2018 LSB Contest: Week 3 Wrap Up

The annual Lego Speeder Bike (LSB) contest has rounded the final turn and is staring down the final straightaway to the March 5th deadline.  As many constant readers know, I’m all about the numbers and week 3 of the showdown saw another impressive jump in total entries to 69 across all categories.  That number has gone from 7 to 36 to 69, which one might expect as a natural expansion curve, but the number I didn’t expect is the even distribution of bikes in each category.   Abide, Enforce and Rebel each have 22 entries at the time of this posting, and the Distcrict 18 category understandably lags way behind with only 3 entries dude to it’s elevated level of difficulty and requirements.  A slightly deeper dive into the numbers reveals that 33 builders have entered the arena, with the number of entries per builder breaking down like this.

10 players with 1 entry.

13 players with 2 entries

7 players with 3 entries

3 players with all 4 entries

Having reviewed every entry in the pool I feel pretty safe in saying that the overall quality of the entries has increased as well, as you might expect.  For most people, more time spent refining a bike means a better bike.  The only thing I find troubling about the numbers is the number of people sitting on 3 entries after 3 weeks.  When I competed last year there were also 4 categories and I allotted a weeks building time for each one.  While I realize not everyone would adopt this strategy I do think it takes most people about a week (or weekend) to conceptualize, build, photograph and post a bike.  Obviously the goal can be completed great deal quicker as the three guys who have posted in the District 18 thread prove, but the results of such a fast approach has proven to be less than stellar.  In fact, all 3 entries in the diorama category are forgettable and disappointing.  That may seem a harsh thing to say, but I feel a little better saying it because I left them all detail reviews days before this posting, so my objections are old news.  I would also point to the relatively low numbers of favorites and reviews.   All 3 entries are variations on the same theme: cop chases rebel while abider looks on.  The basic premise is about as interesting as the stock handlebars featured on 80% of the bikes.  Beyond the basic theme, the contestants are flat out not putting as much effort, respect or creativity into the background as they do the bikes…which while fine for the individual categories, is a poor decision for the District 18 category.  I’m obviously biased because diorama is my preferred genre of building, and it probably pains me more than it should to see people going through the motions instead of trying to break through the boilerplate and give the audience a show.  I want to see some dioramas like last year’s offerings from Carter, Zach, Jeff, and I’ll arrogantly attach my own name to that list.  Whether the image goes edge-to-edge like the examples I just showed you or not doesn’t matter to me, so let’s not rehash that old argument about which is the better approach.  The bottom line is that the 2018 competitors need to step up their diorama game, 2017 is laughing at them.

Before I get into the bike spotlights, I’d like to discuss a disturbing trend that is one example away from being the unofficial theme of the contest…poop.  Maybe the builder, Nick Poncelow is right, and that I’m just not down with toilette humor but his plumber bike from the abide category really put me off.  I just don’t get it…the plumber took a dump on the seat of his bike?  Is that the plumber you want walking around your house?  I think the idea of a toilette shaped seat is funny but a dookie?  Not so much.  As if that wasn’t enough, contestant GolPlaysWithLego sneaks a poop emoji into the presentation of his bike.  It’s a great bike, why tell me it’s a steaming pile of shite?  Am I old and out of touch with is issue?  If you have an opinion on this alarming and creeping issue in the contest, please leave your crappy takes in the comments.

Now it’s time for my favorite build in each category for week 3.  The ABIDE entries were a mixed bag but I really like the Downtown Ride by Faber Mandragore, especially after a couple of small but important revisions he made to both the bike and the base. I continue to be amazed by the percentage of people who are actually taking advantage of the feedback from the audience.  The camera angle on this official shot doesn’t really do the bike justice, so if you dig it, make sure to follow the link and take a look at the other photos.  I still think the base looks a bit generic, but it’s cut above most of the other entries who treat the vignette/stand as an afterthought.  I also dig the special effects, they’re noticeable without being overwhelming or distracting.

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The ENFORCE category had a couple of good entries this week but my favorite is the L.E.V. 5 by oOger, whose name always make me think of the word booger, which is unfortunate because I’m a big fan of his work.  This entry checks all the boxes, clever parts use, exotic parts, good stickering and it looks cool from every angle.  Many builders tend to avoid developing the bottom of the bike, but oOger goes the extra mile.  If you’re going to go for the boilerplate highway-patrol pursuit bike look, you can’t do much better than this. It looks fast and aggressive and ready to intercept a rebel or an abider jacked up on meth.  I’m not a huge fan of the helmet (ant man?) but I like the way you can see his eyeball through the face-mask.  I’m still not completely sold on the base, although it is an unusual part choice.  Even if it doesn’t make sense to me, it ultimately looks pretty cool and I suppose that’s all that matters.  It certainly makes me want to see more, and I hope the builders incorporates it into his District 18 entry if he chooses to do one.

