After Action Review: Bricks LA 2018

Mike Rutherford  returns to blogging, with his unique observations concerning the recent Bricks LA convention. Without further ado, take it away, Rutherford!

I love After Action Reviews.  They are one of the first things any U.S. soldier experience.  You practice some task over and over.  Then you execute that task under stressful conditions, usually involving a lack of sleep, a lack of information, and a lack of time.  You execute this task while another group of people pretend to be your mortal enemy (an opposing force, or OPFOR), harassing you, disrupting your efforts, and exploiting your laziness or your lack of attention to detail… steeling unguarded equipment… kidnapping hapless team members who wander off to pee behind a tree… engaging in all manner of mischievous behavior (oh, and also “killing you” in accordance with the rules of the training event).  All this goes on while dispassionate “Observer Controllers” (evaluators) watch, check the time, and scribble in their notebooks.  By the end of the event, your entire team is ragged, sleepy, cranky, and often smelly.

With the exception of that dam OPFOR, the whole deal resembles what a Lego Convention staff goes through.   At least at the several conventions I have attended…

Well, in a training event, the end of the event is the precise moment when a well-run After Action Review is crucial.     An AAR is a semiformal discussion here all the participants discuss the event.  The guys who executed the task, the pretend bad guys (OPFOR), and of course the Observer Controllers.  And in a good AAR, it really is EVERYBODY who participates.  From the lowest ranking soldiers to the commanders.   If you were there… and you did a thing, or saw a thing, or are responsible for a thing… you better be ready to discuss the event.   Because the harsh crucible of experience has taught us all that “even the little guy” might be the one to see that one crucial detail that resulted in success of failure.

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It also has to happen quickly.  Right after the training event.  Before you change into dry cloths, or pack up your gear, or get back to the unit headquarters.  Before you get a good night’s sleep.  Before your memory fades, and before your mind replaces uncomfortable knowledge with more pleasing versions of what went down.  With a good AAR, you need to strike while the iron is hot.  While people are still stinging from the errors that were made, or still glowing from the satisfaction of getting it right.  Quick, clear, concise.   Because in a week… most of these lessons will be forgotten.  The important lessons must be captured in writing quickly, and organized for detailed review in the weeks and months before the NEXT training event.  THAT is how improvement occurs.  Shit.  Guess I should have written faster…

Continue reading “After Action Review: Bricks LA 2018”

Bricks LA 2018: The Long Winded Tales of a Jaded Lego Nerd

They say that Lego blog readers don’t care about convention coverage, they say that unless you were present to join in the action personally it is impossible to appreciate the experience fully.  They even claim that people are resentful of parties they are not invited to.  While I don’t necessarily debate this sage and long-standing wisdom, I’m throwing caution to the wind to provide you with the unvarnished truth of my time in the city of angels.  It took me almost a full week to process everything that went down in order to compose my thoughts in a way that didn’t read like an embittered rant and even allowing for the interval I’m not sure I succeeded.  But I am confident you’ll let me know in the comments.  -Spoiler Alert!-  Bricks LA 2018 was in turns awkward, uninspiring and mostly boring, which is the greatest sin any convention can commit.

I journeyed to America’s second largest city in search of big-city adventure and excitement but found only regional boilerplate and the only fun was the fun we brought with us or had nothing to do with the convention itself.  For the T.L.D.R. crowd you can check out now, go back to your video game and jumbo-sized bowl of paste, but the rest of you should gird your loins and prepare for a deep dive into….mediocrity.  We’ll get into it later but this was the convention that made me realize I’ve become terribly jaded, almost incapable of enjoying the conventional traditions of our people. So if you were there and you think I’m being terribly unfair, take solace in the fact that this review may have more to do with my growing disenchantment with the very concept of conventions than the event itself.

This was Bricks LA, 2018.

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Continue reading “Bricks LA 2018: The Long Winded Tales of a Jaded Lego Nerd”

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 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.