Ted Talks: Rock ‘N’ Roll Star

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What truly motivates you, constant reader, to build your MOC’s and share them with the masses?  We already know you enjoy building your castles, and trains, and SHIPs (oh my).  You also do it to help your fellow builders with tips, share techniques, and provide positive feedback… for the good of the building community.  What more could anyone ask for, right?  Gee, Wally. How altruistic of you.

C’mon, people… you know, and I know, there is something else stirring underneath the surface…

It starts out as a little burning ember at first.  You’re hooked on getting the MOC views, and now you are yearning for a little more recognition. Fanned by the faves and encouraging comments from other builders, it burns brighter and grows inside you.  Eventually it consumes you, in a raging inferno that craves the FULL ATTENTION of the community!  You’re not looking for mere recognition from your peers anymore.  You’re looking for acclaim!  It is your DESTINY to become one of the “LEGO ROCK STARS”!!!

♪♫ “So you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star? / Then listen now to what I say”.♫♪ – The Byrds

Look at me! Blog me! Love me! Name a build technique after me! Put my MOC’s onto trading cards… Hire me to be a designer at LEGO!”

 ♪♫ “Just get a [LEGO set] / then take some time and learn how to play.”♫♪

Well, duh!  Starting out, I think everyone understands that essential step of honing your craft.  It’s a long way to the top, if you want to Rock N’ Roll.  There’s not much else that really needs to be said.  If for some reason you are considering a spiritual training camp with an Indian guru to be further enlightened, let me save you the trouble.  Your meditation mantra is this: “Build my collection… Build some MOC’s… Build my collection… Build some MOC’s…”

33357057533_f0c2e9daa1_o.jpgthereeljames – Ommmmm

♪♫ “And in a week or two if you make the [blogs] / the girls’ll tear you apart”♫♪

If you’re a “LEGO savant”, maybe it does only take you a week or two to get your first blog post.  Typically though, it’s a gradual build up, as your skills and parts collection improve over time… but either way, it has finally happened!!!  You’ve made the “Cover of the Rolling Stone”  and have gotten your first “Top-40 hit”.  The web-traffic and views on your photo page have gone through the roof!!!  …But slow down there, “Stillwater”.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  You’re still only a one-hit-wonder and merely “Almost Famous”…

If you start racking up more blog hits, you’ll also start racking up the favorites and the followers too.  At some point those builders that you considered “Rock Star Legends” will actually start following you.  Eventually, you build up enough confidence to go out on the LEGO CON-cert Tour with them.  You’ll play your solo act on stage, and then play in a collaborative jam session for the final encore.  Once the public has gone home, you play late night poker after the show with the roadies, sitting around a DUPLO table and trading your MOC’s for a few cans of “The Brown Note”… Rock N’ Roll, baby!!!

6045417123_fe1d4ea2a8_o.jpgcaptainsmog – On The Stage

Fame can be fleeting though, and new acts are always appearing on the scene.  To stay on the radio play lists, you’ll need to keep “Feeding that Monster!” by churning out those pop song hits.  Building a MOC in a popular licensed theme is a smart choice (Star Wars builds are always perineal chart toppers – the exception being “clones on a plate”)… might I also recommend participating in an Iron Builder contest?

♪♫ “Sell your soul to the company / who are waiting there to sell plastic ware.”♫♪

There are plenty of “LEGO Rock Stars” that reached the pinnacle and cashed in to become TLG “company men” and “company women”.  You’ll notice that they seldom get the time to build/post their own MOC’s anymore.  They don’t even want to build after a full workday of pushing brick-shaped pixels around a monitor screen.  Now they are just another Technic gear in TLG’s “hit making machine”.  They are chained to their desks, creating watered-down “Danish pop songs” that can appeal to everyone, especially to kids ages 8-and-Up, and that fit neatly into a certain market-determined piece-count/price-point.  They’re “getting’ hygee with it”… ♪♫ Happy Happy Joy Joy…♫♪

Stinky Wizzelteats – “I’ll teach you to be happy!…  I’ll teach your grandmother to suck eggs!”.

 Even if you don’t catch the eye of the major TLG Label and become a full-time contract-artist, don’t worry.  You can still get a taste of the action as a one-time guest performer.  Maybe you submit a few LEGO set ideas to CUUSO, IDEAS, or whatever it is that “American Idol” reality show is called these days.  If your idea goes “GOLD”, at least there’s still a modest chance the final design will maintain some modicum of your artistic vision.  But first you’ll need to thoroughly humiliate yourself by pimping for those votes… week… after week… after week….  Once you DO hit ‘GOLD’, and if TLG thinks you’ve handed them a bona fide hit, they’ll start pumping out the plastic.  They’ll even give you a 1% royalty on every record sold!  ONE PERCENT!!!

But that’s not the only way to cash in on your “Rock Star” acclaim.  You can also sign on with an independent label, or create your own. Rather than “selling yourself out” to TLG, you’re trying to sell out of your commissioned MOCs, custom printed figures, trading cards, action wear, etc.   You take your “Don’t Tread On Me” concert T-shirts with you on every stop of the LEGO CON-cert Tour, and then sell them on-line when you get home.  If your fans really like what you do, then surely they will pay up and support you, right?  They know you’ve got bills to pay, and more bricks to buy?  Maybe giving away MOAR free prototypes will entice them? Or maybe you need to find some other way to promote your wares? (…might I recommend sponsoring an Iron Builder contest?)

Pine Barons – Clowns “I am just a clown like you, and we fake smiles for pay…feeling so transparent.”

♪♫ “The money, the fame, and the public acclaim… ”♫♪

Up to this point I’ve been talking about “Rock N’ Roll” stars. They still have to crank out that “rock n’ roll” music that appeases the masses… “FREEBIRD!”  …But then there are the “MEGA STARS” that Leg Godt on a whole different level.  They can build whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want.  They are the trend setters (sometimes accidentally) and meme creators (sometimes purposefully).  They have been featured performers in Block-umentaries.  You know of whom I speak.

“Mega Stars” have followers in the thousands (like > 7,500).  Those large numbers have only gotten worse (I mean better) with LEGO being in the mainstream now.  On a bad day, they get 20 more new flickr followers, 15 of which have empty photostreams and those generic flickr camera avatars. On a bad day, they only get 150 favorites on a new MOC that hasn’t even been blogged yet.

"Fried Chicken!" - A tribute to Freddie Mercury

Ochre Jelly and “Fried Chicken!” (yum)

For their ‘fans’, which even include the “Rock Stars”, there is almost no hope of making any deep personal connections with the “Mega Stars” anymore.  Don’t get me wrong.  They aren’t cold hearted elitists.  They just can’t keep up with all the fan mail, let alone all of their fans’ photostreams to reciprocate the love. I wonder if they even fave other people’s MOCs anymore, let alone comment. (Perhaps they need to hire personal assistants – actually, I know that has already happened…. “Hey mom. Can you check my flickr to see if there is anyone I need to respond to while at BW?”).

When you are a “MEGA Star”, you don’t need to connect with everyone on a one-on-one basic anymore.  “We ain’t one-at-a-timin’ here! We’re mass communicatin’!”   Your MOC concerts are filling MEGA-STADIUMS now! You’re headlining ROCK FESTIVALS!  YOU Control The Action!  You have truly arrived.

Orange Stage at LEGO World

♪♫ “The price you paid for your riches and fame, / was it all a strange game? You’re a little insane”♫♪

Jonatha Brooke – “Careful what you wish for…”

There is a price to be paid for being a “Mega Star”.  To avoid the paparazzi, they have to build their own private LEGO Neverland compounds, and only invite the people over who knew them “before they were famous”.  They have to register at LEGO CON-cert hotels under false names too (…psst… I know who you are Mr. Bricky McBrickface).  When they walk through the LEGO CON-cert hall, they overhear jealous comments about their latest hairstyle, and the MOC’s they brought with them (btw – does TLG print the “Law of Jante” in the fine print of every instructions booklet, or something?)

