick that MOC? I just thought it was so cool because it was the first time I’d seen TechnicFigs used in a Bionicle MOC and I just thought it was done really well.
  2. What stands out to you the most about that MOC? The proportions of it, the way you posed it is really dynamic, and I’m also a sucker for the teal pieces. Thank god that’s coming back.
  3. Do you think constructive criticism from my peers helped me while I made that MOC? I can’t speak for you but I’m guessing so, yes.
  4. Do you have any constructive criticism to give me for that MOC? It would have been good if you had edited out the technic cams you used to hold it up or used a clear piece instead.
  5. These are a lot of questions, aren’t they? YES, it certainly is.
  6. Why do you make so many serpent MOCs? I built the first one, it was successful and it was a lot of fun. And I feel like the elves pieces really helped it out. The second one I made was originally going to be a different creature but then the head worked out really well so I was like “yea, I’m going to make another one of these.” I’m probably going to make an orange one that’s a lot bigger at some point if I have the time and money.
  7. And when you’re not making serpents, why did you start doing the Plague Mech series? For the first Plague Mech, I took inspiration from Astorix’s Mizaka. It was an older MOC but the way the cheese slope pieces were used was really really cool and I wanted to try it out myself. I just started making a torso and it looked really cool and then I made some really gangly-ass robot limbs for it. I struggled with the head but eventually settled for this bug like head. And people really liked it. The second one kinda happened by accident and then I was like “You know what, I might as well start making more of these things because people tend to like them.”
  8. You wouldn’t happen to have a collage of the Plague Mechs would you? I do, I will send it you after the interview is done

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(Image Credit: Jayfa)

  1. Do you think you’ll be able to complete the whole series? I really hope so, and if I don’t do it myself I’m probably gonna do it with help from other people who will make contributions and stuff. Which I really like the idea of because a lot of people seem to be keen to givin it a shot for themselves.
  2. Do you think constructive criticism has helped you with the making of these MOCs? Abso-fuckin-loutely. Like, if you look at Dragonfly V1 versus his most recent interation, the difference is ridiculous, all because I listened to the criticism people gave me.

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(Image Link, latest version on the left)

  1. Do you plan to continue to listen to constructive criticism? Certainly do.
  2. Do you plan on still giving constructive criticism? Yeah, it’s fun, and very rewarding if you like come up with something someone else hadn’t seen in a MOC and they take it to heart and it makes their MOC a million times better, I’m all for that.
  3. What would you criticize about this interview? That it was early in the morning and I stayed up til a ridiculous hour last night so I’m a bit drowsy.
  4. What would you praise about this interview? Some good questions here, lots of thought provoking ones. And I’m enjoying the dig in on criticism.
  5. Do you think I’ll hit my minimum word count halfway through this interview? Probably. I hope so.
  6. Do you think you still need to prove yourself as a builder? Yes, honestly. There are a couple of “big dogs” in the community, if you will, that I feel like aren’t totally on board with me yet, which I totally understand. A lot of the people that are like, more well known in the community have been around for a very long time and it’s a very tight-knit community, so I think that will come with time.
  7. And finally, is there anything you want to say to the fans or friends out there reading this? To my friends, I just wanna say that I thank you all so much for the support that you’ve given me throughout this past year and just for being on board with this hobby of mine. As for the fans, thank you so much for actually liking my stuff and getting me to where I am now. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without all of you. I love you all very much.

So, there you have it, constant reader. Assuming you’ve made it this far (holy shit that word count), thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have. Also I have done my best to parse through his amazing accent in order to transcribe Joss faithfully.

 

 

Bionicle and System (Blog or Die! Entry #20)

Accepted entry for the “Interview” category.

Author: Ballom Nom Nom

Word Count: 1,630

Judge’s Notes:

* This entry was submitted before the deadline (Mon, Jan 15, 2018 10:15 pm), but I didn’t have a chance to post it until today.  The entry is valid and accepted for final consideration.

Bionicle and System

 

…Oh yes, another dogged entry bleating about Bionicle, I can already hear the prospective reader saying. Egad! And yes, I do not deny this claim, other than seeking the indulgence of the noble reader and entreating them to persevere, in the hope that what follows will be worth their while. Should discussion of Bionicle not play this role, I note that the paragraphs below, somewhere, contain a pony.

And now, onward!

