SHIPrites Vol 4: Play-sets or Display pieces?

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


Hey everyone,

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

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

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

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

2013: Nathan Proudlove – Arrested Development


2014: Tim Schwalfenberg – Hurricane Battlecruiser


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


2014: Damien Labrousse – untitled


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

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

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

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


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

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

… tune in next year to see how that goes.






SHIPrites Vol 3: The Childhood Spaceship Dream

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


Welcome to volume 3 of SHIPrites, the SHIPtember Sunday spectacular. The Last two weeks I went on and on about the Journey.

This week we talk about the obvious: SHIPs.

SHIPtember is frankly the most obvious theme month and it was a just a matter of time before someone took the usual theme month concept and said, let’s focus on the thing most builders aspire to create in all of Sci-Fi/Space-dom.

But why is a SHIP so special? Let’s start with the definition of a SHIP.  Despite what some claim, SHIP stands for: Seriously Huge Investment in Parts. And I can prove it. I asked some OG spacers for help and we actually found this original LUGNET post concerning the coining of the phrase. In 2002, James Brown first proposed SHIP acronym: Seriously Huge Interstellar Plastic, and it was the great Jon Palmer who was first to christen the phrase:  Seriously Huge Investment in Parts. And ever since then it’s been some what of a communal aspiration to create a SHIP.

A great builder, Mark Kelso once said: “You’re not a man (or woman) until you’ve built a SHIP.” And judging from his latest, he is da MAN.


But what makes SHIPS so special to Space builders? We have said it’s a rite of passage. Heck, this whole series is dedicated to the idea of building this milestone, in a month none the less!

If you look at all the other themes there isn’t really a comparison. Sure in castle you build.. well a castle. And trains you build… trains. That’s like saying space builds space.

No other group seems to be so obsessed with defined categories of builds. There are some strict limitations in say train – to build on the LEGO based train chassis but that’s because it’s effectively defined by LEGO. In town, in recent years there’s a pretty big shift to build on the Cafe Corner ‘modular’ standard – but do town builders aspire to build their ‘dream modular’?

Maybe there is, and please let me know, as I’m a primarily sci-fi or space builder. I like to think that I’m a well-rounded builder and know all the various facets of the community, but really I don’t, I’m heavily biased towards the groups that I tend to build in, and even going to the ‘big three’ conventions in the United States, that’s still a drop in the proverbial bucket of LEGO builders out there.

It’s kinda interesting if you think about it, sci-fi and space themes are all about exploring the new and different, strange new world and civilizations and such. Where anything can happen. And Space builders are encouraged to build weird and funky designs of the impossibilities.

Yet the Space/Sci-fi theme tends to have the most constrained rules to build the most unconstrained imaginative builds. Look at the plethora of Sci-fi theme months:







That’s 1/2 the year right there! And yet each one of these so-called open construction months have a very specific requirement and/or aesthetic.

I’m not actually sure why this is the case, or why that Sci-Fi has a disproportionate number of yearly theme months. There are definitely some others out there, but these are the established ones that almost run themselves. I believe the first true theme month would be Novvember, started by the late, great NNENN:


With this first theme month he created the standard which we have all seemed to have prescribed to, define an objective – in his case a specific type of starfighter – two forward prongs, two rear fins and a big ass vertical stabilizer.And there it was, magic. Everyone bought into this seemingly simple criteria and built a slew of some of the best styled starfighters in LEGO form.  And others started repeating the pattern, creating a simple set of criteria and letting the imagination run wild. But again, mainly in space.

I look at the Classic Castle Contest – which has been running longer than all these theme months and their approach is slightly different, the categories usually state ‘what’ to build but not ‘how’ to build it. For instance build a ‘battering ram’ not ‘build a battering ram with 4 wheels and a skull head’ – when placed in context of the castle theme, these rigid design criteria seem totally draconian!

Yet in the sci-fi months – this is what happens time and again, and builders thrive on it, flexing and building around the rigid constraints! I don’t get it – Someone please explain!

