Bricks LA Update (Part 4)

2 days, 21 hours, 53 minutes and 37 seconds is all that’s remains before the beginning of my Bricks LA convention experience.  I’ll officially be able to add Los Angeles to a slowly growing list of cities that I’ve visited in search of a Lego fix and fellowship with my fellow nerds.  I know have brick-badges from San Diego California, Washington DC, Portland Oregon, Seattle Washington, Chicago Illinois, Houston Texas, and Orem Utah.  That list is certainly not as impressive as say Abner Finley, who has visited every notable convention in the world, but considering I’ve hit a few of those cities twice I think I’m relatively well traveled at least within the confines of the US.  What a long strange trip it’s been over the last decade plus, and I’m counting on even more strangeness in LA. I started this process with cautious optimism and a 6 week window and with just a couple of days to go I’m happy to report that things couldn’t be looking much better.

I’m not going to bore you with more shots of the diorama, as nothing has been changed substantially and I’m knee deep in the process of packing and rounding up all those last second items that I”m sure to need on site: an extension cord for the Halloween light, extra batteries for the small lights, a mallet to get the table assembled, a skirt for said table and of course all the SWAG.  Sure I probably could have been more ambitious and gone for a second swipe at the landscaping or a reworking of the cave but the demands on my time prevented most of that.  No, I’m pretty satisfied to be where I am, those microscopic charges in my neck will not explode, opening up both of my arteries and causing my death in seconds.  In fact, I’ve still got enough time to create some minifigs to bolster the Marcus Garvey crew, and some wedding-related accessories to set the scene.

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Instead of pimping my own stuff, for this final update I’ll be showing you guys the mostly finished contributions of my WackLUG cronies, the sparkling ornaments to hang on my Charlie Brown Christmas tree of a diorama.  Somewhat to my surprise Rutherford and rountRee ultimately decided to focus their time and attention on their own stuff, maybe they were able to smell a turd from a great enough distance to keep out of it. After the triumph of displaying Bucharest (it’s the time of your life) in lovely Orem Utah, it does feel weird not to have anything from those most excellent dudes, but at least I have a kick ass crew to replace them.  As I mentioned in previous updates, they will be bringing their SHIPs (Demeter and Bushmaster) from SHIPtember and in Rutherford’s case he’ll be focusing more on the two presentations he’s signed up for.  The first topic should sound familiar to many of you, “Unique is not Special“:

Why don’t AFOLs embrace critique, and why should we? Painters, sculptors, dancers, actors, directors, musicians and all other artists know that critique is a valuable tool which often illuminates the path to improvement… but not AFOLs! We will examine the difference between critique an criticism, and we will look at how critique can contributes to not only individual improvement, but can improve the entire hobby and the state of Lego Art!

Mike’s second presentation is actually new material (thank god it’s not ‘collaboration’) and if I’m fortunate it will be the only one I have to sit through.  Titled “LEGO Violence and Authority“, here is how Rutherford describes the content:

An examination of some surprising themes in Lego that are often overlooked by consumers. Lego is the most successful building toy brand in the world. Lego has always taken great pride in its role as a constructive and educational play system that encourages children to explore mechanical, technical, social, and artistic possibilities. While the notions of violence and authority are almost totally absent from Legos public rhetoric, these themes have exerted a powerful influence throughout the products history.”

The best thing about Rutherford’s presentations is that just like Forest Gump’s famous box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.  In years past I’ve been subjected to unsuspecting audience members getting pelted with SWAG (Rutherford throws like a spastic special needs kid), off color remarks about the coolness of using atomic weapons, and even surprise porn!  So if you happen to find yourself at the convention this weekend, you should check out Mike’s presentations.

Now for the good stuff, we’ll start out brief examination of the Wedding Party contributions with a bang, courtesy of renowned bricksmith Zach Claspasadle, who brings the noize with not one but two excellent starships.  I’m sure you’ll agree that the engine effects on the VTOL are pretty spectacular and should integrate with the muddy river nicely, although it will no doubt require some work onsite to get things blended just right.  Part of the fun of a convention collaboration is doing a little onsite building with the boys and I look forward to the cronies descending upon the table. The diorama was in dire need of some dramatic impact and Zach made damn sure the kids on public day will have something to shout about and point enthusiastically towards.  The cool orange and blue freighter will occupy the lower terrace and transport the groom and his party to the ceremony.