Long denigrated as the ugly sibling of the beautiful swan of System, the style of building collectively described under the umbrella of Bionicle (alternatively known as Barnacle, Bonkle, Bonko, Bonk, etc. among aficionados) is in fact greatly underappreciated in the wider Lego community. However, its adherents rightfully know it to be a dazzling and wonderful medium, whose expression can be used for constructing the breathtaking profusion of forms such as armored humanoid robots and slightly different armored humanoid robots. And, indeed, such expression of the art of Lego building, while clearly not of an identical nature to construction centered about System, nevertheless has its own captivating charm. One sufficiently enlightened in its nuances and subtlety can even recognize it as the superior to System.

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(image credit: the author)

The intrepid reader who is still with me after the preceding sentence may doubt the veracity of the last bold claim — perhaps even shocked! However, I hope to subsequently show the foundation for these ambitious claims, and moreover seek to inform the esteemed reader who may be heretofore tragically unaware of Bionicle and its wondrous superiority to System.

Let’s begin by turning our attention to the basic characteristics of the parts associated with the medium of Bionicle. The quadrilaterally-formed, right-angle-dominated elements of System (whether studly or smooth) these are not — our first category of parts is derived from the Bionicle line of sets produced by the Lego Group from 2001 to 2010. In their unique constituents are a variety of oddly studless parts.

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(image credit: the author)

Several ways of subdividing these Bionicle parts manifest: first, those featuring balls and sockets for the limbs and joints of the robotic Bionicle creature. Extending from the foundation laid by Technic ball-and-socket creature constructions, the parts have specialization and into parts to be used for limbs, necks, and areas built with a range of motion. Typical uses range across the panoply of limbs, from gorilla-like arms to gorilla-like legs, and in exceptional cases orangutan-like arms.

bionicle_leg

(image credit: Bricklink)

Second, parts used for providing armor, bulk, and details to the Bionicle sets. Clawed feet, ornate breastplates, wide paneling, rows of spines, and an array of weapons and swords. Here one sees the greatest breadth of Bionicle parts — which the astute reader notes still pales in comparison to the number of System elements — but this is no matter. As a matter of fact, it is a point of advantage.

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(image credit: Bricklink)

Third, masks: parts central to the complex Bionicle mythos (the details of which may be exhaustively perused throughout million-paged Bionicle wikis, should drying paint be unavailable for amusement). Other than each featuring a face of some sort, the informed reader may generally regard these as similar to the second category.

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(image credit: Bricklink)

There are two further-defining characteristics of the parts described above. The first is more incidental: an association with the Technic part system, with connections for Technic pins and axles in lieu of studs and antistuds. The second is more fundamental to what I claim is the aesthetic of Bionicle: parts with complex shapes, which deviate from System bricks in having curved and rounded shapes throughout as opposed to having at most one or two faces of the part, as System slopes and other elements tend to. Parts which vary significantly in thickness and texture, such as for accommodating a ball or socket, or spikes, or various other greebles and decorations — for, as was conventional wisdom for The Lego Group during the turn of the millennium, the Bionicle-constructed character must be riddled with greebles! Parts which could be described with terms such as non-Euclidean, and others shared by mathematicians and Lovecraft alike, which I will forbear from using at length. Parts which, in a word, are interesting in ways that the humble brick of rectilinear shape is not. (Dare I even use the appellation unique? I dare not, good reader).

Let’s continue on to the other category of parts associated with Bionicle builds — pieces under the umbrella of the Character and Creature Building System (hereinafter CCBS), which appeared in themes such as Hero Factory (the spiritual successor to Bionicle), the Ultrabuilds created for themes such as Legends of Chima and Star Wars, and Bionicle’s fleeting resurrection. This system retains ball-and-socket parts, with sets built around a core of parts similar to technic beams with incorporated ball joints and sockets. Atop this skeleton, smooth, symmetric shells attach by sockets. Extensions attach to these shells by their sole other connection point of paired rod holes.

bionicle_ccbs

(image credit: Bricklink)

Our long-suffering reader — for whom I salute the fortitude of, to persist even this far in a discussion of Bionicle — may perchance be curious how such parts are related to those addressed before, other than the superficial similarity of appearing in the Bionicle theme. And it is true that the general aesthetic differs significantly from the greebled, complicated designs of older Bionicle. However, the pleasingly varied shapes of the curved shells, and the skeletal elements intended for ball-and-socket connections allowing movement and varied angles remain. And so, with this core intact, both can be categorized under the inclusive umbrella of Bionicle.