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Rebel remains my least favorite category and it contains fewer bikes that I find interesting.  I admit to being burned out on the Mad Max, post apocalyptic vibe, which isn’t really fair to hold against a builder but I’m going to do it anyway.  This entry by F@bz was one of the exceptions, I can’t say enough good things about it, and he’s really the first competitor to take maximum advantage of the vignette/base.  With the Volkswagen badge and the banana-yellow color scheme, it seems like it would be better suited to the Abide category, but the context and choice of driver helps to move the needle towards rebellion.  I also appreciate the backwards cap on the driver, so many people use hair, which immediately robs the bike of any sense of movement.  The background may be of the boilerplate concrete urban variety, but it’s pretty sweet boilerplate.

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If you’ve been reading this series of wrap-ups you’ll know by now that my favorite aspect of the contest this year is watching builders improve their entries based on the feedback provided by roaming critic gallery.  Week 3 brought so many examples of constructive criticism in action that it’s no longer noteworthy in terms of these wrap up posts.  It has almost become the norm.  Even if I didn’t see any more examples of builders using feedback from this point on I’m ready to call this contest a success in terms of spreading the gospel of the critical process.  The number of good quality comments is increasing each week as more people seem to be willing to offer suggestions and opinion even if it’s occasionally a negative one.

With one week to go I expect to see the veteran prize-snipers take their shots and the District 18 category to finally attract some great entries.  If you’re still on the fence about entering the contest you’ve still got time to get in on the action, and none of the categories have a clear winner yet.  Rutherford, get off your ass and build a bike already!

2018 LSB Contest: Week 2 Wrap Up

We’re two weeks in to the annual LSB contest on Flickr and the number of entries has spiked from 7 to 36 with even more bikes floating around the pool, untethered from the official threads.  I planned on going back and comparing the totals to last year’s numbers but as it was pointed out last week, this edition of the contest is it’s own unique creature and probably shouldn’t be compared too closely to it’s predecessors.  So I’ll leave that kind of analysis until the final wrap-up or maybe leave it for Ted if he chooses to close out the proceedings with a piece for the Manifesto.  I’m also quite lazy and just keeping up with commenting and offering my unsolicited critique on each and every entry is taking up a good deal of time.  On that note, my favorite aspect of the contest seems to be getting stronger with each passing day, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many contestants not only accepting of feedback but also willing to go the extra step of incorporating the better suggestions into second drafts.  Critique should rarely be taken in it’s totality but rather approached with a salad-bar mentality where you just grab the ingredients that make sense and taste good.

Jonathan Gilbert took his bike to the next level with a little help from the audience.  Although I’m not one of these guys who think every exposed stud must be covered with a tile, the first version of this bike was just too knobby.  The background so overwhelmed the bike in terms of quality that it was distracting, so cheers to Jonathon for going after it aggressively and smoothing out the bike while adding details like a windscreen, side mirrors and headlight.

The same can be said for FonsoSac, who improved not only the bike but the base as well and with one revision took his bike from participant to contender by paying attention to the criticism.  I think some people are just mailing it in when it comes to the base because the rules say the base will not factor into the judge’s decision making process.  Now, while I’m certainly NOT calling the judges liars, I do believe that if two bikes are really similar in quality the bike with the better base will win.

ska2d2 cites the encouragement and good advice of fellow competitor Pico Von Grootveld for improvements to his entry, and again, it’s not just the bike that’s better for the the criticism but the base as well.  Just changing the orientation of the motorcycle shell made a world of difference but he went the extra mile and improved the rider, and nearly every significant aspect of the design.

To quote Deltassius in one of the conversational threads, the “roaming critic gallery” may be small, only three or four builders, but it does seem to be having a positive impact on both the quality of the bikes and the community spirit of the contest in general.  I’d bet money that the gallery will eventually comes up against someone who doesn’t want to hear their (our) jackassy opinions, but for now it’s been unusually gratifying to promote the concept of constructive criticism rather than just gasbag about it on the blog.  Shout-out to Werewolff who I see comment on just about every single entry, it’s one thing to participate and build a bike, but it’s another thing entirely to reach out to a competitor with words of encouragement and critique.  I just wish there were more constant readers out there making the rounds with us.