Next up is Andrew Lee, of Bricks&Beer fame, who managed to carve out some time and models from the hellscape that is his life currently.  I think Andrew will be happy just to make it to the convention and not have to deal with work or family nonsense for a few days.  As usual, he brought his trademark swagger to the mix with a lime green alien biker gang, complete with a sick off-road van.  What’s a biker gang doing at a wedding?  That should be a rhetorical question but when you throw a clandestine wedding party on a far-flung planet you never know who will show up.

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The quiet killer of WackLUG is Brendan Mauro, who came into the action a little late but is providing a bunch of the scene-setting stuff that may not win him any glory or trophies at the convention, but his contributions are every bit as essential to the success of the scene.  A fun wedding requires a giant sound system for dancing and a satellite dish to broadcast the festivities to the friends and relatives who were not able to attend in person.  Brendan also took a stab at some alien trees and foliage that should no doubt make the barren diorama look a little friendlier for the impending nuptials.

And batting cleanup for WackLUG is Jeff Cross, better known as Octopunk.  In addition to a cool floating salvage loader, he also picked up the slack for me by creating a cast of colorful alien minifig characters to populate the layout and and liven things up a bit.  He’s got a real knack for assembling characters, especially the futuristic variety.  Jeff also made a suitably strange beast to roast over the fire-pit and some really interesting tent/pods for the more upscale guests to enjoy after the revels.

I hope you guys enjoyed reading about the Bricks LA WIP process, I know it was a little tedious at times but hopefully it provided some insight into how this style of “just wing it” last-minute collaboration comes together.  I’ll post some shots of the finished project along with some quotes from the relevant cronies when I get back on Monday or more likely Tuesday.  If I have the time and the technical ability I might post something live from the convention floor this weekend, but don’t count on it.  Once the liquor starts flowing, the best laid plans of mice and men go right out the window. I’ve got a Friday Night Fights in the oven with the timer set, but except for some action in the comments section this is likely the last new post on the blog until the LA party is over.  That is unless some new contest entries come in, I might have the time to make that available. Until we meet again constant reader…

Bricks LA Update (Part 3)

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According to the the Master Life Clock I’m down to just 13:23:49:37 to complete my portion of a collaborative diorama for the Bricks LA convention, and in a surprising turn of events I’m feeling pretty good about the situation.  With just under two weeks to go, the bones of the layout are finished, the lighting has been installed and the minifigs have been selected.  I’m confident that I’ve achieved my basic goal of creating an interesting environment to highlight both the Marcus Garvey and the models of my WackLUG cronies in attendance.  There will be no substantive changes from this point forward and this will likely be the last update before rowntRee and I load it into an unmarked van and rocket down the I-15 towards good Mexican food, tense situations and Lego glory.

So what’s new?  Well, since we last examined the project I’ve added the second and final plateau where the Garvey will perch, a glowing fire pit, two more rough-hewn staircases and the cave o’ mystery has been lit and extended.  I’m relatively happy with all of these developments with the possible exception of the upper cliff wall, which turned into more of a straight line that I would have liked.  My original intent was to add some small rock formations out in the muddy area but I’ve just about exhausted my once considerable supply of dark grey/bley slopes of every size.

In case you’re curious the cave’s illumination is provided by one of those boilerplate outdoor LED Halloween lights that swirls around, creating an enticing effect for younger viewers and mankinder alike.  It’s so bright that I had to experiment quite a bit with the orientation to make sure that little Johnny and Jenny don’t get blinded by the dancing lights while still providing the desired effect. The light in the fire pit is a cheap Ikea Ramsta that is convenient for this particular application because it is battery operated and you can turn it on or off by easily by pressing on the dome.  Initially I wanted to add some movement to the diorama (maybe a rotating radar dish), but that goal fell by the wayside due to a lack of access, time and budget.  I don’t have any working Lego motors in my bloated collection, it’s a part of the hobby that I’ve studiously ignored over the years but one that I’d like to embrace in the future.  Incorporating motion into a model seems dicey to me unless you’re talking about a train or monorail. I think it’s all too easy to venture into that sad, ratchety tin-toy in a retail store window territory.  Mindstorms and Power Functions have always seemed prohibitively expensive when I’m standing in the Lego store examining the box. When it comes time to open my wallet, guilt inevitably sets in and I immediately think of better or more practical things to do with that kind of money, but it might be time to make the investment in 2018.   I know builders are doing some really amazing things with the products but I’ve never really seen them applied to a sci-fi diorama so I think there is room there for some innovation.