And so, with a hurricane overview of the tools a… ahem… Bionicle builder may employ — which I note are essential to the style and when used in abundance can clearly characterize a creation with the label Bionicle — I may now more successfully contrast with System. As hinted at before, the collective whole of parts deemed indisputably “Bionicle” is a quantity much smaller than the bafflingly large array of System parts. Even if I ignore in the comparison the rarely used parts in each category, putting aside even favorites such as the beloved System camel head and the adorable Bionicle rubber squid ammunition, System still dominates by an enormous margin. (I leave the exact counting for this comparison as an exercise to the discerning reader.) This difference may be claimed by some to be a weakness of the Bionicle-based system, but I assert it to be in fact a strength!

In building with Bionicle, there exists the true struggle of the artist against an unyielding and uncompromising medium, the likes of which are not found in using System. The Sisyphean struggle with odd angles and parts make the success of a completed build all the sweeter, the qualities of the result appreciated all the more keenly, while there is less joy to be found in a more easily accomplished System build. What artistry is there to be had in immediately having available System parts for whatever is desired to be constructed? What character in a sterile build of System that all too easily presents a near-perfect facsimile of the intended design? Compare this to one of Bionicle, which demands ingenuity from the observer, to look past the greebled parts, the textures and gaps to glimpse the true intention of the builder shining through. To be sure, there is beauty in verisimilitudinous System constructions. But the System creation presents all the weaknesses of perfection, while the Bionicle creation wields the might of its deformities — especially given the handicaps it reflects.

Too, there is also how the fewer-dimensional System elements, interlocking as they do, are static and immutable, unlike the malleable forms resulting from ball-and-socket connections. This is a notable dereliction on the part of System, but owing to the age of the venerable brick, from a time where such mobility was not so prized, I ignore this fault with a passing mention, to keep this comparison sporting.

However, this digression does lead inexorably to discussion of the quintessential Bionicle work — the Toa (a foreign word meaning “man who stands yonder”). A treatment of Bionicle without be remiss without such a mention of the fundamental object of study. These armored, humanoid, robotic and certainly not coat-wearing warrior figures touch the very core of the medium. Detractors may insinuate that a strong focus on the same works does not show flexibility. But a fixation with a particular muse is not inflexible or smallminded at all. A Bionicle creator’s enchantment with the nuances of Toa is akin to the reverence past master artists had for favorite works – think of Monet and the haystacks, or Renoir and the lily.

Which leads to my final point, about character. By enshrining humanoids, robots, and Toa, as well as other popular Bionicle forms such as creatures and animals, there is a wealth of character demonstrated, from the builds’ expressiveness to their articulation. Is such character exhibited by System builds? Not in the basic and uninspiring grey castle, nor in the drab two tones of Classic Space, nor in faceless armies of soldiers, nor in porcupine-studded aircraft – No! It is in builds defined by a system where character as become foundational. Builds steeped in the Character and Creature Building System.

And so, patient reader, as this comes to a close, I trust that the agreement on the conclusion is unanimous. Bionicle is, of course, the clear superior of System – there is no contest. In fact, in comparison System may sometimes seem to barely be Lego, with its sea of parts that often resemble third-party components. Only the glorious Bionicle, crafted from its slender selection of parts, may truly ascend to the pinnacle of the Lego art.

bionicle_victory.jpg

(image credit: the author)

Author’s note: I regret to say there is not a pony, due to budget constraints.

A Conversation with Dan Kees (Blog or Die! Entry #19)

Accepted entry for the “Interview” category.

Author: LettuceBrick (Nice Try)

Word Count: 1,906

Judge’s Note:

* This entry was submitted before the deadline (Mon, Jan 15, 2018 10:10 pm), but I didn’t have a chance to post it until today.  The entry is valid and accepted for final consideration.

A Conversation with Dan Kees

 

With whom? I’m glad you asked. Dan Kees is the owner of PromoTec Specialty Printing, purveyors of, well, specialty printing. Oh, and he also prints custom designs on all manner of Lego for all manner of clients. And to top it all off, he builds! So without further ado, enough blather and on to the interview.

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The Standard Questions

LB: How did you get into Lego as a child and/or adult? What keeps you interested?

DK: I probably had some type of building blocks since birth.  I had DUPLO as a baby and never remember a time without LEGO. I got my first standard LEGO set when I was five, and it’s all I ever wanted after that. I probably entered my dark ages around age 16 or so. I actually brought all my LEGO to college but only pulled it out a couple times. When LEGO joined the force with Star Wars in 1999, I was drawn back in big time, and have been building ever since. I stay interested as an AFOL because of the high stress job I have owning my own business.  LEGO works as a great stress reducer. It’s just plain fun! Another major aspect of the hobby for me now is the community. I’ve made some great friends through LEGO clubs and conventions.