LEGO “Mega Stars” must miss those halcyon days when they were up-and-coming builders, trading critiques on Lugnet and playing the “open-mic night” at the Corner Café.  I can’t fathom what it is TRULY like to be a “Mega Star”, and I’m too lazy to reach out to some of them and ask.  I’m no “Rock Star” myself either; being put onto a trading card just isn’t my goal in life (however, I’m always down for a lunch box lid).  I’m happy simply being an “Almost Famous” kind of builder; doing just enough to be relevant, but not enough to edge over that slippery slope.  Having seen the various endings to this cautionary tale, I don’t aspire to fly much higher.  I have my “Piece of Mind

 

Boston – “Piece of Mind”

Despite dragging my feet, I still net a couple new random flickr followers a week, for God knows why.  I’m at 1,800 flickr followers right now, which is a little insane, and with no hope of ever keeping up with them all…. Speaking of being “a little insane”, aren’t most creative types?  We’re never gonna’ survive unless we get at a little crazy… (…being A LOT crazy is a whole other matter…).

♪♫ “Don’t forget who you are, you’re a rock and roll star!”♫♪

So, where does this chase for “fame and acclaim” lead in the end?  Right back to the same question I asked at the very beginning: “What truly motivates us to build and share with the community?” Why are we doing all this?  To what end?  When our heads start to swell up from the moments of praise, we should probably ask ourselves this question time and again.

If it IS to become a “LEGO Rock Star”, now’s the time in this article for the reality check.  Remember that “Rock Star” status is mainly limited to within our own FOL Universe, and in our own minds.  It’s no more than that juvenile battle in the “LEGO High School” cafeteria to climb the lunch-table pecking order.  I assure you, no one outside of our FOL Universe gives a rat’s ass.  To most outsiders, we’re ALL just bunch of neo-maxi-zoom-dweebi’s, no matter where we are sitting; man-kinder, women-kinder, and sometimes actual kinder, just playing with toys.  That’s right.  They’re toys; we should be out there having fun with them, and playing well with each other.  Why so serious?

Space Cafe

BricksTreasure – Space Cafe

If our personal motivation is to become better builders, then we need to remember that all of these counts of views, faves, and awards are but arbitrary measures.  The means to become better builders comes from continually pushing ourselves to improve, by learning from others who inspire us, seeking out feedback, and not being overly defensive in the face of an occasional critique.  We’ll rise up by helping others rise up with us.  As cliché as it is, in The End, “the love you take is equal to the love you make”…  But don’t just take it from me.  Take it from the Walrus…

Paul McCartney – Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End

“ENCORE!  … ENCORE! … ENCORE! …”

With that, I think this musically themed satire has rambled on long enough.  It’s time for YOU to step up to the mic for the encore, and take over the comments stage.  Bring it on home!  Tell us about your stardom, or just rip on my playlist choices.  If you not a “Rock Star” yet, then you can just give us your best Neil Diamond cover (or whatever it is that your generation listens to these days).  This is your chance to shine!

 

 

Great Debates! Has the Minifigure been detrimental to LEGO?

Achintya Prasad has returned from his exploration of the irradiated wasteland with spare parts for the generator, a few dozen rounds of ammunition and another article for your perusal.  Without any further ado, take it away Mr. Prasad!

Hey everyone, and welcome to another article in the new series, Great Debates! Today, I’m going to examine the large social phenomenon, one of the largest examples of a non-organic population created by humanity, the popular minifigure. Though introduced in 1978, the humble plastic figure has recently become far more than a playable accessory. Entire product lines, such as the LEGO collectible series, steadily crank out new minifigures, forgoing the traditional LEGO playbook of small to large sets, containing components.

Now, before I go any further, I have to say that even your studious guide (yours truly) to this topic has fallen victim to the wave of LEGO minifigures.  I’m not bashing people that buy the, for lack of a better term, action figure kits, that is the Minifigure series. But I think we all agree that buying these kits are not the same as buying a LEGO set, as there aren’t nearly as many components. The subject of these packs is the minifigure itself, not any particular object. Anyways, I once bought handful of LEGO British Royal Guards from Bricklink, at an astronomical price, only to have the figures be stashed away for years in a dresser. I’m sure they’ll eventually have some value as a collector’s set, but nonetheless, I probably could have spent the money on something far more useful. That said, I still feel that maybe, just maybe, they’ll be useful to me…

Truth is, I never had a problem with minifigures, but a recent trip to the LEGO store made me reconsider the actual role of the minifigure, and what it means for the hobby as a whole. I feel that this whole trend is most infamous for, frankly, ruining many of LEGO’s attempts at UCS style kits. A prime example of what I’m talking about is found on the Super Star Destroyer kits LEGO released a few years. The entire cityscape of greeble in the middle of the creation was designed to be shallow, to allow some classic scenes from the movies to be included in the kit. Of course, the 15-mile-long SSD is nowhere near to scale with the minifigure. This matters as, by definition, the UCS style kits are Ultimate Collector’s Items, not a kid’s play thing. The model is designed for large scale and accuracy to the movie, so why would include minifigures? They do little to enhance the actual purpose of these kits, and instead require unnecessary provisions inside a technically complex model. But perhaps that doesn’t quite bother you, as after all, the actual lines of the mammoth SSD aren’t quite ruined by the inclusion. Well, constant reader, let me direct your attention to one of the most controversial, infamous, and long-lived Star Wars model released: the minifigure Death Star.

 

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The Death Star was minifigures galore, 23 to be precise. The only thing the creation actually shared with the movie WMD is, well, the rough geometric shape (and even that is after squinting at a picture of the model after its been faxed through 12 different time zones and 8 Xerox copiers). As a microscale builder fixated on details, scaling and proportion (most of my creations are actually built using calculated dimensions, scale, and real-life examples, I’m that pedantic) this set is the spawn of Satan. At an exorbitant price of over $300, the set is a showcase, once again, of the famous scenes from the movies, and includes a massive amount of minifigures to complement the scenes. But accuracy? Who cares. Precision? Save that for the hobby modelists (see what I did there?!) If I’m going to be honest, I hate the Death Star set, and I really can’t fathom why LEGO is still trying to pawn the kit off to FOLs, at such a huge cost, with little in the way of exterior detailing.

Now, you may think, alright, so some sets are compromised by the playability “necessity” of the minifigure. You may also argue that there are plenty of kits that either utilize the minifigure very usefully (see the modular building line ups) or kits that are impressively built without considering minifigures (such as my all time favorite set, the Boeing 787, or my second favorite kit, the new Ideas Saturn V rocket).

 

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To all that, I answer, rubbish. In similar manner to James May’s hatred of the Nurburgring effect on car comfort, quality, and practicality, I think the minifigure is purveying an upheaval that is changing the purpose of LEGO itself.

I’ve mentioned this before in the article, and if you’ve looked through my photo stream, you’d know that I’m a primarily microscale military builder. And, in reality, the LEGO minifigure has done much for this side of the community. It’s common practice to use minifigure screwdrivers as gun barrels or binoculars as, well, whatever you want them to represent. In fact, I would argue that the whole idea of Nice Parts Usage (NPU) would not exist without the help of the minifigure. But see, the even in military building, including space and detail work for minifigures is a hassle that rarely results in a scale model (after all, minifigures are notorious for their “cute” inaccuracies of the human body) being accurate to the source material. And that really begs the question, what is the point of a LEGO Model (deep, I know). In the past, we discussed accuracy, but really that’s only half the battle. See, the minifigure adds the LEGO profit baseline: playability. As LEGO enthusiasts, we have to ask ourselves, is that our end goal? If it is, job done. But something tells me that the community builds for far more. See, I think that the goal is functionality.