As for the bikes of week two, there were a lot to choose from when it came down to highlighting the best of the group, so I decided for the sake of brevity (wouldn’t want to make anyone’s patience grow too thin with excessive commentary) to limit my observations to one example from each category.

The ABIDE category is proving to be the most popular, varied and intriguing of the group so far.  My favorite of the most recent crop of offerings is the “Sea Snipper” by P.B., I actually liked halfbeak’s entry better as a pure bike, but if I was a judge this would be my pick.  Unlike halfbeaks’ bike it has a clear purpose, offers a bit of comedy and tells more of a story with all the attachments and the robotic sidekick.  I really like the spindly look of the front, out there on a single precarious bar/antenna.  The octopus camouflaged in the water is a great addition to what is otherwise a pretty simple base.  25394476857_7a66d58d29_o.png

The ENFORCE category is where you’ll find most of the boilerplate of the contest, there are some slick entries to be sure, but everything is very…expected, that is with one notable exception of the “Impounder” by halfbeak.  Most entries are content to resemble highway patrol bikes, suitable for pursuit and very little else, but this bike has the specific and somewhat horrific capability to snatch a driver and/or it’s bike right out of the not so friendly skies.  The friendly Frisbee drone is also a nice touch (tied in by the decals), along with the simple but effective base.  The lime green really pops and helps accent the bike.

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The REBEL category is a little problematic in it’s vague definition and I think it’s the most difficult for the contestants to fully engage with.  It reduces the basic concept to stereotypes like the rebellion of Star Wars or Mad-Max style biker gangs.  I’m prepared to be persuaded that the category is actually the most liberating and nobody has really taken advantage of it yet, but so far it houses my least favorite entries.  Of course there are always exceptions and if I had to declare a winner of week 2’s offerings it would be the “Junkspeeder” by GolPlaysWithLego.  I think it definitely falls into the Star Wars spectrum of rebellion, but it adheres to the rule of cool and looks very fast and aggressive.  I’m not sure if it looks like it was created in a junkyard…but the roll cage makes up for any thematic weakness.  The base is modest but a cut above many of the competitors, that tentacle throws just enough of a monkey wrench into the mix.  Is it a plant?  Is it a tentacle?  Is it a snake?  I don’t know but it looks odd in the best possible way.

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It’s still early so there are only a couple of entries into the diorama-based DISTRICT 18 category. I’m not terribly moved by either one so I’ll wait until week 3 to add those into the mix here on the Manifesto.  Since the action over here has faded a little as we slip towards the jaws of DA3 and hiatus, why not head over to the LSB contest and encourage the participants?  There is a hunger out there for good quality feedback which is rarely in short supply around here.

2018 LSB Contest: Week 1 Wrap Up

The first week of the LSB contest has flown by in the blink of an eye and unfortunately the turnout so far has been tepid at best.  I do realize that it’s too early in the process to be alarmed and that most established builders prefer to wait until the very end to unveil their masterpieces.  That said, 7 entries in as many days seems to be a much slower pace than the last year, when there were 17 entries after the first week.  I don’t really have a theory as to why there seems to be a drop-off this year, maybe it’s fatigue with the topic, a lack of promotion on big blogs, a lack of the familiar front-man Cole Blaq, declining participation on Flickr in general, the Manifesto’s crappy prizes or even intimidation.  Some of you might be thinking “Intimidation?  Who would be intimidated by something as innocuous as a speeder bike contest?”  but there is some evidence out there that it might be a factor.  For example, Mike M. is an established builder of considerable skill who has been featured on this blog and many others.  In the comment section for his entry he had this to say:

“I shy away from lego related contest, not only is the competition fierce,but I know its filled with badass builders, and I’m way outa my league I’m sure, contest not over yet!!!”

While Mike did indeed offer up a viable contest entry, I doubt he’s alone in his line of thinking.  A few builders witnessed the quality level and competition last year and they appear hesitant to enter, fearing that their skill set is not up to the task, or that they will be crushed by veteran builders.  Instead of rising to the challenge, they shrink or worse still, refuse to engage.  Another prospective combatant, Dan The Imposter who has yet to enter the arena had this to offer in the announcement thread:

“I hope I can still be good enough to stand a chance!” 

Still another perfectly able builder Deltassius had this to say:

“Not going to lie, after last year’s builds I am a little intimidated. I liked this contest more when I didn’t know any better!” 