Though the most hallowed design criteria of all sci-fi/spacers is the SHIP – the 100 stud long golden yardstick. How did this happen? The LUGNET thread isn’t exactly specific how the 100 stud marked was chosen, though it’s probably safe to surmise that it’s simply a nice round number. But it’s interesting that this number is extremely arbitrary to most builders, many SHIPtember vets don’t really aim for 100, just aim to be MORE than 100. I think this relates directly to the fundamental childhood dream of building a big spaceship. And it is just that, a spaceship, it’s not defined by 100 studs when we were younger. SHIPtember facilitates a bit of that dream – and there have been some builders that used the theme-month as their first time to finally build that bucket list item, not just spacers, but all sorts of builders.

But I think we’re missing a critical element that defines a SHIP.  I don’t know about you constant reader, but when I was a kid, and was dreaming about building a big spaceship it had an interior. Note that for all the restrictions in theme months SHIPtember is pretty lax in terms of design criteria, interiors are encouraged but not mandatory. And that’s MY mistake and shame to bare. SHIPtember has almost come to redefine what SHIPs are, and it was an unfortunate choice that interiors or minifig-scale wasn’t more of a defining design criteria for SHIPtember. But if you ask enough of those same OG space builders – it WAS.

In an effort to accommodate builders with various collection sizes and styles, this one design criteria was purposefully de-prioritized. Andrew Lee eloquently pointed out how I basically screwed over the definition of SHIP. Over the years definitions do change as do building styles and capabilities,  a decade ago  a SHIP used to be such a huge deal to get to the 100 studs mark, now with LUGbulk, Bricklink, PAB walls, 100 studs is actually pretty easy for most people. But with a full interior ?  …

Even 4 years later, and after some deep thought over this article I still debate that off the cuff decision. It was a pretty fundamental design criteria from the ‘childhood’ spaceship dream. But if we had added that to SHIPtember, would it have made the challenge too difficult?  We’ve talked in the past about how SHIPtember is only as hard as you want to make it, but if minifig scale with interior was such a requirement, would that make it simply too hard?

The reasons I think SHIPtember is so popular is that it’s fun. It’s probably only the only ‘collaborative’ theme month and people latched on and worked towards building in this month. For the most part most people are able to accomplish what they set off to do. Those more ‘advanced’ builders choose to build harder builds, with more advanced techniques, or even stupidly brick intensive designs. But would this still be what it is today if we had made it much harder to start off with?

At the same time there’s been a huge resurgence in giant SHIP building these last few years. At BrickCon 2015, one of the higher SHIP nexuses in the United States, we counted I believe 15 SHIPs on display, 12 of which were built just the month before in SHIPtember. We may have gained a new era in SHIPs by burying one of the key designs of the old era.

So I now sit here staring at my hull pieces and I ask myself, and in turn you constant reader, what’s does a SHIP mean to you?




SHIPrites Vol 2: Not the Easiest Approach

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


Hey everyone,

Welcome to another installment of SHIPrites.  Thank you all for the comments from our first volume, either on the blog, Flickr, text, messenger, or my preferred method of tin cans connected by string.  It was great to be able to share some of my thoughts and my view of SHIPtember. But it’s just that: MY view.

This isn’t your standard contest, it’s not your standard themed build-month. This is SHIPtember.  I may have come up with the original concept, but as we discussed last week the concept is all about evolving and iterating. This extends to SHIPtember itself.

Remember the first year, how some students couldn’t do SHIPtember because they went off to school and were physically separated from their collections?  Next iteration: start in August!  It’s not ideal, but it works. I never think of the endeavor as ‘my’ SHIPtember, it’s ‘our‘ SHIPtember and everyone should try to do it the best they can (still has to be space SHIPs). That can mean very different things to different people.

There are basically three guiding principles I thought would be important. I’m not going to call them laws, as they can be flexible. Plus there already is a hallowed set of Three Laws (RIP Mr Asimov).