I should explain, playability does NOT equal functionality. When a model, say, our Death Star example, is designed, it is originally created around the playability idea. Functionality, on the other hand, is something uniquely different. Its retractable landing gear, or moving drawbridges. Its 5 speed technic gearboxes, or moving Mech legs. Playability harvests the fruits of functionality to leverage an experience that allows the enthusiast to tell a story or playout a scenario. Functionality, however, has more uses. Perhaps functionality is used to service a detailed water mill on an Old English town scene. That same functionality helped create the sub-genre of motorized tank building, that creates realistic tanks with rotating turrets, functioning suspension, and even working cannons. Functionality allows the artist to express a depth in a creation. It’s more than a static model, it’s a faithful recreation of the subject, right down to the object’s intended purpose. It may not be an easy designation to make, but this is one of the biggest difference that marks us experienced FOLs aside. We’re building to service that accuracy, within the confines of the LEGO brick, all the while including some of the interesting movements and purposes of the subject material. While we may play or swoosh around an aircraft we build, fundamentally, the playable feature is still given to the minifigure, as that is the intended purpose of the little plastic men. If you need further convincing, consider this for a moment, which series is functional, Technic or LEGO city? Which one is more play friendly, Star Wars battle pack sets, or a Creator large scale car (such as the Mini Cooper or Ferrari F40)?

Perhaps another notable comparison is between the minifigure and its distant cousin, Army Men. Sold literally by the bucket, these plastic privates have taken major roles in movies such as Toy Story, and have inspired millions of people. Army Men, for what their worth, are all play. While there are communities out there dedicated to introducing realism to these little lieutenants, these flash-ridden toys are really all play. It’s notable that its common place to receive some larger military equipment, such as jeeps and cannons, with these playsets, similar to models being included with LEGO minifigures. While army men are also related to Hobby Models, and are often roughly to scale with these sets, they aren’t intrinsically adding something extra to the hobby, while minifigs have some noted innovation in microscale parts. Despite this difference however, the primary purpose of both the minifigure and the army man is play. This is something that I feel is stressed by toy companies and the LEGO group alike.

See, during my LEGO store visit (where I carefully and admittedly embarrassingly engaged the tessellation game which is packing a Pick a Brick cup), I noticed a larger and larger selection of minifigure related products. From the Pick-your-minfig station to the growing number of “battle kits” from Star Wars, to the numerous examples of LEGO City sets, the place was overrun with the plastic figure. Sure, I understand that selling playability is a lot easier than selling the different enthusiast goals of functionality, but that whole concept is what LEGO was literally built on. Ole Kirk Christian’s automatic binding bricks were an innovation in functionality in their own right (I mean think about it, you can put two plates together and literally it takes the force of a supernova, brick separator, or a good pair of teeth quite a bit of grief to pull apart FACT). While minifigures may be making innovation in the ever present NPU community, and the social justice community (women scientist series), I don’t think building a kit around the minifigure is quite the vision of the original company, or indeed, the trend of the bleeding edge of most LEGO community.

Now, for sure, the minifigure is an important part of the community. But when we start the cringe inducing shortcuts in the City line of sets, or create UCS kits just to include minifigures, we’re shortchanging ourselves from truly enjoying LEGO to its full potential. If the whole goal of LEGO is to create something outside the confines of the singular brick, why must we also be chained to including the venerable minifigure? Let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.

Ted Talks: Party Hosting Tips

Welcome back to the second installment of Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes tackles topics that are near and dear to his heart.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

YOU LOST!!!

YOU LOST!!! Artwork by polywen

Have you ever entered an on-line building contest, and then thought afterwards, “Hey. I think I’d like to host one myself someday”?  First off, “God Bless You”, you masochist of a human being. Secondly, did you read Rutherford’s “Fire for Effect” article “Give me the prize!” , and the comment section too?  And you STILL want to proceed?  YOU FOOL!!!  I’ll offer a few suggestions on running a contest … but honestly, TURN BACK NOW!!!

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Legohaulic: “Tea Party Time.”

Setting the Table

Deciding the LEGO building genre itself is the easy part (Space, Castle, Licensed Sets, Architecture, etc.).  Setting the actual sub-theme, scope, and build requirements for the contest are the tricky parts.  You want an interesting contest idea that excites people, and that has simple requirements that won’t bog things down.  Contest ideas tend to fall along a spectrum between:

  • A very specific contest idea that requires putting a lot of thought into building it (as well as into creating backgrounds and backstories) – These contests usually result in only one entry per person, and in fewer entries Some entrants even abandon midway (no matter how much extra time you give them).
  • A general contest idea that sparks so many building ideas that the entrants don’t know which to start first – These contests typically result in a ton of entries, with some entrants who will not be up-to-par, since the level of time/parts investment is far lower.

I’ve hosted contests near both ends of the spectrum.  The ‘general contest idea’ (a.k.a. the “kegger”), is the most gratifying for all involved, and draws in the most contest newbies.  ‘Specific contests’ (a.k.a. the “dinner parties”) are O.K., but just plan to have a more intimate affair.  The required build size can also play a part in the number of guest that show up; the bigger the MOC size requirement, the fewer entries you may get.  Having no size restriction at all seems to have the opposite effect…

“I want to rock and roll all night, and party every day!” – KISS

That’s a worthy life-goal, coming from men dressed in platform boots, but the K.I.S.S. I am referring to is “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”  This means YOU.  Think back to all of the really fun contests you’ve participated in.  I’ll bet they K.I.S.S.ed it just right; Steampunk – Rock and Roll, FBTB – MOC Madness (the Original), Speederbike Contests, Clue-Redux Vignettes… These weren’t sloppy, wet kisses with too much tongue up the nose.  These were simple, clearly defined ideas that captured the open-ended imagination of all involved.

My Lady...?

Agaethon29 – “My lady! Wherefore dost thou kiss a frog?!”…

“Forced Fun” is the WORST!

“O.K. everybody! It’s time to play charades!” – Ugh.  When setting the theme, don’t let your ego get in the way.  Don’t pick a restrictive sub-theme, or make the contest restrictions too elaborate, in an effort to get the MOC’s that YOU want to see.  If you decide to “force the fun” in this way, don’t expect a large turn-out.  Your first priority is entertaining YOUR GUESTS, not the other way around. “Sir, step away from the karaoke machine!” (… unless your DR. Church. I hear that guy can belt out a tune that’ll make the dolls swoon).

To some degree, I made the “forced fun” mistake with the “Steampunk: Bricks & Boilers Exposition” contest.  I tried to force the steampunk theme into places where the steampunk masses didn’t want to go (Give me back my brown!”).  I wanted to see steampunk from cultures other than the merry old Victorian Englishmen.  I wanted to see steam power applied in ways beyond just vehicles and weapons.  I bounced my ideas off of Guy and Rod, and we honed it down into that final KISS concept.  Despite that, I literally forced fun onto my guests, as I had them build us steampunk carnival rides.  As a result, we didn’t get a massive amount of entries… then again, maybe the interest in Steampunk had simply run out of steam by then…

“Dance for me, dammit!  Dance! DANCE!”

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The Clockwork Show (Video)

Charis Stella – The Clockwork Show

Party Favors / Door Prizes

Q: What is a contest without prizes?  A: The sound of one hand clapping… across Boy Wonder’s face! 