While Ted and I tried to offer encouragement from the sidelines, it would have been nice to see more voices (including the other two admins) jump in the conversation to urge these nervous Nancys to sack-up and get in the game.  Plenty of great builders got their asses handed to them last year by the likes of Carter Baldwin and there is nothing wrong with that, in theory it should only improve performance in the future.  I’m not sure what the solution is to the intimidation factor, but it’s a shame to lose potential participants over something so silly.

On to the bikes….I have to admit that I’ve been underwhelmed by the early crop of entries, although competent, none of them are particularly memorable.  We need a hero, we need the “Ice Breaker” as defined by Ted in one of his Talks:

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

I was hoping F@bz might be the Ice Breaker, when I saw him dive in early.  He possesses both the requisite mad building skillz, and a huge Flickr following that might bring fresh competitors, but his offering was kind of mundane.  While the saddle blanket is without a doubt a cool and clever detail and the bike as a whole is competently constructed, it doesn’t exactly bowl me over.  I won’t even get into the Chinese knockoff figure.

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Although there are a couple of  entries that have an interesting idea or detail here and there, the only other bike worth mentioning at the one week mark is this shark carcass bike by  Marcel V.  Much like F@bz’ speeder, it relies heavily on a single gimmick to carry the build and the rest of it is pretty standard boilerplate.  It reminds me of a La-Z-Boy recliner with a dead shark strapped to the bottom.

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It’s also worth giving some love to the contest’s first digital entry, by Luke, not only is it a nice looking ride, but the builder showed that he’s able to absorb apply constructive criticism.  He took good advantage of the contest’s rather liberal policy of allowing builders to improve and replace their entries right up until the end of the competition.  Ted Andes mentioned somewhere in the proceedings that the unspoken mission of the event is to promote feedback between builders, and that’s great, but I think it should be very much spoken, and spoken loudly…it’s really what separates this contest from so many of it’s brethren.

Unfortunately my favorite speeder in the LSB group pool isn’t even entered into the contest, it’s apparently from a Star Wars movie that I refused to see and it looks pretty great.  The builder is Inthert, and I sincerely hope he takes a crack at an official entry because he’s obviously got the mojo for it, providing of course he can break away from the pre-packaged theme.  The bike did draw my attention to a sort of confusing aspect of the contest, that there are quite a few bikes in the pool that have nothing to do with the contest, which seems both odd and unfortunate to me.   It made me wish that the contest existed in it’s own separate group, because I’m never sure whether or not I should comment on half the bikes in the pool.  I feel more jackassy than usual offering my constructive criticism on stuff that isn’t meant for the contest.  I’m also confused as to why you would post a speeder bike and not enter it?  I don’t know if it’s a reading comprehension issue or lack of clarity in the rules but I see a few people who don’t seem to be putting the bikes in the proper threads to ensure their eligibility for judgement and possibly a prize.

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I’m confident things will pick up in the coming weeks, but at the quarter mile post I was hoping for a little more action.

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”

Advice Works (Blog or Die! Entry #15)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Caleb Inman (VAkkron)

Word Count: 1,282

Advice Works

I often see Lego touted as both an art form and as an application of engineering principles, because of its immediate tactile response and precision.  Fortunately for me and all those who choose to participate in the greater community, Lego is also a culture.  One that offers community and inspires me to learn about other people, understand our differences, and celebrate a shared passion for creativity.

Well, you already knew that.  You’ve all had that same realization.  Heck, maybe you’ve even put it all in a job application essay like I have!  Anyway, I want to tell you all a story tonight.  So fill a glass at the eternally flowing countertop that is the Manifesto, sit back, and try not to puke at the WIPs.

I want to explain what I did when both the science and the art of Lego failed me.  I had a great vision and a hopeful imagination, but not surprisingly, it was difficult to pull off.  This is a story about the creation of my Isaac Newton storytelling bust which I created in 2016 for a competition.  But I decided that I wasn’t content simply meeting the contest criteria, and Bricks Noir and Absurde were both inspiring me to push into the character-building genre.  The competition was Radley’s annual mad scientist competition, and the assignment was to build a crazy scientist in their laboratory, either real or fictitious.  I decided to make a bust of Isaac Newton, and from the first minute of my planning, I knew exactly how I wanted it to look.

I say that because I very rarely build with such complete vision.  But for this model, I knew that I wanted to build a super-realistic version of the man’s face in full or close-to-full scale.  I wanted his luscious wig to unfold with stories of his life built in miniature atop them.  I even wanted to build a Lego orrery coming out of Sir Izzy’s scalp.