Of course there is still some work to be done, but I no longer feel the oppressive ticking of the clock.  So much so that it makes me wonder if I should have been more ambitious in my thinking from the outset.  Even though I’ve got the better part of two weeks left, between Christmas and various obligations I’m probably better off finishing early than stressing bout being late.  The repetitive and often tedious landscaping work is finally done and now I can have fun adding the little details that gives life to a scene.   The short list includes reworking the cave to have some kind of focused activity, adding plants, developing small minifig accessories for the wedding party (benches, tables, outdoor kitchen etc.) and reconfiguring the Garvey so that the loading ramp is on the side of the ship that faces the viewer.  If I’m still feeling energized I might mess with the cliff line and see if I can add a little more variation.

I wish I could wrap up this WIP process with some examples of what my co-conspirators are working on but they haven’t been terribly forthcoming with the action or interested in these WIP articles.  The cronies are under the gun too and struggling to finish their own contributions to both the diorama and the convention in general, without worrying about my self-important nonsense.  With a project like this I typically form a Flickr group for the participants and take a more formal approach with the collaboration but this time seems unique in a way that’s difficult to define.  Instead of one stop shopping at FLickr, the WIP action and converstation has been spread out over video chat, group texts, emails and even messenger pigeon when it comes to Rutherford.  This form of communication is far from ideal and kind of fragmented in a way that is probably the enemy of artistic excellence.  I don’t know if it is the result of the short time window or the mix of people involved but this venture has always seemed less fixed and more fly by the seat of the pants.  The lack of formal structure can be a little frustrating at times but the fault lies entirely with me and my Laissez-faire approach to leadership. From the very beginning I didn’t really want to slip into the familiar and often frustrating role of project leader, so I simply didn’t.  Instead I doled out some intentionally vague guidelines and left the builders alone to create.  As far as I’m concerned the worst part of the gig is telling people no…telling them that their creative vision doesn’t jibe with mine and I’ve been more reluctant than ever to do so with this group.  Instead I’ve been content  to get my piece of the story built on time and to a level of quality that I’m happy with.  Fortunately I’ve got a great deal of faith in the cronies I’m working with so I’m confident things will turn out well, even in a vacuum of leadership.  So if you’re looking for the rest of the details that will no doubt make this diorama sing (Zach’s spaceships, Andrew’s bikes, Jeff’s robot hand), you’ll have to wait for the photos to come out of LA in a couple of weeks.  At least you won’t have long to wait.

What I can include has nothing to do with the project, but is cool nonetheless.  Your old uncle rowtRee has been feverishly working in his basement Legoratory on his own SHIPtember inspired diorama and he has recently posted evidence of his progress.  Using his renown questionable judgement, rowntRee put the photo in the comment section of the last update.  So I’ve included it here because I very much doubt anyone went back and looked at it, as interest in this WIP process has been scant at best.  In fact, the numbers indicate that most of you don’t actually give a rip, which is sort of understandable.  When I briefly wrote for TBB they always told us that statisically speaking, people don’t like convention coverage whether it’s pre-convention buildup or post-convention wrap-up.  The editor’s theory was that it was a form a jealousy that people don’t care about a party they are not invited to…but I’m not so sure.  If you have a theory, let me know in the comments.

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For you trivia fans, there will be 4 SHIPs on display in LA from this year’s SHIPtember challenge.  Along with the Garvey we’ll also have the Bushmaster, the Demeter and even the Juno 2.0 Orbiter.  So I’ll end the proceedings with one finial invitation for you to join us for some Bricks LA antics, SWAG and the first round is on me.  Thanks for hanging in there during the WIP process, even if I didn’t incorporate your specific suggestions I do appreciate the feedback.