Physical prizes are the perfect enticement to bring in the party guests.  They draw new builders out from the woodwork, and the veteran builders will then go where the action is.  Prizes can transform even the limpest of wallflowers into dancing machines!  However, prizes can’t overcome any miscalculations you’ve already made in “setting the table”.  All you’ll get then are uninspired MOC’s that meet the minimum requirements, and the submitters counting down the days until the prize winners are announced… tick… tick… tick… “So, when will the winners be announced?”

You can certainly pay for the prizes yourself, but you shouldn’t have to.  Ask around to see if any mainstream blogs, vendors, stores, etc. are interested in sponsoring them.  Even though we made MOC trophies for the speederbike contest, we still reached out for sponsors.  Their responses back exceeded our modest expectations (YOU GUYS ROCK!!!).  If/when you do ask, it helps to already have some street-cred in the FOL Community, or at least be able to name drop a few folks who do.  Otherwise, you are just another random moocher looking for MOAR BrickArms protos PLZ!

Uncle Rico – “We gotta look legit, mayn.”

“Pimpin’ Made Easy”

It helps to have a good party flyer to make your grand contest announcement.  You might be able to get by without making one, but think of it as your own MOC for the contest.  This poster is your chance to get in on the action, as well as an awesome way to promote your sponsors at the same time.   _zenn went through a lot of iterations in creating our Speederbike Contest Poster, and I did as well when making the Steampunk Bricks & Boilers poster (version 10 was the winner).

“Save the date”

Contest timing can be tricky.  Hopefully no one else will be launching a contest at the same time as you, and there isn’t some special building month going on too (or people prepping for a CON).  Since it is an unwritten rule not to announce a contest prior to its start date, you probably won’t know until after you pull the trigger.

As for contest duration, a month-long contest should provide ample time to build, and even to order some parts from BrickLink if needed.  Anything longer is not that entertaining.  Many people will eventually forget that your contest is even going on… tick… tick…tick… “So, when will the winners be announced?”

If you still want to offer a longer build time, try scheduling a 1-month run time, but announce the contest 2-weeks before the start.  That way, it will still give the perception of keeping a shorter time frame and that you have your act together (vs. giving a 2-week extension at the end that looks desperate).

 “It’s finally Party Time!” – Let meet your guests…

26524239915_36ed6534e6_o.jpgMike Dung: Characters from Love Live! School Idol Project

Guest #1: The Ice Breaker – The “Ice Breaker” is the personal hero of every contest host.  They enter the contest first, and now you can breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Their entries offer you an early gauge of how the contest will go, and if you need to course correct if they are way off the mark.  Allowing people to swap entries until the deadline also relieves much of the risk of being the “Ice Breaker”.  It lets them rework their entry if a better idea happens to comes along…like one from…

Guest #2: The Tone Setter – These people “throw down the gauntlet” in the contest, and grab the attention of the rest of the community.  Many times the “Ice Breaker’s” entry is what is expected, and the “Tone Setter” raises the bar with that unexpected twist…  More people take notice, and if the “Tone Setter” has a huge on-line following then hold on tight. Their entourage now knows where the party’s at, and they are on the way to crash it… the REAL fun is about to start…

Guest #3: The Closer – “Closers” are the folks that enter the contest during the final week, having picked up that earlier thrown-down gauntlet of the “Tone Setter” and slapped them back.   9 times out of 10, “The Closer” in any sci-fi contest is none other than Tyler Clites. There are many theories as to why the “Closer” waits until the last week of the contest to enter their MOC:

  1. The “Tone Setter” drew them into the contest, so naturally they’d enter later,
  2. They want to keep their ideas fresh in the minds of judges,
  3. They don’t want to give their competition enough time to catch up,
  4. They are holding back so they don’t scare off the competition.

It could be any combination of the above, or none of the above.  Whatever their motives, don’t make the mistake of confusing the “Closer” with the “just made it by the deadline” builders.  These “Closers” are proven veterans, and those last-minute people need to “PUT… THAT COFFEE… DOWN…”

“Coffee’s for closers only.”

Guest #4: The Pleader –There are always folks that procrastinate, that have upload issues, that say their dog ate their bricks, etc. etc.  You can accommodate them if you wish.  However, the more you do, the more you disrespect all of the people who got their SHIP together. You’ll also find that wherever you draw the line, there will still be ONE more entrant with sad puppy eyes staring back at you from across the other side of it… Sorry – deadlines are deadlines, and the gates are closed to Wally World.

Guest #5: The Helpless Finally, these people are the ones dancing by themselves, like dirty neo-hippies at an outdoor Phish concert… except they are actually at a Civil War Reenactment.  Lord only knows what they are thinking.  We had a few “Helpless” entrants during the speederbike contest that colored waaay outside the lines, but we didn’t call them out.  They were having fun, so why harsh their buzz?  It was on them if they couldn’t learn by example from the other entrants.  When you have very few prize winners per category, and a lot of entrants, you can do that.  The cream will always rise to the top.

34129614833_ea0259c3c6_o.jpg…I may have finally found Keith’s speederbike inspiration!!!

RSVP’s and Sending out Personal Invites

So let’s say that the “Ice Breaker” still hasn’t shown up to the party and you’re getting nervous.  Well then, it’s time to call around to get people to show up. I’m sure there were a few people that you expected to enter based on the contest theme.  Reach out to them and say “Hey. In case you missed it…”  You can also trawl the flickr photo streams for recent MOC’s that fit whatever it is your contest is about.  If you find some, reach out to the builder and say “Hey. If this is for the contest, you need to enter it -=place link here=-…”    I openly admit that I trawled for a few entrants like this for the Steampunk B&B contest.  Desperate times…

The Rager

At the other extreme, if your contest really catches fire, then you just sit back and hang on tight.  Imagine scenes from basically any out-of-control “Party Movie” ever made.  That’s what you’ve got on your hands.  During the speederbike contest, there were even people building speederbikes just because they saw everyone else building them.  They didn’t even know there was a contest going on, or enter them.

When your party turns into a “Rager”, you can either a) run around with drink coasters to keep water rings from F’ing up the furniture, or b) crank the music, let the good times roll, and worry about the clean-up when the party (and your hangover) is over.  You better know the answer to this one…  Les seBon Ton’ Roulet!

4914013030_2643cb6395_o.jpgDR.Church – Party like its Twenty-Ninety-Nine!

Judging, Results, and Sending out Prizes 

As a judge, you are usually looking for high creativity (with NPU), a nice presentation, and technically clean designs. The more judges you have involved the better, but don’t drag out the process by waiting too long to gather their inputs.  Taking 1-2 weeks to judge and announce the results is typical.

For contests hosted in flickr groups, a common judging approach is for each judge to create a Top-10 list, and then each rank is worth a certain number of points.  You then add them up, and compare notes.

Alternatively, there is the mass-voting approach.  In my opinion, FBTB run the best contests around, and their contests are decided in this way.  Their current forum members determine the winner.  “But what about people trying to stuff the ballot box using multiple accounts”, you ask?  Well, a few years back, FBTB caught some chump trying to do exactly that from the same computer (despite that entrant’s “Good Intentions”… cough…. cough…).  Kudos to FBTB for catching him in the act, and bouncing him from the party… Now if they could only remedy their notoriously delayed prize shipping.

There is nothing worse than having to wait 1-2 months to get your prizes… and it’s bad karma if you ever want to host a party again.  The quicker you can announce the winners, and get the prizes into their hands, the better.  Be prepared to ship off those prizes as soon as you get the addresses from the winners.