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Photo Credit

The problem was, I wasn’t very good at that.  I started out with my science, by building a Technic frame, which limited my size to roughly a ¾ model.  Fortunately, that helped my tan parts collection actually stretch across the entire model, which it would not have with a full-scale face.  The wig was difficult and I wanted the fold-out miniatures to be saved for the big reveal, But I knew I was having trouble with the face when it looked far more like your grandma than Isaac Newton (reference picture).  It was time to call in the big guns.

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[First WIP Image]  Photo Credit.

I’d only seen closed-group WIPs talked about on the side a few times, and had maybe been a part of one myself.  But I decided to post a private photo of my senile, rat-haired freak to Flickr, because heaven knows I had no clue what to do next.  And that is where the beginning of my story becomes relevant.  Since this hobby has introduced me to so many engineers, artists, and everything-in-betweeners who know what they are doing, I asked them all for help.  I’ve seen carefully-worded, politically-correct posts about “comments and criticism are welcome”, but I didn’t want any criticism.  I wanted straight-up mockery, swearing and vocalized pain that my model inflicted on their eyes.  To my great delight, that is exactly what I got.

If I showed you the group of homies who commented on my model, you’d probably recognize many of the names.  That’s because the Manifesto is something amazing to me in a personal way: literally most of my good friends online are constant readers here.  Hi friends!  They breathed fire, they broke down my model step by step.  Absurde brought the technical expertise.  Keith brought the vision.  Matt brought the artistic commentary, Wolff brought the cranberry pie, and we all had a delicious collaborative Thanksgiving dinner.

Now I’m going to serve you some of the best comments that turned this build around.  I will include mostly the helpful stuff, so if you bear with me, you might learn something yourself (unless you were the person who said it).  Until further notice, please refer to the above eyesore that is a WIP.  This is what the comments applied to.

First off, Matt Rowntree chimed in early and gave some wonderful advice.  So useful, in Advice

fact, that half of my other responses were echoes of his advice, or rather, the advice of one of his mentors.

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I’ve actually taken this to heart since, and try to see through all replicas that I make with this sort of inspiration.  Matt also kindly noted that my nose was too small, citing Izzy’s “massive proboscis of pugilistic proportions”, which sounds like it could be a disease description.  If that is so, I probably suffer from the same thing.  Keith commented with some professional hair advice.

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Topsy also joined in the nose conversation, bringing some near-compliments to the table.  Unfortunately, her advice on color wasn’t going to work, but I had to make some concessions.  Luckily I took her and Keith’s advice regarding color tone and consistency, and this model made me realize the true power of color in a piece of art.

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The undisputed master of the art form (imo at least, but hopefully that’s enough credit to his skill) Letranger Absurde graced my page with his presence and offered some frank and very specific suggestions.  I am so glad I changed the nose and got rid of those two awful studs above the round 2×2 tile as well.

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My good buddy Josiah pointed out that the focal point of the picture was off, something that I hadn’t even considered when building it.  Again, that’s a piece of advice that has stuck with me for every model I’ve built since.

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After all this welcome but challenging feedback, I took two weeks to improve the model.  In this case, improve actually meant scraping off everything but the lips and chin, which had been the only unanimously liked part.  The result is shown below, with the final version at the bottom.  Fortunately this second iteration was such a hit that there was very little to change.  Even I as the artist could just feel that this was almost spot-on, and I was expecting the minor critiques that I got.  Some of that second-round feedback is posted below.

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I think the best thing I heard was “recognizable”.  I learned the valuable lesson that mimicry of real people with Lego is hard.  But fortunately, with the specific advice from people who had very good perspective, I was able to look past my creator’s blind spot and see this through their eyes.

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[Second WIP Image]  Photo Credit.

I know SHIP-builders revel in the big reveal.  I know castle builders love to show their latest technique or greeble-intensive rock wall.  It is so easy to hold our visions to our chests and not let anyone else peek inside until we can vomit it out on an expectant audience.  But my best work, which was truly borne of my hard work, came at the behest of others’ advice.  I trusted those people with garbage.  As it turned out, if I hadn’t shown the garbage to anyone, I wouldn’t have created the treasure.  And in doing so, I learned that all the gents and lady who I counted on for frank and succinct advice really did want me to succeed and were willing to help me develop my best.  It’s a valuable lesson, and again one that I’ve used in internship applications.  So thank you to that whole jolly group who were my work-in-progress commentary.  I wouldn’t even have tried to do it without you.

