Modular terrain is certainly not a new concept in our shared hobby, but it’s always interesting to see it done well. Although I couldn’t pin down the origin of the technique to a specific date or single builder, the Classic Castle City Standard from 2003 was certainly one of the first attempts to codify a standard. A group of enterprising builders (Medinets, Sava, Hoffman etc.) started with an easy to replicate modular castle wall system and later expanded to terrain, water and buildings. You may also be familiar with the MILS system or Base8 or any number of offerings by individual builders like Magnus Lauglo who have experimented with the concept over the years. The core technique inspired by the official line of 1980’s castle sets like the beloved 6040 Blacksmith Shop, and involved wall segments with a common design that could be connected via Technic pins and recombined with other sets or original builds. It’s probably also worth mentioning the influence of 2002’s Moonbase project which used a similar methodology for building large collaborative displays at conventions.
Fast-forward 14 years and people are still refining the familiar modular terrain concept, with all the updated parts, colors and techniques that you would expect. The big knock on previous iterations was that the final product often seemed generic or low resolution, sacrificing detail for sheer coverage. The photos I’m about to show you clearly demonstrate that in the last decade things have progressed to a point where that criticism is no longer necessarily valid. Builder and frequent convention-goer Sean Edmison says he was inspired by a discussion on Classic Castle Forums to “reimagine” the standard and I think he did a fine job adding value with both the appearance and the structure. These models are actually about four years old, but I’d say they still classify as new-school building and if they popped up in your Flickrstream tomorrow they likely wouldn’t seem out-of-place or anachronistic. You may remember Mr. Edmison from such memorable models as Peloponnesian War and Rivendell, or Seattle’s BrickCon where he often collaborates with fellow castle-heads.
One of Sean’s innovations that I appreciate from my own struggles with the modular lifestyle is the use of short axles instead of Technic pins to connect the modules. Once you get too many of the standard pins involved in the process it can become very difficult to separate the modules without a good deal of force, damaged pins and flying ABS shrapnel. It can also be equally as difficult to connect large modules especially if your surface is less than perfectly flat (like your average folding plastic convention table). Once you fill an entire baseplate with brick and/or plate, it has a tendency to bow or warp in a decidedly unfriendly manner that is the enemy of uniformity and smooth transitions between sections. When Mike and I took Isla Guadalupe to Texas a few years ago, we had to abandon the notion of actually connecting the modules together because they just wouldn’t line up like they did at home where my table was decidedly flatter.
I’m not sure if Sean came up with this tweak on his own or if he was inspired by another builder, but after playing with it briefly I find it to be a big improvement. Even though the technique does require double the number of bricks to make it work, those 1×2 bricks with the + shaped void don’t seem to be terribly expensive if you’re not picky about the color and most builders I know have more axles than they will ever be able to use in a single model. Sean also uses more connection points than you typically see with modular terrain and I suspect cutting down on the total number would save parts/money without compromising stability.
Sean also developed what he calls a “Tank-rutted” road that looks great, especially the visible tracks under the puddle of water. I’ve never seen this specific type of decorative approach to a modular system and it should get the often-maligned military builders excited about the collaborative possibilities. Even if you’re not planning on assembling a 64 square foot diorama of the battle of Kursk with a dozen of your closest homies, this kind of modularity comes in handy when breaking down and packing any sized diorama for travel to a convention or LUG meeting.
In today’s installment of The Life Modular, we will be investigating a modular turret system developed by Dutchman Huib Verteeg, who you may remember from such famous models as: HA-1 field recycler, Restituens, and Obnoxiously Yellow Landship. In 2014 the builder experimented all too briefly with a generic turret platform designed for a Sci-Fi setting. I stumbled upon these when searching for something else entirely on Flickr and I dig them so much that I want to share them with you, constant reader. Huib only built two modules to go with his platform but both of them kick substantial ass. Of course, this is the Manifesto so I’ve found something to complain about, in this case it’s the 1×1 clip on the single-barrel gun. It looks like the clip it would get blown off the first time the gun fired, it makes my brain itch every time I look at it. That’s as bad as it gets though, I’m quite taken with the design. Sure, I would make changes to fit my complex lifestyle, but these things make me want to build turrets! I can envision them looking great in a number of contexts: on boats, flatbed train cars, truck beds, space stations, being assembled by a crew of minifigs…the list goes on and on. It also occurs to me that they would make great artillery pieces for table-top Lego games like Mobile Frame Zero.
The models were inspired by the concept art of SC4V3NG3R, whose impressive catalogue of images can be seen at Deviant Art. The weapon systems look like units from a computer strategy game that I’d love to play. After checking out the source material, I was suddenly disappointed that Mr. Versteeg stopped with just two variants. Given his considerable skill, I would love to see his take on the Hive or the Missile modules. I also appreciate his decision not to build precise copies SC4V3NG3R’s designs because there are elements of Huib’s work that I actually prefer, like the black steering wheel, the gray details on the sides and the 2×2 round tiles. The round tiles suggest that there might be wheels behind them, to aid in moving the platform into place, which is kind of cool. The only thing I like better about the source material is the color scheme, I happen to prefer orange and dark gray to yellow and light gray. The designs are so strong though, they would probably look good in any decent color scheme. Mostly what I want to see is more of these things, they rock and so does Mr. Verteeg, whose name is fun to say out loud.