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Winter Village Post Office

Personalized “Thank You” Notes

Take the time to leave comments on a MOC from each person who entered the contest.  Focus first on the newbies who created brand new flickr accounts to enter the contest, and encourage them (sage advice from Keith).  For many, your contest may have been their first building contest ever, maybe even their first MOC.  It is great for them to receive that personalized feedback, and hopefully you’ll get some great feedback in return:

  • “-Wow….Thanks a lot. Maybe it’s just a comment for you… but this really means a lot to me 🙂
    This is really building me up to build more!”
  • “Thanks again for stirring up the building community with a rousing contest! Most fun I’ve had for a while in this virtual space”
  • “Thank you so much! It’s the first time in too long that I’ve really sat down and just built. I had an enjoyable experience and look forward to building more for the fun of it… My thanks to you and the others for hosting such a great contest!”
  • “Thank you very much for the kind words on all my builds, you’ve made me feel very proud of them regardless of the outcome”
  • etc…

Commenting on the MOC’s of the winners and runners-up can wait ….and when you finally do…..

6071241592_9d42b1e5e6_o.jpgFigbarf…Legohaulic style.

Don’t get drunk at your own party and puke all over the guests…

If at some point the guests at the party are talking more about you than the contest, then you’ve overstepped your bounds.  Your job is simply to set the stage for your party guests to have fun, and let them do their thing. It’s easy to get drawn in by the euphoria, but don’t do it. Know your role, as both host and judge.

In my case, I tried too hard on keeping my speederbike contest guests entertained, and I got sloppy drunk on it during my comments/critiques.  I even puked on many frequent readers of this fair blog (including the maestro himself); I spilled a drink on one MOC’s comment page, then puked up words all over another one… it was such a mess, they couldn’t make out anything “Is that a compliment, an insult, or some kind of accusation?… Oh wait. It’s just a piece of corn.”  The last straw was spilling another drink on a broh’s bro.  At that point, it was “party’s over, pal!”  I got dropped with the verbal equivalent of a pile driver… “Mea culpa”. I owned it.  I apologized to the offended directly, hat in hand, and made the walk of shame… Live and learn; Learn and live…

…And finally, don’t host it alone.

253055698_eed9077e5f_o.jpgDunechaser – Teamwork

After that debacle, Coleblaq eloquently brought the party back under control as my “wingman”.  My two contest-hosting compadres picked me up, wiped the crud off my chin, and we closed out the party together.  Running a good contest can take a lot of effort, and in turns we all carried the load.  I acted as the front-man most of the time, since I was the “native English speaker”.  I was also able to check the contest forums the most frequently.  But Cole and _zenn honestly did just as much behind the scenes, if not more, as I did up front.  We were truly a contest hosting triumvirate.  When we all work together, everybody wins!

With that, this party of an article is now officially over!  

The lights have been turned back on, and the clean-up crew has arrived with the sawdust and mop buckets. 

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apocalust – Janitor

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay up here.  Move on down to the “After Party” in the comments section below and chat awhile (BYO-cookies and fruit punch).

Friday Night Fights [Round 19]

*This special edition of Friday Night Fights is brought to you by constant reader Christopher Hoffman who volunteered his services as match-maker for Round 19.  The selection has the added benefit of giving W. Navarre another shot this week, with a model that was not designed in a rush for a contest that he wasn’t completely satisfied with.  If you have a suggestion for a future match-up don’t hesitate to reach out to me through the comments, the contact form here on the blog, or Flickrmail.

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another rope-a-dope edition of Friday Night Fights! This week’s bout is a Mesoamerican throw-down with political control of Tenochtitlan and a small fortune in cacao beans on the line.  Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from the point of no return, it’s “Nitro” W. Navarre and his “Chinampa“.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from the blood-stained shores of Lake Texcoco, it’s Tirrell “The Bludgeon” Brown and his “Chinampa“.

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As usual, constant reader, you are tasked with deciding the outcome of this pugilistic endeavor and determine who will receive a week’s worth of bragging rights.  Simply leave a comment below and vote for the model that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner before announcing the next bout.

Last week, on Friday Night Fights….

It was the battle of the used record store, as influential bands went toe-to-toe to determine the best album cover.  In the end,  Anthony “The Wookie” Wilson and his “OK Computer“. roundly thrashed his opponent to the tune of an 8-2 victory over  “Nitro” W. Navarre and his “Kansas Album Cover“.  Mr. Wilson records his first win and improves his record to (1-0) while Mr. Navarre falls to (0-1).

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Dr. BadMOC or: How I Learned to Stop Wondering and Build Poorly

The hits just keep on coming constant reader, another brave soul has stepped forward from the crowd of paste-eating mankinder to let his voice be heard.  The Manifesto is proud to present an article by noted TFOL Aaron Van Cleave, a.k.a A Plastic Infinity, a.k.a Lego Lemniscate, and I certainly hope it isn’t his last because he’s a far better writer than I am and he classes up the joint with his mere presence.  You may remember Aaron for his bold use of color and odd choice of subject matter, from such popular creations such as Turaga Retei-atomnSymbiote City, and Unidentified SHIP.  Take it away Aaron!

When I first discovered this blog, one of the articles that really stood out to me was the first issue of Michael Rutherford’s Fire for Effect column: Unique is not Special.   I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t read it to do so; my article is a sort of spiritual successor and you won’t get as much out of it without the conceptual basis Michael sets down. In essence, his article examines how the term “unique” being too closely associated with the term “special” has resulted in “a culture where CRITICAL FEEDBACK IS DISCOURAGED.” That’s a general observation that could be applicable to many different subcultures, but a salient point was that it includes FOL culture. That’s us!

At the risk of overvaluing Michael’s article, I need to point out that he tenaciously covered most of the nooks and crannies of his topic. Couple that with the thorough discussion by the Manifesto’s regular readers, and there doesn’t seem to be much left to say on the subject that wouldn’t be parroting someone else’s statements. If there’s something more to say, I certainly don’t know what it is.

So what am I even doing here, then?

Good question! This article is an exposé of sorts about a social experiment I’ve been running for a couple of months now and some of the interesting observations it has yielded. I use the term “social experiment” lightly because it’s really more of a satirical art hoax (I didn’t want to muck around in the Marianas Trench of social experimentation ethics, but this hoax was technically a social experiment. That makes it dangerous, even at such a small scale, because the medium through which it worked was people unconscious of their involvement. If you’ve interacted with my photostream in any way in the last two months or are already feeling offended, know this: I’ve taken all precautions to protect the privacy of anyone who was involved prior to the posting of this article, except Deus, who consented to publication of his remarks). This project was not intended to glean social data but rather to direct public attention to the important issue at hand: Critique. What better way to do so than provide MOCs that would be easy to critique?

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Without further ado, here was my plan:

  1. Build a terrible build and post it in all seriousness
  2. Observe reactions
  3. Figure out how to make a worse build
  4. Repeat twice for a total of three bad builds
  5. Expose plan, explain issue

The initial objectives I set included:

  • Crafting builds so poorly that onlookers would have trouble honestly responding positively
  • Providing plenty of mistakes for prospective critiquers to point out
  • Keeping things flexible; basing building decisions on how the previous MAC (My Awful Creation) had been received

Unlike an experiment, the general outcomes of my actions were quite predictable, barring a few surprises. I went into this expecting drastically reduced stats on all posted MACs. People are a lot less predictable on an individual level, but I had three hypothetical groups I expected any commentator to fall into:

  • The Bold: Not buying it and quite vocal about letting me know.
  • The Brash: Confidently or confusedly buying it; convinced it’s actually good.
  • The Beautiful: Probably not buying it, but not letting on. Not necessarily uncritical (whether a comment was Brash or Beautiful could only be guessed at, but comments’ tonal quality provided a reasonable basis for making the determination).