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.

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Hello!

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.

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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?

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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“.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

Cheers,

S

Constructive Criticism: Mike in the Middle

When I was planning this blog I made a list of ideas that might separate the Manifesto from the rather large pack of competitors out there.  One of those ideas was to find a way to engage and encourage the builders who are not given their due by other blogs because of flaws like less than perfect photography or lack of advanced technique.  Frankly I find it boring to just cover the hottest hits by today’s greatest artists…that’s the equivalent of top-40 radio which has never done much for me.  You don’t need this blog to tell you that Tyler Clite’s latest model is immaculate, you’ve already seen it in your photo-stream, Facebook feed and at the other blogs you frequent.  There isn’t much point in dissecting Tyler’s work because it’s typically genius, highly polished and its value is self-evident.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good to give props when they are deserved, but I find it more interesting to engage with a model or a builder that perhaps just needs a little constructive feedback or a push in the right direction.  Most comments these days are shit, useful only because even monosyllabic praise can help boost the ego, whether rookie or veteran.  With that in mind I’d like to talk about an underappreciated builder whose work I have always enjoyed over the years, but who has also frequently frustrated the perfectionist in me: Mike M.  The native Floridian’s latest build is entitled “consumed“, and it caught my attention immediately for both good and bad reasons.

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We’ll start with the good stuff, the textured floor is really effective, both for its reflective properties but also because it looks like it would feel terrible walking across it bare-foot like the subject of the photo.  It’s a small detail, but it adds to the tension of the scene, which is great even if it reminds me of a first-year art school project.  Usually I’m not a fan of using the same texture for floors and walls in a single build but it works quite well here, adding to the depressing quality of the room.  The brick-built figure is basic but very effective in a mannequin sort of way.  The forward tilt of the head is a nice touch, although the feet seem massive the more I look at them and using the same part for the hands and feet might not have been the best choice.  At first blush though, this scene has an effective creepy vibe and something to say: the timeless message that TV corrupts your mind, body and spirit.  Mike frequently has a strong point of view a a point he’s trying to get across and I wish we saw more of that from builders, an attempt to reach for something more than surface content.

However, just as I really start digging this model there are things I can’t abide like the design of the televisions.  The decision to go with old-style brown cabinets suggesting wood is an odd one, but if you’re gonna go that route they need more detail (knobs, antenna, speaker) and having some sets studded and some smooth is distracting.  I understand that going with black-framed TVs risks having them blend in with the background but the sets don’t earn their place in the diorama.  My biggest complaint is with the home-made TV screen stickers that are not cut very consistently and are curling up at the corners.  While I’m definitely a purist, I don’t push my arcane religion on other builders but I do sort of expect non purist solutions to have a higher level of quality than what I’m seeing here.

I’m not sold on the face either.  I like the round decorated tile Mike selected, it’s an interesting choice that gives the figure some character, but the rubber band makes it look like a mask.  Maybe it’s supposed to be a mask, I’m not sure, but you don’t typically see a mask strap that goes around the front of the face like that.  I think the builder would have been better served to attach the tile to the face more conventionally, which would in turn necessitate a change in parts for the cranium, but I think it could have been better.

Mike’s photography can be frustrating because he’s capable of getting some truly great shots and others end up making me irritated because the quality of the photo takes away from the effectiveness of the scene, as in the photo below entitled “Cletus Kasady”.

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This scene has great cinematic or comic book style  shot composition, but the blurry victim in the foreground takes away from the power of the image.  Even with a fuzzy picture this model earned Mike 80 favorites on Flickr, but I have to believe that it would have performed even better with a clear shot.  It’s definitely worth noting that in his profile the builder states that he doesn’t have a “bad ass camera or Photoshop” and may not care all that much about good photography.  It is possible to work wonders with a mediocre camera (or phone camera) and minimal post processing, you just have to be willing to take a large number of shots.  To be fair, most of his photos are of decent quality, but I think Mike could maximize his obvious creativity and great sense of framing if he worked at it.

To round out my list of unsolicited petty grievances with Mike M, I also think he relies too much on masonry profile bricks.  We all have our beloved go-to parts that show up again and again  and again in our work, but sometimes you need to make a conscious decision to either not use them, or use them in an unconventional way.

I’ll close with a few of my favorite builds by Mike M, who has made a great deal of progress over the years and always has something interesting to share.  I can’t encourage you enough to take a trip through Mike’s photo-stream, you’ll be well rewarded and don’t forget to leave a comment.  Everybody likes a good comment.

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