LB: What are your main areas of focus when it comes to building?

DK: My wife and I put on a large LEGOWEEN display every year, so that takes up a lot of my building. I always like to make at least one large “Wow” MOC each year. Those have included a working roller coaster, a large castle, and 55 Central Park West…otherwise known as Dana’s apartment building from Ghostbusters. I don’t really have a favorite theme. I’m often inspired by a single piece and just go from there.

LB: Describe your acquisitive process and how it relates to your building.

DK: I always try to avoid buying a lot of sets, though LEGO makes that very difficult. They keep releasing such cool sets that really appeal to the AFOL community. My main budget goes to Bricklink where I buy thousands of parts for our Halloween display every year.

LB: Do you use your own printed items in creations? Other third party products?

DK: Yes and Yes. When I first started printing, I made a lot of woodgrain tiles. I use these extensively in my MOCs. However, I rarely print anything new for builds. I use a lot of custom minifigs and accessories from companies like BrickArms and BrickForge.

The Printing Questions

LB: You run a printing business which also involves Lego pieces. How did you get into printing onto Lego? Is there an engraving component as well?

DK: I’ve worked in the printing business for almost 30 years. When I first joined BayLUG, I printed some LEGO business cards for fun. I went to my first convention that same year and was really introduced to the concept of custom printed bricks. I instantly thought…hey, I could that!  I got the word out and had multiple customers overnight. I do not do any engraving, just digital and pad printing.

LB: Are there any specific challenges that Lego presents that other materials do not? Or is printing on Lego easier?

DK: Printing on LEGO is actually pretty easy. They are made from ABS plastic which accepts ink very well. They are also very consistent, which makes them easy to print in bulk…especially when printing bricks. We can interlock them in stacks and print a large quantity very quickly.  The challenge comes from running a large variety of elements. Bricks and tiles are easy, but we also print all the way around minifigs. That can get a little tricky.

LB: I assume the customer provides the design and the materials. What challenges do you face in reconciling the two and what is the most challenging Lego printing job that you’ve faced?

DK: Fortunately, we deal mostly with large custom brick resellers. They typically send artwork that is accurate and well laid out. They also understand the limitations of the process. Some less experienced customers will draw extremely detailed designs that look great on screen. However, when you shrink them down to a 16mm wide minifig torso…they don’t work so well.  Minifigures are by far the trickiest jobs. As the industry develops, people want more and more detail as well as full wrap printing. Keeping things lined up over large runs is very difficult.

LB: I know you participated as a vendor for at least one Lego convention. How did that experience compare with your more usual method of sale?

DK: Vending at a convention was tricky, because I missed so much of the convention. I quickly realized I was not cut out for retail. I really enjoy printing more than selling individual parts.

LB: What is the future of custom Lego printing for you and the market in general?

DK: The future of custom LEGO printing is really in the digital process. There are a few of us pad printing parts, which is the process that LEGO uses. Pad is great if you want your custom parts to look like LEGO made them. However digital opens up a whole new realm of possibilities with raised effects, unlimited color options, and filling in nooks and crannies that pad printing cannot accommodate. Our ratio of digital orders to pad is probably 50:1. I don’t see any end in sight for custom printing. As 3D printing and desktop UV inkjet printers come down in price, I think we’ll see a lot more people getting into custom parts and printing. I’m excited to see what the next generation comes up with.

LB: To what extent and with what rigor do you separate “hobby Lego” and “work Lego”?

DK: There is a hard and fast rule that my work and personal stock shall not mix! On the rare occasion that I supply parts for a client, I always buy them “New” from Bricklink or LEGO PAB. Some parts are inevitably ruined when used at work.

 

The Community Questions

LB: How important is the Lego community both online and more locally to you as a printer and a builder? Do you sell to AFOLs only or just conventions or also the general public?

DK: The online community is much more important to me as a builder.  I like browsing the many Facebook, fan, and other community pages. It’s fun to see what people are building around the world. I feel like I could travel to just about any country and find some AFOLs to hang out with. I don’t use the online community much for business. Many of my favorite sites do not allow commercial posts…which I totally agree with and respect insistently. I have a pretty good set of regular clients that keep me plenty busy. I mostly sell to larger resellers. I get occasional requests from other AFOLs, but our order minimums usually don’t fit their projects. I no longer sell any of my own designs.

LB: Do you have an online Lego presence, business or otherwise?

DK: Not really.  I am involved with a few Facebook pages, but that’s about it. Most of my business comes from word of mouth and repeat clients.