Enough speculation. Here is what actually happened, what I learned, and why it’s of concern to YOU as an FOL.

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For my first MAC, I settled on a working title of “this is a test” fitted to a diorama of a scientist in a laboratory. The test was, “How bad do I have to build before people start bashing me?” I love double entendres!

The building process was surreal and brief, though not as brief as the finished product might suggest. I’m tempted to say it took less than an hour and a half, but it might have been closer to two hours.

Fun fact: It actually takes longer to think about what would look good, then determine the polar opposite, than it does to intuitively determine what looks good during the building process. DOING the good building, of course, almost always takes more time (case in point: the angled panels that form the backdrop of this build would look much better if they were level and tiled, but it takes longer to make a stable framework for that and put down all the tiles). Fundamentally, bad building will almost always take less physical effort, but it often takes a great deal more mental effort.

So what was the product of all that effort? How was the MAC received?

Raw numbers first! Since being posted over two months ago, it has accumulated 95 favorites, 14 comments, and over 5,900 views. For reference, my builds generally average 150, 25, and 12,000, respectively, placing This is a test on the low end of the spectrum. However, that’s a large disparity, and an easy one to judge from. Later on we’ll be dealing with much closer numbers, so it will prove useful to determine which of the three values-favorites, comments, or views-gives the best indication of the subject quality. Is it comments? Nah, they can express disapproval, or any number of other things. Views? Nope, the number of people who viewed something gives no indication of their feelings toward the object viewed. By elimination, favorites are the heaviest factor. This makes sense, as they are synonymous with “Likes” and are bestowed solely as a token of approval. Judging solely by them, a reduction from an average of 150 to 95 favorites is no 50% dive but pretty steep nonetheless!

To someone who averages lower, that’s still pretty darn good and probably seems pretty darn unfair, too. Ninety-five is pushing 100, and almost 6,000 people had their eyes assaulted by my skinny triangle scientist! As you can guess, that’s just a result of me being a five-year builder with a decent amount of seniority. If someone far older and more established like Tyler Clites or Nannan Zhang had done this instead of me, their results would be better than I could have gotten if I’d built at my best. The de facto power of following and reputation; something that always needs to be calibrated for.

Moving on to the subjective, let’s take a look at those 14 comments. The non-qualitative words “interesting” and “creepy” were used most often, along with “innovative,” “weird,” “crazy,” and “unsettling.” Skirting around the quality of the build with Beautiful comments was definitely the most socially appropriate thing to do, but there were two or three others who expressed varying levels of criticism, from tentative implication to polite directness. Then there’s Bold Deus Otiosus, who totally passed the test with uncommon brutality: “I thought you said you have higher standard. [sic]” For the record, he didn’t know what I was doing, but he does know me personally to a certain extent. You can always count on a friend to point out your flaws!

Having considered all that feedback at the time, I decided it was time to take things to…

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The next level.

The building process for this horrifying Mario was incredibly swift; only about 45 minutes all told. It’s hard to say for sure because I was so giddy the entire time due to how awesome that pun is.

I should have kept my mind clear, because it was at this point that things started going wrong… Being only a day younger than the first MAC, Mario’s also had about two months. Two months to receive 106 favorites, 10 comments, and just over 6.4 thousand views. Remembering to judge by favorites, you’ll notice that going from 95 to 106 is a marked improvement, which for awfulness’ sake translates into regression.

I had thought the speed of construction was evidence that this MAC would be even worse than its predecessor. Less time = less quality, right?

But as you can guess…

…that logic runs counter to what I asserted earlier on about bad builds requiring conscious mental effort. Sure, this build was abhorrent in terms of technique, but I wasn’t really focusing on how to maximize the perversion of shape and color. Furthermore, I still had one more bad build to go, but was now cornered in by a formulaic “worsening” procedure.

LDD ABOMINATION.png

Trying to further degrade the quality on a purely technical level after Mario resulted in this LDD screenshot of a blocky camel with mismatched minifigs. It was supposed to be “The Final Straw,” but it’s clearly too satirical for anyone to take seriously. These builds wouldn’t work if they were received as jokes; they needed to be taken as seriously good or seriously bad to generate serious praise or serious critique.

I was genuinely snagged on how to effect this and even considered it impossible for a brief time, but didn’t want to just throw in the towel without giving it a final shot. Looking back, the problem was that I hadn’t inwardly cemented all the theoretical particulars of my experiment. I intuitively realized that the builds needed to be taken seriously, but was too confused to be able to express that clearly to myself. Fortunately, by this point I was engaged in some private discussion about the ongoing project. Input from various sharp-minded individuals was very helpful in assessing what had gone wrong and what needed to be done.

That feedback and my own ruminations on what constitutes a bad build led in all different directions, but ultimately left the conviction that a successfully bad build needed to look unintentionally bad, as that obvious intentionality was what caused The next level, and to a lesser extent This is a test, to “fail” as bad builds. I also came to the critically helpful revelation that those builds had been widely known subjects (a stereotypical scientist and Mario) and no matter how badly they were built, as long as I could be said to have built something resembling them, they’d still be recognizable, eliminating a whole category of awfulness I could have been exploiting: an ambiguous and ill-conceived concept!

Here’s an expansion on that train of thought: Building an easily recognizable subject, like a pop culture figure or common object, strengthens the basis on which a viewer attempting to interpret the build can make a reasonable assumption of artistic intentionality. Essentially, it would be incredibly difficult to build Mario or something equally recognizable in any “bad” way-no matter how bland, uncreative, repulsive, or bizarre-without those bad qualities being attributed to… *** STYLE ***.

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Continue reading “Dr. BadMOC or: How I Learned to Stop Wondering and Build Poorly”

Ted Talks: “Squidman LIVES!”

It’s a banner week here in the home offices of the Manifesto because it marks the second full week without Rutherford (Mr. gasbag will return next week) and the second written contribution by one of our valued constant readers.  This time it’s friend of the blog and master of the speeder-bike Ted Andes, who will be sharing his recent experiences at the biggest convention in the United States.  The series is titled “Ted Talks” but that’s a little optimistic on my part, Ted has not committed to anything more than this one-shot essay, but after reading these anecdotes I hope he considers it.  You may remember Ted from  his many popular models such as “Intrepid”Trail Blazer and my personal favorite, “Hammerhead”.  Without any further ado, take it away Ted!

“Over the hills, and far away…”

I’m guessing most of you at this stage have read an article or two about attending a LEGO Con, or perhaps you have been to one yourself.  I just got back from BrickWorld Chicago 2017, and I thought I’d share some interesting anecdotes of my own… from the perspective of a middle-aged AFOL.

35395528156_fef777d77c_o.jpg(“World of Lights” Photo courtesy of Patty )

“You’ll always remember your first time.”

BrickWorld 2016 was the first LEGO Con I ever attended.  I always thought that BrickCon would be my first someday, but once my eyes became locked into BrickWorld’s “come hither” gaze, it was destiny.  She was only a short-ish 5-hour’s drive away, and holding out for a cross-country romance with BrickCon was just living in a dream world…  sorry to leave you “Sleepless in Seattle”, BC.

I didn’t think I’d actually ever attend a LEGO Con in reality.  As a married dude, I always try to sync my vacation days with my wife’s so we can take those fun trips together to faraway lands (I hear Matango Island is beautiful in the spring…).  She’s not into the hobby, so dragging her with me to a LEGO Con would always be an impossible sell.

When she took a new job last year, all of a sudden I had a ton of extra vacation days piled up compared to her (I had been saving some in case we needed to relocate).  I had days to burn.  The one week that she said would be best for me to take a solo vacation coincided with BrickWorld 2016.  Wait, what!? Once I made that realization, just 6-weeks before BW and on the last day you could request a display table, it was crunch time.  After some prodding from Simon Liu, I pulled together an impromptu speederbike collab for BrickWorld. Christopher Hoffmann and others joined the cause, and fun was had by all…

“She let you come back!?”