1) Build a SHIP

2) Do it within the confines of September

3) Post WIPs.

Fairly simple guidelines.

It’s like when I wash my car. It’s not super fancy, but it’s nice, and it photographs well:


I won’t get into how this is a horrible LEGO car, or how the Bose speakers were almost too big to accommodate a hockey bag. But it’s black, and black cars are gorgeous… when clean. So when it’s dirty I have several options, much like the participants in SHIPtember.

I could do the bare minimum and drive it in the rain – that gets it mostly clean, right? That’d meet the minimum requirements of getting it cleaner  much like building a basic 100-stud long spaceship. Or I could take it to the car wash – it does a pretty good job and I can get the upgraded ultra wash – that’s the next step, say starting and finishing within the confines of September.  And of course most people would choose the third option, to hand wash it and wax on and off till it’s a martial arts shiny glory. Which is like accomplishing all three principles.

Of course any of these approaches will accomplish the primary goal, and depending on the individual builder, they may or may not be able to perform all the elements of SHIPtember.  Some (like Keith) might argue why even bother with the exercise if you can’t follow the so-called rules and perform these three simple steps?

For some people it’s more fun to ‘savor the surprise‘ and some would much rather have fun building their perfect SHIP instead of rushing in a month to build something less optimal. Sioka has been working on this 2015 SHIPtember entry…


…since 2015’s SHIPtember.  You can see some of his progress in here, that’s dedication to doing what he thinks is the right.

Again, you control the action in SHIPtember.  You might not even realize it how much you’re controlling it, based not only on the way you approach the so-called rules, but your SHIP itself.  Because much like Asimov’s Three Laws, there is the unspoken SHIPtember Zeroth Guideline:

0) SHIPtember is as hard as you make it.

SHIPtember gives you a lot of choices and options, and some are more obvious than others.  The 100 stud mark is extremely arbitrary, but most builders can accomplish this threshold fairly easily. In fact there are many people who have comlpeted a SHIP in a single day, and I say more the power to them if they’re having fun.

But in my mind, SHIPtember is about the journey to get to the best SHIP you can build in a month-long time frame. That’s how I make it hard for myself, I keep going until I basically run out of time. Other people do it differently – it’s fascinating to see even if people don’t realize it.

Some people will do it without bricklinking orders, others will work in difficult to use colours and still others will use the largest possible pieces to cover the most areas. I think some people ‘get‘ that they’re making things difficult for themselves and how overcoming that difficulty is part of the SHIPtember spirit. You’ll often see comments that people are ‘trying new things’ or picking shapes and styles they’ve never tried. SHIPtember seems to have evolution and iteration embedded within it’s ethos – not just for the SHIP that is being built, but the builders themselves.

As I look at the sad state of my SHIP this year, the one extra difficulty level I added for myself this year was going to Minifig Scale. I’m not going into the argument of which is better – there are some amazing examples of both. But for me, I can say Minifig scale is HARDER. It requires more parts and different structure than it’s microscale counterpart that typically doesn’t require an interior. Simply choosing the scale of a SHIP dictates the difficulty you may encounter, and this year there was a push for Minifig – both because it shifts the stream back into what most would consider the classical ‘SHIP’s of old, but also a push to make it harder for people 🙂

-sadly, myself included.

Then there are some super star SHIPbuilders who take it to the next level and basically own these constraints on building.  Last year, Adam Dodge challenged himself to score a SHIPhat-trick: build three amazing SHIPs, in three different scales.


In the course of SHIPtember Adam built Micro, Minifig and Technic Fig scale SHIPs – all of which were super swooshable – another difficulty multiplier.