Bricks LA Update (Part 2)

The master life clock (no, not that life clock) is counting down to Bricks LA and there will be no extension, there will be no mercy for the tardy. If I don’t finish the diorama in time for the convention those microscopic charges lodged in my neck are going to blow, and open up both of my arteries.  At the time of this posting my watch is reading 27:18:40:19 and I’m starting to experience the horrible tyranny of the clock.  While I have no doubt that I’ll be able to achieve my primary goal of covering the table in an interesting way for the cronies to decorate, the jury is still out concerning how good it will actually be.   I started a list of things that I’d like to revise but quickly trashed it because it contained every major feature of the diorama.  The only way is forward, at least for now, I’ll look back later with a critical eye if I have the luxury of time for revision.   27 days and change may seem like a decent interval to work with, but once you mix in the business of the holidays and a little traveling there is not much time for building at all.

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As you can see in the photo below, the cliff-line has doubled in height since the last update and now features a narrow staircase in the back.  The scene really needed a transition between the layers and it creates another interesting space for to give the minifigs a sense of motion.   While I like the idea of two distinct zones within the layout, I don’t want them to be completely isolated either. I considered building a ramp or small road instead of the stairs to accommodate small vehicles but it changed the frontier vibe too much.

I’m not sure I made the right call with the placement of the staircase and if I have time for one of those major revisions I mentioned earlier, I might relocate the whole thing closer to the viewer.  Where it sits now it’s actually very difficult to see from the front of the table.   Most of the attendees on public days are kids and as much as I’d like to say I don’t care about the audience, it would be cool if the kids could actually see what’s going on.  It doesn’t help matters that the table I’m bringing with me is a good bit taller than the standard convention folding variety.  That’s not going to change though, I’ve grown quite fond of my setup and it’s ease of transport. I guess the stairs will be a bonus detail for the cronies who end up hanging out behind the project as they inevitably do in these situations.  Experience tells me that there will be at lest two or three guys sitting back there eating sandwiches and consuming various beverages at any given moment.

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I’ve just recently borrowed more of those sweet corner tiles that you see in use near the base of the staircase, so I’ll go back and add those along with some jumper plates so the minifigs don’t slide around so much.  I’m also not completely sold on using dark gray for the steps of the staircase, it might benefit from a contrasting color to make things a little more visible.   I considered using the same sand-green 1×2 plates you see at the top of the plateau, or maybe more dark tan if I have enough.

In the dozen or so conventions I’ve attended over the years I’ve never seen a MOC card design that I liked, they always seem intrusive where dioramas are concerned and just too flimsy.  I think they work best with small stand-alone models but even then they can look odd, out of scale or distracting and sometimes because of sloppy placement they don’t communicate the information effectively either.  Why spend time and effort to create a scene just to drop a folded piece of paper on top? With that in mind I decided to build the MOC card into the left hand corner of the cliff.  As of now we don’t have even a working title for the project so I left the top lines blank.  The provisional focus of the action is going to be a sort of back-woods sci-fi wedding, where  a myriad of human and alien contingents converge on this desolate frontier location to witness the secret nuptials.  If you have any suggestions for a suitable title don’t hesitate to express yourself in the comments.

As you can see I’ve moved the Garvey to the back corner of the plateau, where I intend to use it as an eye-block for the minifig wedding action in the fore-ground.  To further serve the narrative I’m going to switch the hatch & ramp feature to the opposite side of the ship and have the bride and her father walking down said ramp to the assembled throng of alien tribes waiting for the ceremony.  I could leave it the way it is now and simply turn the ship around, but I also want the flag of Ghana to be visible to the viewer because it’s one of the ships best features. If nothing else it’s a good opportunity to take advantage of the ship’s modularity, and the switch-out shouldn’t take too long (fingers crossed).  This is likely not the Garvey’s final position either, I may straighten it out completely and have it run along the back edge, it all depends on how Zach’s new freighter will fit into the picture, and how much space is left over.  I don’t want to create too much unusable land behind the Garvey, as whatever I put in that awkward triangular space will be largely invisible to the viewer unless I make something rather deliberately tall.  While envisioned as a solo venture, this project has morphed into a collabo and as a result the focus has shifted away from the Garvey and it’s ultimate placement will reflect that.