When you finally do get to the Con, and meet so many people that you had only known through the various on-line LEGO social networks, it is just like seeing some old friends again.  You cast aside your better judgement and stay up until at least 3am each “night”, chatting, drinking (if you’re of drinking age), and eventually partaking in general mischief.  I won’t divulge all of the BrickWorld shenanigans that go on, because there are just some things you “dear readers” are not allowed to live vicariously through (get your butt to a Con!)…

…and also, because I’d like to be allowed to go back again.  At BW16, I accidentally “butt-dialed” my wife at 4am after one of “those nights”.  I was trying to set my phone alarm so I wouldn’t sleep through hotel check out (which I did anyway).  Through some 1-in-a-million chance, I hit the option to dial back the most recent number.  Ugh.  I really am surprised she let me come back again this year.  Lessons definitely learned, and I was a saint at BW17… honest. I even joined the Pub Scouts…

“Psst… Is he your son?”

BW17 was my second Con in a row where someone had innocently inquired “Is he your son?” about an AFOL builder standing next to me.  As a married dude with no kids, it’s a harsh reality check (dude, you’re soooo old now!).  Christopher was my “son #1” at BW16, and then Rocco Buttliere became “son #2” this year… At least when I hang out with Tyler Halliwell at BrickWorld, our height difference doesn’t beg that question…

Workshops and Presentations

I didn’t get around to attending many workshops or presentations this year, but I did make it a point to “Paint with Mel” Finelli.  Why?  Well, why not?  … P.S.  SQUIDMAN LIVES!!!

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 “FEED THAT MONSTER!”

Awards… oh my.  First off – go back and read the “Fire for Effect” article “Give me the prize!” “Give me the Prize”.  Here’s what I said in the comments: “Guess what? I am also for the poorly defined, WTF-judged competitions too, as long as you know that it’s WTF up-front…”  Well, BW17 awards nominations delivered in the “WTF?” category once again.

The elephant in the room is that I had TWO MOC nominations in the “Best Land Vehicle” category; One for “Mr. Mechtorian’s Mobile Menagerie” which was voted as the eventual winner, and the other for “The Aerie” Mobile Launch Tower.  The first nomination was the one I had hoped to get.  The 2nd build I was certainly proud of (the thing is oozing SNOT), but lord knows which category it really belonged in, if any. I just mounted the tower onto tank treads because I thought it looked cool, and prepared for another “N-4-N” year (Nominated 4 Nuthin’).

Usually at BW, it is one nomination per category, per person.  So why did this “space oddity” of two nominations happen?  From what I hear, the nomination process for BrickWorld is as unnecessarily complex as one of Rube Goldberg’s machines , so who can say?  I chalk it up to it being the first-time BW used electronic balloting. The voting pages for most categories only showed MOC pictures at the top, then the MOC names with voting buttons at the bottom; No builder’s names. Perhaps if they included them, they would have caught the double-dip and things wouldn’t have gone down that way.

Gil Chagas  and Caleb Wagoner’s vehicles were both certainly worthy of nomination…Gil’s MOC was old-ish but it was still new to BW.

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Caleb’s Honda Civic (I mean Subaru WRX) has yet to be uploaded to his photo-stream, but here is a shot courtesy of Nick Brick.

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There were also some other mysterious nominations in the both the replica and group display categories as well… but I wasn’t involved, and who cares at this stage, right?… well….

“Ride the Tiger”

Some BW parents would tell you (repeatedly) that all of their kid’s creations were worthy of nomination.  I had to listen to so many stories about last year’s injustices, then the primping and preening of their kids for when the judges came by to pick the nominations this year, then the pimping of their kids for face time with the various YouTube podcasters (you’re a saint for putting up with that, Mr. Hanlon)…  Newsflash! The parents are hella serious about their kid’s builds, and the nominations!  Otherwise, their special snowflakes might melt!

I took my chances this year, and let random fate determine my display table locations… and I was surrounded by some great examples of this Little-League, helicopter-parent dynamic.   Just wish they would have had the courtesy to bring some orange slices…

“The kids are alright…”

“Tiger Moms” aside, the great thing about this hobby is that as builders, we are all peers regardless of our ages.  There are some really great, unsung teen builders out there (and with great parents).  I ended up chatting with a lot with them, and chatting with their parents too… most of which were my age anyway.  Damn, I really AM old!  Shout outs to #1 Nomad  Kingdomviewbricks and  John Imp , and their cool parents that offered me some pizza slices and spicy beef sticks.  Who needs orange slices?…  Respect.

Also, a shout out to Digger, my #1 BrickWorld fan. I met him last year, as he really loved the speeder-bike rally. I took the time to hang out, and show him how I put together some of the different models.  When I ran into him again this year, he had a big smile on his face. “Mr. Andes! I hoped you’d be back again this year. Can I show you the speeder-bikes I built?”…  Heck yeah!… but please. Call me Ted.

“I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone….”

“There was no train station. There was no downtown… My city had been pulled down, reduced to parking spaces”.  So my primary co-collaborator on the Great Steambug Migration had to leave early Sunday morning, and to my surprise took their town backdrop with them. I’ll just say that I didn’t need any caffeine to wake up.  That woke me up just fine.

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It was their 1st con, and they weren’t aware of the rule that you can’t take down displays before the end of public hours.  For my collabs, I always come prepared just in case something happens or someone backs out last-minute, so “no-harm, no foul”. I bring this story up not to vilify, as I have much love for my co-collaborator, but just to say “stuff happens” at a con… and that “stuff” provides the perfect fertilizer in which things can grow….

“We can rebuild! We have the technology.”

I had brought enough spare brick to build an impromptu backdrop.  No reason to get distraught.  I got started “building that wall”, and then Gil comes over to say good-morning.  He sees the situation, and offers to help out… then comes Tyler H. … and then Michael (aka Kingdomviewbricks).  Soon we had four people doing a speed-build backdrop of a ruined ant-farm wall.  Crisis averted, and friendships built ever stronger…

In fact, if you aren’t helping someone else rebuild/improve their MOC’s at a LEGO Con, then you are really missing the point. I helped at least 5 people myself this year, at least that I can recall.  Sometimes it’s providing those few extra technic pins to snap together display sections (which also repairs your personal relations with a LUG).  Sometimes it’s helping a person rebuild a MOC that was completely obliterated on the trip there (yes, I’m talking about you, Sci-fi Dude).  Sometimes it is helping the displayer you are sharing ½ a table with, who is jamming plates onto his MOC so hard that it topples over your own builds time and again.  Turns out that the guy only had the use of one of his arms due to an accident, so rather than get mad I lent him the two of mine…  If building is fun for you, then there should be no hesitation in helping the people around you build anyway (and no hesitation to accept that help when offered to you).  Dig in!

“Duplo green” is people!

As much as a LEGO Con may seem like it’s about the brick connections, it’s really about the personal connections we make.  That is what you will remember most in the aftermath.  Our ubiquitous friend Simon Liu gets that.  He lives that.  That’s why he is involved in seemingly every sci-fi collab project at BrickWorld, and countless more at other Cons and on Flickr.  That’s also why the green DUPLO of ToroLUG always has such a hive of activity buzzing around it… and like most people there, they will always make room to add one more connection (i.e. you) to the pile…Leg Godt!