And as I write this out at 2am, I think adding SHIPrites may have also been a poor choice to increase the so-called difficulty of my SHIPtember. It would have been much easier to publish the articles I had pre-written instead of throwing them away for a more organic Manifesto series written in the heat of the moment. But it’ll just be another wrinkle that makes this particular SHIPtember journey memorable…

Last week we talked a lot about the journey, which reminded me of the many trips I’ve taken to Brickworld Chicago, Brickfair VA and BrickCon. And while the purpose was to get to the convention, the journey itself can be fantastic.  I’ve taken my poor little Altima to many of these gatherings, loading her up like I was running for the hills:


And like SHIPtember, it’s way more fun with people – having done the drive before solo it’s not nearly as fun as having a few people in the car. Much like the commentators in SHIPtember, having those extra bodies makes all the difference – quite a few of my most ambitious and craziest build plans were concocted during one of these drives and made the journey special.

So are you simply going to fly to your destination?  Take a train?  Drive?  Are you going to take the interstate and stop only for food and gas?  Or will you take the back roads and stop at every interesting sight you come across?

As we enter our second full week of SHIPtember, I again implore you constant readers and SHIPwrights to think about making your SHIPtember the best SHIP it can be and choose not the easiest approach, but the hardest and most rewarding.

Not only does the Journey matter, but the path you travel and the company you keep matters.

If there is some aspect of SHIPtember you’d like me to cover in the next volume, please make yourself heard in the comments, this stream of consciousness treatment is more difficult than it looks.

SHIPrites Vol 1: The Journey

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



Keith asked me to jump in and write some commentary during this rite of passage for Space builders. I might not be the best SHIPwright, but I know a few things about building ships right.

I already had a series of articles prepared for this month, a semi useful series of guides and discussions on tackling the SHIPBUILDING conundrum, especially in the tight confines that is SHIPtember, so I was very willing to join. But Keith pointed out, that an article about SHIP building is kinda obvious, the standard blog fodder, and he wanted to hear about me, and my stories. The Manifesto , in my eyes, is about story telling, commentary,criticism, and most importantly: meaningful  discussion between builders.


Next week, I don’t know what I’m going to talk about, you tell me in the comment section. You control the action. History of SHIPtember? Trends and current happenings? My favorite SHIPtember success/failures? How I probably fucked up SHIPs for the whole community? The lunacy that was battleSHIP?


The reason why I choose the story of the FK Antrotta is because it’s the truest to what I intended SHIPtember to be.  It’s not my favorite SHIP, nor the one I think is my best. But I followed the purest form of SHIPtember: Fly by the seat of your pants, zero planning building action as controlled by you: the commentators.

I actually feel less that it was ‘my‘ SHIP, but ‘OUR‘ SHIP. I may have physically put the pieces together, but it was a bit of a community effort to lead me to where it ended up to.

I’ve always imagined SHIPtember as a kind of community collab, posting WIPs for feedback and direction of where to go. The first year I had a general plan. Year three I based my SHIP off an image, but year two I had zero planning.

The only thing I did prior to SHIPtember was settle on a colour scheme. Skip back to 2014, and easily my favorite build I saw that year, was Forest King’sKingfisher“.


Here was a SHIP like none other. Forget the sleek ships of Star Trek, the colourful ships of Homeworld, and the greeble-ladened ships of Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars.

Kingfisher was a beast, it came out of the Bro-LUG cyberpoc ethos in a cacophony of dilapidated paneling. I was actually fortunate enough to witness the primordial sketch that lead to this monstrosity, in a little hotel room on Seattle (now there’s a whole new topic worthy of discussion: the crazy creative concepts that gets thrown around and conceived during or immediately after a convention.)

Suffice it to say the KingFisher left an impression on me, specifically the patches of old gray. I came into to the community with this new bley beauty as the norm, and hoarded the pretty new colour like Nutella. But when I saw how the grey-bleyadients played, I was hooked and vowed my next SHIP would follow suit and I’d order a bunch of old gray.