LB: You have of late also taken part in Bricks by the Bay convention planning. (For a while now I think.) I believe you supply the brick badges and other printed items. Could you describe some of the planning that goes into that and other aspects of the convention?

DK: Yes, BBTB is one of the biggest highlights of the year for me. I love being involved with the organization. I print the badges, and any other custom parts needed for minifigs, event kits, etc. I donate a large portion of the printing. It’s a great way to give back to the community that I’ve enjoyed for so long. Recently, my company has also taken on some of the kitting for the con. It can be surprisingly complicated, but it falls right in line with our business. It takes an exhausting amount of planning to pull off the CON each year. I tried doing too much when I first joined, so now I make sure to only take on responsibilities that I have time to do well. I’m not nearly as involved in the overall planning as I once was. I mostly focus on any custom printing needs and kit planning for the badge, event kit, and workshops.

LB: Have you participated in collaborations?

DK: Yes, mostly with BayLUG.  I love helping set up large displays. It’s something I always wanted to do as a kid but never had enough stuff.  Now we have an unlimited arsenal of builds to create huge layouts…super fun.

LB: What is the Lego community’s greatest strength? What about its greatest failings and/or weaknesses?

DK: Hmmm…interesting question. I think the community’s greatest strength is the product itself. I strongly believe that LEGO is one of the most enduring and inspiring products ever produced. I would not be in a technical/manufacturing field today without it. Our greatest weakness? I’d say we expect too much from LEGO. We oftentimes forget that this is, at its core, a toy meant for kids. The AFOL community is a large demographic, but let’s not try to fool ourselves. LEGO is a toy company and needs to be run like one. They cannot cater to our every whim…and there are a lot of them 😊

LB: Do you have any thoughts on TLG itself and its relationship with fans, both of adult and long-term variety and of the more general customer?

DK: I think TLG goes above and beyond its core responsibilities when dealing with the fan community. They have been extremely generous with their support for BBTB and BayLUG. I’m sure it’s a constant struggle within the company to balance the fan relationship with core business values. LEGO Ideas was a huge bridge over that gap. I think they’re on the right path with the level of support they offer us big kids.

LB: And at long last, what do you think the future holds?

DK: More awesome sets and new parts! I often hear people say that LEGO has lost its way with all the new parts. They would prefer we only had 2×4 bricks. Those well-meaning folks just don’t get it. With every new part, LEGO opens our building palette to new possibilities. My favorite part of viewing other people’s builds are seeing the endless creative uses of new parts.

I do hold a bit of fear towards how LEGO will compete with the digital distractions kids now face.  LEGO struggles in the digital realm, with good reason. I feel the core of LEGO is the physical, tactile relationship between the user and the medium. I’ve used LDD a bit, but nothing compares with that satisfying “click” and having a great model to show for your efforts.  Emerging markets will help keep the company strong for years to come. Hopefully, future generations don’t get too lost in screens, and will still appreciate good old fashion playing with their friends.

Thanks!

LB: Thank you very much for your perspectives on general tomFOLery and your insights into the printing side of what you do. All the best for this still relatively new year!

Hidden in Plane Sight (Blog or Die! Entry #18)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: LettuceBrick (Nice Try)

Word Count: 1,424

Hidden in Plane Sight

 

Hello again, constant reader! It’s LettuceBrick, back with a smattering of seriousness.

Much has been made of both The Lego Group’s stated repudiation of violence in its products and its obvious, perhaps even aggressive, pushing into gray areas towards outright contravention of its standard of nonviolence. This article is an exploration of the gray areas – with a focus on non-licensed themes, more on that later – that have helped Lego to make a killing and, as a happy and surely unintentional side effect, have produced some rather kick-ass models.

As a preliminary, it seems a definition of those vexing gray areas is in order. To this end, I will, at my peril, ignore the dictionary and even common sense to focus instead on an implicit definition as proffered by TLG itself. Readers may prefer to consult a more authoritative…  authority.

Since TLG’s actions speak louder than its words, I’ll eliminate those categories of violence which, since they have direct representations in sets, are obviously not off-limits. For starters, it seems that the remoteness of the violent actions involved matters. Thus, Western themes don’t seem to count because that violence happened a long time ago, Castle can’t possibly count because that violence happened an even longer time ago, and Star Wars really doesn’t count because, in addition to happening a long, long time ago, that violence happened somewhere far, far away.