(…and shout-outs to all of those people I didn’t call out by name – a person should only do so much name dropping in one article…)

Great Debates! LEGO vs Hobby Modeling

The Manifesto is proud to present the first installment of what will hopefully develop into a regular column by noted TFOL, Achintya Prasad.  If you dwell exclusively in the lands of Flickr you may not be aware of him (he’s on Flickr but not as popular as he should be), but Mr. Prasad has amassed quite a following of admirers on MOCpages, where he is well known as a builder of outstanding military models.  What makes him unique though is his dedication to the power of debate and détente between community members, running groups devoted to the topic.  As it turns out, Achintya is also an aspiring scribe and unlike so many of you who have expressed an interest in writing for this venerable blog….he actually came through.  Bested by a teenager, the shame of it all.  If you are not familiar with his work and you’re too lazy to take the links, here is a sampling of Prasad Heavy Industries most popular offerings.

So move aside you rubes, and let the man come through. Writers live and die on feedback, so don’t hesitate to engage in the comment section with your usual vigor.  Take it away Achyntia!

Hello everyone, and welcome to the first ever out-of-left-field discussion of the intricacies an existential analysis of the hobby we all love, LEGO. In this first installment, we are going to delve deep into perhaps the biggest rivalry you have never heard about: LEGO versus Hobby Modeling. To give some perspective on my position, I have been involved in both LEGO and Hobby Modeling projects, and have seen the methods and processes of both interest areas. So, with that cleared, let the analysis begin!
To be clear, when I talk about Hobby Modeling, I’m talking about all forms of plastic building kits, from the likes of Revel to Hasegawa. While many associate Hobby Modeling (hither forth referred to as HM) with model aircraft, the truth is that the community has expanded into numerous fields, from warships to classic cars. While this comparison is still quite apples to oranges, we shall still pick apart the two fields and see what each area is actually made of.
LEGO’s cornerstone is the LEGO brick. The quintessential element, the humble 2×4 red brick is a staple in the minds of millions across the world. Of course, if you’re reading this, then you know LEGO is far more than that, crossing into the complex world of mechanical and structural engineering via the Technic system and other LEGO branches. Finer details, sometimes known in the trade as “greebling” is accomplished by miscellaneous pieces, from tiles to minifigure utensils.

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HM, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have such an internationally recognized standard. Unlike branches such as Technic and Power Functions, HM primarily focuses on static display, coupled with skills in painting. Detail work of models is also done via water or oil based decals, designed to offer fine, natural looking detail without the thickness of stickers. For the most part, a HW box will contain anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of tiny plastic elements, attached to sprues.
Both branches, in the material sense, do share a common component: plastic, though to varying degrees. LEGO is world-renowned for its military grade precision in its factories, from the injection molding machines to the robotic transporters. HM, on the other hand, prefers to handle the challenge of assembly of even base elements to its enthusiasts; “flash” (or extra plastic left over from the molding process) cleaning is a vital step before the assembly of any model.

 

Now, examining LEGO and HM in a much wider aspect, we get into something known colloquially as “Kit-bashing.” It’s the bane of any child or parent attempting to ensure a LEGO kit is completed correctly, and the downright insanity that plagues the first HM projects, where the amateur rips the pieces off the sprue before even consulting the instructions. Both, however, tell an interesting tale of the fundamental difference at the heart of LEGO and HM: focus. Put it simply, LEGO is accuracy, and HM is precision. When you’re putting together a 1/72 scale model of an SR-71 Blackbird, you know the final product will look like a Mach 3 spy plane, unless you saw off the tails. What really counts HM are the details; making sure each individual dial in the cockpit is painted and labeled, and each landing gear strut might as well have come from SkunkWork’s planning division themselves. LEGO is far different. It’s simply impossible to recreate that same Blackbird with that level of detail at that scale. Instead, a LEGO builder must attempt to find accuracy in the final looks of the aircraft. Preserve the dark exterior and basic shape, and forget about any realistic attempts of finer detailing (unless you paint your pieces, in which case, shame on you!) Examining Kit-bashing, you see a similar technique. Kitbashing for HM is a very precise game, where elements from other kits are often filed down or otherwise modded to fit another kit, via putty or other techniques. LEGO, using its own universal dimensions, completely does away with any compatibility issues, again because the focus of the LEGO brick is on accuracy. The turbine inside that SR-71 is built with a similar, compatible piece as the third gear in a transmission of a power functions tractor-trailer. The same can’t be said for the detailed components of an HM kit.

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Before moving on, I’d like to bring special attention to a comparison that really drives home the accuracy vs precision argument. Below you will see two images, one of a 1/36 scale F-14 Tomcat built by the world’s premier LEGO aircraft builder, Ralph Savelsberg, and the other being a 1/32 scale Tomcat from Tamiya, an HM model company. Excusing the slight differences in scale and image quality, the point is seen clearly. The use of LEGO curved slope elements lent a fuselage shaping almost precisely to what we see in Top Gun. Tamiya, however, simply molded the shape to the exact specifications of the plane. Ralph nailed the paint job of the aircraft as a whole, but the Tamiya model managed to incorporate every panel gap, every warning label, and every bolt. Both are outstanding models, but each play to a completely different strength. Working inside the confines of the square LEGO universe, Ralph recreated the rippling, muscular body of the Tomcat, while Tamiya model managed to take Tom Cruise’s aircraft and throw it into a shrink ray. To the casual observer, these differences are hardly noticeable. To us enthusiasts, however, the differences draw the definitive line between LEGO and HM (unless you aren’t a purist, which is a discussion for another time).


From aircraft builders to even the most dedicated train builders, the differences are stark and apparent. I remember the day the Emerald Night Train kit was released. I watched the LEGO interview of the designer behind the project, and distinctly remember his pride in announcing several new train wheels. For years LEGO hadn’t done much for the train community, with few new elements for train enthusiasts to choose from. For HM, however, that has never been an issue. Think the train wheel included in your S2 class Baldwin locomotive is too small? That’s fine, just purchase a Soviet IS class steam locomotive and switch the wheels (actually, I have no idea how trains work, so apologies to the facepalming train fans, though the point still stands). The Kit-bashing of HM, while tricky in terms of compatibility, offers something LEGO fans today dream about: a larger, more specialized component pool.

 

Of course, those are the stories of the materials at hand. But the true test of these hobbies are found in the hobbyist. Both clubs are known to have different presences in communities, both locally and online. In terms of local clubs, the LEGO group is by far the more active in communities, with LEGO events scheduled via both LEGO official stores and LUGs. HM’s, meanwhile, are more fragmented, with no real support from concrete stores from the makers of model kits. While this can be attributed to the decline of sales for these companies since the early 2000’s, it shows a clear difference. While hobby shops still keep entire aisles for hundreds of different pots of paint for models, none of that compares to LEGO Land, not to mention the massive site Bricklink and LUGs, officially sanctioned by the LEGO group themselves.
But what does all this mean? How do these two similar yet different hobbies compare? In the end, I think the advantage of expanded areas and development must fall to LEGO. The humble brick is far more than a model builder; it’s a story-teller, one that reflects the ideas and personality of many different builders. HMs, meanwhile, have the advantage in realism. Building a LEGO F-22 Raptor would never end up in a completely accurate scale model, at least compared to the sharp lines and intricate detailing a HM can afford. My personal experience has always been the same: LEGO’s handicaps are its strengths, that is, its universal compatibility system. Quite simply, the blasted system makes it impossible to recreate the small details on a battleship or train. HM, however, allows me to include each individual air vent on a Bofors 40mm, but leaves me high and dry when I want to build something on my own. Really, it’s up to the viewer, which do you prefer? Story telling imagination, or realistic detailing? Is your hobby a sanctuary for your own ideas and thoughts, or is a projection of your skills onto the real world? Let us know in the comments below.