In fact, I partially named the SHIP after it’s builder, FK = Forest King

But you might be calling bullshit: how could I order parts in a specific colour if I didn’t know what I was building? Half points! I had no clue of what pieces I needed or how much…. so I overcompensated and just ordered a cap ton of plates in 1×4, 1×2 and 1x1s.  It should be noted that this decision on what to order (plates) dictated the final design of the ship to some degree: a lot of different paneling and flat surfaces.

So how to start building a SHIP?

I’ve seen several different approaches to this over the years, and each as their own merits.  For me though, it’ll always be like how the pros do it: start with framing and build out.  It wasn’t until I started writing this article that I realized there actually is a standard methodology of SHIPbuilding: the design spiral:


For a LEGO SHIP the process boils down quickly to: concept, structure, functions and details. There are lots of great resources in the main SHIPyard group on Flickr, just pursue each year’s SHIPtember WIP photos for inspiration and technique. Though this is probably the most useful infomatic on strong frames and here’s a great group with examples of how to add some greeble detail to your ships.

But for the purpose of this diatribe, I’m going to focus on Concept.

Most builders have a concept in mind before SHIPtember, and even post their intended builds in a tantalizing appetizer for what is to come. Some don’t post their concepts at all, instead leaving a breadcrumb of how is that even a SHIP?!?  which ultimately leads to a Hitchcockian twist. For year two, I started with no concept in mind. I treated SHIPtember as a pure month-long free flow’n jam session with my buds. Looking back, I realize it’s the most horrific example of the Agile Software design methodology:Short sprints of work, followed by user feedback and testing, then start another round of development.

I basically did this. Every day was a sprint. I did my building, I posted it and you, the clients, provided invaluable feedback on what worked and what didn’t, some even helping solve technical problems (best clients! ) and I took the feedback and iterated the design.

And that was one of my main goals of this SHIP, to go and iterate. In most cases, my builds are basically a first draft, rarely do I refine the build unless it’s going to be mass-produced or handled by others. The year prior to this build I met the great TardisBlue (Nick Trotta) and just like Forest and the Kingfisher, it had a lasting impact on me. His approach could not have been more diametrically opposed to mine: his typical starfighter building method involved hours spent finding the perfect connection and angle. Then he would iterate and try to build it better. I normally try one thing if it works, great! Move on to the next element. But Nick’s constant refinement is what makes his models so immaculate. While some might think he doesn’t really build fast, or much, I think the opposite is true.  In terms of the number of iterative sprints he must go through, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a monster of productivity.

So based on Nick’s build style, I knew that SHIPtember was probably never going to be something he would be comfortable partaking of, due to the time constraints.  So I stepped in and basically tried to build a SHIP like Nick would… and actively tried to iterate and rebuild sections over and over again incorporating feedback and experimentation.

This cycle of feedback to drive the concept and design worked amazingly well. Yeah I know, I was surprised too.

A good example was this:


It was pointed that I should add something to balance it out, and the black part was neat and I should expand on it. They weren’t sure where, but they suggested more black. As

well the lines were a bit disjointed and pointless …. Okay then!  next update:


The power of feedback and criticism.

This may not be arguably my best SHIP, but certainly the most refined. The collaborative nature of this build and the multiple cycles of (Build. Present. Gather Feedback. Repeat)  paid off time and time again, as the critical feedback or sometimes even crowd sourcing solutions kept making each iteration that much better.

Which was really one of the tenants of SHIPtember in the first place! I didn’t want another month where people hid and built and unveiled their masterpiece in 30 days. The real drive behind SHIPtember wasn’t the SHIPs.

But the journey.

As we all set upon this journey  (or some have already finished and it’s day 3?!?) I implore you not to forget to live in the moment. This collective creative process is what makes SHIPtember special. So post those WIPs, comment on others, take criticism  to heart and don’t be afraid to change it up.

Because after the journey all you’re left with is just a pile of LEGO pieces: HINKLE SMASH!

Oh, and Antrotta –  Named after Adelle and Nick Trotta, who not only did I try to impersonate, but also had the clutch answer to my striping problem.