And finally there is the matter of the cave.  I’m not sure what’s going on there yet, how far back it will ultimately go or what the minifig action will be.  For now it is slowly developing at it’s own pace along with the rest of the model.  I tend to work on it when I’m bored of the repetitive plate and slope stacking.  There is certainly enough potential room down there for a good sized tunnel or additional chambers, or maybe even a road or railway.  Because the roof of the cave is so low, it’s difficult to see back very far, so I’m hesitant to put too much effort into that area which (like the staircase) will likely not be seen by most viewers. Just like the cliff wall, it seems intuitive that there should be some transition to the surface, so I’d imagine another rough hewn staircase would be in order.  I’m also not sure about the color of the cave floor, something with better contrast might be in order.  This area also seems like the best opportunity to include some lighting elements.  No matter what the final look and function of the cave is, at least the kids will have the best view for this particular detail.  With that in mind it might be a good chance to inject some comedy into the proceedings.

I’m not authorized yet to show the pictures, but Jeff is working on a sort of flat-bed hover tow-truck thing and Andrew Lee is working on a biker gang.  Brendan Mauro has jumped in on the action to contribute a cool parabolic satellite dish and hopefully some other details if he has the time. As for rowntRee, he has his own fish to fry but I’m still hopeful he’ll come up with something for the party before all is said and done.  And Rutherford….well he’s more worried about crafting a presentation for the convention than contributing to the diorama. But that’s to be expected really, Mike is more into talking about building than actually building.

Unrelated, I just noticed that Miro Dudas is attending the con so there is a decent chance of having 4 SHIPtember offerings in the house, which I’m sure you’ll agree is pretty damn cool.

I’ll close with yet another invitation for you, constant reader, to join us at Bricks LA when the master life clock reaches zero.  If you find yourself in the greater Los Angeles area the weekend of January 5th, 2018, you should swing by the Pasadena convention center and introduce yourself.  We’ll have SWAG and beverages and you can tell Rutherford in person what a terrible gas-bag he is.

Bricks LA Update (Part 1)

It’s been two weeks and a day since I committed to attending Bricks LA, and as I mentioned in this self congratulatory post, I’ve begun work on a diorama to share with my fellow attendees and the great unwashed masses who will pack the Pasadena Convention center in desperate search of a Lego fix.  I can hear the familiar questions now…is this Star Wars?  Is this Halo?  How long did it take?, How many bricks?, Do you live in your parent’s basement?,  are you sure this isn’t Star Wars?  As I mentioned in the first article, I’m planning on taking advantage of my SHIPtember offering from earlier this year, the BSL Marcus Garvey and use it as the centerpiece of the diorama.  I don’t typically keep models assembled for any length of time and one of the downsides of that policy is that I don’t have a catalogue of creations to draw from in an “emergency”.  I have managed to amass a decent sized collection of models by a rogues gallery of fellow builders, but I’m hesitant to use them for several reasons.  The most obvious one is that with very few exceptions the models in question have been previously posted and unlike Rutherford I don’t really dig trotting out a reliquary of greatest hits.   And of course, most of them don’t really fit the vibe of this current project. The Garvey is only a couple of months old and it’s never traveled to a convention so I figured it’s fair game.

Because experience has taught me that people are not really into my smaller builds (for better or worse they expect me to show up with the big action), I’m planning on a 4’x8′ layout that encompasses the entirety of my Legoratory table.  It’s the same footprint as Bucharest, Logan’s Run and Zero Hour but this new effort will certainly lack the vertical impact of those dioramas.   When your starting point is a 132 long ship, you need a large background to give it any sense of scale and perspective.

As of the time of this posting, I have a barely adequate 37 days and 35 minutes remaining to accomplish this task and for that…I must unfortunately embrace the boilerplate wholeheartedly.  That means there is no time for fussing about trying to come up with a new fancy technique or waiting patiently for artistic inspiration to strike…like lightning!  There is no time to conjure the muse, she’s a capricious wench at the best of times.  No, building under the guillotine of a hard deadline means reaching into the back-catalog of ideas and hopefully rearranging them into something that at least vaguely resembles a new build.  If something truly creative or original happens along the way, so much the better but the fundamental approach is different without the luxury of unlimited time.