I also want to take moment to praise the builder’s visual effects. I prefer that kind of subtle lighting effect that doesn’t obscure the parts or look too unnatural when used on Lego. It’s just the right amount of effect in proportion to the rest of the model.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our examination of the Life Modular, with Huib Versteeg, tune in again next time, when we will examine the work of a modular castle builder.
It’s time to get small. TWINLUG’s “Micropolis” Micro City building standard has produced a large number of quality builds since it was developed in 2010 and every major convention these days features a collaborative layout of these tiny urban modules. Portland Oregon’s Christian Benito has been hard at work lately carving out his own slice of Micropolis, block by fascinating block. My favorite module of the new batch is “Tyson’s Junkers & Scrap” and my favorite detail is the owner’s trailer parked behind the building in its own fenced off lot.
Christian has is own blog called Little Brick Root where he details his process of developing a module from concept to final touches with plenty of photos. Each module has a plan and a unique backstory. You will also find set reviews, convention reports and technical advice that is both informative and well written. For more information on how you can get involved with Micropolis, and to see examples of the big collaborative convention layouts, you should check out the dedicated group on Flickr. Even though the group may seem a dormant right now, in my experience all it takes is one or two motivated newcomers to breath new life into any scene. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and put your own ideas out there for consumption, somebody will respond and more than likely invite you to participate. Building a module or two for a convention is a great way to meet and interact with your fellow LEGO nerds. Collaborative projects are a very effective gateway drug into the IRL side of the hobby and make it easy to break the ice with complete strangers. In the mosaic below you will find Devil Doughnuts, Green Leaf Market, CIC Headquarters, Mysterious Storage Tank and a Pollo Loco Taqueria.
I’ll conclude this brief survey of the life modular with one of Christian’s best modules, 2015’s “Babylon apartments”. The terraced greenery is very well done, it looks like it would fit comfortably in my hometown of San Diego along the shores of Pacific Bay or Hillcrest. The build makes me want to see what a taller structure in the same style would look like, or a cluster of very similar modules. I know, it’s always more…more…more, I can’t help myself, constant reader. Until next time, keep it real and keep it modular.
The Manifesto has featured quite a few O.G. “Spacers” in its brief history and the next builder in the spotlight is no exception. Unlike many of that first generation of sci-fi builders who ruled the ivy covered halls of LUGNET, Paul Hartzog is still producing thought-provoking work today. In the past few years Paul has been focusing on modular dioramas that incorporate a flexible design system that can be customized to reflect your favorite Sci-Fi franchises. Paul was one of the unsung developers of the first great community experiment in modularity, Moonbase. More than just a building standard, Moonbase was a full-blown mania that helped Spacers from around the world connect and collaborate as never before and it became a convention staple. Paul applied some of the same concepts to the interior design of Sci-Fi settings and while not yet as popular, they are no less striking. Whether you prefer Star Trek or Star Wars, Paul’s system is perfect.
The builder also has variations based on the video game Star Citizen and his own home-brew designs, but the concept remains the same. The walls and floors are detachable panels that can be easily swapped out to suit your individual taste. It allows you to play with combinations to get just the right look and makes it very easy for other builders to replicate the designs to allow for more ambitious layouts. The design also makes it easy to modify as new parts or techniques become available.
I’d love to see a big collaborative effort using the standard Paul has developed, an expansive Moonbase-style layout but with a focus on interior spaces. As you can see in the mosaic of photos below, Paul took a sample diorama to North Carolina’s BrickMagic convention where it hopefully gained a few advocates. The small accessories that go with these scenes are delightful and worthy of their own post. Fortunately you can find isolated shots of the furniture and equipment in the builder’s photostream. Paul is a fascinating guy who I hope to meet in person one of these years and I can’t encourage you enough to check out his website if you’d like to learn more about the multi-talented builder. One of those talents is music, I’m lucky enough to have one of his CD’s but you can check out his music through the site. If you’d like more information on Paul’s modular building standard, head over to the Flickr Group dedicated to the topic and talk to the man himself. That’s one of the great things about this hobby, you can reach out and connect with just about everyone. More often than not, LEGO nerds are very helpful if you approach them in the right way.
Tyler Clites, one of the most accomplished builders our hobby has to offer, put a very similar idea into play for the interiors of his Magellan Modular Starship from 2014. The frame dimensions are slightly different but the concept is the same and it opens up a wide variety of possibilities. Tyler went the extra step of making the entire ship modular and the results were spectacular to say the least. All of the variations look great.
Modularity is not the sole purview of the Spacer crowd, there is also a castle building standard, a micro-scale city standard, LEGO’s official modular building standard, a landscaping standard and a host of others standards too long to catalogue at this time. I hope you’ve enjoyed our examination of the life modular with Paul Hartzog, goodnight constant reader.