Now, of course, other licensed themes contain violence as well. Here we arrive in another gray area. After all, pretty much all of these themes contain no more violence than is perfectly acceptable in mainstream entertainment, even for children. In a sense, Lego is following the lead of the license (though they did make the choice to acquire the license in the first place) and thus of the prevailing (apply all relevant disclaimers here) culture. Said licenses have of course been picked up less for any grand ideals they may or may not espouse than for the absolute shed-loads of cash that they can generate.

So perhaps it is only modern, real-world violence that is beyond the pale for TLG. But what then is modern violence, I hear you cry. (Ok, well, I don’t, but perhaps somebody else did.) Does the American Civil War count? Sure, they had trenches and Gatling guns, but have you seen the facial hair on those people? Not modern at all, hipsters notwithstanding. TLG seems to agree with the “mustache meter” as a measure of antiquity if their old Western theme is any indication. Those bluecoats do look an awful lot like Union soldiers.

So perhaps the First World War? Well, the (really quite lovely) large-scale models of the Sopwith Camel and Fokker Triplane would seem to argue against it, despite that war being the first really stark example of industrial killing. Then again, TLG has refrained from making any sets even remotely approaching the predominant horrors of that war: poison gas and trench warfare. Even if Lego decides to go all Rambo all of a sudden and announces something akin to a great battles theme, I doubt one of the sets would be “Gas at Second Ypres.” Even the Wonder Woman from that period shies away from such horrors in favor of a more innocuous aircraft. We thus seem to be approaching a definition of what flies and what does not: whether or not it flies.

This leaves the Second World War, which we approach via Indiana Jones (yes, yes, it’s a licensed theme). Here, we find several vehicles of a rather military flavor, especially the amphibious 4×4 that bears a resemblance to a Volkswagen Schwimmwagen and the monoplane which approximates a Messerschmidt Bf 109. Still, these vehicles are merely props in a character-driven story removed from the immediate context of the war they seem to fit into, not in a Blitzkrieg battle pack or something. Also, one of them flies and the other isn’t exactly a main battle tank.

Returning to the skies, and in particular the non-licensed atmosphere, we find an interesting phenomenon: that of the (garishly) camouflaged flying object. Many of these are very, very generic and so don’t really enter into this discussion.  Here we come at last, long-suffering reader, to my main point: many flying Lego objects bear a striking resemblance to modern military vehicles.

Let’s start with the F-14 Tomcat, 20,000 kilos of pure killing machine and total crowd pleaser:

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Photo credit: US Navy

Awe-inspiring to be sure, but perhaps not the sort of thing TLG is “supposed” to be reproducing in the brick. With that in mind, consider the following Creator set:

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Photo credit: Brickset

Sure the intakes are wrong and the colors are bright, but the overall look is very Tomcat-esque.

Next up we have the Eurofighter Typhoon, Europe’s answer to there’s something flying and I want it gone:

image005.jpg

Photo credit: Bundesheer

And here we have the excellent Sonic Boom:

image007.jpg

Photo credit: Brickset

Okay, okay, the intakes are at the sides and not underneath and it has horizontal stabilizers. So maybe a Rafale? Or a Eurofale?

Lastly in the jet category, we have everybody’s favorite concurrent boondoggle, the effing-35:

image009.jpg

Photo credit: US Airforce

And what follows is not at all, in any way, shape, form, fever dream, etc. an effing-35:

image011.jpg

Photo credit: Brickset

I can tell because it has two seats, rearward visibility, and actually went on sale within the intended timeframe.

It’s not all about the jets though. TLG also has also offered some familiar-looking helicopters:

Photo credits: Brickset: 1,2,3,4

Clockwise from the upper left we have a slightly tenuous AW101, an S-61R, a CH-47, and a CH-53. These are even more on the nose than their pointy brethren above.

Finding corresponding real-world pictures and other examples is left as an exercise for the reader. (As a slight aside, scavenger hunt time! Find the Lego depiction, in red of all colors, of an armored personnel carrier.)

So it seems TLG has no issues with using the basic shape of a real-life military aircraft in sets, which leads to a few obvious questions. Some of the vehicles exist in civilian versions, which would suggest another gray area, but many others do not. So what are the criteria for depicting an aircraft in a set?

Is it perhaps the color that matters? The Sonic Boom for instance is draped in red and white, the colors of the Red Cross, Canada, and that paragon of peacefulness, Switzerland. The other jets could perhaps emulate aerobatic display team paint schemes, which though less menacing (pretty colors!) than haze gray remain directly tied to military forces.