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When building a diorama for a SHIP, you basically have two options for the setting, rural or urban.  Sure you can mix the two but in my experience one style is usually dominant.  I’m kind of burned out on the classic futuristic hangar approach or some kind of techno-ziggurat so I opted for a more natural setting.  I’ve amassed a decent quantity of dark blue tile over the past few years and I was itching to put them into use.  It made sense to start from the lowest point and build my way up (unlike my usual random approach to building things) so I tried to work in a subtle curve into the flow and break things up with little islands of mud.  Normally I’d at least try to break the grid and float some terrain at odd angles but in this particular instance, the baseplate is my friend. Things can get alarmingly jostled during interstate travel and I want to give the layout the best possible chance of survival on it’s way to the venue.

I wish I had enough dark brown to line the lower banks with, but looking at what I have on hand, a combination of old/new brown was the most logical choice.  I’m not ruling out a Cracklink order but I’d like to avoid it if I can, to save money for other things like SWAG and on-site refreshments.  After the mud went down, it was time to get a little elevation into the mix, so I began work on a rocky terrace.  I’m not a huge fan of your standard issue rock-vomit that features slopes going every which direction so I opted for this simpler one-direction technique I’ve used a couple of times in the past to good effect.  it’s not very inventive and certainly not state o’ the art, but I enjoy the look and it has the benefit of allowing me to gain elevation quickly.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be happy just to cover the entire footprint and I’m not terribly worried about the vertical aspect of the diorama.  In a normal situation, planning for an eye-block would be of primary importance in these early stages, but I’m just going to let it emerge on it’s own as the project advances.  I did begin an olive green retaining wall in the background, with small gaps between the slats, but I’m not convinced yet that it will still be around by the time the building is complete.  I might take advantage of the gaps by putting some indirect lighting behind the wall, but it’s just a vague notion for now.

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There has been one alarming development, in laying all that brown plate for the terraforming, I was amazed at how many 1×2 plates snapped like the bones of a brittle old man with osteoporosis.  The photo below is just a small sample of the carnage, I’d conservatively estimate that I lost 25-30 of these basic parts over the course of decidedly routine usage.  They were all of the newer reddish brown variety, I don’t think I lost a single example of the older color.  It’s disappointing, not because of the cost (they go for about 2 cents a pop), but rather because I expect a higher quality standard from our benevolent Danish overlords.

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The biggest challenge I face with this project is a familiar one for me; the lack of an overriding creative vision to guide me.  Simply put, I have no freaking idea what this thing will, or should look like when all is said and done.  I know I want to use the bulk of the SHIP to divide the scene into two separate areas, each with it’s own character.  I know I want a largely rural setting, and some lights and motion…but what the final form will look like is a largely a mystery and so is the story that will go along with it.  Instead of planning like a normal person, I started laying brick without a guiding blueprint.  This isn’t unusual for me, I typically start blazing away in the heat of inspiration and worry about the details later, safe in the knowledge that I have the luxury of time for a re-start or two along the way to get things right.  I have no such luxury for Bricks LA, the reset button is broken and I have to push past indecision and uncertainty to make the deadline.

When I started building I didn’t envision this project as a collaboration, it seemed rude to ask people to spend time and effort building something in a creative vacuum, without a clear picture of the target to inform their work.  Building for a convention is a unique monster though and it has been my experience that involving cronies in the mix is essential to the collective onsite experience.  Things are always better with like minded idiots.  With that in mind, I’ve asked friends of the blog and WackLUG members Jeff Cross and Andrew Lee to come along for the ride if this WIP shot looks at all compelling to them. I’m also hoping Zach Clapsaddle will defy the odds and show up, bringing along  his special brand of magic, but that seems to be up in the air for now.  As for rowntRee, he’s (of course) invited to participate but he’s got his own kettle o’ fish to deal with, working on a racing pit for his engorged Victor Viper.  I hope it all fits in the van, buddy.

If, by chance, you find yourself planning on attending Bricks LA, let me know and I’m sure I can find some pace on this bloated layout for your contribution as well.   I’ll update you on the progress in the coming weeks.  Any advice or constructive criticism you have is welcome in the comments, but if your words of wisdom require a massive revision or restart, don’t expect to see them implemented.