Or perhaps it’s the application which matters, as suggested by the helicopters? Surely no one can object to volcano explorers or firefighters repurposing ostensibly military airframes, though the thought of cops rappelling from a large helicopter may be cause for rather more pause. Then again, if a military-capable jet is used by a large corporation as a purely aerobatic display aircraft à la Breitling Jet Team, would that be okay? Could we see an official Lego BJT L-39 Albatross?

The overall formula seems to be as follows: take the cool-looking flying thing, make it not gray, don’t attach any missiles, and you’re good to go.

In the end, it seems even Lego is not entirely immune from the realization that violence is just about the only thing that sells as well as the German pronunciation of what you get when you multiply two by three. (Anyone wanna see whether or not that’ll fly on MOCPages?)

So does it matter? Who knows? Does anyone care?

Lego certainly doesn’t seem to. Lego sales have not suffered from any colorful warplane backlash, though I doubt the yay-combat-aircraft-in-cute-colors market is what is really driving the profits. Nobody else seems to care either, with the wider world reserving its ire for Lego Friends and the increase in grrr-faced minifigs. The collective response from AFOLs seems to have been a collective shrug, though there are a few very helpful Brickset bricklists dedicated to military aircraft. As for the children (there, someone thought of them) I’d say they have plenty of more traumatizing things to be traumatized by.

So I’d say Lego has found a middle ground that works. They can capitalize on the sleekness and coolness of modern combat aircraft while at the same time camouflaging the vehicles’ origins. In short, they appropriate a motif that is very familiar while at the same time keeping it within a zone of colorful, garish gray.

 

Mecabricks Interview (Blog or Die! Entry #16)

Accepted entry for the “Interview” category.

Author: Caleb Inman (VAkkron)

Word Count: 1,674

Mecabricks Interview

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It is my pleasure to present an interview with the mysterious man known online as Scrubs, creator and supporter of Lego CAD and rendering software Mecabricks.  Ladies, gentlemen, and constant readers, please put your hands together and lend your ears as we pull back the curtain on the life and work of the one and only Mr. Nicolas Jarraud!

[Caleb Inman: CI; Nicolas Jarraud: NJ]

CI: Hello Nicolas!  Can you give me a brief description of yourself, either education or career, and your interest in Lego?

NJ: I was born in France in the early 80s and like most kids there I played with LEGO in my childhood. The sets that we owned with my sister are now in a big case stored at my parents’ place. I currently live on the other side of the globe in New Zealand where I moved more than a decade ago. Until recently I was designing production equipment for a medical company. I am now working for a big tech company as an optical engineer where we design the next generation cockpits for traditional and self-driving cars.

My dark age finished somewhere in 2011 when I started Mecabricks. I had to catch up on 15 years of LEGO products and history! From this date, I accumulated a big amount of sets. Way too many according to my wife. Some of them to keep like the modular buildings and others only for parts that I model.

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Render credit: Nicolas

CI: Impressive to hear you actually buy parts in order to model them for your parts library.  That’s an amazing level of dedication.  Do you actually use those Lego pieces that you’ve bought to build anything?  What made you decide to devote your time to virtual building, and why do you believe virtual building is important?  What are benefits of digital Lego modelling over physical building?

NJ: I am not really a builder. I can barely follow the instructions from the LEGO manuals and I always have pieces remaining at the end! I am not bringing any news by saying that LEGO is expensive. Building virtually allows to use any quantities of any parts in any colours. Freedom! You are not constrained by physics. Parts can intersect and are not subject to gravity. This is a different way of thinking and it can appeal to both people wishing to build their creations later with real bricks or simply create something more abstract that is not possible in real life.

To put it in a wider context, this is also a fun way for kids (or adults) to discover CAD (Computer-Aided Design) and maybe generate vocations. With the likes of 3D printing or laser cutting being more and more accessible to the public, understanding CAD system is a nice to have skill.

CI: I know exactly what you mean, and in fact I was one of those kids who decided to be an engineer because of my experiences with Lego CAD programs.  However, I used LDD, and there were other CAD programs available for Lego building before Mecabricks.  Can you describe your experience with them, and the problems they had that you are trying to solve with Mecabricks?

NJ: LDD is not for me. Too many constraints. I am not able to build anything with it. I always end up fighting with parts to put them in the right orientation at the right place. LDraw based CAD software were maybe the opposite at the time. Too much freedom and therefore the same issues. I have also been asked multiple times why Mecabricks was not using the LDraw part library – For the same reason I wanted something unique for the building tool, I did not want to depend on a third-party library. I managed to create a whole separate system using modern tools and modern formats.

Overall, I love technical challenges which was probably the main driver. Bringing more options to people is also not a bad thing. All of them are very different in the way they work.

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Render and model by saabfan2013

CI: So Mecabricks is essentially build from the ground up.  Very impressive.  What else makes Mecabricks unique?  Has developing a community forum and website helped to generate interest in your CAD program?

NJ: Mecabricks doesn’t need to be installed. This is only online. You open your browser on your computer or your tablet and you have all your files available with the latest version of the tools and the parts. It all happens seamlessly. This is a big advantage for example for schools where it can be a complicated process to get anything installed on the kids’ machines.

Mecabricks is also a great place to discuss everything about digital LEGO. The forum is still pretty basic but includes a lot of great tips for building and rendering. You will find there talented people with different skills: Renderbricks for technical stuff, Zanna for the artistic side, Saabfan (one of the designer of the Apollo Saturn V set)  for the building technics to name a few.

CI: You are doing some ground-breaking work with digital render systems.  First, tell me how these renders are becoming more and more realistic, and closer to mimicking real-life photography.

NJ: It is only in 2014 that I have been pushed by user Renderbricks to create export tools so that models could be opened in traditional 3D software. This has brought Mecabricks to a new level and I am now working at making this even easier and more accessible to a wider audience.

My favourite software is of course Blender and in the recent years the community has been really active. The rendering engine called Cycles is now mature and powerful. I am closely following the development and every new feature they provide is implemented in the Add-ons available on Mecabricks.

In the past few years I also spent way too much time observing and taking close shots of LEGO elements to understand how they interact with light. Being an optical engineer was a big help.

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Render credit: Nicolas

CI: I wouldn’t have thought of that.  That’s a great way to combine career experience with your hobby.  I am sure the technical expertise extends far beyond light and computer programming. Is the hardware system just as complex?  Also, what will be the availability of this render feature?

NJ: This new feature of Mecabricks will be available in the second half of January 2018. It will be possible to create stunning images in your browser without special knowledge. Although the use is very simple, this is not the case of the system that is running in the background.

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Render by Renderbricks

CI: I have heard the phrase “render farm” used.  Can you describe what that means and how is this the best option for builders who want to render their models?

NJ: The main issue with 3D rendering is that it takes a lot of power and a lot of time. It can take multiple hours for common home computers to calculate a single frame. So, the idea here is to send the LEGO scene to special computers that are built for this task only. When the render button is clicked, a 3D file is created and sent to New Zealand. This file is then converted to a Blender scene and shared among multiple computers to be rendered. The final image is assembled and composited before being sent back to the user.

As an example, a 4K images (3840×2160) that would take more than 3 hours to be generated on my 3-year-old iMac is only taking about 7 minutes with the system I designed and built. Everything is optimized for LEGO rendering.

Ease of use, quick turnaround and guarantee to use the latest render features available are the key aspects of the Mecabricks render farm.

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Render by Nicolas; Model by IstakaCiti (link unavailable)

CI: Who is your target audience?  Can builders from other Lego CAD software export their models into Mecabricks?

NJ: Anybody willing to showcase a digital 3D LEGO creation. I think it will be popular among designers posting projects on the LEGO Ideas platform. Having nice presentation images is a bonus to ensure a good visibility.

It is currently possible to import LDD models in Mecabricks with some limitations. But with minimal rework in the workshop the result it pretty good. Obviously, I am not a wizard and parts not available yet in Mecabricks cannot be imported.

CI: What will be the cost to use the rendering feature?

NJ: To be announced very soon but very affordable anyway. The goal is to find a balance to be able to pay for electrical power and any future hardware development.

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Render by Renderbricks

CI: What do you plan to do next?  Where will your innovations take you in the future?

NJ: The to-do list is never ending and the community growing. So, I try to share my time between running what is currently existing and designing the future of Mecabricks.

The next big feature that is long overdue is an instruction builder. The goal is to make a tool that is both easy to use and powerful enough to create high quality manuals.

CI: I know many builders from both the physical and virtual branches of the hobby have been waiting for an easy, comprehensive instruction builder for a long time.  That will be a massive innovation.  Before I conclude this interview, is there anything else you’d like to share with these wonderful constant readers?

NJ: Building digital LEGO models is fun and the possibilities endless. Give it a try.

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Render and model by saabfan2013

CI: You do incredible work and I have seen the excitement of people who have been able to use the render farm.  The results look spectacular.  Thank you for doing this interview, and I hope you keep up your excellent work!  Best of luck in the future.

 

*All images in this interview are made with the Mecabricks render engine and courtesy of their respective creators.